Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Torture: Do You Want the US Version or the Saddam Version?

There is no doubt that what has come to be known as the Abu Ghraib scandal is a terrible embarrasment to the United States of America. It should have never happened. But what about the other Abu Ghraib scandal?

If we only could see just a glimpse of what actually happened in the same prison for decades during the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein...

I have seen more than a glimpse.

An Iraqi man recently stated that for years he never could sleep at night because he was afraid that Saddam's henchmen may at any time break into his home and take him away for a midnight torture session. Now that Saddam is no longer in power? He "sleep[s] like a baby". (See My Year in Iraq by L Paul Bremer III)

Saddam was such a connessieur of terror that he had his villains videotape torture sessions for him. Shortly after the Americans rolled into Baghdad, the Ba'ath party offices were searched, and many of these videos were found. I watched 5 minutes of one such video the other day. I saw things unspeakable, against which death would be more dignified and more welcomed by the victims. Grown men were stripped to nearly nothing and then chased about a walled compound by Ba'athist thugs carrying clubs, rubber hoses, and metal pipes. They were beat mercilessly about the abdomen, about the kidneys, about the genitalia, about the legs, and about the head, all the while screaming relentlessly for a mercy that would not come. Those party officers not involved in the torture were clearly entertained by the fare before their eyes. On and on the full-grown victims wailed and screamed, usually not until the beating stopped, but until they had no more the ability to cry out.

No one should ever condone what the Americans did to Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But why has the American media been so complicit in creating a false dichotomy of torture by chastisting America, while at the same time not revealing or even discussing publicly available videos of what Ba'athist Iraqis did to their fellow countrymen within those same walls?

Anyone who has seen what I recently saw would know that the victims of Saddam's torture, many of whom died of their wounds, would gladly to a man, had they been given the chance, have opted for the torture given out by the Americans at Saddam's favorite prison.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wonderful Support Back Here at Home

Sorry that I haven't posted for a while. I have had a very enjoyable but busy schedule here at home on R & R leave.

So many wonderful things have happened while I've been here. When we landed in the U.S. there was a very large greeting party waiting for us. It was gratifying to know that these people would take time out of their busy schedules to welcome us back home. On the airplane, we soldiers were allowed to board first and exit the plane first at our final destination; upon exiting nearly everyone in the plane gave us a continuous ovation.

I put together a computer slide presentation of the things that I have been involved with so far, thinking that perhaps my family might be interested in seeing pictures of Iraq. I had no idea how interested so many people would be about my presentation. The most common comment from adults who have spoken with me and seen the slide show is something like "I had no idea things were so upbeat in Iraq. I knew the news media is very negative, but I had no idea just how negative they are. It's so interesting to meet someone who has actually been there."

I went back to my work for an afternoon to see how things were going since I left, and I suggested that I could show my slide show. About 50 people showed up, to my exciting surprise. Several friends came over the other night to see the pictures, and I hope to have one more chance before I go back to Iraq to invite some more to our home. I went to my daughter's fifth grade class yesterday, and found that all the 5th grade classes came to watch--about 70 kids. The teachers had to end the presentation after an hour and a half, although the kids had several more questions that they still wanted to ask. I'm making a similar presentation to my son's 3rd grade class today and to the junior high on Monday. Tomorrow I will go back to my elementary school of 35 years ago and talk to all the kids there. And then that night, I will present to my side of the family and a whole bunch of their friends. A snow storm postponed our visit to my wife's side of the family last weekend, but nearly everyone came the next night to see the presentation when we were finally able to arrive.

We soldiers are grateful for the opportunity to serve, to make friends with the people of Iraq, and to help stabilize their country as they transition to a democratic republic. But we are equally grateful for the support of so many of you back home for what we are trying to accomplish. One of the best reasons for coming home on leave is to see just how excellent and widespread is that support. And it has been a wonderful opportunity to share with you what is really taking place in Iraq, something that very seldom the American news media seems willing to share.

Monday, January 02, 2006

America and the Higher Standard

Why is it that there was such a public outcry when the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in Iraq, but there was little similar dismay at the torture that was a routine part of the Saddam Hussein regime? Why has there been such anger recently over the relatively non-violent means of torture used by the American CIA to elicit information from the insurgency, when governments such as China and North Korea get a pass when it comes to much more violent and routine torture, which often causes death? It is in large part due to expectations.

An Iraqi recently told me that much propaganda was being spread by the Hussein regime and the Al Jazeera television channel about the Americans before they came to overthrow Saddam. Americans are, they were told, mean, strong, hateful, and willing to kill all Iraqis. (How interesting it is that this same belief is still currently held by many Americans regarding Muslims.) But when the Americans arrived, Iraqis discovered that they are strong, but that they are friendly, that they love liberty and wish to share it with others, and that they feel sincere guilt when aberrant behavior is committed by Americans, such as occurred at Abu Ghraib.

