Centre for Research on Globalisation
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Crimes in Iraq: “As American as Apple Pie”

by Felicity Arbuthnot

www.globalresearch.ca    14  May  2004

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/ARB405A.html

My Lai Massacre, Vietnam, March 1968

There must be more ignorance in the Western world than most thought, since surprise seems to be the dominant reaction to the appalling evidence of alleged gruesome, barbaric and inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US troops and the mercenaries employed by them. The British largely appear unable to believe that “our boys” are capable of similar treatment towards detainees in their jurisdiction, in spite of graphic descriptions by the Independent’s Robert Fisk.

However, “our boys,” with their American allies of the 1991 coalition, buried young Iraqi conscripts alive in Iraq ’s southern desert. Youthful Iraqis were simply bulldozed into trenches, according to a British Army chaplain in an interview with this writer. Other soldiers tell of playing football with the heads of the dead and taking “souvenir” photographs, standing on or by burned out Iraqi tanks and vehicles – often with the near-incinerated dead still inside.

Some are ashamed now, some are mentally unstable, unable to live with their actions, some committed suicide – but they did these things on their own admission and of their own free will. War brings its own particular inhumanity and insanity. Perhaps the self-evident lawlessness of an illegal invasion brings yet another dimension, one beyond shame and almost beyond comprehension.

Is Abu Ghraib an “isolated incident”? Of course not! America is the country that brought the world the horrors of Guantanamo Bay . Remember what their troops are capable of when they have real scope: the carnage of the Basra Road , General Schwarzkopf’s “turkey shoot” of fleeing humanity – long after the ceasefire had been signed. “No one left to kill” he announced after the ceasefire – but his military managed to anyway. Asked if he had estimates of Iraqis killed in the forty-two day onslaught, the General replied, “Frankly, it’s not a number I’m much interested in.” Indeed! Then as now.

Even a cursory perusal of William Blum’s shocking account(1) of US policies over successive Administrations shows destabilization, torture and ill-treatment, from Central and South America to Africa, throughout the Middle East, Far East, tiny Grenada (a “communist threat”) where, amongst others, the patients of a psychiatric home were killed, organizing a coup in the tranquil Seychelles, as well as endless meddling, destabilization and resultant murder in Iraq, about which, in the 1970s, Henry Kissinger remarked that, “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” Ironically, Iraq ’s ridiculous desert-booted, Wall Street suited, isolated “Viceroy,” Paul Bremer, is a former employee of Kissinger Associates.

As the US and UK rail against “rogue states,” they contaminate the Middle East with chemically toxic and radioactive depleted uranium bombs and bullets that, with a half-life of four and a half billion years, will, say some scientists, still be poisoning the earth and all that grows on it “until the sun goes out”; they slaughter in the name of a “war on terrorism,” “freedom,” “democracy” and “winning hearts and minds”; yes, let’s talk “rogue states.”

“Our boys” buried young Iraqi conscripts alive in Iraq ’s southern desert in 1991.

One could choose numerous countries at random from Blum’s book, but since the US is now mooting the idea of embracing South America in its “Wild West” war (odd how all the targeted countries are rich in oil, mineral mines, gems, and other useful assets but had no nationals on the 9/11planes) here’s Blum’s catchy heading on Uruguay 1964 to 1970 : Torture – As American As Apple Pie.

“The precise pain, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.” The words of an instructor in the art of torture, Dan Mitrione, the head of the Office of Public Safety (OPS) mission in Uruguay ’s capitol, Montevideo .

OPS was a division of the ( US ) Agency for International Development. Mitrione arrived in Uruguay at a time of unrest, monetary collapse resulting in demonstrations, and “resourceful… sophisticated urban gorilla actions” organized by the Tupamaros “with a deft touch for capturing the public imagination ... members and secret partisans held key positions in government, banks, universities and professions (and) military and the police.” Quoting the New York Times, Blum records that, “… the Tuparamos avoided bloodshed where possible [and aimed] to embarrass the Government.” They also raided files of private corporations and exposed corruption in high places.

