Remember Abu Ghraib?
By Robert Fisk
29 September, 2004
are now in the greatest crisis since the last greatest crisis. That's
how we run the Iraq war--or the Second Iraq War as Lord Blair of Kut
al-Amara would now have us believe. Hostages are paraded in orange tracksuits
to remind us of Guantanamo Bay. Kidnappers demand the release of women
held prisoner by the Americans. Abu Ghraib is what they are talking
about. Abu Ghraib? Anyone remember Abu Ghraib? Remember those dirty
little snapshots? But don't worry. This wasn't the America George Bush
recognised, and besides we're punishing the bad apples, aren't we? Women?
Why, there are only a couple of dames left--and they are "Dr Germ"
and "Dr Anthrax".
But Arabs do not
forget so easily. It was a Lebanese woman, Samia Melki, who first understood
the true semantics of those Abu Ghraib photographs for the Arab world.
The naked Iraqi, his body smeared with excrement, back to the camera,
arms stretched out before the butch and blond American with a stick,
possessed, she wrote in CounterPunch, "all
the drama and contrasting colours of a Caravaggio painting".
The best of Baroque
art invites the viewer to be part of the artwork. "Forced to walk
in a straight line with his legs crossed, his torso slightly twisted
and arms spread out for balance, the Iraqi prisoner's toned body, accentuated
by the excrement and the bad lighting, stretches out in crucifix form.
Exuding a dignity long denied, the Arab is suffering for the world's
And that, I fear,
is the least of the suffering that has gone on at Abu Ghraib. For what
happened to all those videos which members of Congress were allowed
to watch in secret and which we--the public--were not permitted to see?
Why have we suddenly forgotten about Abu Ghraib? Seymour Hersh, the
journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib story--and one of the only journalists
in America who is doing his job--has spoken publicly about what else
happened in that terrible jail.
I'm indebted to
a reader for the following extract from a recent Hersh lecture: "Some
of the worst things that happened that you don't know about. OK? Videos.
There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing
letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib...
The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because
of what's happened. And basically what happened is that those women
who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been
recorded, the boys were sodomised, with the cameras rolling, and the
worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking..."
we have forgotten this. Just as we must no longer talk about weapons
of mass destruction. For as the details slowly emerge of the desperate
efforts of Bush and Blair to find these non-existent nasties, I don't
know whether to laugh or cry. US mobile site survey teams managed, at
one point, to smash into a former Iraqi secret police headquarters in
Baghdad, only to find a padlocked inner door. Here, they believed, they
would find the horrors that Bush and Blair were praying for. And what
did they find behind the second door? A vast emporium of brand new vacuum
cleaners. At Baath party headquarters, another team--led by a Major
Kenneth Deal--believed they had discovered secret documents which would
reveal Saddam's weapons' programme. The papers turned out to be an Arabic
translation of A J P Taylor's The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. Perhaps
Bush and Blair should read it.
So as we continue
to stagger down the crumbling stairway of our own ghastly making, we
must listen to bigger and bigger whoppers. Iyad Allawi, the puppet prime
minister--still deferentially called "interim prime minister"
by many of my reporter chums--insists that elections will be held in
January even though he has less control of the Iraqi capital (let alone
the rest of the country) than the mayor of Baghdad. The ex-CIA agent,
who obediently refused to free the two women prisoners the moment Washington
gave him instructions not to do so, dutifully trots over to London and
on to Washington to shore up more of the Blair-Bush lies.
Second Iraq War
indeed. How much more of this tomfoolery are we, the public, expected
to stomach? We are fighting in "the crucible of global terrorism",
according to Lord Blair of Kut. What are we to make of this nonsense?
Of course, he didn't tell us we were going to have a Second Iraq War
when he helped to start the First Iraq War, did he? And he didn't tell
the Iraqis that, did he? No, we had come to "liberate" them.
So let's just remember the crisis before the crisis before the crisis.
Let's go back to last November when our Prime Minister was addressing
the Lord Mayor's banquet. The Iraq war, he informed us then--and presumably
he was still referring to the First Iraq War--was "the battle of
seminal importance for the early 21st century".
Well, he can say
that again. But just listen to what else Lord Blair of Kut informed
us about the war. "It will define relations between the Muslim
world and the West. It will influence profoundly the development of
Arab states and the Middle East. It will have far-reaching implications
for the future of American and Western diplomacy."
And he can say that
again, can't he? For it is difficult to think of anything more profoundly
dangerous for us, for the West, for the Middle East, for Christians
and Muslims since the Second World War--the real second war, that is--than
Blair's war in Iraq. And Iraq, remember, was going to be the model for
the whole Middle East. Every Arab state would want to be like Iraq.
Iraq would be the catalyst--perhaps even the "crucible"--of
the new Middle East. Spare me the hollow laughter.
I have been struck
these past few weeks how very many of the letters I've received from
readers come from men and women who fought in the Second World War,
who argue ferociously that Blair and Bush should never be allowed to
compare this quagmire with the real struggle against evil which they
waged more than half a century ago.
"I, now 90,
remember the men maimed in body and mind who haunted the lanes in rural
Wales where I grew up in the years after 1918," Robert Parry wrote
to me. "For this reason, Owen's 'Dulce et decorum est' remains
for me the ultimate expression of the reality of death in war, made
now more horrific by American 'targeted' bombing and the suicide bombers.
We need a new Wilfred Owen to open our eyes and consciences, but until
one appears this great poem must be given space to speak again."
It would be difficult to find a more eloquent rejoinder to the infantile
nonsense now being peddled by our Prime Minister.
Not for many years
has there been such a gap--in America as well as Britain--between the
people and the government they elected. Blair's most recent remarks
are speeches made--to quote that Owen poem--"to children ardent
for some desperate glory". Ken Bigley's blindfolded face is our
latest greatest crisis. But let's not forget what went before.