The immoral low ground By William Bowles

9 May 2004


“Saddam a “presentable young man” with “engaging smile,”
“Let’s “do business,” said British Embassy in 1969.””

“”The goal has never been to win the Olympic high jump in democracy,”
Paul Wolfowitz

“That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose, and unattainable…. It’s just a matter of time before we revise downward the strategy and abandon these ridiculous objectives.” – Unnamed US Army General

Occupying the ‘moral high ground’ was the cry of the Western ‘democracies’ in their battle with the ‘evil empire’ for decades. Totalitarian regimes we were told had little regard for the rights of the individual and free expression. The individual was subsumed for the ‘greater good’ of the state and so forth and so on.

If one looks back to the rationale used for the invasion of Iraq, much was made of the human rights aspect, indeed with the failure of the WMD argument, ‘human rights’ became the sole basis for the invasion. We were on a ‘mission’ of ‘civilising’ those damn A-rabs.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy that the events of the past weeks have revealed, there is I contend, something even more fundamental going on here that has to be dealt with that might not be as obvious as the ‘trophies’ the ubiquitous digital camera have captured.

But even as I gather my thoughts, the media here is already rolling out the ready-made get-outs, telling us that Arab states have ‘nothing to crow about’ when it comes to talking about democracy and human rights, conveniently setting aside the fact that ‘we’ in the West are the ones who have been talking about ‘our high moral standards’ as opposed to ‘theirs’. How quickly the glib phrases roll off the tongues of the apologists for the imperium as they seek to justify the ‘exceptions’ to our much-vaunted values.

So now, the various and sundry mouthpieces are girding their loins so-to-speak, as they take a deep breath and utter the predictable words, ‘how are we retake the moral high ground’? With great difficulty given that it is clear that the ‘abuses’ (or “excesses” as the Independent called them) are actually systemic and intrinsic to the way the West approaches the Arab world.

Talking of moral high grounds, I note that the International Committee of the Red Cross produced a confidential report in February of this year on the “systematic abuses” being committed by the ‘coalition of the willing’ in the fourteen or so prisons used to detain the 10-15,000 Iraqis.

I’ve long suspected that the ICRC is nothing more than a front for the West and the fact that the report was kept confidential simply confirms it. Why was the report not made public and why is the media not asking why it was not made public? The US and British governments have been sitting on the report for months and need to be called to task but don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer. In an outrageous affront to all those Iraqis who have ‘benefitted’ from Western democracy, the ICRC says the report will remain confidential, yet by what right does the ICRC protect these murderers and torturers?

And it’s worth noting that whilst Bush the smaller talks of ‘rogue elements’ in the military, we need to revisit the ‘Torture Manual’ produced by the School for the America in 1963 and revised in 1983, that was used by various torture teams across Central America including the notorious Honduran and Guatemalan military juntas that exterminated literally hundreds of thousands of people with the complicity and involvement of the US government.

The manual, whose official and innocuous title was “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual -1983″ was revised following the exposés made of the use of the US-produced ‘torture’ manual by the Nicaraguan Contras that contained a number of revisions as a result of the exposé:

“The 1983 manual as declassified included numerous revisions made by CIA apparently in July 1984 in the wake of public revelations about a CIA “assassination” manual used by the Nicaraguan contras. The revisions added a full page following the table of contents labeled “Prohibition against use of force,” and overwrote in hand-printed letters most of the manual’s references to “coercive techniques.” For example, the 1983 sentence on the second page of the introduction read “While we do not stress the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of them and the proper way to use them.” The 1984 revisions overwrote “do not stress” with the word “deplore” and replaced the phrase “the proper way to use them” with the phrase “so that you may avoid them.”

The cables, released as a result of FOIA requests made by the National Security Archive reveals that the US not only knew about the routine use of torture and the “routine” and “casual” murder of individuals, the CIA actually trained the torturers. On the second page of the introduction to the revised manual, we read:

“While we do not stress the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of them and the proper way to use them.”

The National Security Archive documents that all these quotes are taken from exposes the institutional nature of the use of torture including knowledge by and the involvement of, the US government in torture and murder, and in spite of this knowledge, the continued funding totalling millions of dollars a year. A secret CIA cable revealed:

“On October 15, 1991, the CIA station in Guatemala sent an “eyes only” cable to Mr. Ward (identified as “Chief/LA”) titled “Station investigation of human rights violations in Guatemala.” Summarizing the murder of U.S. citizen Michael Devine, the cable states that “the entire command structure of the military zone where the killing took place was controlled by men known to be capable of murder under the most casual pretext.” At least one of those commanders was a paid CIA asset. After discussing several other cases, the cable concludes by reporting that “the extrajudicial killing of certain categories of persons is almost routine.”

So how does the US government square this history with its public pronouncements about torture being “un-American”? And just as importantly, whilst the corporate media goes through so much ‘soul-searching’ over the exposés, it conveniently omits any reference to the sordid past of the US and its support of any number of murderous dictatorships, including its direct collusion with apartheid South Africa and its invasion of Angola.

Once more, the ‘double-standard’ approach to all the supposedly fundamental and inalienable rights we in the West are supposed to hold out to the rest of the world are revealed as so much hot air. Convenient to roll out when we seek to impose our will on the world and just and convenient to forget when they get in the way of ‘doing business’.

Just we are quick to condemn the behaviour of Arab states, we are quick to forget that these are the same Arab states the West has supported for decades.

For more information on the use of torture by US-trained and funded structures in Central America, check the following:

Document 2: CIA Training Manual, “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation,” July 1963 (excerpt).

Document 3: CIA Training Manual, “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual,” 1983 (excerpt).

Document 4: CIA Inspector General, “Report of Investigation: Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s,” August 27, 1997 (and related documents).

Document 5: Excerpts from journalist Sam Dillon’s book, Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua’s Contra Rebels (New York: Henry Holt, 1991, 393 pp.)

For a detailed examination of US involvement in the use of torture in Honduras during the 1980s see:

An Interim Report on Declassification by the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras

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