Not just Thursday’s bombers, but our own soldiers
The horrible bombing in Fallujah two days ago that killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 more is splashed across today’s front pages all over the nation. But the American press is once again missing in action.
Sure, it’s a huge story. It was “the deadliest insurgent attack on American troops in Iraq in almost four months,” as the Los Angeles Times reports. The New York Times and Washington Post chip in with similarly lengthy accounts. And Slate‘s invaluable “Today’s Papers” summary accurately notes that the big mainstream media rags “struggle to put the attack in context.”
Well, despite their fine work — and I mean that — they all lost that struggle. Even Slate‘s summary, which today was authored by Fortune reporter Telis Demos, didn’t dig up a crucial piece of that context.
Nowhere in any of those accounts is there even one mention of the blockbuster revelations only two months ago that U.S. Army soldiers ran a torture chamber — for their amusement — at Camp Mercury, one of several U.S. bases just outside of Fallujah. (Another base lent its name and soldiers to the documentary Occupation: Dreamland, which my colleague Joshua Land reviewed in mid-September.)
I didn’t break the story of Camp Mercury. Human Rights Watch did, when it issued in late September “Leadership Failure:
Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division,” one of the most stunning reports of the entire Iraq debacle. As the report noted:
Residents of Fallujah called them “the Murderous Maniacs” because of how they treated Iraqis in detention. They were soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) in Iraq. The soldiers considered this name a badge of honor.
This is how I led off my September 24 item:
In a shocking new report, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne reveal that they or their fellow soldiers routinely beat, tortured, stripped, humiliated, and starved Iraqi prisoners in 2003 and 2004 at a base near Fallujah, often breaking bones, either at the request of superiors or just to let off steam.
As people wonder why Iraq has devolved into a nightmare of suicide bombings, maybe part of the explanation is that when Fallujah was the center of the insurgency — during that exact same period — we were routinely torturing Iraqis we had no reason to hold on to and whom we would soon be turning loose.
In other words, our soldiers’ dehumanizing — yet highly sexualized — treatment of prisoners at Camp Mercury, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, was a macabre catch-and-release game that couldn’t help but inflame a populace already pissed off about being occupied by foreign troops.
Christ, I’m reduced to quoting myself. I cannot explain why that Human Rights Watch report made such a quick exit from the news. After all, one of the three soldiers whom HRW spoke with even identified himself by name: Captain Ian Fishback. And John McCain talked openly about the report.
Then it vanished down the memory hole. But when chronic liar George W. Bush talks about the insurgents’ “war against humanity,” that crap gets endlessly played and replayed.
Go ahead and read HRW researcher John Sifton‘s October 7 account of talking with Fishback and others. Sifton also tries to put the tortures at Camp Mercury in context. He succeeds.
The Camp Mercury tales are engrossing and horrifying, but it’s information that you need to know if you want to understand why Iraqis, especially those in Fallujah, remain so pissed off at their occupiers that they might string together some artillery shells and blow up their occupiers. What would you do in their place?
Humans, after all, commit inhuman acts. Because of our unjustified invasion, we’ve become an integral part of the cycle of violence in a country that was violent before we got there — before Saddam Hussein even came to power. As I pointed out last May, in “Shattered Illusions,” the Pentagon itself knew full well before the invasion — thanks to a fascinating study by James A. Russell of the military’s own Naval Postgraduate School — that Iraq has always been a civil war waiting to happen. I’m talking about way before Saddam, when the country’s borders were set in 1921 by Winston Churchill.
Take that history lesson unlearned and combine it with a clueless, ideologically driven Bush regime. Bad mixture. Even after it turns sour, we continue to put American soldiers in a bad situation that, because of our corrupt regime’s flouting of international law and of standards of basic human decency, brings out the worst in their behavior.
That’s why, especially while the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal is still in power, we must extricate our troops from Iraq as soon as possible — for the soldiers’ own mental health, and that of their future children and grandchildren.
Even our troops in Iraq who don’t get killed run the risk of returning home with their humanity gone from having kicked and beaten other human beings for no reason but to let off steam.