Naked in Abu Ghraib/Naked in Gaza– the U.S. press’s double standard

on 23 Comments

Nakedness, humiliation, and torture made Abu Ghraib an important story in the American media five years ago. The abuse of Iraqi detainees damaged the American reputation across the Arab world; and exposing Abu Ghraib distinguished 60 Minutes, the New Yorker, and Seymour Hersh. The New York Times called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, and the Defense Department disciplined dozens of soldiers and officers.

Now read the Goldstone report on the Israeli assault on Gaza of a year ago. The 575 page report published by the U.N. Human Rights Council last September documents incident upon incident of Palestinians stripped naked at gunpoint. The statement “made to strip completely” occurs frequently, as Israeli soldiers enter houses in the northern parts of the Gaza strip. “He was stripped and made to stand alone, naked, for almost an hour…” “strip searches were carried out regularly…” “They were made to line against the wall before being asked to strip naked. They were made to stand, blindfolded, naked and exposed to the cold winds, for about three or four hours.” “The men were made to strip, sometimes naked, at different stages of their detention.” “Many of the men remained in their underwear, exposed to the harsh winter weather.”

In several instances, Goldstone alleged, these detainees were also tortured during interrogations. Or terrorized by being used as human shields: “Johnnies,” the Israelis called them, forced to enter other Palestinian houses to look for combatants.

In one episode Goldstone documented, 11 women and 7 children were in a group that the Israelis forced to march through a village to a gun emplacement, where they had to climb down into sand pits surrounded by barbed wire. They were held for three days as tanks moved around them, firing shells into the strip. “[T]hey had limited access to toilet facilities… A few of them were told to relieve themselves inside the pit, behind a small mound of sand. They stated that it was culturally difficult for the women to seek permission to relieve themselves and they did not ask…. [they experienced] feelings of futility, isolation, helplessness and abject terror.”

Other atrocities included blindfolding detainees and carrying them into Israeli prisons, then releasing them a few days later and dropping them at the border. They weren’t combatants. The Israelis just wanted them out of the area.

Goldstone was unstinting in his description of this barbaric treatment. He said that it violated international norms, including those governing the treatment of women. “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against.. any form of indecent assault.”

I ask you: Where is the American press, which burnished its brass buttons over Abu Ghraib? The Goldstone report has been dismissed out of hand. No American paper has printed extended excerpts of its findings, let alone sought to confirm and extend them. The New York Times has used its op-ed page to attempt to nullify the report. The only serious efforts by Americans to look into the report have come from bloggers, Richard Silverstein and Jerry Haber (and new blogger Jerry Slater says he plans to follow).

Do you think this conduct has not affected the American image in the Arab world? Of course it has. I remind you that in Abu Ghraib there was at least some claim that the victims of the abuse deserved to be in prison; and my memory is that all of them were men. But these Palestinians were civilians; many were women and children. The Israeli army never contended that they were combatants, they were just people in the way.

You will tell me that there are not horrifying photos, as there were at Abu Ghraib. Is that a real reason for a serious journalist? The abuses are just as bad. And maybe those photos exist, who has even looked into it.

There is a double standard here: in which the American press holds American soldiers to a far higher standard than we do the conduct of the soldiers of our closest ally in the Middle East. When we humiliate Arab prisoners, or kill a score of civilians in an attack– something the Israelis did repeatedly in Gaza– there is a meaningful investigation, pushed ahead by crusading press. Here there is a thorough investigation by a leading jurist, and the American press won’t hear of it.

We saw the same thing when it came to terrorism in Baghdad. The Sunni bombers were understood to be motivated by a political dispute over resources and power. We forgave them, to help build a coalition government. While in Palestine, Hamas is forever marginalized, as terrorists–when they too are motivated by dispossession and a battle over rights and resources.

Why do we set aside our American experience? The answer is obvious. The Israel lobby in American public life. Even when civilians are stripped and humiliated, Israel must be blameless.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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23 Responses

  1. Cliff
    January 3, 2010, 5:38 am

    Richard Witty – who is a propagandist, pathological liar – would label this simply as ‘information’ (benign in tone and passive-aggressive in purpose).

    yonira would wonder out loud why Palestinians keep resisting their conversion to Jewish nationalism/Zionism. Those uppity sand nigger, just can’t get their act together!

    WJ would say, ‘Mr. Weiss forgot to mention that the women forced to relieve themselves publicly and crudely in a pit of sand (humiliation) had called the Jewish soldiers, bad names and appeared threatening. Mr. Weiss leaves out details such as these and thus, does not rise to the journalistic integrity of Haaretz, which gives voice to fascist Jewish settlers as well as a sane human being like Gideon Levy. No balance here on Mondoweiss!’ [he probably wouldn't call his brothers and sisters in-crime, 'fascists' though or praise Levy]

    Oh and zamaaz, would go on some tangent, citing from the Torah or something.

    We have no Zionists on this blog, just cartoon characters – crooks and liars.

  2. wondering jew
    January 3, 2010, 9:25 am

    Welcome back, Cliff. Thanks for the opening to the discussion.

    • Chaos4700
      January 3, 2010, 10:58 am

      And thanks for completely ignoring the topic. I take it that you’re not the least bit bothered by Israeli soldiers treating civilians that way? You don’t seem to have any particular outrage to express toward the violation of human decency.

      I suppose you have no shame?

      • wondering jew
        January 3, 2010, 4:16 pm

        I condemn the behavior of the Israeli soldiers (except the case of forcing Palestinians to stand in their underwear, which ain’t great, but is acceptable).

        If you and Cliff and your like were really interested in discussion then the general atmosphere here might be inviting even to the extent of comments of confessions of shame regarding various Israeli policies and acts, but you and Cliff are interested in an amen chorus. And then you say, “Comment, enemy, or else you suck.”

      • Chaos4700
        January 3, 2010, 4:29 pm

        So that we’re absolutely, crystal clear, you do support Israeli soldiers invading Gaza and making Palestinians strip at gunpoint?

      • Cliff
        January 3, 2010, 4:30 pm

        I actually agree with you on the very last part, WJ.

        I’m still working on my venting here. I know it is inappropriate. But um, how far off do you think I was?

        I’m sure you could draw a caricature of me way easier.

      • wondering jew
        January 3, 2010, 4:39 pm

        Chaos, so that we’re absolutely clear, I think you’re an asshole.
        So that we’re absolutely clear I think the siege of Gaza is a mistake and therefore the war against Gaza was a mistake.
        (Of the two clarities: I am surer on the first point, your assholehood, than I am on the Israeli policy.)

      • Donald
        January 3, 2010, 4:44 pm

        I think you have a legitimate point. The comments section here would be enriched by the appearance of some liberal Zionists, and here I mean people who think Israel has a right to exist but are willing to condemn Israeli crimes. I’m a pretty harsh critic of a certain particular liberal Zionist already present, with the initials “RW”, but there are specific reasons for this which don’t apply to everyone who adopts that label. Uri Avnery, I gather, is a liberal Zionist by the definition I gave, and I’d love to see him comment here. (Not meaning it’s likely, just making a point.) Avi Shlaim is another, as well as Tom Segev (who if Phil is right is critical of Avi Shlaim in the latest New York Review).

        Anyway, it’s not always accurate to put people into fixed categories–“liberal Zionist”, “rightwing Zionist”, “anti-Zionist”, “pro-Hamas”, or even “posse”. Some people straddle the boundaries between various categories.

  3. unverified__j6d44277
    January 3, 2010, 10:14 am

    I like how the previous commentor has already poisoned the well of all who would disagree. Quite a hurdle…

    The reason Goldstone was rejected was because the world grows weary of the image of the Palestinians as victims. Ghandi never strapped explosives to his body. MLK never preached that the white man should be driven into the sea. Those who would seek a better life for themselves would do well to avoid provoking larger, better equipped sovereign nations that have a sworn duty to protect their weakest members. Sderot got attacked repeatedly and it was time to respond in the only manner that Hamistan seems to understand.
    What the Goldstone report attempted to do was turn the ugliness of war into a war crime. The two are not the same. Israel went out of its way to target combatants – combatants went out of their way to hide among the populace. It’s really very simple and, as usual, nothing new.
    I can’t blame Israeli soldiers for sending Hamistanis into booby-trapped homes and schools in advance of their own entry. I would have done the same thing after seeing my friend blown to pieces by a previous entry attempt.

