BRITISH UNIONISTS CONFRONTED BY UNWANTED REALITY IN IRAQ
"One day I show Muhsin something I’d read in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal. The article, by neo-conservative writer Charles Krauthammer, is entitled “Arab democracy: not bad for a simpleton”, and says “the left has always prided itself as the great international champion of freedom and human rights. Yet when America proposed to remove the man responsible for torturing, killing and gassing tens of thousands of Iraqis, the left suddenly turned into a champion of Westphalian sovereign inviolability. the international left’s concern for human rights turns out to be nothing more than a useful weapon for its anti-Americanism.” Muhsin reads it carefully, then says: “Very good. I have written something like that for Tribune (a leftwing British publication).” Would they publish it? I ask.
”I don’t know,” replies Muhsin.
. . .Osman, however, has a particular past. Just before the Kurds expelled the Iraqi forces in 1991, she was arrested and taken to the main security centre in Sulaimaniya where she was tortured. The centre is known as the Red House, a 1970s complex that is now a “torture museum”. Our hosts have added this to our itinerary. In the dank and windowless concrete rooms, some of them wood-clad to muffle screams, we are shown the bars placed about three metres above the floor, from which victims were hung, arms manacled behind their backs, and given electric shocks to the genitals (a wax model is suspended from one such bar to help us visualise the horror).
Prisoners could hear their wives or daughters or mothers being raped in an adjoining room. In cells meant for seven or eight, rough plastic bowls are stacked in towers to show there were sometimes more than 100 in each cell - and their bowls were used for their food, as well as their excretions.
In one cell, a hand has written: “I was brought in here at 10, and I am now 18.” Some people, like Osman, got out. Most didn’t. It is one of the world’s most appalling places and the visitors - used to seeing torture in Iraq represented by images of US soldiers degrading prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail - walk about the bloodstained floors mutely and grimly.
. . . Everywhere the British unionists go, they are congratulated on the virtues of prime minister Tony Blair. They, of course, are not fans. The trade union movement, especially on the left, takes the view that this government, if possibly better than a Conservative one, is not real Labour. “It’s all very well going on about Tony Blair,” says Davis, half drolly, half irritably, at one of the group’s lengthy feasts. “We don’t think he’s so wonderful.” (Davis’s British Communist Party and its paper, the Morning Star, are fiercely hostile to New Labour.)
. . . The trip does seem to make a difference to the group’s views on the war. During a meal in a restaurant towards the end of the week, David Green, the younger of the two firefighters’ union leaders, says: “I was against the war. I thought it was a bad idea and it shouldn’t have been done.” I ask him about his thoughts now. “Well, you see a different perspective. You see what these people have done.”
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