It’s official: prisoner abuse is OK

As US Republicans and right-wing media outlets have been scrambling to eat humble pie over the last few weeks since the publication of the grotesque Abu Ghraib ‘holiday snaps’, the Wall Street Journal has managed to excel itself by bucking the trend with an editorial that, quite frankly, beggars belief.

According to the WSJ, ‘apart from Iraqi soldiers detained in uniform and certain members of Saddam Hussein’s chain of command–most Iraqi detainees are arrested as civilians and fall under the protection not of the Third Geneva Convention but of the Fourth.’ This apparently entitles the US, as an occupying power ‘to use its discretion within wide parameters to maintain law and order (Article 64), and contains no specific restriction on interrogation, other than saying that “protected persons” not be subjected to “physical or moral coercion” (Article 31). But–note well–protected persons are defined as “persons taking no active part in the hostilities” (Article 3).’ In other words, says the WSJ, ‘the Geneva Conventions do not speak specifically to the interrogation treatment of non-uniformed Baathist or jihadi guerrillas detained in connection with attacks on U.S. forces or Iraqi civilians … With that in mind, we’ll risk liberal censure and suggest that 45 minutes of uncomfortable posture (the guidelines’ limit) and the other techniques … are certainly appropriate. The U.S. holds some very dangerous people in Iraq, and it’s easy to forget that the point of interrogating them is to better protect both U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi civilians that the Geneva Conventions oblige us to safeguard.’

Damn, I feel so stupid now being utterly appalled and sickened by the photographs. If only the WSJ had pointed this out to us earlier we needn’t have worried. Seriously, though, as my good friend Vijay Srinivasan pointed out in his unpublished response to the Editor (see below), one minor oversight on the part of the WSJ is the notion of innocence until proven guilty.

An unpublished letter to the Editor of the WSJ by Vijay Srinivasan

This letter is from a common man on the streets of Singapore, who reads your Journal everyday. Of late, I have been reading your editorials, apart from the usual business and financial news, for which your newspaper enjoys undisputed standing around the world.

I was totally taken aback and completely appalled when I read the editorial of your newspaper dated 18th May titled Geneva for demagogues. Of course, your projection of American military supremacy and consistent, unfailing endorsements of the Republican Administration’s hard positions on the war on terror, did not surprise me at all till now. However, trying to justify what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in the oblique manner that you have tried to, would upset all freedom loving people of this world. You may be right in pointing out the technicalities of the Geneva Conventions, but you have forgotten the spirit of the same.

America has been a beacon of human rights and freedom for a long time, and it still remains as the most favoured destination of would-be immigrants from around the world. However, the strange, unconnected and ill-conceived policies of the Bush administration, post 9/11 and the unjustified war on Iraq, have resulted in creating a poor image of America in most parts of the world. What happened in the Abu Ghraib prison, and what might have happened in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, to prisoners held by the U.S., will, forever remain as a disgrace to American values.

There is an old saying that “if one innocent person is punished by the powers that be, that would lead to the city burning up in flames”. How can your valued newspaper assume that it is alright to treat prisoners held in the above prisons as though they are some animals, not subject to Geneva conventions? How can you be so sure that all the persons held in custody are terrorists? What gives the coalition forces the right to subjugate the prisoners to mean acts and sexual perversion, just because they are the occupying power? Then, what is the difference between the terror tactics used by Saddam Hussein and the coalition?

Personally, I support the war on terror and most people do. But the war in Iraq is not the same as the war on terror. It has no endorsement from the U.N. or the U.N. Security Council. People like me around the world support human values, freedom of the oppressed, and democratic systems. However, millions of them like me are convulsed upon looking at the pictures of prison abuses. Your attempt to isolate the incidents from the military chain of command, and protect the integrity of Donald Rumsfeld, smacks of shameful coverup and blatant misjudgement based just on assumptions and nothing else. How do you explain the fact that after Rumsfeld’s recent visit to Abu Ghraib, a number of prisoners were released?

I would expect a newspaper of your stature to take a position which is unbiased, based on facts and figures, and devoid of any emotions. But, you have failed in that expectation, in adhering to your blinding support of the current policies of the U.S. administration and in trying to justify the unjustifiable prison abuses by the coalition forces. In that sense, you have failed all freedom-loving people, including Americans. I am happy to note that other leading newspapers from America, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many others, still maintain the American value systems in their reporting and editorials. And, I read their websites every day as well.