Two years ago, for a brief period, I tried my hand at my first blog, which I called “Kayz In”. Hurricanes and other life experiences happened, and I gave it up – just had too many other stressors in my life at the time. But there was one post I made highlighting an interview documented by Ali at Iraq the Model that I felt never got the attention it deserved – and so, begging your indulgence, I’d like to invite you to read “below the fold” the article “Just Another thought on the Abu Ghraib Scandal”, originally written by me in May, 2004.
Just another thought on the Abu Ghraib Scandal
I must confess. My first thoughts when looking at those first images broadcast around the world was this:
1) Who the heck are these soldiers? In what kind of environment did they grow up that they would think posing and taking these kind of pictures was an okay thing to do? It’s just sick.
2) These “humiliated” prisoners do not show body language in many cases that speak to me of humiliation. I see very open body postures, some standing tall. In only a couple of the photos that I saw (and no, I certainly haven’t seen them all – only the ones posted by the mainstream media) was there anyone “cowering” or appearing to be really intimidated. Frankly, in a couple of the shots, it appeared to me that the body language of the “humiliated” made it appear that they were enjoying themselves.
Now, I’m not saying anyone was complicit, but check out some of these things posted by some fellow bloggers (The first two are from Iraqi bloggers, last an article from the American Spectator):
Ali writes of a meeting of a doctor friend who spent a month of service in Abu Ghraib working alongside the American Soldiers and questioning him on his experiences there (Ali’s questions in italics, answers in bold)(Saturday, May 8 IraqtheModel):
So tell me what did you see there? How’s the situation of the prisoners? Did you see any abuse? Do they get proper medical care? (I was excited to see someone who was actually there, and he was a friend!)
Hey, slow down! I’ll tell you what I know. First of all, the prisoners are divided into two groups; the ordinary criminals and the political ones. I used to visit the ordinary criminals during every shift, and after that, the guards would bring anyone who has a complaint to me at the prison’s hospital.
What about the ‘political’ ones?
I’m not allowed to go to their camps, but when one of them feels ill, the guards bring him to me.
Are the guards all Americans?
No, the American soldiers with the IP watch over and take care of the ordinary criminals, but no one except the Americans is allowed to get near the political ones
How are the medical supplies in the prison?
Not very great, but certainly better from what it was on Saddam’s times. However my work is mainly at night, but in the morning the supplies are usually better.
How many doctors, beside you, were there?
There was an American doctor, who’s always their (His name is Eric, a very nice guy, he and I became friends very fast), and other Iraqi doctors with whom I shared the work, and in the morning, there are always some Iraqi senior doctors; surgeons, physicians…etc.
Why do you say they are very well treated?
They are fed much better than they get at their homes. I mean they eat the same stuff we eat, and it’s pretty good; eggs, cheese, milk and tea, meat, bread and vegetables, everything! And that happened every day, and a good quality too.
Are they allowed to smoke? (I asked this because at Saddam’s times, it was a crime to smoke in prison and anyone caught while doing this would be punished severely).
Yes, but they are given only two cigarettes every day.
What else? How often are they allowed to take a bath? (This may sound strange to some people, but my friend understood my question. We knew from those who spent sometime in Saddam’s prisons, and survived, that they were allowed to take a shower only once every 2-3 weeks.)
Anytime they want! There are bathrooms next to each hall.
Is it the same with the ‘political’ prisoners?
I never went there, but I suppose it’s the same because they were always clean when they came to the hospital, and their clothes were always clean too.
How often do they shave? (I remember a friend who spent 45 days in prison at Saddam’s times had told me that the guards would inspect their beards every day to see if they were shaved properly, and those who were not, would be punished according to the guards’ mood. He also told me that they were of course not allowed to have any shaving razors or machines and would face an even worse punishment in case they found some of these on one of the prisoners. So basically all the prisoners had to smuggle razors, which cost a lot, shave in secrecy and then get rid of the razor immediately! That friend wasn’t even a political prisoner; he was arrested for having a satellite receiver dish in his house!)
I’m not sure, from what I saw, it seemed that there was a barber visiting them frequently, because they had different hair cuts, some of them shaved their beards others kept them or left what was on their chins only. I mean it seemed that they had the haircut they desired!
Yes but what about the way they are treated? And how did you find American soldiers in general?
I’ll tell you about that; first let me tell you that I was surprised with their politeness. Whenever they come to the hospital, they would take of their helmets and show great respect and they either call me Sir or doctor. As for the way they treat the prisoners, they never handcuff anyone of those, political or else, when they bring them for examination and treatment unless I ask them to do so if I know that a particular prisoner is aggressive, and I never saw them beat a prisoner and rarely did one of them use an offensive language with a prisoner.
One of those times, a member of the American MP brought one of the prisoners, who was complaining from a headache, but when I tried to take history from him he said to me “doctor, I had a problem with my partner (he was a homosexual) I’m not Ok and I need a morphine or at least a valium injection” when I told him I can’t do that, he was outraged, swore at me and at the Americans and threatened me. I told the soldier about that, and he said “Ok Sir, just please translate to him what I’m going to say”. I agreed and he said to him “I want you to apologize to the doctor and I want your word as a man that you’ll behave and will never say such things again” and the convict told him he has his word!!
Another incidence I remember was when one of the soldiers brought a young prisoner to the hospital. The boy needed admission but the soldier said he’s not comfortable with leaving the young boy (he was about 18) with those old criminals and wanted to keep him in the isolation room to protect him. I told him that this is not allowed according to the Red Cross regulations. He turned around and saw the paramedics’ room and asked me if he can keep him there, and I told him I couldn’t. The soldier turned to a locked door and asked me about it. I said to him “It’s an extra ward that is almost deserted but I don’t have the keys, as the director of the hospital keeps them with him”. The soldier grew restless, and then he brought some tools, broke that door, fixed it, put a new lock, put the boy inside and then locked the door and gave me the key!
