The merchants of democracy and human rights
AFTER having taken over the "white man's burden" from once-imperial Britain, it was America's monopoly to trade democracy, the rule of law and, of course, human rights with the "lesser breeds" by occupying their lands, capturing their resources and establishing hegemony over those countries.
Ever since, wherever this sole superpower intervened, her principal concern had been that of those patent attributes of modern civilisation. She seldom tired of carrying her merchandise, i.e. democracy, freedom and human rights, to dump in far-off lands even if there were few takers of her brand abroad. She relentlessly pushed ahead with her mantras, notwithstanding the risk that their hollowness would soon be found out.
It's not surprising that any country, from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq, which had been under US occupation, reported some of the worst travesties of freedom and abuses of human rights. As far back as in 1971, a young Navy lieutenant, and a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, in a testimony before the Senator Foreign Relations Committee put up a harrowing picture of war crimes committed in Vietnam.
He also testified that those were not isolated incidents, but were committed on a day-to-day basis in the full knowledge of the commanding officers of the perpetrator of the crimes.
The obscure Navy lieutenant of 1971, now Senator John Kerry -- also a Democrat candidate for US presidency in 2004 -- told the committee on behalf of over 150 honourably discharged and some very highly decorated veterans that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, chopped off heads, taped portable telephones to genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Gengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the usual devastation caused by war.
That was in Vietnam more than three decades ago. Then came Afghanistan where, in a war on terror soon after September 11, 2001, reckless arrest and illegal detention of anyone suspected of having Taliban or al-Qaida links became routine practice of the US occupation forces.
An unknown number of Pakistanis captured on suspected Taliban/al-Qaida links continued to be held as detainees in Sharbaghan alone. However, the total number of Pakistani detainees in all facilities reportedly added up to almost 500.
They were neither convicted nor charged, and were held only on the suspicion that they would be able to provide information regarding Osama or Mullah Umar. They were never given a legal hearing.
The US forces operating in Afghanistan also arbitrarily detained civilians in separate detention facilities at Bagram, Kawdahar and Jalalabad military bases. The frequent arrest of the civilians and their prolonged detention without informing the next of kin is normal practice of the occupation authorities.
Apparently the victims of faulty intelligence, all prisoners languishing in the detention facilities in Afghanistan have absolutely no contact with any outside agencies or human rights groups.
Worse still, some prisoners from these facilities are shifted to Guantanamo -- the US's gulag -- by air from Pakistan's Kohat. At Guantanamo, the torture stories and denial of legal facilities are yet more horrifying. The data collected through private sources and journalists reporting from the vicinity of Camp X-Ray in Cuba are a sordid tale of prisoner abuse by their "democratic" captors. And it was all in the name of democracy, rule of law and human rights!
Now, there is Iraq to undergo the same ordeals again in the name of freedom for people who suffered under the autocratic regime of Saddam Husain. In Iraq, the US held 8,000 prisoners in 14 different jails -- three of which, Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca, are prominent for sheer brutality and bestiality -- which all held inmates for extended periods.
It was in one of those infamous prisons, Abu Ghraib, that photographs clearly depicting inhuman behaviour towards Iraqi prisoners were shot and then leaked by a compassionate US sergeant to the American media, which caused international uproar against the US -- the trader of human rights -- and created unprecedented outrage in the Arab world.
Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary at the time, apparently caught unawares, mumbled that abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners was an aberration by a few soldiers, and were not a reflection of American values. But, almost at the same time, BBC televised photographs taken from an Egyptian newspaper, Al Wafd, showing US soldiers in Iraq shooting civilians from a helicopter.
Following the contradiction between Rumsfeld's claim and the reality on the ground, the defence secretary had to go through a six-hour grilling session in his testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Over the prisoners' scandal in Iraq, while some Democrats on the committee called for his sacking, the Republicans duly backed him -- as had the president himself.
Rumsfeld took the only viable course open to him: to tender an apology accepting "full responsibility for what he said," but remained circumspect on the question of resignation. It was, of course, followed up with routine measures such as investigation and court-martialing, ostensibly to mollify American pride at being "found out." But prisoner abuse in Iraq is too colossal to be hidden under rugs, and its miasma too strong to be suppressed.
The hollowness of the freedom and human rights the Americans hawk around the world is indeed synonymous with their military presence in an occupied country.
Can there be an end to this occupation? Even if it ends, the leash will still be held by the same occupiers on some pretence or other. That's what American freedom or liberation is -- as envisaged by Bush's far right neo-conservative administration.