Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hearts and Minds and Peeling Skin

More news from Iraq and it's not good. Iraqi security forces in Baghdad have apparently been torturing detainees.
I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralysed and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies
- Hussein Kamal, Iraqi Deputy interior minister
Like any normal person I'm horrified by such things. Torture is unacceptable. There are no qualifications. Some activities cannot be condoned *under any circumstances*. Once torture is acceptable, we're well on the way to becoming the very thing we're supposed to be fighting.
Torture. Is. Not. Acceptable.

Leaving that aside, this particular situation is very bad news on a purely practical level. I know I'm repeating myself but it is hugely important to understand that the most important battle in Iraq is the battle for hearts and minds. This is another victory for the insurgents. It's a simple as that.

Note what the Sunni politicians are saying:
An Iraqi Islamic Party spokesman said only an international inquiry would get to the bottom of the alleged abuse. "There have been similar cases in the past and investigations into them led to nothing," Iyad al-Samarrai, the party's spokesman, told AFP news agency. "We want an international and impartial inquiry as we are beginning to think there are people high up in government who are responsible, or at least accomplices."
Another party spokesman, Alaa Makki, accused US-led forces of giving the alleged abuses "the green light".
Now those are controvesial opinions and I'm sure many people would strongly disagree with them but that's slightly missing the point. A hearts and minds campaign is about what people think, not about whether they're right. If the Sunni politician are expressing these opinions, it's fair to assume that the Sunni insurgents are expressing far stronger versions of the same. Confidence and trust in the political process, in the current government, and in the security forces has been undermined. Again. It's very bad news, whichever way you look at it.

I have to ask whether the US government's ambiguous approach to torture has had an influence on what the Iraqi security forces think is acceptable behaviour. Senator McCain's attempt to ban "cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners" has been resisted by the Bush administration. Why? And what message does that effort to resist the proposal send to the rest of the world? McCain knows the answer. The Bush administration doesn't seem to.

Btw, Senator McCain is a Republican and I disagree with many of his political opinions. All the same, he does appear to be an intelligent and honest human being with a strong sense of integrity and decency. I respect him, even when I don't agree with him. I'm afraid I can't say the same about many of those currently occupying positions of power in the Whitehouse.

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