Robert Fisk: Torture's out. Now they call it abuse

No screaming, no cries of agony, no shrieks of pain. Yes, it sounds much better, doesn't it?

Share

"Prevail" is the "in" word in America just now. We are not going to "win" in Iraq - because we did that in 2003, didn't we, when we stormed up to Baghdad and toppled Saddam? Then George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished". So now we must "prevail". That's what F J "Bing" West, ex-soldier and former assistant secretary for International Security Affairs in the Reagan administration said this week. Plugging his new book - No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah - he gave a frightening outline of what lies in store for the Sunni Muslims of Iraq.

I was sitting a few feet from Bing - plugging my own book - as he explained to the great and the good of New York how General Casey was imposing curfews on the Sunni cities of Iraq,one after the other, how if the Sunnis did not accept democracy they would be "occupied" (he used that word) by Iraqi troops until they did accept democracy. He talked about the "valour" of American troops - there was no word of Iraq's monstrous suffering - and insisted that America must "prevail" because a "Jihadist" victory was unthinkable. I applied the Duke of Wellington's Waterloo remark about his soldiers to Bing. I don't know if he frightened the enemy, I told the audience, but by God Bing frightened me.

Our appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations - housed in a 58th Street townhouse of deep sofas and fearfully strong air conditioning (it was early November for God's sake) - was part of a series entitled "Iraq: The Way Forward". Forward, I asked myself? Iraq is a catastrophe. Bing might believe he was going to "prevail" over his "Jihadists" but all I could say was that the American project in Iraq was over, that it was a colossal tragedy for the Iraqis dying in Baghdad alone at the rate of 1,000 a month, that the Americans must leave if peace was to be restored and that the sooner they left the better.

Many in the audience were clearly of the same mind. One elderly gentleman quietly demolished Bing's presentation by describing the massive damage to Fallujah when it was "liberated" by the Americans for the third time last November. I gently outlined the folk that Bing's soldiers and diplomats would have to talk to if they were to disentangle themselves from this mess - I included Iraqi ex-officers who were leaders of the non-suicidal part of the insurgency and to whom would fall the task of dealing with the "Jihadists" once Bing's lads left Iraq. To get out, I said, the Americans would need the help of Iran and Syria, countries which the Bush administration is currently (and not without reason) vilifying. Silence greeted this observation.

It was a strange week to be in America. In Washington, Ahmed Chalabi, one of Iraq's three deputy prime ministers, turned up to show how clean his hands were. I had to remind myself constantly that Chalabi was convicted in absentia in Jordan of massive bank fraud. It was Chalabi who supplied New York Times reporter Judith Miller with all the false information about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi's fellow defectors who persuaded the Bush administration that these weapons existed. It was Chalabi who was accused only last year of giving American intelligence secrets to Iran. It is Chalabi who is still being investigated by the FBI.

But Chalabi spoke to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute in Washington, refused to make the slightest apology to the United States, and then went on - wait for it - to meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Vice-President Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also agreed to see him.

By contrast, Chalabi's gullible conservative dupe was subjected to a truly vicious interview in The Washington Post after she resigned from her paper over the Libby "Plame-Gate" leak. A "parade of Judys" appeared at her interview, Post reporter Lynne Duke wrote. "Outraged Judy. Saddened Judy. Charming Judy. Conspiratorial Judy. Judy, the star New York Times reporter turned beleaguered victim of the gossip-mongers ..." proclaiming her intention to make no apologies for writing about threats to the United States, Miller did so "emphatically almost frantically, her crusading eyes brimming with tears". Ouch.

I can only reflect on how strange the response of the American media has become to the folly and collapse and anarchy of Iraq. It's Judy's old mate Chalabi who should be getting this treatment but no, he's back to his old tricks of spinning and manipulating the Bush administration while the American press tears one of its reporters apart for compensation.

It's like living in a prism in New York and Washington these days. "Torture" is out. No one tortures in Iraq or Afghanistan or Guantanamo. What Americans do to their prisoners is "abuse" and there was a wonderful moment this week when Amy Goodman, who is every leftist's dream, showed a clip from Pontecorvo's wonderful 1965 movie The Battle of Algiers on her Democracy Now programme. "Colonel Mathieu" - the film is semi-fictional - was shown explaining why torture was necessary to safeguard French lives. Then up popped Mr Bush's real spokesman, Scott McClellan, to say that while he would not discuss interrogation methods, the primary aim of the administration was to safeguard American lives.

American journalists now refer to "abuse laws" rather than torture laws. Yes, abuse sounds so much better, doesn't it? No screaming, no cries of agony when you're abused. No shrieks of pain. No discussion of the state of mind of the animals perpetrating this abuse on our behalf. And its as well to remember that the government of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara has decided it's quite all right to use information gleaned from this sadism. Even Jack Straw agrees with this.

So it was a relief to drive down to the US National Archives in Maryland to research America's attempts to produce an Arab democracy after the First World War, one giant modern Arab state from the Turkish border to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. US soldiers and diplomats tried to bring this about in one brief, shining moment of American history in the Middle East. Alas, President Woodrow Wilson died; America became isolationist, and the British and French victors chopped up the Middle East for their own ends and produced the tragedy with which we are confronted today. Prevail, indeed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?