Lessons learned in the Bucca camp - and Muslim IS raids

By Kathy Kelly - courtesy of The Stringer - http://thestringer.com.au/ - In January of 2004 I visited “Bucca Camp,” a U.S.-run POW camp named for a firefighter lost in the 2001 collapse of New York’s World Trade Center. Located near the isolated port city of Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq, the network of tent prisons had been constructed by U.S. Coalition authorities. Friends of five young men thought to be imprisoned there had begged our three-person Voices delegation to try and visit the camp and find out what had happened to their loved ones. This was a year before the capture of Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, who, starting in 2005, would spend four years in the camp under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on his way to becoming the head of the recently founded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Our friends with the Christian Peacemaker Teams had developed a database of people thought to be held by the U.S. military. They assembled their list of 6,000 prisoners as much through contact with terrified loved ones as through tireless and persistent correspondence with U.S. authorities. They were able to find the “Capture Tag” numbers for two of the prisoners. These two people, at least, were still alive and at the camp. With a translator, our small Voices delegation headed from Baghdad to Basra and then on to Umm Qasr, assuredly one of the bleakest spots on the planet. It was Saturday afternoon. At the outskirts of the prison, a U.S. soldier politely told us that we were too late. Saturday visiting hours were over, and the next visiting day would be the following Thursday. Reluctant to leave, we explained that we’d come a long way, along a dangerous road, and that we wouldn’t be able to come back a second time. An hour later, jostling on the benches of an army jeep, we were taken over bumpy desert terrain to the prison visitor’s tent. There we met with four of the five young men, all in their early twenties, and listened as they shared stories of humiliation, discomfort, monotony, loneliness and great fear born of the uncertainty prisoners face held on zero credible evidence by a hostile power with no evident plans to release them. They seemed immeasurably relieved that we could at least tell their relatives they were still alive. Upon leaving, we asked to speak with an officer in charge of the Bucca Camp. She said that the outlook for the young men being released wasn’t very positive, but she thought it would be worthwhile to try approaching the International Commission of the Red Cross. “Be glad they’re here with us and not in Baghdad,” she said, giving us a knowing look. “We give them food, clothes, and shelter here. Be glad that they’re not in Baghdad.” I was surprised. At least in Baghdad it wouldn’t be so difficult to visit them. She repeated herself, “I’m just telling you, be glad they’re not in Baghdad.” Later, in May of 2004, I began to understand what she meant. On May 1, CNN released pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison: The hooded man. The man on a leash. The pyramid. These pictures are now burned into people’s minds. Suddenly there were very few places that seemed as horrible as that prison. Yes, we were very glad the young men we visited were not in Baghdad. To be very clear, these men at Bucca had been marched naked in front of women soldiers. They’d been told to say “I love George Bush” before they could receive their food rations. They’d slept on the open ground in punishingly cold weather with no mat beneath them and only one blanket. The guards had taunted them and they had had no way of telling their friends they were still alive. But worse humiliation and torture were inflicted on detainees in other U.S. prison centers throughout Iraq. The November 3, 2005 issue of the New York Review of Books quoted three officers, two of them non-commissioned, stationed with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury in Iraq. “Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief… Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs. The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief, where soldiers would go to the PUC tent on their off-hours to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC.” “Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. “Smoking” was not limited to stress relief but was central to the interrogation system employed by the 82nd Airborne Division at FOB Mercury. Officers and NCOs from the Military Intelligence unit would direct guards to “smoke” the detainees prior to an interrogation, and would direct that certain detainees were not to receive sleep, water, or food beyond crackers. Directed “smoking” would last for the twelve to twenty-four hours prior to an interrogation. As one soldier put it: “[The military intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. Maybe half of the detainees at Camp Mercury, released because they were clearly uninvolved in the insurgency, were nonetheless bearing memories and scars of torture. As one sergeant told Human Rights Watch, “If he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.” When U.S. politicians want to sell a war, their marketing is top notch: they can count on the U.S. public to buy that war at least long enough to become irretrievably committed to it, as long as the advertising