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May 24, 2004
A Ring of Hell of Our Own Creation

By Ramzy Baroud


"Iraqis shall covet the day when Saddam or someone like him is back in power," declared a colleague of mine in a dissolute coffee shop in some Arab capital. I quivered at the cruel sound of his words, yet held my peace. It was not the first, nor will it be the last time that such an unsettling prophecy is infused. But I still remember the first time I heard it. It was on television, nearly a year ago. "Those who are living the fantasy of American liberation shall cry tears of blood when they wake up to the horrifying new reality. They shall regret the day they cheered for the toppling of the statue," declared an Iraqi man. Behind him stood a jubilant crowd, as a small mob of Iraqis jumped atop a freshly disjoined stone head of the former Iraqi leader. It was not long before the "new reality" struck hard. The Americans were no liberators after all. They are as unruly, as self-seeking. In the "new Iraq", only the victims retained their status. All that really changed was the identity of the oppressor. The sword has simply changed hands. That's all. "Everyone in the company from the commander down" knew what was going on in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, said Lyndie England, an American soldier, famed by her villainous photo appearances, laughing and smoking beside naked male Iraqis. According to a Los Angeles Times report, citing soldiers' testimonies, the CIA, military intelligence and army commanders were all involved in the making of the Abu Ghraib torture gala. Sgt. Javal Davis, one of the seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company (one of the few designated scapegoats for the crime of torture of Iraqi prisoners) described the death of an Iraqi man, interrogated with a sandbag covering his head. "He wasn't dead at first. We didn't know how much he was injured. He went into the showers — where prisoners were stripped naked and shackled into the wall, and about an hour later he died on them. After he passed (away), the sandbag was removed and I saw he was severely beaten on his face." And while England's lover would "stitch up detainees" himself to "take picture of his work", photos of tortured Iraqi prisoners were "shown to everyone who wanted to see them." In a private Pentagon showing of hundreds of photos of tortured Iraqi men and women in Washington, Sen. Richard Durbin said what he has seen was "like looking at one of the rings of hell, and it's a ring of hell of our own creation." The unpublished images reportedly showed Iraqi women forced to expose their bodies, men forced to masturbate in groups. England said soldiers "thought it was funny." What is comical, in fact, is justifying the horror stories of Abu Ghraib, claiming that they are the making of a few "bad apples", who don't represent or reflect the "spirit of America" and the noble causes it stands for. Are we expected to believe the war party this time, like many of us so guilelessly did in the past? If we do, then we subscribe to dodgy and ruthless logic: Starving Iraqis for ten years was a price worth paying to "contain" Saddam Hussein. Reducing entire Afghani villages to rubble was a first blow to our enemy in our "war on terror". The killing in cold blood of hundreds of captives at the Kunduz fortress in Afghanistan in November 2001 was the sight of "America fighting back." One need not stare too long at a copy of the Forth Geneva Convention to see the words "war crime" dotting the American-made tragedy that has engulfed Iraq. The killings in Fallujah, Karbala, Najaf, and Baghdad are war crimes; seizing control of Iraq's wealth and dividing the spoils among the highest bidders is a war crime; the use of cluster bombs against civilian areas is a war crime; the humiliation and torture of prisoners is a war crime. The occupation, in itself, is a war crime. The antipathy created by the US-made tragedy in Iraq will define the fate of that country for years, I am afraid. Equally disheartening is the lamentation over the "good old days" of Saddam Hussein, a brutal legacy that compels no words. But Iraqis must not be pushed to the brink of defining their future based on the level of brutality of their oppressors. However, if Iraqis are to maintain their self-esteem, the American menace must go. Iraqis must not reach the day where they "cry tears of blood" over the absence of Saddam. They deserve better, they deserve some peace, some dignity.

Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian-American journalist.

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