Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Naked Truth

An article appearing in today's New York Times provides new information regarding the evolving narrative of prisoner abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, the article describes how the use of nudity to humiliate detainees was in widespread employ in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and appeared to be a part of the standard procedures for detentions and interrogations.

According to the article, "In late October, Red Cross monitors were so alarmed by the number of nude detainees that they halted their visit and demanded an immediate explanation.

"The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was `part of the process,'" the Red Cross wrote in a report in February."

As further proof that the "few bad apples" theory runs counter to the mounting evidence, "The detainees said leaving prisoners naked started as far back as last July, three months before the seven soldiers now charged and their military police company arrived at the prison." In addition, numerous detailed "complaints about sexual humiliation have also emerged in Afghanistan," and also from the detention facility at Guantanomo Bay. Certainly, those seven soldiers can't be blamed for practices that began before they even arrived in Iraq, or for practices that were occurring as far away as Afghanistan and Cuba. Nor is it likely that there were different groups of a "few bad apples" at multiple prisons in Iraq, multiple prisons in Afghanistan, and Guantanomo Bay that came to the conclusion on their own that nudity would be an especially effective tool against Muslim men due to cultural norms. This behavior was so ubiquitous and targeted that the only logical conclusion is that it was part of a policy or operating procedure.

Some of the more disturbing details reported by the Times include reports of how, "Detainees were paraded naked past other prisoners and guards; some were ordered to do jumping jacks and sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in the nude, according to several witnesses. Also, a father and his grown son were stripped, then forced to stand and stare at each other. The International Committee of the Red Cross, visiting in October, found prisoners left naked in their cells for days, modestly trying to shield themselves behind cardboard from meals-ready-to-eat boxes." Prisoners were also often freed and then chased off into the streets naked.

Of course, the depravity of these actions can only be fully appreciated when placed in cultural and historical context. "Nudity is considered particularly shameful in Muslim culture, a violation of religious principles." Especially nudity in front of women, in this instance American women. As one detainee from Afghanistan recounted, "Why were they taking our clothes off in front of the women? We are Afghans, not Americans."

"While nudity as a disciplinary or coercive tool may be especially objectionable to Muslims, they are hardly the only victims of the practice. Soldiers in Nazi Germany paraded naked prisoners in daylight, and human rights groups have documented the use of nudity during conflicts in Egypt, Chile and Turkey, and in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Central Intelligence Agency training manuals from the 1960's and 1980's taught the stripping of prisoners as an interrogation tool. Nudity and sexual humiliation have also been reported in American prisons where a number of guards at Abu Ghraib worked in their civilian lives."

Given the fact that the Red Cross has already issued a report stating that roughly 70-90% of all detainees were innocent of all transgressions, and the Army has been releasing thousands of prisoners from Abu Ghraib over the past month, it would seem that a policy that involves the repeated extreme humiliation of thousands of innocent Iraqis, and Iraqis that will be released back into the population, would severely hinder the campaign to win over the "hearts and minds" of the populace, and would also likely create support for the insurgency.

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