The world press on the war

Inside a fetid Iraqi torture chamber, the BBC discovers the discarded identity cards of dozens of men.


Compiled by Laura McClure
April 4, 2003 12:46AM (UTC)

United Kingdom, Tom Newton Dunn for the BBC

Their faces stared up at me in black and white, snap shots of individual lives frozen in time.

Dozens and dozens of Iraqi national identity cards were spread across the chief of police's abandoned large oak desk.

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All of them were men, aged between around 20 and 50 -- people's sons, husbands, brothers, or fathers.

In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it is a crime not to carry these identity cards wherever you go, a crime punishable by imprisonment.

We stopped to think why these dozens of men did not need their ID cards anymore.

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A young Royal Marine found them in a large bundle tied roughly with string during a search of Abu al Khasib's police station on Tuesday afternoon, in one of the police chief's bottom drawers gathering dust.

It almost looked like his own sick personal collection ...

The commandos and I knew there was something strange about the police station as we approached it.

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Fortified by sand bags, the grim-looking two-story concrete block was one of only two buildings in the town locals did not want to go into to loot, along with the Baath Party's abandoned local headquarters.

Neither did any of the small quiet crowd who had gathered in the street to watch the men from Alpha Company force entry into it want to tell us anything about it ...

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Only after darkness fell did a man in his 30s approach the gates of 40 Commando's new headquarters in an old Iraqi army barracks on the town's outskirts.

Giving his name as Dofia Abdullah, and saying he had important information, he said: "The Baath Party were bad people, they used to hurt people inside the police station.

"You say bad words about Saddam, they take you in there and you never come out ...

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At almost the end of the long building's left corridor, we found the first cell.

A damp, eight foot by four foot hole with no natural or artificial light in it at all, and just a soiled pillow and filthy blanket on the floor for furniture.

It was the first of six just like it, some bigger, some even smaller, sealed by bolts from the outside attached to heavy metal or steel cage doors, and all of them disgustingly filthy ...

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In another cell, a meat hook hung from the ceiling, and in another a discarded thick line of hose pipe sat idle on the floor, with no water taps for it to attach to anywhere in sight.

Only one, the biggest, had the very roughest approximation of a toilet in it, a squat hole in the ground that judging by the dark, putrid grunge over-flowing from it had not been flushed in months.

But the last room we saw upstairs, again at the end of a corridor, initially left us totally bewildered.

Unlike every other room on the second floor, it was empty, apart from two old rubber car tyres and a long electric cable lead attached to the mains supply, and still live.

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The room's likely purpose was explained later, after we had asked around the Commando for a bit, by a Royal Marine officer who had spent some time in the Balkans on UN service.

He said: "Two tyres and an electric cable is something we came across a lot in Bosnia.

"The interrogator would stand on them while prodding the captive with the live cable so his own feet were insulated from the high voltage by the rubber ...

"Electrocution is not only incredibly painful, but also very frightening, and the interrogators usually get more out of the shock effect of it rather than the actual pain the burns cause."

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The normally jovial and chatty troop of commandos filed out and blocked the police station's doors in total silence.

Jordan, Rami G. Khouri in the Jordan Times

The Iraqi man who detonated a car bomb that killed himself and four American soldiers last week seems to have ushered in a dramatic new phase of the war in Iraq, with consequent bad news for Iraqis and the Anglo-American invasion force. We should deal carefully with hyperbole that speaks of thousands of Arab suicide bombers who have gone to Iraq to attack the Anglo-Americans. Some will do so, for sure, but most probably reflect the heightened emotions of the moment, defined by a profound wave of what looks, sounds and feels like a form of anti-colonial resistance sweeping much of the Arab world.

The suicide bomber who killed himself and the four American soldiers certainly defined his act as one of resistance to occupation, while the Anglo-Americans saw it as an act of terror ...