    The Israelis would have preferred that Hamas cease all rockets (they did not) and that Cast Lead not been needed. Unfortunately, those who would point fingers at Israel rarely point at more obvious inhumane treatment perpetuated by the “poor victims” of Hamistan. Has the Red Cross been allowed to visit Gilad Shalit? Do his parents or the UN know where he is being held? How is his treatment? Wanna bet you would prefer to have been held by Israel during Cast Lead for a year rather than one day spent as a hostage of Hamas? Didn’t think so.

    • Chaos4700
      January 3, 2010, 4:36 pm

      Operation Cast Lead was “needed?” That’s the excuse now, is it? It was “necessary” to attack hospitals, mosques and UN facilities? It was “necessary” to slaughter over 300 children outright, leave thousands more seriously injured or permanently crippled, and inflict malnutrition on hundreds of thousands more?

      Palestinian prisoners in Israel aren’t afforded visits by the Red Cross either. Which is why there are so many reports from various human rights organizations about the torture and depradation that is common in Israel. I actually expect US strategies toward “enemy combatants” were supplied by defense contractors who were former IDF — I mean, we can’t know because Obama would rather protect his business partners rather than international law.

      “Hamastanis?” You know, the only Israelis I’ve ever encountered who weren’t racists, eventually left Israel.

      Someday, people like you will have your Nuremberg Trial. I only hope it happens within my lifetime.

    • Cliff
      January 3, 2010, 4:43 pm

      Hi

      Let’s apply some critical thinking to your post:

      The reason Goldstone was rejected was because the world grows weary of the image of the Palestinians as victims.

      Who is ‘the world’ in this context?

      Are Palestinians NOT victims? What constitutes a victim?

      Ironically, you connect the whole victim-image thing to this next gem:

      Ghandi never strapped explosives to his body. MLK never preached that the white man should be driven into the sea.

      How can a Palestinian kid who was burned alive due to white phosphorous dropped on him by the Israeli military, then strap a bomb to his/her chest and carry out a terror attack? Did Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s daughters come back from the dead and then carry out a suicide bombing?

      No, they didn’t. They died once. You’re killing them again though, by implying that Palestinians only have the ‘image’ of victims. They ARE victims.

      Do people have to sit by and not react violently AT ALL to be victims?

      Gandhi was not against violent forms of resistance. He just preferred non-violence.

      I don’t think he’d advocate suicide bombing. BTW – this tactic began in 1994.

      Should we line up the terrorism of Zionist Jews, next to that of Palestinian Arabs? Should we compare the deaths of innocents on both sides? Then the injustices committed towards each other? Oh and WHO is being occupied and colonized?

      Palestinians are regularly mocked in our morally bankrupt mainstream intellectual culture:

      link to youtube.com

      What about Israelis? What about Zionism? It’s only when you leave the ignorance of the mainstream and enter the conflict yourself, that you even begin to be exposed to the notion that Palestinians have an ‘image’ of being victims.

      It’s quite telling though that you feel that image. That means, that you’re paying attention.

      The Palestinians don’t have a PR machine. They just exist – therefore they are victims (vis a vis Zionism).

      I actually don’t care about responding to your other bullshit. Lost interest as I was writing, I’ve seen this hasbara too many times. Maybe someone else who is very bored will deal with it.

      • Donald
        January 3, 2010, 4:54 pm

        You did fine–arguably it wasn’t worth the effort.

        Goldstone, in a way, gets too much credit. There’s been overwhelming evidence of Israel brutality in wartime that goes back decades (all the way to the beginning, in fact). In my case I first became aware that it wasn’t just Noam Chomsky talking about this when I read Jonathan Randal’s book on Lebanon (written back in the 1980s). Randal’s book on the Kurds drew much favorable attention because in that one he discussed Saddam’s genocidal campaign against the Kurds, but he was a good honest reporter wherever he went, and as such, in his book on the conflict in Lebanon he was not gentle on the Israelis.

        As for Gaza, even the MSM did a sufficiently good job for anyone interested to know that Israel went on a murderous rampage. Goldstone’s report made the splash it did because it raised the possibility (only theoretical, with the US there to prevent it) of war crimes investigations and possible trials.

    • potsherd
      January 3, 2010, 4:47 pm

      Oddly, the Israeli Supreme Court disagrees with you and has repeatedly ordered the IDF to refrain from using Palestinian civilians as human shields. The IDF, which considers itself above the law, continues to do so. It is the Israeli Supreme Court which criminalizes the IDF.

