Tuesday, June 08, 2004

That Prison Scandal

It's an evil place.

I don't understand the scandal. Why put hoods on people you want to humiliate and show the faces of the guards? Anonymity lends dignity. You can always claim you weren't involved if your face is hidden.

Here's a link to an article more about the US. Or make yourself sick with this this BBC slide show.

We knew that the enemy was not following any Geneva Convention nor any rules of war and so the anti-terrorists armies were playing by ear, as it were. Especially or mainly in Afghanistan.

But the war in Iraq started out as a war against a regular military. With uniforms and all that. So we did not expect the same behavior. Although the whole "War on Terror" approach to Iraq should have given us a big hint. We didn't get the hint. Seymour Hersh reports that a Special Access Program (a secret program) in Afghanistan was extended to Iraq, creating the problem. Seymour Hersh is also fallible, and his story is disputed, so a complete diagnosis will have to wait.

Alan Dershowitz has begun an effort to write new laws for the new kind of anti-terror warfare in which we find ourselves. See this article in the Baltimore Sun. But Dershowitz's effort has little relevance to the use of photographed sexual humiliation, dogs and maybe murder that went on in Abu Ghraib. Except to note that there are prisoners who are neither prisoners of war nor regular criminals, and the existing international laws of war and treaties on the conduct of war do not address these newer realities.

The Pentagons lawyers had begun to try to work out the new rules for handling prisoners in nonstandard wars, see this New York Times article on the legal memos. Neither the Taliban or al-Queda have ever signed on to the Geneva treaties, so the question was genuine. Likewise for the irregular post-war conflicts in Iraq in 2004.

For all that, those photos and the practices they document shock the system but do not defy rational analysis. The Iraqis and the various Arab governments do not seem to be reacting as strongly as some Americans thought they might. Current practices in much of the Arab world, like that under Saddam Hussein, are so much harsher that these particular American sins just don't get those juices flowing...

There's a "Rational analysis" that argues that the big difference between Arab and US culture, on the emotional level at least, is in the approaches to sexuality. And that the "Proof" of western corruption, in the mind of Arabs, has always been western sexual attitudes, which are simply beyond the pale to the Arabs. But that for the same reason, the sexual construction of the Arab male makes him vulnerable to psychological pressure of a sexual nature. So why not? It's got to be more moral than breaking their bones, right? It is easy for us who are not involved to moralize. It is equally easy for us to dream up drastic scenarios in which information of a ticking-bomb nature needs to be extracted to save the Iraqi nation and bring about world peace or some other utopian idea.

If, counterintuitively, it should turn out that it is rational and effective, and necessary to subject Iraqi prisoners of the insurgency to sexual degradation of that sort, we can count on not knowing about it in the future. As we can be sure that loose photos will not be sent around to the media.

There just isn't much a citizen can do, except to let the media and the government know that the whole issue is of greater import than Jaylo's nth marriage, and that the sale of of newspapers and the election of politicians may ride in the balance.


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