Saturday, May 15, 2004

Can I Get a Witness?

Charles H. Hanley of the Associated Press writes:
Detailed allegations of psychological abuse, deprivation, beatings and deaths at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq were met by public silence from the U.S. Army last October -- six months before shocking photographs stirred world outrage and demands for action.

At the time, one ex-prisoner sensed that words might count for little. Instead, Rahad Naif told a reporter, "I wish somebody could go take a picture of Camp Bucca."

They spoke repeatedly of being humiliated by American guards. None mentioned the sexual humiliation seen in recently released photos, but Arab culture might keep an Iraqi from describing such mistreatment.

In contrast to suggestions that the photos indicate isolated abuse by a few, these Iraqis told of widespread practices in several camps that would violate the Geneva Conventions and other human rights standards. On Friday, in an unusual public statement, the international Red Cross agreed, disclosing that its inspectors last year found a "broad pattern" of abuse. ("Early Iraq Abuse Accounts Met With Silence," May 8, 2004)
Aside from the absence of photographic evidence and explicit details of rape and sexual torture in the earlier accounts, Hanley believes that they failed to become the worldwide media sensation because "[i]t was not an officially sanctioned story that begins with a handout from an official source," suggesting that "there does seem to be a very strong prejudice toward investing U.S. official statements with credibility while disregarding statements from almost any other source -- and in this current situation, Iraqi sources" (qtd. in Greg Mitchell, "Where Was Press When First Iraq Prison Allegations Arose?" Editor & Publisher, May 13, 2004).

  • "Women were not permitted to serve as witnesses, and slave testimony could be introduced only if the evidence was obtained under torture" (Victor Bers & Adriaan Lanni, An Introduction to the Athenian Legal System, March 15, 2003, p. 5).

  • "In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence. . ." ("The Fugitive Slave Act," September 18, 1850)

  • “In 1832, thirty-five slaves were executed in Charleston, in pursuance of the sentence of a Court consisting of two justices and five freeholders, on charge of an intended insurrection. No indictments, no summoning of jurors, no challenges for cause or favor, no seclusion of the triers from intercourse with those who might bias their judgment, preceded this unparalleled destruction of human life.” (Jay’s Inquiry, p. 135.)

    Though no colored person, bond or free, can testify in any case where any white person is concerned, yet the evidence of “all free Indians without oath, and of any slave without oath,” may be taken for or against a slave! And among the “meritorious services” for which freedom is conferred, the most important is “information of crimes committed by a slave.” What a temptation for one slave to bear false testimony against another! (William Goodell, The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice: Its Distinctive Features Shown by Its Statutes, Judicial Decisions, and Illustrative Facts, New York: American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1853, p. 315)

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