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Op-Ed Piece on Iraq Prison Abuse

Here is an op-ed piece I wrote for the Atlanta Journal Constitution today:


Prison abuse impossible to downplay

Special to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/11/2004

Last week, addressing the atrocities in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Any effort by the anti-American left or the Arab media to generalize the acts of a few into an attack on America, or on America’s armed forces, should be repudiated and condemned.” At about the same time Rush Limbaugh was making these statements:

“This is no different than what happens at the skull-and-bones initiation. Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured. But boy, there was a lot of humiliation of people who are trying to kill us — in ways they hold dear. Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.

“We had these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the MTV awards, the Britney Spears and Madonna concerts or whatever, and yet the libs upset about the mistreatment of these prisons thought nothing of sitting back while mass graves were being filled with 300,000 to 500,000 Iraqis during the Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

Both Limbaugh and Gingrich want to define condemnation of these most heinous acts in terms of liberal outrage. However, the most damning piece of writing I have read about this incident was not written by the liberal press. It was written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, whose U.S. command mandate was to find out what was happening in side Abu Ghraib.

The 53-page report, which was obtained by Seymour Hersh for the New Yorker magazine, lists the affronts that took place, including:

“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

Gingrich further minimizes what happened in Iraq by saying although they were terrible acts, they were carried out by “a very small number of Americans.”

However, on the same day his opinion piece ran in the Wall Street Journal, the Journal itself posted a story highlighting a 24-page report compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The story reads: “The February report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, presents a portrait of prisoner treatment in Iraq that is at odds with statements by administration officials that abuse wasn’t condoned by military commanders and was limited to a handful of low-ranking soldiers.

“Instead, the report says, information gathered by the ICRC ’suggested the use of ill treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered a practice tolerated by’ coalition forces.”

What Limbaugh equates to frat hazing, I think every American — right, left or center –must equate with the worst of concentration camp treatment and condemn it loudly without fear of being labeled anti-American because, in fact, not speaking out and not expressing outrage is the most anti-American act each of us could take.


Leonard Witt is a professor of communication at Kennesaw State University

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