05/01/2004: Juan Cole, the short form: We're F*cked
The good Prof. Cole is right on top of the Iraqi prisoner abuse story, and what he has to say is not encouraging, though it's probably correct:
The sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war, a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions by US soldiers at the Abu Ghuraib prison, has naturally produced outrage in the Arab world. This is a big thing, folks. I saw the American rightwing talking heads Friday evening trying to shrug off the photos and the incidents as minor affairs. They are not, in the world of public diplomacy. Can you imagine what the mood would be like in the United States if some foreign power had treated US POWs like this and then the photos came out?Some reaction in the Arab world, as summarized by Cole:
- ...a Syrian woman, Khadija Mousa, said, "They keep asking why we hate them? Why we detest them? Maybe they should look well in the mirror and then they will hate themselves . . . What I saw is very very humiliating. The Americans are showing their true image."
- Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arabist London newspaper, al-Quds al-Arabi, said, "The liberators are worse than the dictators. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America . . . "That really, really is the worst atrocity. It affects the honour and pride of Muslim people. It is better to kill them than sexually abuse them.""
- Daud al-Shiryan of Saudi Arabia: "This will increase the hatred of America, not just in Iraq but abroad. Even those who sympathised with the Americans before will stop. It is not just a picture of torture, it is degrading. It touches on morals and religion . . . Abu Ghraib prison was used for torture in Saddam's time. People will ask now what's the difference between Saddam and Bush. Nothing!"
- Driver Hatem Ali, 30: "Americans are racists and cowards, that's what I understood from these pictures."
- Mahmoud Walid, a 28-year-old Egyptian writer: "These soldiers are being touted as the saviours of the Iraqi people and America claims to be the moral leader of the world, but they have been caught with their pants down, they have been exposed, the whole world sees them as they really are."
In significant part these practices are a direct result of Rumsfeld policies--the Pentagon's kidnapping of unprepared reservists for long-term military duty in Iraq, supplemented by unregulated cowboy security firms. It has already been forgotten that some of the fighting around Najaf was done by US private security guards, who even deployed an attack helicopter! The rhetoric that all those who oppose the US presence in Iraq are "terrorists" also dehumanizes prisoners of war and implies that they are akin to the 9/11 hijackers, when in fact many of them are just neighborhood boys who took up a gun to defend their city quarter from what they saw as a foreign incursion.The truly sad thing is that the perpetrators of this outrage--from the military police, intel officers and "contractors" who actually committed the atrocities, all the way up to Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush--will not be tried as the war criminals they are.
I really wonder whether, with the emergence of these photos, the game isn't over for the Americans in Iraq. Is it realistic, after the bloody siege of Fallujah and the Shiite uprising of early April, and in the wake of these revelations, to think that the US can still win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi Arab public?
Len on 05.01.04 @ 08:46 PM CST