The commander of US detention facilities in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, on Tuesday told a group of military bloggers that the US is now holding 25,000 detainees there. He also, more scarily yet, said that the military has activated programs with the detainees designed to “bend them back to our will.”
This language does not make it sound like a program of friendly persuasion. It makes it sound like highly coercive brainwashing. And it seems it is being practised with particular energy on the “about 840-something” detainees who are minors.
That is a shockingly high number of youthful detainees. (We can note that the US and Somalia are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.)
Stone confirmed reports that some of the detainees are as young as 11 and 12 years old:
- now, the trend is towards the youth. And you know, if they’re 11 years old and 12 years old and 13 years old, we tend to see them, the psychologists tend too see them as, you know, kids that, you know, are — can be told to do anything and they’ll go do it. The older ones, the 15, 16, 17-year-old ones, you know, they’re the harder nuts. And again my numbers are going to be a little bit off, but 50 to 60 of those we’ve been able to actually get criminal court hearings against.
Many, many aspects of what Stone says are truly outrageous. (Indeed, his entire discussion there constitutes a very important document of the US “counter-insurgency” mindset at work in Iraq.) Detaining children… using the fact and conditions of detention to try to brainwash people and/or as hostages in a cynical political game… trying to use coercively applied interpretations of “religion” in this brainwashing effort…
Mainly, I wanted to blog this– despite the horrendous time-crunch on my book deadline– because what Stone describes his units as so hurriedly trying to do in Iraq is all very similar indeed to what the Brits were trying to do with “Operation Pipeline” during their brutal, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to quell the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya 50 years ago. As I wrote about here— PDF– about 18 months ago.
Interestingly, Stone presents a large part of his effort as very humane, and almost similar to “social work” (Operation Pipeline was also in its time publicized as having a “rehabilitative” intent.)
Stone also writes about how enthusiastic Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has become about the “educational” (i.e. mostly brainwashing) parts of the detention plan.
Well, maybe running a Pipeline-like detain-and-brainwash operation in Iraq will win the US a few extra months for Washington’s occupation of the country. Maybe not. It will almost certainly, however, sow additional trauma amongst everyone who takes part, both detainees and detainers, so from every point of view it is an extremely tragic episode.
But it won’t materially affect the ultimate fate of the US occupation there. Ending the occupation remains the prime responsibility of all Americans. We need to do it sooner rather than later and in a way that reduces to an absolute minimum both the conflict levels as we withdraw and the conflict levels within the Iraq that we leave behind. With wise diplomacy that is still possible– though of course nothing can bring back to life the many thousands who have died there in the 54 months of this senseless war to date.