15 MAY 2004, Page 34

When torture is taught

From Jonathan Mirsky Sir: Why do American soldiers and 'contractors', and perhaps British troops as well, torture prisoners, especially in the ways shown in the notorious photographs ('Female soldier is an oxymoron', 8 May)? One reason, it is now reported, is that such techniques — including stacking up naked bodies and leading naked prisoners about on leads — are taught at the joint services interrogation centre at Ashford, Kent, and similar centres in the US. Victors in just wars tend not to torture. Losers and the illegitimate employ torture, and they do so 'systematically', as charged in the recent US army report on the Abu Ghraib jail, in other facilities, and in Afghanistan as well.

But there are other reasons. Iraq is not Vietnam. But the Americans are fighting the Iraq war in the same way, based on false assumptions, not to say lies; supported by tame officials, some long absent from Iraq, and despised by most Iraqis; and employing senior officers from the previous regime. American and British soldiers, ignorant of the history, language, and culture surrounding the battlefield, are furious that the Iraqis seem ungrateful and murderous. As in Saigon, the high command shelters in isolation, afraid, rightly, of leaving its compound because it is too dangerous — at any moment an innocent-looking person can kill you.

These are the deadly parallels with Vietnam. Many Vietnamese feared the Vietcong, indeed had feared their communist predecessors since the 1930s. But they feared and hated the French and later the Americans more.

One does not wish Saddam were still in charge, although since his capture the situation has deteriorated. How to change things is hard to say, but once again the Americans are relying on violence. The chances of this situation becoming even worse when bogus sovereignty is handed over to an as yet unknown government propped up by American and British forces are, I guess, 100 per cent.

Jonathan Mirsky

London W11