So who’s responsible for the torture and abuse in Iraq?

So who’s responsible for the torture and abuse in Iraq?

I watched Donald Rumsfeld’s Congressional performance and wondered where the buck really stops for the ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Rumsfeld and Bush express horror about how the abuses are profoundly un-American. There’s a lot of talk about “bad apples”, etc. But two things published on the Net make one wonder.

The first is a remarkable New York Times account of the circumstances under which untrained reservists came to be in charge of a teeming prisoner population under unspeakable conditions. Why is this so revealing? Well, it vividly shows the extent to which Rumsfeld & Co did absolutely no planning for dealing with Iraq after the invasion and the defeat of Saddam’s regime.

As to the “bad apples” argument, well it doesn’t wash either. It’s a terrible truth about human beings that whenever some people have absolute power over other human beings, (whether in concentration camps, children’s homes, old people’s care centres, prisons) some of them behave badly, and some do truly terrible things. So any civilised country takes great pains to ensure that this kind of unaccountable power is exercised as little as possible by its forces. No pains were taken by Rumsfeld & Co.

The second salutary item on the Net is a sequence taken from the video-recording system of a US Apache helicopter operating in Iraq. If you have a strong stomach, you can find the MPEG here. If you don’t want to watch it, the gist is this: it’s night-time, so all the action is shot through night-vision lenses; there are three Iraqis on the ground, near a truck which may contain a Stinger anti-aircraft missile; as the chopper approaches, the Iraqis run in various directions. One by one they are picked off with the precision of a video game. The last survivor chooses to hide under the truck. The gunner fires at the truck, and vaporises it — and presumeably the Iraqi. But then a figure appears, on the ground, crawling away from the wreckage. The gunner is ordered to kill him. And he does — poof!

What’s interesting about this is not so much the growing similarity between real and virtual warfare, but the way overwhelming force is used to kill a wounded soldier, who was clearly beyond posing a threat to the helicopter. And what this says about the mindset of US forces in Iraq.