Betrayed by Images of Our Own Racism
First, our enemies created the suicide bomber. Now, we have our own
digital suicide bomber, the camera. Just look at the way US army
reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi.
Take a close look at the leather strap, the pain on the prisoner's face.
No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September
2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to
pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash.
The Muslim suicide bomber cries Allahu Akbar, God is great. And what
does Specialist Charles Graner--Lynndie's partner-in-crime, the man who
appears in several of the torture photographs posing with Lynndie behind
a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners--do back home in Pennsylvania. Why,
his garden is plastered with a legend from the Book of Hosea, about
sowing and righteousness and ploughing.
Could ever Islam have come so intimately into contact with the sexuality
of the Old Testament? Could neo-conservative Christianity--Lynndie is
also a churchgoer--have collided so violently, so revoltingly, so
obscenely with Islam?
And who were the innocent in these vile photographs? The American
torturers and humiliators? Or the Iraqi victims?
President Bush is fearful of Arab reaction to these pictures. Why? For a
year now, Iraqis have been trying to tell journalists of the brutal
treatment they are receiving at the hands of their occupiers. They don't
need these incriminating photographs to prove to them what they already
know to be true.
But, in the history of the Middle East, these pictures already have the
status of those most damaging snapshots of the Vietnam war: the police
chief in Saigon executing his Vietcong prisoner, the naked girl burnt by
napalm, the pile of bodies at My Lai. For Arabs, read Deir Yassin and
the corpses piled in the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabra and Chatila
Not long after the occupation of Baghdad in April of last year, we got
our hands on videotape of the whipping of Iraqi prisoners by Saddam's
I'm not sure which circle of hell the victims were enduring in the 45
minutes of sadism which I still have on one tape. They are whipped, they
are kicked into sewers and they cower like dogs. And why were these war
crimes filmed? I thought at first that it was intended for the enjoyment
of Saddam or his disgusting son Uday. But now I realise the videos were
taken so that the prisoners could be humiliated. Their suffering, their
pathetic pleas for mercy were to be recorded--to add the final layer of
degradation to their fate. And now I realise, too, that the pictures of
the Iraqis so cruelly treated--so tortured--by the Americans, were taken
for precisely the same reason.
Someone decided that the photos would be the final straw, the breaking
point, the moment of capitulation for these young men. Make them
simulate oral sex. Make them look at the penis of their best friend. Get
a girl to admire their attempted erection. This was truly Saddamite in
its perversity. So let's, as the Americans say, get real. Who taught
Lynndie and her boyfriend and the other American sadists of Abu Ghraib
prison to do this?
I used to ask who taught the Syrian and Iraqi secret police to do this.
The answer to the latter question was simple: the East German secret
police. But the answer to the first question? Well, we have been told
that there were "contracted" interrogators at Abu Ghraib.
I have reason to believe General Janis Karpinski, the luckless prison
commander who is going to be dumped out of the army for interrogations
over which she had no control, knew "outsiders" were questioning her
inmates. She was never allowed into the interrogation room. And I can
see why. So, no doubt, can she.
So who were these mysterious "interrogators"? If they were not CIA or
FBI staff, who were they? Several names are already doing the
rounds--journalists claim they have no final proof--and a number, I
understand, hold more than one passport. Why were they brought to Abu
Ghraib? Who brought them? How much are they paid? And who trained them?
Who taught them it was a good idea to get a girl to point at an Arab who
was being forced to masturbate, to humiliate an Iraqi by hooding him
with a girl's lingerie?
We are not just talking "sick" here. We're talking professionals.
President Bush at last apologised yesterday to the Arab world for this
filth--only, no doubt, because of the latest picture on the front of The
Washington Post--but the constant, insistent refrain from US officers
that these were a tiny group of unrepresentative Americans makes me very
Lynndie and her boyfriend were not part of a "rogue" unit. They were
told to do these despicable things. They were encouraged. This was an
order from someone. Who? When can we see their pictures, their identity,
their passports, their orders?
Yes, it's part of a culture, a long tradition that goes back to the
Crusades; that the Muslim is dirty, lascivious, unChristian, unworthy of
humanity--which is pretty much what Osama bin Laden (now forgotten by Mr
Bush, I notice) believes about us Westerners. And our illegal, immoral,
meretricious war has now brought forth the images that betray our racism.
The hooded man with the wires attached to his hands has now become an
iconic portrait, every bit as memorable as the picture of the second
aircraft flying into the World Trade Centre. No, of course, we haven't
killed 3,000 Iraqis. We've killed many more. And the same goes for
Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the