Although the Uruguayan police had used torture, Mitrione “instituted torture as a more routine measure,” according to former Head of Police Intelligence Alejandro Otero. There was “added scientific refinement… and psychology to increase despair,” such as “playing a tape in the next room of women and children screaming, and telling the prisoner it was his family being tortured.”

Mitrione, writes Blum, built a soundproof room in the cellar of his residence and assembled police officers to demonstrate his refined torture methods. “...as subjects for testing,” beggars were taken off the streets of Montevideo “and women taken, apparently, from the frontier area of Brazil .” Chemical substances and differing electrical voltages were used… four died, according to a CIA double agent, Manuel Hevia, a Cuban, who worked with Mitrione, he returned to Cuba and blew the whistle. As with those at Abu Ghraib, Mitrione described this as “softening up.”

In July 1970, Mitrione was kidnapped and found dead ten days later in a stolen car. In his home town of Richmond , Indiana, Secretary of State William Rogers and Richard Nixon’s son-in-law, David Eisenhower, attended the funeral of the city’s former Chief of Police; Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis joined the mourners, also staging a benefit gig for Mitrione’s family.

White House spokesman, Ron Ziegler, stated that, “Mr. Mitrione's devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for man everywhere.” “A perfect man,” said his widow. “A great humanitarian,” said his daughter Laura.

Since the “V” word is increasingly surfacing in comparison to Iraq, Vietnam, also of the Mitrione era, is worth revisiting for the comparison of US troops in liberating a population “in a far away place of which we know nothing”. “American troops arrived in Vietnam looking for the kind of war they knew all about – a war of decisive battles and quick victories.” With concentration on “… overwhelmingly powerful weapons on a lightly armed opponent… ” (2)

Troops were given cursory training in local culture and courtesies, those considered friends and those considered foes – here we go again, bad guys and good guys. But, like the Arab world, to the young and inexperienced troops who had mostly never left their home states, all the “gooks” looked the same. “We’d end up shooting at everything – men, women, kids and buffalo,” said John Paul Vann, subject of Neil Sheehan’s uniquely salutary Bright Shining Lie.

The late Martha Gellhorn, another gimlet-eyed observer, in whose name John Pilger has founded an award: “In honor of and awarded to a journalist who has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth, validated by powerful facts, that expose established propaganda or ‘official drivel’ as Gellhorn called it”, Pilger told IOL. Gellhorn could have been writing about Iraq .

“We are not maniacs and monsters, but our planes range the sky all day and night, our artillery is lavish and we have… deadly stuff to kill with.”

In one dispatch from Vietnam she railed, “We are not maniacs and monsters, but our planes range the sky all day and night, our artillery is lavish and we have much more deadly stuff to kill with. The people are there on the ground, sometimes destroyed by accident, sometimes destroyed because [insurgents] are supposed to be among them. This is a new war and we had better find a new way to fight it. Hearts and minds, after all, live in bodies.”(3)

As public opinion against the war became increasingly galvanized, Secretary of Defense, Kevin McNamara, “received a despairing note from his deputy, John McNaughton: “A feeling is widely and strongly held that ‘the Establishment’ is out of its mind. The feeling is that we are trying to impose some US image on distant peoples we cannot understand...and are carrying the thing to absurd lengths (leading to) the worst split in our people for more than a century.” (4) Déja-vu lives!

Recently, I wrote in History Repeats Itself in Fallujah that it was tempting to compare the horrors of Fallujah with Vietnam’s massacre by US troops at My Lai and concluded that in fact, Fallujah was Iraq’s Sabra and Shatila, since US troops had adopted and been trained by the Israeli Defense Force. But the horrors of Abu Ghraib has much My Lai resonance.

