This entry was posted by jbc on Sunday, July 11th, 2004 at 5:31 pm and is filed under war.
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8 Responses to “American Leftist on Abuses of Children at Abu Ghraib”
Does anyone have a good link to the UNICEF report cited in the “Sadly, No” item on this issue? I’ve been to UNICEF’s site, and there is no handy information on Abu Ghraib or abuse of children, even on the pages of the site specifically dedicated to the current situation in Iraq. A lot of the more politicized, leftward sites I’ve been to quote UNICEF heavily in their coverage, but UNICEF doesn’t seem to be making much out of this at all, if their official site is any indication.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) acknowleged the imprisonment of Iraqi children through foreign military personnell. REPORT MAINZ has available an internal report of the Children’s Fund, from which it becomes apparent that the occupation forces hold Iraqi children as prisoners of war in internment custody. Verbatim it says in the yet undisclosed report, dated June 2004: “Children, which were arrested for reasons of alleged activities against the occupation forces in Basra and Kerbala, were routinely handed over to an internment custody in Um Quasr, according to reports. The categorisation of such children as “internments” is alarming, as it means indetermined custody without contact to the family, the prospect of a process or trial.”
I have sent e mails to both UNICEF and the International Red Cross, another source used in many of the accounts I have read regarding this issue (via google search.) No one has gotten back to me, but I will post here if anyone does. I doubt anyone will, though, as UNICEF has previously declared silence on the matter and the Red Cross goes on record with just the following (from their website:)
“ICRC delegates regularly visit persons deprived of their liberty and detained by Coalition Forces in Iraq. They include both prisoners of war protected by the Third Geneva Convention and civilians protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention. The ICRC works to ensure that the conditions of detention and treatment of all persons deprived of their liberty correspond to the requirements of international humanitarian law. It also helps them maintain regular contacts with their families through the exchange of Red Cross Messages.
“Between January and May 2004, the ICRC carried out 17 visits to six detention places under the control of the United States and United Kingdom. These places of detention held a total of more than 12,150 detainees over the reporting period. To determine their situation, ICRC delegates conducted nearly 1,300 private meetings with persons deprived of their liberty. In parallel, ICRC delegates carried out 41 visits to some 780 detainees held by Kurdish authorities in 21 detention centres in northern Iraq. Between January and May, the ICRC, working with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, facilitated the exchange of nearly 12,600 Red Cross Messages between persons deprived of their liberty and their families.”
If something as sinister as the mass internment and abuse of children is afoot, and both UNICEF and the Red Cross are aware of it, why has neither organization gone on the record with any strong statement outside of unpublished memos and reports? Both organizations keep detailed, on-line reports of their activities in Iraq available, so why are these allegations not addressed there? Certainly, the Red Cross has not retreated from addressing American prison abuses head-on thus far, why should they now? Why should UNICEF? Why are European leftist news sources quoting from unreleased documents that no noe will fess up to the only sources for these stories?
My impression from articles I’ve read over the past year or so is that the Red Cross, at least (and possibly UNICEF, though I don’t recall anything specifically talking about that issue with them), has a policy of trying to be low-key with condemnations of things they uncover in their investigations, preferring to work quietly with the authorities in question to bring about improvements. The rationale I recall seeing offered for this approach is that by doing so, the Red Cross makes governments much more willling to grant them access.
The scenario that makes sense to me with these stories is that the Red Cross and/or UNICEF have prepared internal reports describing the abuses they have uncovered, and are working to improve conditions by working directly with the US authorities responsible for those conditions. That some of the internal documentation of the abuses they’ve found has made its way into the public eye is a reflection more of journalists’ (and other actors’) desire to see that information widely released, rather than to such a desire on the part of the reporting institution itself.
There’s an interesting parallel to the policies of computer security researchers regarding code vulnerabilities they uncover in commercial software. One school of thought says they should communicate the vulnerabilities quietly to the software vendor in question so the vendor can fix the vulnerabilities without their becoming widely known. Another school of thought says that companies (some companies, at least) will routinely drag their feet on dealing with such vulnerabilities (since doing so is expensive, and acknowledging the existince of the vulnerability, even after a fix has been prepared, makes them look bad). Those who adhere to this school of thought argue that vulnerabilities should simply be publicized, thereby compelling the company in question to fix things quickly or face the consequences.
In this analogy, the Red Cross types are taking the first approach, the “European leftist news sources”‘ (along with other, less-discreet NGOs like Amnesty International) are taking the second. Both approaches probably have their merits; Amnesty International doesn’t tend to get invited in to tour prisons and detention centers, for example, in the same way that the Red Cross does. But at the same time, if a particular national government is inclined to blow smoke and deny that a problem exists even when the Red Cross types are sitting down quietly with them and saying, look: here’s the evidence; you have a problem that needs addressing; then I can sympathize with those who argue that the only way to get action is to expose the abuses.
I sympathize with them too, but only so long as they refrain from overstating their unseen sources for political shock effect. I won’t say that’s what’s happening here, but I can’t comfortably say it’s not, simply because no one but the reporters, many of whom represent blatantly politicized websites and agencies, have enough information to know for sure. If the Red Cross and UNICEF won’t publish the reports in their entirety, I really wish some of these reporters would, as it would clear up a lot of ambiquities that have arisen now that the cat is out of the bag, and am still a little surprised at their reluctance to do so.
The facts were are given are this:
1. Two people, a soldier and a reporter, claim that two children have been abused.
2. The Red Cross has registered 107 children as prisoners in the US prison system in Iraq,
3. Amnesty International is frustrated that they have been thus far unable to determine how old the children are “what were the circumstances of them being taken prisoners, and whether children were subjected to torture and mistreatment.”
Beyond that, we are given a number of heavy accusations with nothing behind them but “internal documents” that no one can verify, contextualize or explain. Has UNICEF really accused the US of building an internment camp for hundreds of children, or is this a distortion, accidental or otherwise, of a statement based on the Red Cross’s numbers on child detainees? Is the report that makes this claim an actual report, or somebody’s intercepted e mail? I don’t know, you don’t know, and most of the websites spreading this story don’t, either, That’s what bothers me, and will bother me until I any group make an official statement.
Yeah; it’s problematic in a lot of ways at the moment. What has come out looks pretty bad, meaning the people responsible don’t have a lot of credibility. And there’s a lot of secrecy surrounding things. So there’s a big fuzzy gray area where observers get to fill in the details based on their assumptions about what’s reasonable. And people’s assumptions vary widely in that area, in particular based on whether they identify with the “side” being accused of wrongdoing, or with the “side” doing most of the accusing.
I really appreciate the existence of someone like yourself, who’s honest and concerned enough to try to figure out what’s really going on. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.