In less than a week, several horrific pictures circulated the globe.
It all started with video footage showing British soldiers apparently violently assaulting young Iraqi boys, after they were caught demonstrating in southern Iraq. A few days later, Australian TV broadcast a series of pictures, never previously made public, of US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison torturing Iraqi detainees. The pictures included new previously unseen forms of violence and torture.
Neither incident occurred recently but seeing the pictures has brought back feelings of shock and anger at the violent conduct of British and American troops towards Iraqi prisoners and detainees. Once more, these pictures demonstrate the atrocity of war, regardless of any noble causes allegedly behind it. It had become crystal clear how slogans can sink to such levels as to degrade our humanity. Claims that the actions of British and American troops were isolated and that those involved in these heinous practices will be tried do not change matters, except to increase the responsibility of the US and British administrations.
The newly published pictures revealed Iraqi prisoners bleeding, some with their heads covered by plastic bags, others chained to a bed or door, or helplessly left in front of a brutal dog.
Personally, I was most affected by the pictures showing prisoners with their limbs tied, forced to smile. It was as if the abused Iraqi prisoner had no right to express his pain or fear or even his sad silent. He was forced to comply with the whims of the wardens and forced to strip off his humanity and humor the soldiers, in the faint hope he would be spared further abuse.
Whilst we seek to understand these pictures, we must not fail to remember how they have reached us. These photos were taken by individuals party to the abuse and torture. They were publicized by someone who felt strongly it was their duty to put an end to such humiliation.
The video footage was taken by British soldiers. It showed images of young Iraqi boys being brutally beaten and the statements of those behind the camera, expressing their pleasure at sadistically hurting the youngsters. Prison wardens in Abu Ghraib also appear to enjoy mistreating Iraqis. These pictures add fuel to the fire and increase the schism between the Arab and Muslim worlds and the west, especially the US and Britain. As for those who claim the horrors committed by British and American troops and Guantanamo Bay are similar to those seen under Saddam Hussein or still being carried out daily across the Arab world, I can only reply that nothing justifies such brutal acts. Even if one takes into account that the pictures were publicized via British American and Australian media, it does not diminish the incongruity of the West’s democratic values and concern for human rights.
The sanctity of the human body and its respect are the most important criterion around which humanity is supposed to congregate, according to Umberto Eco, the Italian historian and novelist. The latest pictures only serve to desensitize us to torture and not to put an end to it.