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The suicide bomber has led American and British troops to be much more careful about coming into contact with Iraqis. The troops are more nervous and more trigger happy, as we witnessed when American soldiers shot and killed a number of women and children in a van at a checkpoint Monday. Television pictures show columns of young American and British troops walking through Iraqi villages with their guns drawn and loaded. Men who approach the soldiers have to take their shirts off, to show that they are not carrying bombs. Troops break down doors and rush into Iraqi houses, guns drawn and sometimes blazing. Anglo-American guns shell entire Iraqi neighbourhoods. Tommy Franks, welcome to Nablus.

The Anglo-American army in Iraq is dangerously close to joining an ignominious list of modern occupation armies that generated fierce resistance among the local population, sought unsuccessfully to stay in place by the force of their superior firepower, and ultimately were driven out, dropped their imperial adventure, and returned home. The three most glaring examples of this cycle in recent memory are probably the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, and the Israelis in South Lebanon. The Anglo-Americans in Iraq may join this grim roster of defeated occupiers.

Given the compelling historical lessons of the three other east, west and central Asian lands of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Lebanon, one would be a fool to be dazzled by the power and determination of a mighty nation that sends its army into distant Asian adventures. We should remember that these three other failed Asian episodes started with a superior military power occupying another land while repeating pleasant sounding rationales about security, democracy, liberation, prosperity and defending freedom. They all ended in humiliating failure at the hands of invaded men and women whose will to resist was greater than the invader's will to persist. The actions of both sides in the coming weeks may well reveal if we are moving in this direction.

France, Henri Tincq in Le Monde

"Crusade" against "jihad"? Faced with the war in Iraq's risks of getting bogged down, the feared scenario of a religious confrontation seems already in place. From one side, calls to prayer and fasting, constant references to the Bible ... In a parallel way, Saddam Hussein is happy to drape himself in the garments of a modern Saladin and to demand God as a witness to the aggression of the "the impious" on his territory ...

One cannot do other than shiver before such a vulgar instrumentalization of the name of God and of religious themes in the Eastern cradle of the three great monotheisms.

For the reader of the Koran or the Gospel, nothing is more indefensible than this manner of invoking God in every instance, giving God's endorsement for human decisions, sometimes among those the most criminal, to confuse faith, weapons, and right.

The faithful, like the agnostic, knows that God offers no protection against the temptation of Totalitarianism ... Gott mit uns: in the name of God, people have tortured, murdered, subjugated their consciences, destroyed countries, attempted to exterminate the Jewish people.

His father an Episcopalian, George Bush Junior belongs to the United Methodist Church of the United States, as do Dick Cheney, his Vice-President, and Andrew Card, the White House Chief-of-Staff. Condoleezza Rice is herself the daughter of a minister. Even though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld does not make a show of religious conviction, one is tempted to write that the fate of America is in the hands of a little group of Protestant bigots.

But how should the America of the depths, shaken by the cataclysm of September 11, attached to symbols as powerful as the "In God we trust" on the greenback, attached to all the affirmations about the role of the United States as a "moral and universal" nation, not identify itself with "this God who legitimizes and supports the American nation, along a Providentialist register that reaches beyond any confessional cleavages", as Sebastian Fath, a French researcher specialized in Protestantism in the United States, asks?

Even the secular Saddam Hussein has always sought to provide religious legitimacy and cover for his conflicts....

But between American Evangelical Christian fundamentalism, which is gaining in the Christian sphere, and Islamic fundamentalism, two visions clash that are both founded on cartoon discourse, savage exegesis, and perversions of sacred writings. And if the religious dimension of this war is certainly now neither the most immediate nor decisive, it could still serve tomorrow as a burning ember of unforeseeable consequences.

India, Indrajit Hazra in the Hindustan Times

For five minutes or 20 -- depending on whether you've been unconvinced or not by the arguments cited by the Bush administration for invading Iraq -- try and forget why you oppose or support the war. Much will continue to be written along that frontline, despite the fact that no matter what you read or hear, you are very unlikely to change your position on the matter now.

