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George Bush is shocked, shocked that there is torture being used by U.S. forces on Iraqi prisoners of war, in direct violation not only of basic human rights but of the Geneva Convention on Treatment of Prisoners of War of which the United States is not only a signatory, but a founding writer.
So shocked that he had his Pentagon try to get CBS not to show the pictures of the shocking behavior.
The truth is that if the Commander-in-Chief–remember him? He’s the guy in charge of the military that was running the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Baghdad–really did feel the "deep disgust" he claims he feels, and that such treatment is "not the way we do things in America," heads would be rolling at very high levels of the military.
Instead what we see is six very low level soldiers facing possible court martials and seven higher-ups at the prison, as well as Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade which was in charge of running Abu Ghraib, being removed from their duties there.
You can always tell whether prosecutors are serious about a case by whether they go after the little guys with the big guns, or whether they start cutting plea bargains with the small fry, in order to get them to rat on the higher-ups. If they go after the little guys, like they did in the My Lai Massacre case in Vietnam, you can bet that will be the end of it. No senior commanders will be called to account.
And so it appears to be going this time. So far the "punishments," such as they are, are being strictly limited to the prison command structure, not to the officers above. This is exactly what was done with the My Lai case. No one responsible for the policies that led to that sickening massacre, or the countless others like it that went unpunished, was ever sanctioned.
Obviously everyone from General John Abezaid, and probably from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who actually visited the prison), on down knew what was going on, not only in Abu Ghraib, but in the other less publicly known prison camps where captured Iraqi insurgents are taken to be softened up for information. There have been enough reports leaking out about torture not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo, for us to know that torture is not an aberration but rather is the policy.
It is in fact very much "the way we do things," maybe not so much in America (though it certainly goes on routinely in police stations across the nation also), but wherever American soldiers fight the empire’s battles.
If anything, what sets America apart from some of its client states and from Saddam Hussein’s regime is not torture itself, which the CIA has long endorsed and practiced and taught to client states’ police, and which U.S. soldiers do at least as capably as the next centurion. It’s that some American soldiers actually believe strongly enough in the notional values of the American Constitution they ostensibly are fighting to protect to actually report such evil, even at the risk of personal loss or punishment. What sets America apart is that its mainstream media, as compromised and timid as they have become, will still occasionally, as CBS’s "60 Minutes" has done here, blow the whistle on such criminality and barbarism.
I suppose President Bush might be forgiven for saying that torture is not something American soldiers engage in. He wasn’t in Vietnam, or anywhere more dangerous than a rowdy bar, and probably the guys in his National Guard unit, at least on those days when he chose to show up for duty, weren’t into torturing the locals in Texas or Alabama. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, of course, would know better. Though he seems to deny having said it these days, he once admitted to committing atrocities in Vietnam, which he said was something everyone was doing over there.
Still, if he were genuinely distressed at the images broadcast by CBS over his Pentagon’s objections, he would be demanding the stripes and stars of every ranking officer in the chain of command who either knew what was going on, or should have known and allowed it to happen on their watch.
Don’t hold your breath.
Dave Lindorff is completing a book of Counterpunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.