AUSTIN, Texas -- Let's get real. On Fox So-Called News, former Army Sgt. Tony Robinson was allowed to claim without contradiction that what happened at the prison at Abu-Ghraib was no worse than "fraternity hazing." Rush Limbaugh concurs.
Let me speak up on behalf of the Kappa Sigs, K.A.s and even Dekes (where only "minor" branding incidents occurred when George W. Bush was the head Deke at Yale). This is straight from the report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba:
"Between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility, numerous acts of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force. ... The allegations of abuse were substantiated by detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence ... including the following acts:
Punching, slapping and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet; Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees; Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time; Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear; Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped; Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them; A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee; Using military working dogs to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee; Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees; Breaking chemical lights and pouring phosphoric liquid on detainees; Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair; Threatening male detainees with rape; Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps with a broomstick."
There it is. Just face up to it, and quit making excuses. I have spared you much disgusting detail.
In our continuing quest to understand how we got where we are, let us turn our attention to Ahmed Chalabi. He's a most plausible con man and comes with excellent credentials. Born to a prominent Iraqi family in 1944, exiled in 1958 with buckets of family money, went to MIT at age 16, got his Ph.D. in math from the University of Chicago, where he first encountered one of the founders of the neo-conservative movement, Albert Wohlstetter. According to a profile in Salon.com, he there met future neo-con leaders Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
Salon reports, he is "charming, worldly and a skilled networker." (Someone needs to look into whether Chalabi studied with Leo Strauss, the neo-con guru at Chicago who reportedly had profoundly anti-democratic instincts, including the idea that it's fine for governments to lie to their people. That is second-hand information: I have not read Strauss myself.)
What follows is a complicated business-financial history, leading to the founding of the Petra Bank in Jordan in 1977. Chalabi had ties both to the Shia theocracy in Iran and the Shia Amal militia in Lebanon. He also helped finance Saddam Hussein's trade with Jordan during the 1980s, according to Salon. By 1986, Petra had $1 billion in annual trade with Iraq. The bank collapsed, and Chalabi was convicted of embezzlement and fraud. He fled Jordan for London.
As head of the Iraqi National Congress, funded by the United States, Chalabi continued to push for the overthrow of Saddam. The United States is still paying him and his organization $350,000 a month. His association with neo-con hawks continued, even though both the CIA and the State Department concluded he was untrustworthy. The "intelligence" he provided to the Bush administration before the war consistently proved wrong and fraudulent.
So why did the neo-cons trust him, despite his record? My theory is there is a terrible naivete about neo-cons that often deludes them into believing what they want to be true. Remember the time they convinced themselves Jonas Savimbi of Angola was a great freedom fighter? For anyone who knew Savimbi's record, it was "gag me with a spoon" city, but they kept insisting this disgusting human was a hero.
Other neo-cons so hated the Sandinistas in Nicaragua they backed drug-runners and creeps of all description against them. (Fat lot of good it did the Nicaraguans, who now have the worst health record in the hemisphere -- worse than Haiti.)
The neo-cons fell for Chalabi for one reason: He said he would help Israel. Once Saddam was overthrown, he said he would reinstate the Iraq-Israel pipeline, recognize Israel, trade with Israel.
Chalabi, with our backing, became a member of the current Iraqi Governing Council. He has also made his nephews into power players in postwar Iraq. Gone are the promises about Israel. Whether justified or not, most Iraqis believe Chalabi corrupt beyond counting. Even some of the neo-cons who have so long discounted the CIA and State Department reports about Chalabi's essential dishonesty are starting to doubt him. Could this entire disaster in Iraq be as simple as, "We wuz conned"?
Molly Ivins writes for the Texas Observer.