Instead, let's move on to the subject of the unprecedented images of war that television viewers are now spectators to. A slew of disturbing visuals has led some to coin the term 'war porno' -- more of a moral tag than a real description. But it can't be denied that as the war is piped live into households, TV viewers have been left shocked and awestruck (dictionary meaning: filled by an emotion compounded of dread and wonder) at being transported up-close and personal to the theatre of war...

Is it so surprising (and despicable, as some suggest) that TV viewers end up comparing a real war with pretend-wars? For most people -- and this is not applicable to the many who live in the real war zones of West Asia or Africa -- movies provide the only yardstick to measure a real war.

Just before the ongoing war in Iraq, young American soldiers in camps in Kuwait reportedly watched war movies (ironically, they're supposed to be 'anti-war' movies) like "We Were Soldiers," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now" for inspiration. This was a strange piece of news: first-time soldiers preparing to imitate art that imitates life -- and death ...

The updated-since-the-last-update visuals of the ongoing war lacks the running thread that tells 'the story'. Part of this vacuum is filled up by commentary -- hardly of the same narrative class that a rich-in-details and as-close-to-the-real-thing that, say, "Saving Private Ryan" is ...

All this is, of course, besides the point for most people watching the war on Arab TV channels. For them, the yardstick isn't "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Band of Brothers." Al Jazeera viewers are used to seeing images that are far more disturbing than those shown in the most 'realistic' Hollywood war movies -- never mind 'real war visuals' aired on western TV channels. Unlike Americans -- who, incidentally, last witnessed a real war in their backyard during their Civil War -- their counterparts sitting in Baghdad don't need make-believe models to compare with their war coverage.

United Kingdom, Elaine Monaghan in the Times

A new chapter opened yesterday in the battle for control of U.S. policy in postwar Iraq.

A U.S. official told The Times that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, was resisting State Department appointments to the administration-in-waiting, at least one of whom is already in Kuwait.

He said that the Pentagon had ruled that Mr. Rumsfeld should personally approve appointments to the temporary U.S.-British administration, "and there are many people who question his authority to take that decision, including, I assume, the Secretary of State".

Of Colin Powell's nominees, he added: "We havent gotten a no, we just haven't gotten an answer (from the Pentagon)."

He said that it was unclear how the row would end as the decision-making process was in flux. "The White House has to step in. One of the variables is Mr. Tony Blair. Once again, he will be a critical voice in all of this," he said.

Barbara Bodine, an experienced U.S. diplomat expected to take the job of administering Baghdad, is in Kuwait waiting to enter Iraq. U.S. officials have said that an inter-agency tussle is going on over whether she should get that job or a national position as coordinator of the civil administration, for which Michael Mobbs, a Pentagon lawyer, was the favourite ...

The row boils down to control over policy-making on Iraq in the postwar phase, with the State Department anxious to create an environment that is more acceptable to foreign countries while the Pentagon is anxious to stay in control.

Critics of the Bush Administration's neo-conservative wing, which dominates the Pentagon, say that its ranks are anxious to build a new Iraq in the image of the United States, using Westernised Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi, a favourite of the Pentagon who is disliked by the State Department. The differences over how to involve Mr. Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader, have raged for months.

Meanwhile, General Powell and Mr. Blair are trying to secure a prominent role for the United Nations in an attempt to avoid further alienating U.S. allies in Europe. State Department moderates are hoping that Mr. Blair can repeat his apparent diplomatic success in keeping the Middle East peace process high up on President Bushs priority list by getting him to intervene in the State Department-Pentagon spat.

Australia, Peter Wilson in the Australian

Ali is one of the many young men of military age who have special reason to flee Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his most hardline troops.

The 27-year-old university graduate arrived at the southern border town of Umm Qasr yesterday with six young friends hoping to find asylum in Kuwait or "any other safe country" that would accept them.

Well groomed, nicely spoken, middle class and obviously afraid, they stood out in this rough port town. We were standing on a street corner where a few locals were milling about, and Ali stopped talking whenever prying ears came within hearing range.

