Thursday, May 06, 2004

Two Little Words

How do you know when the situation in the Middle East has spiraled all the way to hell and back out of control? What are the clues you need to keep your eagle eyes wide open to observe? What are the possible elements of a situation that would indicate that unless steps are taken, Kryptonite is about to turn blue, Superman will turn to a life of crime, and America as we know it is going to have to advise the post office of their change of address to ‘Bizzarro USA’?
I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an elderly Iraqi woman, held some six weeks without charge in Abu Grhaib prison, during which time she was harnessed and forced to crawl on all fours so she could be ridden like a donkey by occupying American forces. But then I’m a stickler for olde worlde behaviour – like not saddling up old folks for a trot ‘round the compound of the notorious Baghdad prison as punishment for the possible crime of possibly knowing a possible former member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. (A possibility the seventy year old woman, physically recovered though still emotionally traumatized, denies.)
And this report of torture and/or humiliation of Iraqis by US soldiers is just the latest example of certain US military elements, running wildly out of control.
The current White House line, that this regrettable behaviour is just another isolated incident performed by an isolated few, loses some of it’s oomph as an argument as stories of abuses beyond Abu Grhaib - against prisoners held in Afghani and Guantanamo Bay detention centres – and charges of actual murder by American soldiers gain momentum.
The Sixty Minutes II expose last week, leant authenticity by the accompanying horrific photographs of tortured and abused prisoners surrounded by the gleeful thumbs-upping of American soldiers, didn’t really put faces on the victims of abuse, as for the most part their faces were covered with black bags. Their naked bodies – piled up in grotesque heaps of human humiliation – that’s another story. Tales of prisoners forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers, being forced to simulate – or even actually perform - sexual acts on each other, and in one case of a juvenile prisoner, forced to submit to rape by his captor, tell a story of sadists allowed free reign to contrive the most soul destroying of tortures.

So many questions arise. Why were such (presumably) low-ranking soldiers permitted to interrogate prisoners? What particular skills or training are required in the army handbook to achieve the position of inquisitor? How could senior officers not be aware that something (anything) was amiss? What would be the reaction of Americans to news that Iraqi insurgents were raping and killing US soldiers and civilians with not just complete and utter freedom, but with clearly a deep and satisfying pleasure?
President Bush moved swiftly - through interviews presented on a couple of Arab networks - to assure Iraqi citizens that the behaviour of these foul few was neither countenanced nor approved of by either him, or indeed the American people. But apparently the President’s words were a little too little, a little too late. Reports out of the Middle East suggest a people unconvinced by his protestations of shock and horror; a people unmoved by his explanation that that’s ‘not the way we do things in America’.
Because even now, when the chips aren’t just down, but cascading over the side of the table; even as the anger and hate for America and all thing American is reaching dangerous proportions, the real truth about the way they don’t do things in America is emerging. And it’s a truth is as ugly as the ugliest American who ever put a bit between the teeth of a senior citizen, and rode her hard with a ‘hi-yi-yippee–yippee-yo!’ across the minds and imaginations of the world.
Being the American President means never saying ‘I’m sorry’.