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'Frog-Marching' Bush to the Hague

By Robert Parry
September 29, 2005

Federal authorities “frog-marched” Private Lynndie England in handcuffs and shackles off to prison to serve three years for her role in abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

The 22-year-old single mother from West Virginia joins a group of nine reservists punished for mistreating Iraqis, some of whom were stripped naked and forced to pose in mock sexual positions. England appeared in photos, pointing at a prisoner’s penis and holding a naked Iraqi by a leash.

While England’s punishment fits with George W. Bush’s pledge to prosecute military personnel for wrongdoing in Iraq, a larger question is whether low-ranking soldiers are becoming scapegoats for the bloody fiasco that Bush created when he ordered the invasion in defiance of international law. Pumped-up by Bush’s false claims linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, U.S. soldiers charged into that Arab country with revenge on their minds.

In a healthy democracy, the debate might be less about imprisoning England and other “grunts” than whether Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other war architects should be “frog-marched” to the Hague for prosecution as war criminals.

The international community also has largely shied away from the issue of Bush’s criminality, apparently because of the unprecedented military might of the United States.

If the leaders of a less powerful nation had invaded a country under false pretenses – touching off a war that left tens of thousands of civilians dead – there surely would be demands for war crimes prosecutions before the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But not for Bush and his War Cabinet.

Similar Complaints

Ironically, Lynndie England’s sentencing at Fort Hood, Texas, on Sept. 27 came as new evidence surfaced that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was not just the work of some deviant prison guards on the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Army Capt. Ian Fishback and two sergeants alleged that prisoners were subjected to similar treatment by the 82nd Airborne at a camp near Fallujah and that senior officers knew. [See Human Rights Watch report.]

Fishback blamed the pattern of abuse on the Bush administration’s vague orders about when and how Geneva Convention protections applied to detainees, a problem that has extended from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a network of shadowy U.S. prisons around the world.

“We did not set the conditions for our soldiers to succeed,” said Fishback, 26, who has served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We failed to set clear standards, communicate those standards and enforce those standards.” [NYT, Sept. 28, 2005]

And in another case of apparent deterioration of discipline among U.S. troops in Iraq, a separate Army investigation examined whether some U.S. troops traded gruesome photos of dead bodies – with captions like “Cooked Iraqi” – for access to a pornographic Web site specializing in sexual images of wives and girlfriends. [NYT, Sept. 28, 2005]

For his part, Bush has condemned the misconduct of Lynndie England and her cohorts. After publication of the Abu Ghraib photos in 2004, Bush said he “shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated.” Bush added that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people.”

Wanton Death

But the cavalier treatment toward Iraqi lives can be traced back to the very start of the war. Determined to invade Iraq, Bush brushed aside international objections, prevented the completion of a United Nations search for alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and unleashed his “shock and awe” bombing campaign on March 19, 2003.

Bush and his high command authorized the bombing of one Baghdad restaurant – where civilians were having dinner – because of shaky intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there, too. The logic apparently was that the goal of killing Hussein justified the slaughter of the innocent restaurant clientele.

As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed head of her daughter out of the rubble.

In another U.S. bombing raid, Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters – Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 – who had been the center of his life.

“It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, Ali’s pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed.

As he was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, Ali said he would rather die than live without his hands.

The slaughter extended to the battlefield where the outmatched Iraqi army sometimes fought heroically though hopelessly against the technologically superior U.S. forces. Christian Science Monitor reporter Ann Scott Tyson interviewed U.S. troops with the 3rd Infantry Division who were deeply troubled by their task of mowing down Iraqi soldiers who kept fighting even in suicidal situations.

“For lack of a better word, I felt almost guilty about the massacre,” one soldier said privately. “We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?”

Commenting upon the annihilation of Iraqi forces in these one-sided battles, Lt. Col. Woody Radcliffe said, “We didn’t want to do this. Even a brain-dead moron can understand we are so vastly superior militarily that there is no hope. You would think they would see that and give up.”

In one battle around Najaf, U.S. commanders ordered air strikes to kill the Iraqis en masse rather than have U.S. soldiers continue to kill them one by one.

“There were waves and waves of people coming at (the U.S. troops) with AK-47s, out of this factory, and (the U.S. troops) were killing everyone,” Radcliffe said. “The commander called and said, ‘This is not right. This is insane. Let’s hit the factory with close air support and take them out all at once.’” [Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 2003]

Jittery Troops

Three weeks into the invasion, Hussein’s government collapsed, but Bush’s occupation plan left U.S. forces stretched thin as they tried to establish order.

Sometimes, jittery U.S. soldiers opened fire on demonstrations, inflicting civilian casualties and embittering the population. In Fallujah, some 17 Iraqis were gunned down in demonstrations after U.S. soldiers claimed they had been fired upon. Fallujah soon became a center of anti-American resistance.

As the Iraqi insurgency began to spread – and Americans began dying in larger numbers – military intelligence officers encouraged prison guards to soften up captured Iraqis by putting them in stress positions for long periods of time, denying sleep and subjecting them to extremes of hot and cold.