for that war leaves them feeling threatened. And no brand, in quite a long time, has been as frightening as the Islamic State. The violence that brought the Islamic State into being, and which now promises to extend its legacy into ever wider regional violence and polarization, has a long history. In between the first two Iraq wars, in numerous trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, our Voices delegation members grew to understand the unbearable weariness and suffering of Iraqi families eking out an uncertain existence under punishing economic sanctions. Between the wars, the death toll in children’s lives alone, from externally imposed economic collapse and from the blockade of food, medicine, water purification supplies and other essentials of survival, was estimated by the U.N. at 5,000 children a month, an estimate accepted without question by U.S. officials. The most shocking death figures from our 2003 invasion, estimating the eventual toll from war and social breakdown at credibly more than one million, were underestimates as they inevitably took as baseline the inhuman conditions under our years of economic warfare in Iraq. On September 16, 2014, the New York Times reported on a newly released UN report which notes that in Iraq, “the share of hungry people has soared: Nearly one in four Iraqis are undernourished, according to the report, up from 7.9 percent of the population in the 1990-92 period.” And now, the U.S. government says that U.S. intervention is once again needed to improve and civilize the nation of Iraq, It’s widely acknowledged that the 2003 invasion of Iraq radicalized Al-Baghdadi, with his humiliation at Camp Bucca further hardening him. Then the haphazard flood of weapons and easy cash into both Iraq and Syria fueled potential for further war. This will not be our third Iraq invasion. U.S. assaults, achieved through munitions, through children’s forced starvation, through white phosphorous, through bullet fire, through blockaded medicines, emptied reservoirs and downed power lines, through disbanded police forces and abandoned state industries and cities left to dissolve in paroxysms of ethnic cleansing – it is all one continuous war, beginning long before we finally turned on our former client Saddam in 1991, the longest war in U.S. history, continued now, extending into the future until it has no end that we can plausibly foresee. One year to the day before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King urged a turn away from the war in Vietnam and a desperately needed rebirth, a “revolution of values” that was all that could free America from future such commitments. It would be so much better for the world if, instead of hearing President Obama’s September 10 speech justifying renewed U.S. military offensives in the region, we could have heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. In it, he begs us to see ourselves as we are seen by our so-called enemies. It’s not easy to look in that mirror, but understanding the history of previous U.S. wars and policies, against Iraq, would help us look for alternatives. We need not choose blindness, or the hatred that lets us be herded in fear. We can reach out with truth, with compassion, with the activist courage that leaps from heart to heart, rebuilding sanity, civility, community, humanity, resistance. We can find hope in our own active work to prove that humanity persists, that history can yearn toward justice and that a love which is in no way comfortable, sentimental bosh remains vigorously at work in a world with such need of it. Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) Read more: http://thestringer.com.au/lessons-learned-in-the-bucca-camp-8475#.VB0qXv... MUSLIM 'IS' RAIDS By Suresh Rajan - courtesy of The Stringer - http://thestringer.com.au/ - "...racist thought and action says far more about the person they come from than the person they are directed at.” ― Chris Crutcher It’s been a depressing couple of days. Two days ago the raids that will forever be probably remembered in Australia as the “ISIS Terror Raids” were conducted. The depressing part of the two days has probably been watching the attacks and listening to the blatant racism that was perpetrated on a community that makes up around 2% of the total population of Australia. All of a sudden there were calls for curbs to immigration of people from Muslim faith. Talkback radio always gives me a good gauge of the feeling out there. Leaving aside the programmes where the host of the show displayed his or her own ignorance of the issues involved and started to call for the “deportation of Australian citizens to their countries of origin”, I have to say that there was a lot in common with the issues I dealt with at the time of the emergence of Pauline Hanson some years ago. At one point one of my friends who is the host of a talkback show actually said to me yesterday (via email) “I feel like I’m swimming in a sewer in a very long race”. Let me address the issues raised one by one (not in any particular order). 1. This demonstrates the failure of Multiculturalism: No it does not – Multiculturalism has survived much more than this. Multiculturalism is a basic human right. It allows for those of us who are not of the dominant cultural group in a country to practise and observe the rituals and mores of their own culture and religion etc. Since the Howard/Costello era we have practised a brand of Multiculturalism known as Australian Multiculturalism. This allows for the practice of Multiculturalism within the confines of the laws of Australia. 