Why I cannot share the outrage over Abu Ghraib


Opinion/Mark Steyn: One thing I noticed in Iraq was the missing body parts. Not immediately. I spend most of my time in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire and Quebec and, when you're in old mill towns, it's not unusual to find yourself sitting at a lunch counter with three codgers who can barely muster 10 fingers between them.

So at first I didn't pay much attention to the missing digits and missing limbs. It was the third missing ear I saw - in Ramadi - that made me realize what was really going on. An ear's a hard thing to lose. So's a tongue.

That's why I cannot share the "outrage" over Abu Ghraib of some at this paper ("The Shaming Of America: George Bush's boast of shutting down Saddam Hussein's torture chambers in Iraq rings hollow now, writes Conor O'Clery" ).

More to the point, nor do most Iraqis. Representatives of the Shia and Kurds, who between them account for four-fifths of the population, have said nary a word. Ayatollah Sistani, the most prominent figure in the land and a man who can cause the coalition serious trouble any time he wishes, has let the matter lie.

And, as I endeavoured to explain last week, most Americans don't share the "outrage". A week later, they share it even less. As Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat, put it: "Why is it that there's more indignation over a photo of a prisoner with underwear on his head than over the video of a young American with no head at all?"

If you go to hospital in Dublin and they botch the operation, it's no consolation to be told that it's better treatment than you'd have got in the Sudan. You want your health care to be measured against London or Oslo, Geneva or Vancouver, not Chad and Rwanda. But for Iraqis this is the only comparison that matters - pre-April 2003 versus post-April 2003.

The best rule of politics is this: Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. Is the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq perfect? No. Is it good? Yes. Was Saddam Hussein's rule perfect? No. Was it good? No.

This shouldn't be a tough call. But, shortly after the liberation, the bespoke apologists for the Middle East's thug regimes and the more depraved "peace activists" in Europe set themselves a tall order - to prove that the Iraqis were better off under Saddam. At first, they confined this proposition to matters such as drinking water.

When some of us pointed out that the potable water supply in Iraq is now double what it was pre-war, or that health care funding is 25 times larger than it was a year ago, Europe's Saddamite cheerleaders gave up this line of attack. It was always rather boring and technocratic anyway. So now they've got right down to basics - not potable water, but "torture". Why, Bush is torturing just as many Iraqis as Saddam did! The Shia and Kurds know better than to go along with this.

Readers may recall that last year I wrote about a Canadian female journalist questioned to death by the Iranians. Some British businessmen were brutally tortured by the Saudis. Bad luck, old man. But nobody's fired, because nobody cares.

Post-Saddam Iraq is the only country in that grim region (apart from Israel) where torture is not a routine instrument of state policy.

But let's go to the next stage. What do the "Bush's boast rings hollow" crowd want for Iraq? Usually, they want the UN to take over.

Is the UN perfect? No.

Is the UN good? Well, I'm not sure I'd even say that. But, if you object to what's going on in those Abu Ghraib pictures - the sexual humiliation of prisoners and their conscription as a vast army of extras in their guards' porno fantasies - then you might want to think twice about handing over Iraq to the UN.

In Eritrea, the government recently accused the UN mission of various offences, including paedophilia. In Cambodia, UN troops fuelled an explosion of child prostitutes and Aids. Amnesty International reports that the UN mission in Kosovo has presided over a massive expansion of the sex trade, with girls as young as 11 being lured from Moldova and Bulgaria to service international peacekeepers.

In Bosnia, where the sex-slave trade barely existed before the UN showed up in 1995, there are now hundreds of brothels with under-age girls living as captives. The 2002 Save The Children report on the UN's cover-up of the sex-for-food scandal in West Africa provides grim details of peacekeepers demanding sexual favours from children as young as four in exchange for biscuits and cake powder.

"What is particularly shocking and appalling is that those people who ought to be there protecting the local population have actually become perpetrators," said Steve Crawshaw, the director of Human Rights Watch.

By now you're maybe thinking, "Hmm. I must have been on holiday the week the papers ran all those stories about 'The Shaming Of The UN'." The Daily Mirror has had to concede their pictures of British soldiers committing atrocities are all fakes. The Boston Globe has admitted that their pictures of US troops sexually abusing Iraqi women are also phony.

The Canadian Broadcasting Commission has apologised for claiming that Israel was implicated in the events at Abu Ghraib.

Why would these big-media operations get suckered so easily? Because, to the great herd of independent minds, these stories conform to their general view that all the ills of the world can be laid at the door of Bush, Blair and Sharon.