September 2001, the language and tactics employed as part
of the so-called "war on terror" have become an
inescapable and sinister subtext to the global geo-political
landscape. This "war" affects every one of us: because
of the colour of our passports, our names, our beliefs or
our politics. All these fundamental things have become imbued
with an additional (and for those with the wrong credentials,
sometimes threatening) significance.
from the individual impact, this has implications for developing
countries like Bangladesh. A report, recently published, discusses
bringing security "more squarely" into the provision
of aid and development, citing (correctly) that development
cannot progress where there is instability. However, this
does raise major concerns that donor governments may ultimately
use (or misuse) this argument to link aid provision to global
mean that the security interests of the world powers would
again be a major (as opposed to merely an additional) determinant
of aid flows - as during the Cold War. To some extent, this
is already happening. Note the strong support being provided
to countries which (to put it mildly!), have a complicated
- and possibly contradictory - relationship to the "war
on terror" e.g. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
potential for abuse is not limited to the direction of aid
flows. Stories emerging about the tactics justified in the
name of the "war on terror" are truly chilling.
Somehow - whether carried out openly or covertly (the latter
being preferable) - torture is becoming increasingly accepted,
if not quite - as yet - respectable.
of serious misconduct and cover-up by senior officials over
the shocking incidents of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq persist. Although it is a year since the pictures
were first published, recent events seem merely to confirm
the covert and sordid aspects of the occupation hinted at
by those pictures. The US military and civilian authorities'
multiple inquiries have only led to low-ranking soldiers being
penalised (usually inadequately). Perhaps that too, primarily
because of the photographic evidence of their guilt!
five officers in charge, only the most junior and latest arrival,
General Janis Karpinski, was found in any way culpable (i.e.
relieved of her command and given a written reprimand). She
continues to insist that the torture tactics were carried
out without her knowledge, on the basis of orders from above,
which "leapfrogged" over her, down to more junior
officers. She has also implied that the fact that she is a
woman and a reservist (therefore not seen as a "real
soldier"), is why she was scapegoated i.e. she was expendable.
a point. The Pentagon inquiry cleared the senior officer at
Abu Ghraib jail (Ricardo Sanchez) of blame for abuses. Yet
the official commission chaired by James Schlesinger (former
Defence Secretary) in 2004, had placed the responsibility
squarely on Sanchez, because he called on intelligence officers
to work with military police to "manipulate internees'
emotions and weaknesses", creating the moral climate
that allowed the abuses to occur.
the circumstances, it is difficult to believe the argument
that the abuse was the work of "a few bad apples"
(conveniently located at the bottom of the chain of command).
No one in the Pentagon or the White House has been held to
account. The White House counsel who reportedly advised on
the legality of a tougher interrogation regime for prisoners
has been promoted to attorney general, and even President
Bush's promise to have the prison torn down has not been honoured
as yet! Abu Ghraib now symbolises the "whole complex
pattern of cruelty, humiliation and torture that the agents
of the US administration had visited upon their captives",
according to the Independent.
is not only Iraqi prisoners who are on the receiving end of
such treatment. President Karzai of Afghanistan has finally
spoken out against the shocking abuse of Afghan prisoners.
And the Britons freed from Guantanamo Bay had already described
incidents of torture and degradation, allegedly carried out
on a routine basis.
themselves have increasingly been speaking out against army
practices in a number of high-profile cases. Kevin Benderman
joined the Army in 1987, serving in the first Gulf War. But
he was unwilling to return for a second term of duty after
his first term in Iraq; he said what he had seen made him
morally opposed to returning to war, declaring himself a conscientious
objector. Unsurprisingly, the army sees it differently, charging
him with desertion.
testimony of soldiers like Benderman and others speaks volumes
about attitudes and indoctrination. They have described experiences
in the US army as follows: "I met a lot of people who
want to kill Arabs" (Jeremiah Adler), and "We were
told that we would be going to Iraq…a new kind of war…these
were evil people… We were told to consider all Arabs
as potential terrorists… to foster an attitude of hatred…"(Jeremy
Hinzman). This context makes the events at Abu Ghraib all
too easy to understand.
On a related
point, I have long been puzzled as to why the US has been
so insistent in obtaining exemption from prosecution for its
soldiers at the International Criminal Court. I wondered why,
unlike so many other Western countries, they were so worried
about being prosecuted by the ICC. Now, understanding more
clearly how US soldiers may behave in war (indeed, how they
may be instructed to behave, in contravention of international
human rights law), the need for them to obtain pre-emptive
protection is much clearer!
as the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has pointed out,
it is the senior leadership who should be called to account.
HRW has called for a criminal investigation of the Defence
Secretary (Rumsfeld), and the former head of the CIA (Tenet),
for torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo
Bay and "secret locations" abroad. The HRW report
argues that Mr Rumsfeld's inaction should be investigated
under the doctrine of "command responsibility",
whereby a superior is responsible for crimes committed by
his subordinates when he knew or should have known that they
were being committed, but failed to take reasonable measures
to stop them. It further states that Mr Rumsfeld approved
interrogation techniques violating the Geneva Convention and
Convention against Torture e.g. the use of guard-dogs to frighten
prisoners, and painful "stress positions".
highlights that although President Bush vowed that "wrongdoers
will be brought to justice", only low-ranking personnel
have been called to account and the high-level US investigation
that cleared four key officers in charge of Iraq operations
of responsibility for abuse, has contributed to a "wall
of impunity" surrounding the leadership, despite mounting
evidence that mistreatment of prisoners resulted from their
decisions to "end, ignore, or cast rules aside".
serious accusations, made by a highly- respected human rights
organisation, echo the suspicions of many others still awaiting
answers from the US government. The fact remains that if America
is to be truly credible as a global campaigner for democracy,
transparency and accountability, it must apply these standards
to its own behaviour. Until then, the rest of the world will
undoubtedly continue to view such claims with a degree of
(R) thedailystar.net 2005