When he realised he had approached a journalist rather than the sort of foreigner who might have the power to get him out of the country, he hesitated nervously but continued talking for a while to explain himself. "Our families are all still in Basra but they told us to go so we would not be taken by the army," he said. "They make you fight and if you won't, they kill you.

"There is already shooting and looting and shortages of water and food but things are getting much worse for young men because they have started to round us up."

When a good friend was seized in his home, the seven young men decided to take their chances. They left Basra at dawn, sneaking out through friends' homes to avoid roadblocks.

"If the soldiers see young men leaving they accuse you of being traitors and abandoning your city. It is very dangerous."

They then paid for a lift to the southern border, about 60km away.

A trained physical education teacher who has been able to find work only as a labourer, Ali has the same aspirations as many young men in the developed world.

"I have had enough of Iraq. I have no future here. I want to work and study more and be able to live freely, and travel to many countries. Here there is nothing for us so we have to go out of the country."

Asked whether he would stay and help rebuild Iraq if the U.S.-led coalition succeeded in overthrowing Hussein, Ali said yes -- but was strongly sceptical.

"Of course we would rather stay -- why would we want to go away from our families? But I just don't believe that things are going to change.

"Things might improve but they might not and it could take a very long time. And I only have one life to live."

Saudi Arabia, Naseer Al-Nahr in the Arab News

Thirty-three people, including women and children, died and 310 were wounded in a coalition bombing on the outskirts of the farming town of Hilla, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the capital yesterday, local hospital director Murtada Abbas said.

He was speaking at the Hilla Hospital where a large number of children lay wounded under blankets on the floor due to a shortage of beds.

Fifteen members of one family were killed nearby late Monday when their pickup truck was blown up by a rocket from a U.S. Apache helicopter in the region of Haidariya near Hilla, the sole survivor of the attack said.

Razek Al-Kazem Al-Khafaji, sitting among 15 coffins in the local hospital, said he lost his wife, six children, his father, his mother, his three brothers and their wives.

The British and U.S. airstrikes on this city accounted for a further 19 people dead and more than 100 wounded since Monday evening, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf said on the 13th day of the U.S.-led attempt to unseat Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq. U.S. troops admitted killing seven women and children when they opened fire Monday on a civilian vehicle at a military checkpoint manned by the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division at Najaf, 150 kilometers (95 miles) south of Baghdad...

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, speaking at operational headquarters in Qatar, said U.S. troops opened fire "as a last resort" after the civilian vehicle failed to stop at a military post despite repeated warning shots fired by U.S. troops. Four people in the vehicle escaped unharmed. The Washington Post quoted U.S. Army 3rd Division Capt. Ronny Johnson as shouting over the radio to his men after the shooting: "You just (expletive) killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough." A U.S. military investigation has been opened.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said U.S. President George W. Bush regretted the deaths of Iraqi civilians but "recognizes that most innocents have been lost in this war at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen".

Hong Kong, Marwaan Macan-Markar in Asia Times

While the U.S.-led war on Iraq may not yet have succeeded in its stated aim of "liberating" Iraq and destroying its weapons of mass destruction, it may have succeeded in breathing new life into the writings of an ancient Asian mind -- the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu.

This week served up the latest about the Chinese thinker and general from the 5th century BC, who wrote the oldest military treatise on war, "The Art of War"; using knowledge he learned from fighting during China's Age of the Warring States.

Sun's work on war has punctuated the debate under way since it emerged that Washington's initial battle plans -- given the name "shock and awe" -- had not produced the desired results ...

Yet Sun enthusiasts disagree. They argue that the obstacles U.S.-led troops have run into -- from the failure of forcing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse after a steady barrage of missiles and bombs, to the stiff resistance mounted by Iraqi troops -- do not mean that Sun's strategy has failed.

"Much has yet to be seen before making any conclusions," writes an analyst for Sonshi.com, a website dedicated to Sun's "Art of War" ...

