THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME
From the archives
The scandal of Iraqi POW abuse after the illegal March 2003 invasion had the world in an uproar. However, there is a precedent that went unnoticed and underreported of brutal treatment of Iraqi POWs — the 1991 abuse of Iraqi POWs during and after Operation Desert Storm.
In June 1991, while the editor of the East County Weekly newspaper in Alpine, California, I received a call from a veteran of Desert Storm. He heard that I was compiling information about the Gulf War and said he had a story to tell me. I made an appointment for later that morning and he showed up and talked.
The former U.S. Army soldier told me that Iraqi POWs were rounded up and put in barbed wire pens. After a few days, they were shot by soldiers without any reason or ways of defending themselves. According to the ex-GI, one soldier would shoot into the pen and another, in a seat would keep score. The following day, the roles were reversed and the scorekeeper became shooter. He then added that Iraqi POWs were beheaded by U.S. soldiers.
I was shocked at the allegations. When I asked the informant how many “kills” he had, he said, “none.” He refused to participate and was thrown in the brig for a few days.
Then, I asked him why he was telling me this. His answer was quite simple: “The war was wrong.”
A few months later, I called the number he gave me and his roommate said he had moved to northern California. I never spoke to him again. I was a little dubious, but I kept the information in the back of my head.
Three years later, I met an Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim who had moved to the United States. He was an Iraqi POW and he told me harrowing tales of his detention. After the U.S. left the area in 1991, tens of thousands of Iraqi POWs were still in captivity, although, according to international law, they should have been allowed to return after the cessation of hostilities. They were transferred to Saudi Arabia, where some remained for almost a decade.
The Shi’ite I met said he was tortured by the Saudis. He took off his shirt and showed me scars on his back. There was no way to know if they were from torture, but they did not appear to be scars that were on him for a long time. He told of incidents of killings of POWs by the Saudis, the proxy enforcers for the U.S. with Iraqi POWs.
Shortly after I met the Iraqi Shi’ite former POW, a bizarre incident occurred. An Iraqi-American friend of mine stopped by my house and showed me several photos of mutilated bodies of Iraqi POWs. I was amazed and asked, “Where did you get those?” He explained that he met a person in a store and when they began talking he discovered that my friend was of Iraqi origin. He stated that he was a soldier in Desert Storm and he had some photos to show my friend. The next day, he readily gave them to the Iraqi-American. The former soldier, unlike the one I met in Alpine, was proud of his actions and he gave permission for my friend to use them any way he saw fit.
Later on, he told my friend that he sent the pictures to the San Diego Union-Tribune and the daily paper offered him $1,000 for the negatives. He turned them over and made a quick payday. However, he kept several sets of photos, one of which he gave to my friend. The San Diego Union-Tribune was always pro-war against Iraq. Even today, they deny the travesty going on in Iraq. They wanted to destroy the negatives so there would be no trail of the criminal acts performed on the Iraqi POWs.
The picture was beginning to become more complete. In four years, I heard about Iraqi POWs from different sources: a pro-war U.S. soldier; an anti-war U.S. soldier; and a POW himself.
For a few years, I discussed this issue, only to be told that “Americans don’t do things like that.” Even when I showed the photos, the naysayers denied any form of mistreatment by U.S. soldiers.
In 2000, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a 25,000-word article for The New Yorker magazine. It was called “The Last Battle.” After years of research, Hersh had detailed accounts of atrocities against the Iraqi army. He delved into an incident that received about one paragraph in the U.S. press of a massacre of 8,000 people four days after the 1991 cease-fire had been implemented.
It was all there: the treatment of POWs; the killing of civilians by U.S. troops, all the time cheering the slaughter; and the denial and lies of the U.S. government. Two days before the article reached the newsstands, the Clinton administration held a press conference condemning the piece. It was the first time I can remember an administration attacking an article that had not yet been published. Make no mistake, when it comes to the nastiness of killing as a part of U.S. foreign policy, Democrats and Republicans are identical: they both support dirty tricks and killing and use identical methods of demeaning the messenger of such information.
Hersh, in his research, interviewed many low-level U.S. Army officers and they were almost identical in their assessments. Those who complained about the tactics were quickly dismissed from the Army. Others were told not to let one word get out about what happened. They all said that they hated Arabs when they went to war and after the incidents they saw, they softened their views. All stated that they despised Arabs because they were taught to by the higher-ups.
If the Clinton administration had not excluded this story from our history, and the media had the nerve to run with it, there may not have been an invasion of Iraq in 2003. The commonality of these incidents, as well as the differences, is apparent. The abuses of 1991 received no publicity, while those of 2003 and after are now being viewed by the world. The common denominator of both, the reason these incidents were allowed to occur, is the blind hatred of Arabs and Iraqis that the U.S. public and military have been taught by various administrations.