Monday, May 03, 2004

Americans make me feel like a natural woman 

It transpires that I was too optimistic when I wrote a few days ago, apropos the "Iraqi prisoners torture" scandal, that "I'm venturing a guess that most of those people would swap [mass executions, beatings and torture] for having insulting signs written on their bodies any day."

Along comes a 30-year old Dhia al-Shweiri, described as a "die-hard fighter in the al-Mahdi Army" (al Sadr's boys), who has been twice to Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam, and once under the Americans, and says he prefers the old Saddam version.

"Al-Shweiri said that while jailed by Saddam's regime, he was electrocuted, beaten and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. 'But that's better than the humiliation of being stripped naked,' he said. 'Shoot me here,' he added, pointing between his eyes, 'but don't do this to us'."

Al-Shweiri had to take off all his clothes only once, for a period of 15 minutes. He and his fellow prisoners, all hooded, were made to stand "in a way that I am ashamed to describe," Al-Shweiri recalls - that is slightly bending over with their hands on the wall.

"They were trying to humiliate us, break our pride. We are men. It's OK if they beat me. Beatings don't hurt us, it's just a blow. But no one would want their manhood to be shattered," Al-Shweiri says. "They wanted us to feel as though we were women, the way women feel and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman."

Ah, those cruel American - making men feeling like women. Al-Shweiri says that he wasn't sexually abused, and from his account it doesn't seem that he was even touched by the Americans. Nor given a full body cavity search which is a pretty standard prison procedure for prisoners back in the United States. I guess if he did have to suffer that indignity, Amnesty International would be up in arms. As it is, "being made to feel like a woman" will I'm sure soon become a quasi-genocide offence under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

There is little doubt that some form of abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners was going on. There is also little doubt that the guilty ones will have not just a book but a whole bloody library thrown at them. Meanwhile, theatrics by people like Al-Shweiri only make you wonder what proportion of the whole controversy is a convenient beat-up (no pun intended) by America's enemies.

MEANWHILE: Oh my God, it had to happen sooner or later. You know how it goes - if Iraq is another Vietnam, then the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is - you guessed it - another My Lai massacre. But of course, because taking photos of naked prisoners is the same as murdering in cold blood several hundred civilians. Oops, I might be trivialising Diane Rejman's argument here: what she's saying is that My Lai was only the tip of the iceberg: soldiers in Vietnam "had seen this kind of massacre all too often. It was more common in Vietnam than anybody in authority was willing to admit... [Why should the perpetrators have] been court-martialed for doing something that was encouraged by military leaders[?]. And in Iraq of course, the abuse of prisoners is as common as war crimes were in Iraq.

The question is, will the prisoner abuse turn out to be as exaggerated as the "widespread war crimes in Vietnam"?


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