The American media want to have it both ways?they want to exploit the number of U.S. war dead in Iraq for political purposes, but they also want to over-dramatize the interrogation methods used to break prisoners, apprehend terrorists, and reduce the number of Americans killed. These methods have been transformed by much of the media, including the Arab media, into allegations of “widespread and systematic abuse” and torture. Such coverage is used by the Arab media to encourage more attacks on Americans in Iraq and around the world.
Following a CBS television report showing photographs of the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the legendary Seymour Hersh has emerged with a New Yorker story about a secret Army report on the matter. Hersh is the journalist who broke the My Lai massacre story in Vietnam. But what happened in Iraq is no massacre. No outright killing of prisoners by American military personnel has been documented. The alleged abuse was carried out in order to force information out of the prisoners and save American lives. One soldier reported in a diary made public by the press that the interrogations of the prisoners were producing “positive results and information.” That means that American lives were being saved because the terrorists were being squeezed to cough up information of value.
One photograph shows Army Private Lynddie England giving a thumbs-up sign and pointing at an Iraqi prisoner, naked except for a sandbag over his head. In other photographs, Iraqi prisoners were forced into “humiliating poses,” as Hersh put it, such as climbing on top of one another. Other prisoners were forced to sleep in tents wet with rain, and some were apparently threatened with rape. England’s mother, Terrie, told the Baltimore Sun that the alleged abuses of prisoners looked like “stupid, kid things?pranks.”
That may be an understatement, but the sensational allegations of torture are also exaggerated. Most of what has been reported about the treatment of the prisoners sounds like the outrageous behavior carried out by fraternities or sororities in abusive hazing incidents. In Iraq, however, there’s a war going on, with American soldiers being shot or killed every day.
In order to fight crime in the U.S., police in the U.S. can lie to and threaten suspects in order to force confessions. In Iraq, some U.S. military personnel apparently thought the interrogation methods crossed the line. But compare the treatment of these prisoners to Saddam’s military officers chopping off fingers and hands, cutting off tongues, breaking wrists and throwing people off buildings. Under Saddam there were rape rooms and mass graves.
Jalal Talabani, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, point out that the allegations against U.S. and British soldiers are few and isolated. She says that, “?you cannot compare that with the tens of thousands of people Saddam Hussein was responsible for executing and torturing. You can’t make that comparison.” But the media seem to be trying to do just that.