Perspective The Tattoo

A dark chapter in history

OAKVILLE, Ontario, Canada — The nightmare at Abu Ghraib has caused the world to look with disgust at a vast outpouring of prison photos, videos and previously secret information that has undermined whatever legitimacy the war in Iraq may have possessed.

The abuse “was just horrific,” said Tiffany Abdool, a 16-year-old who attends Oakville Trafalgar High School in Ontario, Canada.

“I mean when you saw those pictures it showed you how cruel Americans can really be, like no offense to them, of course, but still that was just mean and cruel,” she said. “I was shocked and appalled.”

These dreadful pictures from the Iraqi prison are enough to make anyone sick to his stomach.

Joe Keo/YJI

They clearly raise serious questions for the people who are supposed to be taking care of our safety and bringing war-torn dictatorships into a new era democracy and to justice, leaders who should have known better.

We are supposed to believe from the White House that this is a breaking news story – and for the public, it is.

But this “breaking news” can actually be traced back to April 2003 when the International Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations complained about the inhumane and illegal abuse happening in the Iraqi prisons controlled by Americans and their allies.

Even before the Red Cross issued warnings, the Bush administration was creating the conditions that led to the brutality in Iraq .

In the midst of the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that enemy combatants picked up in the fighting “will be handled not as prisoners of war because they’re not, but as unlawful combatants. As I understand it technically, unlawful combatants do not have any right under the Geneva Convention.”

With that decision to ignore the treaty provisions, Rumsfeld essentially justified doing anything to prisoners who came into American hands during the wars waged by President Bush.

With Rumsfeld’s tacit endorsement, American and British soldiers sexually, emotionally and physically abused Iraqi prisoners of war, forcing them to assume sexual positions, wear green garbage bags over their heads, face vicious dogs and more.

“I thought that it was absolutely disgusting and sick that anyone would think of doing something like that,” said Erica Bros, a 17-year-old at Lorne Park High School in Mississauga, Ontario .

Just consider the photo showing a naked Iraqi male prisoner, terrified and cornered while American soldiers with big smiles on their faces surround him with vicious guard dogs baring their teeth at the man. How would they like to be him?

Yet Bush, who apologized for the crimes, can still call Rumsfeld a “really good defense secretary” despite it all.

Please! I think the word horrific may be too light on him for allowing the unspeakable to happen in Iraq , literally.

The Geneva Convention must be followed word for word by countries holding prisoners of war, with no exceptions.

Among its provisions is a guarantee that prisoners who “may have complaints to make regarding their conditions of captivity” have the right to transmit their concerns to their leaders.

Had the prisoners at Abu Ghraib been allowed free, unlimited communication with their leaders – as international law mandates — then the abuse there would likely have come to close more than a year ago.

There would have been no sexual abuse, no packing people in ice or any of the other horrors that went on and on at the prison.

With those photos and videos bearing witness to what happened, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is going to wind up in history books as another dark chapter in humanity’s history.

I’m sure that war veterans — whether they fought in World War II , Korea , Vietnam or Afghanistan — cannot even fathom why this horror is going on in Iraq today.

Yes, the dictatorship, executions and terror during the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his followers needed to come to an end.

But do we need to kill thousands upon thousands, injure countless others and inflict abuse on those we happen to capture?

George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the U.S Army and the British armies: what is it you think you are doing over there?

Teague Neal is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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