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

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species  

Save the tiger: Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt
 

Let's make Eid a bank holiday

Grace Dent
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried