Torture and Responsibility in Iraq

The torture was perpetrated by good soldiers who have become dehumanized through combat stress and training.

Last year, Beliefnet featured dispatches from pacifist Christians, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who went to Baghdad to act as human shields during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A year later, many of those CPT members are still there, and new ones have arrived. They still send email dispatches to friends around the world. Here is the latest, filed in the wake of allegations of prisoner abuse by U.S. and British soldiers.

By now, most of you have seen the horrifying pictures of Iraqi prisoners beingabused and ridiculed by U.S. and British soldiers. Because the bulk of my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq has focused on Iraqi detainees, I wanted to share some personal experiences and reflections about this.

Looking at these degrading pictures, the question in the hearts of most Americans is,- "How could young American men and women do such horrible things?" The gut response is "it must be an aberration. A few bad people." President Bush said as much when he stated that only a "few people" were to blame. (Reuters, May 2). He felt a "deep disgust" for the way the prisoners were treated, and asserted "That's not the way we do things in America" (CNN April 30).


Brigadier General Mark Kimmett was even more forceful: "No. 1, this is a small minority of the military, and No. 2, they need to understand that is not the Army," said Kimmitt. "The Army is a values-based organization. We live by our values. Some of our soldiers every day die by our values, and these acts that you see in these pictures may reflect the actions of individuals, but by God, it doesn't reflect my army" (60 Minutes II, interview with Dan Rather).

It is true that there ARE countless honorable soldiers who work in the militaryprisons in Iraq. One female officer in particular at Bucca prison camp in Um Qasr showed great compassion when CPT members talked with her about their concerns for a number of prisoners held without charge. This officer personally intervened on behalf of an innocent prisoner who tried to commit suicide because of his deep despair. Many Iraqis who tell us stories of degrading abuse also comment on the "noble soldiers" who protested such abuse and treated them with respect.

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Sheila Provencher
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