Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Defining the Situation: Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners and Human Rights

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Defining the Situation: Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners and Human Rights

Article excerpt

I am writing this brief essay in mid-May 2004, at a time when photographs of, and discussions about, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners consume the news media. My teachers of history in college believed strongly that our view of contemporary events is necessarily partial, and that a careful thinker will wait, observe, gather all relevant information, and consult a wide range of sources before reaching a judgment about what really happened. However, even if we assume that time will eventually enlarge and modify our understanding of the activities at Abu Ghraib prison, it is difficult not to make some preliminary observations.

Virtually every commentator acknowledges that the physical and psychological abuse documented in photographs and videotapes is wrong-wrong because such abuse violates the rights that civilized nations guarantee to individuals even in time of war. Such activities as those shown now in all news media, even if carried out in the name of "interrogation" are inconsistent with the terms of the Geneva Conventions.

On a much more fundamental, universally human level, these activities shock us because they violate our sense of decency in a highly personal way. We ask, what if we were in the position of those prisoners? How would we expect to be treated? How would we feel if we were dehumanized by being forced into the positions and the actions portrayed in this abundant documentation? What if our most deeply held religious convictions were debased by activities abhorrent to us?

In short, the abuse of these prisoners violates a much older rule than the Geneva accords, which began to be codified and acknowledged barely a century ago. That older rule appears in many societies and in many formulations. …

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