Archive for the 'war' Category

24
Oct
10

The pathetic case against Omar Khadr

The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers. —Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, September 16, 2010, at a Security Council debate on Somalia

UPDATED BELOW

Which is the most appallingly evil thing about the sad, ridiculous incarceration and trial(s) of Omar Khadr?

That a CHILD of 15, shot twice in the back, and blinded in one eye, is accused of WAR CRIMES for fighting back against an invading army that bombed and rocketed his compound before sending in the Special Forces, chucking grenades and … well, shooting children in the back?

That much of what we know about the firefight comes from the heavily redacted report by one OC-1, the “government employee” who shot Khadr in the back, twice?  And that that report only fell into reporters’ hands by accident, because the prosecution team accidentally left it where journalists could see it? And that there was a standoff worthy of the Keystone Kops where the authorities insisted the report be returned, with the reporters (naturally) refusing?

That OC-1’s testimony makes it clear that no one knew who threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer? It might have been his own comrades.

That Khadr was clearly tortured, and that whatever he confessed to must be seen in that light, and dismissed?

That half a dozen military PROSECUTORS have been disgusted enough to quit? “This is neither military, nor justice,” said one.

Another prosecutor’s case is reminiscent of Soviet psychiatric examinations for dissenters:

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, formerly lead prosecutor in another commissions case against a child soldier—a case that collapsed midway through, with the government dropping all charges. “It would be foolish to expect anything to come out of Guantánamo except decades of failure. There will be no justice there, and Obama has proved to be an almost unmitigated disaster,” he told me. After resigning from the commissions as a matter of ethical principle, Vandeveld was punished with a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and gratuitous hearings into his fitness for remaining in the Army, even though he now has only two months remaining in his term of service. Vandeveld, who has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, doubts very much that any more prosecutors will resign after his highly visible reprimand.

That Obama, who vowed to “close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions,” has not gotten around to any of those things yet. What DID he do? He

abruptly barred four of the most knowledgeable reporters from returning to Gitmo, accusing them of violating an order that the identity of Omar Khadr’s primary interrogator be kept secret. It doesn’t matter that “Interrogator Number One,” convicted in a 2005 court martial for prisoner abuse at Bagram prison, had already been interviewed by one of these journalists two years ago and that his identity is available in the public record.

That the prosecution has engaged a shady charlatan who promotes himself as an “expert in evil” as a kind of last half-hearted effort to demonize Khadr?

That Khadr’s options are still ridiculous, to face the farcical military commissions trial, or agree to a plea-bargain that will see him behind bars for eight more years?

As has been argued forcefully elsewhere, the war criminal is not Omar Khadr.

Even if Khadr did everything alleged, none of the five charges as actually lodged describes a criminal violation of the law of armed conflict (LOAC). Two of the charges, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, are inherently problematic. The remaining offenses, murder and attempted murder “in violation of the law of war,” and spying, are capable of valid application, but lack legitimacy in Khadr’s factual situation. Essentially the government seeks to distort the fundamental legal equality between opposing belligerents into a unilateral shield for coalition personnel, turning the conflict into a “hunting season” in which U.S. forces can shoot their enemy on sight but their adversaries commit a war crime by fighting back. Because the tribunals’ statutory bases, the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, were enacted after Khadr was in custody, any charges lacking sound grounding in the LOAC constitute impermissible ex post facto enactments.

It’s Sunday night. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning and Khadr’s legal team might agree to a plea bargain any minute. Which would be a tragedy. Of course, his going forward with the trial might be even more tragic.

The laws and treaties that bind the United States are clear. Omar Khadr should not have served a single day in any prison. He was 15, a child, when captured. In a just world, he should be paid massive restitution from both the United States and Canadian governments. I know. Fat chance of that.

UPDATE: Omar Khadr has plead guilty to all charges against him.

Not at all surprising, just very very sad.

Pithiest comment so far: “Well, it’s official now. Anyone fights a U.S. attacker, s/he’s committed a war crime. Even if s/he didn’t, even if s/he was a child.”

