Thursday, May 21, 2009

Abu Ghraib

CNN posted this article today at roughly 4 PM (CST). It's about a man who was at Abu Ghraib during the abhorrent abuses carried out by US military police in the early 2000s. The man spent 20 months in US captivity and during that time he witnessed some of the infamous photos that brought Americans such horror and shame in 2004. He himself was abused; stripped of his clothing for 32 days and forced to live completely naked in front of other detainees and soldiers, men and women alike. According to CNN, the man has "never been charged with a single crime," and Wikipedia says that Janis Karpinski (the commander at Abu Ghraib) "estimated later that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent."

Soldiers that carried out the acts were dishonorably discharged, removed from service, and otherwise charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, and aggravated assault and battery. Two, only two, were ever sentenced to jail time -- Specialists Charles Graner and Lynndie England, and England is already out of jail and now on the Keyser, West Virginia volunteer recreation board. Karpinski, though in charge of Abu Ghraib at the time of the incidents, was only ever demoted to Colonel (from Brigadier General) for her "lack of oversight." (Wikipedia.)

The man mentioned in CNN's article also mentioned that he was later captured by the Iraqi army and suffered worse abuses at their hands, including being beaten with "cables and pipes" and "a cement block hung from his genitals."

I don't remember much of this when it was actually happening. I was thirteen when the scandal surfaced and my parents did a good job of keeping it away from me. The only fleeting memory I have from that time (in relation to this) was the sense that 'Abu Ghraib' was a familiar term and this picture of Lyndie England dragging a prisoner flashing up on the TV screen before my parents told me to go upstairs. Now that it's been reintroduced to me in a college-level US history course (during a lecture my professor lovingly called "Americans should stop being so arrogant") and I've read up on it and tried to familiarize myself with the situation, I'm horrified, to say the least. Disappointed, enraged, defensive... those would be words I'd use if I were to go on. As Bush said, the behavior of those captors was "abhorrent" and "a stain on our countries honor."

But it wasn't just a stain on America's honor. It's a stain on the honor of humanity as a whole. This is one of too many instances where humans have taken away each other's liberties and treated them as less than human, as less than animal. It honestly sickens me. We keep saying that this is the 21st century, we know better than to judge based on race -- that the Holocaust, slavery, mass genocides, and repression in general are a thing of the past; that today's people are a better, more educated people who don't take away the liberties of others for sick fun and games. But this happened in 2003. That was six years ago. There are rumors that it continued for up to a year after photos were released in 2004. That means that in 2005, detainees were still being physically, sexually, and psychologically abused in Abu Ghraib. Barely four years ago. That's not "the past" yet for those detainees, and it shouldn't be "the past" for us either. After all, although Abu Ghraib has been revamped and renamed, there is speculation that abuse and torture are still routine there and that is entirely unacceptable.

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