The images of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by American soldiers are painful, hurtful, and agonizing. They strike at the very heart of decency and humanity. And yet they are not unexpected or isolated developments, but rather a continuation of twenty years of American foreign policy centered on dehumanizing Muslims.

The irony is inescapable: The American and British soldiers who are in Iraq-so we are told-to "liberate" the country and bring "freedom" and "democracy" are humiliating, violating, torturing Iraqis. To add one more layer of irony, all of this takes place in the very same Abu Ghraib prison where some of Saddam Hussein's worst atrocities occurred. Similar atrocities, same site, different abusers. And we act shocked and surprised that the whole world, including Muslims in this country, have not, do not, and will not buy this war as a "liberation"?

There is much to be said about this atrocity. And it doesn't come only from Muslims like myself. Some of the strongest condemnations come from human rights organizations.

Amnesty International said it "has received frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition Forces during the past year. Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by U.S. and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with... prolonged hooding... Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities."

Human Rights Watch has correctly pointed out that this is not an isolated case of a half-dozen soldiers "behaving badly," but rather one tied to a pattern of indifference and lack of accountability. As Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, puts it: "The brazenness with which these soldiers conducted themselves, snapping they abused prisoners, suggests they felt they had nothing to hide from their superiors."

According to the New York Times, "the theory that these horrific acts were committed by a few renegade soldiers has been undercut by charges that the men and women shown in the pictures were actually working at the direction of military intelligence officers." And Seymour Hersh published a thorough and shocking investigative piece in The New Yorker.

Clearly, these brutalities violate international agreements, including the 13th article of the 1949 Geneva Convention, which states: "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. . Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

As it might be expected, these images have brought out cries of anguish and frustration in most of the Arab and Islamic world as well. These stories, which have come to dominate outlets such as Al Jazeera, have merely confirmed the worst suspicions of people in the regions about American claims to fostering human rights and democracy.

These methods of torture and humiliation would be immoral and illegal if applied to any human being, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim. But they seem to be especially designed to bring the maximum amount of humiliation to Arabs and Muslims.

Islamic societies place a great deal of emphasis on public modesty. It is very common for men as well as women to wear long pants and long sleeves and otherwise modest attire. The stripping of people from these societies is in and of itself offensive and shameful-and that seems to be the very intention of such practices.

Far more offensive are the simulated acts of oral sex, masturbation, rape, and staged homosexual activity, all of which are crafted to inflict the most profound humiliation on human beings for whom honor and shame are powerful ethical concepts, and where the majority of the population understands Islamic law to forbid nudity and homosexuality.

In short, these hurtful violations are aimed at stripping human beings of the very core of their dignity.

And in the background, we have the cruel smirks of American and British soldiers, men and women, enjoying the spectacle. It is not just the Iraqis who have lost their dignity: the soldiers who participate in and condone such practices have also stripped themselves of their own dignity and humanity.