Evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” is “no slam dunk,” U.S. officials are saying this time around, reversing the claim made about Iraq by then-CIA director George Tenet.
Warmongers must work harder to make the case for Syria.
Opposition to a U.S.-led attack on Syria is growing rapidly in Europe and the United States, drawing its strength from public awareness that the case made for attacking Iraq had holes in it.
A majority in the United States, still very much aware of Iraq war deceptions, opposes arming the “rebel” force in Syria, so heavily dominated by foreign fighters and al Qaeda. And a majority opposes U.S. military action in Syria.
But that public opinion is only just beginning to get expressed as activism. With Republicans more willing to actively oppose a war this time, and some section of Democrats still opposed, there’s actually potential to build a larger antiwar movement than that of 2003-2006.
Thus far, however, what’s discouraging an attack on Syria is the public uproar that was created back then over the disastrous attack on Iraq.
The nation of Iraq was destroyed. Millions of refugees still can’t safely return. As with every other humanitarian war thus far, humanity suffered, and the suffering will last for ages. While the damage done to the United States itself doesn’t compare with the damage done to Iraq, it has been severe enough to make many a near-sighted potential war supporter cautious.
The problem with attacking Iraq was not that the vast stockpiles of weapons were fictional. Had every claim been true, the war would have remained illegal, immoral, and catastrophic.
Were it true that the Syrian government really chose the moment of the U.N. inspectors’ arrival to use chemical weapons, launching a U.S. war on Syria would still hurt the people of Syria — who are overwhelmingly opposed to it, regardless of their level of support for their government.
A regional or even global war could result. The U.S. military is planning for such scenarios, as if preparing for the apocalypse while igniting it makes the action less insane.
A war of supposed humanitarian philanthropy should consider the value to humanity of the rule of law. Launching a war in violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United Nations Charter, and the U.S. Constitution hurts the rule of law.
A war of beneficial generosity should consider other possible medicines that lack the deadly side-effects of war. For example, the United States could easily stop supporting and arming abusive dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, and Egypt, not to mention the horrors inflicted on Palestine by Israel.
A so-called good and noble war against the evil of chemical weapons should probably be launched by a nation that doesn’t itself use chemical weapons. Yet, the United States used white phosphorous and napalm as weapons in Iraq, not to mention such internationally sanctioned weapons as depleted uranium and cluster bombs — weapons the United States also sells to other governments regardless of their human rights records (including a big shipment of cluster bombs now headed to Saudi Arabia).
A humanitarian and just war should perhaps show equal concern for those humans killed with any kind of weapon. Bombing Syria would inevitably kill significant numbers of people. Isn’t that a problem even if they’re killed with the “right” kind of weapons?
A majority of Americans believe in the myth of the grateful Iraqi.
At 10 years since the launch of Operation Iraqi Liberation (to use the original name with the appropriate acronym, OIL) and over 22 years since Operation Desert Storm, there is little evidence that any significant number of people in the United States have a realistic idea of what our government has done to the people of Iraq, or of how these actions compare to other horrors of world history. A majority of Americans believe the war since 2003 has hurt the United States but benefitted Iraq. A plurality of Americans believe, not only that Iraqis should be grateful, but that Iraqis are in fact grateful.
A number of U.S. academics have advanced the dubious claim that war making is declining around the world. Misinterpreting what has happened in Iraq is central to their argument. As documented in the full report, by the most scientifically respected measures available, Iraq lost 1.4 million lives as a result of OIL, saw 4.2 million additional people injured, and 4.5 million people become refugees. The 1.4 million dead was 5% of the population. That compares to 2.5% lost in the U.S. Civil War, or 3 to 4% in Japan in World War II, 1% in France and Italy in World War II, less than 1% in the U.K. and 0.3% in the United States in World War II. The 1.4 million dead is higher as an absolute number as well as a percentage of population than these other horrific losses. U.S. deaths in Iraq since 2003 have been 0.3% of the dead, even if they’ve taken up the vast majority of the news coverage, preventing U.S. news consumers from understanding the extent of Iraqi suffering.
In a very American parallel, the U.S. government has only been willing to value the life of an Iraqi at that same 0.3% of the financial value it assigns to the life of a U.S. citizen.
The 2003 invasion included 29,200 air strikes, followed by another 3,900 over the next eight years. The U.S. military targeted civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances It also made use of what some might call “weapons of mass destruction,” using cluster bombs, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new kind of napalm in densely settled urban areas.
Birth defects, cancer rates, and infant mortality are through the roof. Water supplies, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, bridges, and electricity supplies have been devastated, and not repaired. Healthcare and nutrition and education are nothing like they were before the war. And we should remember that healthcare and nutrition had already deteriorated during years of economic warfare waged through the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in modern history.
Money spent by the United States to “reconstruct” Iraq was always less than 10% of what was being spent adding to the damage, and most of it was never actually put to any useful purpose. At least a third was spent on “security,” while much of the rest was spent on corruption in the U.S. military and its contractors.
The educated who might have best helped rebuild Iraq fled the country. Iraq had the best universities in Western Asia in the early 1990s, and now leads in illiteracy, with the population of teachers in Baghdad reduced by 80%.
For years, the occupying forces broke the society of Iraq down, encouraging ethnic and sectarian division and violence, resulting in a segregated country and the repression of rights that Iraqis used to enjoy even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state.
While the dramatic escalation of violence that for several years was predicted would accompany any U.S. withdrawal did not materialize, Iraq is not at peace. The war destabilized Iraq internally, created regional tensions, and — of course — generated widespread resentment for the United States. That was the opposite result of the stated one of making the United States safer.
