Conn Hallinan / The Berkeley Daily Planet – 2009-01-23 22:59:38
Dispatch Awards for The Year That Was
Conn Hallinan, Dispatches from the Edge / The Berkeley Daily Planet
(January 4, 2008) — The following are Dispatches’ annual “I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This” Awards.
Psychic Insight Award goes to U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, former commander of the Second Marine Division in Iraq. Members of Kilo Company in his division went on a rampage Nov. 19, 2006 and killed 24 Iraqi civilians. Huck said he never looked into the massacre because it was not uncommon for civilians to be killed during a combat operation.
“In my mind’s eye I saw insurgent fire, I saw Kilo Company fire,” said Huck during a military hearing this past May, explaining that he could see how “neutrals in those circumstances could be killed.”
The general did not explain exactly how the eye in his mind works.
An Honorable Mention in this category went to the pilots of U.S. aircraft and helicopters for their Nov. 16 attack on a group of Iraqis in the town of Taji north of Baghdad. The Iraqis were members of a Sunni militia that had just captured five members of al-Qaeda. According to a military spokesperson, the U.S. pilots detected “hostile intent” from the group—a neat trick considering they were several hundred feet up in the air—and opened fire, killing 50 Sunni militia members and their five prisoners.
The Long Sorrow* Award goes to officials of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq who took members of the Iraqi government and military to visit Northern Ireland in order to demonstrate how building walls between the Catholic and Protestant communities greatly reduced the damage caused by sectarian violence. With Ireland as a template, the Iraqis can now look forward to more than four centuries of inter-communal warfare.
*The Irish call their 800-plus-year struggle against the English “the long sorrow.”
Great Moments in Objectivity Award goes to Jim Albaugh, chief of defense operations for the Boeing Corporation. Speaking during an air show in Paris this past June, Albaugh urged that U.S. military spending be kept at record levels in order to deal with terrorists and the threat of China.
“The question is, what happens when we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the supplementals [additional payments used to fund the war] start to dry up?” he asked.
Boeing is worried about cuts in the $200 billion Future Combat System—lots of high-tech whiz bangs, including robot tanks, helicopters, and planes—in which the company has a major stake. Boeing also may lose $400 million if congressional Democrats block the building of a third anti-ballistic missile site in Europe.
Lest one think that Albaugh’s view of the world and the need for enhanced military spending is self-serving, the Boeing official said that he was “pretty objective” about the whole thing.
The Entrepreneurship Award to Charlene Corley, owner of C&D Distributors in Lexington, S.C., for her creative approach to spending taxpayer’s money. C&D Distributors charged the U.S. Army $998,798 for two 19-cent washers. The firm has collected $20.5 million over a six-year period.
Great Moments in Irony Award to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Meeting with reporters at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Moscow, she accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of undermining the country’s courts, media and legislative bodies.
“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” she said.
The same day that Rice was chiding Putin for amassing too much executive power, a coalition of liberals from the American Freedom Campaign and conservatives from the American Freedom Agenda asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to roll back the enormous power President Bush has amassed.
The pledge reads: “We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and e-mails without court order, and above all, we do not give any president unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from attack by any president.”
Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who signed the pledge. Five of the eight Democrats also signed. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and John Edwards did not, but issued statements denouncing torture, wiretapping without warrants, and imprisonment without judicial review.
Rice’s statement in Moscow brings to mind Lily Tomlin’s remark about the Bush Administration: “No matter how cynical you get, you just can’t keep up with these people.”
Bunker Hill Award goes to Canadian Lt. Col. Jamie Robertson who denounced the Taliban in Afghanistan this past July for refusing “to fight fair,” relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks instead of “directly confronting Canadian troops in combat.
“After failing to achieve any success…in conventional warfare, the insurgents have resorted to IED [improvised explosive devices] and other terrorist tactics,” said Robertson, deputy director of public affairs operations for the Canadian armed forces.
Which is kind of the idea behind guerilla warfare, something the Canadian military apparently hasn’t worked out yet.
Back in 1776, Major General William Howe, who led the British assault at Bunker Hill, expressed similar complaints about the “rabble in arms,” which inflicted over 1,000 casualties on his men. The colonials, on the other hand, thought it was an excellent idea for the British to wear bright red uniforms and stand in long, straight lines out in the open while the rebels got to shoot at them from behind barricades.
The Grinch Award goes to Ronald R. Aument, deputy undersecretary for Veterans Affairs, who opposed giving full veteran benefits to Filipinos who fought with the U.S. Army during the WW II.
Aument said such benefits would cost $4 billion over the next decade (the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost will be only $1 billion), but the major reason the Bush Administration opposes the benefits is that it would allow Filipino veterans living in the Philippines to have a higher standard of living than most other Filipinos.
“VA benefits paid to beneficiaries living in the United States, such as U.S. veterans, do not enable those beneficiaries to live higher than the general U.S. population,” Aument told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We do not support the bill because it would disproportionately favor Filipino veterans over U.S. veterans.”
More than 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Some were captured and imprisoned, while others led a successful guerrilla war against the Japa-nese. The Filipinos were promised full veterans benefits, but the promise was arbitrarily canceled in 1946.
Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the leading Republican on the Committee, said he too was concerned about paying the benefits. “The same benefit paid to veterans in the Philippines would provide income that is almost four times the average household income in that country,” he said.
The average household income in the Philippines is $4,133, compared to $48,201 in the U.S. The benefits for low-income Filipinos over 65 would be just under $11,000 a year. There are about 20,000 Filipino vets still living, most in their 80s and 90s.
Merry Christmas from the Bush administration.
The Totally Whacko Award to U.S. Lt. Col. Edward M. Bush III, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, who accused London lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of smuggling “contraband” to prisoners the Bush Administration is holding in the Cuban facility.
“Contraband items are taken seriously, said Bush III, “They may be used in such a way to conduct harm or self-harm for which the Joint Task Force is liable.”
The “contraband”? Underpants and Speedo swimsuits.
Smith denies the charge, saying his job “involves legal briefs, not the other sort.” The lawyer also said he was “baffled” by the Speedo charge. He said his client “is hardly in a position to go swimming, since the only available water is the toilet in his cell.”
Dispatches Awards for the Year That Was: Part 2
(January 21, 2009) — Who’s On First Award?to U.S. intelligence for its analysis of al-Qaeda. According to CIA Director Michael Hayden, the organization is growing stronger and preparing to launch attacks in Africa, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. He said there was a “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with al Qaeda operatives spreading into North Africa, which they could use as a springboard for attacks on Europe.
A week later, Matthew Burrows, who heads up the long-range analysis section of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said, “The appeal of terrorism is waning,” and al Qaeda is on the decline, having alienated supporters with indiscriminate killings. According to Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report by the ONI, “Al Qaeda has not achieved broad support in the Islamic world. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appear only to a tiny minority of Muslims.”
Enabling Paranoia Award to the U.S. Congress for its resolute stand against terrorism. In 2003, Congress identified 160 sites in the country that might be potential targets for terrorist attacks. In 2004 that list had grown to 1,849. In 2005 the number was 28,360. In 2006 there were 77,769. By February 2008, the potential number of sites had grown to 300,000, including the Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Being a “designated site” entitles local authorities to apply for Homeland Security money for equipment and police.
Lapdog Award to Canada’s Conservative government for first listing the U.S. as a country which uses torture–along with Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria—and then reversing themselves and apologizing when Washington protested.
Shortly thereafter, a secret Canadian government report found that Canadian Omar Khadr, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was 16 years old, had been tortured. The torture included extended periods of sleep deprivation. When the evidence was presented to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he dismissed it, saying, “Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr … will be treated humanely.”
One of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, said Harper’s comment “defies belief.” The detainee’s American military lawyer said that the report “shows the assurances the Canadian government has been offering all these years were false. It’s shameful that the Canadian government is continuing to allow this to go on.”
A Purple Heart Award to Jeff Black, director of Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy for coming up with a slogan for graduates: “Don’t suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], go out and cause it.” PTSD, along with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is the signature wound soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from. Estimates are that 40 percent of the veterans of both wars suffer from PTSD and MTBI.
The symptoms of both are very similar, and include anti-social behavior, aggression, sleeplessness, impotence, depression, and heightened incidences of suicide.
The U.S. military recently decided not to award Purple Hearts to PSTD and MTBI sufferers.
History Get Me Rewrite Award to former President George W. Bush for his comment comparing the demand for a withdrawal from Iraq to similar demands to end the Vietnam War:
“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of American withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.”
During the war the U.S. dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than the allies had dropped in World War II, killed some three million people, maimed millions more, and added such words to our vocabulary as “free fire zone” and “strategic hamlet.” The “killing fields” were a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA engineered overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and his replacement with military dictator, Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge in turn overthrew Lon Nol and murdered two million Cambodians. An intervention by the Vietnamese ended the genocide and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.
Lt. William Calley Award to DynCorp, a mercenary organization hired by the U.S. to provide security in Iraq. A Dyn Corp soldier, who was a former U.S. Army vet and prison guard, told the New Yorker, “The real problem in this war on terror is you guys, the press. Ties our hands. The only way to fight this is to give them back the same medicine, like Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam. My Lai—what Calley did there was probably just orders.”
Operation Phoenix—which My Lai was part of—executed between 50,000 and 70,000 “Viet Cong supporters” in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre of Mar. 16, 1968 was led by Lt. William Calley. There is no agreement on the number who died at My Lai, but it was over 500, mainly women and children.
The “Beam Me Up Scotty” Award to the Pentagon for trying to create a hologram for the children of parents deployed in war zones. The kids will “boot” up their parents on a home computer and, according to the Pentagon, “The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, every day topics.” The child “may get a response from saying ‘I love you,’ or “I miss you,’ or “Good night.’”
According to Navy Commander Russell Shilling, the psychologist overseeing the program, “The children don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being deployed” and “That kind of interaction…is very important.”
The parent would record comments before they were deployed and then artificial intelligence software that runs the hologram would respond to a child’s question or comment.
So if Jimmy or Jane says “Mommy come home,” does the program answer “Be all you can be?” or maybe bust the kid for undermining morale?
Ass-Backward Award to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, for building the littoral combat ship “Freedom” before it completed all the designs. The ship—at $600 million plus—was first welded together and then designed, delaying construction and increasing costs. “It’s not good to be building while you’re designing,” said Vice. Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, who supervises ship building for the Navy.
Creative Accounting Award to the Pentagon, which is on track to spend $110 billion on missile defense by 2013 (the system has already cost $150 billion since it was launched in 1983) without any idea of what it will end up with. The accounting methodology is called “spiral development,” which, in the words of a Pentagon directive means, “end-state requirements are not known at program initiation.” In essence, “spiral development” means there are no set dates, no costs ceilings, no designated outcome and no way to determine if an outcome is achieved.
SNAFU Award to the U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, who headed the investigation of the Feb. 23 crash of the $1.5 billion B-2 Stealth bomber, “Spirit of Kansas,” on the island of Guam. According to the investigation, moisture in the plane’s sensors made the B-2’s computer cause the plane to climb too sharply, causing it to stall and crash.
Carpenter said, “The aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words all systems were functioning normally.”
Except, perhaps, the part about crashing.
Great Moments in Journalism Award to FOX News for its coverage of the massacre of 90 Afghan civilians—including 60 children and 15 women—at the village of Azizabad by U.S. fighter bombers. The U.S. military initially denied the story and said the dead were “insurgents.” A Pentagon spokesperson said an “independent journalist” embedded with the U.S. troops that called in the air strike “corroborated” their story.
The “independent journalist”: Oliver North, working for Fox News. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra Conspiracy to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and shredded files to keep them from government investigators.
Man’s Best Friend Award to the Blackwater security firm, which supplies mercenaries for the U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan. The company—several members of which were recently indicted for killing up to 17 civilians in Iraq—is being investigated for shipping assault weapons and silencers hidden in large sacks of dog food into Iraq.
Certain weapons, including silencers, are banned for use by security firms because they are considered incompatible with the job of guarding diplomats.
“The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told ABC.
The United Nations has accused the U.S. of running “death squads” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of assassinating people opposed to U.S. policies in both countries.
Unclear On The Concept Award to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, who attacked the Inspector General’s Office for its investigation of a Pentagon program to put retired military officers on TV and radio as “force multipliers” for the Bush Administration’s message on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and terrorism.
Hunter said the retired officers were a “great asset” for the country and completely independent. “The idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that you don’t believe in the independence of these generals. None of them are used to having people tell them what to do.”
The most common phrase heard in the military? “Yes, sir.”
Word Smithing Award to Navy Commander Pauline Storum who defended the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison and challenged the charge that the camp uses solitary confinement. Storum said the camp has “single-occupancy cells.”