This week the Observer ran stories revealing -- surprise! -- widespread torture, brutality and murder being dealt out by Bush's disciples of democracy in Iraq (Revealed: Grim World of Iraq's New Torture Camps). For many Iraqis, it's a return to the old days of Saddam -- only this time, the goon squads have the full military might of the United States behind them. As many Iraqis said at the time of Bush's invasion and Saddam's ouster: "The pupil has gone; the master has arrived." Now the master's new pupils are teaching the same old lessons.
With these revelations in mind, here's another installment of Past Imperfect, our series of backward glances at stories that help explain how the hell we got where we are today -- neck-deep in the River Styx. This is a piece from August 2003: the first intimations of the torture and abuse of innocent people at Abu Ghraib -- and Bush's fateful step to hire the goon squads of yore to help him "keep order" in his Babylonian conquest. (And my, wasn't that a successful strategy, eh?) Anyway, here it is:
Die Laughing: The Bush Way of Rehabilitation
(Originally published in The Moscow Times, Aug. 29, 2003)
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo - perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad - and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people - even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" - aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis - men, women and children as young as 11 - seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
However, the sahibs' unabashed embrace of their soulmates in the Saddamite security forces did provide some sinister comedy in the Post story. The wary reporters and Raj officials displayed the usual hilarious delicacy in coming up with reality-fogging prose to protect the tender sensibilities of the American people, who must never be told what their betters are really getting up to.
For example, the American alliance with Saddam's killers - yes, the very ones who inflicted all those human rights abuses which, we're now told, was the onliest reason the Dear Leader attacked and destroyed a sovereign nation in an unprovoked war of aggression - was described demurely as "an unusual compromise." (As opposed to, say, "a moral outrage," or "a putrid stain on America's honor," or "a monstrous copulation of rapacious conquerors with bloodthirsty scum.") However, the Post hastens to assure us that the wise sahibs do recognize the "potential pitfalls" of hooking up with "an instrument renowned across the Arab world for its casual use of torture, fear, intimidation, rape and imprisonment."
Those kidders! Surely they know this "potential pitfall" is actually one of the main goals of the entire bloody enterprise: to intimidate the "Arab world" until they straighten up and fly right - i.e., turn their countries over to Halliburton, Bechtel and the Carlyle Group. That's why you buy an "instrument" like the Mukhabarat in the first place. You certainly don't employ professional murderers and rapists if you are genuinely interested in building a "decent, open, democratic society," as the Bushists claim in their imperial PR.
But like vaudeville troupers of old, the media-sashib double act saves the best gag for last. First the Postmen present the seamy Bush-Mukhabarat humpa-humpa as some great spiritual agon -- "an ongoing struggle between principle and…the practical needs of the occupation" - instead of what it is: business as usual for the American security apparatus, which happily incorporated scores of its Nazi brethren into the fold after World War II, and over the years has climbed into bed with many a casually raping and murdering thug - such as, er, Saddam Hussein, who spent a bit of quality time on the CIA payroll.
In fact, the entire Baathist organization - including the Mukhabarat - was midwifed into power by not one but two CIA-backed coups, as historian Roger Morris reports in the NY Times. And shall we mention the intimate relations between Saddam's regime and American intelligence services back when Saddam was merrily gassing his own people - and the Iranians - with the eager connivance of Ronald Reagan, George Bush I and their "special envoy" to Baghdad, Donald Rumsfeld? Yes, let's.
So the new alliance is no "struggle": it's a veritable Bush family reunion, a happy homecoming for Rummy and his old Mukhers. But "this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood" - or to Post readers, anyway. Our vaudevillians, eager to keep the fleecy Homeland flock nestled comfortably in its cozy amnesia, skip the history and go straight to the punchline: Raj officials say that it's OK to hire the most hardcore killers, rapists and torturers - as long as you "make sure they are indeed aware of the error of their ways."
You guys! What yocks! "So, Mr. Mukhabarat Man, are you indeed aware of the error of your ways?" "Oh yes, boss, I got my mind right!" "Not going to rape or torture anybody anymore?" "Oh no, boss, no - not unless you tell me to!" "Okey-dokey then! You're hired! Get on over to Abu Ghraib - you've got some interrogating to do!"
What? It's not funny? What do you mean? Look at those Iraqi kids over there, those American soldiers - they're grinning from ear to ear! No, wait - that's just their skulls. The new Bushabarat are using them for soccer practice.