05 May 2004

Abu Ghraib

Today's New York Times has an excellent article about one of the abused prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison, Hayder Sabbar Abd. It does a really nice job of capturing the schizophrenic nature of the American occupation of Iraq.

My own thinking on these events has bounced between two foci: the vocal Arab reaction, and the circumstances of the people who did these awful things.

First off, I was so angry this morning as I listened to the BBC news interview several Arab journalists for reactions in Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others. They were all excoriating the United States for these horrific human rights abuses and on and on. All they wanted to talk about was how much the Arab world hated the US and how evil we are. How can these people be so two-faced? The regimes of the Gulf States as well as Syria, Jordan, Iran and others are among the most ruthlessly efficient governments in suppressing and killing their citizens in the history of the world. I mean to take nothing away from the outrage expressed at the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but come on! Look at the level of transparency the US is exhibiting in tracking this down and squelching it. The idea that the United States is a leader of oppression in the Middle East is so ludicrous that I can't even argue logically with people who make such claims.

I don't think that these acts were perpetrated by a few isolated sadists. From conversations with friends in Iraq it seems like a lot of the men and women in the occupation force are pissed off at Iraqis. Their friends are being killed, they're being shot at, they're supposed to be hunting down "Baathists" while winning the proveribal "hearts and minds" of everyone else. How can we ask anyone to bear this psychological burden? "Here ya go, enjoy your stay in the desert. Make sure to be real nice to all these people...except for the ones who are trying to blow you up; you can shoot them. Oh, and by the way, nobody knows which is which!" So this brings us back to the prison guards stripping Iraqis naked and beating the shit out of them. Why'd they do it? I'm not sure, but I suspect more and more that admonishing the few individuals involved isn't really going to address the root of the problem. President Bush tells us and the world that this is not representative of America. I think he's right, but I think he's glossing over the fact that even freedom loving people are subject to feeling angry and vengeful.

I bet every one of the American kids over there has to fight himself every day—has to try to rectify his mission of liberation versus these people he's trying to help who just want to blow the crap out of him. I think these prison guards slipped down a slope from frustration to anger and at some point took out that anger in an incomprehensible way. Read the description in that Times article of the inane stuff they made these Iraqis do and you begin to wonder what brought these people this far. If I was thrown in the same position would I have done any better? I don't know.

I hope that there aren't more random Iraqis in naked human pyramids right now. I pray that God give all of us the strength to win that inner battle between freedom and hatred. I don't know what else to do.

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