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July 16, 2003

What imperialism looks like. Here’s a recent report from the Times of London (property, you’ll recall, of well-known liberal peacenik Rupert Murdoch):
Never again did families in Baghdad imagine that they need fear the midnight knock at the door.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing reports of Iraqi men, women and even children being dragged from their homes at night by American patrols, or snatched off the streets and taken, hooded and manacled, to prison camps around the capital.

Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F). […]

Every day, relatives scuff their way along the dirt track to reach the razor wire barricades surrounding Abu Ghraib, where they plead in vain for information about the whereabouts of the missing.

The response from impassive American sentries is to point to a sign, scrawled in red felt-tip pen on a piece of cardboard hanging on the barbed wire, which says: “No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave.”

Some, like Ghania Hassan, sink to their knees in despair. She holds a photograph of her eldest son, Mohammed Yasim Mohammed, a 22-year-old student. She said that he was walking through al-Shaab market with friends when passing troops saw him eating biscuits from an American military ration pack and accused him of being a looter. Allegedly he was pushed face down on the street while his friends tried to explain how a soldier a couple of streets away had given them the biscuits.

A month later nothing has been heard of the young man. His mother showed a fistful of letters and petitions that she has collected from US officials, local magistrates and a Muslim cleric, but she and the rest of the complainants were told at gunpoint to move away from the prison gates. […]

An Iraqi exile who had been in Baghdad for only three days after living in Denmark for the past 27 years found himself caught up in an American swoop after a shooting in a street market. Not realizing that the man could read English, his interrogator made no attempt to cover up his case file, which described him as “suspected assassin.”

The man, who was held for more than 30 days, is afraid to give his name and says that he is now considering leaving Baghdad for good.

Funnily enough, the actual practice of empire turns out not to actually resemble an inspiring series of neoclassical tableaus.

Mostly, it’s hoods, manacles, midnight arrests, people soiling themselves, and hot, angry, frustrated soldiers holding a defenseless kid face-down in the dirt.

As Eschaton guestblogger Tresy remarks, “at this rate, the US motto in Iraq will soon be ‘Not as brutal as the last guy.’” [03:02 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on What imperialism looks like.:

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 03:21 PM:

With stories such as that, it is no wonder that the US Government is making such an effort to not be subject to an international system of war crimes trials.

Put the two elements together, and you have to wonder how much more than mere incompetence is behind all this.

It's interesting that, despite a few deaths, and reports of some ham-handed handling of searches, there doesn't seem to be anything like as much trouble in the British-controlled sector. Is it because it is a different army (with a good deal of experience from Northern Ireland), or is it because of the differences between the Shia and Sunni and Kurdish regions?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 03:43 PM:

It hardly has to be an either/or, now does it?

If you put troops into an information vaccuum, you will get attrocities. There's no possible way around this; they've got a requirement to apply force and no least clue where.

If, in addition, you give them, instead of the information vaccuum of bad intelligence and language barriers, actively bogus objectives -- find the terrorist links that aren't there -- you've systematized the attrocities.

I wouldn't bet on "not as brutal as the last guy" myself; I hope it doesn't come to that, but against a general uprising where they literally cannot tell friend from foe, the United States Army would have options that come down to 'lose' or 'brutal', and I don't think they'd opt to lose.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 04:11 PM:

Graydon, it's also worth keeping in mind that in making a choice between "lose" and "brutal", it's possible to end up with both.

Especially in a situation such as you describe, where the objectives are vague and any realistic exit conditions remain (at best) unarticulated.

Has anyone seen any US authority stating "we are staying in Iraq until X"?

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 05:30 PM:

I believe the unspoken statement is "We're staying in Iraq." Period. Full Stop. End of Sentence.

If you take this as a war of acquisition--and how can it be anything else, once it's known that they lied and did it knowingly?--it's reasonable that they will try to keep what they have acquired. Specifically, oil fields. And since this isn't a treasure you can conveniently pack up and take home--running the wells dry will take centuries, or even at the most environmentally alarmist, decades--it's a war of conquest, since there's no other convenient way to keep hold of things.

catharinestacimer ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 05:43 PM:

This article points out practical issues of how we're being hypocrites and that this will make it easier for them to hate us more. But on a more general level I worry about how "American Values" can be so quickly lost by Americans exposed to harsh conditions.

If our values are deeply held, we wouldn't be so willing to drop them at the first sign these values take effort/time/money to uphold. It bothers me that our inner angry chimp comes out so quickly.

