Last year, when Bush prematurely declared mission accomplished, he stated that "Saddam's torture chambers are closed." Yet just as the occupiers took over Saddam's palaces, they also took his prisons. The torture chambers have been reopened, under new management. Abu Ghraib was infamous under Saddam. The "liberators" reopened it and did not even bother to change the name. What message did that decision symbolise? What does it say about the nature of the "liberation" of Iraq?
The pictures of US soldiers torturing Iraqis give the answer.
The torture at Abu Ghraib was not the acts of individual "bad apples." It was not an isolated incident. Anyone who says that they are "shocked" by the treatment of prisoners are either ignorant or lying. That includes Bush, who admitted he first learned of the torture claims in early January. Yet nothing was mentioned nor done until the evidence could not be ignored. We only know about Abu Ghraib because the soldiers were stupid enough to take photographs as mementos. For all Bush's talk of "democracy" allowing investigations, both the Pentagon and the Bush Junta are resisting any calls for an independent investigation into its detention or interrogation practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. One officer in Baghdad stated "I think at this point there's no reason to suspect that the army's not capable of inspecting itself."
As the scandal widens, it is essential to note that Amnesty had produced a report on Iraq last month detailing allegations of torture and ill-treatment by occupying forces in Iraq that are remarkably similar to the evidence that has now surfaced. However, its report indicates that the abuses began when the US gained control of Iraq in April last year and took place throughout the country. As for the UK, lawyers acting for 12 Iraqi families whose relatives have been killed by British troops since Iraq was occupied are appealing to the High Court. And the Mirror's pictures? Well, if the pro-war media had spent as much time analysing Blair's dodgy dossiers then we may not have joined Bush's bloody conquest of Iraq.
Yet the US and UK states insist that the torture is not an institutional problem. They insist that it is the "actions of a few." This is nonsense. Camp X-ray and the infamous "School of the Americas" prove that torture is what the US state does. Now we have the photographic evidence to show that the CIA interrogation manuals are still used.
One need look no further than the fact that brutal interrogation techniques were used not only at Abu Ghraib but also at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and at other interrogation and detention centres throughout Iraq. Bagram, like Abu Ghraib, is meant for interrogation. The torture of prisoners is meant to soften them up for interrogation. All at the command of the CIA and military intelligence. The only problem from the state's perspective was that the soldiers were stupid enough to take photographs.
The former US officer responsible for the jail stated that the cell blocks where the abuses took place were under the control of military intelligence when the prisoners were subjected to beating, rape, sexually humiliation and torture. She said that the MPs were given separate instructions by US intelligence officers "on what they needed to do" and stated the Military Intelligence Brigade commander told her "the MPs are doing a great job in there. They're getting more information."
Even the "Taguba Report", the official Army investigation of torture at Abu Ghraib prison indicates this. While the report is a whitewash, intending to show that a few bad apples, all on their own, decided to torture Iraqi prisoners, the links are there to be seen. It finds that "contrary to the provision of AR 190-8, and the findings found in MG Ryder's Report, Military Intelligence and Other US Government Agency's interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favourable interrogation of witnesses." It quotes Specialist Sabrina Harman of the 372nd MP Company stating "Military Intelligence wanted to get them to talk. It is Grainer and Frederick's job to do things for MI and [CIA] and to get these people to talk." Sergeant Javal Davis notes that "in Wing 1A we were told that they had different rules and different SOP for treatment." Why things were different in Wing 1A? "The rest of the wings are regular prisoners and 1A/B are Military Intelligence holds... The wing belongs to MI and it appeared MI personnel approved of the abuse."
While witnesses affirmed that the instructions came from Military Intelligence and the CIA, the report places the blame firmly on the lowest levels. Of course following orders is no defence, yet the report makes no attempt to follow the responsibility up the chain of command. Yet the horrors in Iraq are not due to "a few bad apples" or even "human nature." They are the product of hierarchy. The occupying forces are ruling the Iraqis and trying to crush resistance to that rule. They are in a position of power over them. How the state treats people flows from that social relationship. In the military, the hierarchy is extreme. The chain of command is clear and soldiers are expected to follow orders. They are trained to follow orders and kill and, by necessity, dehumanised to achieve it. The enemy is demonised to appear less than human. Why expect soldiers to not follow their training and the rigors of dictatorial authority?
Nor is it human nature. It is the social relations people are placed within which shape their actions and thoughts. As proven by the classic psychological Stanford Prison experiment of the 1970s, people put in a position of total power over others will abuse their charges. Prison guards mistreat inmates for one simple reason: they can. Wherever one controls another, abuse is inevitable. However, there is more to it than that. The guards were told to abuse their prisoners and the chain of command absolved them of responsibility (as Milgram's famous experiments prove).
Thus we have the product of imperial interests, racism, reasons of state and hierarchy being exposed for the world to see. Unsurprisingly, the institutional pressures which produced the tortures are being downplayed yet we cannot understand what happened without these institutions and how they shape the individuals subject to them. Nor can we understand why it happened unless we know the long grim history of torture by the US state and its training of its client states to do likewise. If we so that then we would question the way we organise society and draw libertarian conclusions.
In the short term, we can only demand the end of the occupation. Bush said that whatever had happened, US forces would remain in Iraq: "We want to help Iraq. We made a commitment," he said. "The United States will keep that commitment, because we believe in freedom and we believe the people of Iraq want to be free." Yes the Iraqi people do want to be free. They wanted to be free when the US was supporting Saddam. They now want to be free of imperialist occupation. They want real sovereignty not the bogus "transfer" of June 30th. If the US really wanted to help Iraqis, it would leave them to build their own society as they wished.
But helping Iraq was never the intention of the US. It wanted to shape Iraq (and the Middle East) in its interests and as the occupying power is doing so. That is why it is coming into conflict with the Iraqi people. There will be no peace in Iraq until the occupiers have left. It is as simple as that.