War, Occupation, Torture, Apologies

On June 21, 2005, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin made a public apology for comments he had made earlier that month over the treatment of prisoners captured in the endless “war on terror” being carried out by the U.S. government and its military. After receiving an FBI email report, Durbin made a brief, and apparently reflective appraisal on its details of the treatment of prisoners being held and interrogated in U.S. custody at detainment camps in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.      

“If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This is the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.”         

Following these atypically frank remarks, a maelstrom of criticism was levelled at Durbin by both Republicans and Democrats. The bulk of the critics purposely skewed Durbin’s apt comparison, ignoring the widespread tactics used in the war on terror which without question include torture. Instead, they skirted the core issue and accused Durbin of directly comparing U.S. troops with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. This intentional misrepresentation was clearly intended to elicit a public reaction outside the marble walls of Washington, with the aim of strengthening pro-war sentiment by reviving the “support our troops” demagogy.       

Durbin, a high ranking Democrat should be sufficiently aware of the fact that U.S. troops are under a central command and in no way set policy or strategy themselves. This was in fact was Durbin’s point – that the torture is not related to individuals deciding to act alone but a part of the overall U.S. strategy in the war. The resulting criticism was designed to divert concerns as to the real conditions of the war in favor of the manufactured view: that the war is being fought for freedom; any wrong doing such as torture is anomalous and due to individuals acting out of order, not the result of orders from above.

No Room for Differences: This is a Democracy!                    

The current administration and the two parties of big business concerned with the continuation of the Iraqi occupation and expansion of military interventions have no room in their plans for dissent; certainly not as Army recruitment sags to new lows along with public support. In June it was reported that roughly 60 percent of the public oppose the continuation of the war. The ruling class fears legitimizing the questionable nature of the war since it would only spur on more opposition.         

Neither of the U.S. capitalist class’ parties can afford discord and splits over the issue of the war since it has in the most bald manner been supported by both parties. Across party lines the war itself and the subsequent multi-billion dollar spending allocations have been approved time and time again, as social services dry up or are pruned completely. This shows that neither party can represent the interests of the majority of the people in this country, the working class. The two parties of war present the “war on terror” as a “fight for democracy”. One cannot help but wonders how can there possibly be a democracy where criticisms, differences of opinion, dissent, and individual voices are all condemned and made to be recanted.        

Obviously the U.S. does not intend to lead by example – or does it? After all, the January elections in Iraq were infested with the same problems of the recent U.S. presidential elections, including wide spread errors in counting ballots and the actual turning away of voters for fear of them voting the ‘wrong’ way. And after a media frenzy about huge voter turn out, and the alleged giant victory for democracy, the real turn out in Iraq hovered around 30 percent.

U.S. Dungeons and Iraqi Dungeons       

The U.S. has the highest per capita incarceration rate it the world. With more than 2 million incarcerated, the U.S. out ranks even China in the number of prisoners, despite huge differentials in population. China has 1.5 million prisoners, but it has a considerably larger share of the world’s population, 1.3 billion, for a ratio of 120 prisoners per 100,000 people. Compare this with the U.S. population of 295 million, which puts the U.S. incarceration rate at roughly 730 per 100,000 residents. These figures illuminate the nature of U.S. capitalism.        

Now in Iraq the situation is being repeated. Several new prisons are planned, with the U.S. spending $50 million on prisons designed to hold thousands of Iraqis. Abu Ghraib, the prison that was brought to international attention for the brutal and humiliating behavior of coalition forces against the inmates there, is to be expanded to hold an additional 800 prisoners. In total, the U.S. forces plan to expand the capacity of prisons across Iraq to hold as many as 16,000 detainees, roughly the estimated number of insurgent fighters. It is clear that the continued occupation will lead only to more suffering for the Iraqi people, and to anything but “freedom”. The U.S. has a brutal history of pitting national and ethnic groups against each other in order to strengthen the position of the ruling class. The Iraqi powder keg of factional Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish groups is only pushed closer to civil war by the presence of U.S. troops and prisons.       

