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Of Human Dignity

April 2004

There is no sure foundation set on blood, No certain life achieved by others’ death. Shakespeare – King John 4.2.104

Worse than the pictures and the revelations are the justifications. Senator Clinton was criticized(1) for calling the incidents ‘atrocities’ during her questioning of Secretary Rumsfeld. ‘They are not atrocities’ said the critic. Atrocities are genocidal acts, he explained, but these are just terrible and unfortunate incidents, yet continue to be far from atrocities. Rush Limbaugh was horrified, not at the images, but at the attacks against the fun-loving soldiers who committed these acts. “We are going to ruin people’s lives over it. They were just having fun,” he stated, “Never heard of blowing steam off?”(2). And soldier Lynddie England’s sister indignantly said how she stood by her sister, and how she ‘served her country’ and ‘represented American soldiers’. Senator Lieberman emotionally asked how come we are apologizing when no one apologized to us for September 11th? And President Bush went on the Arab TV networks of his choice saying in his customary arrogance: “I cannot forget September 11th”. It is the magic word, you see. September 11th, which justifies every abuse and every civil and human liberty that this administration violates.

But Rumsfeld and Bush are sorry, you see. And Rumsfeld and Bush are honorable men. We did not know, Rumsfeld said, and took full and total responsibility, to ensure that the President’s election campaign is unharmed. And when we knew, he continued, we took action. The Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have since revealed the letters they wrote describing the abuses in those prisons since March 03, some of which are addressed directly to Rumsfeld.

The deliberateness of the actions, with a ‘hear no evil, speak no evil’ mentality began with this administration’s announcement that the US will not deal with prisoners according to the Geneva Conventions. We are above the law. Maybe in Iraq, but certainly not in Guantanamo nor Afghanistan. Old words surfacing in new contexts: enemy combatants, insurgents, terrorists. Magic words to justify extra-judicial behavior and policies. What did people think this meant? It could only mean that they were intending to use precisely those methods of torture, at will and at their discretion, to extract confessions, or to simply exact vengeance.

But, according to Rumsfeld, it is the power of the pictures. We have all heard, and witnesses have come out and testified to the abuse they suffered, but we all chose, deliberately, to ignore them. It is only the pictures that caused an outcry and shock. In denial, the administration, together with many ‘good’ Americans said that this must be the acts of a few. We are not like that. We are honorable people with honorable intentions and honorable soldiers.

And Rumsfeld is sorry, you see. And Rumsfeld is an honorable man. Only when he saw the pictures did he feel the outrage and see the need to apologize. And the worst is yet to come, he said. Just when we think this war could not take a worse turn, it surprises us and does.

Daniel Pipes, current Bush-appointed director of the US Institute for Peace, as a guest on al Jazeera TV channel May 8th, admonished al Jazeera for continuing to show these pictures and speak about them because, according to him, it was counterproductive and served no purpose. He said we needed to move forward. Bottom line is, we have liberated Iraq from tyranny and given it a government that they had never had in their history.

Not only does he demonstrate remarkable ignorance of history, he also wants Arabs to just let it go and appreciate the ‘freedom’ they now have. Needless to say, the Bush administration and its spin machine, a decade or more after Saddam attacked the Kurds, continues to this day to show us and remind us of his atrocities, ignoring the fact that they continued to support him long after. But Arabs should forget these pictures of their own abuse even as they are revealed day by day, and move on. It happened. Get over it.

The ironies are more than can be counted. It cannot escape us that this is the same prison where Saddam tortured his victims. It cannot escape us that at the beginning of the war, with the capture of American POWs, Arab TV channels displayed them sitting down with cups of tea and biscuits in their hands. Rumsfeld was outraged. And so was the President. They both said this was against the Geneva Conventions. Yet they of course, unilaterally with the dwindling coalition of the willing, can go into a country, attack its people, and announce to them that they are enemies for whom the Geneva Conventions may or may not apply. They can bomb their homes and buildings, abuse and torture them, humiliate them, deprive them of their dignity, secure their oil fields and allow the looting of their museums and libraries. They can shock and awe them into submission as the entire world watches helplessly. They can claim there are weapons of mass destruction and when they find none they do not apologize but rather find yet another reason for their presence there. They were right, they say, because they went there for freedom and human rights. They sent good American sons and daughters to die in order to liberate another country from tyranny. And American polls still show high rates of approval for this administration.

And Rumsfeld is sorry you see. And Rumsfeld is an honorable man. He did not know, he said. In the Arab World we have a saying: “If you knew, it is a disaster. If you didn’t, it is a greater disaster.”

As Arabs, it seems, we have become the ‘hooded nation’. Hooded in Palestine and hooded in Iraq. Perhaps soon in Syria as well, if this administration has its way and continues to attempt to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Arabs. But if the world is so outraged at the Americans, why are they not outraged at Israel? Why are pictures of Palestinians, hooded, naked, and tortured commonplace and acceptable? Have we become so accustomed to the images of Palestinian people abused that we have become desensitized? And America has learnt the lesson well from its instructor, friend and ally, on how to treat Arabs. It has used every tactic and more: targeted assassinations, abuse, humiliation, torture during interrogations, hoods, Apache attacks on buildings, murdering the wounded in cold blood (3), obstructing ambulances from reaching the wounded, using double and triple and multiple standards. What else is left? Time and again, Arabs are humiliated, and when they resist as they only know how, they are called terrorists.

Humiliation: this is the key concept of this administration and of its ally. Depriving people of their dignity and ‘manhood’, depriving them of fair trials and access to the judiciary system and to international courts, and depriving them of their humanity, through nudity, sodomy, and abuse. These people have little else because everything else has been taken from them. When you take away someone’s dignity, what else is left? With the typical underlying racism of this ideologically motivated and zealous administration, they have dehumanized the ‘other’ and with masterful propaganda set up the stage for the abuse of the ‘evil-doers of evil’. So much so, that the soldiers needed no excuse to humiliate and abuse the prisoners. Ignorance of the Geneva Conventions and lack of training is a sorry excuse.

And as Rumsfeld is an honorable man, Saddam is perhaps even more so. He at least, never claimed he was a democracy; never promised democracy; never bombed another country to bring democracy. He, at least, tortured and let if be known he tortured. No lies or cover-ups. He cut people’s ears and tongues, and was a tyrant and a dictator. He let it be known he was so. He took Kuwait for various reasons, not one of them with a claim to bring them democracy or human rights. Not one of them with the arrogance of ‘teaching that nation’ how to become democratic.

The apologies are a welcome move, but they are far from enough. Given that they knew and still allowed it to happen, the apologies seem to be about being caught rather than for the acts themselves. Bush reminded us on Arab TV that this was not how Americans behaved. He reminded us that they brought the oppressed Arabs freedom from the tyranny of a dictator. Does this administration, or the American people who are happily endorsing this administration in the polls, even begin to understand how they have no credibility not only in the region but also around the world? Do they understand that their freedom and security could not possibly come with the blood of others? Have they any comprehension of the magnitude of their deeds by attacking one Arab country, allowing – even encouraging – another to take huge chunks of land from a second, and threatening a third? Have they any understanding of the damage they have created to terms and concepts such as ‘human rights’, international law’, ‘justice’ ‘multilateralism’ and even, sadly, ‘Christianity’? Until they realize that, and begin to remedy their misdeeds, apologies, in spite of their recent abundance, are merely bubbles in the air.

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