Did you witness any aggressiveness from American soldiers?
Only once. There was a guy who is a troublemaker. He was abnormally aggressive and hated Americans so much. One of those days the soldiers were delivering lunch and he took the soup pot that was still hot and threw it at one of the guards. The guard avoided it and the other guards caught the convict and one of them used an irritant spray that causes sever itching, and then they brought the prisoner to me to treat him.
So you think that these events are isolated?
As far as I know and from what I’ve seen, I’m sure that they are isolated.
But couldn’t it be true that there were abusive actions at those times that the prisoners were afraid to tell you about?
Are you serious!? These criminals, and I mean both types tell me all about there ‘adventures and bravery’. Some of them told me how they killed an American soldier or burned a humvee, and in their circumstances this equals a confession! Do you think they would’ve been abused and remained silent and not tell me at least!? No, I don’t think any of this happened during the time I was there. It seemed that this happened to a very small group of whom I met no one during that month.
Can you tell me anything about those ‘political’ prisoners? Are they Islamists, Ba’athists or what?
Islamists?? I don’t care what they call themselves, but they are thugs, they swear all the time, and most of them are addicts or homosexuals or both. Still very few of them looked educated.
Ah, that makes them close to Ba’athists. Do you think there are innocents among them?
There could be. Some of them say they are and others boast in front of me, as I said, telling the crimes they committed in details. Of course I’m not naive enough to blindly believe either.
Are they allowed to get outside, and how often? Do they have fans or air coolers inside their halls?
Of course they are! Even you still compare this to what it used to be at Saddam’s times and there’s absolutely no comparison. They play volleyball or basketball everyday, and they have fans in their halls.
Do they have sport suits?
No, it’s much better than Saddam’s days but it’s still a prison and not the Sheraton. They use the same clothes but I’ve seen them wearing train shoes when they play.
Are they allowed to read?
Yes, I’ve seen the ordinary criminals read, and I believe the political are allowed too, because I remember one of them asking me to tell one of the American soldiers that he wanted his book that one of the soldiers had borrowed from him.
So, you believe there’s a lot of clamor here?
As you said these things are unaccepted but I’m sure that they are isolated and they are just very few exceptions that need to be dealt with, but definitely not the rule. The rule is kindness, care and respect that most of these thugs don’t deserve, and that I have seen by my own eyes. However I still don’t understand why did this happen.
I agree with you, only it’s not about the criminals, it’s about the few innocents who could suffer without any guilt and it’s about us; those who try to build a new Iraq. We can’t allow ourselves to be like them and we can’t go back to those dark times.
As for “why”; I must say that these few exceptions happen everywhere, only in good society they can be exposed and dealt with fast, while in corrupted regimes, it may take decades for such atrocities to be exposed which encourage the evil people to go on, and exceptions become the rule.
What happened in Abu-Gharib should be a lesson for us, Iraqis, above all. It showed how justice functions in a democratic society. We should study this lesson carefully, since sooner or later we’ll be left alone and it will be our responsibility to deal with such atrocities, as these will never cease to happen.
Next, lets visit the blog of Alaa (The Mesopotamian – May 14)
Friday, May 14, 2004
I am deeply suspicious, regarding this affair of prison abuse and the photographs. Not being particularly one who sees conspiracies everywhere, but this one does smell strangely. The nature of the abuses, the photography and the timing: all that cannot be just coincidental. The objectives seem clear and need not be explained. Discrediting and attacking the moral position of the Allies in the most sensitive area of human rights, which they champion, and which constitutes the main moral justification for overthrowing the Saddam regime is clearly the purpose and the intent of this affair.
Apart from the obvious parties who may be interested in achieving the above objective, there may be other quite subterranean and unsuspected quarters. I don’t know exactly who these may be, but like good detectives we should consider all those who may have interest in aborting the mission. Perhaps the emergence of a moderate, democratic and decent system in the middle east, and particularly in an “Arab” country; a system which is allied to the U.S. and commands respect and consequently has some influence; perhaps this proposition is not particularly attractive to certain currents of thinking in the most unexpected places.
In the lax situation and the “failure of leadership”, and the practice of employing “contractors” of dubious nature; have you not considered that bribes and money might have been used to “stage” these events?
Yes, I am profoundly, deeply suspicious.
Finally, this little article appears in the American Spectator
Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. notes in paragraph five an article written in early 2002 by Matt Labash in the weekly standard:
MAY I REFER FELLOW skeptics to a first-person report on the folkways and mores of Arab prisoners at Guantanamo written by Matt Labash in early 2002? Writing in the Weekly Standard he reported asking Marine jailers “if they’ve seen anything weird.” The Marines, continues Labash, “laugh sheepishly, looking at each other. Finally, Sgt. Josh Westbrook, who sports a forearm tattoo of flaming baby heads, steps up. ‘They know they’re being watched,’ he explains, ‘so they’ll stare at you, and while they stare at you, they’ll, uh, masturbate.'”
The Marines believed that their Islamic fundamentalist masturbators were particularly avid “to embarrass the female Army guards.”
“The weirdness doesn’t end there,” reports Labash. “They’ve also eaten their toiletries and urinated on equipment. ‘The other day,’ says Westbrook, ‘one of the guys tried to do a naked cartwheel.’ In the most bizarre twist,” writes Labash, “Lance Corporal Devin Klebaur says a few have also been known to ‘put toothpaste in their ass.'”
So, given all this, you can see why I might be a tad sceptical . . .