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 in 1982.

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 security police.

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 suspicious.

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 Afghanistan.

ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.


Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.