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This Shouldn't Be a Brutality Contest

by Hesham A. Hassaballa Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 9:14 AM

"it is quite likely that a good number of the naked, hooded, and sexually abused Iraqis shown in those photos are completely innocent"

We should decry the Iraqi prison abuses precisely because we are not like the barbarians who beheaded Nick Berg.

The scandal surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the hands of American soldiers seems to be growing by the day. I was appalled to see despicable acts of inhuman brutality committed by Americans. I knew that the America that those pictures conveyed to the rest of the world was not the real America. I was concerned that America's credibility, already damaged severely, would be further decimated.

Alas, my fears have already materialized. In response to U.S. criticism of a verdict handed down by a Libyan court, Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasuna Al-Sevis said, "America has no right to talk about human rights--or even animal rights." Who would have thought that America would one day be scolded by Libya regarding human rights? Libya!

The scandal has rightly generated outrage both here and abroad. Yet, there are some who think that the reaction of Americans to the photos are exaggerated. Gary Bauer, Chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, wrote that the fallout has spiraled "out of control." Rush Limbaugh also wonders what all the fuss is about: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?" Blowing off steam?!

Furthermore, one gets a sense that Bauer and Limbaugh think all of the Iraqi prisoners are murderous terrorist thugs. I beg to differ. The Red Cross, in a report in February, stated that some military intelligence officers estimated that 70-90% of "the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake." Thus, it is quite likely that a good number of the naked, hooded, and sexually abused Iraqis shown in those photos are completely innocent.

Nevertheless, Limbaugh does make a point. If stripping Iraqi prisoners naked, placing hoods over their head, and sexually abusing them is barbaric--which it certainly is--then "What is hijacking our own airplanes and flying them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? How humiliating is it to blow up American civilians in a convoy and have their charred bodies dragged from the car and dragged through [its] streets?"

Hmm, good point. Furthermore, it seems our terrorist enemies in Iraq always have a leg up on us in the brutality department.

In a barbaric video posted on the Internet, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda beheaded American contractor Nick Berg, in revenge for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In a statement before beheading him, the terrorists ranted: "The dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins...slaughtered this way."

I was disgusted to the very core of my being. As these monsters beheaded Berg, they chanted "Allahu-akbar," Arabic for "God is the greatest." This made me the most sick. With their sheer barbarism, they defiled this sacred expression of devotion to God. I condemn this act of murder--along with every other murder of innocent civilians--with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul.

Still, the last thing we should do is engage in a "brutality contest" with Al Qaeda and other murderous terrorist groups. The angry reaction to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal is very appropriate. In fact, we should have been up in arms months ago, when the news of alleged abuse first surfaced. It should not have taken "60 Minutes II" to release photos of abuse by American soldiers to cause Congress to hold hearings.

Gary Bauer had it right: "We should take whatever steps appropriate to correct prison abuses because such abuses violate our own values." That is exactly why we must never cease to be angry when our soldiers abuse prisoners of war. We are not like the barbarians who beheaded Nick Berg.


Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Pulmonary and Critical Care physician currently practicing in Chicago. He is a columnist for Media Monitors Network and has written extensively for the Independent Writers Syndicate, a group of academics, journalists, and professionals who comment on issues from an American Muslim perspective. His commentaries have been published in newspapers around the country and around the world.

In addition to writing, Dr. Hassaballa helped found the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations and has served on its executive board. He is also Coordinator of the Chicago Media Watch, an initiative of the Media Relations Committee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. He is author of the essay "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in the book Taking Back Islam (Rodale), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for 2003 Best Religion Book of the Year by the Religion Communicators Council.

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We ARE the killers of Nick Berg Sheepdog Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 10:38 AM
there's no point proud Hellfire missle taxpayer Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 10:46 AM
VERY clumsy Sheepdog is laughing Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 10:56 AM
i'll pay for your next 12 tinfoil hats more Hellfires on the way Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 11:05 AM

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