“On March 16th, 1968, Charlie Company, a unit of… 11th Light Infantry Brigade entered an undefended village of about five hundred people and massacred five hundred old men, women, and children in cold blood. The killings took place part maniacally, part methodically… they were accompanied by rape, sodomy, mutilations and unimaginable cruelty. ‘It was the Nazi kind of thing… ” Varnado Simpson shot, cut throats, scalped, cut off ears and cut out tongues. I wasn’t the only one… the training, the whole programming, it just came out.” (5)

The hundred and five GIs who went into My Lai village were left virtually unpunished. Lt. William Calley, officer in charge, was sentenced to life. He found a baby crawling alive from a ditch filled with the dead and dying, grabbed the child by the leg and shot him, throwing him back into the ditch. Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor, but within seventy-two hours, President Nixon intervened. Calley was given a comfortable apartment in the notorious Fort Benning (School of the Americas ), which, globally, has trained more despots and their minions in repression and torture techniques, than, arguably, anywhere else on earth.

Calley spent thirty-five months with his dog, his mynah bird and a tank of tropical fish, took up cooking and enjoyed visits from his girl friend, who told the press “… he wouldn’t hurt anyone, look how gentle he is with his dog… ” He was released on parole and Judge Robert Ellison, explaining his decision, said in war “… it is not unusual for innocent civilians such as the My Lai victims to be killed.” In the spirit of George W. Bush’s “Crusade,” he also explained that “when Joshua took to the streets of Jericho in biblical times, no charges had been brought against him for the slaughter of the civilian population.”

The hundred and five GIs who went into My Lai village were left virtually unpunished.

In a familiar phrase used during the war, a Major Colin Luther Powell wrote to his superiors describing the Vietnamese people as “being truly appreciative of the benefits the American troops were bringing them” (like herding them into their thatched dwellings and burning them alive). “There might be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs… it did not reflect the general behavior of units.” Powell is now Secretary of State, is now the “dove” in the US Administration. (6)

Veteran journalist and author Jonathon Schell wrote after My Lai , “If we learn to accept this, we will accept anything.” (7) We did! Those responsible faded back into American life, Fort Benning continued, and continues, to impart torture methods to despots and their minions, yet we are told now that Abu Ghraib and the allegations against the British troops are an aberration. The only surprise would be if it was.

Like Lt. Calley, General Janis Karpinski, in charge of Abu Ghraib, and fourteen other jails in Iraq , has been quietly shipped home. Weasel words have come from Britain and the US about “accountability” and “justice,” bets are on that there will be neither. It would be good to be wrong, however, General Karpinski, in another life, visited Guantanamo Bay and found nothing wrong with it. Major General Geoffrey Miller is taking his place in Iraq 's prison system: He was in charge of those detained in Guantanamo Bay .

The only wry smile this last week is seeing President Bush plead to appear on the very Arab television stations the US were bombing in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq; stations that were showing a “biased” version of invasion, mayhem, slaughter and terror, stations that were even banned from Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority press conferences.

Is there a way out of this historic lunacy? William Blum has a suggestion:

“If I were President, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize to the widows and orphans, the tortured, the impoverished, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. Then I would announce in all sincerity to every corner of the world, that America 's  global interventions had come to an end, and inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st  State of the US , but – oddly enough – henceforth, a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims. There would be more than enough… One year’s military budget of $330 billion is equal to more than $18,000 an hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.

“That’s what I would do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I’d be assassinated.” (8)

On a personal note, am I anti-American? No, I spent some of the happiest years of my life there, but this is now a land I do not know and cannot forgive. I will never use another US dollar, or buy a US product, like many round the globe. Also like many, I will not be back.


Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist, activist and Global Research (Canada) contributing editor who has visited Iraq on numerous occasions since the 1991Gulf War. She has written and broadcast widely on Iraq , her coverage of which was nominated for several awards. She was also Senior Researcher for John Pilger's award-winning documentary - Paying the Price Killing the Children of Iraq.


1. William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History, (Zed Books, 1991).

2. Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, Four Hours in My Lai : A War Crime and Its Aftermath, (Penguin, 1993).

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. William Blum, Rogue State , (Common Courage Press, 2002).

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