The Beheading of a Torture Scandal


The gruesome beheading of Nick Berg has given the War Party all they need to overcome the heat of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The hawks who unconvincingly told us that the Abu Ghraib photos revealed abusive behavior that was neither characteristic of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, nor even particularly tortuous, now have something more superficially substantial to point to. Sure, U.S. troops behave inappropriately when left alone with helpless prisoners, but they do not behead people!

Lost in all this is the fact that, first of all, U.S. forces have decapitated and dismembered hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis with their 'smart munitions' and 'Shock and Awe' bombing campaigns that indiscriminately blow to bits everything within a small radius of their points of impact. The war lovers cheer on the dropping of missiles that inevitably and instantaneously separate thousands of civilians from their arms, legs, heads, and loved ones. Such predictable atrocities of mass death are shrugged off as 'collateral damage' in a 'war of liberation,' while the beheading of one American, as undoubtedly despicable as it is, is seen as representing pure evil.

Also lost in all this is that what Americans have seen of the torture scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. According to American Senators, we haven't seen the worst of the photographs ' and we can only imagine the torture not caught on camera. When Marine prison guards admit on tape that they shoot prisoners and allow them to die of poisonous snakebites, we can only guess what further investigations will uncover. Some doubtless think the imprisoned Iraqis were all held for good reason, so we shouldn't shed tears even if they did endure terrible abuse. But the Red Cross has estimated that between 70 to 90 percent of Iraqi inmates were arrested 'by mistake.' Add to all this the new revelation that secret U.S. prisons hold 10,000 detainees worldwide, and we can only extrapolate what unpublicized abuses are occurring on the watch of American prison guards in fatigues.

And yet the hawks still downplay the sins of U.S. torture with some of the most disingenuous equivocation and verbal whitewashing invoked in recent history.

Rush Limbaugh recently said on his show:

'I can't think of the name of them but some prisoners were apparently sodomized with these light sticks. Now, remember when a cigar was used in the Oval Office? 'Heeeey, it's just sex! It's not going to get in the way of anybody leads and does their job. There's nothing here.' Now all of a sudden we've got to see all these pictures.'

Limbaugh and others seem to have trouble discerning the fundamental differences between 'just sex' of the consensual sort, on the one hand, and sexual abuse and rape, on the other. Recently Limbaugh compared the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners to 'anything you'd see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage,' or the sexually explicit material in the cable show 'Sex in the City.' That one side of his comparison involves consenting paid entertainers, and the other side involves the humiliation and abuse of prisoners by a group of Americans supposedly working as liberators, apparently does not dissuade him from his crude analogy.

Hawks warn against doves politicizing the Abu Ghraib scandal and blaming the beheading of Nick Berg on President Bush. If the reprehensible conduct of American servicemen and women in a war and occupation cannot be discussed in political argument, what can? War, after all, is initiated by politicians, and is always defended on its supposed popularity among a majority of the electorate who 'stand by the president.' If the only way to end a war is to bring its horrors into political discourse, it's patently absurd to condemn such 'politicization' unless you think the war is sacred and must not be questioned at all.

As far as blame goes, it was President Bush, after all, who sent more than a hundred thousand Americans to Iraq , where nearly eight hundred of them have so far perished in the acts of invading and occupying the Iraqi people and killing ten thousand of their civilian countrymen, women, and children. The war is to blame for both the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the atrocious decapitation of Nick Berg, and so the only question is who to blame for the war.

Since the beheading was said to be revenge for the tortures in prisons such as Abu Ghraib, some hawks say it's time to stop showing the abuse photos and put the whole torture scandal behind us. The White House, on the other hand, denies the connection and says 'terrorists are going to seek any excuse.' Of course, they are connected. They're both parts of the same unjust war that should have never been waged in the first place.

Every disgusting act against Americans in Iraq encourages the hawks to call for more death and destruction, while those of us who oppose the occupation consistently argue that the only way to stop the violence is to end the occupation. Instead of condemning those of us who 'politicize' the abuse at Abu Ghraib and who blame Bush for the war and its consequent and predictable atrocities, Americans who have had enough torture and beheadings associated with their country will demand that the troops be brought home.

Your rating: None
Anthony Gregory's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is