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Nearly four years after Obama pledged to shut Gitmo,
the torture house in Cuba remains open

Cover Story

SYED TAUSIEF AUSAF depicts just a glimpse of the western world order that has bred too many ‘bad apples’ in its rank and file, a natural corollary of human misapprehension to run the affairs of the world as they wish rather than following the just world order based on the Divine concept of truth and justice that ensures ultimate success both here and the hereafter.

Every time a horror story surfaces about the unpardonable conduct of US soldiers stationed abroad, and there is no hope left to protect culprits or hush up the case, America’s top brass joins the nonstop chorus at the Pentagon and White House: “A few bad apples in the military are to blame.”

Mr. President plays the lead role in this drama’s drop scene. He tells the world, pointing the index finger in the air, that the “deplorable” and “reprehensible” behaviour of a couple of misguided soldiers does not represent American values in any way. Adjectives like egregious, hideous, unfortunate, regrettable are repeatedly used to condemn the episode and Cabinet secretaries express “total dismay” over the revelation for several weeks.

Such theatrics have been done so often and for so long that the point has come where so many apples are bad it is hard to find a good one. The recently surfaced video showing Marine snipers urinating on the bodies of three Taleban fighters in Afghanistan has once again brought into focus a pattern of depravity in some sections of the US military. One of the soldiers in the video jokes: “Have a nice day, buddy.” Another makes a lewd joke.

Washington watchers have seen a plethora of incidents in which the “bad apples” have shown utter disregard for human dignity. They killed civilians for sport, bombed wedding parties, carried out battlefield executions, blew up hundreds with daisy cutters and cluster bombs, covered up botched raids and posed for pictures with their defenceless victims. The saddest part of the story is that no serious steps were ever taken to ensure that the crop of such “bad apples” does not surface again. This would definitely enrage America’s apologists, but history is not on their side.

Systematic and horrendous sexual abuse, rape and torture of detainees leading to death in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 came as a shock to the world. The abuse photographs — which the administration of Barack Obama refused to make public in order to avoid retaliation — shed light on some activities in the notorious jail that should shame any decent person.

The New York Times, in a report on Jan. 12, 2005, reported testimony revealing that the following events had taken place there:

• Urinating on detainees;

• Jumping on detainee’s leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly;

• Continuing by pounding detainee’s wounded leg with collapsible metal baton;

• Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees;

• Sodomisation of detainees with a baton;

• Tying ropes to the detainees’ legs or private parts and dragging them across the floor.

Eleven soldiers were convicted of various charges relating to the incidents, all including dereliction of duty, most receiving relatively minor sentences. Three other soldiers were either cleared of charges or were not charged. No one was convicted of murders.

It is this loophole in the US military justice system that gives the bad apples confidence that they will get away with a slap on the wrist. If exemplary punishments had been meted out to the villains of Abu Ghraib, Iraq perhaps would not have witnessed animalism of some more bad apples in the village of Mahmudiya in 2006. In this heart-wrenching incident, US soldiers attacked a private house, killed the father, mother and brother of a 14-year-old girl before gang-raping her. In order to destroy evidence, Abeer’s body was burned. One of the attackers, Pfc. Steven D. Green, and his partners in crime told the Iraqi soldiers who arrived on the scene immediately after the incident that it was the handiwork of Sunni insurgents — a euphemism for Al-Qaeda. In September 2009, Green was formally sentenced to life in prison. Had he been handed a death sentence, that, many feel, would have deterred other bad apples.

Neoconservatives, the chief advocates of the pattern of torture, were not very pleased when the FBI said in a report on Jan. 3, 2007 that captives at Guantanamo Bay were chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, urinating and defecating on themselves.

Besides being shackled to the floor, detainees were subjected to extremes of temperature. In October 2002, one interrogator squatted over a copy of the Holy Qur’ān during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner.

It’s a shame that nearly four years after Obama pledged to shut Gitmo, the torture house in Cuba remains open. Families of Arab prisoners detained without trial there since it opened 10 years ago are despairing of seeing loved ones again soon.

The current video showing US soldiers desecrating the dead reinforces the belief that US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not just about fighting Muslims, but about humiliating them and their faith. The images leave people wondering if US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were really to bring peace and democracy or they were just an opportunity to assert US power over Muslim populations. The only outcome of the antics of the bad apples is that the video would be used by militants to whip up anti-US sentiment across the Muslim world with renewed vigour. And God forbid if the Taleban launch a wave of suicide bombings targeting Western troops in retaliation, the credit would totally go to the “bad apples.”

Defiling, desecrating, mocking, photographing or filming for personal use insurgent dead constitutes a grave breach of the laws of armed conflict. But there seem to be few takers for this in the US Army. Recurring abuse incidents leave analysts wondering if the bad apples have outgrown good ones.

According to the advocates of torture in the US Army, this has ensured the safety of Americans. They should perhaps listen to Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State: “The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves.”

[The writer, based in Jeddah, can be reached at tausief@hotmail.com]

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