If the United States had taken five trillion dollars, and — instead of spending it destroying Iraq — had chosen to do good with it, at home or abroad, just imagine the possibilities. The United Nations thinks $30 billion a year would end world hunger. For $5 trillion, why not end world hunger for 167 years? The lives not saved are even more than the lives taken away by war spending.
A sanitized version of the war and how it started is now in many of our school text books. It is not too late for us to correct the record, or to make reparations. We can better work for an actual reduction in war making and the prevention of new wars, if we accurately understand what past wars have involved.
As our government was making a fraudulent case to attack Iraq in 2002-2003, the MSNBC television network was doing everything it could to help, including booting Phil Donahue and Jeff Cohen off the air. The Donahue Show was deemed likely to be insufficiently war-boosting and was thus removed 10 years ago next week, and 10 days after the largest antiwar (or anything else) demonstrations in the history of the world, as a preemptive strike against the voices of honest peaceful people.
From there, MSNBC proceeded to support the war with mild critiques around the edges, and to white-out the idea of impeachment or accountability.
But now MSNBC has seen its way clear to airing a documentary about the fraudulent case it assisted in, a documentary titled Hubris. This short film (which aired between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Monday night, but with roughly half of those minutes occupied by commercials) pointed out the role of the New York Times in defrauding the public, but not MSNBC’s role.
Yet, my primary response to that is joy rather than disgust. It is now cool to acknowledge war lies. Truth-tellers, including truth-tellers rarely presented with a corporate microphone, made that happen.
MSNBC host and Obama promoter Rachel Maddow even introduced Hubris by pointing to another war lie — the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn’t — and a war lie started by a Democrat in that case. Similar lies can be found surrounding every war that has ever been, which is why I wrote War Is A Lie. We have to stop imagining that “bad wars” are a subset of wars.
But, of course, using Maddow as the presenter and narrator of a film about Republican war lies during a period of unacknowledged Democratic war lies unavoidably gives the thing a partisan slant. Watching Hubris, I was reminded of something that Michael Moore tweeted last Friday: “Senate Repubs: U started 2 illegal wars that broke the treasury & sacrificed the lives of thousands of our troops & countless civilians.”
Of course, the Senate that gave us the two wars in question was in reality controlled by Democrats, and the war lies were pushed hard by Senators Kerry, Clinton, and their comrades. Hubris touches on this reality but not with sufficient clarity for most viewers — I suspect — to pick up on it.
The film presents a great deal of good evidence that the war on Iraq was based on lies. Unavoidably, endless terrific bits of such evidence were not included. Less excusably, also left out was an analysis of the evidence that only dishonesty — not incompetence — explains the propaganda that was produced.
Hubris is the wrong word for what took the United States into war with Iraq. The forces at work were greed, lust for power, and sadistic vengeance. The word “hubris” suggests the tragic downfall of the guilty party. But the war on Iraq did not destroy the United States; it destroyed Iraq. It damaged the United States, to be sure, but in a manner hardly worthy of mention in comparison to the sociocide committed against Iraq.
Hubris, the film, provides a reprehensibly ludicrous underestimation of Iraqi deaths, and only after listing U.S. casualties.
It was not pride but a disregard for human life that generated mass murder. Congressman Walter Jones, who voted for the war, is shown in Hubris saying that he would have voted No if he had bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate that very few of his colleagues bothered to read.
Another talking head in the film is Lawrence Wilkerson. He is, of course, the former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is shown explaining that the reason not to attack Iraq was that doing so would take a focus away from attacking Afghanistan. Clearly this was not a reason that led to Wilkerson or Powell taking any kind of stand.
Wilkerson says in this film that he and Powell knew the war was based on lies, that the claims were junk, that no WMDs were likely to be found, etc. Yet, when confronted last week by Norman Solomon on Democracy Now! with the question of why he hadn’t resigned in protest, Wilkerson claimed that at the time he’d had no idea whatsoever that there were good arguments against the war. In fact, he blamed opponents of the war for not having contacted him to educate him on the matter.
The Hubris version of Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold. Powell was not a victim. He “knowingly lied.”
The same goes for Bush, Cheney, and gang. According to Hubris it may have just been incompetence or hubris. It wasn’t. Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: “What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”
What’s the difference? In a society based on the rule of law, the difference would be a criminal prosecution. MSNBC and Hubris steer us away from any ideas of accountability. And no connection is drawn to current war lies about Iran or other nations.
But the production of programs like this one that prolong Americans’ awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq are the best hope Iran has right now. MSNBC should be contacted and applauded for airing this and urged to follow up on it.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Haynes released under Creative Commons License
Madeleine Albright questioned by David Swanson on October 31, 2012, in Charlottesville, Va., Obama campaign office. Albright says she is sorry for having said that killing a half million Iraqi children was worth it (whatever ‘it’ was) — not for her participation in their deaths, but only for having answered the sort of question conveniently almost never asked anymore. Asked about the current sanctions on Iran, she said that was not the same at all.
Russell Snyder’s new book is called “Hearts and Mines: With the Marines in Al-Anbar: A Story of Psychological Warfare in Iraq.” It’s a beautiful book and one that may move you to outraged action, but not in the way you might expect.
I got the book from its author at a Veterans For Peace convention. I assumed it was an anti-war book. I was startled first by the literary skill of the author, who paints a powerful picture of his time in Iraq. I was startled second, slowly, gradually, as I waited for the author to turn against the war. I’ve read many other accounts by soldiers who came to regret their actions. They suffer from the actions they have taken. They deeply regret having killed innocent people. They find it almost too much to bear. They lay down their guns. They resist. They go AWOL. They file for conscientious objector status. Or they receive their discharge and then denounce the institution of war, committing never to be a part of it again.