Noone in America is proud of what happened in Abu Ghraib. Every American is ashamed, because this is not like us, regardless of what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies would have others believe. The rest of the world is very angry at the United States about Abu Ghraib and alleged US torture practices because of expectations.

The United States of America is held to a higher standard of decency and morality than nearly any other nation on earth. How did America come to be deserving of this (sometimes backhanded) compliment?

Those countries with the greatest hatred for America are those with corrupt and dictatorial regimes that are supported by the United States, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, to an extent Egypt, and formerly Iraq. Those countries with the greatest love for America are those whose dictatorial regimes are opposed by the United States, such as North Korea and Iran. The people of Iraq are currently transitioning to a “we like America” point of view because of the benefits that our military and diplomacy have brought to their country, as are the people of Lebanon and, to an extent, Egypt.

In 1979, the Iranian populace despised America, because America had been a staunch supporter of the Shah’s semi-repressive regime. They did not bargain that in return they would get a much more oppressive regime of religious clerics, but as a result of the topsy turvy ride given them by the Iranian ayatollahs, their regard for America has returned to positive.

A news reporter (I believe this to have been Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) in the last couple of years visited Teheran, Iran, where he saw moderately frequent anti-American propaganda. When he attempted to photograph the propaganda as proof of Iranian hatred of America, several of the young people there begged him not to, as this, they said, was official government propaganda which did not at all reflect the belief of the populace. If my memory serves me incorrectly, at least Mr. Friedman has much that is enlightening to say about the Iranian populace in his book Longitudes and Attitudes.

In The Case for Democracy Natan Sharansky quotes a former Soviet official who recently visited Iran: “It reminded me of the Soviet Union. All the officials criticize and condemn America, and all the people love America.” (page 60).

Sharansky goes on to explain that

Even those who do hate America do not necessarily hate free societies. Rather, part of their hatred is due to the perception that by supporting the non-democratic regimes that are oppressing them, America is betraying the democratic values it claims to uphold. (ibid.)

In his book, After Jihad, Noah Feldman reminds us that

[i]n the wake of the September attacks on the United States, young Iranians were among the only people in the Muslim world who spontaneously showed sympathy for American suffering. …Young Iranians associate the U.S. with freedom and democracy as do young Muslims everywhere.

…But nearly every other undemocratic regime in the Muslim world has benefited from U.S. government support…including Iraq. (page 91)

American foreign policy for too long has been that it is better to deal with the known quantity of a dictator than to gamble on the unpredictability of a democratic regime. No wonder many in the Middle East were or still are skeptical that President George W. Bush sincerely wants to see democracy flourish in Iraq as well as elsewhere in the Middle East and wherever it now languishes. (His father, President George H. W. Bush made the mistake of liking to deal with “known quantity” dictators, to the chagrin of countries that were emerging from behind the Iron Curtain, such as the Ukraine.) I believe the current President Bush to be sincere in his efforts to further democracy.

<>Muslims and people everywhere have had a right to question the United States’ motives in the world when the U.S. was so often seen to uphold tyrannical governments. Now that the new democratic republic of Iraq has had its first free elections, the rough edges of American policy are being polished. And people everywhere now can begin to believe that America accepts the challenge not to dominate, but to be “the shining city on a hill”, the example to the world, that is not afraid to be and to live according to a higher standard of decency and morality.

Understanding Islam: The Sunni-Shi'a Split

If you examine history, you will come to the conclusion that there was about as much violence practiced in the name of Christianity as there has been in the name of Islam. Although in large part, today, Islam takes center stage when it comes to violence in the name of religion.

We westerners don’t have a very solid grasp of why this is. Case in point: a recently released book entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades recites all manner of innuendo about Muhammad being a whoremonger and a pathological murderer. (I admit I have not read the book, rather I have only read a such statements regarding its contents from a web site that is marketing the book.) The book makes the blanket claim that Islam is pure and simple a religion of violence.

A friend of mine who is a Shi’a Muslim explained to me why there may be some reason for westerners to become confused on this concept, especially because the insurgents trying to destroy Iraq are of the Sunni persuasion while the reactionary government of Iran ascribes to Shi’a.

