You are browsing the archive for wikileaks.

Peter Van Buren, The Manning Trial Began on 9/11

7:11 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Bradley Manning - Caricature

Bradley Manning – Caricature

Close your eyes for a moment, think about recent events, and you could easily believe yourself in a Seinfeldian Bizarro World. Now, open them and, for a second, everything looks almost familiar… and then you notice that a dissident is fleeing a harsh and draconian power, known for its global surveillance practices, use of torture, assassination campaigns, and secret prisons, and has found a haven in a heartless world in… hmmm… Russia. That dissident, of course, is Edward Snowden, just granted a year’s temporary asylum in Russia, a.k.a. the defender of human rights and freedom 2013, and so has been released from a Washington-imposed imprisonment in Moscow’s international air terminal and the threat of far worse.

Now, close your eyes, open them again, and for just a moment, doesn’t the world look a little more orderly?  After all, a draconian imperial power has taken one of its own dissidents, who wanted to reveal the truth about its cruel war practices and global diplomatic maneuverings, thrown him in prison without charges, abused and mistreated him, brought him before a drumhead military court and, on essentially trumped up charges of “espionage,” convicted him of just what its leaders wanted to convict him of.  That power, of course, must be Russia and all’s right with the world… oops, I mean, that’s U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning and the “evil empire” that mistreated him is… gulp… the United States.

Think about it for a moment: if Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a place of asylum for American dissidents and the U.S. is doing a reasonable job of imitating aspects of the old USSR, we are on Bizarro Earth, aren’t we?

Today, former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, considers how America’s distant wars have come home and how, under that pressure, this country is morphing into something unrecognizable.  Worse yet, it’s quite possible that we’re only at the beginning of that transformation.  To give but a small example of what the future might hold, psychiatrist and author Jonathan Shay, famous for his work with traumatized Vietnam veterans, suggested in Daedalus in 2011 that no one knows what it means for similarly traumatized employees of our Warrior corporations, the rent-a-gun “veterans” of our recent war zones to come home to no health care and no support system.  And he offered an eerie, if provocative, comparison to the footloose German veterans of World War I who, in the 1920s, joined the Freikorps and played their part in the radicalization and then Nazification of that country.

“I am not saying,” he wrote, “that I know that the Weimar Republic would still exist today, with all that implies about a different course to history, if Germany had had Vet Centers and VA Mental Health Clinics. But historians generally agree that the Freikorps contributed to the weakening of the new German political fabric in the immediate aftermath of World War I.”  His is a chilling reminder that, wherever we are now, it might just be a rest stop on some bizarro road to hell. Tom

Welcome to Post-Constitution America
What If Your Country Begins to Change and No One Notices?
By Peter Van Buren

On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress created the first whistleblower protection law, stating “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”

Two hundred thirty-five years later, on July 30, 2013, Bradley Manning was found guilty on 20 of the 22 charges for which he was prosecuted, specifically for “espionage” and for videos of war atrocities he released, but not for “aiding the enemy.”

Days after the verdict, with sentencing hearings in which Manning could receive 136 years of prison time ongoing, the pundits have had their say. The problem is that they missed the most chilling aspect of the Manning case: the way it ushered us, almost unnoticed, into post-Constitutional America.

The Weapons of War Come Home
Read the rest of this entry →

Tom Engelhardt: You Are Our Secret

6:54 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

NSA HQ

NSA Headquarters in Ft. Meade. Snowden’s whistleblowing has revealed much about what goes on in places like this.

As happens with so much news these days, the Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) spying and just how far we’ve come in the building of a surveillance state have swept over us 24/7 — waves of leaks, videos, charges, claims, counterclaims, skullduggery, and government threats.  When a flood sweeps you away, it’s always hard to find a little dry land to survey the extent and nature of the damage.  Here’s my attempt to look beyond the daily drumbeat of this developing story (which, it is promised, will go on for weeks, if not months) and identify five urges essential to understanding the world Edward Snowden has helped us glimpse.

1. The Urge to be Global

Corporately speaking, globalization has been ballyhooed since at least the 1990s, but in governmental terms only in the twenty-first century has that globalizing urge fully infected the workings of the American state itself.  It’s become common since 9/11 to speak of a “national security state.”  But if a week of ongoing revelations about NSA surveillance practices has revealed anything, it’s that the term is already grossly outdated.  Based on what we now know, we should be talking about an American global security state.

Much attention has, understandably enough, been lavished on the phone and other metadata about American citizens that the NSA is now sweeping up and about the ways in which such activities may be abrogating the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  Far less attention has been paid to the ways in which the NSA (and other U.S. intelligence outfits) are sweeping up global data in part via the just-revealed Prism and other surveillance programs.

Sometimes, naming practices are revealing in themselves, and the National Security Agency’s key data mining tool, capable in March 2013 of gathering “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide,” has been named “boundless informant.”  If you want a sense of where the U.S. Intelligence Community imagines itself going, you couldn’t ask for a better hint than that word “boundless.”  It seems that for our spooks, there are, conceptually speaking, no limits left on this planet.