2. This demonstrates the incompatibility of Islam with Western religious groups. No it does not- no more than the existence of groups like Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrates the failure of the Christian religion. 3. The Muslim leaders need to denounce the actions of the IS group. No more than the mainstream leaders of Australia need to denounce the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and other nutters of a similar ilk. 4. Curbs on immigration to Australia will resolve the problem of the young men of Islamic faith going to Syria to fight in the war there. No it will not, as most if not all of the 60 men who are doing so were either born in Australia or are of Australian citizenship. 5. This shows that we need to deport these trouble makers. This may well be right but there is no country in the world that will willingly take these troublemakers who are Australian citizens or residents into their country. And there is no reason why they should either. 6. The Muslim community are opposed to the raids that were conducted. No, about 200 people turned up to the protests that were organised. This from an Islamic population in Australia of 476,000 Muslims is not a big hit rate. 7. This highlights our need to have a referendum on Immigration. If we had this referendum we could prevent a “Lee Rigby” type of killing from occurring here. No, it would not. The killers of Lee Rigby, Adebowale and Adobolajo, were born in England. They were also extremely devout Christians and were converts to Islam. How would they have been weeded out? 8. The Muslim leaders in this country have not condemned the terrorists. Yes they have – Listen at some time to the views expressed by Dr Anne Aly and Dr Jamal Rifi and others. They have categorically condemned the terrorists and praised the work of the Federal Authorities. See also attached release from the Islamic Community organisation here: 9. This also demonstrates that we should never accept asylum seekers into this country. As I have indicated above, these people were either born here or have Australian citizenship. There is no indication that there is a large group of Asylum seekers who have committed terror acts. We know for example that the perpetrators of the 9/11 terror strikes came to America via airlines rather than by boat. No one is denying that there could be people of ill intent coming through by boat. The screening process that Australian authorities have had in place for umpteen years has to this date been effective in denying these people entry into the country. 10. These young people have no reason for disenchantment in a country that provides everything. I have written extensively about the disenfranchisement of young people born between cultures. These articles are accessible in the pages of The Stringer. The disenchantment goes to the issue of the provision of settlement services and provides a signal to our authorities that there is much to be done. 11. Sharia law should not be allowed here. Actually Sharia law does not prescribe the actions of IS or its supporters. It does proscribe them. The issue that is problematic with the practice of Sharia law is complex. I have always been a person who does not believe that Sharia law should be introduced here as I find aspects of that system of laws barbaric. Where I do have a problem however, is that we as a nation have allowed Canonical and Rabbinical law to be practised and administered here. Therein lies an inconsistency. 12. We should not allow the Burqa to be worn in Australia. No Cory Bernardi, nothing that happens will ever result in you getting a modicum of intelligent thought into your brain. Prime Minister Abbott must be commended for having shut the illogic of Bernardi’s Tweets herein down. The fear I have is that constant public commentary by people without the information that the authorities have is dangerous. Already I have seen a City of Perth Councillor expressing a view on the appropriateness of the raids. I did wonder as to what his qualifications were to do so. Likewise members of the public professing a view on these matters is also likely to create resentment against the vast majority of innocent Muslim Australians who don’t share the views of the IS terrorists. We can but hope that calm will prevail and my Muslim friends like Maranda and Aisha will be able to go about their daily activities without fear of abuse and vilification. As part of a process of quelling the anger being felt and experienced out there in the community I would suggest that the Islamic Sheikhs throw open their Mosques to allow Anglo Celtic Australians and others of Non Islamic faith to come in and witness the proceedings. The Muslim barbeque conducted in Sydney by Dr Jamal Rifi was a wonderful exercise in integration and true Aussie multiculturalism. Concurrently I would plead with Dr Mike Nahan (Our state minister for multicultural Interests) to organise an event that was interfaith in nature and emphasised to our Muslim brethren that we see them as an integral part of the Aussie landscape. I am confident that my friends at the Anglican Church such as Rev Graeme Napier would recognise the value in such an event. Read more: http://thestringer.com.au/muslim-is-raids-8477#.VB0tdvmSyaU