By Oona Swann
"Savages" screamed the Sun, when US prisoners of war were paraded by the Iraqis - the (not very subtle) subtext being that putting an end to such savagery justified the massive bomb-power of the US-UK invasion.
The prisoners, technical support rather than fighting soldiers, looked shocked, frightened but also surprisingly dignified. When one stated, "I didn't come to kill no Iraqis, I fix broke things," it didn't sound like the words were put into his mouth. It came across as a spontaneous statement of working class solidarity. It was powerful anti-war propaganda because it graphically indicated the common plight of the poor people on both sides.
Civilians in uniform, soldiers in civilian clothes, it raises odd dilemmas. The Geneva Convention protects the rights of prisoners of war to dignity, humane treatment, sufficient food, and against reprisals and physical or mental torture. Insofar as these were breached when the Iraqis showed the US prisoners they should be condemned. And the Iraqi regime has a foul record of torture and abuse of its own prisoners and its captive minorities. But just who is crying foul here?
The US is holding several thousand prisoners of the Iraqi army, but also 300 "suspected paramilitaries" from Nassiriya. They have stated their intention of sending them to Camp Xray, Guantanamo Bay, where 660 al-Qaida /Taliban prisoners from the Afghan war are still being held without trial. Human rights campaigners have condemned the conditions there, where prisoners are held in tiny metal cells in sweltering heat, as inhumane treatment. Because they are classified as "unlawful combatants" they do not have the protection of the Geneva Convention.
The distinction between soldiers and civilians, the rules of warfare, may seem both arcane and loaded in favour of those who have a state and a regular army. When smart bombs go astray, as predictably they will, when military targets are based in the centres of civilian populations, will the military planners be indicted for war crimes?
The accuracy of weaponry has improved from roughly 75% to, say, 95%, even 5% is a terrifying margin or error when dealing with the tonnage of weaponry and populous cities.
There is no way this war can be won without atrocities. The war should stop. Saddam Hussein's encouragement of suicide bombers, his planting of troops in civilian areas, encouragement of soldiers-dressed-as-civilians, are a continuation of his murderous contempt for his own and subject peoples. Dirty wars have a habit of leading to the "politics of the last atrocity". Saddam's regime does not become freedom fighters by provoking the invaders into war crimes.