As if being caged for any length of time weren’t bad enough, it is immeasurably worse with the dreaded addition of torture. While the corporate media tries to mask the hideous conditions of prison torture with reports of gourmet meals, it cannot for a moment change the fact that many of these detainees are being held indefinitely without legal council, and are regularly subjected to harsh forms of interrogation. Within the United States, this would be defined as ‘cruel and unusual’. The living hell at Abu Ghraib was not an isolated exception. There are countless stories of extended solitary confinement, prisoners forced soil themselves, sexual humiliation, brazen disregard for cultural or religious sensitivities, etc., all of which seems to paint a truer picture than the military’s PR campaign of ‘five star accommodations’ and the like.       

Prisons do not exist in a vacuum, but arise from the same class contradictions as the rest of society. The trampling of our rights continues on both sides of the dungeon wall. Prisons are part of the ruling class’ state apparatus. Like the laws, military, police, and courts, they exist to continue the domination of a handful of capitalists over the majority of the population.         

It is well-known that black Americans make up a disproportionately large segment of the prison population. Although chattel slavery was abolished by the Civil War, decades of the Jim Crow south and north have continuously forced African Americans to the bottom of the social order. The rapid de-industrialization in the latter half of the last century, coupled with the racist war on drugs, has placed millions of African Americans in an unbearable situation. Whether in the prisons or in the ghettoes, these brutal and humiliating conditions are a product of a system of exploitation and oppression.         As in nature, similar conditions produce similar results. The U.S. military domination of Iraq is no exception. Prisons in U.S.-occupied Iraq are a mere reflection of the prison system here at home.

The CIA Six Million       

Although he considered recent abuses “sad” exceptions, Durbin was severely reprimanded by his big business party peers for daring to compare U.S. prisons around the world with the mass murders of the past. Particularly offensive to many of his fellow Senators was the comparison with the Nazi holocaust, which resulted in some 6 million deaths, not to mention millions of others killed in the course of World War II. It’s no secret that U.S. foreign policy also has an odious record of large-scale murder. The Association for Responsible Dissent estimates that by 1987, 6 million people around the world had died as a result of CIA covert operations since its inception in 1943. This doesn’t include the 20 years that have passed since then, and unlike the Third Reich (with whom the U.S. government and corporations collaborated with for most of its existence), the CIA is still active and plotting to this day.

The U.S. Senate, like an outraged father, will be damned if Durbin misbehaves under their roof, and like a child he is made to apologize. Durbin’s quick retreat is immensely telling of the party he is a part of. Far from being anti-war, he voted for the spending bill on April 6 to provide nearly $80 billion more to fund the war in Iraq. He also had four anti-war activists arrested during a protest outside his office. There is a popular saying: with friends like these who needs enemies?

The U.S. military is the best-equipped killing machine on the planet due to the billions of U.S. tax dollars shelled out to fatten the pockets of giant weapons manufacturers, oil and construction contractors represented in D.C. by their two parties. The American anti-war movement has been plagued by the pro-war Democratic Party for too long. It has no fundamental differences with the Republicans on the question of the war – or anything else, for that matter. Yet Democrats are regularly invited to give demagogic speeches at anti-war rallies and forums.        

Durbin said at the end of his now retracted statement that it was “sad” that the U.S. is comparable to the aforementioned regimes. This abstract moralizing explains nothing. As the philosopher Spinoza famously stated, our task is “neither to weep nor to laugh, but to understand”. What we must understand is that workers both in the U.S. and in Iraq need their own class-independent representation, that is, their own political party.        

The workers and oppressed of Iraq do not need the construction of more cages made of concrete and barbed wire. Nor do they need the economic cage being imposed on them by foreign occupation. What is needed is working class unity around the demand for the immediate exit of all foreign troops from Iraq. Through a mass movement, new class-independent organs of workers’ power will lay the basis for workers’ control of society. Only under socialism can the oppressed really begin to speak of freedom. With the U.S. calling the shots, the only freedoms guaranteed are those of capital, and its flow through the pipelines to the Gulf.         

Capitalism in its decline offers only the most degrading conditions for humanity. The accumulated wealth of humankind is turned upon us and used for wars, destruction, imprisonment, and torture. In the famous words of Marx – and these words are truer today than ever before – “The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win!”

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