Flashback to 2005: The frat party in Iraq

If we're serious about tikkun olam, reparing the world through peace, then we can't minimize our sins in Iraq. We must face them and hold ourselves accountable. 
by Robert J. Nebel 
Autumn 2005

"It's a bunch of guys blowing off steam," ranted conservative syndicated talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. The copycats in every market quickly followed suit and echoed America's number one neo-conservative. Before you knew it, the right convinced its legions that the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was one big fraternity party. 

While the government and mainstream America was asking salient questions about, "Who knew what and when did they know it," the talk masters were having a field day. Many of these programs featured juvenile mockery from the host and callers who said that it was OK to treat the detainees with mistreatment because they were terrorists and deserved it anyway. 

Callers to these talk radio shows should have made comments that said, "These acts are despicable and those involved ought to be brought to justice. We are a nation that governs by the Rule of Law." Of course, I am dreaming. There is no way that any right-wing radio show will allow rational discourse. These programs wish to garner ratings and that means whipping up hysteria through their own brand of populism. 

The digital pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib prison tell the truth. Panties on detainees' heads and naked men stacked upon one another tell the story that the United States and its allies are wrong. 

While it was correct for the president to address Arab audiences to save face after this startling revelation, the damage seems to be irreversible. 

Did these photos incite militants to behead two Americans and a South Korean? We may never know. While the world and the victims' families grieved in utter shock and horror, the right-wing talkers took advantage of the moment. One local fill-in host here in Atlanta said this on the day the world learned of one of the beheading victims: "So we put some panties on some detainees' heads. That is nothing compared to this (the beheadings)." 

This host and his colleagues in the industry are missing the bigger picture. Minimizing Abu Ghraib by exploiting the beheadings, is taking the wrong path towards reconciliation. If this is a society that lives by tikkun olam, then it ought to repair the world through peaceful means, not by whipping up a jingoistic frenzy to explain evil. It should be said that the militants who performed these barbaric acts are thugs we need to be rooted out by being brought to justice. If that goal cannot be achieved then, yes, absolutely military force is necessary. 

Since the photos came out in early April 2004, we have learned from Maj. General Antonio Taguba's report that detainees were subject to physical abuse, genital electric torture simulation, a male having sex with a female detainee, placing dog chains around detainees' necks, and much more.


As the hand over occurs in Iraq, the United States must show that it is a nation of laws. Hopefully the Arab world will see this in the upcoming trials.

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