In Saddam's sadistic footsteps By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
May 6, 2004

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NOW that valid uncensored journalism has exposed the cruel torture, humiliation and degradation of Iraqi political prisoners, a lot of crocodile tears are being shed, especially by the George Bush administration, but also by the government of its most reliable war partner, Tony Blair's.

Score one for freedom of the press, in particular mainstream American media like CBS and the 'New Yorker', as well as the London `Daily Mirror'.

I have no doubt that participants of the Commonwealth--Caribbean Media Conference that concludes today (Wednesday) here in Trinidad, would have been more fortified in their resolve to "deepen press freedom" as they followed the unfolding dramas of the sadistic behaviour of rogue American and British elements.

The horrifying television images, first broadcast by CBS, of hooded, naked, tortured Iraqi prisoners, some in the most sickening degrading postures, have understandably provoked worldwide revulsion.

Yes, even in those nations of the Arab world where regimes have routinely practised what the fallen tyrant, Saddam Hussein, had systematically carried out on an extensive scale -- the torture and degradation of prisoners, many falsely labelled as "anarchists" and "terrorists".

The irony of it all is that those rogue elements of the U.S. and British military who have so terribly tarnished the reputation of the vast majority of their decent, brave and dedicated colleagues, were in Iraq to also "liberate" Iraqis from Saddam's dictatorship and capture his weapons of mass destruction that have proved to be "weapons of mass disappearance".

Characteristic of politicians and others when confronted with media exposures of what they would dearly have wished to remain a secret, President Bush was to piously declare his "deep disgust that the prisoners were treated the way they were...I didn't like it one bit".

But was President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsefld really ignorant of what has been going on for months during the first year of the war on Iraq?

And what about the torture and degradation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay yet to be televised as in the case of the Iraqi prisoners?

The reality is that such crimes by U.S. soldiers and intelligence personnel in Iraq were consistent with a pattern for months; and Amnesty International for one had telegraphed its warning.

No official attention was paid and the crimes continued in secret, including rape, forced oral sex and at least one specific case of death during interrogation.

Guantanamo Crimes
Similarly, amid growing protests of gross violations of the fundamental rights of political prisoners being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo in Cuba, a trio of U.S.-based human rights organisations last February called for an investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights, International Human Rights Law Group and the International Federation of Human Rights called on the OAS Commission to "prevent the unlawful treatment" of the some 600 prisoners at Guantanamo.

The `Washington Post' had earlier reported on specific allegations of prison torture, only to be faced with official denials by spokesmen of the Bush administration -- similar to the routine dismissive fashion of claims of torture of prisoners in Iraq.

Then came the shocking television images last week, first by CBS.

Suddenly, it was no longer possible to carry on the game of pretence, of prolonging the official denial mode.

The President was left to express "deep disgust" and say it is "not our (American) way".

What millions of Muslims and Arabs had long suspected to be a pattern of abuse, not to mention the expressed concerns of international human rights organisations and vigilant media committed to fulfilling their social responsibility, has exploded in the faces of the sadistic torturers, their mentors and protectors.

The American President who has declared his "deep disgust" at the exposed torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, is yet to openly condemn the assassinations of the two top most Hamas leaders recently carried out on the instructions of an Israeli Prime Minister shortly after his return home from a White House meeting in Washington.

The two infamous sons of Saddam Hussein were wanted by the Bush administration "dead or alive". Their bullet-riddled bodies were to become television footage as hawks gloated in Washington.

In life the slain brothers had shown no mercy to their opponents and they got none from the American "liberators".

Mocking Freedoms
Such official attitudes to killings of perceived Palestinian or Iraqi "killers" may help to explain why otherwise "good" Americans would have degraded themselves in degrading their Iraqi prisoners at the very notorious Abu Gharib prison where Saddam Hussein had reputedly made the torturing and degradation of prisoners into a fine art

Journalists from a Commonwealth country like Zimbabwe, or a Caribbean Community member state, such as Haiti, who were among the scheduled presenters at the Commonwealth--Caribbean Media Exhibition and Conference that ended Wednesday (yesterday), would know something of how the corruption of power often makes a mockery of basic human rights and freedoms, including press freedom.

They would also be aware that journalist colleagues who disregard the ethics of our profession and often recklessly "break the rules" only help in undermining freedom of the press, the wider freedom of expression and provide grist for the mill for those who are obsessed with abusing state power.

In this context, let it be said in passing that Prime Minister Patrick Manning's observations on Monday on media deficits in ethical behaviour should not be casually dismissed.

Also, if it is true, as claimed by the U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Roy Austin, that he had been denied the right of a reply to criticisms levelled against him and his country by sections of the local media, this would be quite inconsistent with the guiding principles of media freedom and freedom of expression.

But this is an issue for another time. Now we are witnessing the painful exposures and implications of the degradation of Iraqi political prisoners at the hands of citizens of the "land of the free and home of the brave", and the accompanied expressions of "deep disgust" now that the crimes of the torturers and their mentors have been exposed by the media.

(Reprinted with courtesy from yesterday's `Trinidad Express')