POWs, A MENACING OIL SLICK IN THE GULF AND A LOOMING GROUND WAR BROUGHT IT HOME
THE END OF ILLUSION
POWs, A MENACING OIL SLICK IN THE GULF AND A LOOMING GROUND WAR BROUGHT IT HOME
One of them was badly bruised around the right eye, and his face was severely swollen. Another, his body twisted as though in pain, did not, or could not, raise his head. Nine airmen—five Americans, two Britons, one Italian and a Kuwaiti—appeared early last week before Iraqi video cameras in Baghdad. Most of them told their captors—and the world—in halting, wooden voices how they had become the first known allied prisoners of war of the Persian Gulf campaign. In mumbled, sometimes inaudible words, some of them blamed the war on their leaders, praised the Iraqi people and spoke to their families. The public interrogations, which appeared to violate the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of POWs, touched off widespread outrage amid speculation that the men had been beaten or drugged. Whatever the facts, one thing was certain: for millions of people in Western Europe and North America, the shocking TV images destroyed forever the illusion that the Gulf war was an impersonal, high-tech fantasy.
In a week when Canadian CF-18 fighters undertook the country’s first offensive air action in nearly 46 years, early reports from the Gulf were dominated by Baghdad’s televised exploitation of the POWs and its announcement that they would be held as human shields at strategic sites. That threat, and the captives caught up in it, drove home the perils, misery and heartache for those fighting, fleeing or simply enduring the war. Then, graphic televised tape of a huge oil slick hitting beaches in Saudi Arabia underlined the perils to the region's ecology (page 29). In Israel, determination not to strike back appeared to continue, despite Iraq’s almost daily bombardment of the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa with Scud missiles, causing at least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries by week’s end (page 40). The Scud attacks also continued in the Saudi Arabian cities of Dhahran and Riyadh, where they have killed at least one person and injured roughly 30. And along the Saudi-Kuwait border, soldiers of the coalition dug in, preparing for the beginning of an intense war in the trenches and on the ground (page 30).
Refugees fleeing the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Baghdad, some of them penniless, others with money and plane tickets, jammed into the Jordanian border post of Ruweishid.
Some spoke bitterly of having seen civilian casualties and wrecked homes.
One refugee, enraged by the bombing, said that if he came upon an allied pilot, “I would drink his blood.” The United Nations Disaster Relief Office reported that as many as 80,000 Iraqi refugees were expected to enter Iran, whose officials said that the number could reach 200,000. And in New Delhi, the government dispatched envoys to search for 116 Indian nurses
who disappeared after leaving Baghdad for Jordan on Jan. 22.
Meanwhile, the war took a dramatic and ominous turn. American and other coalition officials accused Hussein of dumping huge quantities of oil into the Gulf. Said Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams: “This is clearly an act of environmental terrorism.” On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed reports that part of the oil spill was on fire. Iraqi officials insisted that the spreading slick was a result of American bombings of oil tankers, a claim that U.S. military officials in Saudi Arabia flatly denied. Earlier in the week, Washington had accused Hussein’s forces of setting fire to two oil refineries and an oil well in Kuwait, sending enormous clouds of black smoke high over the Persian Gulf.
Convoys: The Pentagon also said that at least 24 Iraqi aircraft had landed in Iran by week’s end. Said marine Maj.-Gen. Martin Brandtner, a senior officer with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I can only presume that they either, one, don’t want to fight or, two, are defecting—or the possibility that they are trying to harbor their resources.” But the U.S. officials added that they had assurances from Iran that any planes landing there would not be permitted to re-enter the conflict.
In Saudi Arabia, there was jubilation at the emergence of the country’s
first Top Gun: one of its pilots shot down two Iraqi Mirage fighters in quick succession. But in Washington, London and the Saudi desert, the optimistic predictions that accompanied the Jan. 17 beginning of the 31nation assault on Iraq had notably diminished. On the ground, U.S. and Iraqi troops exchanged fire in northeastern Saudi Arabia. Coalition tanks, mobile guns and supply convoys continued churning north through the sand towards the Kuwaiti border and 540,000 dug-in Iraqi troops, including 150,000 members of the elite Republican Guard.
Politicians and commanders alike warned of a long war. President George Bush told a reserve officers’ group that although Operation Desert Storm was “right on schedule,” there would be “setbacks and sacrifices.” Declared Defence Secretary Richard Cheney: “No one should assume that Saddam Hussein does not have significant remaining military capability” (page 32). At the same time, the total allied absorption in the war led some analysts to begin examining the forces that may emerge in the region after the shooting stops (page 36).
For the Canadian airmen and groundcrews stationed on the outskirts
of Doha, capital of the Gulf emirate of Qatar, there was an anxiously awaited break in the cloudy weather. Eight days after Ottawa decided to commit CF-ISs to escort allied fighter-bombers, clear skies allowed them to join the battle for the first time (page 38). At the Canadian Forces bases in Cold Lake, Alta., Halifax and elsewhere across the country, spouses and parents found their loneliness sharpened by a heightened sense of concern (page 42). And at CFB Petawawa in Ontario, medical personnel, including two 16-member surgical crews, left last week to train in Saudi Arabia before setting up a field hospital (page 43).
Inhuman’: Meanwhile, antiwar protests grew around the world. In one of the biggest so far, an estimated 200,000 demonstrators converged on Bonn on Saturday. Many banners accused German firms of selling to the Iraqis expertise and technology that allowed them to produce chemical weapons and to extend the range of their Scud missiles—far enough to strike Israel.
But it was Iraq’s apparent disdain for the Geneva Conventions’ requirement that captives be protected from “insult and public curios-
TV IMAGES OF CAPTIVE ALLIED PILOTS PUTA HUMAN FACE ON WAR
ity” that produced the most emotional reaction in North America. It stirred memories of suffering in the prison camps of North Korea and Vietnam, sobered the troops deployed across the Arabian peninsula and frightened their families. Bush denounced “the brutal parading of allied pilots.” British Prime Minister John Major called the action “inhuman and illegal.”
Several British and U.S. politicians said that Hussein should eventually be tried for war crimes. And at a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia, Maj.
Scott Hill, a 38-year-old A-10 Thunderbolt pilot from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, declared that he and his comrades “will hit ’em harder and make Hussein pay for every violation of decency.”
Terror: Relatives of the POWs reacted with an uneasy mixture of relief and outrage.
At Camp Pendleton, Calif.,
Mary Hunter, wife of captive Guy Hunter, a marine warrant officer, said: “We all feel very scared. But with this news, we all feel relieved to know that he is alive.” Experts in the United States and Britain offered various explanations for the POWs’ appearance, speech patterns and apparent willingness to criticize the coalition’s mission. Some British analysts said that the men seemed to have been drugged. Psychiatrist Robert Lifton of City University of New York, an expert on POWs, said that they looked clinically depressed. Of one of the prisoners, Lifton said: “One saw terror in his eyes. He was trying to say and do as little as possible and yet he had to go through the motions. He was very withdrawn and monosyllabic.”
Another, he added, “sounded like a young child memorizing something.” But despite the inhumane treatment, Lifton said, the Baghdad tapes put a human face on the war.
“There now is a change in our perception,” he said. “Until now, the focus and the fascination has been on the technology.”
After the Vietnam War, U.S. military researchers found that nearly all American POWs eventually succumbed to interrogation accompanied by torture. “The few who tried to resist totally, from what we know, did not survive
captivity,” said Dr. Robert Rahe, a psychiatrist at the University of Nevada in Reno. “They can always find a torture so grave, you will confess to something.” As a result, the U.S. military code of conduct, which once insisted that cap-
tured American personnel reveal only their names, ranks and serial numbers, was relaxed. It now merely asks servicemen taken prisoner to resist helping the enemy “to the best of their ability.”
But, said Lifton, a pilot overtaken by the
enormous shock of ejecting from a crippled aircraft has no time for reasoned judgments. “There is immediate consternation, unease and self-condemnation at the loss of one’s plane and then falling into enemy hands,” he said. “They are then surrounded by utter hostility.” The captive accepts what he has to say to satisfy his captor, said Lifton, and “once one
makes a confession that is partly false, that one knows will be used for propaganda, then the guilt mounts and the interrogator plays on the guilt and intersperses that with beatings.” Those methods, according to Lifton, will break down a prisoner deprived of sleep in as little as 24 hours.
For former American POWs in Vietnam, the allied captives in Iraq evoked painful memories—and massive outpourings of sympathy. After watching the Baghdad tapes, retired colonel Fred Cherry, 62, of Silver Spring, Md., who spent 7lA years in captivity, said: “There is no question in my mind that they were physically abused. You don’t get bruises and lacerations like that when you eject.” He added: “The tone of voice they spoke in told me that the statements were rehearsed or they were reading from a script.” Cherry became the highest-ranking black American to be imprisoned in North Vietnam when his F-105 fighter was shot down while making a lowlevel bombing run in 1965. He said that he was held in solitary confinement for 702 days and tortured for 93 of them. Added Cherry: “The guard would come in fre“ quently and stamp on my an£ kies and legs and then beat me on the face.”
Another former POW in I Vietnam, John McCain, is now a Republican senator from Arizona. After watching the Iraqi tapes last week, McCain, a former navy flyer who spent 5 Vi years in captivity, told Maclean ’s : “I think they have been mistreated. I don’t like to use the word ‘tortured,’ but they have been significantly mistreated and now they are making statements and using words they don’t mean.”
One of the Americans who appeared before the cameras in Baghdad was U.S. marine Lt.-Col. Clifford Aeree, 39, of Camp Pendleton, who was shot down over southern Kuwait. On Jan. 14, Cindy Aeree wrote her husband a letter. In it, she said in part: “You have some difficult times ahead of you, but when you get tired or discouraged or overwhelmed, just think of the strong love I have for you and that I will be here for you regardless of what happens. Stay strong, sweetheart.” He was captured before the letter reached him.
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