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Home > World

Cruel and unusual PR

14 May 2004

The rise and rise of the 'art' of public relations has a lot to answer for: factories becoming 'manufacturing facilities' (not oily and dirty and full of working class people, you see) and, more recently, the idea that American and British troops in Iraq are squeaky clean, strictly-by-the-book models of good behaviour. In fact we're surprised they haven't changed their title from 'soldiers' to 'peace facilitators'.

In reality, one of the nastiest things about the torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison is the sheer weirdness of their American captors. Being forced to form a naked human pyramid, wear a dog leash or be tied with wire and dressed in a hood like some wanky Brit Art 'living installation' starts to make a straightforward beating look preferable.

What was going on in the minds of the American prison guards is far from clear. But you do get the impression that apart from being sadistic, the guards are the kind of ultra-dumb individuals who'd be more likely to kill their victims with stupidity than actual malice. 'Gee, who'd have thought that being made to eat glass would kill someone? I just thought it was kinda funny.'

What the torture has shown is the huge gulf between the US government's rhetoric and the reality in Iraq. Bush and his Crazy gang are still pushing the line that the war in Iraq is essentially a humanitarian mission being conducted with the utmost care and respect for the Iraqi people. It's an attempt to manage reality with PR, and it simply doesn't work. Did Churchill spend WW2 trying to claim that bombing Germany was ultimately in the Germans' best interest?

How anyone can swallow the idea that the occupation of Iraq proceeding according to any properly thought-out humanitarian plan is puzzling. It's not just the incontrovertible evidence of torture in Abu Ghraib, it's the long history of seemingly random civilian deaths in Iraq, the most horrible of which have been the result of trigger happy US snipers. Go back to Afghanistan, and there are countless examples of the US allowing its 'allies' to commit God-knows-what atrocities.

Even the cuddly, friendly Brits appear to have been up to no good. The torture pictures in the Mirror are probably faked, but there are currently 10 investigations into British troops' behaviour in Iraq. It's not looking good - and yet Blair, like Bush, continues to claim our occupation of Iraq is some great moral mission. Sadly, just thinking something doesn't make it true. Blair may genuinely believe there is an underlying ends-justify-the-means morality to being in Iraq, but the reality is there for all to see - it's chaos, mixed with incompetence, a high death toll and some incidents of outright sadism.

But it's not likely to stop Bush and Blair claiming that all is well. Bush waffles on about 'bringing wrongdoers to justice', but it all just smacks of damage limitation. Or should that be 'an ongoing commitment to the freedom of the Iraqi people'?

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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