In its first
punishments in the case involving the abuse of detainees
at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, the US military has
announced the reprimand of seven people. The seven
officers and non-commissioned personnel were not demoted
or discharged, nor did they participate in the abuse,
but officials said they were responsible for setting
At the same time, President George W
Bush has urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to
ensure that those involved are punished, and a White
House spokesman said Bush "wanted to make sure
appropriate action is being taken against those
Within Iraq, investigations will
examine activities at 16 detention centers holding about
11,000 prisoners, including 127 foreigners, according to
the military. About 4,500 of those prisoners are being
held at Abu Ghraib.
Whether this will be enough
to calm the growing outrage at the abuse of Iraqi
prisoners is another matter, especially in the Arab
Images of the abuse - first shown on US
television last week and broadcast throughout the world
in the days that followed - show naked Iraqi detainees
being hooded, beaten and subjected to humiliation. Some
photographs show the prisoners being put in sexually
suggestive poses while US soldiers stand nearby and
smile for the camera.
Hiwa Osman says that the abuses made the headlines in
the Iraqi media. "The [newspapers] are divided,
basically. Some are just doing straight, pure reporting;
others are appalled by what's happening. Mostly, in
general, there is shock and disbelief about what's
happened," Osman said.
Osman says speculation
has long existed about US abuse of Iraqi prisoners. But
many Iraqis discount such allegations as part of the
perpetual wave of rumors about American troops. "This
was also taken as part of the other big campaign of
rumors and propaganda against the Americans. That's why
[nobody] took them seriously at the time. But these
photos kind of showed a completely new thing to the
Iraqis that they haven't been expecting, to be honest.
They were hearing rumors, but not many people believed
them, because they knew there was a concerted campaign
of rumors and propaganda against the Americans in Iraq,"
That has all changed. Iraq's
influential Association of Muslim Clerics on Monday
called for an international investigation to be
conducted into the allegations. Throughout the Arab
region, the press has been united in condemning the
The Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram writes in
a commentary that "condemnation by the United States and
Great Britain is not enough". It calls for the "rapid
formation of an international tribunal [to] judge the
soldiers who perpetrated these crimes".
editorial in another Egyptian newspaper, al-Dustour,
describes the abuse as an "earthquake that shook the
conscience of the world" and said the action was the
work of the "orphans of the Ku Klux Klan".
Syria's official daily ath-Thawra says the abuse
is "proof that the acts of torture" by US troops are
A spokesman for the Qatar-based
alJazeera television channel, Jihad Ballout, told RFE/RL
that the prevailing reaction in the Arab world is one of
shock and anger. At the same time, he says, many Arabs
have distrusted the US for so long that the prisoner
abuse does not come as a surprise.
the media, most of which have interviewed people inside
Iraq and across the Arab world, there is a sense of
people saying, 'Well, why we are surprised, why we are
shocked? We should have anticipated that'," Ballout
Ballout said that, even before the
photographs came to light, many Arabs believed that
Americans had come to Iraq to "humiliate" Iraqis and
Arabs generally. The latest developments, Ballout said,
only serve as "vindication" of those opinions.
Ballout said that Arabs are most offended by the
fact that US soldiers are shown abusing naked prisoners.
He says Islam has strict rules about nudity - to the
degree that even married couples are shy about appearing
naked in each other's presence.
offensive] was the nudity [of the prisoners] and the
prisoners being forced to get involved in the practices
that are related to sexual behavior, especially between
men themselves. I think that has caused the greatest
anxiety, the strongest feelings, amongst Arab public
opinion in general," Ballout said.
comes at a time when US policy is increasingly shaky in
Iraq and the Middle East. American troops suffered
unprecedented numbers of casualties in April in fighting
with Iraqi insurgents. And Bush has come under heated
criticism for his support for Israel Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon's plan for a unilateral solution to the
situation in the occupied territories.
latest blow may make matters even worse. Ballout echoes
the sentiment of US Senator Joe Biden, saying the abuse
scandal marks a low point in US policy in the region.
"This is the biggest reversal of the American public
policy in the Middle East for the past 10 years."
Politicians from all over the Arab and Muslim
world have condemned the US abuse of prisoners. Amr
Musa, the secretary general of the Arab League,
expressed "shock and disgust" at the "shameful images."
An Arab League statement decries the abuse as committed
by "members of the forces which pretend to defend the
liberties and dignity of man".
Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Tuesday urged the
United States and Britain to take swift and stern
measures to prevent any of their soldiers from abusing
Iraqi prisoners. Malaysia chairs the 57-member
Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's
largest Muslim organization.
A spokesman from
Iran's Foreign Ministry said the US had replaced Saddam
Hussein as the enemy of the Iraqi people. Afghanistan
warned that the abuse could erode Afghan support for US
efforts to stabilize their country.
Hunt, a special rapporteur in the United Nations human
rights commission, said Monday: "These are extremely
serious allegations." In a letter to the US-administered
Coalition Provisional Authority that oversees occupied
Iraq, Hunt says: "If they are true, steps must be taken
to ensure these grave breaches of international law do
(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,
Inter Press Service)