Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Wikileaks and the war in Iraq

I am pleased to note that Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an occasional guest poster at Harry’s Place, has a letter published in today’s Independent. Aymenn’s letter is in response Yasmin Alibhai-Brown‘s article in the same newspaper on Monday. She alleged that George Bush and Tony Blair “are worse” than Saddam Hussein.  Aymenn’s letter is copied below:

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown claims that the documents released by WikiLeaks reveal “the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of US and British soldiers and Iraqi personnel who had joined the allies” (“A record worse than Saddam’s”, 25 October). In fact, that figure of 66,000 in the files is the total recorded number of civilian deaths owing to violent causes, whether at the hands of the coalition forces, their allies or insurgents. To determine exactly how many were killed by coalition troops and Iraqi security personnel will require months of thorough investigation of the documents in question.

However, the main point is that these documents do not reveal “previously untold horrors of the Iraq war”. For example, it has been amply documented over the years by human rights groups such as Freedom House and Amnesty International (the latter of which released only a month ago an extensive report on the subject) that torture of detainees in Iraqi prisons is commonplace and that coalition forces decided not to investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi security forces.

Indeed, widespread torture always occurs in places whose judicial systems primarily depend on confession as a means of securing convictions, and given that the coalition forces’ priority was counter-insurgency, it would have been a mammoth task for them to investigate just a fraction of the claims of torture by Iraqi personnel. Similarly, it will always be true that in a time of war there will be unreported cases of civilian deaths.

If anything, the reaction of surprise to these documents only illustrates the level of public apathy that has existed towards the war. A general apathetic attitude should be expected, since unlike in Vietnam or the two world wars there was no military conscription to make people care about the situation in Iraq.

Aymenn Jawad

Brasenose College, Oxford