Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shiite Death Squads Operate Within Iraqi Police

After 173 starved and barely alive men were rescued by U.S. troops from a secret prison at Iraq's Interior Ministry, one news source reported the concerns of human rights activists that this clandestine bunker was not an isolated phenomenon; and that further investigation was likely to show that torture and other forms of mistreatment were pervasive in the new Iraq.

An article by Solomon Moore in today's Los Angeles Times demonstrates that such concerns are justified. Moore writes that Shiite militias are actively operating inside Iraq's police force, and are responsible for death squad-style disappearances and executions, as well as torture that equals anything that happened under Saddam Hussein.

In recent months, hundreds of bodies have been discovered in rivers, garbage dumps, sewage treatment facilities and alongside roads and in desert ravines. Many of them are thought to be victims of Sunni insurgents, who are known to target Shiite civilians and Iraqi security forces, and even Sunni Arabs believed to be collaborating with U.S. forces or the Iraqi government. But increasingly, the Shiite militias operating within the national police force are also suspected of committing atrocities.

The motive, of course, is revenge: for the slaughter of Shiites by Sunni insurgents, and for the brutal repression of Shiites under Saddam Hussein.

It would seem obvious that revenge is not justice. In fact, revenge is the enemy of justice, because it's indiscriminate and self-perpetuating. It's also the coin of the realm in war. The chaos and lawlessness of war is a Petri dish for atrocities, and each atrocity plants the seeds for the next.

Moore writes that the Bush administration is unhappy about the militia violence because it "...undermine[s] the U.S. effort to stabilize the nation, and train and equip Iraq's security forces -- the Bush administration's key prerequisites for the eventual withdrawal of American troops."

But what else could be expected? This kind of behavior flourishes in war. It's what war is about. War is violence, violence breeds violence, and each act of violences ups the ante, escalates the hatred, and makes even more horrendous acts of violence possible. Peace activists and others who opposed this war said this quite clearly before the war started, and were sneered at. "War doesn't lead to more violence; war leads to peace," we were told.

Well, they were wrong.

While the US has touted the human rights component of its police and military training in Iraq, history shows that respect for basic rights like freedom from torture and freedom from unlawful detention are severely eroded in war. US abuses at Abu Ghraib make this point.

And with Iraq's legacy of brutal politics, limited oversight by the country's weak courts, and general support for torture and execution by millions of Iraqis - frustrated and angered by an insurgency that kills many more civilians than soldiers - severe abuses were almost inevitable. The apparent pattern of torture in Iraq also leaves the US in a political bind.

"Human rights and the rule of law are central components of our relationship with Iraq and are key areas for US involvement and support,'' says Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman in Washington. "These are allegations of abuses by Iraqis against Iraqi in Iraqi facilities ... we want to see them make progress and see them reach the standards that we hold other countries to. We're counting on the Iraqis to conduct a thorough investigation."

Not very likely. And the saddest part is that the United States can do absolutely nothing, nada, zero, to effectively oppose or protest the human rights catastrophe in Iraq; the Bush administration surrendered its moral authority to do that a long time ago. Indeed, we have made ourselves -- with apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan -- into the very model of a modern human rights violator. Not that this obvious truth will stop the Bushies from lecturing Iraqis on human rights, as the quote above demonstrates. "We want to see them make progress and reach the standards that we hold other countries to" -- I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

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