TOPICS : Iraq scandal opens US to charges of double standards

Thalif Deen

According to a joke circulating in Washington political circles, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s notorious torture chamber in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — once held up as a symbol of barbarity — was never shut down. A signboard outside the prison chamber now reads: “Under New Management”. US management, that is. The extent of the US administration’s embarrassment following the publication of photos showing torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib is evident in the fact that Washington has postponed the release of the State Department’s annual report on human rights abuses worldwide. The official reasons for the eleventh hour postponement have not been disclosed. The report usually takes aim at virtually every country, most in the developing world, for human rights excesses while excluding US abuses from its pages. The question now being asked is: can Washington afford to take a holier-than-thou attitude when it beats up the rest of the world every year in the annual report?

The harrowing images of US soldiers brutalising and humiliating Iraqi prisoners have triggered outrage not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. The photographs and television images include those of young Iraqis stripped naked and forced to pile up in a pyramid formation, while US soldiers grin at the hideous spectacle. According to published reports, Iraqi detainees were also beaten up, tortured, threatened with rape and victimised by ferocious guard dogs. Dead bodies are now being exhumed in Iraq to ascertain the cause of death at the hands of soldiers or interrogators from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The US, which actively participates in an annual ritual of ‘’bashing’’ countries like Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Sudan and Myanmar at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and at the General Assembly sessions in New York, has lost its moral authority to point an accusing finger at miscreants when it has problems in its own backyard, say diplomats from developing nations.

Since usually no western nations are singled out for attack, year-end UN resolutions have been described as exercises in ‘’Third-World bashing.’’ At its annual sessions last month, the commission abandoned a proposal to probe abuses in Iraq, primarily because of US pressure. Still, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva is expected to present a report on Iraq to the commission May 31. Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramacharan, who expressed disappointment over the commission’s inability to adopt a resolution on Iraq last month, has already written to Paul Bremer, the top US administrator in Iraq, members of the Iraqi Governing Council and foreign ministers of countries participating in the US-led coalition forces in the occupied nation, asking them to provide information relevant to the inquiry. Speaking to UN reporters last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the photos had ‘’stunned every American. It showed acts that are despicable,’’ he added. President Bush, who publicly apologised for the growing scandal, went on Arabic television networks this week to say he was ‘’appalled’’ by the abuses. — IPS