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The world’s most powerful army

From the beginning, the US intervention in Iraq has been based on falsehood and arrogance. The Americans thought they would find weapons; th...

Written by G. P. Joshi | May 11, 2004

From the beginning, the US intervention in Iraq has been based on falsehood and arrogance. The Americans thought they would find weapons; they didn’t. They assumed they would be hailed as liberators; they weren’t. They felt that they would succeed in setting up a democratic regime in Iraq; they failed. They said they were there because Saddam Hussein was a despot who tortured innocents; they have shown themselves to be equally bad, even worse.

The report of Major General Taguba brought out that Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were subjected to “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” and also that the abuse was common and routine. The gravity of violations and the fact that they were being practiced for long make it a case of “collective wrongdoing” and the “failure of Army leadership at highest levels”.

If one goes by the Geneva Convention, the responsibility for misconduct cannot be put at the doors of a few delinquent officers. It has to be owned by the US government. In fact, the victims of torture at Abu Ghraib were not even enemy soldiers captured as prisoners during war; they were mostly civilians. Civilians in the hands of the occupying power, who do not indulge in activities hostile to such power, are to be treated as “protected persons” within the meaning of the Geneva Convention.

What happened at Abu Ghraib reflects adversely not only on the discipline but on the training of the US army. The 372nd Military Police Company doing the guard duty at the prison were not trained for their jobs. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib when the incidents occurred, is actually a business consultant in civilian life. She was drawn out of the reserve list and put in charge of the military prisons in Iraq.

It was admitted by many witnesses during inquiry that they were not given any “training guidelines”. It appears that the US authorities were not unduly perturbed by the requirements of international humanitarian laws. Contents of these provisions have to be made known to the prisoners, too. Article 39 of the ‘Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’, says that every prison shall be put under the immediate authority of a responsible officer belonging to the regular armed forces of the detaining power. The idea is that it shall be the officer’s responsibility, and through him of his government, to ensure that prisoners are treated according to the norms.

The inquiry into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib revealed that in addition to the regular military personnel, private civilian contractors employed by the US army had free access to all places inside the prison. In fact, they were also involved in interrogating prisoners. One contractor was even accused of raping a young male prisoner but it has not been possible to proceed against him because the military law has no jurisdiction over him.

The apologies of President Bush and his secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, have not assuaged the international anger and outrage against these incidents, unsurprisingly. The hope, if there was any, that Iraq will return to normalcy in the near future, may receive a big setback as a result of what happened at Abu Ghraib.

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