The EU Cannot Remain Silent on Torture in Iraq

The European Union has been silent so far about the torture allegations against U.S. and UK troops in Iraq. Both Germany and the EU must take decisive action against abuses of human rights - or lose credibility. A commentary by Peter Philipp

photo: AP
Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

​​German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will hardly give the Americans a talking-to. Even so, the accusations that American soldiers tortured prisoners in Iraq should be on the agenda of his current U.S. visit. It's certainly no easy task in view of the low mutual relations during the Iraq war, and the supposed efforts made to restore the relationship since then.

Now as then, it must be a German foreign minister's right - if not his duty - in friendship and resoluteness to point out to Washington that employing torture contradicts declared common principles, and that it's not enough to merely apologize.

Such practices must be put down, and those responsible must face the consequences. Not just some soldier here or there, but also the politicians that weren't bothered until they caught sight of the incriminating photographs, not when they ordered or at least allowed the disgraceful goings-on.

Committed to moral values

It would indeed be naive to assume that admonitions would have an effect in a Washington whose political leadership continues to be convinced it's fighting for good and simultaneously disregards the good in its own system. That's why admonishing the United States would better serve another purpose: It would demonstrate that we remain committed to the still so highly-regarded moral values of democracy.

We will only prove that human dignity and human rights are more than mere words in the German Constitution, if we now act decisively against the proceedings in Iraq. Hats off to the Swiss foreign minister who summoned the U.S. and UK ambassadors to remind them of the Geneva Convention.

Germany owes itself decisive action. And not just towards the United States, but even more so towards Britain. For it is part of the "European family" that we have lately been celebrating and acclaiming so extensively. In order not to lose credibility, Europe must first clean up its own house.

The case of Austria and right-wing politician Jörg Haider long ago established that this isn't meddling in another member states internal affairs.

EU must act

There should - there must - be a mechanism in the European Union to deal with insubordinate behavior on the part of individual member states. Otherwise, it all falls back on the community. Then we all must put up with accusations of speaking with a forked tongue and allowing a double moral standard.

How, for example, can the European Parliament demand countries observe human rights worldwide if it doesn't condemn the same abuses carried out by its own members

Or, how can we plausibly make efforts towards understanding, dialogue and cooperation with the Islamic world, while at the same time looking away in embarrassment when from our - European - midst people are humiliated in the worst ways?

Peter Philipp


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