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Commentary :: International
Abu Ghraib: The Charade
10 Jun 2004
Modified: 03:18:45 AM
In this article, Palestinian activist Amer Jubran examines the factors behind the U.S. Government's and corporate media's admission of war crimes in Abu Ghraib. Since Mr. Jubran's inbox tends to get filled up very quickly, responses to his article can also be sent to: necdp (at)
Please Forward

June 6, 2004

A month has passed since the release of horrifying stories about US
occupation soldiers torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu
Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq. Although news about prisoner abuse in Abu
Ghraib and Baghdad Airport in Iraq, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, prisons
in the US, and the US base in Guantanamo in Cuba have been abundant since the
"War on Terrorism" was declared, the news from Abu Ghraib was purposely
selected out and amplified.

A closer look at the main parties involved in this, other than the Iraqi
prisoners, reveals all US players: US media, US military, US President, US
Congress, US military courts, and US soldiers. The succession of news events
proceeded with suspicious rapidity, from dramatic news leaks, to expressions
of outrage by Bush and Rumsfeld, to top-level military investigations, to
Congressional hearings, to US soldiers on trial, and on to the issuing of
verdicts. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, the story came and went in a month's
time, setting records as a major instant scandal.

The news about Abu Ghraib was presented to the whole world with none of the
resistance or denial typical of the US government. The source of the story
was the US corporate media, which has always acted as another branch of the
government in times of crisis. It is impossible to imagine Dan Rather of
CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC, and Peter Jennings of ABC as objective news anchors
on the lookout for victims of US imperialism. For decades, the widespread
and routine abuse of prisoners in US prisons has failed to attract even the
attention of small local media.

One example is that of Jaoudat Abouazza, a Palestinian Canadian who was
arrested for a minor traffic violation in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May,
2002 and who ended up being accused of terrorism. Abouazza spent 42 days in
a Massachusetts county jail where he was beaten, stripped, deprived of
sleep, and subjected to medical torture - the forced removal of four teeth
against his will. Despite the efforts of a number of activists to bring this
to the attention of the media, the story was ignored. There were no
questions asked of the sheriff running the jail, no calls for resignation,
no expressions of outrage, and no investigations. There are thousands of
other examples in the US prison system alone.

So why was the Abu Ghraib story allowed to surface? Why would the US risk
such a damaging portrayal of its military and its policies at a time when
its occupation of Iraq needed all possible support? What compelled the US to
expose itself? Leaks about the prison torture said that the abuses started
at the end of the summer 2003. Why did they only come out in 2004? In the
past, the US has managed to turn negative outcomes to its advantage. Why not
in this case? How could publishing such a disgrace be to its benefit?

Leading up to the war, the Bush administration invented the pretexts of
weapons of mass destruction, links between Al Qa'eda and Saddam, and ending
Saddam's oppression of the Iraqis. Hidden motives, of course, were Iraqi
oil, profits for defense contractors, the establishment of major bases,
political domination of the region, and a general display to the rest of the
planet of US military power. As an Egyptian proverb says: "Beat a chained
man to frighten the rest who are free." For the last fourteen years, Iraq
has been that chained victim.

The US forecasted no danger in the "cakewalk" of occupying Iraq. It
anticipated a huge victory which would make going to war even under false
pretences possible. Worldwide opposition fell on deaf ears. In March 2003
Bush proceeded to the attack. It planned the fall of Baghdad by mid-April.
In media propaganda, the fall officially took place April 9, 2003 in
Baghdad's Fardus Square, in the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein.

But April 9 proved to be only the end of the first round. The US discovered
a new player in the game. Unlike the Iraqi regime, this player was a real, a
capable, and a determined resistance fighting the largest superpower in
human history. Bush's words to the resistance in May of 2003 were "Bring
them on." And on they came.

The Iraqi resistance used tactics of guerilla warfare to harass and deplete
US forces. Over days and months of numerous successes, the resistance grew
more confident in its ability and in its knowledge of its enemy. As the first
anniversary of April 9th was approaching, the resistance predicted a
military move by US forces against Fallujah, the center of resistance, where
the US would attempt to deliver a final defeat to the Iraqis and celebrate
the April 9th anniversary. Efforts to oppose this offensive began in early

The resistance in Iraq decided to exploit a weakness of the US forces by
surprising it with a direct confrontation. The strategy worked, and Fallujah
managed to hold back the US forces for more than three weeks. The US found
itself compelled to negotiate a deal with what it once described as
terrorists. The deal focused on a cease fire in which the US withdrew its
forces from around the city of Fallujah. Now, more than sixty days later,
the US has still not entered Fallujah. Instead, the reasons declared by the
US for going into Fallujah were dropped. The arrest of those who killed four
US mercenaries, and the vow to empty the city of weapons, was never
accomplished. Nor was the defeat of "foreign fighters" and "Iraqi
insurgents." Nor was the "restoration of order" through a local Iraqi police
authority. Fullujah's heroic standoff astonished the arrogant imperial
forces. US soldiers suddenly developed poor morale and appeared confused and
ready to defect from the battlefield.

Things became worse when Fallujah then inspired a larger populist armed
struggle which covered most of Iraq. Just as the victory of Fallujah was
sinking in, a second victory was beginning in Najaf. US claims that only the
"Sunni Triangle" and Saddam loyalists objected to the occupation were
revealed as lies. While the resistance intensified, friends of the US bully
began to fold: Spain, Honduras, and others withdrew their forces from Iraq
and declared that they were no longer part of the "coalition."

The battle of Fallujah was decisive: it was a complete victory for the Iraqi
resistance. At Fallujah, Uncle Sam lost the war in Iraq. It only remains to
be seen how much more the US is prepared to lose by staying. The challenges
for the US now are in figuring out how to disengage from Iraq without
admitting a military defeat, how to continue stealing Iraq's oil, and how to
maintain control in the wider region.

This is where the story of Abu Ghraib fits in. The US deliberately made Abu
Ghraib a major story in order to divert attention away from its defeat in
Fallujah. The US military can live with the reputation of committing war
crimes, but cannot afford to admit a military defeat. Therefore, under a
cloud of disgusting pictures from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah was swept under the

The effect of the pictures is to create the impression of a powerful system
that is in control, but made one or two small mistakes. The world was meant
to get the impression that this system is capable of critical
self-assessment, that freedom of the press has been effective in stopping
certain excesses, and that swift justice from legislators and top political
figures ultimately kept US moral leadership intact. The pictures and the
accompanying apologies were meant to show that the US still has the
initiative and is still fit to play the role of political caretaker of a
new Iraq.

But no matter what the blame taken by US officials, they also knew that the
pictures would send a message of humiliation to Iraqis and to potential
future victims of the US. The message is: if you resist us, you risk
punishment and degradation. A second benefit to the US is that the pictures
also portray Iraqis as helpless victims rather than resisters.

The US admission of guilt in Abu Ghraib was an inverted attempt to proclaim
moral superiority. While the ignorance of the American public about its
government's greater crimes was carefully protected, the facts of US defeat
in Fallujah and Najaf remain, and are known elsewhere. While Uncle Sam is
busy attempting to deceive the world, the resistance in Iraq continues
unabated. The victory of Fallujah has given it new confidence. The Abu
Ghraib pictures have only added fuel to the fire.
See also:

This work is in the public domain
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