21
Oct
10

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar”

Your tax dollars at work. This drone strike killed 0.4 jihadis!— and only 19.6 innocent people. (AP Photo/Hasbunallah Khan)

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!

And, in a recent poll, only 3 percent even mention Afghanistan or “the war” (which war?)—at all— as one of America’s most important problems. So drone attacks are not exactly a red-button issue with the American voter. But … just imagine it happening to you, or to your family. Johann Hari puts it into perspective well with this simple little thought exercise:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?

You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy.  Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.

Are we?

That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one.  That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”

The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave  a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.

Remember these?

Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:

“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.

Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:

I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.

I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)

Chris Floyd, who brought Hari’s piece to my attention, thinks the creation of more terrorists is not an accidental byproduct. Seizing on the offhand remark by a “senior figure” in the CIA that the drone targeting can be pretty arbitrary, he wonders if maybe the randomness of the attacks is a feature, not a bug:

“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”

That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.

I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.

29
Sep
10

“I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!”

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

28
Sep
10

A wonderful life

There were a few excerpts in Harper’s this month from the blog of Dr. Karen Woo, the British surgeon who was killed, along with nine others, in Afghanistan in early August. She was trekking back to Kabul from the remote region of Nuristan, where she had helped to run clinics for mothers and infants, when her party was ambushed, perhaps by the Taliban, or perhaps by bandits. She was to be married in London in two weeks.

She was a funny, highly irreverent writer, and could be poignant describing the sometimes awful, sometimes rewarding aspects of her work, but was just as likely to be narrating her adventures getting the Pedicure from Hell or trying to purchase gemstones or have a ball gown made.  She was obsessed with animals, and often took in stray dogs, cats, rabbits, tortoises …..

For me, this has been a  most death-obsessed year, and some gears in the back of my mind have at all times been whirring away, calculating or processing what a life means, what it adds up to, what a death means, what is a good way to die (if there is one.) I always have in the back of my mind a (fictitious) kind of good death, that of a farmer quietly expiring among his hay ricks in (I think) a Wendell Berry story I read  some years ago. And the epitome of a bad death–that of Mrs. Blankenship, Don Draper’s sad old secretary on Mad Men: “She died like she lived: Surrounded by the people she answered phones for.”

Certainly the circumstances of Dr. Woo’s death were horrible beyond imagining. But she died while performing selfless and heroic acts.  To a stranger,  it seems that hers was a wonderful life. And yet those she touched–her fiance, her family, her co-workers, the Afghans she cared for– have every right to be heartbroken and to miss her terribly.

The Karen Woo Foundation has been established to continue her life’s work.

01
Sep
10

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be “Blogosphere titans”

Jeffrey G, living large

Simon Owens’ Clash of the Blogosphere Titans sees Glenn Greenwald’s relentless (and entirely justified) criticism of Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as a useful yardstick with which to measure “the effect of media criticism in a Web 2.0/3.0 age.”

The  journalistic catastrophes that made Goldberg’s name synonymous with spectacular wrongheadedness, a pair of long pieces about the Iraq threat for the New Yorker (the first one titled  “The Great Terror”), came back in 2002.

Times have changed. Today, Greenwald, a “blogger” (a term of utter contempt once, now losing its bite) has a featured column at Salon, a site that gets far  more online readership than the Atlantic, according to Owens, as  well as a New York Times bestseller to his credit. Owens says Greenwald  now possesses the clout to compel Goldberg to respond to criticism, especially as regards “The Point of No Return,” his attempt to replicate his scare/war-mongering success, this time with regard to Iran.