That never quite happens with Snyder.
Here’s an intelligent, sensitive young man capable of describing a wide array of conflicting emotions that soldiers experience in wartime. He enjoys the camaraderie of the military. He respects the professionalism. He honors the self-sacrifice. And he resents the stupidity, fears for his life, and questions the wisdom of the entire enterprise. Just questions. He doesn’t reject. This is not a book aimed at moving you to demand an end to military spending. This is a book aimed — intentionally or not — at moving you to seek out and struggle against the cultural habits that allow people to accept war so completely that they can recognize it as an unnecessary piece of barbarism and nonetheless take part in it with pride.
“It’s a worrisome flaw humanity has yet to overcome that in our modern age we still accept the butchery of our human brothers and sisters as a means of settling our politicians’ and religious leaders’ disagreements,” writes Snyder in the introduction. He writes that his viewpoint evolved there. But the narrative of the book doesn’t display evolution so much as complexity and contradiction.
Snyder’s job was to blast loud messages in Arabic at Iraqi villages, in order to win their hearts and minds. He notes that in shooting practice “two in the heart, one in the mind” meant two bullets to the chest and one to the head — mocking the futility of “psy-ops.” When, in Chapter 2, Snyder puts bullets into live humans, he describes the success of the conditioning that allowed him to do so without thought. That thoughtlessness largely remains, at least on the surface, for the rest of the book.
Snyder describes the difficulties of “winning” an occupation of a country, the inability to trust anyone, the cycles of revenge, the brutality, the lack of understanding, the torture, the sadism, and the tricking of Iraqi children into cursing their country in English or drinking urine. Snyder describes a remarkable number of incidents in which he could easily have died, as well as learning that someone was offering $5,000 to whoever destroyed his loudspeaker truck or killed his Iraqi translator. This is a book with more “action” in it than most such accounts I’ve read — even as it still manages to convey the deadly boredom these incidents interspersed, and the adrenaline high that drove soldiers and Marines to seek out more activity, even at the risk of death. Snyder describes the fear of death, the resort to religion, and ultimately his attempt to believe that God saved him (while, of course, not saving thousands of others).
Snyder disapproves of the worst attitudes and actions he recounts. “It felt hypocritical,” he writes, “that we should attempt to convince [Iraqis] security was improving and they shouldn’t be worried while we Americans swaddled ourselves head to toe in armor and protective gear. Our hosts must have sometimes regarded our argument as condescending. Since we didn’t allow them to have armor or weapons, it seemed to imply their lives were not deserving of the same level of protection as our own.” At various other times, Snyder writes that his actions had the merit of possibly saving Marines’ lives. Not lives, Marines’ lives.
Snyder describes himself as torn. “My soul ached, torn between feeling a sense of contractual obligation, a desire to fulfill my duties as a soldier and to commiserate with my brothers in uniform while mourning the seemingly pointless extinction of so much innocent life. Not only the little girls whose stiffening corpses were now rotting like refuse in the backyard, or the baby chicks that had survived two tank rounds only to succumb to the sadistic whims of bored Marines, but the countless thousands of other human lives destroyed by war and remembered only as collateral damage. . . . Prolonging the war seemed akin to setting fire to a neighbor’s house and then attempting to extinguish the flames with more fire. I felt at once very weary, exhausted by the heavy knowledge of so much violence and needless death. But I remained quiet as I crawled into the turret, resigned to accept my own sinful role.” In fact, the possibility of acting otherwise is never mentioned in the book — except for others. Snyder writes that he “lamented the state of what I imagined to be my countrymen’s lack of awareness that permitted their collective conscience to embrace a war . . . .” In reality, there is no collective in such matters. We each have to act alone. We each bear a different share of guilt. But most of us at least were not taking part in what we were lamenting. Snyder ends the book feeling more guilt over his decision not to reenlist than anything else.
It’s possible that some of what Snyder has experienced and taken part in lies buried within him, threatening to erupt years or decades from now. “I might never live,” he writes, “long enough to atone for everything that troubled me, but maybe I didn’t have to if I made a sincere effort to live a life that benefitted others.” In my view, what’s needed is not further suffering by Russell Snyder. More suffering benefits no one. If he is able to move on to a productive nonviolent life, I only hope that it includes more writing. What’s needed, I think, is for the rest of us to appreciate how a book like this one already benefits others.
Start with Snyder’s condemnation of the effort underway during his time in Iraq to recruit Iraqis to take over the killing of Iraqis. A similar effort is failing miserably in Afghanistan right now, without any alternative entering the minds of our public policy decision makers.
Look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bewilderment at the Libyans’ lack of appreciation for all that our bombs have done to their country. Here’s a book that could ease our national case of bewilderment as to why the recipients of our “aid” tend to show so little gratitude.
The importance of this book is that it takes someone who largely believes (or used to believe) in U.S. propaganda and puts him into face-to-face exchanges with its victims. These exchanges are riveting:
After Snyder’s team blasts an area with an instruction to leave, they find an old man in a house with two young boys. The old man asks where in the world he was supposed to go, the desert?
“A tear formed in a wrinkled corner of the man’s eye and sparkled down his cheek.
“‘I have my son’s family here too. You shot him driving his tractor home. He was a good man, an innocent man.’
“He pointed up the street to the burnt-out remnant of a vehicle. The Marines had destroyed several vehicles with tank rounds during the push into the city, which they identified as potential suicide car bombs. It was pointless to wonder whose version of events was true. The son was dead, or at the very least his father was a good actor.
“‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss, but sometimes there are accidents in war. You fought against Iran, did you not? You know things like this happen. There are bad people here, people who want to kill us. We have to protect ourselves. It is our job to make Iraq safer, and sometimes that means making hard decisions. Maybe sometimes the wrong people do get caught in the middle. We try to be careful, believe me. The terrorists will stop at nothing, even killing children, but we Americans do our best to avoid unnecessary violence. We follow the Geneva Conventions. We want to help you. That doesn’t bring your son back, I know, but we are only trying to do our job.’
“The man rebutted my statement, morosely shaking his head in disbelief that I could be so wrong.
“‘Iraq was safe before you came. My town was quiet before you bombed it. Now I cannot even go outside. We don’t have water.’ He sighed. ‘If you can just let me go to the water valve down the street, I can maybe turn the water back on.’
“‘I can’t make that decision. Our commander wants everyone to stay home. It’s better if you stay inside, safer. We can bring you water later.’
“I turned to Sonny. ‘Ask him if he has ever seen strangers here.’
“I looked back in the old man’s eyes. ‘Has he seen foreign fighters here.’
“Sonny paused. ‘He says, “Just you.”‘
“I squeezed my eyes shut at the old man’s audacity and pinched the bridge of my nose. It was a true statement, from his perspective, that I was a foreign fighter, but not the answer I looked for.
“‘There are dead Africans in the street up there. He never saw anyone like that?’
“The man shook his head.
“‘He didn’t know there was a torture dungeon just down the road, where they kept captured border guards? He never heard a scream? They didn’t think it was safe here.’
“I carefully watched the man’s reaction to the news there had been such crimes committed so close to his home. He showed no surprise.
“‘If you say so,’ the old man replied. ‘I don’t know anything.’”
Which came first, the oil business or the war machine that protects it? Who started this madness, the military that consumes so much of the oil or the corporations that distribute and profit from the filthy stuff?
Crude Awakening by Timothy Mitchell
An answer of sorts can be found in Timothy Mitchell’s book, “Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil.”
Western oil corporations were never strong enough, Mitchell finds, to monopolize the flow or stoppage of Middle Eastern oil without major military and financial assistance. So, they began talking about their control of Middle Eastern oil as being an imperial interest. When “imperial” went out of fashion, the phrase shifted to “strategic interest.”
Early in the 20th century, the Anglo Persian Oil Company discovered that its oil stank. It contained high levels of sulfur, and people wouldn’t burn it for illumination. So, the oil company enlisted the British Navy, as a customer. In fact, it pretended the Navy was a major customer for a few years until it actually became one. The British empire thus developed an interest in protecting the company’s control of the oil of what is now Iran, in order to fuel the new ships of the Navy — a navy designed to protect Britain’s imperial interests.
The Royal Navy had another reason for shifting to oil-burning ships, according to Mitchell. Coal miners were developing the annoying habit of going on strike, effectively flicking off the light switch on the empire and all its toys. Coal mining involved more workers than oil drilling, and the movement of the coal, once mined, was more easily blocked en route. Coal, and the ease with which it could be sabotaged, was a driver of democracy, whereas oil would be its enemy.
Mitchell also describes British support for the Zionist settlement of Palestine in the 1920s as motivated by a desire to create a population in need of protection, protection that would involve controlling the flow of oil from Iran to the Mediterranean. Well, … that and a population to serve as protectors of the pipeline. In 1936-1939 the British created a force of armed Jewish settlers to guard the Haifa-Lydda railway line — a force that would form the nucleus of the army that seized control of Palestine in 1948.
Also in 1920 Winston Churchill proposed winning hearts and minds in what is now Iraq by bombing the place, to which the British secretary of state for war objected thus: “If the Arab population realize that the peaceful control of Mesopotamia ultimately depends on our intention of bombing women and children, I am very doubtful if we shall gain the acquiescence of the fathers and husbands.” Such logic would no more stop Winston Churchill than it would Barack Obama.
When I lived in New York 20 years ago, the United States was beginning a 20-year war on Iraq. We protested at the United Nations. The Miami Herald depicted Saddam Hussein as a giant fanged spider attacking the United States. Hussein was frequently compared to Adolf Hitler. On October 9, 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told a U.S. congressional committee that she’d seen Iraqi soldiers take 15 babies out of an incubator in a Kuwaiti hospital and leave them on the cold floor to die. Some congress members, including the late Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), knew but did not tell the U.S. public that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, that she’d been coached by a major U.S. public relations company paid by the Kuwaiti government, and that there was no other evidence for the story. President George H. W. Bush used the dead babies story 10 times in the next 40 days, and seven senators used it in the Senate debate on whether to approve military action. The Kuwaiti disinformation campaign for the Gulf War would be successfully reprised by Iraqi groups favoring the overthrow of the Iraqi government twelve years later.
My Congressman in Virginia from 2008 to 2010 Tom Perriello, who was beloved by all the national progressive groups for reasons never explained and who is now president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and one of the founders of Avaaz, holds up the first Gulf War as a model of a good and humanitarian war, while Avaaz pushes for war in Syria as philanthropy and Senator John McCain pushes for it as a way to overthrow a government that is allied with Iran, the same Iran strengthened by 20 years of war and sanctions against Iraq.
