JUST AS the Vietnam War was personified by a photo of a terrified, naked girl fleeing a blast of napalm, so George Bush's "liberation" of Iraq will inevitably be remembered by the horrifying photo of a hooded prisoner standing on a box with electric cables attached to his fingers.
Americans are reeling in disgust at the torture, abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. soldiers. Their revulsion is genuine: Americans are a decent, humane people who believe themselves well above such medieval abominations.
But they should not be surprised their soldiers and intelligence agents are using torture and sexual humiliations to break the will of Iraqis to resist American occupation. That is the nature of colonial warfare and so-called "war of terror."
In August 2003, this column warned about Iraq: "Protracted guerrilla warfare eventually turns even the best-disciplined troops into brutes, and corrupts entire governments." Colonial troops in Kenya, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, Palestine, Indochina, Kashmir, Timor, Aceh, and Chechnya all became infected with brutality and sadism.
Americans, in spite of their deep respect for law and human rights, are not immune to such corruption. During the 1900-1904 conquest of the Philippines, U.S. forces killed 50,000-100,000 Muslim civilians. Few recall that U.S. forces in Vietnam threw prisoners from helicopters, burned them alive with white phosphorus, or wiped out entire villages without a second thought. The communist enemy was even more merciless.
That was the nature of counter-insurgency warfare fought among a hostile civilian population by demoralized American soldiers who knew the war was lost.
During the invasion of Afghanistan, America ignored evidence U.S. Special Forces troops had watched -- or even participated -- in the massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by communist Northern Alliance soldiers.
Persistent reports of prisoners being tortured by U.S. captors in Iraq, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, Jordan, Egypt and Guantanamo were also been ignored -- until the Abu Ghraib outrage. Now, we learn of a ghastly new apparition: Free-enterprise torturers known, in Pentagon Orwell-speak, as "civilian interrogation contractors."
When this writer stated last year on American network TV that the U.S. was using torture against terrorism suspects, he was quickly cut off the air.
Three years ago, this column wrote about Gen. Paul Aussaresses, a former senior French intelligence officer who battled Algeria's FLN rebels during the late 1950s. The one-eyed general boasted in a recent book how he brutally tortured and murdered many FLN leaders during the murderous Battle of Algiers. French officers who served under Aussaresses in the "pacification" of Algeria would later say they had been more savage and sadistic than the Gestapo during World War II.
The pictures of gloating U.S. soldiers posing over piled-up, naked Iraqi prisoners recalls Soviet gulag guards who called prisoners "logs." They also conjure nightmare images of terrified Jewish prisoners herded by Nazi SS guards, and cowering Bosnian Muslim captives about to be murdered by laughing Serb soldiers.
But don't believe the torture and abuse in Iraq was solely the work of a few cretinous hillbillies and miscreants, as the Pentagon is claiming.
The process of inflicting pain, humiliation, and degradation on captives -- dehumanizing them -- has been perfected by CIA psychologists and psychiatrists. These tortures, based on Israeli techniques, were designed more to break Iraqis' will than to elicit information. The sexual humiliations were designed to inflict maximum mental punishment on Muslims.
For U.S. occupiers of Iraq, dreaded Abu Ghraib plays the same role it did under Saddam Hussein: Terrifying the population into docility. The U.S. now may hold more Iraqi prisoners -- up to 20,000 -- than did Saddam's prisons.
After last week's revelations from Abu Ghraib, the only people likely to still believe President George Bush's claims to be fighting in Iraq for "freedom and democracy" will be brain-numbed American TV viewers.
Copyright © 2004, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc.