Opinion: Silence is Wrong When Torture′s the Issue | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.05.2004
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Opinion: Silence is Wrong When Torture's the Issue

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer shouldn't be accused of anti-Americanism for criticizing the United States over the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.


Fischer said those who abused prisoners "must be brought to justice"

You can't please everyone, certainly not in politics. That must have been apparent to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer while searching for the right words in Washington this week. He had to tell the United States that its actions in the torture scandal were unacceptable without breaking the friendship (or at least the partnership) and relegating bilateral relations back to the ice box they'd whiled away in during disagreement over the Iraq war.

Fisher hit upon the right words: He criticized the Americans but left them to deal with the scandal, which is their own -- internal -- affair. But, as mentioned, you can't please everyone.

Some people try to perpetuate the dispute over the Iraq war, calling it "the first war in history that was over before a reason for going to war was found." They consider the rapprochement between Berlin and Washington disgraceful. Others -- including a group of self-proclaimed Internet "media watchdogs" -- deny Germany the right to criticize. A broad field of ideologists, commentators and pundits cavort between these two extremes.

The unforgiving anti-American camp is likely to win the upper hand the longer it takes Washington to draw the only appropriate consequences: discontinuing every form of torture and calling to account those responsible. It already took far too long before even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the U.S. had violated the Geneva Convention in Iraq.

The same scenario

Alone, this admission, plus a couple of court-martials are not enough. Nor is the assurance that prisoners in Iraq will from now on be handled differently. Because of that, German politicians are too easily overlooking the fact that the same "scenario" that's been played out for nearly three years in Guantánamo is now unfolding in Iraq. Or is it merely a coincidence that General Geoffrey Miller, who has been in charge of Iraqi prisons since August, previously

headed the notorious prisoners' camp in Cuba?

Now we're seeing the negative effects from the lack of official protests against the practices in Guantánamo, as well as the blind acceptance of the White House's dubious argument that those prisoners were suspected terrorists, and not prisoners of war -- meaning the Geneva Convention wasn't applicable to them.

That may be the case, but the ban on torture is valid for the Guantánamo prisoners and has been consciously and purposefully disregarded -- until these practices were "exported" to Iraq and created a commotion.

That's why torture in Iraq and torture in Guantánamo are one issue. Neither the foreign minister nor his European colleagues can accept the American argument that they are two different things. It may be comforting that the United States is investigating the legality of the camp in Cuba, but it has to be said that this has taken much too long.

Binding values

Fischer wasn't being a self-righteous German know-it-all by questioning or warning the U.S. He was motivated solely by the knowledge of the moral values that Germans are officially committed to and which, with the help of the U.S., they made the foundation of their actions after World War II.

This was not servility on Joschka Fischer's part, rather the timid, yet legitimate appeal by the pupil to the teacher to please practice what he preached. Criticism among friends must be allowed, even of this sort. When it comes to torture and human rights, one should also expect the criticized party to draw the consequences of its actions. If not, the critics have to take the necessary steps -- or become accomplices.

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