Goldberg declined Owens’ invitation to discuss his disputes with Greenwald; Greenwald did not. Responding to the suggestion that his singular focus on Goldberg might be perceived as an “obsessive feud,” Greenwald tells Owens that Goldberg’s stature demands close scrutiny:

“[T]here are two things that distinguish this case. One is the consequentiality of it and the centrality [Goldberg] played. It wasn’t like he was just kind of wrong about something, he was one of the leading people validating the war. The thing that happened in the Iraq War is that obviously the right got behind it because the people on the right — the leaders on the right — were clearly behind it. But in order to make it a majoritarian movement, they had to get centrists and liberals behind it. So they needed liberal validators … There’s probably nobody that you can compare in influence to getting Democrats and liberals to support the war than Jeffrey Goldberg. It wasn’t just that he was for the war, he was using his status as a reporter to feed lies. I mean he didn’t just write one New Yorker piece but a second one too, and he was all over the television with this stuff saying that Saddam had a very active nuclear program and most importantly that Saddam had an enthusiastic alliance with al-Qaeda.”

The second distinguishing characteristic of Goldberg, Greenwald argued, is that he’s one of the few mainstream reporters who hasn’t issued a mea culpa on the facts he got wrong. Greenwald pointed out that though Judith Miller paid a career price for her Iraq reporting at the New York Times, Goldberg — who Greenwald considers equally culpable — continues to gain prominence despite doubling down on his past reporting. In fact, Goldberg recently used his blog to argue that there truly was a strong connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

It’s true that Goldberg has responded to Greenwald multiple times over the Iran piece,  both on his blog and as a guest on NPR, but these responses have been perfunctory at best, mendacious at worst:

“It’s almost like his responses are three or four years behind. When I first started writing about criticizing media figures — establishment media figures — that was very much the reaction. It was a very lame sort of not-really-attentive response, just dismissive or plain mockery. Like, ‘I don’t have to respond because in my world he’s nobody and I’m somebody so the most I’m going to do is be derisive about this.’ That’s a journalist/blogger cliché from 2005, and most journalists know they can no longer get away with it. He’s living in a world where he thinks it doesn’t affect his reputation. Among his friends it doesn’t. I’m sure he calls [TIME writer] Joe Klein or whoever else I’ve criticized and he’s like ‘he’s an asshole and a prick, don’t worry about that.’ But I guarantee you that there are a lot more people reading the stuff I write than the stuff he writes, in terms of sheer number. And the level of impact that that kind of level of critique has is infinitely greater than it was three years ago. So I’m sure he tells himself and convinces himself that it doesn’t actually matter but it does. And it’s hurting his credibility.

True, but my more cynical take is that Goldberg’s credibility is not the point. Or at least  it isn’t anymore. In fact, his willingness to use his credentials as a correspondent for the New Yorker (liberal! fastidiously fact-checky!) to stretch the case for war with Iraq, at the cost of his journalistic reputation in the “reality-based community,” was what got him to the pinnacle of the blogging profession.

This sort of failing upwards is not a new thing, especially given Goldberg’s journalistic focus.

If you make a case for a militaristic solution to a perceived problem, and possess even a middling capacity for persuasion, and if you make that case boldly  and loudly enough, you are well on your way a successful career in punditry in America.

Why should Goldberg apologize? Reckless accusations that lead to war, in the face of contrary facts and likely catastrophic consequences, are a feature, not a bug.

20
Aug
10

Always with the tables

Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration.  Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to  like it.  His  Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.

Of course, what Bush, Obama and Madame Clinton really mean by “All Options Are on the Table” is “All Options Involving Violence or the Implied Threat of Violence.”  It’s just a smirky pretend-gangster understatement, like saying “we made him an offer he can’t refuse.”  It means  bombing,  sanctions, freezing bank accounts, holding back spare parts for airplanes,  pharmaceuticals— that sort of thing. And bombing.  Did I mention bombing?

A Tiny Revolution notices the phrase comes up a LOT in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent weird cover story in the  once respectable Atlantic Monthly:

Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn’t even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.

This is good as far as it goes. But it involves logic and reasoning, and as such might not be the perfect way to grapple with Israel’s and/or America’s urge  to bomb Iran. A more apt piece might be  “Our threatiest threat” from the frequently brilliant fafblog, which demolishes with satire all the unexamined premises underlying the Need to Confront the Evil Persians. It’s from October 2009, but it could have been from 2006, when John McCain entertained us with his version of Barbara Ann. And it could have taken place this week, when everyone has been chattering about the Little Corporal’s article.

I only wish Helen Thomas’ seat in the White House press room had been reassigned to this Fafnir, so I could see this exchange acted out. But of course that isn’t going to happen (I don’t even know if Fafnir is a real person).

Here’s a chunky excerpt of “Our threatiest threat,” but you should read the whole thing. It’s pretty perfect.

Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a threat?
A: Oh, very much so. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Madman.
Q: We know he is a madman because he hates us, and we know that he hates us because he says bad things about us, and the only reason he would say bad things about us is if he were mad!
A: We also know that he has threatened – with his own mouth – to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”!
Q: Really?
A: Yes!
Q: Really?
A: No. But only a madman would say something that could be so easily mistranslated to sound like the words of a madman.
Q: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually run Iran?
A: No. But wouldn’t it be scary if he did?

…. Q: What should we do with Iran?
A. All options are on the table.
Q: Should we bomb them? Is bombing them on the table?
A: Bombing them must be on the table, because it is an option, and all options are on the table.
Q: What about starving them to death with sanctions? Is starving them to death with sanctions on the table?
A: In that an option? Because if it is an option, then it must be, as we have mentioned before, on the table.
Q: What about bombing their cities and burning their children and raping their livestock and feeding their people to thousands of millions of man-eating ants and piling their skulls into a heaping bonfire on the White House lawn while the President and the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff dance naked in circles ejaculating wildly into the flesh-filled smoke? Is that on the table?
A: It would be irresponsible for this option not to be on the table, given that all other options, as we have said, are on the table.
Q: What about leaving Iran alone? Is that on the table?
A: No. That is not on the table, because it is not an option.
Q: Are you sure? It looks like an option.
A: It may look like an option, but in fact it is the East Tunisian mock option, which over the course of many years has evolved to mimic the distinctive coloring and plumage of the true American option, in order to better evade and intimidate predators.

Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, will it kill whoever it hits on the ground below?
Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a nickel, will he kill five people? If he drops a quarter, will he reestablish the Caliphate?
Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even now amassing an arsenal of spare change deep within the unsuspecting bowels of New York City, roaming from corner to corner, subway to subway, armed with a stockpile of acoustic guitars, violins, steel drums, rudimentary juggling skills, waiting and watching for the perfect moment to strike?

For further Fafblog absurdities, I would recommend Our Omnipotent President, in which I came upon for the first time the genius tag “securitainment.” It was about Bush, but still … somehow seems kind of relevant.

23
Apr
10

Seven Democrats, Four Republicans

all quiet on the western front

"I believe it will be a quick war, that there will be few losses."

I know. 2002 was a really long time ago. But you’d think more than eleven members of Congress would remember that sanctions against Iraq, based on now- (and then-) laughably false accusations, only made it easier for the war instigators to take the next step, to attack the country that was the object of the sanctions.

But no.

Unless you live in the districts represented by seven Democrats–Reps. Baird (WA), Moore (WI), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Kucinich (OH), Waters (CA), McDermott (WA)–or four Republicans–Flake (AZ), Jones (NC), Paul (TX), Duncan (TN)– your congressperson voted for a bill that will pave the way for more severe sanctions on Iran, a country that has not attacked another country in oh, say, two or three centuries, but which  has been accused, repeatedly, and in dozens of different ways, of possessing imaginary nuclear weapons.

It has been accused of this by the U.S.A., a country that possesses, ah, ballpark figure here, 9,960 intact warheads, and has tested them in just slightly irresponsible ways, on hapless Pacific islanders and its own citizens alike. Also, we, uh, used them against a civilian population, not once but twice, without warning, and detonating them at an altitude that insured maximum death and destruction.

So we know how awful nuclear weapons are! Trust us.

But no matter. Iran (“a festering sore,” according to noted trash-talker Harry Reid) is doing something sneaky, and we will do anything to stop them from doing … sneaky things, even if we can’t really say exactly what they are. In the past decade or so, we’ve spent a trillion dollars on a war that started in a manner suspiciously similar to the one we’re ready to get underway. And, as Ron Paul pointed out yesterday, a sanctions regime was an integral part of the buildup to that war.

I don’t agree with everything Paul says, but I don’t see a word of this that I can disagree with. Can you?

I rise in opposition to this motion to instruct House conferees on HR 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, and I rise in strong opposition again to the underlying bill and to its Senate version as well. I object to this entire push for war on Iran, however it is disguised. Listening to the debate on the Floor on this motion and the underlying bill it feels as if we are back in 2002 all over again: the same falsehoods and distortions used to push the United States into a disastrous and unnecessary one-trillion-dollar war on Iraq are being trotted out again to lead us to what will likely be an even more disastrous and costly war on Iran. The parallels are astonishing.

We hear war advocates today on the Floor scare-mongering about reports that in one year Iran will have missiles that can hit the United States. Where have we heard this bombast before? Anyone remember the claims that Iraqi drones were going to fly over the United States and attack us? These “drones” ended up being pure propaganda – the UN chief weapons inspector concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ever developed unpiloted drones for use on enemy targets. Of course by then the propagandists had gotten their war so the truth did not matter much.

We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud?

We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests.

Where have we seen this before?

Let us remember a few important things. Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has never been found in violation of that treaty. Iran is not capable of enriching uranium to the necessary level to manufacture nuclear weapons. According to the entire US Intelligence Community, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapons program. These are facts, and to point them out does not make one a supporter or fan of the Iranian regime. Those pushing war on Iran will ignore or distort these facts to serve their agenda, though, so it is important and necessary to point them out.

Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.

Here I should say, “Contact your Congressman.” But geez. 403-11. Kind of an uphill struggle.

Of course, this war has been on the way since Shock and Awe days (remember: “Anyone can go to Baghdad; Real men go to Tehran”?)

What’s holding up actually attacking? Is there some sanity hiding behind the bellicose talk? Do  the gung-ho Congressfolk and military wizards of our broke-ass country realize the lunacy of opening another front in their crazy Long War (my hope)? Or (my fear) are they just waiting for a better provocation? “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.”

26
Feb
10

Gates: Europe’s peacefulness threatens world peace

antiwar poster

Poster seen on the streets of Harlem, February 2010

Juan Cole takes Defense Secretary Gates to task for criticizing Europe’s “general anti-war sentiment.”

An AFP story earlier this week quoted Gates as saying:

The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.

Cole rightly sees this as being a little rich coming from a country in the process of beggaring itself on war expenditures.

[A]s far as I can tell, Europe is the world’s largest economy and got there without any recent substantial wars except those the US dragged it into. Moreover, the fastest-growing economy for the past nearly 30 years has been China, which spends a fraction on their military of what the US spends on its, and, aside from a skirmish with Vietnam in the early 1980s, has been at peace. Apparently massive war expenditures are unrelated to economic growth or prosperity.

In contrast, the US has been at war for 19 of the last 47 years (not counting US-backed insurgencies such as 1980s Afghanistan, on which we spent billions) but has not grown faster than the other two economically. Moreover, the increasingly unwieldy US national debt, deriving from the US government spending more than it took in in recent decades, would not exist if the US military budget had been the same as that of the European Union since 1980. The US overspent on its military because Washington mistakenly thought the Soviet economy was twice as big as it actually was, and vastly over-estimated Soviet military capabilities. The bloated military budgets continue now, apparently because of a couple thousand al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in caves in the Hadhramawt and Waziristan.

I would go further, and say Europe is spending way more than it should on soldiers and guns and bombers and rockets. The U.S. military budget is officially over $700 billion, but in reality it’s closer to a trillion and a half dollars. The Europe Union spends $289 billion on  its toys. In contrast, China’s 2009 military budget was $122 billion.  Economic growth comparison?

US economic growth 2009: 0.2%
European Union economic growth 2009: -4%
China economic growth 2009: 8.7 %

Hmm. I wonder if one thing has to do with another here.

And I  also wonder what the endgame will look like. In my darker moments, I worry that the day is not far off when the U.S. will no longer be able to print or borrow money (the same thing, in our case). At that point, what will stop our government from using its military might against its creditors?

03
Feb
10

So now we’re straight

school lunch

yup, that's what they eat

We now know pretty much exactly the priorities of the Administration everyone was so excited about … a year ago, when it was all hope and CHANGE and promising all sorts of things for our nation’s kids.

The Obama Adminstration’s budget for the coming year features the largest military budget in U.S. history,which of course also means the largest military budget in the planet’s history, and for that matter in the history of the known universe.

And for improving the school lunches of America’s hope and future?  The new budget sets aside … make Dr. Evil fingers here … one BILLION dollars for school lunches. Um. Er. To be shared with WIC. Which works out to an extra … 20 cents per meal! According to Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore, The School Nutrition Association asked Congress for a whopping extra 35 cents per meal. What the kids get is not even enough for an extra apple per day!

Just so we’re clear. Obama is spending more on the military than anyone ever has! For our nation that just happens to be blessed with vast oceans east and west, not to mention friendly neighbors north and south. And for our kids? Not so much.

Even if you are not just being an ideological neo-dickensian with all this absurd talk about reducing the deficit without touching the military’s myriad entitlements, this still makes little sense. As Tom Philpott of grist.org notes:

Stiffing the school lunch program—enshrining it as the site where the food industry dumps cheap processed crap and shapes the tastes of kids—is the opposite of “fiscal responsibility.” It’s saddling millions of future adults with hefty medical bills they won’t be able to pay—and with lives diminished by chronic bad health.

pie chart

where the money really goes

02
Feb
10

Timeless: “Love vigilantes”

“Love vigilantes” came around on my ITunes while I was fixing dinner. A Laura Cantrell song I must have downloaded ages ago, but only tonight popped into the foreground. It was haunting, about a homesick soldier who finally gets his “leave” and flies home–to find his wife on the floor clutching a telegram that “said that I was a brave, brave men but that I was dead.” It was strangely familiar, but weirdly hard to pinpoint, as if from some distant era. World War I? The Korean War? Vietnam?

Actually you only have to go back to 1985. The band: New Order. I didn’t recognize this stripped-down version. I had heard it countless times before, but never, to my shame, paid much attention to the lyrics. At first I thought Persian Gulf War, but the years didn’t line up. The Falklands seems the most likely, though it could be any war.

It took Laura Cantrell (much beloved of John Peel, who of course also loved New Order) to find the beautiful, sad, ghostly ballad inside New Order’s Wall o’ Sound.

What an unearthly, powerful song, in both versions.

New Order, live in Japan 1985

Laura Cantrell, 2008

31
Jan
10

The Chieftains and Ry Cooder make an album about los san patricios

The Chieftains, in collaboration with Ry Cooder, Los Tigres del Norte, Linda Ronstadt and Van Dyke Parks, will release San Patricio on March 9. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the San Patricios (as I was), they were “a downtrodden group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).”

Below is Part One of a six-part documentary on the subject by Mark R. Day.

Also, from what I can gather, Howard Zinn discusses los san patricios in The Stories Hollywood Never Tells audio book.

Thanks to Chris Floyd, who has a great site and who pointed this out….

29
Jan
10

“Sh#t! Busted.” Blair ready for his close-up

Happy is the wrong word, but I find it gratifying to see that Tony Blair is being raked over the coals by his own government for his role in the monstrous, illegal by any possible definition, attack and occupation of Iraq.

Blair takes a bow

The Guardian has a great deal of good coverage on the Chilcot panel here, including live streaming video. Here in the States, a clever Gawker commenter  noted that Blair’s demeanor could be summed up thusly:  “1/3 happy to explain to you dolts, 1/3 pained that he wasn’t being understood and 1/3 “SHIT! Busted’.”

Independent columnist Matthew Norman writes that following this inquiry Blair will remain a free man, and that this is regrettable, especially since he will continue to earn up to the neighborhood of half a million dollars a day giving speeches. But Norman finds some solace in the fact that Blair will never be completely at ease:

For Mr Blair, the journey will not end on Friday, or when the inquiry publishes its findings. However damning these appear, however transparent the intent to cast him as a deceitful warmonger, they will be written in the language of euphemism, thus allowing each side to claim a victory of sorts. For Mr Blair, in fact, the trek can never end. Even if he is as canny in his choice of foreign destinations as he is with his answers on Friday, and avoids any Pinochet-type indignity, much less a war crimes trial, he … must trudge through his remaining days as a pariah.

This, it seems to me, is justice. It isn’t a modern form of quick-fix justice, as would be evidenced by front-page pictures of him being led into a Dutch courthouse, and then led out of it to a cell. Erich Segal, who moonlighted as a professor of classics, might confirm that this is justice ancient Greece style, in which the offence of Olympian arrogance – of confusing one’s puny self with a deity – was punished by something even more agonising than global humiliation or a lengthy spell in jug. The penalty from which death alone can free Mr Blair is soul-crushing futility. For the rest of his life, he must push the boulder of his self-proclaimed innocence and self-protested good intent up the hill, aware that he cannot reach the summit but powerless to evade the pointlessness of trying.

…For all the braggadocio, the sunken eyes and haunted expression betray his fear of arrest, and even more so his awareness of the loathing felt for him here and around the world. He may or may not be tortured on Friday by the Furies, as represented by the parents of troops killed in Iraq, but he will be tormented until the only Judgment Day he tells us means anything to a demigod whose stature far transcends the insolent judgments of mankind. If he leaves for a well-guarded gated community in the United States or Australia, he will be an exile. If he stays to flit between his many homes in England, he will be an outcast in his own land. Robert Harris brilliantly portrayed him as The Ghost in his excellent novel of that name. Now he looks more like one of The Undead.

That’s nice, but for some, it’s not enough. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has set up an Arrest Blair web site, which “offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace. Anyone attempting an arrest which meets the rules laid down here will be entitled to one quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application.” As of this morning, Friday Jan. 29, the kitty is closing in on ten thousand quid. Monbiot has a history with this sort of thing, having attempted a citizen’s arrest on John “Bonkers” Bolton at the Hay festival in 2008. By Monbiot’s own description, this was a “feeble attempt” to bring Bolton to justice. And yet, I like the thinking behind it. Let’s hope it spreads across the Atlantic.

27
Jan
10

Howard Zinn

A bad week for my personal heroes. First, Kate McGarrigle, and now Howard Zinn.

Here is a basic obit from the AP, which is all that we find on the New York Times web edition. (Which I find odd. I mean, he was 87, and there was no canned obit ready to go?)

By now, there are tons of tributes online, so I’ll just offer one memorable interview. Here he speaks of the fact that he did horrible things in the waning days of World War II. As part of a bomber crew, he dropped napalm on a tiny French village as a kind of experiment (the flight crews were not told), but he stood up to what he had done.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater. And we didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s okay. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.

In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all of the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We are seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

Zinn goes on to say that ten years later he visited the village and spoke to survivors, and relatives of those killed by the napalm bombing:

And they were very bitter about the bombing, and you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe the—one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.

27
Jan
10

“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

26
Jan
10

“No one was cheered and nothing was discussed”

Scott Horton’s The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle should by rights have shamed the nation into demanding 1. an investigation all the way up the command chain,  and 2. that Obama keep his promise to close Guantanamo.  But it didn’t, of course, because this is the age we live in.

Here is a brief summary, from the Guardian, of what Horton’s investigation turned up:

US government officials may have conspired to conceal evidence that three Guantánamo Bay inmates could have been murdered during interrogations, according to a six-month investigation by American journalists.

All three may have been suffocated during questioning on the same evening and their deaths passed off as suicides by hanging, the joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC News has concluded.

The magazine also suggests the cover-up may explain why the US government is reluctant to allow the release of Shaker Aamer, the last former British resident held at Guantánamo, as he is said to have alleged that he was part-suffocated while being tortured on the same evening.

“The cover-up is amazing in its audacity, and it is continuing into the Obama administration,” said Scott Horton, the contributing editor for Harper’s who conducted the investigation.

When the three men – Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30 – died in June 2006, the camp’s commander declared that they had committed suicide and that this had been “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than one of desperation.

According to an official inquiry by the US navy, whose report was heavily censored before release, each man was found in his cell, hanging from bedsheets, with their hands bound and rags stuffed down their throats.

However, Horton spoke to four camp guards who alleged that when the bodies were taken to the camp’s medical clinic they had definitely not come from their cell block, which they were guarding, and appeared to have been transfered from a “black site”, known as Camp No, within Guantánamo, operated by either the CIA or a Pentagon intelligence agency.

The men said that the following day, a senior officer assembled the guards and told them that the three men had committed suicide by stuffing rags down their throats, that the media would report that they had hanged themselves, and ordered that they must not seek to contradict those reports.

Harper’s says that when the bodies of the three men were repatriated, pathologists who conducted postmortem examinations found that each man’s larynx, hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage – which could have helped determine cause of death – had been removed and retained by US authorities.

Horton has a follow-up to his investigative piece in Harper’s, one in which he muses on the frightening relevance of  W.H. Auden’s “The Sword of Achilles” to the dark period in our history we appear to have entered:

Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war. Auden’s admonitions here are not necessarily those of a pacifist, though he unmistakably chides Homer for his glorification of a warrior culture. Is this, he seems to ask, where the Homeric vision of the warrior-hero has led our species?

But in the shield of Achilles, described in book 18 of the Iliad, we see Homer hammer a different tableau. Two cities are depicted on this shield. In one there is happiness, marriage, art and material plenty. The city is bound by the Rule of Law and disputes are resolved in the courts. “The other city was beleaguered by two armies, which were shown in their glittering equipment.” It is filled with strife, panic and death, and every disagreement is settled by violence, with victory going to the strongest, not the most righteous. All this potential lies in humankind, Homer tells us. Neither can be entirely stilled. But as Auden warns us, we must be ever watchful in which direction our society moves, whether it follows the dark path or the brilliant promise of the shield’s golden side.

A society that tortures and kills those placed entirely in its power and passes this fact by as a matter of indifference truly is plunging into the dark side of the world which these two poets describe–one at the dawn of man’s recorded history, the other in the crucible of modernity. On the day of these deaths in 2006, the American commander in Guantánamo violated the Homeric rules of decorum by taunting the dead and afflicting their families. The deceased prisoners “have no regard for human life,” he said. But in the end we must ask to whom those words more appropriately attach–the prisoners or those who have orchestrated the tragedy at Guantánamo? Another saying of the Achaean epoch applies to this tragedy. Long associated with the story of the Minotaur on Crete, it was recalled near the end of the nineteenth century by a philosophy professor at the University of Basel who waded deeply into the history of the era. “He who does battle with monsters,” he wrote, “needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.”

Needless to say, Americans are not holding parades for the brave camp guards who risked all to come forward. Nor are we taking to the street to protest the deaths of three nobodies on Guantanamo—”they were small/And could not hope for help and no help came.” As for the Obama Administration, no help there either:

Sergeant Joe Hickman, one of those who ended his silence about the cover-up, said he did so because of the new Administration’s commitment to right the previous one’s wrongs on civil liberties and detention policy. But Justice Department officials held one or two meetings with Hickman and his colleagues and then closed the investigation without prosecution, with a DoJ official saying to Hickman that his conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported.

I strongly recommend you read the entire exposé here, and Horton’s meditation on Auden here. And then tell me what there is to be done.




Ineffable beauty, unspeakable evil, and all sorts of crap in between

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