February 22, 2007

The Unspeakable Horror of What We Have Done

Several days ago, I offered an imaginary tale, in what was probably not an entirely successful effort to capture at least a part of the emotional reality of what we have done to Iraq, and to countless numbers of Iraqis. I presented it in that form in an attempt to break through the massive emotional repression that dominates our culture, a phenomenon I discussed further here. I've received a few emails indicating the "Imagine" post did "get through" to some people, so I think it was worth trying to make the argument in a different form.

In my imagined horror tale, I used rape both literally and symbolically, to represent the nature of our actions in Iraq. When I wrote it, I knew that reality had far outstripped any horrors I could create in my mind. And now, we have confirmation of that point -- in a manner that leaves me numb with a disgust so profound that I find it impossible to express in words:
It takes a lot to get the energy and resolution to blog lately. I guess it’s mainly because just thinking about the state of Iraq leaves me drained and depressed. But I had to write tonight.

As I write this, Oprah is on Channel 4 (one of the MBC channels we get on Nilesat), showing Americans how to get out of debt. Her guest speaker is telling a studio full of American women who seem to have over-shopped that they could probably do with fewer designer products. As they talk about increasing incomes and fortunes, Sabrine Al-Janabi, a young Iraqi woman, is on Al Jazeera telling how Iraqi security forces abducted her from her home and raped her. You can only see her eyes, her voice is hoarse and it keeps breaking as she speaks. In the end she tells the reporter that she can’t talk about it anymore and she covers her eyes with shame.

She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever. Everyone knows American forces and Iraqi security forces are raping women (and men), but this is possibly the first woman who publicly comes out and tells about it using her actual name. Hearing her tell her story physically makes my heart ache. Some people will call her a liar. Others (including pro-war Iraqis) will call her a prostitute- shame on you in advance.

I wonder what excuse they used when they took her. It’s most likely she’s one of the thousands of people they round up under the general headline of 'terrorist suspect'. She might have been one of those subtitles you read on CNN or BBC or Arabiya, "13 insurgents captured by Iraqi security forces." The men who raped her are those same security forces Bush and Condi are so proud of- you know- the ones the Americans trained. It’s a chapter right out of the book that documents American occupation in Iraq: the chapter that will tell the story of 14-year-old Abeer who was raped, killed and burned with her little sister and parents.


I look at this woman and I can’t feel anything but rage. What did we gain? I know that looking at her, foreigners will never be able to relate. They’ll feel pity and maybe some anger, but she’s one of us. She’s not a girl in jeans and a t-shirt so there will only be a vague sort of sympathy. Poor third-world countries- that is what their womenfolk tolerate. Just know that we never had to tolerate this before. There was a time when Iraqis were safe in the streets. That time is long gone. We consoled ourselves after the war with the fact that we at least had a modicum of safety in our homes. Homes are sacred, aren’t they? That is gone too.


And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation- are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.
And even that is not the end of this particular episode, one of a countless number of similar episodes:
As expected, Al Maliki is claiming the rape allegations are all lies. Apparently, his people simply asked the officers if they raped Sabrine Al Janabi and they said no. I'm so glad that's been cleared up.


I hate the media and I hate the Iraqi government for turning this atrocity into another Sunni-Shia debacle- like it matters whether Sabrine is Sunni or Shia or Arab or Kurd (the Al Janabi tribe is composed of both Sunnis and Shia). Maliki did not only turn the woman into a liar, he is rewarding the officers she accused. It's outrageous and maddening.

No Iraqi woman under the circumstances- under any circumstances- would publicly, falsely claim she was raped. There are just too many risks. There is the risk of being shunned socially. There is the risk of beginning an endless chain of retaliations and revenge killings between tribes. There is the shame of coming out publicly and talking about a subject so taboo, she and her husband are not only risking their reputations by telling this story, they are risking their lives.

No one would lie about something like this simply to undermine the Baghdad security operation. That can be done simply by calculating the dozens of dead this last week. Or by writing about the mass detentions of innocents, or how people are once again burying their valuables so that Iraqi and American troops don't steal them.

It was less than 14 hours between Sabrine's claims and Maliki's rewarding the people she accused. In 14 hours, Maliki not only established their innocence, but turned them into his own personal heroes. I wonder if Maliki would entrust the safety his own wife and daughter to these men.

This is meant to discourage other prisoners, especially women, from coming forward and making claims against Iraqi and American forces. Maliki is the stupidest man alive (well, after Bush of course…) if he believes his arrogance and callous handling of the situation will work to dismiss it from the minds of Iraqis. By doing what he is doing, he's making it more clear than ever that under his rule, under his government, vigilante justice is the only way to go. Why leave it to the security forces and police? Simply hire a militia or gang to get revenge. If he doesn't get some justice for her, her tribe will be forced to... And the Janabat (the Al Janabis) are a force to be reckoned with.

Maliki could at least pretend the rape of a young Iraqi woman is still an outrage in todays Iraq...
This is what the United States has done, and what we continue to do every day that we remain.

And still we will not leave. We will be there for years to come, and probably for decades, at least on the permanent bases.

Much of the world now considers us to be a barbarian, pariah nation. From the Philippines, through Vietnam, and via many other interventions in Latin America, the Middle East and around the world, there is a monumental amount of evidence to prove the claim. We can appeal all we wish to the "principles" and "freedom" for which we allegedly stand -- but, and here is the point that most Americans refuse even to consider: to the extent those principles were once genuinely admirable, important and good, they are not operative with regard to our conduct abroad. That conduct arises from entirely different motives and concerns, as I am documenting in my Dominion Over the World series.

To continue to believe that we are "the Good Guys" in some unique manner, people must blind themselves to evidence that crashes over us at least several times a day. People must render themselves unforgivably ignorant, and criminally stupid.

I fear that very bad times may soon befall this nation. I also think, with the horrors of Iraq as only the latest chapter in what is now a lengthy book, we will fully deserve all of it. I do not condone any acts of violence perpetrated against innocent human beings -- not when others commit such acts against Americans, or when we commit such acts against others. I vehemently condemn all such acts, without exception. But in a very general sense and with regard to the United States as a nation (by which, I primarily refer to its government and its military), keeping in mind this latest incident reported by River together with the innumerable similar acts we've committed over the last century and longer (and I again draw your attention to the atrocities U.S. troops committed in Vietnam, detailed in the second half of that essay and which the hawks deny to this day), in reply to the questions that seek to intimidate and shut up all those who criticize our actions -- "Are you saying that we deserve it? Are you saying that it's our fault?" -- I would have to answer: Yes, we do deserve it. Yes, it is our fault.

We have not left the rest of the world alone for over a hundred years. We have invaded, exploited, robbed, raped, murdered and destroyed on an immense scale. What sort of reasoning affirmatively approves our actions, and simultaneously condemns what others might do in response? It is not any sort of reasoning that I view as legitimate or coherent, or remotely honest. We might argue, as I would and do, that justice must always be particularized and individual, and that we do not punish anyone who has not himself committed wrongful acts. But in the realm of foreign affairs, the United States has rarely acted in this manner. It is rather too late to insist that others treat us with carefully calibrated justice, when we have so completely and repeatedly failed to accord the same right to them.

We can only hope that those we have mistreated in so barbaric and inhumane a manner are much more merciful than we have been. If I were you, and for the foreseeable future, I wouldn't count on it.