Today, that “community” seeks to put not just the U.S., but the world fully under its penetrating gaze.  By now, the first “heat map” has been published showing where such information is being sucked up from monthly: Iran tops the list (14 billion pieces of intelligence); then come Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion), and India (6.3 billion).  Whether you realize this or not, even for a superpower that has unprecedented numbers of military bases scattered across the planet and has divided the world into six military commands, this represents something new under the sun.  The only question is what?

The twentieth century was the century of “totalitarianisms.”  We don’t yet have a name, a term, for the surveillance structures Washington is building in this century, but there can be no question that, whatever the present constraints on the system, “total” has something to do with it and that we are being ushered into a new world. Despite the recent leaks, we still undoubtedly have a very limited picture of just what the present American surveillance world really looks like and what it plans for our future.  One thing is clear, however: the ambitions behind it are staggering and global.

Read the rest of this entry →

Chase Madar: Bradley Manning vs. SEAL Team 6

6:05 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Manning Banner: In Prison for Telling the Truth

Our heroes are imprisoned while war criminals go free.

Okay, give them this much: their bloodlust stops just short of the execution chamber door. The military prosecutors of the case against Bradley Manning, assumedly with the support of the Obama administration, have brought the virulent charge of “aiding the enemy” against the Army private who leaked state secrets.  Yet they claim to have magnanimously taken the death penalty off the table.  All they want to do is lock Manning up and throw away the key because, so they claim, he did nothing short of personally lend a hand to archfiend Osama bin Laden.  This echoes the charge repeatedly made by top U.S. officials that he and WikiLeaks have “blood on their hands” for releasing a trove of military and State Department documents.

We’re talking about the very officials who planned and oversaw Washington’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the backlands of the planet and who have searched their own hands in vain for any signs of blood.  (None at all, they don’t hesitate to assure us.)  Among them are those, military and civilian, who set up our torture prisons at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, are ultimately responsible for the perversions of Abu Ghraib, and oversaw kidnappings off the streets of global cities.  These are the folks whose Air Force blew away at least six wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, and whose special operations forces recently seem to have been involved in the torture, murder, and secret burial of Afghan civilians.  I could go on, but why bother since it was all done “legally,” which means they can retire to corporate boards of their choice, rake in money from speeches, and write their memoirs, while Manning, whose motive (to judge by the online conversations he had) was to end the bloodletting, reveal information about American crimes, and to shut down our wars will have no memoir to write, no life to live.   It can’t get worse than that, can it?

Given what we now know about the U.S. military’s unwillingness to pursue prosecutions of rape in its own ranks, its eagerness to pursue Manning to the edge of the grave should be considered striking.  We’re talking about a national security state that — as recent revelations have made clear — can imagine just about no boundaries when it comes to surveilling its own population and none whatsoever when it comes to protecting its own actions from the eyes of the public.  In that sense, Manning truly crossed a red line.  Rape?  A mere nothing compared to his crime.  After all, he was aiding the most dangerous enemy of all: not Osama bin Laden, but Americans who want to breach the ever-expanding secrecy of the National Security Complex.

As TomDispatch regular Chase Madar (covering the Manning trial as a blogger for the Nation) suggests today, right now there seem to be few crimes more dangerous than shining a light on the secret workings of the U.S. government and its military.  Admittedly, President Obama entered the Oval Office promising on Day One to let the “sunshine” in on government operations.  Manning fulfilled the president’s promise in the only way a 22-year-old who had seen terrible things in Iraq could imagine doing.  Maybe it wasn’t elegant by the president’s high standards, but it was effective.  He deserves something better than the worst the U.S. military and Washington can throw at him.  He deserves a life, and if that life in the end proves as valuable as it’s been so far, a memoir. Tom

How Dystopian Secrecy Contributes to Clueless Wars
Bradley Manning Has Done More for U.S. Security than SEAL Team 6 
By Chase Madar

The prosecution of Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks’ source inside the U.S. Army, will be pulling out all the stops when it calls to the stand a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden.  The SEAL (in partial disguise, as his identity is secret) is expected to tell the military judge that classified documents leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks were found on bin Laden’s laptop.  That will, in turn, be offered as proof not that bin Laden had internet access like two billion other earthlings, but that Manning has “aided the enemy,” a capital offense.

Think of it as courtroom cartoon theater: the heroic slayer of the jihadi super-villain testifying against the ultimate bad soldier, a five-foot-two-inch gay man facing 22 charges in military court and accused of the biggest security breach in U.S. history.

But let’s be clear on one thing: Manning, the young Army intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of public documents and passed them on to WikiLeaks, has done far more for U.S. national security than SEAL Team 6.

