Iraq: occupation under siege

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The occupiers are in trouble.

In early April, the brutal siege of Falluja and the thunderous Iraqi resistance it provoked made it clear that the warmakers are on a slippery slope.

Italy and other U.S. allies in Iraq were barraged with demands by their citizens to bring the soldiers home. Following the example set by Spain after the election of its new socialist prime minister, several did. In Denmark, which has troops in and around Basra, outrage over the false justifications for the war compelled the defense minister to resign. On May Day, tens of thousands marched against the occupation in cities across the globe.

In the U.S., opposition began to build as the GI death toll leaped and pictures of flag-draped coffins were shown on the news for the first time.

And then came the shocking photos of torture of prisoners by U.S. and British soldiers and mercenaries. The British prime minister apologized. High-command types in the U.S. scrambled to distance themselves from responsibility. And some lawmakers on Capitol Hill at last began to object to the consequences of the “war on terror” that they were key to launching.

In Iraq, 500 prominent scholars met in Baghdad in mid-May to begin work on an U.S. exit plan. BBC News reported that their initiative was sparked by “the inherent inability of the US-led coalition to come to grips with the situation — further exacerbated by the range of opposition forces ranged against it.”

Torture is no aberration. The White House and Pentagon persist in calling the cases of horrific abuse uncharacteristic. But even the staid Red Cross reports that the Abu Ghraib atrocities were not “isolated acts of individual members of the coalition forces,” but part of a “broad pattern.” Furthermore, says the Red Cross, 90 percent of the detainees in Iraq have been picked up by mistake.

At any rate, according to the U.S. government, torture is legitimate.

In April 2003, a secret list of about 20 techniques of “harsh interrogation” was approved at the highest levels for use against post-9/11 detainees at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. And these are prisoners whose detention is so patently illegal that even their military defense attorneys are aggressively opposing the right of the U.S. to hold them without charges or to try them before unconstitutional military tribunals!

The Washington Post calls the list of acceptable types of torture “the first known documentation of an official policy permitting interrogators to use physically and psychologically stressful methods during questioning.” But, documented or not, the U.S. government has been in the atrocity business for a long time.

“They torture prisoners here in the U.S. This is where they learned how to do it in Iraq,” said a man at a recent antiwar rally.

Indeed. One of the reservists accused of supervising the torture in Abu Ghraid, Charles Graner Jr., previously worked as a prison guard at SCI-Greene in Pennsylvania, a facility with a reputation for brutality. Most of the state’s death row inmates are held there, including political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The New York Times reports that “some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of violence by guards against inmates and because of overcrowding.”

The same article revealed that Lane McCotter, who directed the reopening of Abu Ghraib prison and trained the guards there, used to be the director of the Utah Department of Corrections. He was forced to resign in 1997 after a mentally unstable prisoner died while “being shackled naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours.”

Whether the torturers in Iraq are military or mercenaries, their “skills” are honed in the USA, and their actions reflect the racism and homophobia of their culture.

Six of the accused reservists were based in Cumberland, Maryland. An Arab American who grew up in the remote hills of Cumberland wrote to the daily Seattle Post-Intelligencer and said, “The youth of Cumberland and that entire Appalachian region are troubled youth. Racism there is rampant, along with ignorance, poverty and alcoholism.”

Fortunately for all of us, a lowly enlisted man, of a poor background himself, told the truth. Army Specialist Joe Darby, who joined the military in hopes of getting an education, could never have dreamed he would provide such a historic service to his fellow working people.

War and occupation for profit. The barbaric actions that Darby bravely brought to light certainly make it more obvious that the war against Iraq has nothing to do with stopping terrorism or liberating anybody. What it does have to do with is maintaining control over a whole area of the globe that the supersized profits of U.S. business depend on, especially at a time when the economy is faltering.

And oil companies are by no means the only profiteers.

Take privatized armies, for example. There are around 20,000 hired guns in Iraq, making from $500 to $1,500 a day. They are employed by large private security corporations like CACI International and Blackwater Security under contract to the U.S. government. Like oil and construction companies, these enterprises are making billions off the destruction and exploitation of Iraq.

And their employees, who are not accountable to military law, are deeply involved in the interrogation and torture of prisoners.

Now is the time. On May 14, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace demonstrated in Philadelphia, calling for an immediate stop to extensions of tours of duty and an end to the U.S. occupation. In Portland, Oregon, antiwar protesters on May 7 made the connections between the debacle in Iraq and their campaign against a mayoral candidate whose pro-war stance “reveals a deeper aspect of his character that makes him completely unfit for the office.”

Antiwar organizers who are planning major rallies for June 5 say that rallies like those in Philadelphia and Portland are just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s hope so. With the rotten fruits of U.S. aggression on display and Republican and Democratic party conventions coming up, the antiwar movement could not ask for a better time to take the offensive. It’s the perfect moment to press for immediate, unconditional U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Speaking to young socialists in 1906, German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht called militarism “a specially pernicious and dangerous life manifestation of capitalism.” Said Liebknecht, “Its task is to uphold the prevailing order of society, to prop up capitalism and all reaction against the struggle of the working class for freedom.”

Rarely has it been more clear that the prevailing order is not worth upholding or that workingclass soldiers and civilians are paying for its preservation in blood and debasement. When it comes, the victory of the Iraqi people over their occupiers will be a victory for working people the world over.

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