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Masters of Deception

Bush administration officials have always been a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, accustomed to silencing critics by hurling insults at those who dare to question their steady stream of lies.

Recently, however, besieged by evidence detailing U.S. war crimes at detention centers at Guantánamo Bay from sources as disparate as Newsweek and Amnesty International, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are showing signs of fraying at the edges, inadvertently exposing their own pattern of deliberate deception.

Such was the case when Amnesty International issued its May 26 report detailing prisoner mistreatment at Guantánamo. Visibly irked that Amnesty called the U.S. detention center “the gulag of our time,” Bush called the Amnesty report “absurd,” Rumsfeld denounced it as “reprehensible,” and Cheney claimed he “was offended” by it.

But the indignant trio merely drew attention to the administration’s earlier use of Amnesty reports on Saddam Hussein’s human rights abuses to justify its invasion of Iraq. On March 27, 2003, Rumsfeld argued, “Anyone who has read Amnesty International or any of the human rights organizations [knows] about how the regime of Saddam Hussein treats his people.”

Adding to the public relations farce over Amnesty’s Guantánamo report, at a June 2 press conference, Bush dismissed claims of torture as concocted by ex-detainees “who hate America.” “The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world,” he insisted.

Bush’s claim came as appalling news began to emerge from Falluja, a city of 250,000 people destroyed by U.S. bombs in November 2004 that remains occupied by U.S. Marines.

“There are plenty of women in Falluja who have testified they were raped by American soldiers,” one resident told journalist Dahr Jamail. Mohammed Abdulla, executive director of the Study Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said, “There are daily war crimes being committed in Falluja, even now.”

Only half of Falluja’s residents have returned since last year’s siege. Most found their homes destroyed. They live in tents, without electricity or access to clean water, and curfews don’t allow civilians on the streets after 9 p.m.

Americans refer jokingly to Falluja as Iraq’s “gated community”–since its residents are trapped inside or outside by U.S. checkpoints. All Falluja citizens must carry security passes containing their name, fingerprints and an iris scan that can be cross checked with Iraqi detainees.

On May 29, the U.S. sponsored a new bloodbath reminiscent of Falluja, code named Operation Lightning, in which U.S. and Iraqi forces sealed off the entire population of Baghdad. Some 40,000 Iraqi troops, backed by 10,000 U.S. soldiers, set up 675 checkpoints and have been conducting house-by-house searches–detaining more than 700 Iraqis from Baghdad and 250 from suburbs south of the city.

Hundreds of Baghdad residents demonstrated last Friday, carrying signs that demanded, “Go Home American Troops.” “Even animals deserve more respect,” one woman told the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Networks after troops raided her home.

Earlier in May, Operation New Market preceded Operation Lightning in Haditha. A local doctor told Jamail, “The Americans are detaining so many people there, any man between the ages of 16 and 25 years is being immediately detained without question.”

This was preceded by Operation Matador in Al Qa’im, a week-long siege in which the U.S. clamed to have killed 125 followers of al-Qaeda “mastermind” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi–although local civilians and doctors disputed the presence of any foreign fighters. As one resident explained to Inter Press Service, “The fighters are just local people who refuse to be treated like dogs. Nobody wants the Americans here.”

The U.S. military is now working hand-in-glove with paramilitary forces from the so-called “Wolf Brigade”–an armed militia of 20,000 formed in October 2004 by former members of Saddam Hussein’s secret police and Republican Guard. Appropriately, James Steele, the U.S. commander working with the Wolf Brigade, is a Special Forces leader who trained right-wing death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s.

In its brief existence, the Wolf Brigade has become notorious for using beatings, kidnapping and murder to extract confessions–even hosting its own (U.S.-approved) television show “Terrorists in the Grip of Justice,” displaying bruised and battered Iraqis confessing to various acts of “terrorism.”

Since last August, the number of Iraqis in U.S. custody has more than doubled, from 5,495 to over 10,000. Most are eventually released due to lack of evidence.

This figure could be a gross underestimation. An Iraqi doctor told Jamail that an Iraqi human rights group estimates 60,000 Iraqis are in detention facilities throughout Iraq. He continued, “Of course, this only pushes people more towards the resistance, because people are eventually left desperate enough to begin fighting the Americans. People can only take so much.”

The U.S. may claim that it promotes “freedom” around the world, but its victims, if allowed, could testify to the humiliation of an entire population.

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