Normalising Torture

The media focuses on cases of mistreatment by US-UK forces in Iraq, yet systematic human rights violations are ignored, argues

An investigation has been launched following the emergence of photographs allegedly showing Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) being abused by British forces in Iraq. Handed to military police after being taken in for developing, one showed an Iraqi dangling in netting from a fork-lift truck, bound and gagged. A separate investigation is focussing on allegations concerning the mistreatment of Iraqi civilians by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, who gained notoriety after giving a "rousing" speech to 600 troops on the eve of war.

These cases happen to have been picked up by the media. What they don’t focus on is the widespread acceptance of torture and contempt for human rights that has characterised the US establishment since 9/11.

Since 9/11, humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention have been shunned. And not only in Guantanamo Bay; a recent report revealed how thousands of Iraqi POWs are being held at Baghdad airport by US forces without access to human rights organisations. All requests by the Red Cross to inspect conditions under which prisoners are being held have been met with silence.

The wretched conditions of Guantanamo prisoners are replicated in an enormous network of highly secretive CIA detention centres around the world. A recent investigation by the Washington Post recently exposed human rights violations on a grand scale at Bagram airport, Afghanistan.
It also exposed the US administration’s disregard for international law which lies behind their cynical moralising. Every national security official questioned "…defended the use of violence against captives as ‘just and necessary’". One particularly candid official commented, "If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job."

At Bagram, uncooperative suspects were forced to stand or kneel for hours in spray-painted goggles, or were held in painful positions. The suspects are commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noise and deprived of sleep through 24-hour sound bombardment, the report found.

The tone of intimidation and fear is the beginning of a process of breaking resistance. In Iraq, sleep deprivation has formed a central part of the strategy. Prisoners are exposed for prolonged periods to "culturally offensive" heavy metal music and songs from children’s television. A US Psychological Operations Company official described the process: "They can't take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them." Amnesty International reported the case of one Iraqi civilian who was kept awake for up to four days through this technique.

While the media present "isolated instances" of "alleged mistreatment" by US-UK forces, they ignore the systematic human rights violations that are taking place each day. And there can be no excuses; the US administration is quite open about its strategy. As Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Centre said to a US senate committee last year, "I have to say that all you need to know is: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.’

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