      If Israel would really prefer that Hamas cease all rockets, it might consider agreeing to the repeated Hamas offers of a ceasefire. Instead, it prefers the rockets, which give it an excuse to kill more Palestinians.

  4. Donald
    January 3, 2010, 10:28 am

    It’s true that the liberal press was more willing to criticize the US than Israel for torture and that was an eye-opener to me. But it’s also interesting to note that interest in America’s human rights abuses largely vanished once Obama came into office and made it clear (actually, he was clear enough before) that he wasn’t going to prosecute any American responsible for war crimes. And judging from what I’ve read elsewhere, many of the Bush practices continue under Obama. Nothing of real significance has changed, except that those liberals who attacked Bush for his torture policies and now ignore the issue have shown what really mattered to them. More info–

    link

    In the end, US and Israeli officials both have immunity when it comes to war crimes. The US (both the government and the MSM) have no interest in establishing a precedent where Western governments are subject to the same laws that we apply to deposed Third World dictators when they’ve outlived their usefulness and become an embarrassment.

    • Chaos4700
      January 3, 2010, 11:04 am

      Yeah. I think unfortunately there’s a fair number of people on the left who have cast themselves as “Obama, right or wrong” in much the same way as people on the right cast themselves as “Bush, right or wrong.”

      I do think, however, the actual numbers are getting skewed by perceptions shaped in the media. Just because Congressmen and Senators and other talking heads who get media exposure have stopped talking about it, doesn’t mean that the average progressive has.

      We’re used to not really having much of a say in American discourse at this point, after all, no matter how often we prove to be right.

      • potsherd
        January 3, 2010, 4:50 pm

        Progressives invested too much in Obama. They can’t bring themselves now to admit they were invested in another warmonger, another Bush. They can’t admit they were duped by an empty sack of rhetoric.

  5. Citizen
    January 3, 2010, 10:53 am

    The IDF refers to Palestinians used as human shields: “Or terrorized by being used as human shields: “Johnnies,” the Israelis called them, forced to enter other Palestinian houses to look for combatants.”

    It’s actually a bigger policy of the US-Israeli government: US grunts in all half dozen areas of
    US Military OPS in the Middle East are “Johnnies.” It’s no political error to use US grunts as, essentially, cannon fodder for Israel across the middle east, whether they be simple US soldiers or special OPS, such as SEALS or those who program drones. When Johhny comes marching home, whether with legs or not, he can be proud that
    he has sacrificed himself for Israel right or wrong–the only totally consistent rational
    for the half dozen key US -enhanced boiling points in the Middle East. The reason it’s consistent is that you cannot actually mention it in the USA MSM without paying a huge price. And, BTW, as a former USA grunt, I say those “handful of rotten apples”
    in the enlisted US Army who were tried for pushing the envelope too far could not have done what they did without authority to do so from those who were never tried.
    If anyone else on this blog has ever been an enlisted person in the USA military, they know what I say is true. Remember Lt Calley? Nothing changes.

    • Chaos4700
      January 3, 2010, 11:01 am

      A lot of veterans I’ve seen don’t make associations as far as why or for whom they were sent into such situations with little concern about what state they would come back, but they do recognize that they were sent in by the arm-chair generals at the Pentagon as little more than cannon fodder.

      Sooner or later, the abuse we heap on our military personnel is going to reach a boiling point. Though I suppose Obama still has time to open up two or three more fronts in the war(s) before that happens.

      • Citizen
        January 3, 2010, 11:20 am

        Yep; he’s opening up Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and, I’d guess, next up is Iran. Don’t look to the US military’s cannon fodder to have any impact–not until
        we need to turn again to a military draft. Otherwise, nothing will change; it’s like relying on US rural coal miners to make a difference when whatever they do, it’s always to late.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    January 3, 2010, 12:52 pm

    Gnawledge: “Granada Doaba” ~ Country: U.S.A./Spain
    Granada Doaba is a flamenco hip-hop collaboration album recorded in Spain, produced by Gnawledge and funded by a Fulbright Scholar research grant. The record is a beautiful fusion of flamenco and hip-hop break beats. And it’s free.
    Free Download – link to gnawledge.com

  7. Citizen
    January 3, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Hey why not just dwell on the latest glimpse of some horrid pop star’s crotch as they get out of the limousine? Spears anyone, with a crotch that looks like Bill Murray’s mouth in his golf movie?

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