Archive for the 'bombing' 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.”

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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.

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.

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.

18
Jan
10

Not so secret history of Haiti: dive-bombers, occupations, deforestation

President Obama has once again demonstrated, in the pages of Newsweek, that he’s capable of uplifting but ultimately empty rhetoric, this time on behalf of “the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history.” Which would be nice, but…. Obama doesn’t once mention our government’s role in that tragic history.

In “No, Mister! You cannot share my pain!” Jamaican columnist John Maxwell offers a brief lesson in the history of Haiti from a perspective we’re unaccustomed to hearing.

Besides offering a withering account of Aristide’s disgraceful 2004 ouster, Maxwell offers some eye-opening angles about earlier Haitian-American relations. The first was that Haiti, along with Nicaragua, was a crucial testing ground for U.S. bombers between the first and second world wars.

Long before Franco bombed Guernica, exciting the horror and revulsion of civilised people, the Americans perfected their dive-bombing techniques against unarmed Haitian peasants, many of whom had never seen aircraft before.

Might I suggest this as a thesis subject for a grad student in history: the role of the people of colonized nations as target practice? The Brits, for example, favored “experimental” bombing of their subject nations. Just one of the myriad revelations in A History of Bombing, Sven Lindqvist’s masterpiece, was that Churchill  himself was an early and eager advocate of the bombing of savages in Iraq. He saw it as a “cheaper form of control” and declared himself to be “strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” Man of the Century? That’s about right.

The second interesting angle: the central role played by war hero-turned-antiwar-crusader General Smedley Butler in Haiti, who looked back late in his life to describe his activities in uniform thus:

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long….. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service.” [That’s a pretty good line!]

Butler was a fascinating character, who in 1934 claimed that he was approached by a cabal of businessmen to lead a Fascist march and to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Congressional committees looked into the allegations, found they were credible … and did nothing. I have always wondered why left-leaning wealthy young actors with clout–Affleck, Damon, Cusack, Penn–haven’t produced a biopic of the life of Smedley….

The third angle Maxwell explores, the purposeful deforestation of Haiti, featured FDR in another role. Under the Dessalines constitution, written in the early years of the 19th century, “only officially certified ‘blacks’ could own land in Haiti.” That inconvenient rule was deleted from the new constitution written for the Haitians by the occupying American regime who had swept in during World War I. Opening up Haiti to foreign ownership was …. drum roll … FDR himself, who was then assistant secretary of the Navy. After FDR opened the door, “the lumberjacks [became] busy, felling old growth Mahogany and Caribbean Pine for carved doors for the rich and mahogany speedboats, boardroom tables seating 40, etc. The devastated land was put to produce rubber, sisal for ropes and all sorts of pie in the sky plantations.”

And let’s not forget religion. Maxwell quotes Haitian performer Marguerite Laurent’s vivid description of Catholic Church collaboration with colonial terror. It evokes echoes of Avatar:

“Don’t expect to learn how a people with a Vodun culture that reveres nature and especially the Mapou (oak-like or ceiba pendantra/bombax) trees, and other such big trees as the abode of living entities and therefore as sacred things, were forced to watch the Catholic Church, during Rejete – the violent anti-Vodun crusade – gather whole communities at gunpoint into public squares, and forced them to watch their agents burn Haitian trees in order to teach Haitians their Vodun Gods were not in nature, that the trees were the “houses of Satan”.

Yup, that kinda stuff doesn’t just happen to blue people on distant planets.




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

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