Some of the poorly trained prison personnel – like those on Lynndie England’s night shift at Abu Ghraib – added some of their own bizarre ideas for humiliating captured Iraqis. But even some of those strange techniques, such as adorning Iraqi men with women’s underwear, could be traced to practices used elsewhere.

The mistreatment of detainees further fueled the insurgency and spread anti-Americanism across the Middle East and around the globe.

Back in Washington, the Bush administration claimed that the prisoner abuses were the work of a few “bad apples” who would be singled out for punishment. Looked at differently, however, Bush opened U.S. soldiers to a kind of double jeopardy when he ordered the invasion.

Not only did the soldiers risk their lives in combat, but they faced added legal risks in trying to execute a war in defiance of the UN Charter, which prohibits one country from attacking another without the approval of the UN Security Council.

The evidence is now clear, too, that Bush rushed the nation to war without UN sanction, in part, because his rationalizations about WMD and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda were falling apart, even as he was determined to make the war happen.

As British spy chief Richard Dearlove observed in the so-called Downing Street Memo in July 2002, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The memo added, “The case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”

War Fever

Still, the Bush administration was confident that it could whip the U.S. news media and the American people into a war fever.

To stir up fears about nuclear bombs falling into the hands of terrorists, the administration leaked to the New York Times a story about Iraq buying aluminum tubes for making nuclear weapons. But U.S. nuclear experts soon concluded that the tubes actually were for conventional rockets.

Later in 2002, administration officials insisted that they knew where Iraq’s WMD stockpiles were. But UN inspectors, who were readmitted by Hussein as part of Iraq’s agreement to comply with international weapons restrictions, were finding nothing at the U.S.-identified sites.

In January 2003, Bush’s predicament got so desperate that his State of the Union speechwriters dug down to the bottom of the barrel to pull out an already discredited claim about Iraq seeking enriched uranium in Africa.

Then, in a Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the UN Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell played up assertions from a dubious source codenamed “Curveball” about Iraq’s supposed mobile WMD labs. Powell also read a doctored intercept between two Iraqi officials that made an innocent conversation sound sinister. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Powell’s Widening Credibility Gap.”]

Instead of giving the UN inspectors more time to complete their search for Iraqi WMD, Bush cut short the mission, forcing them to leave Iraq so the invasion could proceed.

Several months later, as Bush faced new questions about his war justifications, the president started a new lie, claiming that Hussein had never let the UN inspectors in.

On July 14, 2003, Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”

In the following months, Bush repeated this claim in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, “We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution – 1441 – unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.”

Blind Journalists

Though the U.S. national press corps had witnessed the UN inspections of Iraq and certainly knew that Bush’s historical revisionism was false, American reporters failed, repeatedly, to challenge Bush’s account.

Even ABC’s veteran newsman Ted Koppel fell for the administration’s spin, using it to explain why he – Koppel – thought the invasion was justified.

“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ‘All right, UN, come on in, check it out,” Koppel said in an interview with Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”

As Koppel obviously was aware, Hussein indeed had told the UN to “come on in, check it out,” but even prominent journalists were ready to put on blinders for Bush. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Bush, With the Candlestick …”]

In 2004, Fallujah was back in the news after Iraqi insurgents killed four American security contractors and a mob mutilated the bodies. Bush ordered Marines to “pacify” the city of 300,000 people.

The U.S. assault on Fallujah transformed one soccer field into a mass grave for hundreds of Iraqis – many of them civilians – killed when U.S. forces bombarded the rebellious city with 500-pound bombs and raked its streets with cannon and machine-gun fire. According to some accounts, more than 800 citizens of Fallujah died in the assault and 60,000 fled as refugees.

In attacking Fallujah and in other counterinsurgency operations, the Bush administration again has resorted to measures that some critics argue amount to war crimes. These tactics include administering collective punishment against the civilian population in Fallujah, rounding up thousands of young Iraqi men on the flimsiest of suspicions and holding prisoners incommunicado without charges and subjecting some detainees to physical mistreatment.

Rape Rooms

Even Bush’s boast that he closed Hussein’s torture chambers and “rape rooms” has lost its moral clarity.

A 53-page classified Army report, written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, revealed that some of those abuses resumed as U.S. intelligence officers urged Abu Ghraib’s military police to break down Iraqis before interrogation.

The report said the abuses, occurring from October to December 2003, included use of a chemical light or broomstick to sexually assault one Iraqi. Witnesses also told Army investigators that prisoners were beaten and threatened with rape, electrocution and dog attacks. At least one Iraqi died during interrogation.

“Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,” said Taguba’s report. [See The New Yorker's May 10, 2004,  issue.]

One victim who faced torture at Abu Ghraib under both Saddam Hussein’s regime and the U.S. occupation said the physical abuse from Hussein's guards was preferable to the sexual humiliation employed by the Americans. Dhia al-Shweiri told the Associated Press that the Americans were trying “to break our pride.” [USA Today, May 3, 2004]

Yet, as the U.S. military death toll heads toward 2,000 and Iraqis die in far greater numbers, the U.S. news media continues to avert its gaze from what should be a central question: Should senior Bush administration officials most responsible for this bloody debacle join Lynndie England in the dock of accountability?


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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