March 30th, 2008 - by admin
Catherine Bennett / The Observer (Commentary) – 2008-03-30 22:57:28
LONDON (March 23 2008) — How about 20 March? The publicists at Random House must have thought the anniversary of the war in Iraq would make a terrific peg upon which to hang the publication of Jonathan Powell’s /iGreat Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland. What could be more piquant than to publish Powell’s thoughts on conflict resolution on the anniversary of a conflict supported by the same author?
As for our hero, the only risk attached to promoting his peacemaking skills in a week when he might, more properly, have been reflecting on his part in the deaths of 175 British soldiers, was the obvious similarity of this diversionary tactic to Jo Moore’s very good day to bury bad news.
But where brazen acts of spin are concerned, the public has become more tolerant. Jo Moore’s fate was universal contempt, followed by resignation, followed by atonement in a north London primary school. Jonathan Powell, on the other hand, has been indulged with a week of self-glorification, during which he depicted himself as a wry yet principled drudge, whose role in pushing this country into an illegal and catastrophic war has been hugely misunderstood.
To see him today, making the case for liberal interventionism, is to marvel that this must be the same boor who, according to Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the US, once instructed him to ‘get up the arse of the White House and stay there’. Although, to be fair to Powell and fellow alumni of Blair’s Downing Street sofa, it’s clear that, during their incumbency, the two activities were considered indistinguishable.
There are limits to Powell’s genius; he could not have organised a decoy on this scale without the help of another former enemy, the BBC. Prior to the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, the Corporation invited him on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning programme, where he celebrated instead, and somewhat early, the publication of his own book. There will be another chance to admire Powell’s contribution to conflict resolution in a forthcoming BBC documentary, The Undercover Diplomat, whose producers introduce him thus: ‘Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s designated man behind the scenes working on behalf of the Prime Minister to secure a lasting peace…’
Meanwhile, Tony Blair’s designated judge, Lord Goldsmith, was toiling away as Attorney General, a role which has recently been largely eclipsed by his new incarnation as the author of a report on Britishness, ‘Citizenship: Our Common Bond’.
Goldsmith’s bizarre document, part preposterous, part stultifyingly boring, was published in the same week that, five years ago, he gave the war his blessing. In 30 Days, his still-revealing book about being a Downing Street fly on the wall in March and April 2003, Peter Stothard recalls the triumphant moment, on 15 March, when Goldsmith ‘fortunately’ overruled the opinions of Foreign Office lawyers and sanctioned invasion: ‘If he did not judge the coming war to be legal,’ Stothard wrote, ‘there would be no British troops fighting it.’
Stothard, unlike the little gang on Blair’s sofa, could not have known at the time that Goldsmith was also abandoning his own, previously equivocal position. Nor that, over at the Foreign Office, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser, was about to resign, since ‘an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression’.
If his Britishness proposals were less polished than Powell’s protracted tribute to himself, the utter absurdity of Goldsmith’s nation-building wheezes proved just as effective at changing the subject. Rather than question Goldsmith’s staggering effrontery in returning to public life, as opposed to, say, hiding under a stone, or taking a boat to the Hague and turning himself in, commentators ridiculed his plans for oaths of allegiance. Oaths which, much as they might distress schoolchildren, rarely succeed in killing them.
Today, with the anniversary recriminations just about over, you can almost see Powell and Goldsmith getting up, glancing around and dusting themselves off prior to returning to their respective desks at Morgan Stanley and Debevoise & Plimpton. Of the still wilier Sally Morgan, now Baroness Morgan of Huyton, and fellow wartime trusty, nothing has been seen. Except by her colleagues at the Carphone Warehouse, where she serves Blair’s yacht-owning friend Charles Dunstone as a non-executive director.
As for Alastair Campbell, the author of the dodgy dossier is thought to be busy with a more extended work of fiction. Certainly, although reporters have risked their lives in Iraq these the last weeks to show us how its citizens feel about the devastation of their lives and country, it has proved far more difficult to extract the great bully himself from his lair in Gospel Oak and uncover his current thinking on how it all went. Less controversially, one would like to know if he ever gets any sleep.
Comparatively blameless politicians, who would never, after all, have had to vote for war if Powell and Morgan had not helped prosecute it, Campbell not propagandised it and Goldsmith not licensed it must wonder why the public seems so much more exercised about nests of tables and jobs for the family. Fraudulent though it is, the act of wangling an idle relative on to the payroll is generally considered a lesser offence than manslaughter, or its white collar version, exaggerating evidence so as to facilitate a war which will kill and maim hundreds of your compatriots.
Given the current state of his reputation, it seems unlikely that Derek Conway will return from obscurity any time soon to exclaim that he would happily do it all over again. Powell, in contrast, remains so buoyed by achievements in Iraq that he now proclaims the need for ‘us’ to remove yet more foreign dictators, regardless of the toll in human suffering.
In fairness, even Powell was not entirely spared and still recalls the sicky feeling when he heard about David Kelly. Campbell, as we know, was also afflicted by David Kelly syndrome, though he subsequently rallied enough to publish his diaries, tour his one-man show and routinely chastise the press for its woeful habit of reducing public figures ‘from hero to zero’. ‘Shades of grey don’t fit the formula,’ he complained in the recent Cudlipp lecture.
It is an opinion he will surely want to revise in the light of the extraordinary amnesty this same media now extend to him and his former colleagues, all of them coloured the same dirty charcoal. Not one of these aggressors has apologised. Yet, with their moral vacuity and collective ineptitude established beyond doubt, they have somehow dodged disgrace. Every one of them, even Jack Straw, even Geoff Hoon, has prospered.
Some presume, as a sideline, to lecture us on ethics. While successive commentators have admitted that they got it wrong, the message from Blair, who duped them all, is that presidency of the EU would fit comfortably into a professional portfolio which already includes forging peace in the Middle East, writing his memoirs, teaching, advising an insurance company and some sort of PR for JP Morgan.
Opponents of the war have done less well. Cook is dead; the irritating Clare Short, though ultimately more principled than most of her colleagues, remains the object of ridicule; Andrew Gilligan, whom we heard in Iraq for the BBC on the day the bombs dropped, now toils for the Evening Standard. I am not sure about Greg Dyke, whose last memorable appearance was his resignation from the BBC, when he said: ‘We need closure.’
In reality, we need the opposite. Blair was always wanting us to draw lines, move on and get over things, quickly if we wouldn’t mind hurrying up. Why do we still indulge him?
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
March 30th, 2008 - by admin
John F. Davies / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2008-03-30 22:48:57
(March 28, 2008) — As a former Officer of Marines, I wish to make some comments on this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, some of which will no doubt be controversial. During the Winter Soldier hearings two weeks ago in Washington D.C., a question was raised about why not many active or retired officers are speaking up against the war.
There is indeed a reason for this, and it has to do with simple survival. Those officers on active duty, of course, risk the end of their careers. But those of us who are retired tend to gravitate toward the corporate world, who by the way, are the greatest beneficiaries of this war.
Speaking from my own personal experience, to openly speak out against the Iraq war risks termination from one’s employment, potential bankruptcy, and social ostracism.
Next I will bring up something that’s also been on my mind, and it’s the anti-war movement itself. While I from the beginning have vehemently opposed this unmitigated disaster in Iraq, I’m still not a pacifist, and do have many disagreements with the organizations who’ve taken it upon themselves to coordinate this movement. Their leadership cadres tend to come from a left radical activist background, and they take stands and actions which alienate many people who would otherwise support us.
A good example of this are the recent attempts to shut down the Marine Corps Officer Selection Office in downtown Berkeley. And to openly disagree with these people brings forth rebukes which rival those of the right wing pro-war supporters whom they profess to despise. With individuals such as these guiding its direction, its perfectly understandable why the anti Iraq war movement continues to be marginalized. But further, I will say that the American public itself is to blame for this war. Our so-called “lifestyle” is at the root of this.
The American economy’s dependence on cheap oil, and the consumer economy that goes with it, require wars like this to continue. Even in communities such as Berkeley and San Francisco, who call themselves “progressive,” one sees the same hyper-consumptive way of life that perpetuates these foreign wars. And it is these same people who do not want to make the connections, as it would call into question their very existence. As a result, brave men and women lose their lives, their limbs and their sanity while some affluent liberal drives their Volvo to their weekend anti-war rally, screams their outrage, and feel they have done something good.
Simply put, the American people are unwilling to abandon their wasteful way of life which consumes so much of this planet’s resources and justifies expeditionary wars such as this one.
Unless we break the hold of corporations and the national security state over our lives, wars like this present one will inevitably continue to happen. As I’ve always believed that one should never bring up a problem without suggesting a solution, I’ll offer some ideas as to what must be done even before this Iraq misadventure comes to its inevitable conclusion.
To start with, two Supreme Court decisions must be overturned: Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific, which gave corporations the same rights as a human being, and Buckley vs. Vallejo, which declared money to be free speech.
Also, the National Security Act of 1947, which created the present militarized nation state, needs to be radically amended so as to stop the abuses of clandestine government agencies.
While I do believe in the need for America to be able to defend itself, I will nevertheless say that these unelected unaccountable institutions must be brought to heel if we are stop the recent spate of undeclared and illegal military adventures.
To paraphrase the words of Lincoln: A democracy and a corporate national security state cannot coexist.
Berkeley resident John F. Davies is a former U.S. Marine.
March 30th, 2008 - by admin
Justine Sharrock / Mother Jones – 2008-03-30 22:45:25
BAGHDAD (March 27, 2008) — The prisons in Iraq stink. Ask any guard or interrogator and they’ll tell you it’s a smell they’ll never forget: sweat, fear and rot. On the base where Ben Allbright served from May to September 2003, a small outfit named Tiger in western Iraq, water was especially scarce; Ben would rig a hose to a water bottle in a feeble attempt to shower. He and the other Army reservists tried mopping the floors, but the cheap solvents only added a chemical note to the stench. During the day, when the temperature was in the triple digits, the smell fermented.
It got even hotter in the Conex container, the kind you see on top of 18-wheelers, where Ben kept his prisoners. Not uncommonly the thermometer inside read 135, even 145 degrees. The Conex box was the first stop for all prisoners brought to the base, most of them Iraqis swept up during mass raids. Ben kept them blindfolded, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic zip ties, without food or sleep, for up to 48 hours at a time.
“He made them stand in awkward positions, so that they could not rest their heads against the wall. Sometimes he blared loud music, such as Ozzy or AC/DC, blew air horns, banged on the container, or shouted. “Whatever it took to make sure they’d stay awake,” he explains.
Ben was not a “bad apple,” and he didn’t make up these treatments. He was following standard operating procedure as ordered by military intelligence officers. The MI guys didn’t make up the techniques either; they have a long international history as effective torture methods. Though generally referred to by circumlocutions such as “harsh techniques,” “softening up,” and “enhanced interrogation,” they have been medically shown to have the same effects as other forms of torture. Forced standing, for example, causes ankles to swell to twice their size within 24 hours, making walking excruciating and potentially causing kidney failure.
Ben says he never saw anything like that. The detainees didn’t faint or go insane, as people have been known to do under similar conditions, but they also “weren’t exactly lucid.” And, he notes, “I was hardly getting any sleep myself.”
When I first set off to interview the rank-and-file guards and interrogators tasked with implementing the administration’s torture guidelines, I thought they’d never talk openly. They would be embarrassed, wracked by guilt, living in silent shame in communities that would ostracize them if they knew of their histories. What I found instead were young men hiding their regrets from neighbors who wanted to celebrate them as war heroes. They seemed relieved to talk with me about things no one else wanted to hear — not just about the acts themselves, but also about the guilt, pain and anger they felt along with pride and righteousness about their service. They struggled with these things, wanted to make sense of them — even as the nation seemed determined to dismiss the whole matter and move on.
This, perhaps, is the real scandal of Abu Ghraib: In survey after survey, as many as two-thirds of Americans say torture is justified when it’s used to get information from terrorists. In an ABC/Washington Post poll in the wake of the 2004 scandal, 60 percent of respondents classified what happened at Abu Ghraib as mere abuse, not torture. And as recently as last year, 68 percent of Americans told Pew Research pollsters that they consider torture an acceptable option when dealing with terrorists.
Critics of the administration’s interrogation policies warn that the ramifications will be felt across the globe, including by Americans unlucky enough to be imprisoned abroad. Foreign policy scholars fear the fallout from Abu Ghraib has already weakened the U.S. military’s anti-terrorism capabilities. Lawyers warn about war crime tribunals. But hardly anyone is discussing the repercussions already being felt here at home. It’s the soldiers tying the sandbags around Iraqis’ necks and blaring the foghorns through the night who are experiencing the effects most acutely. And the communities they’re returning to are reeling as a result.
When I went to visit Ben in Little Rock, Ark., I wanted to know why this charming, intelligent, and overly polite 27-year-old had done what he’d done. For 10 days we rode around in his beat-up maroon 1970s Mercedes — running errands, picking up job applications, meeting his girlfriend for lunch. Ben wore pink shirts, hipster blazers and color-coordinated Campers; he used hair products, which to his friends meant being a metrosexual; he listened to indie rock, watched “The Daily Show” and wrote attitude-filled blogs on veterans’ rights, which meant being a liberal. He refereed football games, worshipped novelist Dave Eggers and placed special orders at McDonald’s so his meals would be fresh.
He was unemployed, fired from his latest job as a bank teller the day before I arrived. Ben had worked there for four months — the longest he’d held down a full-time job since coming home from Iraq. He’d tried tutoring high schoolers, bagging groceries and doing IT support for Best Buy. Part of the problem, he said, was the lack of good jobs in the area, part of it his own “flailing and procrastinating.” He had toyed with the idea of law school and scored a near-perfect 178 on the LSAT entrance test, but then turned down offers from schools such as NYU. While I was in town he picked up an application for a job at his corner liquor store. In high school he was one of two students voted most likely to become famous. “The other kid became a doctor,” Ben confessed, “and I, well, yeah …”
As a kid, Ben was a sort of Doogie Howser, blowing through school, asking teachers for more work, until his mom, fearing the classes weren’t challenging enough, pulled him out in the fourth grade in order to home-school him. His parents finally bought a TV set when Ben was in eighth grade. Ben says his dad was an original member of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. He was an executive for American Airlines, a job that moved the family around a lot: St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville. After they lost their nest egg in the 1987 stock market crash, the family moved from Chicago’s lakeshore suburbs to the South Side. Finally, when Ben was a teenager, they settled in Lonoke, outside Little Rock.
Ben took me to the town, 4,300 people and 22 churches. Tractors dotted the fields that hadn’t yet been grabbed by developers. He noted a “Free Greens” sign advertising leftovers from someone’s garden and the customary wave from passing cars. His condescension about the “bumblefuck” town cracked when he showed me a plot of land near one that his buddy had just bought that he saw as a potential home for a future family.
Ben pointed out the Grace Baptist Church, which he attends because he’s friends with the pastor and his son, “not because I agree with their fundamentalist views.” As an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, Ben explored Buddhism and Taoism, but he returned to Christianity as a way to make sense of the world, even though sometimes it’s “awkward reconciling my religion and military profession.”
Ben was still in high school when he enlisted as a reservist; his friend Brandon had asked Ben to accompany him to the recruiter’s office as a “bullshit detector.” In the end, he enrolled along with Brandon, applying twice before he finally bulked up enough to meet the weight requirement. He saw it as a chance to get out from under his parents’ thumb and learn about computers. But mainly it was his idealistic sense of duty — right out of Starship Troopers, the 1959 Robert Heinlein novel that is now a cult hit in military circles. “Like in the book, there’s the idea that to be a full citizen you have to contribute.”
Ben was called up to go to Iraq in February 2003. His father told him the invasion seemed like a mistake, but they didn’t have time to discuss the subject much; he died of cancer a month later. Half an hour after the funeral, Ben was on his way to Kuwait.
In Iraq, Ben was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division; since there was no computer work for him to do, he was made a prison guard.
Things on the Tiger base were pretty “ad hoc,” Ben recalls. Some orders, like the mandate that the heavy Kevlar helmets be fastened at the chin at all times, were clearly posted on the wall. Others were left to word of mouth, including instructions about detainee handling. Military intelligence officers issued various orders; then there were the anonymous OGAs, aka other government agencies, code for either private contractors or CIA oficers with civilian clothes, long beards and fake names like Joe Stallone and Frank Norris. The chain of command was chaotic.
Ben was soon promoted to warden and made small changes on his shift: Guards had to limit stress positions, and detainee rations were increased from crackers and peanut butter to whole Meals Ready to Eat, which were served three times, not two times, a day. He enforced a ban on cameras to discourage the degrading treatment that usually came when soldiers posed with prisoners for trophy photos. “But I could only do so much,” he admits.
When he was first ordered to soften up detainees, “it didn’t seem so weird,” Ben says; nothing in the war zone was normal. “You don’t think about what you’re doing until later.” He was asked to stand in on dozens of interrogations to help intimidate the subject: one more body, one more gun. The small room was usually crowded with guards, military intelligence officers, and OGAs. They were told to wear T-shirts, not uniforms that would signal their rank. Under the single bulb, the interrogator would loom above a prisoner seated in a child-size chair. Sometimes the room suddenly went dark and strobe lights flashed on. Other times the soldiers would bang pots and pans in the detainee’s face, blare loud music, blast air horns and sirens. The sounds were meant to disorient, but also to mask the screams. More than half the time, even if they were cooperative, the detainees were beaten, kicked out of their chairs, punched in the windpipe or gut, pulled by the ears — blows that wouldn’t leave lasting marks. Occasionally things got out of hand, but with their medical training, the military intelligence officers could stitch up or bandage injuries, avoiding a call to the medics and an entry in the logbooks that the Red Cross could read.
The first time Ben saw a detainee get beaten, he took the lead interrogator aside afterward to ask, “Was this stuff really allowed? Didn’t it violate the Geneva Conventions?”
“These aren’t POWs; they’re detainees,” he was told. “Those rules are antiquated and don’t apply. You can’t get any information without breaking that stuff.” Ben asked other officers, but “it was basically like, ‘Dude, you’re actually worried about how we’re treating them? They wouldn’t afford you the same respect.'”
If there is anything Ben hates, it’s not having all the information. Like most, he hadn’t listened when the Geneva Conventions were covered in basic training. But as it happened, when first arriving in the country, he’d asked a military lawyer for a CD-ROM of various documents, just to have on hand. Now, scrolling through the text on his laptop, Ben saw what anyone could: All prisoners — civilians and combatants — are protected against violence. There is no separate category for unlawful combatants. “Outrages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” are prohibited. Abuses like those at the Tiger base were “grave breaches.” War crimes.
Ben made a verbal complaint to his platoon leader and later to his platoon leader’s boss, asking for an investigation. The officers seemed surprised. “They said they’d look into it and tell their superiors,” Ben recalls. “But it didn’t seem like a priority.” Nothing happened.
“I’m not one of those hardcore ‘Duty! Honor! Country!’ guys,” explains Ben. “But I had signed a contract with rules and obligations. I figured that I did the responsible thing by notifying people. I felt helpless not being able to do more. But at least I’d covered my end.” He tried quizzing the guards under him about the Geneva Conventions, but they “just wanted to fuck with people.” He developed a reputation as a softy.
In the summer of 2003, the interrogators threw a detainee against a concrete wall, punched him in the neck and gut, kicked him in the knees, threw him outside and dragged him back in by his hair. For the entire two-hour ordeal, the prisoner wouldn’t talk; Ben later found out he spoke Farsi and couldn’t understand the interrogators’ English and Arabic. Afterward, Ben hid behind a building and cried for the first time since his dad’s death. “It was like a loss of humanity. Like we were trading one dictator in for another. I had to weigh my integrity against my duty. Why couldn’t I stand up more? Why was I hesitant?”
Ben told me this as we were sitting in his bedroom back home in Little Rock; by the end of the story, he had climbed into bed and pulled blankets up around him and was hugging a pillow. There were tears in his eyes, and he apologized for being so “weird about this stuff.” Ben writes poetry, and he’s fiercely loyal to his Army buddies. But now, for the briefest moment, I saw rage in his eyes.
War, Ben was discovering, is “not like what you see on TV. It’s insanely boring and depressing.” His trip home at Thanksgiving in 2003 lasted just long enough for him to discover that his girlfriend had a new man. Back at Tiger, he joined a group of grunts watching a Michael Moore DVD. It struck a chord with them. “I was never political before I went to Iraq. But I was already disgruntled and fed up just being in Iraq. The movie made me angrier.”
It wasn’t Fahrenheit 9/11 that so resonated with the soldiers; it was Roger & Me, a documentary that follows the decline of Flint, Mich., after the General Motors plants closed down. Ben saw “connections between U.S. policies away and at home, how the administration is willing to sacrifice regular people. They were throwing people out of their homes in Flint just like we were taking people out of their homes in Iraq. We got all misty-eyed. It was emotional and had a lingering effect on us.”
Ben began to think about what was behind the abuses he’d seen. Soldiers were sent off to war with the promise that they’d be heroes. They had been trained to kill bad guys, not baby-sit detainees. “You need to think that you’re there for a reason, that there is some purpose,” Ben says. But now people at home were saying the war was a mistake; body counts were mere blips in the news. When Ben first arrived in Iraq, he played soccer with locals; a few months later Iraqis wouldn’t even set foot on the base. More and more, the soldiers turned their anger on the prisoners. They poked them with rifles, called them “towel heads” and “sand niggers.” Guards would let other soldiers “snag a guy to fuck with or whatever, as long as it didn’t leave a mark.”
About a month after Ben left Tiger for good, an insurgency leader detained there, Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, was suffocated in a sleeping bag — a technique that, like waterboarding, Ben had heard was used but had never seen. The General, as he was known, was one of the 160-plus detainees who have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, the man accused of murdering Mowhoush, claimed he’d been following orders. In 2006, he was convicted of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty and sentenced to 60 days of barracks confinement, the equivalent of house arrest.
After Ben came home in March 2004, he was treated warmly. “I was at Applebee’s one night and a guy overheard that I had just come back from Iraq,” he recalls, “so he bought me a Jack and Coke.” He was offered discounts on cell phones and cars. “I finally felt appreciated after feeling used for so long.”
But the welcomes couldn’t silence the questions that kept him up at night. Ben loves to debate, perhaps because he usually wins, but now he was endlessly, fruitlessly arguing with himself. “Every human being instinctively knows right from wrong. There is never a justification for torture.” But then again, “Is softening people up wrong on some levels? I don’t know. It wasn’t beneficial to them, but it was presented as necessary.” He had seen a side of himself he didn’t know existed, and now he had to live with that. “In combat you question your mortality,” he told me. “In these prisons you question your morality.”
I asked Ben point-blank if he considered himself a torturer. It was a hard question to ask, a harder one to answer. He said he didn’t know. He asked me how other soldiers in his situation had responded. Most, I told him, didn’t even brook use of the word “torture” instead of “harsh interrogation.” He finally said he guessed he didn’t want to have to think of himself that way, and that it was time to go meet his girlfriend.
When he first got back from Iraq, Ben had nightmares and couldn’t remember things; this was infuriating, since he’d always prided himself on his perfect memory. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with PTSD, but he refused medication. Instead he blew $14,000 on bar tabs his first four months home. “I drank every night. I’d wake up next to a stranger at around 4 p.m. and head off to the strip club again.” He traveled some, because “you can reinvent yourself when you’re out of town.” He also re-enlisted; he’ll be on active duty until 2013, which means that once a month he has to cut his perfectly messy hair and show up at the local base. He thinks the military needs people like him, “people who can see both sides of things.”
When Ben first started speaking out about torture, posting to blogs and testifying for a human rights group, he didn’t use his real name. Then, gradually, he grew bolder. Brandon, his high school friend, Army buddy, and now roommate, encouraged him, so long as he wasn’t trying to become famous. He got the occasional blog flame — “un-American commie bastard” — but there was none of the reprisal from the Army that he’d feared. Nor, for that matter, any call from the various military investigators looking into human rights abuses. No one seemed to care.
People cared when Spc. Joseph Darby spoke out, though not always in the way he would have wanted them to. Darby is the Army reservist who turned in the Abu Ghraib photos. He hates the term “whistleblower,” which is understandable, since it’s earned him others like “rat” and “traitor.” He’s gotten death threats, from phone calls and emails to just whispers around his hometown of Cumberland, Md. His sister-in-law’s house was vandalized; his wife was verbally harassed and the police refused to help.
I met with Darby at a Starbucks in a strip mall along a busy four-lane route. He is still in a sort of witness protection program the military put him in after his role in the scandal was revealed. He didn’t want me to detail his appearance, which has changed somewhat from the recognizable round face that appeared in magazines and on television. This, he said, was his last interview before he put Abu Ghraib behind him forever.
He said being in hiding wasn’t so tough; he’d always kept to himself. His marriage was rocky while he was in Iraq, and seclusion had forced the couple back together. Whenever our conversation got difficult, he fiddled with his wedding ring.
Darby joined the Army Reserves for tuition money when he was 17, but he never did end up going to college. Instead, after returning from a deployment in Bosnia in June 2002, he found construction work off the books. Eight months later, he was called up again to go to Iraq. When his unit was assigned to guard prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Darby asked for a job where he wouldn’t have too much contact with the detainees; with his temper, he didn’t trust himself around the Iraqis. He became the guy you called to get a mop, garbage bags or meals brought up to the tiers.
Unlike Ben, Darby didn’t witness any abuse; he came across the torture photos by accident. The desert heat had warped his own snapshots, so he asked Cpl. Charles Graner for some pictures, hoping for images of camels and tanks. Scrolling through the CD, he laughed when he saw the pyramid of naked Iraqis. Then he got to the simulated-fellatio pictures.
He insists he’s not a goody-two-shoes tattletale or a saint by any stretch. “I’m as crooked as the next MP,” he explains. “I’ve bent laws and I’ve broke laws.” Months earlier, Graner (who is now serving a 10-year sentence) had shown him a photo of a prisoner tied up in a stress position and said, “The Christian in me knows this is wrong, but the corrections officer in me can’t help but love to make a grown man piss himself.” Darby says he was too tired to think much about it.
It took him three weeks of soul-searching to decide whether he should turn in the photos. He finally took them not to his superior officers but to the Army investigation office, where soldiers can report everything from sexual harassment to theft — a breach of the chain of command that many would later hold against him. Four months later, Darby was sitting in the Abu Ghraib mess hall; CNN was on, showing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s congressional testimony on prisoner abuse. Darby had no idea his tip — which military investigators had assured him would remain anonymous — had led to a national scandal. He heard Rumsfeld name various people who’d provided information — “first the soldier, Spc. Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities … My thanks and appreciation to him for his courage and his values.”
Darby dropped his fork midbite. Oh shit. He felt 400 pairs of eyes on him. Seymour Hersh had already published his name, but as Darby says, “Who reads the damn New Yorker?”
His mom was dying of cancer; now, the compassionate-leave request he had filed a week before was rushed through. When his plane touched down stateside, officers were there with his wife. They escorted the couple to an undisclosed location where they lived with around-the-clock security for the next six months. He didn’t get the formal thank you he’d expected from the Army, though a personal letter from Rumsfeld arrived at one point — asking him to stop talking about how he’d been outed.
When the Abu Ghraib photos splashed on television sets, people in Cumberland watched, hoping their loved ones weren’t involved. Not all were so lucky. Kenneth England saw the pictures of his daughter, Lynndie, as did the welders and machinists who work with him at the CSX railroad. They supported him as best they knew how: by not mentioning it. While Pentagon flacks spun the scandal as the work of a few bad apples from Appalachia, people in the area hung yellow ribbons and “Hometown Hero” posters for the accused MPs. Reservists’ wives organized candlelight vigils.
“Everybody needs his time over there to mean or count for something,” Sgt. Ken Davis, a teetotaler nicknamed Preacher Man by the other MPs at Abu Ghraib, told me. “It has to be right in the greater scheme of things. But if the U.S. government was truly at the helm, ordering the abuse, then it actually means nothing. And now we live with ghosts and demons that will haunt us for the rest of our lives.”
Davis, who has a clean, bleachy smell to him and says “dang” a lot, was in some of the photos, and he says he reported the abuse to his superior. For that, people at the police department near Cumberland, where he worked, call him a narc. He’s become an Abu Ghraib junkie, attending the trials, testifying at some, collecting photos and evidence, corresponding with the accused. It’s a way, he says, to get closure. “A lot of soldiers, when we come back, are lost. You don’t belong anymore. It’s especially true for a unit accused of abuse, when you hear lies about what happened and people deny what you saw.” At 37, he’s particularly worried about the younger soldiers he served with. “They were put in situations where they had to do things they didn’t agree with just to survive,” he says. “All they know about being an adult is the military. We’ve got a lost generation on our hands.”
Military recruiters always had it easy in Cumberland. Beyond honor, responsibility and meaning, they pitched a paycheck and a ticket out. It was on the steps of Cumberland’s City Hall that Lyndon B. Johnson first announced his War on Poverty back in 1964, but neither the coal mining industry, the railway nor a series of short-lived manufacturing booms could win that battle. Of the big factories in the area, only the paper mill is still open. One in five residents live below the poverty line, a third more than the national average. A food bank operates out of a former bread factory. In February 2007, a high school football player shot himself during a game of Russian roulette.
I often asked people in town what they thought about the war, but conversation inevitably turned to jobs. Supporting the troops was akin to union solidarity — a pact among the people doing the country’s grunt work. As one ex-Marine told me, “Sometimes you just have to do what you can to get by. And you have to be able to believe in the validity of what you’re doing.”
People told me the threat against Darby was exaggerated. The university’s chaplain had been harassed for hosting an anti-war event, the newspaper’s columnist threatened for advocating gun control, but no harm had come to either of them. Colin Engelbach, the commander of the local VFW post–who called Darby a “borderline traitor” on national television — said that by “get him,” people just meant they would make Darby’s life hell.
Engelbach is a small guy whose eyes had trouble meeting mine. He spent ten years in the National Guard and four on active duty, though he didn’t see combat. Now he works double shifts making depleted uranium munitions at Alliant Tech. For several months after our interview, he called me with “dirt” on Darby; the overall message was that Darby had put himself before his comrades, that he was not a real American.
“People aren’t pissed because I turned someone in for abuse,” Darby told me. “People are pissed because I turned in an American soldier for abusing an Iraqi. They don’t care about right and wrong.”
Five miles down from Cumberland, Cresaptown, home to the 372nd Military Police Company’s headquarters, is little more than the junction of U.S. Highway 220 and Route 53. There’s no town hall, the civic improvement center is shuttered and old toys sit forgotten on the front porches of houses behind low wire fences. It’s only a few steps from Pete’s Tavern to the Big Claw bar and the Eagles Club, which a few years back launched a minor scandal by admitting a black man. (“He may be a nigger, but he’s also a cop,” one Pete’s regular told me, “so they had to let him in.”)
Driving down the hill into Cresaptown, the first thing you notice is the sweeping expanse of glimmering barbed wire and corrugated metal buildings that house the roughly 1,700 inmates and 500 employees of the Western Correctional Institution. The 161-acre property used to be the Celanese factory, where you could swim in the public pool for a quarter. Next door is the brand new $24.8 million prison, built by out-of-state contractors and lauded as a state-of-the-art maximum-security facility. The 372nd’s inconspicuous brick building is down the road, past the Liberty Christian Fellowship, the technical high school (whose sign declares “teamwork” the word of the month) and the Boy Scout building.
On most afternoons you’ll find John Kershner, a sergeant with the 372nd, sitting at the Big Claw smoking his USA brand menthols with his change lined up on the bar, ready for his next dollar-fifty Miller Lite. The night I was there “Sarge” was talking more than he had in a while, he admitted. He was polite in an old-time kind of way, making a point of taking off his well-worn Eagles Club hat indoors, revealing a balding, shaved head. His light blue eyes were shielded behind his thick glasses. Sarge knows Darby well; he was the guy who hired him to work off the books at his self-storage construction company after the two served together in Bosnia — though it was Darby who told me about this later, not Kershner. “People here feel more hurt by this whole thing than anything,” Sarge whispered into my ear. “I just wish Darby would shut his mouth and let the rest of us move on.”
Sarge had to sell his construction business when he deployed to Iraq. Now employers tell him he’s either overqualified or, at a war-weathered 56, too old. He’s been filing for his veteran’s benefits for two years now but continues to get the runaround. He knows what most everyone in the bar does for a living — he’s a roofer, he’s a pharmacist, she’s a beautician. “I’m not saying that the photos were correct,” one of the other patrons, his work boots still muddy, told me. “But our people had their heads cut off.”
“Other countries can torture our men to death and it’s OK, but if we drop one decimal dip below our standards, you have guys paying the price,” Sarge said. “Now you need permission to even shoot back when you’re under attack. You let them win there, and we’ll be fighting here next.”
There is a peace group in Cumberland. It’s spearheaded by Larry Neumark, the Protestant chaplain at local Frostburg State University whose cardigan sweaters and soft voice conjure up Mr. Rogers. Early on in the war, the group — mostly composed of faculty from Frostburg and nearby community colleges, who clung to each other as a “lifeline” — struggled for attention. “You’ll be accused of being unpatriotic and un-American if you speak up,” said Neumark. A local college has rejected courses with “peace” in the title as unpatriotic. “But in the last six to seven months people have been more willing to talk.”
When I first visited Cumberland in December 2006, Neumark told me that he had caught hell for inviting Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer, to speak on campus against the war. By last spring, he was having a hard time filling the pro-war slot on a panel discussion he was setting up. Torture, though, was another story. Neumark had proposed a discussion about the topic, but people were “very on edge” about it, as Daniel Hull, a member of the group, told me. Even the activists were split on whether they should “go in that direction.”
Eventually Neumark did pull together his panel, featuring a man who had been tortured in the Philippines during the Marcos regime. About 100 students, many of them earning class credits, listened to him recall mock executions and solitary confinement. One student argued that the Geneva Conventions were outdated. “Has fear been used to effectively deaden our critical senses?” Neumark asked. An audience member stomped out. In the back someone snoozed. “Torture is a form of terrorism,” offered Neumark. “Why do you think people aren’t speaking out about this?” No one had an answer.
In Ben’s two-bedroom apartment in a suburban complex, the shades are always down and the lights are dimmed. An Ikea rug covers the cheap wall-to-wall carpeting, Yellow Tail wine bottles line the mantle, Aristotle and Dostoevsky serve as toilet reading and a large-screen TV with a PlayStation 2 dominates the living room. Ben shares the place with Brandon, who circumvented the post-war job problem by taking a civilian job at the nearby Army base. He seems more stereotypically military than Ben, with wide biceps, close-cropped hair, and a closetful of Army T-shirts. But he writes poetry and acoustic songs about things such as post-traumatic stress and how he almost reflexively hit his girlfriend one day and never regained her trust.
One afternoon, with a sitcom on TV and his dog skidding around the sofa, I grilled Ben about torture. After returning from Iraq, he studied the philosophical theories surrounding the issue to prepare for just these kinds of conversations — particularly in case he ever got to talk to Sen. John McCain, to whom he’d written during the drafting of the Detainee Treatment Act. We discussed the ticking-time-bomb argument — the hypothetical challenge arguing the morality of torturing someone who knows where a bomb is hidden — which Ben called “total bullshit” since “we aren’t living in some fantasy 24 kind of world where those sorts of situations occur.” Besides, he said, torture will induce false confessions. And most of the detainees at Tiger didn’t even have anything to confess; like 70 to 90 percent of those jailed across Iraq, according to a 2004 Red Cross report, they’d been arrested by mistake.
When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, Ben was on a trip around Europe. He pretended to be Canadian, and the whole thing pained him — because he’s a patriot and because the images brought back memories. “It was like a bad nostalgia,” he said. “But it was also embarrassing. I just didn’t want to be associated with it.”
When I asked Ben if Brandon judged him for what he did in Iraq, he said they don’t really talk about it. “It’s two separate parts of our lives, and we keep it that way,” Ben explained. “It’s like, ‘Iraq sucked. Now get on with it.'” He said he doesn’t talk about it to anyone close to him — he’d tell his mom, he said, but she has never asked and he doesn’t want to bother her.
His girlfriend, Gretchen, flat out doesn’t want to know. Gretchen trained Ben as a teller at the bank. She’s gorgeous, with long dark hair and tall leather boots. Within a week, they were making out; six months later, she’s sure he’s the one. They seemed too young to be talking about marriage until I saw their friends with kids, mortgages and ex-spouses.
I asked Gretchen if we could have coffee. “It’s not like I know anything about what happened over there,” she said. “I probably should, but he doesn’t talk about it, and I don’t want to think about it.” Gretchen blushed when she asked me what Abu Ghraib was. (“She doesn’t know much about politics,” commented Ben, “and that’s to put it nicely.”) “I realize I’m naive,” she said. “I get upset about stuff that’s sad on TV.” She didn’t have a “real opinion about the war. I figure the people in charge know more, so I trust them.”
But Gretchen did know how Ben would “tear up” sometimes, like when he was fired from the bank, even though he said it was no big deal, or how he only stayed for five minutes when he visited his dad’s grave, or how he used to wake up in the middle of the night shouting. She thought Ben liked her not being political because she didn’t argue with him. I thought he liked the escape.
When I was in Little Rock in January 2007, Ben was chastising himself for not having spoken out more about the war. He had just bought a new Web domain, WaitingToPanic.net, to consolidate his blogs and had big plans for building his veterans site, Operation Comeback, into a full-on grassroots movement. Human Rights Watch had encouraged him to work for them, and he thought that was a great idea. But he was also excited about cheap properties in the area, and when he got upset by our conversations about Iraq, he told me he’d been trying to “block it out a little bit.”
A year later, when I checked in with him again, he had bought a brand-new three-bedroom house in Lonoke, the town where he’d grown up. Gretchen had moved in with him. He was working with the military as a communications expert — the “resident computer geek,” as he put it — at the local base. He was up for a promotion to warrant officer candidate. His new website was blank, and he hadn’t posted on his blogs in months. And Sen. McCain had never called.
“I’m told that I’m courageous for speaking out,” he said. “But I wonder if I get blamed enough for the bad things I’ve done. Did I stand up enough? Using a situation to justify it, like I did, doesn’t make it right. It’s the sense of being helpless that still weighs heavily on my soul.”
© 2008 Mother Jones All rights reserved.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US COde, for noncomercial, educational purposes.
March 30th, 2008 - by admin
War News Today. Blogspot – 2008-03-30 22:37:40
Reported Security Incidents
War News Today. Blogspot
• Two MND-Baghdad soldiers killed by roadside bomb on Saturday. This was announced yesterday, but too late to make it into Whisker’s post so I’m linking it here. Note: It appears that the city-wide curfew has affected reporting. Available information is unusually sketchy. I doubt that this is close to a full accounting of security incidents in Baghdad today.
Three volleys of mortar attacks on the Green Zone during the day, no information on damage or casualties.
• An Iraqi government official says at least 23 people have been killed in US air strikes targeting Shiite areas of Baghdad. Unfortunately, at this time, I can find only this very limited statement, no further details.
• Two bodies found dumped on Saturday.
• Colonel Ziad Qassem Sultan, commander of police 1st regiment and another officer killed in an attempt to arrest members of the Islamic State in Iraq. This is a group the US conventionally labels as “al Qaeda.” Yes, this other conflict is still going on.
• Botched bomb attack on a police commander kills three civilians.
• Iraqi forces say they killed an “al Qaeda” gunman and wounded four.
Diyala Province, near Baquba
• Council chief Ibrahim Hassan al-Bajlan survives a bomb attack on his motorcade, two bodyguards killed. Reuters puts this “near Saadiya,” which is actually about 50 miles from Baquba.
• Gunmen attack a police patrol, kill five police officers, injure two civilians.