Some other worrysome US in Iraq hypocricy examples:
1. The US doesn't have to be humane in its prison conditions. As long as we aren't as bad as the old gov't, Iraqis should be grateful.

2. The US has the right to protect the US steel industry for 3 years from cheap foreign imports even though US steel knew this was coming for years. Iraq has no right to protect its industries even though it is just months after a major war and regime change.


1st article covers an Iraqi Dane (had a Danish passport and just returned to Iraq) who was arrested and held in bad conditions for 33 days: wasn't told his charge, couldn't communicate with family... [US response on reports that conditions in our prison camps are bad]

""People are not having their tongues cut out anymore," said Paul Bremer, the top American administrator in Iraq. "People are not having their children shot in front of them." ... 'Bremer said he was surprised that Amnesty International didn't say in its report that "the human rights of the average Iraqi are light-years better today than they were 12 weeks ago." '

2nd article is on how Iraqi industries are being devestated by cheap imports... Without industries Iraq will have bad unemployment, unemployment leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness to angry mobs.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 05:47 PM:

Well, it's not as if the professionals don't understand what is going on (via Reuters):

The commander of U.S. troops in Iraq said on Wednesday they faced a classic guerrilla war as assailants fired a surface-to-air missile at a military plane and a grenade attack killed a U.S. soldier.
The latest U.S. combat death brought the total to 147, equaling the toll in the 1991 Gulf War, and added pressure on President Bush, who is under fire for the cost of the war and accusations he misled Americans into the war. In further violence, the mayor of a town in a restive region west of Baghdad was shot dead along with his son, a military spokeswoman said. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said American forces need to adapt their tactics to crush an increasingly organized, cell-based guerrilla resistance that is spearheaded by loyalists of toppled president Saddam Hussein. His comments contradicted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who on June 30 heatedly disputed the characterization of the fighting in Iraq as a guerrilla war.

Dave, I'm not sure that the British are doing much better, I think the guerrillas are now concentrating in and around Baghdad.

While I am gratified by the increased media attention on Bush, I think they need to pay attention to language. Bush is not "under fire"; the troops he sent to Iraq are.

David ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 07:34 PM:

My inner pedant would like to point out that the name of that newspaper is 'The Times', not the 'London Times' or even the 'Times of London'. Thank you.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 07:42 PM:

Your inner pedant is absolutely correct. Fixed.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 11:12 PM:

Baghdad is essentially under martial law. Civil rights under martial law are greatly curtailed because there is a civil emergency that requires that many legal niceties have to be suspended until the day-to-day situation in Baghdad is stable and basic security is restored. There will be examples of less than perfect behavior or justice. In such a real-life situation things are never neat and tidy. American troops are serving as police and are under a lot of pressure. When comrades are being shot at and killed on a daily basis it understandable that 19 year olds would be a little testy.

Only the most optimistic person in the world would expect that civil law, enforced by Iraqi police and courts, would have been re-established within a couple of months after the fall of a brutal dictatorship. It is hard to believe the extent of all unrealistic expectations of totally unknowledgeable people. Virtually none of the pre-war predictions about the war or its aftermath by those opposed to the war have come true yet they continue to blather on as if they knew what they are talking about concerning the future in Iraq.

Side note: Did you ever wonder what became of the human shields? I sincerely hope since they weren't successful in keeping Saddam in power that they have returned to Baghdad to help the Iraqi people in more meaningful ways now that he is gone.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 11:38 PM:

Ah, the "don't you know there's a war on?" offense. Always glad to see that one trotted out in the support of the torture of children.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 01:37 AM:

Torture of children? I googled Ammesty International for torture of children in Iraq. Found nothing. AI is usually first on the scene when Americans are torturing children. Does Jayson Blair have a nom de plume of McGrory?

There have been real incidents of torture in Iraq: from the BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/from_our_own_correspondent/2058253.stm and this one at the same Abu Ghraib prison where Americans are allegedly torturing children from the Baghdad Times, Baghdad's only English language newspaper: http://www.baghdadbulletin.com/pageArticle.php?article_id=57&cat_id=18&PHPSESSID=428399670fa2557822856f84395c7972 Four or five months ago the publishers of this newspaper would have had significant body parts removed for printing a story like this.

Those who enjoy their daily whine "Where's the weapons of mass destruction?" should carefully read these articles a couple of times a day until there is an attitude readjustment.

catharinestacimer ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 01:44 AM:

If we have to lower our human rights standards in order to win the war...

