Remember our hopes for Iraq? That by getting rid of Saddam, Bush's crusade would lead to a democratic "beacon of freedom" which would inspire change throughout the Middle East? Or that it would at least end Saddam's reign of torture and murder, and give Iraqis a government which respected fundamental human rights? Even those of us who opposed the war believed that these would be good results; some of us disagreed on the scale of costs and benefits, some on whether the same result could not be achieved by other means, some on whether those results could be achieved by force at all, and some on the terrible precedent it set in international law - but I don't think anyone seriously argued that it would be a Bad Thing if Iraq were a democracy or if Iraqis weren't tortured.
For me, those hopes were crippled the day panicked American soldiers mowed down a crowd of demonstrators in Fallujah, and died on reading in the Oregonian that US forces had discovered a torture facility run by their Iraqi allies - and were ordered to just walk away. The new boss was the same as the old boss; the US had overthrown Saddam, only to recreate him in a new guise.
The latest report from Human Rights Watch - The New Iraq? Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody - is just the final nail in the coffin. In it, HRW details gross abuses by the Iraqi regime, including
systematic use of arbitrary arrest, prolonged pre-trial detention (up to four months in some cases) without judicial review, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, denial of access by families and lawyers to detainees, improper treatment of detained children, and abysmal conditions in pre-trial facilities.
This "torture and ill-treatment" includes:
...routine beatings to the body using cables, hosepipes and other implements. Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.
Hosepipes. Strapado. Electrodes to the genitals. As HRW says, "the people of Iraq were promised something better than this". Those who supported the war as a humanitarian intervention against torture ought to be asking themselves some pretty serious questions right now. Such as how this is better than what went on under Saddam (and whether it is 15,458 dead civilians or approximately 98,000 excess deaths better)? Or why, if torture justified using military force against Saddam, the same argument doesn't apply to the regime which replaced him? Or who the "supporters of torture" are now - the people who condemned Saddam while saying that force wasn't a good solution, or the people who look the other way at what their "humanitarian war" has wrought?
Sniping aside, it ought to be crystal clear to everyone now that the Iraqi regime does not deserve our support. No country which uses torture does, and that applies to Iraq's current crop of torturers as well as its past ones.