April 26, 2007

Torturing "Ali Baba" to Death

I excerpt the following article both because it is horrifyingly noteworthy in itself, and because it touches on a number of crucial issues, including some I have discussed in detail in my series "Dominion Over the World" and "On Torture." Of particular note is the thread of viciously barbaric racism that underlies the destructive imperial catastrophes so eagerly pursued by the United States and its junior partner in crime, Britain.

Because our fatally irresponsible major media are incapable of focusing on anything other than the Scandal of the Hour, and because U.S. media can't even begin to address the numerous crimes engaged in by the American government over the last several years (to say nothing of the last several decades), and since this concerns heinous crimes committed by the British military, it is sure to be completely ignored here. We are America the Good, and our soldiers are Heroic Nobility Itself. Never mind the confessions of American torturers, whose growing number we can only guess at. Keep in mind that at some point, all those Americans who have tortured and engaged in other acts of unforgivable and unjustified violence will return to civilian life. Cho Seung-Hui was an amateur; these will be professional killers who come to live and work among us.

Phil Shiner, a solicitor who acts for the family of Baha Mousa and in 40 other cases of torture, beatings and killings by UK forces in Iraq, writes in The Guardian:
Images of the battered, bloodied, bruised face of Baha Mousa, tortured to death while in detention with British troops under the Iraq occupation, should have shocked the nation when they appeared last week. Instead, most media outlets chose to ignore them. By comparison, when Canadian troops meted out similar treatment to a prisoner in Somalia in the 1990s, the result was a five-year public inquiry and spring-clean of the military justice system. What is going on?

To answer that question is to dig into what was described as a cover-up by the judge advocate at the conclusion of the court martial into the incident. What follows arises from publicly available material, most of it in the House of Lords case, which finishes tomorrow, into whether the Human Rights Act applied to protect Mousa and others. There are four clusters of issues we have to face.

First, the incident led to more than just a single death. Photographs and medical evidence show our troops nearly killed another civilian, and badly injured five others. The judge found that a group of soldiers had engaged in systematic torture and humiliation, but none had been charged because of an "obvious closing of ranks". Who were the torturers?

Second, the torture included the use of four techniques banned by the government in 1972: hooding, stressing and sleep and food deprivation. ...

Third, the facility where Mousa and others were tortured was small. The soldiers' shouting and detainees' screaming were audible to anyone on the site. So, who are those in command who knew, or ought to have known, what was going on in the critical 36 hours before Mousa's death? Even more potentially damning to the chain of command responsibility, who knew, or ought to have known, of the complete breakdown in the system of training troops? There was a failure to train troops to observe the law and also, it seems, to teach them the basic principles to enable them to fulfil their role.


The final cluster of issues is where it starts to get really ugly. What are we supposed to make of material that shows it was standard to refer to Iraqis as "Ali Babas"? Or of military operations that had similar racist connotations from an earlier era? Or material that indicates a remorseless disregard of Iraqis' human rights, which dehumanised them in the eyes of the troops who were supposed to protect them? When our troops were supposed to be exercising policing functions, we appear to have shot first and asked questions later.

Uncomfortable questions about our complicity in war crimes with the US also lurk beneath the surface. The evidence from prosecution witnesses in the court martial shows that the US was putting pressure on us to adopt its interrogation techniques.

Consider that the facility involved in the Mousa incident was in the middle of an urban area and the abuse occurred in broad daylight. By comparison, our theatre internment facility, Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, was in the middle of nowhere. But the government claims the US ran Camp Bucca. The evidence in the court martial is clear. We had two compounds for UK detainees, they had six. We had jurisdiction over UK detainees who were subject to questioning by our tactical questioners. So why the blatant denial of responsibility where it is obvious the UK did have jurisdiction? The MoD admitted in 2004 that six other Iraqis had died while in detention with British troops, and we know all British detainees were taken to Camp Bucca until Christmas 2003. We also know that US forces killed Iraqis during "riots" at the facility and that three US soldiers were discharged in 2004 after being found guilty of abusing prisoners. If Mousa died in our custody where he did, what was happening in the British section of Camp Bucca?
In some form, all these horrors, which have been repeated endless times in Iraq, which continue today and will continue for endless tomorrows, will eventually exact their vengeance on us. The only questions are when, and how bad it will be.

You should tremble for the future. We have unleashed Hell on earth, and we show no inclination whatsoever to stop it anytime soon. It will seek us out. Someday, it will find us.