An account of the "shock and awe" strategy on the U.S. Department of Defense website amplifies how much it has been influenced by Sun's thinking. "Sun was well aware of the crucial importance of achieving 'shock and awe' prior to, during, and in ending battle," it states.

In fact, words used by U.S. military officials to describe the nature of the massive aerial attack on Iraq in the first days -- such as "decapitation" -- can be traced to their attempt to use Sun's strategy. He called for "instant decapitation of military or societal target to achieve shock and awe", the Defense Department document states.

It draws upon one story to describe how Sun applied such force to achieve his end. In this case, the victims were two concubines in the court of Ho Lu, the king of Wu. They were beheaded to stamp out any resistance and to achieve conformity from the remaining concubines.

"The objectives of this example are to achieve shock and awe and hence compliance through very selective, utterly brutal and ruthless, and rapid application of force to intimidate," the document adds. "Decapitation is merely one instrument."

Nigeria, Sowaribi Tolofari in Vanguard

Democracy has become the slogan for the free market's globalisation. To democratise means to expand and intensify the free market. Make no mistakes about it, I am not against the free market. But I am a stickler for exactitude. Let us call capitalism just that, call political and diplomatic intimidation just that, call military aggression against weaker countries just that, and let democracy continue to mean leadership of the people by the people for the people. Today, democracy is controlled, wherever it exists, or introduced, by global merchants and the diplomatic and military forces at their control....

Democracy today has a relatively insignificant little to do with rights but everything to do with the acquisition and control of the world's limited natural resources for and by the elite, irrespective of where the resources are and in which far-flung countries these elites are ... Whatever the media propaganda leads the home crowd to believe, it is easy to discern that the real reason is control of resources and the maintenance of elite groups in power, be it the destruction of Iraq or the village of Odi in Nigeria...

The United States is out now for its own turn at colonising Africa. The first step has effectively been completed, that of sending in the World Bank and IMF to damage the economies of the countries and make them subservient debtor-nations. The next step, the military occupation, has commenced and is being intensified this century, under the pretext of giving support to democracy...

The USA's Pentagon has drawn up a militarization programme for Africa called the African Crisis Response Initiative (formally Force) ... According to the Pentagon "it will be a tremendous asset to have Nigeria in this special initiative".

The reason is obvious. One-sixth of all Africans live in Nigeria, half of all West Africans are Nigerians. Above all, Nigeria is one of the six highest producers of crude oil within the OPEC, and 40 percent of this oil is, for now, sold to the USA. Africa has over 30 percent of all the world's mineral resources. Why else would the Americans be eager to design a military Organisation and export it to Africa? ... The presence of foreign military focus is threatening, especially when the hidden agenda for this military presence is to take control of the natural resources of the continent.

Russia, Peter Lavelle in Prime-TASS

The great Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said that the most dangerous mental faults are laziness and impatience. To him, laziness of mind meant reluctance to confront unfamiliar, multifaceted and refractory realities, while impatience leads to fascination with supposedly all-encompassing theories in lieu of engaging in thought and sound judgment. In short, those who succumb to laziness and impatience are drawn to relate themselves to an imagined universal instead of a real particular.

Does this sound familiar? It should: Laziness and impatience are the two leading elements of America's new developing foreign policy, and the delusion lurking behind them is the messianic idea that the United States can remake the world ... and that the world, in its heart of hearts, wants to be so remade ...

America's new laziness and impatience come from a very dangerous belief that it is the answer to the world's problems. However noble the ideal of saving the world may be, beliefs such as this wreaked havoc in the last century. Fascism and communism strove to profoundly change the world, and both left catastrophe in their wake. Both these forms of totalitarianism resorted to preventive war because both were also impatient to reorder the world ...

Forcing other people to be free is not a strategy that will reinforce domestic institutions. Democracy at home accepts diversity, and not tolerating it abroad has an eventual corrosive internal effect. The U.S. preemptive war doctrine is a time bomb ticking away on the home front.


Compiled by Laura McClure

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