(an 'If' I don't believe, but for argument I'll assume we do. Anyways, aren't we done with that war thing? Don't I remember that big "Mission Accomplished" on the Aircraft Carrier PRJob weeks back? Oh, wait, we've always been at war with WestAsia.)

...then at least we should be apologetic about it. "It could be a lot worse" or "we're better than the last guy" don't cut it as apologies. If my doctors cause one harm (pain) in order to prevent a worse harm (later illness) they apologize for it. "I'm sorry, this is going to hurt," they say, because it bothers them to cause pain however necessary. They don't say "Shut up, at least we aren't amputating without anasthetic like we did 150 years ago" which is the medical analogy of what Bremer said.

But we aren't lowering our standards for any necessary reason. If we arrest someone, it is our *choice* to re-arrest him for the cameras, to put our boots on his head, to hold him without charges, to not tell his family where he is. The arrest might be necessary, but how we treat them after an arrest is entirely dependant on our standards. "It could be worse" isn't the standard I want to hear from people sworn to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Or changing what I've seen in a .sig quote ("the 1st amendment isn't just the law, it's a good idea"- Brad Templeton): The Constitution isn't just the law, it's a good idea...

David Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 05:08 AM:

This is the nature of occupation. It brutalises the occupiers and radicalises the occupied. When you're being fired on by hostile natives, every native is seen as hostile. So when you go to arrest a suspect you don't take any chances. After all the last thing you want to do is walk into a bomb factory where the occupants are armed to the teeth without an opportunity to return fire. So in that case the strong arm tactics are justified. But when the intel is wrong and the so called bomb factory is someone's home all you end up doing is driving moderates into the hands of extremists. The British learnt this lesson in Northern Ireland. In the early 70s they didn't bother checking the sources of their intelligence on the IRA and ended up alienating the Catholic population. By the 90s, they were still making mistakes but not as many. This, as Dave Bell suggests, could be why they are having less trouble than the US troops. They've learnt the hard way that good community relations are vital and have had an opportunity to perfect the necessary techniques, an opportunity US troops haven't had.

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 05:33 AM:

couldn't the motto be: "U.S.A: not your dad's dictator!"

Elric ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 09:10 AM:

These descriptions are of a situation that was forseeable. It's a big part of why the military asked to have more troops in Iraq. A good chunk of those added forces would have been troops who might have actually had training for "peace-keeping" duties. Rumsfeld and the White House staff wanted to keep the Iraq war tight, so we have too few soldiers there, and they aren't trained for MP duties. Battlefield training is certainly essential, but even in the Army they know that other skills are needed for what you do when the battle's over.

As for the comparison of our prison-making to that of the last guy, isn't this a little like saying that it's better to be brutalized by Charles Manson than by Jeffrey Dahmer, because at least Charlie won't eat you?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Dennis: You say, "Torture of children? ... Found nothing."

Well, strangely, I was responding to the Times article which spawned this comment thread, which says, "Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F). […]" That, to me, constitutes torture. I suppose the 11-year-olds should be thankful they're not getting their limbs sawed off, since that would be worse.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 02:49 PM:

For those who haven't seen this guy's posts before, here's an exampl from the 'First Minnesotan' thread:

From MadJayhawk,
posted on July 17, 2003 02:09 PM:
"Low bar? The bar for stupid behavior was set by the last president. Bush has a long way to go to get under that. A long, long, long way."

Just another Freeper.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 03:26 PM:

Excuse me, kind moderator, I am going to get personal here.

Bryan, What the hell is a freeper? From the tone of your post is it something you consider derogatory? And why do you consider me one? I have not called you an ignorant idiot or some other derisive term.

I am offended the nature of posts like this.

If it is a derogatory attack on me personally for something I commented on it should be deleted.

Madjayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 04:23 PM:


Locking a child up under conditions as described (no lights, 122 degrees, and overcrowded tents)should never be condoned. I hope I did not imply that we should give anyone a free pass. Didn't mean to.

Before making blanket accusations of our troops "torturing" children I would want more facts.

No light? Meaning no windows in the tents or in the rooms or a lack of electricity at night because the power system for the entire area is down? Power in parts of Iraq is only up for 12 hours a day.

Locked up 24 hours a day? Prisoners normally are. Were they given access to exercise acitivities if they were continually confined to a cell for security and safety reasons? It would be extremely dangerous for a 11 year old to mix with the adult population of a prison in my opinion.

Were there alternative holding locations for these children?

Were there fans for the tents? Tents are hard to air condition in a desert even if there was electricity available. Did they have food and water? 122 degrees in a tent is very high even if it is totally enclosed which I doubt that it was.

