The Current Crisis

Pasty Prison Pastimes

Two years ago the Weekly Standard's Matt Labash reported on the folkways and mores of Arab prisoners at Guantanamo.

By 5.20.04

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WASHINGTON -- It is happening all over again. Media excess, politicians' bathos, exuberant piety -- all are conspiring to transform a serious matter into a launching pad for horse laughs. Last week I tendered my judgment regarding the irregularities at Abu Ghraib prison. Lifting a line from Senator Joe Lieberman, I called them "immoral." They are a breach in American military standards that ought to be punished. The punishment has now begun with the sentencing of Specialist Jeremy Sivits to the maximum penalty of the law, one year in the hoosegow. Six more of his moron accomplices are about to be meted out justice. Yet the press's frenzy continues.

American Nick Berg is filmed being beheaded by Islamofascists, and the story fades to the back pages of the news. A roadside weapon is found in Iraq containing the ingredients of a weapon of mass destruction, and it is ephemera. Yet the story of Abu Ghraib remains headline news. The politicians are shocked. Hearings are scheduled. This must never happen again. The military and the pols go into a mad rush to pass prison reforms insuring that, indeed, it will never happen again. The burlesque puts me in mind of the journalistic and political excess of the 1970s, when certain irregularities practiced by our intelligence services led to an earlier mad rush to reform. The consequence was the hamstringing of intelligence that, after 9/11, has been widely lamented by American elites. Still, no one has taken responsibility.

Truth be known, the elites of the 1970s caused the hobbling of our intelligence services; and I have no doubt that overreaction to the Abu Ghraib scandal will hamper intelligence gathering and prison control in the future. Yet, for now, we have to sit back and allow the blowhards to feel good about themselves.

I do wish, however, that they would stop lecturing us on the sanctity of the Arab male body. I have no doubt that among the Iraqi male population there are many goody-two shoes and possibly many middle-aged virgins. However, at Abu Ghraib it seems you have men more expert at roadside ambush, murder, and perhaps rape than at chastity and good works. It was probably a mistake for our military to send the horny boys and girls of the fabled 372nd Military Police Company to that Iraqi hoosegow. They appear to be lifetime subscribers to Hustler magazine. The reports that the 372nd's Sabrina, Lynndie, and Megan collaborated with their four he-man associates to coerce the Iraqi prisoners to simulate intercourse and to masturbate are repulsive. Yet I dissent from the widely held notion that this sort of lasciviousness is all that alien to the Arab male, especially the Arab male with a hankering for violence.

MAY I REFER FELLOW skeptics to a first-person report on the folkways and mores of Arab prisoners at Guantanamo written by Matt Labash in early 2002? Writing in the Weekly Standard he reported asking Marine jailers "if they've seen anything weird." The Marines, continues Labash, "laugh sheepishly, looking at each other. Finally, Sgt. Josh Westbrook, who sports a forearm tattoo of flaming baby heads, steps up. 'They know they're being watched,' he explains, 'so they'll stare at you, and while they stare at you, they'll, uh, masturbate.'"

The Marines believed that their Islamic fundamentalist masturbators were particularly avid "to embarrass the female Army guards."

"The weirdness doesn't end there," reports Labash. "They've also eaten their toiletries and urinated on equipment. 'The other day,' says Westbrook, 'one of the guys tried to do a naked cartwheel.' In the most bizarre twist," writes Labash, "Lance Corporal Devin Klebaur says a few have also been known to 'put toothpaste in their ass.'"

It sounds to me as though we sent the 372nd to the wrong prison. Yet perhaps we have here another news story that, like the news story of Berg's death and of sarin gas being discovered in Iraq, is underreported. Women soldiers in Arab prisons bring unnecessary difficulties. One of the reforms that ought to be contemplated after the news of recent weeks is that women soldiers should be kept out of men's prisons. Another reform that might be contemplated after the fate of women soldiers during the invasion of Iraq is that women should be kept out of front-line combat. For now we shall have to content ourselves with the prudish patter about the Arab male body that rarely sees the light of day and never knows the onanist's pastime -- unless a Weekly Standard reporter is around.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.