Dr Maha Hilal is the inaugural Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.
“America is the friend of all Iraqi people.” This was the sign put up at Abu Ghraib prison – one that replaced Saddam’s portrait when the US took it over as part of the war on terror.
It was Abu Ghraib prison that introduced the world to the violent infrastructure of torture in the war on terror. In 2004, when photos emerged documenting extensive torture ranging from prisoners on leashes to bodies piled atop each other in pyramid structure to prisoners standing in crucifixion like postures, there were global shockwaves at the displays of brutality.
The prison, which was the site of massive torture, also housed a largely innocent population – approximately 70-90 percent of the prisoners were mistakenly detained, according to the Red Cross in a 2004 report (pdf).
With no end to the war on terror, the legacy of Abu Ghraib prison remains as important as ever, especially where a lack of accountability continues to permeate all operations in Iraq.
In 2004, when the Abu Ghraib scandal first emerged, former President Bush responded saying that, “Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonoured our country and disregarded our values …”
Bush’s statement unveils a particular logic of the war on terror that continues to justify abuses to the present – moral equivalencies, and in particular, the US’s perceived moral superiority of itself in the way it fights war. That’s why prisoner abuse under Saddam was torture, but under the US it is simply “disgraceful conduct”. That’s also why Bush can talk about “our values”, despite knowing that a series of torture memos essentially provided the rationale to abuse prisoners – that anything short of organ failure or death would, according to his administration’s new definition of torture, fall short of it.
Though former President Bush appeared “shocked” when the Abu Ghraib scandal first broke, Eric Fair, a former CACI contractor, in an interview with Democracy Now, on the unveiling of his book, “Consequence: A Memoir” on his time at Abu Ghraib stated that he was “shocked that the American people were so shocked and that they had this kind of idea or that they were so ignorant about what was going on”.
|For the United States in the war on terror, accountability has meant little other than prosecuting the so-called ‘bad apples’ who conduct torture and/or murder in order to make the point that they are an aberration, not a product of a system-wide policy of sanctioned abuse in the war on terror.|