Magazine article The Spectator

Hoping for the Worst

Magazine article The Spectator

Hoping for the Worst

Article excerpt

Baghdad

There was something pitiful about the US army's attempts to show off Abu Ghraib to reporters here. Like package tourists, we were shepherded past smiling young soldiers wishing us 'good morning sir, ma'am' to a hastily-constructed new visitors' centre and then a pristine hospital where we were met by a surgeon called Good and a Lieutenant Colonel Proper.

Outside, hundreds of inmates swarmed towards our air-conditioned bus as we were briefed on how well Saddam Hussein's former prison is now being run after the publication of the rather, er, regrettable holiday snaps taken by the first lot of Americans to run the place.

In the interrogation centre. Colonel Foster Payne explained that the eyebolts on the floor were used to restrain inmates only in exceptional circumstances and it was important to realise that Abu Ghraib was an 'intelligence-lucrative' environment.

Our chief tour guide was Major General Geoffrey Miller, Abu Ghraib commander and formerly the top guard-dog at Guantanamo Bay, aka 'Gitmo', the extended Caribbean vacation destination for many of those captured on battlefields in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, or appropriately, he looks like a brutal parade sergeant from one of those 1980s Vietnam films, and talks like one too. 'There's two types of people in this world,' he drawled at us. Texans and those who want to be Texans.'

In the newly painted block 1-A, one of the five women - of 3,200 inmates - wailed and accused her guards of inserting a pen inside her. Miller, through gritted teeth, urged us to clear out. 'You're violating our requests now,' he barked. 'We've asked you to move on.' Moving on is not going to be easy for any of us. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, is drip-feeding us with new images each week.

There seems to be no story about torture - real, imagined or invented - in Iraq that won't be covered exhaustively and breathlessly. We know more about Specialist Lynndie England, the West Virginian with the dog lead, than we ever wanted to. A month ago, no one would have listened to the female detainee's abuse claim; now, few would not believe her.

But what do the abominations perpetrated at Abu Ghraib really tell us about Iraq and the faltering American-led project to plant the seeds of democracy here? And why are so many people who were against the war, or are incapable of viewing any American action as anything other than evil or stupid, greeting each fresh revelation with an almost indecent glee?

The other day, while taking a break by the Al-Hamra Hotel pool, fringed with the usual cast of tattooed defence contractors, I was accosted by an American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials.

She had been disturbed by my argument that Iraqis were better off than they had been under Saddam and I was now - there was no choice about this - going to have to justify my bizarre and dangerous views. I'll spare you most of the details because you know the script - no WMD, no 'imminent threat' (though the point was to deal with Saddam before such a threat could emerge), a diversion from the hunt for bin Laden, enraging the Arab world. Etcetera.

But then she came to the point. Not only had she 'known' the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the 'evil' George W. …

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