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Rumsfeld, the Abu Ghraib Pictures and the Arab World
Last uploaded : Sunday 9th May 2004 at 03:30
Contributed by : The Editor


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This has been a week of earthquakes. One could say that the Iraq prison abuse images have been a 9/11 in reverse for the White House, the Pentagon and the American people.

When the events of 11 September 2001 unfolded before the world?s eyes Americans asked, ?Why are we so hated?? Anti-Americanism hit me first-hand in 1998, when Bill Clinton was still President and the Middle East peace process was under his caring stewardship. There was no ?W? or Rummy or Wolfowitz to blame for the injustices the Arab world seemed to feel were being perpetrated against them, even though we gasoline-guzzlers in the West had for decades been paying for the gold-encrusted palaces and holy shrines of their princes and sheikhs whilst bread riots erupted in the impoverished streets of their backward nations.

So --- In 1998 I was producing a documentary about interfaith relations in London. I filmed at the local churches and synagogue, whose clergy, staff and congregants were effusive and cooperative. For nine months, to my considerable bemusement, the local mosque did not respond to my calls, letters or faxes.

Finally, a Libyan cameraman helped me gain access to the mosque. However, he warned me that as an American I would risk ?being killed? if I ventured onto its premises on a Friday. Women were welcome but not Americans or Jews. I was incredulous. How could I be ?killed? going to the mosque in my quiet, leafy suburb? WPC Yvonne Fletcher had been shot dead by a gunman in the Libyan Embassy here in April, 1984 but I was visiting the mosque to record its beauty and spirituality in my documentary. In the end I did not go to the mosque on the Friday (it was the first time I had ever missed a day?s filming as ?producer in absentia? on a project.)

More recently, an elderly British war veteran had ventured onto the ?turf? of a Muslim community in Bradford and had been brutally beaten. Instead of apologies from the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, articles appeared in liberal newspapers about the ?rage? of young British Muslims. Many complained about Tony Blair?s closeness to Lord Levy and to ?Zionists.? That summer, riots erupted at cricket matches across Britain when Pakistan played England and Australia. Australian cricketer Michael Bevan was hit in the face by a projectile thrown by an angry British Pakistan fan and the incendiary atmosphere at Lord?s, the legendary cricket ground in St John?s Wood, was breathtakign to behold.

In the lead-up to 9/11 Yasser Arafat had instigated the al Aqsa Intifadah (I still do not understand, despite innumerable explanations received, why World War III had to commence because Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount which, by the way, is of deep significance to Christians and Jews too?); in September 2001 the Durban Conference on Racism became a hate-fest against Israel.

In the intervening years I have read unspeakable things on stickers and posters in central London about the evil Jews and Americans. Until this week, I have wracked my brain to determine what Americans have done to make life difficult for Saudi Arabians; Yemenis; Sudanese; Libyans; Syrians; Lebanese; Jordanians; Egyptians and Iranians. ( I do not mention Iraq because Saddam had a huge grudge against America; this is why I was one of the tiny few who felt 9/11 was Saddam/Uday/Qusay-inspired, orchestrated and funded with the participation of Saudi and Egyptian pilot-terrorists.)

Now the images have burst upon the world of Iraqi prisoners being abused and humiliated in Coalition custody. Seymour Hersh of ?The New Yorker,? not known for his timidity in exposing the great and influential in power, ran the story, as did Dan Rather of CBS News.

As this article goes to press we are being told that even more horrific images are to be released to the world (one assumes by ?The New Yorker? and by CBS) depicting unspeakable degradations perpetrated by captors in Abu Ghraib prison.

It will stun many to read what I have to say next. These images should never have seen the light of day. The disciplining of the interrogators should have been a matter within the Department of Defence. What possessed Seymour Hersh or Dan Rather to show these images to the world is beyond my comprehension. At yesterday?s Senate and House hearings into the matter, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld said the Taguba Report, a classified internal investigation, had been leaked to the media.

Members of Congress are complaining that they were ?kept in the dark? until this week. Rumsfeld pointed out that ?the whole world? was told of abuses many months ago. As I am a current affairs writer and editor I make it my business to read daily press releases from government agencies and to scour the world?s newspapers. I knew of abuses and even of lawsuits being brought by Iraqis. At Pentagon briefings reporters have grilled Rumsfeld about abuses at Guantanemo Bay.

President Bush chastised Rumsfeld for allowing him to be blindsided. Harry Truman said ?The buck stops here? and George W Bush ought to have made it his business to be kept informed of the status of POWs and terror suspects.

The Muslim world has been knocked sideways by this story, although an Iraqi ex-inmate of Abu Ghraib commented on television last night that watching the Rumsfeld hearings had reinforced his belief in the virtues of the American way of life. Nevertheless, the damage has been done. Those who live as expatriate Americans in Europe know from the tongue-lashings they received for years how inexplicably loathed America has been , even in the Clinton era. Last November I watched the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes being set aflame in Trafalgar Square by crowds of white middle class Brits. If ordinary Britons hate America that much pre-Abu Ghraib, imagine the venom of the Arab world tonight.

How I wish Dan Rather and Seymour Hersh had remembered the slogans on posters around Britain during the Blitz: ?Loose Lips Lose Lives.? How I wish the President himself, and not General Richard Myers, had asked CBS and the New Yorker to refrain from endangering our troops in the field.

Oddly enough, the Israeli newspapers have provided minimal coverage on this monumental story, and this week?s UK ?Jewish Chronicle? has no coverage at all. Why is this? I am disappointed that Israeli commentators -- usually so robustly incisive -- as well as rabbis and leaders in the Diaspora Jewish community have not taken a stand on this issue.

One prominent Jewish figure did, however, make a riveting statement on this terrible story. At the Senate hearings yesterday, Sen Joe Lieberman reminded the world that no-one had apologised for 9/11. He brought to mind the fact that nobody has ever apologised for the deaths of countless American and Western servicepeople in the killings fields of the Middle East and Gulf.

If by some miracle the Arab world moves on from this, we will be blessed and on a hopeful journey of peace. However, I fear the distribution of these shameful images will inflame ten thousand more bin Ladens.

If you are the praying sort, start davening.

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