Longer version of a Moscow Times column for the May 27, 2005 edition. Published on CounterPunch.org, May 25.
Seymour Hersh, chronicler of American madness from the My Lai Massacre to Abu Ghraib, tells a chilling story of the lingering aftermath of atrocity.
As the revelations of brutal torture by the victors were first spilling from conquered Iraq, Hersh was contacted by a family member of a young American woman who had served in a unit policing Abu Ghraib, the Guardian reports. The young soldier had "come back a different person," the relative said: distraught and angry, turning her back on her family.
The relative retrieved a computer she'd lent the soldier to use in Iraq and found there a file crammed with torture porn: photo after photo of a naked Iraqi prisoner writhing before the onslaught of fierce police dogs. One of the pictures was later published worldwide and became an emblem of the dehumanizing brutality of the American occupation.
The young soldier thought she'd been sent to fight for democracy and freedom, the relative told Hersh, but it was a lie. Instead she found herself in Hell, committing crimes, violating her own nature, her sense of duty perverted by leaders who twisted it into a weapon to serve aggressive war. Since her return, said the relative, the young soldier keeps getting black tattoos, more and more of them, slowly covering her entire body -- trying literally to change her skin.
The fate of this soul-broken, tormented daughter of America embodies the nation itself under the malevolent reign of George W. Bush. The whole country is changing its skin, trying to cloak its shame and complicity by a wilful disfigurement. Who could look on the hideous form of Bush's America -- the snarling faces belching rancor on Fox News; the rabid partisans oozing bile through the halls of Congress; the money-glutting religious extremists relentlessly pushing ignorance, intolerance and theocratic dominion; the corporate beasts devouring the landscape, destroying communities, writing their own laws, gorging on unprecedented profits wrung from global sweatshops, corruption and war; the somnolent, silent, acquiescent public, blankly countenancing torture, deceit, elitist rule, military aggression and the open destruction of their Constitutional order -- and not see in all this a body politic in profound psychological crisis: traumatized, guilt-ridden, turning itself inside out in a frantic attempt to escape the truth?
And this desperation only grows as the truth piles up, fragment by fragment, dug out from Bush's slagheap of lies. In the past month, there have been a barrage of "smoking guns" outlining the Regime's criminality in such stark and blatant terms that even the American corporate media -- those cringing enablers of atrocity -- have been forced to take some notice.
First came the final report of Bush's own inspection team, confirming, yet again, that there were no weapons of mass destruction or even any WMD programs in Iraq: they had all been destroyed 12 years before Bush's invasion. Then there was the leak of the 2002 "Downing Street Memo," where the UK's war council confirmed, once again, that Bush was determined to conquer Iraq no matter what, and was "fixing the facts and intelligence around the policy."
Of course, this was old news to anyone outside the American media's echo chamber. For example, we reported here in September 2002 that top Bushists like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had signed off on a plan in September 2000 calling for the military occupation of Iraq -- even if Saddam Hussein's regime had already been overthrown. Thus the "liberation" of the Iraqi was just as much a phony casus belli as the non-existent WMD.
Even more fresh evidence of Bush's deliberate deception surfaced in the Washington Post last week, with a story detailing the mountain of doubts, caveats and outright debunking about Iraq WMD that U.S. intelligence services placed on Bush's desk before the war -- all of it wilfully ignored as Bush continued to deceive the nation about the "undoubted" WMD "threat."
Then last week, the New York Times highlighted Bush's murderous torture system in Afghanistan: American captors beating prisoners to death, pulpifying their limbs as part of a regimen of exquisite torments later exported to Iraq -- including Abu Ghraib, where Hersh's tattooed soldier entered Hell.
We have reported here in great detail on the voluminous evidence establishing that the endemic, systematic torture in Bush's gulag was created by the White House, sanctioned by Bush's appointed "legal experts" who ruled that as Commander-in-Chief, he is not constrained by laws against torture -- or indeed, by any law whatsoever. Equally copious evidence establishes that Rumsfeld and selected Pentagon officials eagerly implemented the torture regimen -- then systematically worked to block or limit investigations once the truth began leaking out.
For example, one of the low-ranking "bad apples" finally convicted in the Afghan murders -- after extended Pentagon coverups -- was sentenced to just three months in jail by a military court this week, AP reports: three months for helping beat a chained, helpless man to death. The message Bush is sending to his shock troops in the gulag is clear: If by some freak chance your torture duties are uncovered, you will be gently removed from the scene with only nominal punishment -- as long as you don't rat out your superiors, of course.
The evidence of the Regime's culpability -- for torture, for mass murder -- is overwhelming. The burden of proof is no longer on Bush's accusers, but on those who would defend his evil actions. Yes, evil is the word. The Nuremberg Tribunal called aggressive war "essentially an evil thing." To initiate such a war -- under any circumstances -- "is not only an international crime," said the Tribunal, "it is the supreme international crime," because it carries all the others in its wake. It breaks down all barriers of law and morality, in states and in individuals, creating the necessary inner chaos -- and physical opportunity -- for the most abysmal perversions of human nature.
There are of course many other evils in the world, including the terrorism that Bush invokes, mendaciously, to justify an act of aggression that he planned long before the September 11 attacks. But the invasion of Iraq is the "supreme international crime" of our day. No tattoo, no new skin can blot it out.