Belfast anti-war meeting on Iraq
Iraqi militant exposes US use of sectarian division, while former US interrogator looks behind the walls of Abu Ghraib prison.
7 August 2006
On Thursday 3rd August the SWP/Irish anti-war movement held a meeting in Transport House, Belfast, to highlight the continuing US aggression in Iraq. The meeting, the last in an Irish tour and attended by 45 local militants, was addressed by Iraqi socialist Hani Nazeem and by a former interrogator in Abu Ghraib prison, identified as Joshua.
Both speakers, from very different perspectives, had fascinating information to impart. Joshua told a personal story of a keen member of the US military, initially believing in the justice of the American cause, who came to reject the war absolutely because of his experience. The final straw came in Abu Ghraib, where he found that trained interrogators like himself were being used to camouflage the routine torture and degradation of Iraqi prisoners that continued unabated even after the chilling pictures of debasement – of naked prisoners treated like dogs – were released to the world. He and his colleagues were paraded before the press to parrot their knowledge of military law and the Geneva convention while special forces continued with the standard routine of torture.
Joshua recognised clearly that the instructions to torture did not come from simple sadism of individuals. It was individuals who were prosecuted, but the instruction went all the way up the chain of command to Rumsfeld and Bush.
Even more galling was his realisation that the vast majority of the prisoners being tortured were a random sample of the local working class with no connection to the insurgency. In many cases their families starved when they were detained for months without charge. The sheer senselessness of the US aggression dumbfounded him. He was instructed to interview 10 prisoners a week and to produce an ‘actionable result’ from each interrogation – that is at least one name or address from people who knew nothing that would lead to further random raids and arrests. His testimony to the disinterest of the US administration in any rational or objective evidence of the success or failure of their policies is supported by many other sources and indicates that there is an irrational element to the imperialist war drive.
Hani Nazeem, an Iraqi socialist who has visited Ireland before, addressed the concerns expressed by the Bush White house that Iraq would descend into a sectarian civil war. The overwhelming identity of the vast majority of the citizens was Iraqi, and part of that identity was pride in the patchwork quilt of creeds and races that made up the nation. Not only was it impossible to find any area of the country that could be associated with only one group, it was difficult to find even a family not intermarried into different cultural areas.
If there was a threat of civil war, it was because the US had drawn up a sectarian constitution, used the sectarian constitution to elect a parliament on the basis of sectarian representation, ensured that decisions needed each group to support it, thus enabling the US to sit in on all meetings and make sure that it was the decisions of the occupiers that were implemented. In addition the US had excluded all groups that opposed the occupation from the political process and had a policy of building army and police units on sectarian lines and then sending them to patrol the communities of a rival ethnic group. Most of those listening seemed oblivious to the close parallels with the microstate in the North of Ireland that they were living in.
The insurgency against the occupation continued, and the Americans used the sectarian violence, which they had help create, to justify their continued presence and to divert attention away from a quite large and determined political opposition – for example mass working-class demonstrations against the privatisation of oil.
The Americans were losing the war, and this was one of the main reasons for the attack on Lebanon. The rape of Lebanon was a US war fought with US weapons by their Israeli stooges. The danger was that imperialism would open even more fronts and the danger of war faced the whole of the Middle east and Iran. War and repression faced all the people of the globe and solidarity could bring working people together and constrain the imperialist war drive.
There was a lot to learn from the speakers, and an extended debate would have helped local militants and strengthened the anti-war movement, but unfortunately this didn’t take place. In part this was because of time limitations, but it was also due to the philistinism of the SWP, who clearly saw the function of the meeting as being to sign people up for an antiwar coach trip to the British Labour Party conference.
One sharp debate did take place, with IRSP members appearing to offer unconditional support to Hizbollah rocket attacks on civilian areas and Socialist party members appearing to draw an equals sign between the aggressive imperialism of the US and Israel and the response of the Lebanese militia. Given that the issue was very similar to the issues that arose for the IRA bombing campaign, it was evident that both groups were simply making dogmatic assertions and were not looking afresh at the politics of anti-imperialist conflict.
An appeal by the writer for a united anti-war movement that set itself tasks in relation to the local war machine, was listened to politely, but the meeting ended with the left, and the anti-war campaign, as divided as ever.