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Conservatives Claim Abu Ghraib
Abuses Aren't "Real" Torture

by Dennis Rahkonen
May 24, 2004

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Many conservatives are troubled by Abu Ghraib prison abuses.

But it isn’t dreadful illegalities and the obscene violation of basic decency they’re most upset about.

They’re angry that mistreatment meted out by our troops is being equated with “true” torture, such as the videotaped beheading of Nicolas Berg, or atrocities experienced under Saddam.

They worry that world opinion will see Washington as the chief perpetrator of global wrongdoing, rather than evildoers demonized by U.S. propaganda.

Well, the horses are long out of the barn on that one, since most of humanity has judged George Bush our species’ worst bane for going on three years now.

I have one word for reactionaries who say American foreign policy excesses aren’t authentically awful: Hiroshima.

Anyone who’d transform countless kids happily playing on a sunny Japanese Monday into dust on the wind and shadows on the sidewalk is forever unqualified to condemn anybody else.

Especially since it’s been proven the atomic bombing wasn’t necessary to achieve Japan’s defeat, that no “costly” U.S. invasion was required, and that the entire episode was a demonstration to the Soviets that we’d be top dog in the post-WWII era. 

But even if they conceded this, which they won’t, they’d still say it wasn’t terror/torture in the presently discussed context.

Okay, then contemplate the actual manuals on torture used by the U.S. Army’s School of the America’s to teach various Latin American thugs and contras how to brutalize good folks who thought social justice might be a nice thing to have in their homelands, or the hemisphere as a whole.

Many are the murdered clinic workers, cooperative farmers, school teachers, raped nuns, etc., whose haggard ghosts point accusing fingers toward Fort Benning, Georgia (or the predecessor location in Panama), where their killers were blithely taught their bloody craft.

And that’s just one side of a very tarnished coin.

From the Civil War prison infamy of Andersonville, to Vietnam’s terrible Tiger Cages, to the sadistic mistreatment that triggered 1971’s Attica Rebellion and its subsequent, barbaric isn’t hard to connect the dots that lead to Abu Ghraib.

Need a little help in reaching the conclusion that it’s more than a “few bad apples” who’ve “embarrassed” us in Iraq?

Consider the vicious cruelty of slavery, the genocide we dealt Native populaces, our mass slaughter of Filipinos after the Spanish-American War, and the nearly four million Southeast Asians who’d never have died but for our bellicose imperialism.

There’s more than enough violent racism in our national makeup to fully warrant the belief that very definite torture in Iraqi prisons is widespread, even systemic.

And, as Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh has documented, complicity runs right to the Defense Department’s top.

We need to cast aside our jingoistic blinders, see these vile transgressions for what they unequivocally are, and work assiduously to redeem America’s sullied honor.

We can do that only by forever removing our country from the controlling crimes of neo-colonialism, by doing away with that neo-colonialism itself.

A May 20 Chicago Tribune story told of an Abu Ghraib soldier disclosing how an Iraqi man’s teenaged boy was humiliated and tormented to get his father to talk. This obviously wasn’t an incident occurring in isolation from chain-of-command awareness.

A society that’s degenerated to child abuse both in its religious (priestly sex scandal) and military aspects is too depraved to be sustained in its present, rotten state.

Thoroughgoing change is imperative.

Mounting a reflex-defensive “patriotism” such as conservatives are widely employing only brings our nation infinite harm.

We have to bravely face up to what we’ve monstrously become.

Sweeping Abu Ghraib under the rug would have the ultimate outcome of also pushing the American experiment into the dustbin of history.

No nation, however strong in armed might, can survive something this soul-devouringly despicable, especially if it tries to sacrifice low-level perpetrators as scapegoats while higher-ups remain shielded.

We’re at a watershed moment.

Do we have the moral and practical presence to do the right thing?

Or is the fall of yet another once-great society bound to follow the false pride and blindness of those who simply will not see?

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing commentary and verse for various progressive outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at

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