In the early days of Islam, the pace of conversion to Islam began to increase in and around the city of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia. Islam was an affront to the religious views of many of the area tribes, who practiced a form of polytheism that could likely be termed idolatry, treated women with blatant disrespect, practiced blood feud wherein they enacted and endured a horrendous cycle of revenge against and from other tribes, and killed their baby daughters when such were deemed inconvenient. Islam inveighed against all of these things.

<>One of the larger tribes of Mecca was the Quraysh. The Quraysh began a systematic persecution of newly converted Muslims, which evolved into frequent murder of Islamic adherents. In a case of self-defense, Muhammad organized an army and went against the tribe of Quraysh, bringing the problem under control, and allowing all individuals to worship God as they chose. Muhammad revealed the name of the one true God to be Allah.

<>Following the death of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, and then Uthman came to power as caliphs (secular rulers). During their reigns, the three caliphs adulterated Muhammad’s teachings, spreading the belief that it was appropriate to spread Islam with the sword. This they did rather effectively, as in many cases those people being conquered found it in their best interest to choose Islam rather than being killed.

<>Ali, who was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, eventually came to power as the forth caliph, although many felt that because of blood relationship, which the three caliphs did not have with Muhammad, that Ali should have been the direct successor to Muhammad. After a short time, Mu’awiya, who was of the persuasion of the first three caliphs, gave battle to Ali, and ultimately the Umayyad dynasty, the precursor to Sunni Islam, split from Shi’at Ali or the party of Ali, which became Shi’a Islam.

<>While the Ummayad Sunnis felt it was their destiny to convert the world to Islam by force, Ali and his subsequent followers (called imams) eschewed violence in the name of religion, as this was not according to the teachings of Muhammad. That version of Shi’a Islam has an unbroken line of succession to this day and is based mainly in the holy Iraqi cities of Karbala, Kufa, and Najaf.

<>The Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of the Iraqi Shi’a, has been an influential figure since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, frequently reminding the majority Shi’a that only in self-defense is violence justified. (In another article I will explain where most of the perpeatrators of apparent Shi’a revenge killings of Sunni are coming from, and it isn’t Iraq.)

Another concept that I don’t yet completely understand is the difference between usually peaceful Shi’a Islam and the aberration that is Iranian Shi’a. This I will research and try to explain at a later date. Needless to say, Ayatollah Sistani was very dismayed by the vitriolic rhetoric of the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran when he was still alive, and he still vehemently disagrees with the calls for violence currently coming from the new Iranian leader, Ahmadi-nejad, such as the incitement to wipe the country of Israel off the map.

<>In summary, if we look at the Sunni insurgency and the current radical Iranian regime as representative of Islam (as is easy to do considering the bias of American and western media in this regard) we would probably conclude—albeit erroneously--that all Muslims are out to kill Christians and Americans.

This is not true, even when we confine our examination of Islam to the Muslim Arabs and Persians of the Middle East. Islam originated as a religion of peace; it was designed not only to get people to think outwardly of their fellow men rather than always of themselves, but also it counteracted many of the vile practices of the day. Muhammad abhorred war (probably much like the figures Mormon, Helaman, and Captain Moroni described in The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ). But like nearly anyone would, Muhammad believed in war when it was used for the defense of himself, his family, his religion, and his liberty. The Iraqi Shi’a believe the same is true today.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Signs of Freedom on the 2006 Horizon

I've seldom been so optimistic about a new year! Being here in Iraq, helping the Iraqis to sustain the freedom that they nearly all desperately want and need, and taking part in what may soon be regarded as some of the most important history of the Middle East is very gratifying.

Still we see a predominance in the news of reporting only the negative. I seldom see the negative, and wonder why more of the positive is not being reported (although the trend does seem to be improving).

More Iraqis seem happy these days. More of them honk and wave as they go by. They are optimistic, for the most part, about their new future. It will be difficult, as they struggle to create and sustain the foundations of a democratic republic, such as strong industry and a strong middle class, but I believe it will continue to happen, as the seed has germinated and begun to sprout.

Seeds are sprouting in other areas of the Middle East as well. Syria is feeling some pressure from its populace, and it is being reported that the government is making modifications amicable to freedom. Egypt seems ready to cooperate more economically with the United States and the west. Most remarkably, however, is the groundswell of support for liberty in Lebanon, including from people who at first disdained the American presence in Iraq, but are now starting to see its benefits.

For an example of what's happening in Lebanon, see the following article:


I, like probably every soldier here, miss my family dearly. But I am confident that some day I will look back on this time away from them with gratitude. Gratitude that I was a part of a new day of liberty in Iraq and the Middle East.

Although certainly with a dear price, freedom will continue to flourish here, because those who have tasted and learned to love it are in quantity far more than those who realize that their autonomy of power over all the rest is slipping from their fingers.