The Murderous Maniacs


As if it were not known after the revelations of what happened at Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, it is now beyond any question that members of the US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely use torture against detainees that is, people held in custody with no charges against them.

Which raises the question why is Australia shielded from such information? Why do the press, the electronic media and government departments not divulge this? Why is there a conspiracy of silence?

There are a number of reasons. The Australian Government does not wish to embarrass its American ally (that is, John doesn’t want to embarrass George; after all, the next time John and Janette go to Washington, the two First Ladies will have to pray together).

Thanks to Paul Batey at Daily Flute

Thanks to Paul Batey at Daily Flute

And perhaps most importantly, the media wishes to ‘protect’ Australians from such unpleasantries. The children should go on sleeping undisturbed in their island paradise. The fearsome details of the occupation of Iraq are much ‘too hard’ for us. Fashions-in-the-field, cricket and football are more our style. If we do worry about overseas events, it is Schapelle Corby rather than Nguyen Tuong Van. David Hicks does not concern us at all.

After the revelations of Abu Ghraib, the Bush Administration said that prisoner abuse was carried out by a small, rogue, poorly-trained element of reserve personnel. But according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the maltreatment of Iraqi and Afghan detainees by the US Army is systematic and widespread. (For the full report, go to For more about Human Rights Watch, go to

When the Bush Administration sent soldiers to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, the protocols of the Geneva Convention were thrown out. The President merely noted that detainees were to be treated ‘humanely’, but no one bothered to define what ‘humane’ meant. In the exigencies of war and the gathering of intelligence, ‘humane’ could mean virtually anything. Thus the maltreatment and torture of ‘suspects’ became standard practice.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, a detainee is known as a PUC (person under control), which rhymes with ‘puck’. They are not POWs, who can avail themselves of the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross, and so on. Detainees, then, are completely at the mercy of the soldier at hand.

The Human Rights Watch report covers specifically the activities of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where three soldiers “ one of them an officer “ volunteered to give information on torture. (The residents of the city of Fallujah refer to the 82nd Airborne as ‘the Murderous Maniacs’.)

Here are extracts from the Human Rights Watch report:

… The acts of torture and inhumane treatment included severe beatings (in one incident, a soldier reportedly broke a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat), blows and kicks to the face, chest, abdomen and extremities, and repeated kicks to various parts of the detainees’ bodies; the application of chemical substances to exposed skin and eyes; forced stress positions, such as holding heavy water jugs with arms outstretched, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness; sleep deprivation; subjecting detainees to extremes of heat and cold; the stacking of detainees into human pyramids; and the withholding of food and water.

The torture of detainees reportedly is so widespread and accepted

… that it has become a form of stress relief [time off from the boredom of military life]for soldiers. Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC tent on their off-hours to ‘fuck’ a PUC, or ‘smoke’ a PUC. ‘Fucking’ a PUC referred to beating a detainee, while ‘smoking’ a PUC referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

Soldiers now giving evidence:

Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads … When we got these guys, we had them sandbagged and zip-tied, meaning we had a sand bag on their heads and zip-ties [plastic cuffs]on their hands … It was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy go before he passes out or just collapses on you … We would stress them at least in excess of 12 hours … Someone from Military Intelligence told us these guys don’t get no sleep. We were directed to get intelligence from them, so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling. All that shit … We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them with dirt and sand … People would volunteer just to get their frustrations out.

… The abuses alleged in this report [Human Rights Watch] can be traced to the Bush decision to disregard the Geneva Conventions in the armed conflict in Afghanistan … Visiting Abu Ghraib on May 13 2004, Donald Rumsfeld remarked, ‘Geneva doesn’t say what you do when you get up in the morning.’

All this poses more questions. Do other personnel in the armed forces of the Coalition of the Willing employ torture and maltreatment on Iraqi ‘suspects’? Has this report been read by any officer of the Department of Defence and passed up the line? Have the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence seen it? Certainly, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld must know of the abuses.

The latest news is that the White House has proposed that CIA employees be exempted from a Senate measure barring ‘cruel and degrading treatment of detainees’ in US custody.

But ‘cruel and degrading treatment of detainees’ doesn’t go on, does it?

On another matter, Human Rights Watch has described John Howard’s anti-terror laws as a ‘shocking departure from Australia’s proud tradition of protecting individuals from an overly powerful state.’

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.