It was always certain the United States's interrogation prisons at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Bagram air base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq would come back to haunt the Washington administration. As soon as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced in January 2002 that the captives being held there were "unlawful combatants'' to be denied any legal rights, the stage was set for abuse of prisoners. As well as being kept away from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, Rumsfeld also decided the detainees did not warrant the protection of the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate the proper treatment of prisoners of war and captured civilians. Wars against ideologically inspired terrorists or guerrillas are always primarily political conflicts. They have seldom, if ever, been won on the battlefield. So it was an act of rank stupidity on the part of Rumsfeld, with the backing of U.S. President George W. Bush, to open hostilities by abandoning the rule of law and fundamental respect for humanity. Washington's first shot was to abandon the moral high ground and adopt the psychology of terrorists.
The prospects of Washington winning the political war against militant Islam are diminishing by the day as the catalogue of evidence of U.S. abuse of prisoners grows in volume and detail. There was an anti-U.S. march by thousands of Indonesians during the weekend as British newspapers published photographs of near-naked Saddam Hussein in his prison in Iraq. Although Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have decried publication of the pictures, the photos seem to have been released by U.S. security personnel in the muddleheaded belief that exposure of the humiliated dictator would curb the Iraqi insurgency. The actual effect, as might have been expected, has been to further entrench the belief inside and outside Islam that the inhabitants of the Bush administration are hypocrites, and stupid ones at that, when they say they are the messengers of freedom, enlightenment and human dignity. These latest incidents follow days of protests in Afghanistan earlier this month after Newsweek magazine published an account of desecration of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, by prison guards at Guantanamo Bay. It reported the guards urinated on the Koran, tossed the book into toilets and tried to cause despair by these displays of contempt.