By Salama A Salama
Are these just some rotten apples that have dropped from the US tree? Are these just passing incidents that can be mended with apology and disciplinary measures? Or is the moral and mental decay irreversible? These are questions many Americans and Britons should start asking themselves. Psychologists, political researchers, and think-tanks, having tested our patience since 11 September with endless talk about the "clash of civilisations" and the "dialogue among cultures", should now explain why such widespread acts of sadistic brutality were committed against Iraqi prisoners.
When the attacks against Washington and New York took place, historians and writers -- the likes of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington -- were quick to unleash a torrent of vitriol against Islamic culture. Ours, they claimed, was a culture based on repression, human rights violations and the propagation of creed through the sword. These claims have been used to back up repressive legislation, build prisons and detention camps, deprive suspects of due legal process and mistreat prisoners in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The atrocities committed in Abu Ghraib were conducted upon the orders of military intelligence chiefs. The horrors low-ranking servicemen inflicted on Abu Ghraib inmates was licensed through orders from above aimed at extracting confessions and breaking the will of Iraqis.
President Bush -- a man not amenable to apology from "the forces of evil", implacable over the terror attributed to hard-line Islamic groups, firmly bent on rearranging the entire Islamic world, quick to go to war against Afghanistan then Iraq -- is now asking the Islamic nation and the Iraqi people to accept his insincere apologies and those of his defence secretary and top brass. Bush is apologising for the methodical, slow and brutal torture that has been so efficiently conducted by the US intelligence machine. His administration, one may recall, still retains the right to teach other nations the true meaning of civilisation, freedom, democracy and justice.
It is ironic how the value of the Western and American person, as seen from the perspective of Western civilisation, contrasts with that of the oriental, Arab and Muslim, as seen from the perspective of Bernard Lewis and the American right. The modern, and post-modern, world has managed, through the use of digital cameras and sophisticated cellular communications systems, to break through the walls of secrecy occupation forces are trying to hide behind. Thousands of horrific pictures are circulating across the world, showing mounds of naked bodies, acts of sexual abuse, and humans on dog leashes. The horrors recall those of the Holocaust, Vietnam, the genocide of Palestinians, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The US system has nurtured a chain of command capable of such crimes, keeping it carefully hidden from view, unaccountable, untouchable. This chain of command has refused to submit to the Geneva Conventions and any other legal instruments concerning the treatment of prisoners. It has disregarded the reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and rejected any independent investigation.
These are not isolated incidents committed by low- ranking servicemen in violation of orders and regulations. This is a systematic mindset governing the entire US system from top to bottom, with the support of political, military and intelligence agencies, with civilian contractors hired on the side to commit the worst acts of torture with impunity.
The US, through such conduct, is giving heart to extremists in the Islamic world, undermining reforms and fomenting bloodshed. Perhaps those who opine so authoritatively on the clash of civilisations will now spare us their pointless, conspicuous, racist moralising.