Has someone taken steps to look into this situation and correct it?

The story seem to go for the short, somewhat sensational description and neglect some facts that would have made the "torturing" aspect of the story a little more believable.

The use of the word "torturing" is what I am having problems with as well. Torturing is an extremely emotionally loaded word To torture someone is to inflict severe physical or mental pain. To show you what I considered to be torture I included examples of severe pain inflicted by Saddam Hussein's minions on his people for petty reasons. These are examples of torture are quite different than the torture of having the lights out at night.

Side Note: We have county jails here in Maricopa County that consists of army tents surrounded by high fences. The tents are not air conditioned. It is 115 degrees today. It is probably pretty grim for those used to air conditioning 24/7. The Human Rights people are not happy with this set up, however, the voters overwhelmingly are.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 07:13 PM:

"no lights, 122 degrees, and overcrowded tents"

In other words, except for the lack of light, the same conditions endured by the vast majority of the US armed forces for months.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 07:42 PM:

Really, Yehudit? I wasn't aware that the vast majority of the US armed forces had been locked up in jail for months. Tell me more.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 08:38 PM:

Freeper: (n) Right-wing troll.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 11:31 AM:

Dennis the Freeper said: "Before making blanket accusations of our troops 'torturing' children I would want more facts."

So would I. Of course, I would also want more facts before defending them. You, evidently, do not, since you trotted out the "but there's a war on!" defense without engaging the specific claims, as if "it understandable that 19 year olds would be a little testy" were all the explanation that could ever be needed. This made me itch, and I scratched it.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:11 PM:

Side Note: We have county jails here in Maricopa County that consists of army tents surrounded by high fences. The tents are not air conditioned. It is 115 degrees today. It is probably pretty grim for those used to air conditioning 24/7. The Human Rights people are not happy with this set up, however, the voters overwhelmingly are.

So you live in a fascistically inhumane county. That doesn't excuse anyone else for being fascistically inhumane. Plus children, with their lower body mass, die much more easily of overheating and dehydration than adults.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:22 PM:

Kevin & Alan:

I was getting ready to call you guys ignorant assholes in response to your troll taunt but I decided to do some research in what you could possibly mean by the word "troll". There is a fine website that covers this internet phenomenon (who would have guessed there is a thing called "trolling". I had no idea... Learn something new everyday people always say.). As I read down through the website (http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll.htm)which identifies behaviors of different trolls I reached the conclusion that everyone could be considered a troll according to the website's broad definition. So I plead guilty: I am a troll. Thanks. I didn't know. But, of course, so are you. Better than being an ignorant asshole.

Kevin: There is a war going on.

And without more facts, your post did accuse our troops of "torturing" children.

You said:

Ah, the "don't you know there's a war on?" offense. Always glad to see that one trotted out in the support of the torture of children.

When there is a war going on, civil procedures are not always neat and tidy believe it or not. People can fall into cracks and be forgotten. In such situatons, we hope that this sort of thing does not happen but it does. Staying alive by protecting oneself or one's unit is a fairly high priority in a war. Strict compliance to civil procedures for handling prisoners is not during a war. In my first post I did not think that I had to dissect the story for you and explain word by word the possible inaccuracies in the writer's description of what children were allegedly enduring. It seemed obvious.

My next post breaks down the questionable information that led you to state our troops were torturing children. If you want to ignore the questions and problems I have with the story's misleading and scanty information so you can go back to scratching your itch problem with a war going on that is fine. Using a massive quantity Preparation H might be a good solution for you at this point instead of continual mumbling about children being tortured.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:46 PM:

Dennis: I did not call you a troll. I called you a Freeper; I don't agree with Alan's definition.

A more correct statement on my behalf would have been "Ah, the "don't you know there's a war on?" offense. Always glad to see that one trotted out to defuse allegations of the torture of children." Since, in fact, you did just that--you waved away the accusations without confronting their substance, with the excuse that there's a war on, so of course "Civil rights ... are greatly curtailed", "There will be examples of less than perfect behavior or justice", and "it understandable that 19 year olds would be a little testy". This to excuse, as noted,

... children being dragged from their homes at night by American patrols, or snatched off the streets and taken, hooded and manacled, to prison camps around the capital.

Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F).

I'm perfectly willing to investigate those claims before condemning the actions of the occupying force. That's not what I was addressing; what I was addressing was your dismissal of them as unimportant, to be expected, and unremarkable, because, after all, this is war, so what did we expect, we soft-hearted ignoramuses who don't have the gumption to stand up for the torture of children when it's in the cause of defeating the Democrats in 2004?

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:55 PM:

When did Congress declare war on Iraq, and why didn't I hear about it?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 02:16 PM:

When was a war grounds for being stupid?

The supposed objectives of the Iraq war are a stable, friendly-to-the-US democracy in Iraq.

The methods undertaken seem guarunteed to produce something of a very different character than 'friendly to the US'; why are the particular methods excusable as supposed military necessity?

Put anooher way, why is the existence of a war of agression, undertaken to fulfill minority policy aims in a haze of deception, grounds to accept incompetence in the prosecution of that war?

That's not true when it's a serious war against a capble, comparable foe; I can't see any way in which it becomes more acceptable during a public policy clusterfuck contest.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 04:11 PM:

Careful MJH. The classic solution to trolls is to ignore them completely (i.e. not respond to anything they say, or credit any points they raise) until they go away.

You may want to rethink copping to the label.

I don't know what website you read, but to me a troll is someone who comments in a comment space with the primary motivation of upsetting people and starting a flamewar. If you cop to being a troll, that is what I will think you are doing, and I will obey the dictum of DNFTT. So will others.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2003, 12:53 AM:

The Xopher speaks wisdom. Listen to the Xopher.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 03:42 AM:

Kevin: good post. I did not intend to excuse anyone of behavior that resulted in the mistreatment of children or of prisoners. Re-reading my post I can understand how you could get the impression I was doing just that. I was ineffectively trying to show how and why this could happen not excuse them. Reviewing the conditions that existed before, during and after the massacre at Mai Lai doesn't mean that we were going to let those responsible for the massacre get away with murdering innocent civilians. If there were incidents where our troops in Iraq did not treat prisoners, young or old, properly then they and their commanders should be held accountable. The writer of the article did a poor job of presenting the facts. He seemed to me to be writing with an agenda and selectively using words and images to push forward that agenda. I seriously doubt, after reading the article, whether there were any incidents that could be considered torture in the sense I talked about in eariler posts. I would need more evidence before making such a serious charge. If there was torturing of prisoners going on as this reporter seem to be alluding to, we would have heard more about it by now. Nevertheless this report needs to be investigated further. I apologize for my extremely poor writing and the overzealousness I displayed.

One last thing on the troll business. It seems to me that when someone does not toe the party line in comment sections like this one he opens himself up to personal attacks from those that do not agree with him. I do not see anyone personally attacking those who have a little partisan fun and call Bush a liar, a moron, etc., but if someone takes a shot at Clinton for fun it gets nasty and personal in a hurry. This is not the only thread on which I have been attacked. If someone wants to childishly call Bush names they should be man/woman enough to take it when someone childishly calls Clinton names as well. We all should just be friends and engage in a discourse that will hopefully examine the issues and teach everyone something new. I know I will not convert one person to my political philosophy and they had better well know that I will not be converted either. I will listen to and appreciate good arguments no matter from what side of the political spectrum they come from and hope others will do the same. I do not have all the answers. Nobody does. Except maybe the Xopher.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 04:49 AM:

Madjayhawk wrote: Reviewing the conditions that existed before, during and after the massacre at Mai Lai doesn't mean that we were going to let those responsible for the massacre get away with murdering innocent civilians.

But the US did let virtually everyone responsible for the massacre at My Lai get away with murdering innocent civilians. William Calley was the only person successfully convicted, and he was released after serving only three and a half years. Everyone else responsible for the murder of over 300 innocent civilians got away with it.

Just correcting a historical point.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 07:43 AM:

If there were incidents where our troops in Iraq did not treat prisoners, young or old, properly then they and their commanders should be held accountable.

I am surprised, but pleased, to hear this from you. My opinion of you just went up several notches. Would you also agree that all reports of such incidents need to be fully investigated? (With, of course, all attention paid to the rights of those accused, presumption of innocence &c.)

I do not have all the answers. Nobody does. Except maybe the Xopher.

[grin] Of course I have all the answers! Unfortunately for me, pairing them with the questions looks to take longer than my lifetime...when you have all of them, even just sorting and catalogueing them is an overwhelming task.

What question, for example, goes with "Two ounces of saffron, a dime, and the walk along the shores of Styx that he took on July 2, 1947, just after his life changed forever, mostly for the better"?

I tell you, it's bewilderin'.

Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:25 PM:

An update on our continuing efforts to make the world safe for democracy: