William Blum

The Anti-Empire Report #10

By William Blum – Published May 12th, 2004

God, country and torture

On October 21, 1994, the United States became a State Party to the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

“If you open the window [of torture], even just a crack, the cold air of the middle ages will fill the whole room.” 1

“The thing with the soldiers there, they think because we’re Americans, you can do whatever you want,” said Spc. Ramon Leal, an MP who served at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“You get a burning in your stomach, a rush, a feeling of hot lead running through your veins, and you get a sense of power,” said another soldier. “Imagine wearing point-blank body armor, an M-16 and all the power in the world, and the authority of God. That power is very addictive.” 2

America and God … Bush, Cheney, Rice, and other eminences of the imperial mafia know well how to invoke these feelings; with the help of the rest of flag-wavin’ and bible-wavin’ America the proper emotions can be easily imparted down to the ranks. The American part – the mystique of “America” – can also be exported, and has been for decades. Here’s Chief Inspector Basil Lambrou, one of Athens’ well-known torturers under the infamous Greek junta of 1967-74. Hundreds of prisoners listened to this little speech given by the Inspector, who sat behind his desk which displayed the red, white, and blue clasped-hand symbol of American aid. He tried to show the prisoners the absolute futility of resistance:

“You make yourself ridiculous by thinking you can do anything. The world is divided in two. There are the communists on that side and on this side the free world. The Russians and the Americans, no one else. What are we? Americans. Behind me there is the government, behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S. You can’t fight us, we are Americans.” 3

And here’s Colin Powell at the 1996 Republican Convention: America is “a country where the best is always yet to come, a country that exists by divine providence.” He then punched his fist into the air and shouted out, “America!” 4

Defenders of the American soldiers accused of abusing the prisoners in Iraq have been insisting that the soldiers were only following orders. At the end of the Second World War, however, we read moral lectures to the German people on the inadmissibility of pleading that their participation in the holocaust was in obedience to their legitimate government. To prove that we were serious, we hanged the leading examples of such patriotic loyalty and imprisoned many of the rest.

Said the International Military Tribunal: “The very essence of the Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state. He who violates the laws of war cannot obtain immunity while acting in pursuance of the authority of the state if the state in authorising action moves outside its competence under international law. … The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment.” 5

Cold War Redux

On May 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Iraqi prisoner abuse, during which Senator James Inhofe (../bblum6/R.-OK) stated the following: “I have to say when we talk about the treatment of these prisoners that I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisons. When he was in charge, they would take electric drills and drill holes through hands, they would cut their tongues out, they would cut their ears off. We’ve seen accounts of lowering their bodies into vats of acid. … and lining up 312 little kids under 12 years old and executing them.”

What does that remind you of? Right, the October 1990 testimony before a congressional committee by a young Kuwaiti woman who claimed she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking babies from incubators in Kuwait after Iraq had invaded and “leaving them on the floor to die”. The story was quickly used by the Bush I administration in its push for war. The president on a number of occasions cited the infants’ deaths as an example of what he said was Iraq’s brutal treatment of innocent Kuwaitis. It turned out to be a hoax, unmitigated war propaganda, and the young woman turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. And the number of babies supposedly left to die? 312. 6

The same day as the hearing a letter was printed in The Washington Post which spoke of “applying electric shocks, pulling out fingernails, crushing feet, or raping a loved one’s wife, daughter or mother while forcing him to watch – all of which were practices employed by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen.”

And a while ago I received an email from one of my non-admirers who added to the list with “Children’s eyes gouged out to elicit confessions from a parent; people having their tongues cut out and then left to bleed to death on streets; live bodies thrown into large mince machines.”

What do we have here? A campaign highly reminiscent of the many anti-communist horror stories – torture and otherwise – that during the Cold War days of the 1950s-60s were passed around the anti-communist circuit, each person quoting from the same initial source, or the previous source. At some point a member of congress would read the horror story on the floor of congress and his remarks would thus appear in the Congressional Record; thereafter, those passing the story around could quote the Congressional Record as the source, as Senator Inhofe’s statement can now be quoted citing a Senate hearing. 7

I wrote to the non-admirer asking her what evidence she could offer to substantiate her claims. We then exchanged a few more emails but she had nothing at all to offer, quoting at one point something from a report of Amnesty International which made no mention of the subject at hand.

At the hearing, Sen. Inhofe added that if we’re going to show pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, we should also show pictures of the brutalities of Saddam Hussein, including those of “children being executed”. It will be interesting to see if the good senator can produce such photos; perhaps of all 312?

