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Torture and Hypocrisy in Iraq


by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK


The torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.K. and U.S. soldiers has resulted in appropriate actions by both countries. The reaction of Arab governments to the revelations have, on the other hand, smacked of hypocrisy given their tainted human rights records.


The world media have been splashing pictures of torture and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.K. and U.S. Soldiers. There is no doubt that these pictures are an affront to any civilised person.


The United Kingdom and the United States, to their credit, are acknowledging the repulsiveness of the events. They have pledged to rectify the situation in the Military that led to these abuses.


The reaction of the Arab population is understandable. The images suggest the worst of Saddam’s rule, leaving in question U.S. claims of establishing democracy in Iraq.


However, the equally fierce reaction of the Arab governments suggests a large degree of hypocrisy. After all, the very Arab leaders renting their garments over the U.K. and U.S. misdeeds are themselves guilty of similar acts of torture and oppression.


The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders have never pledged to improve their behaviour. U.S. leaders, including President Bush, have repeatedly made such commitments. Prime Minister Blair, in Parliament, has made similar statements.


Torture is against International Law. Article five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states:


No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Further, Article 2(2) of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) states:


No exceptional circumstance whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.


The United Kingdom and the United States are signatories to the above Declaration and Convention. So are the Arab States as members of the United Nations.


The problem for the U.S., of course, is that their war in Iraq has changed its goals more or less continuously. From Weapons of Mass Destruction, to eliminating a brutal dictatorship, to building democracy in Iraq, the U.S. stated goals seem to come down to a corporate end rather than a human rights and democracy dream – namely, control of oil resources.


This Law Journal has consistently made the point that, in order to gain world support, the United States must become a defender of democracy and human rights, versus the current perception of being an enforcer of corporate interests.


The good news is that the United States, in this dark hour of exposure of its sins, is pledging to act to “walk the talk” – that is, if you are advocating a better world, then your soldiers must act in that regard.


The hypocrisy in the entire scene is brutal Arab governments expressing shock at the torture. Yet their governments have committed unspeakable brutalities against their own people – for example, the destruction of an entire town and the massacre of its habitants by the Syrian Government.  No Arab governments ever condemned Syria for this act. Yet Arab governments do not hesitate to open salvos on the U.S.


This hypocrisy by Arab governments is not the only case where this duplicity is apparent. Arab (and indeed, Western) governments condemned Israel (the only democracy in the Middle East) for the Sabra and Shatilla Massacre in Lebanon in 1982. Despite the fact that Israel did not stage the Massacre (it was conducted by their Christian militia allies), Israel held an inquiry which led to the resignation of the then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon. Not that Mr. Sharon carried out or ordered the Massacre. Rather, he resigned because he did not act fast enough to stop the Christian militia.


Can you see Arab governments ever doing what Israel did in that circumstance? I cannot, and they have not despite countless massacres over time against their own populations.


In summary, the United Kingdom and the United States – as in the case of Israel above – are taking action to deal with the wrongs committed. The Arab governments should look at their own records before they condemn other countries.


Your thoughts?


Brian Risman


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