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Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?

Popular German magazines such as Der Spiegel frequently put US critical pictures on their cover. Critical reporting about the world's sole superpower is necessary, but statements like "Torture in the Name of Freedom" (as seen on a recent Spiegel cover) appear to  be malicious distortions to sell more copies rather than critical, ethical journalism. (More at Medienkritik)
The German media (e.g. Die Welt) reported that Salon.com published more Abu Ghraib torture pictures. Bild published some pictures. 
Those responsible for the torture in Abu Ghraib have done great harm to their victims, their families and the US reputation in the world. The number of insurgent attacks increased dramatically after the Abu Ghraib scandal first became public. The torturers and the high ranking officers who failed to maintain discipline in Abu Ghraib have unintentionally aided the US enemies.  Continue reading "Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?"

Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation

Yesterday was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 29th birthday. The humanitarian extraordinaire from Washington State California was the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). According to United Press International (UPI) she worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,

to put money in the annual Foreign Operations spending bill -- providing a total of nearly $40 million dollars for individuals and communities in Afghanistan and Iraq that suffered what the military calls collateral damage. In the latest bill, passed over the summer, the civilian assistance program was named the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund, in her honor. (…) The funds are used to provide in-kind assistance, such as medical care, equipment to start a business, or the replacement of damaged or destroyed property like homes and schools, said the Leahy aide, Tim Rieser. And millions of dollars in cash have also been paid out by the military, under U.S. regulations that give unit commanders access to a special fund to "respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements." In many parts of Iraq, the U.S. military uses these funds to run programs generally paying out up to $2,500 per victim to the families of those killed, and smaller amounts to those who are injured or have property destroyed or who were detained. (…)

Continue reading "Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation"

Standing up for moral values in the war on terrorism

Many people around the world believe that the United States does not anymore live by Benjamin Franklin's famous principle "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." And it is indeed of concern that a federal appeals court panel ruled in September that the president has the authority to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen without charge as an enemy combatant, as the Washington Times reports. (The Supreme Court will probably have the final word.)

However, the US Senate, an army captain and a US District judge have recently made courageous decisions in support of Benjamin Franklin's principle regarding the interrogation of detainees and the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib pictures. MSNBC informs us that

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush. Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. (...) Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president's authority and flexibility in war. But lawmakers from each party have said Congress must provide U.S. troops with clear standards for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed them and we punished them," said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Senator McCain (R-Ariz), who proposed the amendment, cited a letter he received from Army Capt. Ian Fishback. The Washington Post published his entire letter, which includes these quotes:

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (...)
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (...) Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Similarly, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein defended US ideals at the expense of US security by ordering the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib photos. The Boston Globe writes:

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had argued in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against American troops. But the judge said: "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." (...) An appeal of Hellerstein's ruling is expected, which could delay release of the pictures for months.

Iraqi War Victims Fund

Follow up to our reading recommendation regarding the death of Marla Ruzicka. Under the headline "War Requiem", Tara McKelvey writes in The American Prospect Online:

In April 2003, Senator Patrick Leahy, after prompting from Ruzicka, introduced a bill that allocated funds for civilian victims of the war in . Eventually, he won appropriations totaling about $30 million for programs for civilians affected by the wars in and . This May, Congress voted to rename one of those programs, the Civilian Assistance Program, the “Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund.”

In , Ruzicka won wide admiration for the way she reached out to people who’d been injured in the war -- and the families of civilian casualties -- and helped them file claims for restitution from the government.

(...) Jonathan Tracy, a former captain who processed claims for Iraqi civilians, said he used to go jogging at dawn with Ruzicka on a path that led to the Tigris River . He said he thought that she did excellent work. "Her agenda was very clear and honest. Marla was not a glory hound. Nor did Marla have any anti-military agenda. Her only agenda was to get assistance."

Young US humanitarian activist killed in Iraq

Marla Ruzicka successfully lobbied the US Congress to provide aid to innocent Iraqis who were harmed in the military operations. Harvard’s Sarah Sewell writes in the Boston Globe:

Virtually alone, she directed attention and resources to the invisible victims of war. She moved the military without using force, galvanized official Washington without powerful connections, and motivated the press without sensationalism -- just intimate connection to civilians whose deaths she documented and grieved. Her work was a triumph of the heart. She was recently killed by a car bomb while traveling to help Iraqis affected by the war. No one can take her place, but the United States can fulfill her mission to account more fully for civilian harm in war.