Brainwashed commies

George W. Bush, speaking in October 2003 after many resistance attacks in Iraq: “The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react.” 8

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking in April 2004, depicted the insurrection and fighting that had risen over nearly a two-week period in an equally positive light. “‘I would characterize what we’re seeing right now as a – as more a symptom of the success that we’re having here in Iraq,’ he said … explaining that the violence indicated there was something to fight against – American progress in building up Iraq.” 9

Imagine that in the 1980s Russian leaders had used identical logic and language about how their war against Afghanistan insurgents was going for them. The American media would have had a field day of snide remarks about those poor brainwashed, Orwellian commies.

Ungrateful Iraqis, befuddled Americans

“Another Marine, his face flushed with anger, approached an interpreter on the base and said: ‘I just want to know why my friends are being hurt. Don’t the Iraqis know we are here to help them build something new and better now that Saddam is gone?’” 10

Yes, they know that. They just don’t believe it.

Apropos of this, Hans Blix, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, recently claimed that Iraq was now worse off than under Saddam Hussein. “Saddam and his bloody regime has gone, but when figuring out the score the negatives weigh more,” he said. 11

What songs are the Iraqis singing?

On February 17, 2003, a month before the US bombing began, I posted to the Internet an essay entitled “What Do the Imperial Mafia Really Want?”, concerning the expected war against Iraq. Included in this were the words of Michael Ledeen, former Reagan official, then at the American Enterprise Institute (one of the leading drum-beaters for attacking Iraq): “If we just let our own vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to be clever and piece together clever diplomatic solutions to this thing, but just wage a total war against these tyrants, I think we will do very well, and our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

I could not resist. I recently sent Mr. Ledeen an email and, trying not to sound snide, said: “I’d like to ask you what songs your children are singing these days.” I received no reply.

More feet of clay

Former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke was the fair-haired boy in March and April as a result of his testimony before the independent September 11 committee. To a multitude of Americans starved for inspirational and credible leadership he appeared to be the only official in the foreign policy establishment who took the pre-September 11 warnings seriously, who was open and honest, and who had the decency to say he was “sorry” to the families of the victims.

But in this sad day and age can such an image hold up once we look over a person’s record? In 1999 the Washington Post reported that “Current and former administration foreign policy officials have identified Richard A. Clarke, the National Security Council’s counter-terrorism coordinator, as the leading proponent for striking el Shifa.” 12 This was a reference to the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that the Clinton administration had deliberately destroyed the previous year in the stated belief that it was a plant for making chemical weapons for terrorists.

In actuality, the plant in Khartoum produced about 90 percent of the drugs used to treat the most deadly illnesses in that desperately poor country; it was reportedly one of the biggest and best of its kind in Africa.

In his new book, “Against All Enemies”, Clarke discusses the Sudan bombing in several places, but in none does he give any indication of his role in the matter, nor does he make any mention at all that the plant was actually producing medicine. Instead he repeats many of the same fallacious arguments about how the plant was really producing chemical weapons, as if these arguments had not been totally discredited since 1998, so much so that when the plant’s owner sued the US government, the United States did not even contest the suit, instead returning to him his bank account money that had been frozen.

The Dems pull off another principled coup

On May 8, on his regular weekly radio broadcast, George W. commented about the Iraqi prisoner photos dominating the media at the time. Expecting this, the Democrats planned a counter commentary for that same day on their own radio broadcast. And who did the Democrats choose to discuss this issue of possible violations of the Geneva Conventions? Gen. Wesley Clark, an unindicted war criminal, who led the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia which seriously violated those conventions amongst other international accords.

Decadence and cruelty

At the peak of the international scandal about American abuse of Iraqi prisoners came the sale in New York of a painting by Picasso for a record $104.2 million. How, I wonder, will the proverbial history books deal with the level of cruelty and decadence of 21st century America?


  1. Hans Christian Stroebele, Green Party member of the German parliament.
  2. Knight Ridder newspapers, May 10, 2004
  3. James Becket, Barbarism in Greece (New York, 1970), p.16. Becket was sent to Greece in December 1967 by Amnesty International.
  4. The Economist (London), August 17, 1996, U.S. Edition
  5. Constitution of the International Military Tribunal, meeting at Nuremberg, Germany, 1945, Article 8
  6. Los Angeles Times March 16, 1991, p.8
  7. For a detailed history of these propaganda campaigns, see: Morris Kominsky, The Hoaxers: Plain Liars, Fancy Liars, and Damned Liars (Branden Press, Boston, 1970)
  8. Washington Post, October 28, 2003, p.1
  9. New York Times, April 16, 2004
  10. Washington Post, April 14, 2004
  11. The Times (London), April 7, 2004
  12. Washington Post, October 21, 1999, “Back Channels” column by Vernon Loeb

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.

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Books by William Blum

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else

Rogue State

Rogue State

A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower

Killing Hope

Killing Hope

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Freeing the World to Death

Freeing the World to Death

Essays on the American Empire

West-Bloc Dissident

West-Bloc Dissident

A Cold War Memoir