Zero tolerance

New Iraqi prisoners’ accounts allege not only rape and sexual humiliation, but Muslims forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, violate Ramadan, and profess Christianity. How like the ancient Romans we’ve become! Just substitute Islam for Christianity, and Christianity for emperor-worship – which might not be a very big difference for some of the power- and mammon-worshipping epigones of the religious right.

I read about this yesterday afternoon, in a Reuters story on the front page of Google News. But on All Things Considered last night, only the sexual humiliation on display in newly released photos was mentioned. They didn’t use either “r” word (rape or religion). Will forced apostasy join racism and homophobia as dimensions of this scandal that must somehow remain off-limits in polite analysis?

I must admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the attention this story has garnered in the mainstream press. So many others like it have simply been buried over the years. But many aspects remain almost unexamined. For example, I’d like to hear more follow-up on the fact that some of the soldiers charged with abuse work as corrections officers in the U.S. I’d like reporters to pay more attention to Bush’s record as Governor, where he oversaw hundreds of executions of prisoners, including the mentally retarded and prisoners who were denied fair trials. Bush even publicly mocked one prisoner’s pleas for clemency. It might be useful to remind Americans that the death penalty – a practice we share with such regimes as China and Saudi Arabia – itself violates international law. Has our government’s willingness to flaunt international law in this regard led to permissive attitudes toward other violations where the treatment of prisoners is concerned?

Another, more-or-less off-limits story is the strong possibility that the agents directing the abuse of Iraqi and Afghani prisons received training from Israeli counter-terrorism experts. We know that U.S. Special Forces did receive training from the IDF in urban warfare. And one, extremely effective tactic of Israeli counter-intelligence has been to build a large network of informers in the Occupied Territories using ex-prisoners who have been humiliated and blackmailed in very similar ways to those on display at Abu Ghraib. Was this, in fact, an integral part of the plan? Were our soldiers under orders to arrest as many Iraqis as possible, in order to jump-start a network of informers in occupied Iraq? It would certainly help to explain: (1) how 70-80 percent of Iraqi prisoners could be manifestly innocent of any involvement in the insurgency, according to the IRC, yet still subject to torture; and (2) why torture was used so extensively – to the disgust of more seasoned intelligence experts, apparently, who point out that any information so extracted is generally pretty worthless.

Then again, this entire invasion was built upon false pretenses and worthless information; already the chief purveyor of that information, Ahmed Chalabi, is being forced aside as a public embarrassment and an increasingly inconvenient nuisance. And the removal of obvious truths from the bounds of acceptable discourse (such as the fact that this is a war for oil) has licensed the erection of elaborate superstructures of lies and self-deception. It doesn’t take a genius to foresee that the scheduled “hand-over of sovereignty” will carry about as much resonance for Team Bush as “Mission Accomplished.”

It’s good to see the attention of Congress and the media broadening to include the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But how much of this kind of prisoner abuse is routine for American citizens and others held in prisons on U.S. soil? To what extent does the brutal treatment of Iraqis by American soldiers on the streets parallel the brutal treatment of African American youths by inner city cops in the U.S.? The evidence is very clear about how so many black males – about one third – end up in jail at some point in their lives: through racial profiling that begins as juveniles, when they get sent before a judge for such “crimes” as jaywalking and back-talking. The cops – black and white – are “just doing their job,” of course: enforcing law and order by keeping the rabble in line.

I would argue that the abuse begins right there, with the definition of a rabble – an entire class of people whose very existence is viewed as problematic. In Iraq, soldiers’ accounts suggest that the Iraqi people in general are viewed this way by the troops. The suspect isn’t at home when you break down the door? Nuts. Well, at least we can arrest the over-inquisitive neighbor. The friend of a crud is crud.

How far this “law and order” mentality can go may be seen in such “ethnic cleansing” exercises as the on-going, state-sanctioned genocide against the Anuak people in southwestern Ethiopia. (Since Ethiopia is a geopolitically strategic ally in the “war on terror,” this genocide has yet to make a ripple in the mainstream press.) Barnabus Gebre-Ab, the Federal Minister directing the slaughter, sees himself much as Ratko Mladic or Adolf Hitler did: a heroic defender of the public order:

“These are Anuak,” Gebre-Ab said. “It’s an Anuak group which claims to have formed a liberation front in Gambella, okay? So these are the ones who are killing. They kill engineers. They kill health workers. Teachers. If they are Highlanders, they kill them. Deliberately. And we are hunting them. We have to hunt them down.

“If you want to challenge the political order through violence, we won’t let you go. So we are doing our job. Because we are giving them a mortal blow, they are fabricating about this rape, and this and that, it’s all fabrication.”

The homocidal mayor of Duvao, a city in the Philippines, has been far less circumspect. As a recent expose in the Independent describes it:

Davao’s reputation as an oasis of law and order in one of the world’s most dangerous regions masks a dark secret. Since [Rodrigo] Duterte took office three years ago, the city has witnessed a wave of murders, carried out in daylight by assassins on motorbikes. The victims are young men and street children suspected of petty crime. The death toll has reached 241, and not a single person has been arrested. . . .

Bizarre though it seems, few people in this city of 1.2 million are disturbed by the sight of dead bodies turning up, almost daily, on the streets. They call it the “40-pesos solution” to crime, referring to the cost of a bullet, about 40p. “I like it,” says Davao’s tourism officer, Edmundo Acaylar, stuffing a handful of cashew nuts into his mouth as he waits impatiently for dinner. “Whoever is doing it, I say ‘thanks very much, you’re doing a great job’. They are ridding Davao of criminals and making it a safe place. I call it a process of expurgation.”

Most of the victims come from the city’s slum communities, where half a million people live in grinding poverty. Many are teenagers, some as young as 14, whose only “crime” was sniffing solvents – said to take away hunger pangs. Others are suspected drug pushers, pickpockets or thieves, with a record of snatching handbags and mobile telephones.

Justice is meted out by two men on a motorbike, one acting as look-out, the other as assassin. Many of the murders have been carried out in public places, in full view of crowds of onlookers. But no witnesses have come forward to testify. “People fear that if they give evidence, they’ll be next,” says Carlos Zarate, president of the Davao chapter of the Philippine bar association.

Lawyers believe the death squad is run by Davao police, in collusion with Duterte. Bernie Mondragon, the coordinator of the Kabataan consortium of children’s advocacy groups, agrees. “These are summary executions,” he says. “They are state-sponsored killings. Otherwise, the death squad could not operate with such impunity”. . .

Duterte’s zero-tolerance policies are enormously popular. The president of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, has appointed him her special adviser on law and order. His constituents credit him with transforming the image of Davao, once the most lawless city in the Philippines. Callers to talkback radio extol his achievements. The summary killings were the main issue in this week’s election, which saw him swept back into office with a big majority.

Sofronio Jucutan, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, says the elimination of criminals is good for business. “We don’t condone summary killings, but we want society to be cleansed of its scum,” he says. “These people are garbage and, just like any garbage, you have to dispose of them.” He adds: “But we are a Catholic country and we value human life.”

At one of his campaign rallies, Duterte, 59, told the crowd: “If I win, more criminals will get killed because I have vowed to protect the people of this city. It’s true that there have been killings. But who were those killed? Weren’t they criminals? They were all fools. Now if you tell me you won’t vote for me because I’ve killed many people, then don’t vote for me.”

“We value human life – therefore the scum must die.” Lord have mercy on us all.

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