Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Wonderful World of the "Democracies"

Crossposted at NION
It's almost remarkably easy to concentrate on only the U.S. government's crimes and ineptitude, its jingoism and racism. Now, there comes along a reminder that the Pentagon has no monopoly on racist insensitivity and imperialistic hauteur. This time, it involves one of our Afghanistan War "coalition" partners. Now, which one could it be?

BERLIN - A German army instructor ordered a soldier to envision himself in New York City facing hostile blacks while firing his machine gun, a video that aired Saturday on national television showed.

The president of the Bronx, the New York City borough that the army instructor referred to in his directions to the soldier, demanded an apology from the German military and said the clip "indicates that bias and assumptions and racism is alive and well around the world."

Coming after scandals involving photos of German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan and the abuse of recruits by instructors, the video seemed likely to raise more questions about training practices in Germany's conscript army.

And, not to have forgotten about the good old U.S. of A., take a gander at a very moving column by former Army Sargeant Sam Provance over at AlterNet. Provance was "the only uniformed military intelligence officer at the Iraqi prison to testify about the abuses during the internal Army investigation" at Abu Ghraib. Recently, he went to see a screening of the HBO documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib", which documents the torture at that U.S.-run prison, and how it was planned.

For those of you who have not heard of me, I am Sam Provance. My career as an Army sergeant came to a premature end at age 32 after eight years of decorated service, because I refused to remain silent about Abu Ghraib, where I served for five months in 2004 at the height of the abuses. Share this article

A noncommissioned officer specializing in intelligence analysis, my job at Abu Ghraib was systems administrator ("the computer guy"). But I had the misfortune of being on the night shift, saw detainees dragged in for interrogation, heard the screams, and saw many of them dragged out. I was sent back to my parent unit in Germany shortly after the Army began the first of its many self-investigations.

In Germany, I had the surreal experience of being interrogated by one of the Army-General-Grand-Inquisitors, Major General George Fay, who showed himself singularly uninterested in what went on at Abu Ghraib.

I had to insist that he listen to my eyewitness account, whereupon he threatened punitive actions against me for not coming forward sooner and even tried to hold me personally responsible for the scandal itself.

The Army then demoted me, suspended my Top Secret clearance, and threatened me with ten years in a military prison if I asked for a court martial. I was even given a gag order, the only one I know to have been issued to those whom Gen. Fay interviewed....

Walking into the fancy government building to see the documentary proved to be a bizarre experience. Hardly in the door, I saw a one of the guests shaking his head, saying in some wonderment, "The young woman at the front desk greeted me with a cheerful smile; Abu Ghraib? she said. Right this way, please."

The atmosphere did seem more appropriate for an art show than a documentary on torture. People were dressed to the nines, heartily laughing, and servers with white gloves were walking about with wine and hors d'oeuvres....

When the lights dimmed and the documentary started, I began to be affected more emotionally than I had expected.

It was the words of the other soldiers that touched me most deeply, because I could relate to them; I knew those soldiers on one level or another. I got worried I might not make it through the screening, that I would break down right there.

Ironically, it was my anger at their plight that kept me composed. Everything in the film was all too familiar to me. The soldiers explaining they were just following the orders of their supervisors; the higher-ups vigorously shifting blame from themselves onto soldiers of lesser rank -- the whole nine yards.

And to see those Iraqi faces again -- the broken hearts and ruined lives of innocent Iraqi citizens detained, abused, tortured. And the systematic cover-up, with the Army investigating itself over and over again, giving the appearance of a "thorough" investigation....

Anyone who knows much about Abu Ghraib knows that all kinds of Army brass lived and worked there, and that it was host to visits by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. pro-consul Paul Bremer, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Gen. Geoffrey Miller (in charge of "Gitmo-izing Abu Ghraib), Gen. Barbara Fast, and even National Security Council functionary Frances Townsend.

They were all there.

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