"Abu Ghraib" cannot serve as a direct parallel to the forced migrations of
Armenians in 1915-1916, or course; Armenians were killed, after all, mainly by renegade
forces acting of their own volition. What we will be getting at is how a government reacts
when things go wrong.
To understand this comparison in greater light, let us not forget these critical
1) The USA acted as the world's sole superpower in Iraq, with great available wealth and
resources. The Ottoman "Sick Man" was bankrupt, with limited manpower and
2) The USA carried out a war of aggression far away from the safe and secure American
homeland . The Ottoman Empire was attacked by three world powers bent on extinguishing the
Turkish nation, dividing its geography between themselves; the Ottoman Empire was engaged
in a war of life and death.
3) When the Armenians joined the enemies of the Ottoman Empire and the decision was made
to move them away, there was little time for preparation. The USA had all the time in the
world to plan the attack upon Iraq, and its consequences.
The details for Abu Ghraib in this discussion are taken from an excellent 2006
documentary, "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," directed and produced by Rory
Kennedy (featured on HBO).
As we know, after the 9/11 attack conducted mainly by Saudi nationals, the U.S. response
was to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan. Instead of concentrating on the abduction of al-Qaeda's
Osama bin Laden, President Bush and his neoconservative branch of government decided to
invade Iraq on trumped up "weapons of mass destruction" charges. The invasion
was an initial success, Bush quickly having declared "Mission Accomplished"; but
then the troubles really began, and the ground war continued. American and coalition units
came under attack by insurgents steadily gaining greater power.
The documentary describes how the U.S. military met this threat.
Tony Lagournais (Military Intelligence, Abu Ghraib 2004) explained, "Picking
up people on hunches and suspicions... any kind of hunch these units had, they would
act on and arrest people."
General Janis Kaprinski
"Most of (the prisoners) were guilty of
just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they don't have any information.
Well, according to them, at that time, it was about seventy-five to eighty percent
of the people being brought in (who) really didn't have any information of any value
or any information at all about terrorism." (Brigadier General Janis
Karpinski 2003-2005, the commander of military police in Iraq.)
"They took me and kept me for seven months with my children and I don't know
why I was being imprisoned. I asked, what are you accusing me of? They said that I
was making explosives, and explosive charges. And that's all. I don't know more than
that. What proof do you have against me? Nothing! Just some denunciation from some
neighbor." ("Omar Rashid," Abu Ghraib 2003)
As we know, Armenian propaganda levels the charge that Ottoman officials arbitrarily
arrested — and executed — Armenians, simply because they were Armenian and a
"Final Solution" plan was in effect. The propagandists attempt to
discredit the fact that the Armenian community as a whole had become "belligerents
de facto, since they indignantly refused to side with Turkey," as Boghos
Nubar flatly admitted in early 1919. But
what is a government to do when a minority sides with the enemy, especially in a
life and death war? As we can see from the U.S. example, insurgents need to be
rounded up. The way to round up insurgents relies upon the quality of the available
Mark Danner, the author of "Torture and Truth" elaborated on the program:
"The American military had no idea who these people were. How do we fight an enemy
we cannot see? The only way to do that is to interrogate enough people that we wil get
usable intelligence that will allow us to nip the insurgency in the bud. And I think there
was a degree of panic about the lack of intelligence and the lack of knowledge about the
Ohanus Appressian echoed the very same
dilemma of the Ottomans:
Within a few years, following the beginning of the movement, an invisible government of
Armenians by Armenians had been established in Turkish Armenia in armed opposition to the
Turkish Government. This secret government had its own courts and laws and an army of
assassins called “Mauserists” (professional killers) to enforce its decrees.
Ramifications of the organization took root everywhere throughout Turkey and to a lesser
extent in Russian Armenia. Its strongholds were the American, German and French schools
and colleges in Turkey. In perhaps every one of these, chapters or branches existed,
usually under the guise of literary societies. It was from among the students of the
schools and from the Armenian members of the faculties that the leaders were recruited.
The Dashnacks were in continual open rebellion against the Turkish Government. The Turks
took severe measures to stamp out this society but without achieving any great success
because they had nothing tangible against which to direct their rage. It was as though
they were battling with the air.
There was a key distinction between the two situations; the U.S. came face to face with
the predicament of dealing with such invisible enemies, whereas the Ottomans were dealing
with Armenian terrorists for the past thirty years or so.
Naturally, many innocent Armenians were unjustly arrested, as happens when policies of a
broad stroke are implemented. As the American journalist Henry Wood wrote in 1915, "...Already
infuriated at the reports of the atrocities committed at Van by the insurgents, in fear
for their lives and those of their relatives, they were at last driven by the cumulative
effect of these events into panic and retaliation and, as invariably happens in such
cases, the innocent suffered with the guilty."
Abu Ghraib prison
When suspected terrorists were arrested in their homes in the Ottoman Empire, no
doubt they were sometimes treated roughly. Armenian propaganda reminds us such harsh
treatment is another indication of the brutality of the Turks. But let's see how
what we regard as the more civilized Americans, known as advocates of human rights,
behaved in more recent and enlightened times:
"We saw the Americans storm into the house. They ordered us out with their
rifles, 'Out, out!'... They put the women and children on one side and us on the
other. It was about 9 p.m. It was cold. The kids were crying, terrified of the way
they stormed in. They had dogs. Not to mention the things they broke. The things
they took from the house -- gold and money. They took me and my father, may he rest
in peace, my uncle and my cousin... They tied our hands behind our backs and left us
sitting i the street for everybody to watch. This is the beginning of what happened
to me." (Testimony of Iraqi prisoner "Mohammad Talai," Abu Ghraib
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in reference to the prisons the Americans were
trying to restore and reopen, commented:
"We requested resources and assistance many times, almost on a daily basis,
sometimes practically pleading for resources... There was no plan for
And this is from a very wealthy nation where resources did not go wanting, with all
the time in the world to make plans and contingency plans. (The decision to attack
and its timing came entirely from the USA, after all.) Compare with a desperate
Ottoman government with weak
central command, with limited resources and wealth, and needing to deal with a
highly dangerous situation in a small span of time.
"We put our weapons away, our tons of ammunition away, and we
became prison guards. With no training whatsoever." (Javal Davis)
Many of the gendarmes assigned to guard the Armenians in the convoys were recruited at the
last minute, as the experienced soldiers were needed for the war's many fronts.
Interestingly, these low-level gendarmes also must not have undergone the necessary
Sabrina Harman, Military Police
The program continues:
"He was telling us how the guy was praying, a mortar came and killed a bunch
of prisoners." (Sabrina Harman, Military Police, Abu Ghraib 2003-2004.)
"Abu Ghraib turned out to be the most attacked U.S. division in Iraq."
"The road outside the prison was the most dangerous road on the planet earth.
You have more fatalities on that road... more shots fired on that road than any road
in the world. You can be walking to your barracks, "eeuuuuuu... boom. Ohh, man.
Incoming, incoming. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." (Javal Davis)
Despite what Armenian propaganda tells us, there were certainly no plans to commit
ethnic cleansing upon the Armenians forced to hit the road; most would eventually
die of non-murderous reasons, such as famine and disease, the same causes claiming
the lives of most of the 2.5 million other Ottomans who died. The massacres that
took place were mainly committed by lawless bands, mainly from Kurdish tribes. In
the U.S. example, we also had casualties upon prisoners that were under the care of
the U.S. authorities, committed by forces that were out of control. Imagine anyone
telling us the Iraqi prisoners were killed deliberately by the Americans, in
collusion with the ones firing these bombs.
"In July and August, the prison population was fairly stable. I would say, at the
highest numbers, it was still less than a thousand. By the end of September, it went to
over six thousand. We had just short of three hundred military police personnel at Abu
Ghraib, to guard thousands of prisoners." (Brigadier General Janis Karpinski)
"In the hard site there were probably six or seven guards guarding, I'd say, at
least a thousand detainees if not more...it was such a scary situation to live
under." (Megan Ambuhl)
The lack of manpower on the part of the Ottomans also meant many of the gendarmes who
protected the Armenians not only suffered from deficient quality, but also from
insufficient numbers. Some convoys were guarded by as few as two gendarmes. Even if they
were of the variety to perform their duty, a handful of guards would prove no match to a
gang of criminals descending from the mountains.
One of the soldiers interviewed on the program related, "You had the general
population of prisoners, which were basically a huge mass of humanity, thrown into a
mud pit, surrounded by concertino (barbed) wire... And then there was (a section,
Tier 1B) where they had the woman and children."
