Sunday, May 09, 2004

Have we built a cruel society? Torture and media...

The torrent of filth didn't stop all week. I didn't blog - I'm sorry - really because I couldn't see any useful angle to cover. Torture's evil. I'm ashamed. That was about it - it's not very original, is it? Best to wait and let the pressure build....until it has to get out. We have seen the complete collapse of our legitimacy, our minimal claim to decency. The pictures, especially the latest menacing deliveries from Abu Ghraibh, are the western version of the 11th September TV footage. That attack, with its calculated use of the world communication system, was conceived to deliver violence to everyone like poison in the water supply. The torture pictures have done exactly the same in reverse, permeating the Islamic world with a total message of hatred, contempt, and sordidness. They will, of course, generate over time their own self-amplifying waves of conspiracy and nonsense, the equivalent of those people who think the airliners were flown by remote control into the buildings by Mossad - or who think Iraq was behind it all. It's already happening - see the Basra preacher who yesterday waved papers he claimed showed the rape of Iraqi women by British soldiers at his congregation. Unless it's much, much worse than anyone thinks, he is lying; but it doesn't matter. Bloggerheads reports that a porno site called exists that claims to show rapes committed in US custody in Iraq - some of its product has already turned up in the Middle East, being treated as genuine. What a world this is.

What do we know? We know that the US Army's 800th Military Police Brigade managed to recruit a considerable number of people who were potential torturers, and failed to hold them in check. We know that they were at least tacitly encouraged by members of military intelligence, and that a grimly exotic variety of privatised spooks were also torturing, far more seriously. These men - outside the military law and the Iraqi law, and according to Robert Fisk not even US citizens - were hired by "other government agencies", presumably the secret services. It seems clear that their purpose is or was to provide deniable interrogators, to allow the intelligence services to escape the laws of the US. The effect was unsurprising - apart from their own actions, their very existence will have gone a long way to providing the validation, the sense of rightness, needed to trigger the rest of the guards. The US prisons in Iraq were allowed, to go no further, to become enclaves outside law run by true-believer spooks and halfwitted thugs.

Simultaneously, we have had our own thug eruption. Even less seems to be firmly known about the treatment of prisoners in the British zone - what is clear is that there is a case to answer. Currently, it is said that out of some 33 cases, 15 were dismissed and 6 have been referred for prosecution. They are all many months old. It would be good if the Army Prosecuting Authority could finally produce, and either issue charges or give reasons, no? The scandal has meant that there are now a clutch of cases before the High Court, another with the APA, and no-one seems to know whether more have emerged. Some of the cases are of a pattern - they involve the apparently accidental or negligent shooting of persons in the streets, often after gunfire had been heard. This is horrible - but why do I feel that it is less so than the allegations of torture? Those are harder to pin. There is the grim case of Baha Mousa, allegedly (and almost certainly) beaten to death. There are the Daily Mirror's allegations - or are they the same case? I am sceptical of the Mirror's photos, but (curiously) less so of the allegations. If Piers Morgan deserves criticism, it will be because his lunge for the pictures discredited the real story.

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