• Police say they arrested 101 “militants” in various raids.
• Three awakening council members injured in a bomb attack on their patrol.
• Roadside bomb kills one Iraqi army officer, injures two soldiers, on Saturday.
Siniya (near Beiji)
• Suicide car bomber kills 5 “Awakening Council” members, 8 others injured.
Other News of the Day
Baghdad residents face food shortages as curfew continues
Adam Brookes / BBC News
BAGHDAD — Since the curfew in Baghdad was extended indefinitely, the city has been dotted with military checkpoints. The curfew means no vehicles at all can move — except for those of the police and military.
That, of course, makes it much harder for militiamen to move around. They cannot transport supplies or ammunition. They cannot carry the 107mm rockets that are plaguing this city to launching sites. If they try, they risk being spotted by American overhead surveillance — perhaps by unmanned drones or helicopters.
The American military released graphic footage on Saturday, filmed from the gun camera of an Apache attack helicopter, which showed militiamen on the move. And the missile which killed them.
For Baghdad’s civilians, life grows more miserable by the hour. The authorities appear to be allowing a little foot traffic but for the most part Baghdad’s streets are empty. Most of its businesses are closed, as are schools. Some neighbourhood markets are open, and in calmer parts of the city people are leaving their houses to shop.
But the curfew means no fresh food is coming into the city. The vegetables on the stalls are now several days old, prompting expression of disgust from shoppers. Nonetheless, they are selling out fast as people stock up for the coming days. “Just onions and garlic left,” said one after visiting a market in east Baghdad.
And prices are starting to rise. A kilo of tomatoes usually costs 1,250 Iraqi dinars (about $1). This morning, at the east Baghdad market, they were selling for 3,000 dinars. A man out shopping said he had fought his way through a crush of people surrounding a stall that still displayed a pile of ageing tomatoes. The boy working the stall refused to serve him, saying he needed to sell to local women who were trying to feed their families.
The man found his frustration tempered by the boy’s insistence on serving those who needed the food most. Bakers in the same district say that in another two days they will no longer be able to bake bread.
Al-Sadr has ordered a ceasefire to the Maliki government, but reports are conflicting as to whether he has made that conditional on government forces standing down and an amnesty for prisoners. It’s a bit unclear how far this goes. The way I read it, he is telling his followers not to initiate attacks against government offices, but he says nothing about defending territory.
Here is the BBC version as of approximately 8:00 am Eastern Time:
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities in an effort to end clashes with security forces. He said in a statement that his movement wanted the Iraqi people to stop the bloodshed and maintain its independence and stability.
Previously Mr Sadr had defied a government deadline to hand over weapons in return for cash. The fighting has claimed more than 240 lives across the country since Tuesday.
In Baghdad, the city’s military command has extended a round-the-clock curfew for an indefinite period. The curfew had been due to end on Sunday morning. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militias until 8 April to surrender their weapons in return for cash.
Mr Sadr’s statement said: “Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces. Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us.”
The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees, and stop what he called illegal raids.
However, the AP version is different:
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is offering to pull his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities if the government halts raids against his followers and releases prisoners held without charge. The offer is contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.
Al-Sadr is demanding that the government issue a general amnesty and release all detainees. The statement said he also “disavows” anyone who carries weapons and targets government institutions, charities and political party offices.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
This from Aswat al-Iraq, which bases its report on the government TV station, and may therefore represent official spin.
Arbil, Mar 30, (VOI) – Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr gave instructions to his supporters on Sunday to cease fire, according to the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV station. “Sadr has sent a message to his loyalists urging them to end all armed activities,” the TV channel said.
Sadr, according to the channel close to the Iraqi government, “disowned anyone attacking the state institutions or parties’ offices and headquarters.””Based on responsibility towards Iraq and to stem Iraqi bloodshed and to preserve the country’s unity and integrity as a prelude to its independence, I call on the people to be up to their responsibility and awareness in order to maintain Iraq’s stability,” Sadr said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).
The Shiite leader appealed to the government to stop illegal raids and random detention campaigns and release all non-convicted detainees, particularly the members of the Sadrist bloc.
Whatever al Sadr’s orders, the most recent dispatch indicates that he has no intention of disarming:
NAJAF (March 30, 008) — Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr will not hand over their weapons as part of a move to end fighting in Iraq, a top Sadr aide said.
The aide, Hazem al-Araji, also said that Sadr’s followers had received a guarantee from the government that it would end “random arrests” of Sadr followers. He spoke to journalists at Sadr’s office in the holy city of Najaf after distributing a statement from Sadr calling on followers to stop fighting.
It seems to me that the simplest way to put this is that al-Sadr is simply calling for a cease-fire in place, which would mean, in essence, that the government offensive has failed and the situation returns to the status quo ante, except that al-Sadr has demonstrated that the Iraqi forces are impotent against the Mahdi Army. — C
Amnesty given to 569 prisoners in Muthanna province, under the amnesty law passed Feb. 27. Muthanna is a sparsely populated, essentially 100% Shiite province in the far south, about as far away from the sectarian and political problems afflicting most of Iraq as you can get. Just so you know.
Authorities fire a 60 member police unit for desertion during recent clashes.
Commentary and Analysis
AP’s Charles Hanley looks at how well the Iraqi army is “standing up.”
Iraq’s new army is “developing steadily,” with “strong Iraqi leaders out front,” the chief US trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the US Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army’s weapons, according to investigators. The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to “stand up” an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed US forces to “stand down” from Iraq.
The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces — in their toughest test yet — were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias. Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now US commander in Iraq, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.
Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.
Robert Parry pulls no punches.
During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Yet, Frontline and other mainstream US news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.
An obvious reason why the mainstream US press can’t handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other US officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.
To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing US power structure, which hasn’t changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.
Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.
Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post’s editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.
The same is true for the New York Times’s op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won’t hail Bush’s courageous war leadership.
In evaluating this corrupt political/media elite, a historian might want to go back even further and wonder how someone as eminently unqualified and unfit as George W. Bush became president of the most powerful nation on earth.
How did a technologically sophisticated country like the United States with a relatively free press get led down this dangerous path? Why did so many American voters in 2000 believe made-up stories about Al Gore’s supposed delusions, like the apocryphal quote, “I invented the Internet”?
Awww, go ahead, read the whole thing.
Ned Parker of the LA Times
Deconstructs US policy in Iraq.
The US military now risks forfeiting gains with the Sadr group, arguably the most popular Shiite political movement across Iraq. Already, US officers have reported an increase in the number of attacks against them in Baghdad, where soldiers had benefited from the Mahdi Army’s tacit cooperation.
“It would be disastrous if the United States ended up as supporters on a crackdown on the Sadrists for reasons mainly to do with internal Shiite politics,” said Reidar Visser, editor of the southern Iraq-related website historiae.org.
“The fight in Basra shows the folly of trying to control all the Shiites of Iraq through a small minority, which appears to be the current US policy.”
Many Iraqis have viewed the members of the post-Saddam Hussein administrations as isolated returning exiles, backed by Iran or the US The officials’ credibility has been diminished by government failings since the US-led invasion — notably endemic corruption, the lack of security and abysmal public services.
In contrast, the Sadr movement’s foundations are built upon the legacy of Sadr’s father, who challenged Hussein’s rule in sermons and was killed in 1999. Its voice, fiercely anti-US and staunchly nationalist, has emerged as one of the few alternatives for Iraqis. The movement has even survived a two-year stint in the government and, like other Shiite militias, its involvement in sectarian killings.
Sadr loyalists allege that as the elections approach, their group has been deliberately targeted by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council through the army and police’s top commanders, where the party wields influence. The Sadr camp mostly boycotted the last local elections in January 2005, and predicts that it will out its opponents this time.
Quote of the Day
Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the US invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq’s formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and “sectarian violence” has become Americans’ primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.
But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq — and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult — is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists — with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice — who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country’s vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq’s political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.
The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq’s parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a “soft partition” of Iraq into at least four semiautonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.
FACTBOX-Security Developments in Iraq, March 30
(March 30, 2008) — Following are security developments in Iraq at 1830 GMT on Sunday. (* denotes new or updated items.)
NAJAF — Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to stop battling government forces after six days of fighting in Iraq’s south. The statement was read to journalists by his aides in Najaf.
HILLA -Iraqi security forces arrested 101 suspected militants during several raids and clashes across Hilla on Saturday, police said.
DHULUIYA — Gunmen attacked a police patrol killing five policemen and wounding two civilians in Dhuluiya, 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
SANIYA — A suicide car bomber killed seven people, including three US-allied neighbourhood patrol volunteers, and wounded eight in an attack on a checkpoint in Saniya, west of Baiji in northern Iraq, police said.
* BAGHDAD — Three people were killed and 13 wounded after a mortar bomb hit a barber shop in Baghdad’s Karrada district, police said.
* BAGHDAD — Five bodies were found in different districts of Baghdad on Sunday, police said.
BAGHDAD — A US helicopter airstrike killed 12 suspects in clashes in northern Baghdad, the US military said.
BAGHDAD — A US helicopter airstrike killed two gunmen responsible for a roadside bomb attack in the Fadaliya area of Iraq’s New Baghdad district, the US military said.
BAGHDAD — Six people were wounded, including four civilians, in clashes between Iraqi security forces and Mehdi Army gunmen in Baghdad’s Ur neighbourhood, police said.
BAGHDAD — Three police officers were wounded when their police station was attacked by gunmen in the New Baghdad neighbourhood, police said.
HAWIJA — Three US-backed neighbourhood patrol members were wounded by a roadside bomb attack in Hawija, 60 km (40 miles) south of Kirkuk, police said.
NEAR SAADIYA — Ibrahim Bajlan, the head of Diyala provincial council, escaped an assassination attempt near Saadiya, 80 km (50 miles) north of the provincial capital Baquba, police said. Two of his bodyguards were killed in the attack.
KIRKUK — A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two people in central Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
MOSUL — Two policemen, including a police Colonel, Ziyad Qasim, were killed in clashes with gunmen in western Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
BAGHDAD — Two bodies were found in Baghdad on Saturday, police said.
NAJAF — A roadside bomb killed one Iraqi army officer and wounded two soldiers when a it struck their vehicle in northern Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad on Saturday, security source said.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
March 29th, 2008 - by admin
60 Minutes / CBS – 2008-03-29 23:13:19
NEW YORK (March 28, 2008) — A German resident held by the U.S. for almost five years tells 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that Americans tortured him in many ways – including hanging him from the ceiling for five days early in his captivity when he was in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Even after determining he was not a terrorist, Murat Kurnaz says the torture continued. Kurnaz tells his story for the first time on American television this Sunday, March 30, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Kurnaz, an ethnic Turk born and raised in Germany, went to Pakistan in late 2001 at age 19 to study Islam and wound up in Pakistani police custody. It was three months after 9/11, and Kurnaz says the U.S. was offering bounties for suspicious foreigners. Kurnaz says he was “sold” to the Americans for $3,000 and brought to Kandahar as terrorist suspect.
He claims American troops tortured him in Afghanistan by holding his head underwater, administering electric shocks to the soles of his feet, and hanging him suspended from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar and kept alive by doctors. “Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down and the doctor came,” he recalls. “He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart and when he said ‘okay,’ then they pulled me back up,” he tells Pelley.
The U.S. Pentagon responding by e-mail says, “We treat all detainees humanely… and all credible claims are investigated thoroughly…. The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated and implausible, they are simply outlandish.”
Kurnaz, who has told his story to European investigators, says “[It] doesn’t matter whatever they will say. The truth will not change… this is the truth.”
Kurnaz says he was questioned in Afghanistan about Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban. He answered truthfully, he says, and told them repeatedly to call the German government and verify who he was. But they continued to torture him, he says. “They used to beat me when my head was underwater…they beat me into my stomach….I had to inhale the water,” he tells Pelley.
He says he was then brought to Guantanamo as one of the first “enemy combatants.” His treatment there, he says, included repeated beatings at the hands of soldiers in riot gear, sleep-deprivation and solitary confinement. “It’s dark inside, no lights and they can punish you in isolation… by coldness or…heat. They have special air conditioners. Very strong. They can turn it very cold or very hot.”
After a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2004, Kurnaz was visited by an American lawyer, who successfully sued the U.S. government to release his classified file. That file contained information from the FBI, German Intelligence and even the U.S. military pointing to his innocence. But after a series of Kafkaesque military tribunals and review boards, he remained in Guantanamo until 2006.
Kurnaz’ lawyer, Baher Azmy, says there may be many more cases like Kurnaz’s at the offshore prison. “In Guantanamo, no detainee has ever been able to genuinely present evidence before a neutral judge and so as absurd as Murat Kurnaz’s case is, I assure you, there are many, many dozens just as tenuous,” Azmy tells Pelley.
Produced by Graham Messick and Michael Karzis
© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc.
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March 29th, 2008 - by admin
Sara Flounders / Workers World – 2008-03-29 23:10:49
(March 29, 2008) — A category of semi-secret U.S. bases is vastly extending the Pentagon’s military presence around the globe. Innocuously called CSLs, for Cooperative Security Locations, these bases are a new, covert form of intervention.
The CSLs and other loose security agreements allow the Pentagon to set up facilities and structures, lease warehouses, and maintain roads, airstrips and seaports using a combination of private contractors and local forces. The Pentagon maintains a network of military bases in about 70 countries. But the new Collective Security Locations are being established in up to 100 other countries.
Senior Editor Adam J. Hebert wrote an article in the August 2006 Air Force Magazine online entitled “Presence, Not Permanence” that described the Pentagon’s changing approach to its worldwide bases and its need, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, to reorganize and break out of its “strategically obsolete Cold War straitjacket.”
Hebert described how, with the closing of bases, such as in Iceland, the Air Force didn’t bring home large numbers of airmen but instead updated its basing structure with a series of new locations and temporary bases.
Asia Times online of June 1, 2005, reporting on an earlier background briefing by a senior official of the Defense Department, explained that the U.S. had been operating from “5,458 distinct and discrete military installations around the world. … We don’t need those little pieces of property anymore.”
The Commission on Review of the Overseas Military Facility Structure of the U.S., also known as the Overseas Basing Commission, was established by Congress to conduct a thorough study on the global re-alignment of U.S. bases. The commission defined a series of new basing arrangements.
The CSLs were supposedly envisioned as facilities with little or no permanent U.S. presence, maintained with contractor and/or host nation support. They contain prepositioned equipment and are rapidly scalable and expandable. The Overseas Basing Commission also defines Forward Operating Sites as places with prepositioned equipment that can host rotational forces and be a focus for bilateral and regional training.
Other categories, such as Forward Support Location, Preposition Site, and En Route Infrastructure, are defined as new base arrangements beyond the traditional Main Operating Base that has permanently stationed combat forces and command and control structures.
The expanding U.S. military presence throughout East, South and Central Asia appears to be focused on surrounding and attempting to isolate the growing influence of China.
The Pentagon also uses joint military exercises to exert overwhelming influence over the militaries of many smaller and developing nations. Former U.S. Pacific Command head Admiral Thomas Fargo explained in March 2003 that relationships built through exercises and training are “our biggest guarantor of access in time of need.”
There are CSLs in Thailand, throughout South and Central Asia, and in Senegal, Africa.
Growing popular struggles against the joint military exercises and the CSL bases in the Philippines may have an impact on anti-base struggles around the world.
For over 110 years the Philippines has been U.S. imperialism’s prime military outpost and stepping stone to China and the Asian mainland. U.S. bases in the Philippines enabled the U.S. military to control strategic sea lanes.
Philippine law has banned U.S. bases since a mass movement forced them out in 1992. Yet today 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed there and are in constant operation. Under the Balikatan joint war exercises, the Pentagon is bringing in logistical equipment and building installations.
According to a Feb. 26 report from Foreign Policy in Focus, the number of troops, ships, equipment and infrastructure grows each year. The year 2005 saw 24 joint military exercises involving U.S. and Philippine troops. This grew to 37 scheduled exercises in 2006—or one U.S. military exercise every 10 days.
“Training missions” and military exercises mean a continuing presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines. It also comes with a special name: the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. The JSOTF-P has been based in the Philippines for more than six years on an ongoing “temporary training mission.” The U.S. stay has become open-ended and, as with the “temporary” CSL bases, its permanence is unofficial and unacknowledged.
Immediately after 9/11 Washington used as an excuse for the re-entry of its forces that the Philippines needed help in fighting a “terrorist threat” from a small, secretive armed group known as Abu Sayyaf. The Manila Times of Aug. 27, 2007, reported that, “Even as the United States denies plans to set up a military base in the Philippines, the American military is reportedly building a host of projects across Mindanao.”
A Rand Corporation report prepared for the U.S. Air Force entitled “Ungoverned Territories” and available online summarizes U.S. military presence globally. It highlights the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area, East Africa, West Africa, the Caucasus, the Venezuela/Colombia border and Mindanao Island in the Philippines. The U.S. “area of operations” in the Philippines presently covers 8,000 square miles, including the entire island of Mindanao and surrounding islands.
Paying for occupation
In the Philippines and many other underdeveloped countries drowning in debt, the “host” country must pay for the U.S. military presence.
According to a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, available online, that the Philippines signed with the U.S. in November 2002, the Philippine government must supply the Pentagon with all the logistical support needed during the endless military and training “exercises” and “other U.S. military deployments” to maintain their forces in the region. This Support Agreement lists everything from food and water to ammunition, spare parts and components, billeting, transportation, communication, medical services, operation support, training services, repair and maintenance, storage services, port services and construction of “temporary structures.”
Everything the U.S. used to supply for its own use at its former bases in the region, such as the giant Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, is now to be provided by the impoverished Philippine government on an as-need basis.
The newsletter U.S. Intervention Watch, published by Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao in coordination with US Troops Out Now! Mindanao Coalition, explains that the widely publicized U.S. humanitarian missions are really military operations and a cover for a permanent military presence.
“The objective is not to provide health care to peasant farmers, but to secure U.S. economic interests in the Asia-Pacific by turning the Philippines into a base of operation. This base will serve to protect U.S. multi-billion dollar investments and promote prospective commerce in the Philippines in oil, energy, minerals and plantations, keep an eye on the Malacca Straits where 25 percent of all globally traded oil passes, and threaten nearby China as its rise to global power continues,” says the newsletter.
Massacre made in USA
U.S. occupation troops bring attacks, massacres and rapes of the local civilian population. According to a news article in Bulatlat, a weekly Philippine online news magazine, “U.S. troops were present during the February 4 assault by combined Army and Navy elite forces on Barangay village, Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu, that killed eight non-combatants, including an Army soldier home on vacation.”
Sulu’s Governor Abdulsakur Tan said: “This is not the first time that the U.S. troops were reported to have taken part in Philippine military operations in Sulu.” He corroborated the U.S. role in an attack in early 2007, when U.S. troops were supposedly doing “road construction” in the village of Barangay Bato-Bato, Indanan.
Temogen Tulawie, convener of the Concerned Citizens of Sulu and former Jolo councilor, said the latest massacre is part of a larger picture. Starting in 2003, Balikatan military exercises were held in Sulu. This provoked waves of protest from the people, who still remember an historic massacre committed in 1906 when hundreds of Moro resistance fighters were gunned down by U.S. occupation forces.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996, has filed a case before the U.N. Human Rights Council on the latest massacre.
The U.S. military presence is no longer covert in the Philippines. A mass movement is paying growing attention and mobilizing against this new form of U.S. occupation. As Initiatives for Peace and U.S. Troops Out Now! Mindanao Coalition explained: “Mindanao has a long history of resistance to colonization.”
Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
March 29th, 2008 - by admin
Mariana Sanchez / Al Jazeera & Agencies – 2008-03-29 23:04:44
LIMA (March 29, 2008) — The road was long and perilous high up in the Andes’ mountains. We traveled 14 hours from Lima to Accomarca, a remote and forgotten village where time seemed to have stood still.
Not much has changed for the 500 families who lived through the worst of the violence of the 1980’s and 90’s when the Peruvian army battled against Shining Path rebels.
