Friday, January 16, 2004

The Times On Torture

Over a month ago, on Tuesday, March 30, 2004, The New York Times carried a story by David Rohde on its front page entitled "G.I.'s in Afghanistan on Hunt, But Now for Hearts and Minds." Nobody seemed to notice at the time (this was before the Abu Ghraib torture pictures were revealed to the public), but the article included an account of torture committed by American toops.

Embedded or not, Mr. Rhode travelled with the Comanche Company of the First Battalion of the Anchorage-based 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment for a few days in March. "The convoy arrived at 6:30 a.m. In a display of overwhelming force, an A-10 attack jet circled overhead and dozens of American vehicles surrounded seven mud compounds spread across a barren hillside. A squad of scouts, led by Staff Sgt. David Jarzab, a tall, lanky 26-year-old native of Pennsylvania, raided one of the compounds and quickly found one of the wanted brothers. American soldiers threw that brother, Rashid Rahman, a small, bony man who appeared to be over 60, to the ground, pushed his face in the dirt and tied his hand behind his back with plastic strips. His 30-year-old son, Abdel Malik, was also bound and left face down in the dirt."

A little brutal, perhaps, but the worst is to come: "A 16-year-old named Muhammad Rahman, meanwhile, was caught in a lie. He told the Americans that he had no weapons, then later showed them where he had hidden two Kalashnikov rifles and a Chinese-made mortar round. Visibly angry, the Americans tied the teenager's hands, placed a burlap sack on his head and pushed him down a steep hillside. As an American soldier knelt on the boy's back and pushed his face into the dirt, Sergeant Jarzab demanded to know if there were more hidden weapons. "He's a liar, and he's going to Cuba," the sergeant shouted, although he later ordered the boy freed."

Last time I checked, placing a sack over a person's head and pushing him down a hill qualifies as inhumane treatment, and should be prosecuted as a war crime. Time will tell if Staff Sgt. David Jarzab faces any forthcoming charges, but I doubt it.

To his credit, Mr. Rhode notes that "the same American troops still use the standard tactics of military power to achieve their aims: intimidation, overwhelming force, hands tied behind backs and faces in the dirt. Over the course of the three-day patrol, it was not clear whether they had won, or lost, more hearts and minds." But the real question is whether or not Mr. Rhode reported the crimes (and any others he may have witnessed) to the proper authorities (your guess is as good as mine who they are - Seymour Hersh?) and will he be ready to testify at any future court martials.

To his discredit, Mr. Rhode seems to think that the people of Afghanistan don't mind being abused by our poorly trained troops. "After his release, the boy did not complain about his treatment. Instead, as the soldiers stood nearby, he praised the Americans for stabilizing Afghanistan "I am very happy they came," he said. "I just request that they build a school for us.""

Does Mr. Rhode really believe that the boy was being honest? If I was bagged and thrown down a hill, I wouldn't complain either, for fear of being shot or worse (going to Cuba). This is reminiscent of the way the press keeps reporting that most Iraqis support the occupation in countless polls. The Iraqis know enough to keep their mouths shut and their Saddam posters hidden away.


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