May 04, 2004

SILVER LININGS? Judging by this post from Iraqi blogger Omar, the prisoner abuse story is a bigger deal in America than in Iraq:

I was surprised when I saw that the reaction of Iraqis to the subject of prisoners abuse by some American soldiers was not huge as we all expected to see, even it was milder than the one in other Arab countries and especially than that in the Arab media.

I mean about a month ago, we had considerable reactions and somewhat large demonstrations in response to the killing of Hamas leader, and in the mid of maniac reactions from Arab media and people, the absence of large demonstrations and outrage on the streets of Iraq becomes really strange and give rise to questions. Why the Iraqi people are not really upset with this issue?

Is it because of the firm and rapid response from the American officials to these terrible actions?

Or is it because the Iraqi people lack compassion with the majority of these prisoners?

Could it be that the Iraqi people and as a result of decades of torture, humiliation and executions, took these crimes less seriously than the rest of the world?

Or have the majority of Iraqis finally developed some trust in the coalition authorities and in the American army, to sense that these actions must be isolated and will be punished?

I canít say I have the full answer but I guess itís a combination of a little bit of all the above.

I can say that at least some Iraqis seemed to have understood the situation and were satisfied with the reaction of the American officials and their promises that the offenders will be punished. . . .

Here I would like to provide a conversation I had with some friends whom I havenít seen for a long time and met just yesterday. After a few words of greetings that friends usually exchange after not seeing each other for a long time, the conversation turned towards the current situation in Iraq, and as the prisoners abuse issue is the hottest topic nowadays, I started my attempts to discover their points of view about it. They were all upset but they showed satisfaction with the fast and firm reaction of the coalition higher officials and were also impressed by the honesty of the American soldier who reported the abuse and uncovered tha awful behavior of those criminals but at the same time they said that theyíre looking forward to ďsee the offenders get some real punishment, not just directing few harsh words. A sentence for 3 or 4 years in prison will be convenientĒ. Others showed more understanding to the American law system.

It's not all good news, but this is the main point. Meanwhile, Sissy Willis, who seems to be on a roll lately, quotes Mahmood:

This is something that we Arabs never get to hear, an official apologising for a wrong done. Never! The higher up officials in their own fiefdoms are above error, almost at part with God, hence they can do no wrong. But on the other hand, they think that if they do apologise, then not only do they admit being wrong but more importantly to them, they will appear weak. And that will not do. They're still thinking that a strong sword arm is the thing that rules a people.

Seeing and hearing an apology by the highest-ranking officials of the US military is a welcome thing.

I don't know whether these reflect Iraqi or Arab opinion in general. But there's a lesson, regardless: Instead of viewing this purely as a disaster (though, of course, it's that) we should view this as a teachable moment. Everybody in the Arab world knows that their govenments engage in torture on a far greater scale, and as a matter of policy. People's careers are built on it, not destroyed by it. We should be taking advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate the difference.

Tacitus has some suggestions. Donald Sensing, meanwhile, says that all the publicity will harm the prosecution. But as Tacitus notes, there's more that can be done.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the Army report. I haven't read the whole thing yet -- it's very long -- but it seems that one problem was slap-on-the-wrist treatment for earlier violations. That calls for further inquiry.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, we knew that some of the pictures were fake, but via porn-blog FleshBot we hear that "two Arab media sources used photos from hardcore porn sites to substantiate reports of alleged American wartime atrocities in Iraq." Sorry, my mind is reeling now.

MORE: Johan Norberg:

The first thing is that the pictures really prove that the US is superior to the Baathist dictatorship. In the US, a whistleblower is not shot, but welcomed as a hero. In the US, the press is free to report the facts its regime would like to conceal. In the US, soldiers are punished when they torture prisoners, instead of being punished when they donít torture prisoners.

The second thing is that neighbouring countries that now condemn these deeds never complained about the systematic torture under Saddamís regime, which he not merely encouraged, but also participated in personally. Letís hope that these new reactions reveal a new sensitivity to torture in the Middle East, and not merely the traditional hostility to the US.

Let's make sure that people in the Middle East get this point. Kaus thinks that Gen. Abizaid -- who speaks Arabic -- would be the best deliverer of a public apology.

STILL MORE: This post from Zeyad is less positive. We've got our work cut out for us.