Torture and Truth

Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade(The Taguba Report)

by Major General Antonio M. Taguba

Report of the InternationalCommittee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation

by Delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross,February 2004

Last November in Iraq, I traveled to Fallujah during the early days of what would become known as the “Ramadan Offensive”—when suicide bombers in the space of less than an hour destroyed the Red Cross headquarters and four police stations, and daily attacks by insurgents against US troops doubled, and the American adventure in Iraq entered a bleak tunnel from which it has yet to emerge. I inquired of a young man there why the people of that city were attacking Americans more frequently each day. How many of the attacks, I wanted to know, were carried out by foreign fighters? How many by local Islamists? And how many by what US officers called “FRL’s”—former regime loyalists?1

The young man—I’ll call him Salih—listened, answered patiently in his limited but eloquent English, but soon became impatient with what he plainly saw as my American obsession with categories and particulars. Finally he interrupted my litany of questions, pushed his face close to mine, and spoke to me slowly and emphatically:

For Fallujans it is a shame to have foreigners break down their doors. It is a shame for them to have foreigners stop and search their women. It is a shame for the foreigners to put a bag over their heads, to make a man lie on the ground with your shoe on his neck. This is a great shame, you understand? This is a great shame for the whole tribe.

It is the duty of that man, and of that tribe, to get revenge on this soldier—to kill that man. Their duty is to attack them, to wash the shame. The shame is a stain, a dirty thing; they have to wash it. No sleep—we cannot sleep until we have revenge. They have to kill soldiers.

He leaned back and looked at me, then tried one more time. “The Americans,” he said, “provoke the people. They don’t respect the people.”

I thought of Salih and his impatience as I paged through the reports of General Taguba and the Red Cross, for they treat not just of “abuses” or “atrocities” but the entire American “liberation” of Iraq and how it has gone wrong; they are dispatches from the scene of a political disaster. Salih came strongly to mind as I read one of the less lurid sections of the Red Cross report, entitled “Treatment During Arrest,” in which the anonymous authors tell how Iraqis they’d interviewed described “a fairly consistent pattern… of brutality by members of the [Coalition Forces] arresting them”:

Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexi-cuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people…pushing people around,…

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