Hat-tip to Echidne: the latest outrage piece is that an American contractor in Iraq was arrested in a raid and subjected to extreme sensory deprivation for months.
[Link] American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.
The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.
(…)The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.
But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.
Echidne goes as far as comparing Vance’s experience to The Trial. I don’t think the analogy is quite apt; when it comes to lessons learned, the ones I can draw from this story are entirely different from those associated with Kafka’s book.
The first lesson comes from the final paragraph: the US occupation in Iraq is incompetent. It goes beyond the obvious kind of incompetence; up until this incident, it wasn’t entirely clear that the US arrested people truly at random. I assumed that the military arrested or killed innocent civilians to make quota but had some streamlined process to release people who obviously were there at the wrong place and time.
The second lesson is that the USA’s failure to spare the informer is probably closely related to why Iraqis are afraid to be associated with it. Being associated with an unpopular authoritarian regime can be dangerous, but when the regime has even a modicum of competence, its protection is more than enough to offset the danger. Nazi officers in occupied France were susceptible to Maquis assassinations, but for most of the occupation these assassinations were little more than a nuisance to the regime. The problem starts when the regime can no longer protect its own, which realization comes just before every supporter who can jump ship does.
The third lesson is that the level of outrage over an incident is proportional to the number of people abused times a race/nationality factor. To pull numbers ex recto, in the US, Americans have a factor of 1, Brits a factor of 1/2, Europeans and Israelis a factor of 1/4, Latin Americans a factor of 1/20, Chinese a factor of 1/50, and Arabs and Persians a factor of 1/500. Photos of fifty abused Iraqi civilians will therefore have a tenth as much impact as the story of just one abused American civilian.