The Shining Path, a Maoist group who carried out a bloody campaign to overthrow the government, killed community leaders, police, soldiers and innocent civilians.
The army carried out its own brutal response to the Shining Path – targeting villages high in the Andes that they said supported the Shining Path. This response reached Accomarca on the morning of August 14, 1995. To the army, the villagers were suspects of supporting the Shining Path.
Two army patrols under then deputy lieutenant Telmo Hurtado forced the villagers to walk three kilometres down a mountain, to a place the villagers know as Llocllapampa. There they separated the men from the women.
Cesareo Gamboa, now 75, hid behind the bushes and saw the soldiers forcing women and children into his own home, among them his nine and seven year old daughters. He says the soldiers shot at them and then threw at least one grenade inside the home.
“The soldiers shot those who tried to flee, they killed my children, I am still suffering for this,” he cried. By the end of the day the soldiers had killed 69 villagers. Among them the elderly, pregnant women and 26 children.
When we reached Llocllapampa, the villagers had walked there and gathered to receive us. They were holding banners pleading for attention, many were crying.
It is evident that the wounds have not healed, and the villagers say they still cannot understand why 26 children were brutally murdered. “It’s been 23 years, we want justice”, they shouted.
A government commission investigated the case, but none of the perpetrators were charged with serious violations of human rights. Alan Garcia, who was president at the time of the massacre, promoted Hurtado to Major.
And across Peru, tens of thousands suffered during the conflict.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2003 that 70,000 Peruvians had been killed or remained missing. It also said more than 2000 mass graves that remain undiscovered.
The Commission said most of the killers were Shining Path rebels, and many were tried and sentenced, but few soldiers have been held responsible for the many atrocities committed by the army.
Javier Diez Canseco, a former congressman and head of the Accomarca investigation, says it is difficult to prove Garcia ordered the strategy used by the army to combat Shining Path. “But on the other hand he sanctioned the military heads of the area, he upgraded Hurtado to lieutenant and then to Major, and that means there was a state policy of impunity.”
Most of the atrocities occurred during Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori’s governments. Alberto Fujimori recently return to face trial on murder charges and for sanctioning a paramilitary death squad known as ‘Grupo Colina’ that operated from the heart of the intelligence service known as the “Pentagonito.”
But human rights advocates in Peru say many questions remain unanswered, among them, how much did Peruvian military and political leaders know about the atrocities that were committed by the army.
Living in Fear
For the villagers of Accomarca, the struggle is not only with the memories of past conflicts, but against the desperate poverty that grips most Andean villages.
When I asked Mayor Alfredo Gomez, what was the minimum wage for any villager his answer was another question: “What minimum salary? There are no wages here, people eat what they grow.”
One small communally owned truck takes these products to other villages to barter for yarn or animals.
The villagers are, for the first time, now building a sewage and drinking water system, paid by an Italian NGO. There is one nurse who not only attends the 500 families that live here, but travels all around the region’s small villages to give medical services.
“The government has completely forgotten us”, Gomez says. “People have not been able to overcome the trauma lived in the past, and that has caused a deep depression to the community, they don’t want to work and they feel that they can suffer again from the Shining Path presence.”
A new faction of Shining Path, known as “Proseguir,” which means “to continue,” is small in numbers and lacks the support of the people. But it has managed to perpetrate ambushes and killings and is slowly gaining the support among the young.
And some fear that the desperate poverty of the Andes could see them rise again.
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March 29th, 2008 - by admin
Al Jazeera and Agencies – 2008-03-29 23:03:17
LONDON (March 29, 2008) — Britain will admit in the country’s high court that troops breached parts of the European human rights convention with regard to an Iraqi prisoner who died in custody in Basra in 2003.
Des Browne, the British defence secretary, said that the ministry of defence would also on Friday admit breaching the rights of eight other Iraqi deatinees.
Bob Ainsworth, armed forces minister, said: “I deeply regret the actions of a very small number of troops and I offer my sincere apologies and sympathy to the family of Baha Mousa and the other eight Iraqi detainees.”
Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel worker, suffocated when he was forced to the floor with his arms behind his back as soldiers tried to cuff him, prosecutors said last September.
He was one of a group of Iraqi detainees arrested by the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment at a hotel in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003, six months after the US-led invasion.
“All but a handful of the over 120,000 British troops who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment,” Ainsworth said. “But this does not excuse that during 2003 and 2004 a very small minority committed acts of abuse and we condemn their actions.”
Daoud Mousa, Baha’s father and an Iraqi police force colonel, said that the government’s statement was “a victory”.
“Now I can feel that my son’s blood wasn’t totally lost in vain,” he said. “It seemed as if the ministry of defence wanted to cover the truth and thought that Iraqi lives were cheap. This admission shows that our voices can still be heard and that Iraqi lives do count.”
The ministry of defence had previously argued that British troops on overseas operations were not covered by European human rights law.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, and a lawyer for the nine claimants have both called for a full-ranging independent inquiry.
The government is to admit the breaches in the context of legal action taken on behalf of the men. “The ministry of defence further accepts that the admitted substantive breaches of the convention give rise to claims for compensation,” Browne said.
Claims for compensation have already been lodged with the British courts, but the size of any payment will probably not be decided before June, when lawyers begin talks with the ministry.
The investigation into the events has lasted more than three years at a cost of around $40m.
Seven officers and soldiers were court-martialled in the case of Mousa and the others, but only one was found guilty after admitting mistreatment of prisoners.
Cases of Abuse
• Death of Nadhem Abdullah in May 2003.
A court-martial dismissed murder charges against seven British soldiers.
• Drowning of Saeed Shabram in May 2003. No charges were filed against three soldiers investigated.
• Abuse of Iraqi looters detained in May 2003. A court-martial found four soldiers guilty of various charges.
• Beating of Iraqi youths by British soldiers during a riot in April 2004. No disciplinary action was taken.
The other men said that they were beaten, hooded, deprived of sleep and made to hold themselves in stressful positions over a 36-hour period.
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March 28th, 2008 - by admin
The Progress Report / http://www.americanprogressaction.org – 2008-03-28 22:58:57
WASHINGTON (March 27, 2008) — When Gen. David Petraeus testifies to Congress in a few weeks, he is expected to tout recent “security gains” from the US surge in Iraq as a reason to “pause” troop reductions. But violence this week across southern Iraq is pouring cold water on these tactical gains, erupting in several Iraqi cities including Baghdad, where “rockets pounded the fortified Green Zone area.”
“Thousands of supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched in Baghdad” today, calling for “the downfall of the US-backed government.” In a battle in oil-rich Basra, a bomb blast destroyed an oil pipeline, Sadr’s Shiite bloc walked out of parliament Tuesday to protest the crackdown, and a Baghdad security plan spokesperson was kidnapped today.
This anger threatens to end Sadr’s pivotal cease fire, credited with much of the reduced violence across Iraq. As British Army Commander Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb concluded Tuesday, “To suggest that good intentions will cross fundamental cultural, social and religious differences and win over a damaged population is at best dangerous and wishful thinking.”
UNDERSTANDING PLAYERS IN IRAQ’S CIVIL WARS
As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis explained, the violence “brings into the open this long-running intra-Shi’a civil war.” The fighting across southern Iraq has pitted Sadr’s Madhi Army against Abdul Aziz Al Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council (ISCI) of the so-called Badr Brigade, which has support from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Adding another layer to just one component of Iraqs many civil wars, “a third Shi’a faction, the Fadhila movement, is also engaged in the struggle for power in Basra,” Katulis writes. The result is a show of force from Sadr. “If these violations continue, a huge popular eruption will take place that no power on Earth can stop,” said Nassar al-Rubaei, leader of the Sadrist bloc in parliament. Most ironically, if Iraqi security forces and their militia allies prevail, Iran’s hand in Iraq will be heavily bolstered.
“The Badr Organisation and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shiite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war,” notes journalist Gareth Porter.
NOT GOOD VERSUS BAD
The Bush administration has tried to simplify the violence into a government versus militia struggle. “The Prime Minister has gone to Basra….to re-establish the rule of law,” said National Security adviser Steven Hadley yesterday. But as analyst Anthony Cordesman noted, it is not that simple. A better explanation is that the Iraqi government — allied with ISCI militias — is trying to suppress its political enemies.
“[T]his is really a fairly transparent partisan effort by the Supreme Council dressed in government uniforms to fight the Sadrists and Fadila,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “Maliki in alliance with ISCI are doing their best to marginalize their political enemies locally — in preparation for local elections in October 2008,” argued historian Reidar Visser.
The result? “It seems far more likely that even the best case outcome is going be one that favors Iraqracy over democracy,” says Cordesman. Furthermore, this is not a hands-off situation. The US is providing air support — “help just in case they need it,” explained White House Press Secretary Perino.
AND THE SURGE?
The administration is trying to spin the new activity as a “by-product of the success of the surge.” President Bush even called it a “positive moment” today. But the violence shows the surge’s failure to contain Iraq’s vicious internal power struggles. One only has to look at British military activity in southern Iraq in 2006 and 2007 (Britain withdrew from Iraq last year).
“At first, there were signs of progress” such as diminished violence, but local militias “were not defeated; they went underground or, more often, were absorbed into existing security forces,” noted Robert Malley and Peter Harling at the time. Ironically, “heightened pressure” on Sadr “is likely to trigger both fierce Sadrist resistance in Baghdad and an escalating intra-Shiite civil war in the south.”
Tuesday’s violence “looks like a preview of what will happen as we approach provincial elections in the fall,” Hiltermann added. New Iraqi legislation has also stirred anger from Sadr, whose followers complain that too few “have been granted amnesty under a new law designed to free thousands held by the Iraqis and Americans.”
FEINSTEIN ASKS MUKASEY TO EXPLAIN
DECISION TO DISBAND LA
PUBLIC CORRUPTION UNIT
Last week, the US Attorney for the central district of California in Los Angeles Thomas O’Brien disbanded his office’s public corruption unit. O’Brien claimed, to increase the number of public corruption investigations, but current and former lawyers from the office disagreed with that reasoning and were asked not to dispute it publicly.
The LA US Attorney’s office is handling the ongoing investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis’s (R-CA) ties to a lobbying firm and earmarks its clients have received. The Hill reports that yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to explain the decision to eliminate the public corruption unit.”
In a letter to Mukasey, Feinstein “demanded a detailed explanation of why the decision was made, saying it “raises serious questions about the future of public corruption cases and whether they will be vigorously pursued in the central district of California especially given all of the turnover and disruption that has occurred.”
HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST
NOMINATION OF TORTURE ADVOCATE
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Policy Center sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee declaring that the Senate should reject Steven Bradbury’s nomination as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) because of his “role in authorizing torture.”
In 2005, as the interim head of OLC, Bradbury signed off on a secret Justice Department torture memo that endorsed “the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the CIA.”
He also approved an executive order approving “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Though Democratic senators have called for President Bush to withdraw Bradbury’s nomination, Bush re-nominated Bradbury in January. Bush has played hardball in pushing for this nomination.
In February, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-IL) said on the Senate floor that more than 84 nominations were held up because Bush had insisted to him that “it’s Brabury, or nobody.” “Steven Bradbury has proven unable” to “provide the president a reliable interpretation of what the law is — rather than what the president wants the law to be,” the groups write.
BUSH’S RELEVANCY DWINDLING DESPITE
PROMISE TO “SPRINT TO THE FINISH”
In October 2007, President Bush told White House reporters, referring to his last year in office, that he was “going to work hard to the finish. I’m going to sprint to the finish line.”At a March 4 event at DAR Constitution Hall, the President reiterated his sprint to the finish and “said he remains energized to wrap up work on his agenda.”
But according to US News, Bush’s relevancy has started dwindling, as many administration officials are already seeking private-sector jobs. Not only are there new vacancies throughout the administration, the White House is also having “a hard time recruiting replacements for those who are leaving” because candidates for the position “don’t see the value in it for [his/her] résumé.”
While it is common for a second-term President to become a lame-duck during the final year on the job, polls showed that 71 percent of Americans thought Bush was a lame-duck as early as February 2007. Even White House reporters are reportedly “bored” by the President, attributing his early decline to the fact that “[Bush’s] rhetoric is so exhausted.”
“Behind the Pentagon’s closed doors, US military leaders told President Bush they are worried about the Iraq war’s mounting strain on troops and their families.” In the meeting, the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said “senior commanders in Iraq should make more frequent assessments of security conditions, an idea that appeared aimed at increasing pressure for more rapid troop reductions.”
New GDP numbers out this morning show that the economy grew by just 0.6 percent in the fourth-quarter of last year. The numbers “confirm the slump” the economy has entered and matched the expectations of weak growth predicted by many economists.
“A sweeping five-month investigation into the collapse of one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders points a finger at a possible new culprit in the mortgage mess: the accountants.” New Century Financial, whose failure came at the start of the credit crisis, “engaged in ‘significant improper and imprudent practices’ that were condoned and enabled by auditors at the accounting firm KPMG.”
Shiite militants “are hammering the US-protected Green Zone with rockets and mortars for the fourth day this week. … American military officials say the attacks are coming from breakaway factions of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.”
The Bush administration is taking credit for the Iraqi government’s offensive against Shiite militias “calling it a ‘byproduct of the success’ of the U.S. troop surge that showed that Iraqi forces are capable of assaulting Shiite extremists.
Responding to the Iraqi government’s recent crackdown on Shiite militias, anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr ordered a nationwide strike yesterday partially paralyzing the government and “prompting fears that basic services such as hospitals and schools could be crippled.”
“President Bush announced yesterday that he will make an unexpected trip to Russia after a NATO summit next week to meet with President Vladimir Putin in hopes of repairing relations that have grown strained over missile defense, Kosovo independence and NATO expansion.”
And finally: On Tuesday, the USO of Metropolitan Washington awarded comedian Jon Stewart its Merit Award for his strong support of US troops. A USO spokeswoman said that Stewart regularly comes from New York and visits with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, but “up until now he’s done it for no public recognition; he just did it out of the goodness of his heart.” Stewart cracked few jokes on Tuesday, “speaking instead about how he’s been touched by his time with the wounded.”
“He [Sen. John McCain] has never said that this war would be easy. He has been the guy saying for four years that we’re getting it wrong. We need more troops.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), 3/25/08
“But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily.”
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), MSNBC, 1/22/03
March 28th, 2008 - by admin
Conn Hallinan: Dispatches From The Edge / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2008-03-28 22:42:48
BERKELEY, California (March 28, 2008) — When historians look back on the war in Afghanistan, they may well point to last December’s battle for Musa Qala, a scruffy town in the country’s northern Helmand Province, as a turning point. In a war of shadows, remote ambushes, and anonymous roadside bombs, Musa Qala was an exception: a standup fight.
On one side was the Afghan National Army, the US 82nd Airborne, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On the other, the Taliban. When the fight was over, the US-led coalition had “won.” What they had “won” was a town shattered by B-1 and B-52s bombers, A-10 attack planes, Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships, and artillery barrages.
According to NATO, “Operation Snake” killed hundreds of Taliban. According to the London Times, British mop-up forces found one dead insurgent. No one knows how many civilians died in Musa Qala. NATO claims none were killed. The locals say more than 40 died.
A Taliban spokesperson, Qari Ypousuf Ahmadi dismissed the significance of the battle: “Losing Musa Qala doesn’t mean that we will stop fighting.”
Indeed, it has not. Last year was the deadliest since the 2001 invasion, with more than 6,200 Afghan deaths. Suicide bombs have increased eight fold, roadside bombs are up 24 percent, and diplomats are warned not to dine out in the country’s capital, Kabul.
“The number of districts in which the Taliban operates exploded last year,” says John McCreary, former senior intelligence analyst for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This is the first year they have managed to sustain over 100 attacks per month for a whole year since they started to climb back. One hundred attacks per month used to be a surge figure. Now it is the new norm.”
In fact the number of attacks is averaging 548 a month. According to the United Nations, it is too risky to send aid teams into one fifth of the country. “The river appears to be running backward,” one analyst told the Financial Times.
What happened at Musa Qala happens in virtually every province in the country: The insurgents move in, hand out money skimmed from the lucrative opium trade, drive out or intimidate local government forces, and through roadside bombs, midnight mortar attacks and ambushes, force NATO troops to bunker down in fortified camps.
When the United States or NATO finally go on the offensive, the coalition’s lack of troops means they must rely on artillery and air power, which translates into a greater number of civilian casualties. Louise Arbour, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that civilian casualties caused by military activity has reached “alarming levels” this past year. “These not only breach international law but are eroding support among the Afghan community for the government and the international presence, as well as public support in contributing states for continued engagement in Afghanistan.”
That erosion is accelerating. Polls indicate that the British and Australian public wants their troops out, and in Canada, only the minority Conservatives support the war.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel — her eyes on polls indicating widespread antipathy for the war — recently said she has “absolutely no time” to consider redeploying Germany’s troops to the war-torn south.
Only the French and the United States have agreed to send more troops, the former just a handful, and the latter 3,200. According to the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine, Afghanistan would require 400,000 troops to pacify, although the country’s history suggests that even that number is probably wildly optimistic. The United States and NATO currently have 43,000 troops in Afghanistan.
In a blow to the current push for more troops, the Netherlands decided it would withdraw all its soldiers by 2010. “The Dutch decision,” says the German newspaper Der Spiegel, “may set a precedent, raising concerns among NATO military leaders over a possible domino effect. If only one major NATO country yields to domestic pressure and decides to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, it could set off an avalanche.”
The possibility of an “avalanche” has so panicked the Bush administration that it sent Gates to Europe. “I am concerned that many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European Security,” said Gates in arguing for more troops.
But Afghanistan was sold to the allies not as a war, but an international aid mission. “We are in the south [of Afghanistan] to help and protect the Afghan people reconstruct their own economy and democracy,” former British Defense Secretary John Reid told the Financial Times back in 2006.
However, according to the aid organization Oxfam, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is “comparable with sub-Saharan Africa,” and US and NATO troops find themselves in the middle of a war with a significant section of the population.
“The Taliban is growing and creating new alliances not because its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because it is the only available umbrella for national liberation,” says Pakistani historian and political commentator Tariq Ali. “As the British and the Soviets discovered to their cost in the preceding two centuries, Afghans never like being occupied.”
Certainly that is the message the Taliban is putting out. “We’re fighting to free our country,” says Mullah Mohammad Omar, “We are not a threat to the world.”
Some of our allies are also beginning to question the Bush administration’s one dimensional portrayal of the Taliban as a tightly disciplined, international terrorist organization. “There is a hard core of Islamic extremists of varied ethnic and national origin, but the great majority of people we are engaged against are those who are fighting with the Taliban for financial, social and tribal reasons,” says British army chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt. “We will need to deal with and eventually reconcile the elected government with the majority of these people.”
That approach has found little resonance in Washington, where a “victory” in Afghanistan is seen as central to the war on terrorism. “What is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq,” intones the Atlantic Council of the United States.
While some NATO countries are hedging their bets in Afghanistan, the United States is already going “beyond its borders” and launching attacks into Pakistan. Unmanned Predator aircraft have killed several Taliban leaders, along with scores of civilians, and the United States is squeezing the Pakistani government to move its military into the Tribal Areas and Northwest Frontier to pacify Taliban forces.
Fred Kagen of the influential American Enterprise Institute recently urged the Bush administration to surge troops into Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan with air strikes.
Rather than suppressing the Taliban, however, this stepped up militarism has unified the Pushtuns — the heart of the Taliban — on both sides of the border, and local tribes have inflicted thousands of casualties on the Pakistani Army, rocketed the provincial capital of Peshawar, and spread the insurgency into the rich Swat Valley.
“There is no way for NATO to win this war,” says Tariq Ali bluntly.
That conclusion should hardly come as a surprise. As British correspondent Ronan Thomas notes, “Strategic success in Afghanistan has often been envisaged by outside powers — British, Soviet and now Coalition forces — but rarely if ever achieved.”
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