SYSTEMATIC OF FAILURE
By Rolf Paasch
[This article originally published in: Frankfurter Rundschau May 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.fr-aktuell.de/ressorts/nachrichten_und_politik/die_seite_3/?cnt=432373.]
The prejudices in the Arab world over the Middle East policy of the US have been confirmed and even surpassed in the course of the intervention in Iraq. That crude conspiracy theory is reinforced with corroborating pictures after the scenes of humiliation from Saddam's former torture cell of Abu Ghraibu. This will be said between Cairo and Falludscha: The American Middle East mission only shows contempt of Arabs, not respect, to say nothing to democracy and human rights. Under the incompetent control of their "vice-regent" Paul Bremer, the occupiers lost the political trust of the Iraqis. Now the Bush administration has also lost control over the "image", the pictures defining the war. The figure of a tortured Iraqi - under a hood and in expectation of an electroshock - stands today on the platform instead of the overthrown Saddam Hussein. The damage for the indispensable project of a democratization of the "Greater Middle East" could not be greater.
Whoever studies history in general and colonialism in particular will not be surprised by the incidents in the prisons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some soldiers will always over-react under the often life-endangering stress of an occupation like the uniformed men and women in Abu Ghraibu. When George W. Bush now calls the abuse of the prisons "un-American", he holds fast to the hegemonial hubris that was one of the causes of the discovered offenses in Iraq. Americans are different. This is not true at all! Those who proclaimed the "exceptionalism" or extraordinariness of the US liberation of Iraq before the UN and then refused the resources to realize the special features of their controversial mission are responsible, not only the military police, secret service and members of private security services in the jails of the war coalition. Whoever leaves the post-war business of "nation-building" to strained soldiers willfully accepts offenses against the rules of humanity. Whoever puts in question the authority of the Geneva conventions for the US with the precedent test case of Guantanamo gives a signal to the whole chain of command up to the 372nd company of the military police that the goals of the Bush administration justify all means.
The attacks may have been exceptions as one of the tortured Iraqis reports. Still the causes were "systemic". The internal report of the Pentagon even admits this. Debates and parliamentary investigations will focus on this systematic of failure. Individuals and institutions will deny their responsibility and claim innocence. However reliance in the US on control by the Congress and a critical public is decisive in the end. Unfortunately there is also reliance on the rejection of all self-criticism by the Bush administration. "In other countries", the columnist Richard Cohen wrote after the hearings on failures in combating terror, "some ashamed members of government resigned. In this country, they don't abandon their complacency or smugness."
Where a sign of a new beginning is now necessary in the Middle East, the White House plans its damage control with the superficiality of another PR-campaign. However many gestures of absolute arrogance discredit the "sorry" of security advisor Condoleeza Rice to Al Dschasira and the belated appearance of the president on Al Arabiya. When the military and civilian leadership of the Pentagon admitted before the press this week not having read the report about the deaths and tortures in Iraqi prisons, this was a mockery of the tortured and was not only one scandal after another. Instead of illuminating the legal gray zone between the anti-terror war and fighting resistance by independent legal experts, Washington now transfers a general major from Guantanamo to Iraq. The torture practice began there in November with his advice in interrogating prisoners. What a signal!
This handling of torture scenes seems to endanger all future Middle East policy at least as much as the mistakes of the Iraqi occupation authorities or president Bush's partiality for the Sharon government criticized by 52 former and active US diplomats. There is no alternative to transatlantic cooperation with the US in the region. But the European Union (EU) must urgently find its own voice in the Middle East foursome and beyond if it doesn't want to support the scandalous inheritance of the Bush administration for years to come.