Are the lies that have to be told to get these wars going a necessary part of the process of stirring up weak souls’ emotions for the truly necessary and noble work of war? Are we all, each and every one of us, wise and knowing insiders who must tolerate being lied to because others just don’t understand? This line of thinking would be more persuasive if wars did any good that could not be done without them and if they did it without all the harm. Two intense wars and many years of bombing and deprivation later, the evil ruler of Iraq, and former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein is gone, but we’ve spent trillions of dollars; a million Iraqis are dead; four million have been displaced and left desperate and abandoned; violence is everywhere; sex trafficking is on the rise; the basic infrastructure of electricity, water, sewage, and healthcare is in ruins (in part because of the U.S. intention to privatize Iraq’s resources for profit); life expectancy has dropped; cancer rates in Fallujah have surpassed those in Hiroshima; anti-U.S. terrorist groups are using the occupation of Iraq as a recruiting tool; there is no functioning government in Iraq; and most Iraqis say they were better off with Saddam Hussein in power. We have to be lied to for this? Really? Read the rest of this entry →
When President George W. Bush was pretending to want to avoid a war on Iraq while constantly pushing laughably bad propaganda to get that war going, we had a feeling he was lying. After all, he was a Republican. But it was after the war was raging away that we came upon things like the Downing Street Minutes and the White House Memo.
Now President Barack Obama is pretending to want to avoid a war on Iran and to want Israel not to start one, while constantly pushing laughably bad propaganda to get that war going. We might suspect a lack of sincerity, given the insistence that Iran put an end to a program that the U.S. government simultaneously says there is no evidence exists, given the increase in free weapons for Israel to $3.1 billion next year, given the ongoing protection of Israel at the U.N. from any accountability for crimes, given the embrace of sanctions highly unlikely to lead to anything other than greater prospects of war, and given Obama’s refusal to take openly illegal war “off the table.” We might suspect that peace was not the ultimate goal, except of course that Obama is a Democrat.
However, we now have Wikileaks cables and comments from anonymous officials that served as the basis for a report from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the United States approve the sale of advanced refueling aircraft as well as GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs to Israel during a recent meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday. The American official said that U.S. President Barack Obama instructed Panetta to work directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to look favorably upon the request as soon as possible. During the administration of former U.S. President George Bush, the U.S. refused to sell bunker-penetrating bombs and refueling aircrafts to Israel, as a result of American estimates that Israel would then use them to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Following Obama’s entrance into the White House, however, the United States approves a string of Israeli requests to purchase advance armament. Diplomatic cables exposed by the WikiLeaks website exposed discussion concerning advanced weapons shipments. In one cable which surveyed defense discussions between Israel and the United states that took place on November 2009 it was written that ‘both sides then discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the USG is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran.’”
Why supply Israel with the weapons to attack Iran more forcefully if you don’t want Israel to attack Iran? The Israeli newspaper Maariv claims to have the answer. Apparently people in the know are spilling the beans earlier this war cycle: Read the rest of this entry →
Not yet 30, Evan Knappenberger has already lived several lives. His story destroys the U.S. government’s case against whistleblower Bradley Manning, exposes the toxic mix of fraud and incompetence that creates U.S. war policies, and highlights the damage so often done to soldiers who come home without visible injuries.
Knappenberger, seen in this video, was trained as an “intelligence analyst” at the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 2003 and 2004, the same school attended by Bradley Manning. In April of this year, the PBS show Frontline, responding to an article Knappenberger had published, flew him to Los Angeles on a private jet, and interviewed him for four hours.
Knappenberger told Frontline that he, like Manning, had had access to the U.S. government’s SIPRNet database when he had been in Iraq. Knappenberger told Frontline that 1,400 U.S. government agencies put their information on SIPRNet, and that 2 million employees were given access to it. SIPRNet has secret blogs, secret discussions, and its own secret Google search engine. At one point, the Pentagon encouraged gambling on SIPRNet on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. Knappenberger also pointed out that the United States had given the Iraqi Army access to the database, knowing full well that many members of the Iraqi Army were also on the U.S. target list as enemies fighting U.S. troops.
Knappenberger was in Iraq in 2006, but said he believes the practice of sharing SIPRNet with the Iraqi Army began in 2005. The U.S. Army ran cables to laptops in Iraqi command posts, and gave each post a CPOF (command post of the future) super computer. Each Iraqi command post had access to everything Bradley Manning allegedly leaked to Wikileaks. At some point in 2006, the U.S. Army decided to get serious about security by assigning two U.S. soldiers with security clearances to guard each site. Each soldier was on guard for 12 hours and off for 12. Another step taken to boost security was the creation of passwords to access SIPRNet, but because no one could remember the passwords they were written on sticky notes and stuck to the backs of the computers. Knappenberger says he had the password on the back of his computer and has read that every computer in Manning’s unit had it too.
So, Knappenberger related this kind of information to Frontline for four hours and says that for three or four months afterwards he expected to go to prison for violating nondisclosure agreements. He popped a lot of PTSD pills and gained a huge amount of weight as a result of nervousness, he says. Then, the day before he expected the Frontline story to air, he says, the show told him it would not be airing. Frontline was afraid of being held liable for inducing Knappenberger to violate his nondisclosure agreements.
Knappenberger has made the same information public without any charges being brought against him. Frontline would simply have made it more public. Like Bradley Manning, Frontline would not have provided enemies of the United States with tools to be used against us. Rather, like Bradley Manning, Frontline would have informed more of us what our government was doing in our name. And some of what it has been doing is extremely hard to look at without turning away.
