New Tenants for Abu Ghraib?


Remember those big headlines last week about Abu Ghraib? According to the media splash, the US was preparing to close those notorious chambers within three months. That would mean by June 2006. Well, guess what? Those stories were just another piece of disinformation. According to the US Department of Defense news service DefenseLink, “News reports that the U.S. military intends to close Abu Ghraib within the next few months and to transfer its prisoners to other jails are inaccurate.”

Like everything else in Iraq, the actual timetable for any closure of the prison will be based on “the readiness of Iraq’s security forces to assume control of them” and some kind of infrastructure improvements at other facilities. (DefenseLink 3/12/06) If previous reality holds true in this instance, that means that the Abu Ghraib facility will not be closing any time soon. Just like the reports of soon-to-come troop withdrawals rumored every few months, the stories of the closure of Abu Ghraib are just one more part of the government’s attempts to keep us hopefully confused. Whether the media’s intention is to deceive or clarify by reporting these statements, the objective reality is the former.

Once again, it becomes clear that the only way the troops will come home alive is by consistent and loud popular demand. Polls showing that most Americans favor such a withdrawal are obviously not enough. Neither are votes for antiwar legislators. More is needed.

Of course, if one listens to Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger–two architects of the last major US foreign disaster in Vietnam–they might think that the only way to get out of Iraq is by blowing the country and its inhabitants to hell. Indeed, Mr. Haig, who was a general, Secretary of State under Reagan, and an advisor to Richard Nixon (even serving as his Chief of Staff during the final months of Nixon’s presidency), told an audience of a conference on the Vietnam War at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, “Every asset of the nation must be applied to the conflict to bring about a quick and successful outcome, or don’t do it.” This is from a man, who helped engineer (among other things) the Christmas bombings of 1972, the mining of Haiphong harbor and the bombing of Hanoi and the dikes of northern Vietnam, and the invasion of Cambodia. What does he suggest the US do in Iraq? Break out some tactical nuclear weapons? The mindset that Haig represents seriously believes that the US military was restrained in Vietnam and that a similar situation exists in Iraq. This is despite the fact that more ordnance has been dropped on those two countries than on any other country in history.

His fellow panel member, Henry Kissinger, would probably like that idea. After all, it was Mr. Kissinger who considered the use of nuclear weapons against northern Vietnam in 1969, but was convinced such an idea might be a bad move after hundreds of thousands of US residents filled the streets of DC and several other cities on November 15, 1969 in a national mobilization to end the war in Vietnam.

Both of these men should be in adjoining cells in the Hague. Instead, they are guests of honor at the JFK Library. It’s not that they were besmirching Kennedy’s legacy by being there. Indeed, Mr. Kissinger said he admired the Kennedys–a statement that should not surprise any serious student of US history given Kissinger’s tenure as a consultant on security matters to various U.S. agencies from 1955 to 1968. Indeed, Kissinger’s treatise on nuclear weapons and foreign policy was a major influence on the strategic policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Given that treatise’s emphasis on the use of tactical nuclear weapons together with conventional forces and the current discussion of just such a policy, one could say that Kissinger’s influence continues to steer US war policy.

According to a report on Boston TV station Channel 4 of the conference attended by Haig and Kissinger, he was met by antiwar protestors on his way to the meeting. In addition, during the question and answer session Mr. Kissinger was asked if he wanted to apologize for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Vietnam. His answer was typical Kissinger, arrogant and dismissive: “This is not the occasion,” he said. “We have to start from the assumption that serious people were making serious decisions. So that’s the sort of question that’s highly inappropriate.” ( 3/12/06) When asked about the possibility that the US bombing of Cambodia helped create the Khmer Rouge and the ensuing killing that followed, Mr. Kissinger dismissed the possibility. In fact, he minimized the extent of the US bombing, telling the audience that it only took place along a “five-mile strip” of that country. According to this is simply not true:

“Many of the bombs that fell in Cambodia struck relatively uninhabited mountain or forest regions; however, as declassified United States Air Force maps show, others fell over some of the most densely inhabited areas of the country, such as Siemreab Province, Kampong Chhnang Province, and the countryside around Phnom Penh. Deaths from the bombing are extremely difficult to estimate, and figures range from a low of 30,000 to a high of 500,000. Whatever the real extent of the casualties, the Arclight missions over Cambodia, which were halted in August 15, 1973, by the United States Congress, delivered shattering blows to the structure of life in many of the country’s villages.”

It wasn’t all warmongering at the conference. Former aide to Lyndon Johnson, Jack Valenti told the audience that Washington has forgotten the major lesson of Vietnam. That lesson, said Valenti, who is retired from the presidency of the Motion Picture Association of America, “No president can win a war when public support for that war begins to decline and evaporate.” Of course, this fact didn’t stop Messrs. Haig and Kissinger from trying their damnedest and it doesn’t seem to be preventing their modern-day incarnations from doing the same.

Back to Abu Ghraib.

It is public knowledge that this prison has been the site of torture and murder of prisoners by the US military and intelligence agencies. It is also public knowledge that Abu Ghraib is but one of several such prisons operated by the US government around the world, with the one at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba being the most (in)famous. Back in 1970, the US public was told about similar prisons in Vietnam. These were known as tiger cages and were used to hold and torture so-called enemy no-combatants and political prisoners. Despite the fact that the tiger cages were exposed and decried by human rights organizations and some US congressmen, the cages were not shut down until the United States military and its southern Vietnamese cohorts were defeated in May 1975.

As I wrote this, a story appeared on my computer’s news ticker that U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Colleen Graffy told BBC that Washington wants to close down Gitmo. Upon closer reading, however, such a closure is just something under discussion and will hopefully happen “over the years.” (Reuters 3/12/06)

So, the question remains, how long will it be before today’s cages are closed?

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at:



Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: