The photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoner mistreatment are a political scandal that threatens the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld’s departure would mean that other Iraq hawks would have to be fired, possibly even including Vice Pres. Richard Cheney who is a close Rumsfeld ally.
These men are the neo-conservatives who championed Pres. George W. Bush’s reverse domino theory that posits that one democratic nation in the Middle East will be the role model to bring democratic change to the region. The prisoner abuse scandal makes this theory even more untenable, leaving in shambles the president’s justification for the Iraq war.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The torture pictures were taken with digital cameras and were e-mailed to other soldiers. Clearly, viewers were expected to enjoy the humiliation of these Iraqi detainees—whose will was being broken by making some of them simulate homosexual acts. If there was ever a reason to put gays in the military, it was provided by these pictures.
John McCain, the senator who was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for five years during the Vietnam War, rejected a comparison with his ordeals.
“I was tortured but never humiliated,” McCain said, according to a New York Times article. The Arizona Republican has made it clear those higher-ups in the military and Pentagon must be held responsible.
Washington insiders did not create this scandal. These pictures reached the media from the America heartland—supposedly the center of Bush’s strength. Earlier this year, when the Army began to prosecute some of the soldiers, one father of the accused, convinced that his son was carrying out orders to “soften up” prisoners, refused to sit back and do nothing. The father contacted his brother-in-law who ultimately contacted CBS. “Sixty Minutes II” ran these pictures—fittingly enough in the last week of April, a disastrous month for the war effort, military families, and for the president.
The point is, the families of rank and file soldiers brought these images to the attention of the American people.
The picture of the hooded Iraqi with wires attached to his body could become the icon of this war in much the same way the naked girl burned by napalm running down the road became the symbol of the Vietnam War. Once again, the nation has to face the reality of war—where harsh and violent acts negate idealistic pretensions. How many Americans can still believe the Iraqis are glad United States invaded and drove out Saddem Hussein?
On the “Arab street,” the terrorist view of the United States as a depraved, imperialist power will now be backed up with the hard evidence of these photos—instantaneously on the Internet, moreover. The job of creating a sovereign state has become even more difficult. Iraqis who support the United States will be isolated or simply remain silent. The continuing decline of U.S. authority could strengthen the role of Islamic religious leaders.
European nations will be even more reluctant to offer economic or political assistance to help rebuild Iraq. Islamic nations will also be reluctant to send soldiers to act as peacekeeping forces as the United States withdraws.
It has become even harder to separate Iraqi civilians from the insurgents. Presumably, there will be more people volunteering to do battle with the United States. It is no accident that Osama Bin Laden offered gold to those who killed high-ranking Americans.
This war has a way of turning Bush’s boasts into bitter jokes. When he landed on an aircraft carrier to proclaim victory under a banner saying “Mission Accomplished,” everyone expected him to use those pictures in campaign advertisements. But it was not to be—the aircraft carrier image is being run by Democrats to mock the president.
In the same vein, the president has frequently trumpeted that “because of the actions by our coalition, Saddem Hussein’s torture chambers are closed.” Abu Ghraib’s prison guards and their military intelligence associates have made this another empty boast.
The president says he supports Donald Rumsfeld, and polls show Americans also believe the Pentagon chief had nothing to do with the abuses. This week, two-thirds of the respondents polled by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania opposed Rumsfeld’s resignation. Even Democrats were evenly divided on the question.
For the time being, Rumsfeld stays, but the pressure to oust the controversial secretary remains high. The key question is whether a less ideological person will replace him, or if another neo-conservative will be appointed to continue the current military policy in Iraq.