This past January, Knappenberger says he testified on the record, via telephone, to the office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner on the topic of torture. Knappenberger was not qualified to “interrogate” people, but Donald Rumsfeld’s reorganization of the Army found ways to put non-combat troops into combat roles. Used to test this model was Knappenberger’s First Special Troops Battalion. These cooks, military police, signals and chemical specialists, clerks, and analysts were called on to fight terror and spread freedom. Knappenberger says his platoon sergeant was a payroll specialist who “got his legs blown off in combat he was never trained for,” while a first sergeant “got his head blown off, and he was an intel geek.” Knappenberger says his roommate was a specialist in fixing radios who lost his hearing and suffered traumatic brain injury on an IED squad.
Knappenberger says that recruiters had told him he’d do desk work. But he also says that when he joined up he was ready to kill people. He ended up doing double duty. There would be 10 or 12 hours at your normal job, he says, followed by 8 hours on a combat job. Knappenberger’s combat job was not a shooting one. It was his duty to tell others where to shoot, what to blow up, whom to kill. Knappenberger at age 20 was one of three “intel” people in his unit at Camp Taji north of Baghdad, the other two being women aged 25 and 26. None of the three had experience, but they took over for eight well-trained veterans who had been there for two years, and some of whom even spoke Arabic. The 26-year-old woman in charge was a drone pilot now placed in charge of a combat area with 100,000 people around Camp Taji. Many FREs (former regime elements) lived right outside the base.
As the only male, Knappenberger says he was assigned to do the questioning of suspects brought in. Lacking any census, the only database of individuals Knappenberger possessed came from the oil-for-food program. A friend had found the information in Baghdad and typed it in. When someone was pulled over, soldiers would radio to Knappenberger who would search for them in the database. Usually they’d be released. If someone was caught “with a bloody knife or a tube of mortars” Knappenberger says, “they’d be brought in.” But without really good evidence they could not be booked for lack of space. So, good evidence had to be obtained within 24 hours. The method of choice was coerced confession.
Knappenberger told me they used sensory deprivation on these suspects. They blindfolded them, put bags on their heads, handcuffed them, sat them on the cold ground in their underwear, etc. In one case that he described to me, they drove a man in circles around the base blindfolded in a truck, put him on the ground, and gave him a cigarette. The man “freaked out because he thought he’d been driven to the middle of nowhere to be executed. But we never told him that, so it was legal.” The more common approach, Knappenberger said, was to tell someone you would drop him off in the middle of the market and give him $100. This would amount to framing someone with turning in others, and the penalty would likely be death . . . for the individual and for his family. “We’d show them pictures of dead bodies and say ‘This is what’s going to happen to you,’ and we’d talk about their wives and girlfriends.” Knappenberger says he did not engage in physical abuse, but that others did while he literally turned his back. Iraqi interpreters, wearing masks, hit, slapped, grabbed hair, etc. Turning your back was understood by the U.S. Army as making you a non-witness, Knappenberger says.
This went on from January to March, 2006, until “I finally got into trouble.” Afraid that a prisoner would file a complaint after being booked, Knappenberger’s boss promoted him from the tactical to the operational command staff. Knappenberger’s new job, too, provides a window into the madness of war.
Knappenberger came up with an analysis of likely weapons caches. Some were in junk yards and other random sites. But the largest was in a munitions depot supposedly guarded by the Iraqi Army. The further one moved away from this depot, Knappenberger found, the fewer weapons caches were found. Similarly, Knappenberger identified likely locations of ethnic killings as Iraqi Army checkpoints.
The Oil Protection Force, a special unit of the Iraqi Army, was headquartered in one of the hottest spots for IEDs in all of Iraq, Knappenberger says. “We were paying them and they were stealing oil out of the pipeline they were supposedly guarding.” When Knappenberger’s unit arrested the head of the Oil Protection Force for leading a Sunni militia against U.S. troops, within an hour, he says, a DIA helicopter arrived and “the guys in suits took him and put him back out on the streets.” Shortly afterwards the pipeline blew up and burned for 30 days.
Another Iraqi whom Knappenberger had an interesting encounter with is Ali Latif Ibrahim Hamad el Falahi. “I spent eight months trying to find that guy,” he says. Knappenberger met Falahi at a civil affairs dinner at a sheik’s house his first week in Iraq and spoke with him for about an hour. Three days later, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped. Knappenberger says Falahi was “the suspect” and was “our number two target for a year and a half” as he engaged in ethnic cleansing, decapitation, and ambushing Shiite units in the Iraqi Army. “I spent 8 months trying to have him killed. We killed dozens of people trying to find him. We had a gunship fly around his orchard because of heat signals there. Thirteen people died there, none him.” Falahi was reportedly later killed in the same sheik’s house after failing to set off a suicide vest beside a U.S. soldier.
“I think about that guy every day,” says Knappenberger. “We raided his house. I had his diary translated. I had a whole file on this guy.” Remarkably, Knappenberger recognizes humanity in Falahi, saying “I don’t think he was a bad person because I didn’t get that vibe from him when I talked to him.” Knappenberger uses the example of Hitler to suggest that there is good in the worst of people. Of Falahi he says, “He did very bad things. He killed a lot of people. There were even allegations that he was raping women. But before the Americans came he was just a hardworking farmer taking care of his aunt.” Falahi had gone to his Imam and argued over how to get Americans to leave without violence, says Knappenberger. “Falahi and his nephews went through Camp Taji and took a bunch of weapons the day Saddam disappeared. And it was supposed to be for protection. They set up a militia to guard the village. They had check points on the road in and out.” Then the United States armed the Shiites as the new Iraqi Army, and Paul Bremer cut out the Baath Party and banned possession of over 30 rounds of ammunition per family. “That’s when he got radicalized.”
Evan Knappenberger says he began as an Ayn Rand fan, an atheist and a Republican (and you thought Karl Rove was the only atheist Republican!). Knappenberger has since turned against Ayn Rand and rightwing politics including war, and gone religious.
Evan says that he found the Army to be “a pretty socialist institution,” in which people are encouraged to protect their friends as a way to motivate them to kill. But, he says, “I was willing to kill without that.” Why? As revenge for 9-11, he says, and as an expression of hatred that Evan says he harbored even before 9-11. He remembers reading Readers Digest as a kid and learning about “terrorists who want to kill us.” In the end, Evan says he did not shoot anyone. But he prepared packets of information on targets, including maps to their homes, photos of them, the reasons they were targets, and what was to be done to them (kill/capture, exploit, source, etc.) Artillery officers, who Evan says are “notoriously stupid,” became a targeting cell, and whatever he told them (“This guy is bad. This is where he lives.”) they would work from to plan bombings and raids.
My impression from speaking with Evan Knappenberger is that what turned him against war and militarism, even more than the SNAFU experience in Iraq, even more than the gradual exposure of the lies that launched the war, and more than the “socialism” within the military, was coming into contact with radical inequality of wealth and power within the Army, mirroring our society at large.
On a two-week leave, completely exhausted, in the middle of his year in Iraq, Evan flew back to Charlottesville, Virginia. On the last leg from Atlanta, he was one of two people in uniform on the plane. The other was a JAG general with a gold watch and a leather briefcase but no combat patch. Evan, in contrast, hadn’t had a shower in a week, and it showed. Apparently the two of them regarded each other with mutual contempt. While on leave, Evan attended a jobs fair in Crystal City for people with security clearances like his. At lunch time, he says, lots of officers came over from the Pentagon looking for high-paying jobs. “I was the lowest ranking person in the room. And the thing that really shocked the hell out of me: You go six months in Iraq and the highest ranking person you see is a colonel. And I’m in a room full of generals and sergeant majors of the army and chief warrant officer fives, and not one of them had a combat job in the whole big ball room — not one of those m—– f—— had been in a combat zone for 30 days to get a combat patch — or if they did they weren’t proud of it. And these were the people making the decisions and making my life hell — and that had a lot to do with turning me against the war.”
Another factor was the unfairness of the policy of stop-loss. The Army had messed up Evan’s paperwork when he had shipped out, delaying him, and as a result his date for completing his contract just barely made it into the group the Army chose to hold over for additional “service.” To avoid being stop-lossed, Evan cut a deal with his commanders that would allow him to be honorably discharged for minor misbehavior. However, a brand new division commander gave Evan a general discharge, eliminating his GI Bill and other benefits. Evan says it took him three years to get any disability coverage from the V.A.
Evan still has PTSD, as well as a skin problem he attributes to toxic chemicals and garbage burned in open pits in Iraq by the U.S. Army. On tower guard duty adjacent to such a pit, Evan says he lost his sense of smell and coughed up a black substance. “That whole year was like a nightmare,” he says. “Getting mortared every night. Rockets coming in. The first couple of times I got shot at on guard duty I had no idea what was going on. . . . I thought it was bats. . . . I got so used to getting mortared. I was at the airport getting ready to leave and was in the portapotty when a siren went off. Then there were booms and after the last boom dirt clods falling on the portapotty. I walked out, doing up my belt, and there was a major and a sergeant major under a truck face down in the mud. And the guy screams at me: ‘Get to the bunker!’” Evan’s response was a casual “Whatever. It’s over now.”
In April of 2007, Evan Knappenberger came back to Charlottesville. He says he’d been dating long distance and had a bad break up on the phone while driving. He just kept driving for three months, living out of his car and spending his Army money. He ended up in Bellingham, Washington, where he met a woman at a peace vigil and married her in October. The marriage has “almost been ruined a few times by PTSD.”
Evan has done a lot of antiwar activism in Bellingham, including helping AWOL soldiers make it to Canada. He built and did guard duty on a tower in Bellingham and then in Washington, D.C., to protest the stop loss policy. I organized a press conference for his mother in Charlottesville.
Evan was nothing if not outspoken. This included informing an Ohio couple that their son was dead, despite a government coverup and propaganda campaign. In 2004 Iraqis produced a video of a U.S. soldier, Matt Maupin, held hostage, and then another of him being killed. According to Knappenberger, the DIA used facial pattern recognition and a study of the blotches on his uniform and was 100% certain that Maupin had been executed. But the military told the media to suppress the video, and the U.S. media complied. Maupin’s parents campaigned for Bush’s “reelection” in the swing state of Ohio in ’04 because “John Kerry wants to leave Matt behind,” even though Knappenberger says the government knew that Matt was dead. As part of the public relations push, Maupin was repeatedly promoted in rank, and his pay was placed in an account for when he was found.
Evan saw the video in 2006. In 2007 he told a Washington Post reporter who filed a FOIA and was told the information was classified. So, in September 2007, Evan says he told Maupin’s parents, who were reluctant to believe him. An hour later, an Army intelligence officer called Evan and threatened him with jail. According to Knappenberger, he replied, “If you tell the parents I won’t have to. If you don’t I will.” Meanwhile, says Knappenberger, “the poor dad was putting together a team to go find Matt.” Maupin’s dad, Evan says, told him “I’ve got Andrew Card’s number. I’m calling him right now.” Two weeks later he was allowed to watch the video at the Pentagon.
One’s heart breaks for those parents and so many others like them, and for the vastly greater number of Iraqis whose loved ones have been killed by U.S. loved ones. One’s heart breaks for Evan Knappenberger as well. He says he is committed to nonviolence, but it is a process he is working at. He grew up in a violent culture and was trained to use and value violence. Since getting out of the Army, he has repeatedly been accused of threatening violence. He recounted to me an incident in which he threatened President Bush with violence. He has threatened rightwing war supporters with violence in blog posts. Evan’s been hospitalized twice for PTSD. He’s had an on-again off-again relationship with antiwar groups like IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War).
During what Evan describes as a “really bad breakdown” in January 2009, he showed up at the V.A. hospital in Seattle. It was full, and he was told to come back Monday. He called a senator, and had an appointment within an hour. Within another hour, he says, he was loaded up with antidepressants and on the street. Four weeks of antidepressants later, he had a worse breakdown that landed him in jail following an attempted suicide and what he says was an unfounded charge of “unlawful imprisonment” of his wife, which he pled to a misdemeanor.
Despite everything our society places in the way of it, Evan Knappenberger has obtained an associate’s degree and is working on a bachelor’s. After a troubled but useful contribution to Occupy Charlottesville (he says he quit, others say they evicted him), Evan is headed back to Bellingham to work on his marriage and his mortgage payments. I wish him well and thank him for speaking out.
Sigmund Freud once mentioned the defense offered by a man who was accused by his neighbor of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.
That man’s name?
On “Morning Joe” on MSNBC on Thursday, the former Vice President claimed that the intelligence used to invade Iraq had been sound and accurate; the faulty intelligence was all Bill Clinton’s fault; the invasion didn’t do any damage but rather it was the Iraqis who damaged Iraq; and any invasion causes horrific things to happen, that just comes with the territory.
This incoherence was interspersed with gossip about Cheney’s marriage and his friends and his whole lovable social self. That lie may have overshadowed the more serious ones. When in the hell did Cheney become respectable, much less lovable? But that’s a distraction. Cheney’s crimes have long been catalogued.
Joe Scarborough began his Cheney interview by asking, not why did you commit so many crimes and abuses, but how did you, dear Dick, suffer from having the image of Darth Vader imposed on you? Cheney replies that he had fun wearing a Darth Vader mask. But listen carefully for the Freudian slip: he says he wore it in the President’s office, not the VICE President’s office.
Cheney claims he didn’t transform into Darth Vader, and of course he didn’t. Cheney was an immoral power-mad neocon for decades who consistently favored presidential prerogatives and aggressive militarism. But Cheney claims that what changed was that a terrorist act became an act of war rather than a crime. Did it do that all on its own?
Cheney slips in his usual baseless defense of torture and related abuses as having served some useful purpose. Scarborough does not follow up on that claim. Instead, he asks about Colin Powell’s comments on Cheney’s book. Nice and gossipy. But Lawrence Wilkerson’s more serious comments on the same topic, including his expression of willingness to testify against Cheney in court, go unmentioned.
Cheney then claims the Iraq lies were well-intended mistakes and basically accurate at the same time. Content with this, Scarborough focuses in on DC social scene changes over the decades. That’s journalism!
Mike Barnicle, a SERIOUS journalist, then asks Cheney if he regrets the death of a U.S. soldier in a humvee that was operating in Iraq without proper armor. This is a question along the lines of “Why did the military waste $60 billion in Iraq?” These talking heads are not 60 seconds from the topic of the lies that launched an illegal and immoral war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, almost none of them Americans, and Barnicle wants to know why the humvees weren’t better armored. Wednesday’s news of U.S. troops having murdered Iraqi children gets no mention. This is breakfast table reporting for goodness sake! And yet, even with the softball question about the humvee armor, Cheney makes excuses and points out that things like that just happen in wars.
Well, exactly. But why do the wars happen?
Finally Scarborough asks Cheney why the U.S. military invaded Iraq, and Cheney says it was the right thing to do. He paints it as defensive. We attacked an unarmed impoverished nation halfway around the globe IN DEFENSE. Cheney even regurgitates a long-debunked claim about Mohamed Atta meeting with Iraqi officials. Next, Mika Brzezinski asks Cheney about the war lies, and Cheney blames Clinton. Now, I’m no fan of Clinton, and he told plenty of his own lies and engaged in plenty of power abuses tied to wars and military actions, but the fixing of the facts around the policy on Iraq was a major operation created after Clinton was gone. On this, Scarborough and Brzezinski had no follow up questions.
Instead, Barnicle helpfully turned to the topic of moving troops early out of Afghanistan and into preparation for war in Iraq. Cheney dishonestly suggested that no troops were moved to Iraq until a year and a half later. Then Cheney claims the Iraqis are the ones who did all the damage in Iraq. And on that note, Scarborough insists on chattering about Cheney’s marriage, while Brzezinski insists on hearing about Cheney’s sedated dreams of Italian villas.
Cheney admitted in this interview that his vice presidential role was unique. But that’s not actually an argument for buying his book. It’s an argument for amending our Constitution to include a ban on vice presidents exercising executive, as opposed to legislative, power.
The trouble is that there’s little point in amending our laws until we start enforcing them. Dick Cheney is a human advertisement for the absence of the rule of law in the United States. Wilkerson thinks Cheney is bluffing because he is scared of being prosecuted. I think Cheney knows that could only happen abroad. He is safe here because the Justice Department answers to Obama, and Obama is protecting Cheney because Obama is continuing similar crimes and abuses.
If Obama were to allow Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce our laws against Dick Cheney, Obama might very well save his own electoral prospects. But he would put himself at risk of future prosecution. The question of whether we will have the rule of law becomes the question of whether Obama wants to trade four years of power for decades in prison. That’s not how it is supposed to work.
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