Many of the transit camps the Armenians were herded off to, with the ultimate
destination being villages, also suffered from very poor conditions. The difference:
there was no "concentration camp" style barbed wire enclosing the
Armenians. Many were allowed to travel back and forth from the nearest towns.
"The spouses or sisters or cousins of high volume[?] detainees that were
being used as, okay, we have your sister, we have your wife, you know, you can turn
yourself in. The same thing with the little children... Why do we have a
nine-year-old in prison? It's crazy." (Javal Davis)
Armenian propaganda often asks us, why were the women and children included for the
resettlement ride? The answer, of course, is that it was the families that provided
the support system for the traitors betraying their nation; boosting their morale,
feeding them, sometimes producing the ammunition, and even joining in the fight.
As Morgenthau's ghost writer quoted Enver Pasha in "Ambassador Morgenthau's
Story": "The Armenians had a fair warning," Enver began,
"of what would happen to them in case they joined our enemies.... My warning
produced no effect and the Armenians started a revolution and helped the Russians...
You must understand that we are now fighting for our lives at the Dardanelles and
that we are sacrificing thousands of men. While we are engaged in such a struggle as
this, we cannot permit people in our own country to attack us in the back."
When Morgenthau wondered why the innocent should suffer, Enver is supposed to have
replied, "...[I]n time of war we cannot investigate and negotiate. We must
act promptly and with determination."
The difference in the two cases here is the innocent Iraqi women and children were
being held as leverage against the prisoners of Abu Ghraib.
Donald Rumsfeld and General Miller
The program continues to fill in the rest of the story. Secretary of State Donald
Rumsfeld was frustrated in not getting results at Abu Ghraib, in contrast to prison
operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. kept "high-value
detainees." Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge, of whom Mark Danner,
author of "Torture and Truth" remarked: "What he cares
about is getting results... using harsher interrogation techniques." Alfred
McCoy (Author, "A Question of Torture") claimed: "General
Miller at Guantanamo turned Guantanamo from a conventional US military prison that
would abide by the laws of war into a kind of ad hoc behavioral laboratory for the
introduction, the use of extreme techniques."
Rumsfeld's Dec. 2, 2002 action memo demonstrated his approval of many extreme
techniques, such as solitary confinement, noise, light, dark, etc.; in other words
the utilization of sensory disorientation. The program tells us, "In August
2003, eight months after Rumsfeld gave his approval for harsher interrogation
tactics at Guantanamo, General Miller was sent to Iraq. The Administration's
official position was that the Geneva Conventions applied there."
"A month later, General Sanchez issued a new memo, officially rescinding
some of the techniques he had just approved."
"There were so many changes in policy... it was kind of confusing."
Roman Krol (Military Intelligence, Abu Ghraib 2003) Another soldier, Ken Davis,
further explained: "It was never clear to me what was allowed and what
wasn't allowed in Iraq; no one can ever make anything clear to me... no one could
answer questions for us."
Here is another interesting parallel with what was taking place regarding the
movement of the Armenians; instructions would keep changing as events transpired. As
an example, a few months into the process, Catholic and Protestant Armenians would
be exempted. Armenian propaganda, in an attempt to make it seem as though there was
a big extermination plan in effect, points to the failures of the process as
"proof" of genocide. (For example, massacres took place, and this would
become the pre-planned crime of the Ottoman leaders. No mention of the Ottomans
having changed the routes in response, to minimize the possibility of further
attacks.) It is only natural that all the answers would not be resolved at the
outset of an operation, particularly one of colossal magnitude, a process involving
the movement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Soldier Israel Rivera, commenting on the nudity and shackling of prisoners: "No
one raised any objections or any concerns... it was just business." The prisoners
testified: "Most of the time, the first four or five days, the inmate would be
totally naked." ("Abu Abbas" Abu Ghraib 2003.) "I was in the
hard site for 25 days. Naked, with just underwear." ("Mohammad Faraj,"
Abu Ghraib 2003-2004.)
Alfred McCoy, the author of "A Question of Torture," added these two
cents: "It's far more difficult to cure the victims of psychological torture than
it is to cure those physical torture...Psychological torture in this country is
(considered) torture light; it's not torture light It's the most damaging, the most
"There is no such thing as a little bit of
This brings to mind the 1999
comments of Billy Hayes, the protagonist of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. As we all know, that
racist film contributed to the perception of Turks as among the worst beings on the
planet. Yet Hayes compared the prison systems of Turkey and the USA: "They're not
psychologically after you, they don't have that regimented..." [paraphrasing the
rest, for example,] in the United States, you wake up at seven o'clock, it's very
restricted. In Turkey, "it's much more free." Naturally, this is not to say
the prison conditions of Abu Ghraib are similar to the domestic prisons in the United
States; but we can see even in American domestic prisons, there is an assault on the
prisoners' psyche. Hayes tells us one's hands are less tied in Turkish prisons. This
"laissez-faire" attitude has always been Turkey's cultural reality, no doubt
affecting as well the Armenians of the time who were actually sent behind bars.
The soldier Ken Davis elaborated: "Early on in October, (Corporal
Charles) Graner was forced... he said M.I. and O.G.A. are making me do things I
feel are morally and ethically wrong. What should I do? And I looked at him, and I
said, don't do it. He goes, I don't have a choice."
In other words, the old "I was only following orders" bugaboo,
which presents grave conflict to every soldier (whose inherent purpose, after all,
is to obey). Further:
"Get a little bit of power; ahh, you
know what, this feels pretty good, actually. You get a little bit more power, wait a
minute, I need more, I'm addicted to this power, and it just starts building and
building and I believe that's what Graner had; he got free rein from people, and got
all this power, and youi're not going to turn the reins back over, it becomes who
you are, it becomes what you are known for."
Fellow witness Israel Rivera commented, "It reminded me of... 'Lord of the
Flies'. You know, that animalistic, that dark element in each of us that is just
brought out. It's just a matter of, y'know, (when) all the elements are right."
Prisoner "Mudhaffar Subhi" gave an insider's view: "After one or
two in the morning, Graner and his buddies would bring four or five guards and start
torturing prisoners as if they were having a party. He would hang people by their
hands in positions that aren't bearable for even five minutes. The inmates would
start crying. He would hang five or six in different positions. After a half hour or
an hour, all of them were screaming together. Then he would walk by and say, 'Now
that's the kind of music I like to hear.'"
This documentary had a nice finishing touch, including footage from the famed 1965
film of Stanley Milgram's, "Obedience," where experiments
demonstrated our susceptibility to authority. It's easy to paint black and white
images of Nazis, but the uncomfortable fact is that the Nazi exists in each of us...
and it is only our individual strength of character that determines how far we are
willing to go. Who can argue with Javal Davis' summation:
"War is not pretty, war is not nice, oh well. After a while,you become numb,
you zone it out. Everyone did."
The following testimony from "Mohammad Talai" was very moving. We had a partial
three-quarters view of his face as he was speaking, and a tear was rolling down the far
cheek, almost imperceptibly:
"To tell you the truth, all my worries
were about my father. He stayed about one and one and a half months in the compound.
During that time, they interrogated him about four times... he would come back beaten...
There were bruises all over his back. I asked him, 'Father what is this.' He said, 'I
can't tell you." Meaning, the same torture they did to me. Ultimately, my father got
sick... He got sick because of the torture. He had a shortness of breath. So I went to the
American soldier at the door. I told him, 'My father is sick. Can you bring him to the
doctor?'... The American told me, 'Go back.' 'Don't come to us... It's nothing.' We went
back to the tent. My father's condition got worse... and worse. And I begged them, I
pleaded with them, through the interpreter. 'Please get him a doctor, let them examine
him!" The last thing he did, he aimed his rifle at me and said, 'If you don't go
back, I'll shoot you.'...Then my father's body got all feverish. My father was everything
to me, I couldn't even look at him. He sighed. His head dropped, and he died."
The program informs us, "The U.S. Military has not released the total number of
deaths at Abu Ghraib."
Harman poses with what she thought was just another
There was one clear-cut case of death resulting from torture at Abu Ghraib,
according to Scott Horton, Chairman of the Committee on International Law (NYC Bar
Association). Military Policewoman Sabrina Harman, thought the victim was a man who
had died of a heart attack, and took a picture.
Ken Davis clarifies: "The CIA put him on ice and tried to get him out on a
stretcher with IVs to cover up a murder. But has anyone been brought to trial for
that; no. But Graner and Sabrina was charged with those pictures. That, to me, is
ridiculous. We won't charge the murderer even though it's ruled a homicide, but
we'll charge you for taking the pictures and exposing that a murder happened here. I
don't understand. There's a hole in this investigation... that says cover-up."
We're getting to the Number One parallel between the backward Ottoman Empire, and
the civilized and modern United States. Crimes were committed during wartime. How
were perpetrators punished?
We know of Abu Ghraib because one of the M.P.'s, Specialist Joseph Darby, decided to
release the pictures that were taken. We are told the story broke during the spring
of 2004, on the television show 60 Minutes and magazine, The New Yorker.
The military responded by addressing all personnel at Abu Ghraib, threatening them
to surrender all "prohibitive items" (photographs, videotapes, etc.), with
the incentive that there will be no legal consequences. Rumsfeld endangered Darby's
life by exposing his identity on national television, when the deal required him to
The brass tried to explain the embarrassment by stating there were a few bad apples
within the ranks. For example, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was shown stating, "Those
soldiers let us down. They simply let us down." The Defense Deparment's
numerous investigations concluded the Abu Ghraib abuses were "never
officially sanctioned or approved." An "animal house on the night
shift" is the way Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger put it in
in his 2004 report.
Scott Horton classified the governmental response as "conscious
disinformation." "Bureaucratic virtuosity in the handling of a scandal,"
is the way Mark Danner put it. He explained that uneducated prison guards would not
have been able to come up with sophisticated and well known interrogation
techniques, such as "The Vietnam," developed in Brazil.
On one hand, we can understand the government's reluctance to punish those
"really" responsible. The nation is at war, and to focus on the criminal
actions of the government would undermine morale.
In fact, this was Talat
Pasha's very explanation
regarding why those who had committed crimes against Armenians were not prosecuted
in fuller force:
"An endeavor to arrest and to punish all these promoters would have created
anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity. It would have been
dangerous to divide the nation into two camps, when we needed strength to fight
Let's keep in mind, however, that the abuses at Abu Ghraib represented only one
example. There were no doubt similar abuses carried out in other prisons and
detention centers, and the Middle Eastern prisoners were generally looked upon as
less-than-human. As Javal Davis wisely summed up:
"If there were no photographs, there would be no Abu Ghraib, there would
have been no investigations; it would have been, okay, whatever. Everybody go
The contemptuous attitude on the part of the U.S. government and military remained
firmly in place. Other than being informed at film's end that the featured prisoners
were all released without charge after up to five months' detainment, we are further
"In October 2006, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act,
further eroding the rights of prisoners guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions."
Now what were the punishments doled out? Here we go:
"Eleven low-ranking soldiers were court-martialed and sentenced for their roles in
Javal Davis, Sentenced to 6 months in a military prison.
Roman Krol, 10 months
Charles Graner, 10 years
Lynndie England, 3 years
Sabrina Harman, 6 months
Megan Ambuhl, Reduction in rank
Ken Davis and Israel Rivera, witnesses to the abuse, were not charged.
General Janis Kaprinski
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was demoted to
colonel and subsequently retired. She was the only high-ranking official to face
General Geoffrey Miller was promoted to deputy commanding general for detainee operations
in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. In 2006, he received the Distinguished Service Medal at the
Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
General Geoffrey Miller
Meanwhile, new research has updated Kamuran Gurun's ("The Armenian
File") figure of 1,397 Ottomans tried for crimes against Armenians to over 1,600, a finding that impressed the generally
Turk-unfriendly German publication, “Die Welt.” Hundreds were jailed, and
perhaps 67 were executed. (Admiral Chester wrote of "twenty Ottoman officers to be put to death for
permitting acts of cruelty against the Armenians in 1915.")
As known examples, Vehip Pasha tried and executed a few of the perpetrators of a
massacre in Sivas; Jemal Pasha also convicted and hanged two officers for a massacre
On one hand, the USA addresses crimes committed in wartime by laying blame upon
scapegoats and pawns; on the other, the Ottomans levied more than a few examples of
the highest form of punishment. Even one such example would have shaken up the truth
of a government-sponsored extermination policy (especially in a world that had
already been pre-disposed to look at the Turks as killers, thanks to the
preponderance of propaganda, mainly concocted by Wellington House; in other words, the Turks were dead ducks
regardless, and had nothing to prove).
For those who say Abu Ghraib can not constitute grounds for the severe punishments
doled out by the Ottomans (since a few murders and cases of torture cannot compare
to massacres of hundreds or thousands), we can always go to My Lai as a more direct parallel. In that case, only one soldier
was punished, and his punishment was three days' imprisonment, before house
Comparing "9/11" with the Armenian 'Genocide'