The assassination of Osama bin Laden, the spiritual (but not operational) leader of al-Qaeda, was a fist-pumping moment of triumphalism for a lot of Americans, as the Saudi fanatic had come to incarnate not just al-Qaeda but all national security threats.  This was true despite the fact that, since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been able to do remarkably little harm to the United States or to the West in general.  (The deadliest attack in a Western nation since 9/11, the 2004 Atocha bombing in Madrid, was not committed by bin Laden’s organization, though white-shoe foreign policy magazines and think tanks routinely get this wrong, “al-Qaeda” being such a handy/sloppy metonym for all terrorism.)

Al-Qaeda remains a simmering menace, but as an organization hardly the greatest threat to the United States.  In fact, if you measure national security in blood and money, as many of us still do, by far the greatest threat to the United States over the past dozen years has been our own clueless foreign policy.

The Wages of Cluelessness Is Death

Read the rest of this entry →

Chase Madar: Accusing Wikileaks of Murder

7:51 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called it “utterly deplorable.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “total dismay”  General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was “deeply disturbed” that the actions in question would “erode the reputation of our joint force.”  Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos declared them to be “wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history,” and Senator John McCain claimed they made him “so sad.”

Seldom have so many high officials in Washington lined up to denounce an event so quickly or emphatically.  I’m talking, of course, about the video of four wisecracking U.S. Marines in Afghanistan pissing on what might be three dead Taliban or simply — since we may never know whose bodies those are — the corpses of three dead Afghans.  (“Have a good day, buddy… Golden — like a shower, ” you hear them say, seemingly addressing the bodies.) The video went viral in the Muslim world, and the Obama administration moved fast to contain the damage.  After all, no one wanted another Abu Ghraib.

On this subject Washington has been remarkably united (with the exception of Rick Perry, who offered a half-hearted defense of the Marines — “to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top”). Pardon me, though, if I find this chorus of condemnation to be too little, too late.  It feels like a malign version of one of Casablanca’s famous final lines: “Round up the usual suspects.”

After all, these last years in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly deplorable, totally dismaying, and deeply disturbing from start to finish.  On occasion after occasion, U.S. troops, aka “America’s heroes,” as well as private contractors and others in Washington’s employ have run riot.  There is no way to catalogue what’s been deplorable, dismaying, and deeply disturbing, but if you wanted to start, it really wouldn’t be that hard.

In fact, you wouldn’t have to go farther than this website.  If, for instance, it was deeply disturbing pictures taken by our troops you were curious about, you could have read David Swanson’s 2006 piece “The Iraq War as a Trophy Photo,” which focused on the “war porn” photos U.S. soldiers were already taking (or even setting up) and then proudly submitting to an actual porn website for posting (something, by the way, that’s still going on).

Or if checkpoint killings by U.S. soldiers in Iraq were what you were interested in, all you had to do was read Chris Hedges at TomDispatch in 2008, based on interviews he did with American soldiers for the book Collateral Damage: “Iraqi families,” he wrote, “were routinely fired upon for getting too close to checkpoints, including an incident where an unarmed father driving a car was decapitated by a .50-caliber machine gun in front of his small son.”  (“‘It’s fun to shoot sh-t up,’ a soldier said.”) And if his word wasn’t enough, you could turn to U.S. Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal who, in a moment of bluntness in April 2010, commented: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

Or consider something no one has yet denounced as deplorable, dismaying, or deeply disturbing: the obliteration of wedding parties.  Over the years, TomDispatch has counted up at least six weddings in Iraq and Afghanistan that were wiped out in part or full by the U.S. Air Force.  All of these, including the first in December 2001 in which a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, armed with precision weapons, killed 110 of 112 Afghan revelers, were reported individually.  But next to no one in our world thought them dismaying or disturbing enough to write about them collectively or, for that matter, to deplore them.  (Of a wedding in Western Iraq in which U.S. planes killed 40 people, including wedding musicians and children, Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, asked: “How many people go to the middle of the desert… to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?”)

The troves of documents leaked to the website WikiLeaks, for which Army Pfc. Bradley Manning has been charged, certainly caused a stir, but the carnage in them was, in truth, easily available without access to a single secret document.  Washington’s crocodile tears can’t wash away the stain of all this on American honor, as TomDispatch regular Chase Madar, author of the upcoming book The Passion of Bradley Manning, makes all too clear.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the coming trial of Bradley Manning, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

 

Blood on Whose Hands? Bradley Manning, Washington, and the Blood of Civilians
By Chase Madar

Who in their right mind wants to talk about, think about, or read a short essay about… civilian war casualties?  What a bummer, this topic, especially since our Afghan, Iraq, and other ongoing wars were advertised as uplifting acts of philanthropy: wars to spread security, freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law, etc.

A couple hundred thousand dead civilians have a way of making such noble ideals seem like dollar-store tinsel.  And so, throughout our decade-long foreign policy debacle in the Greater Middle East, we in the U.S. have generally agreed that no one shall commit the gaucherie of dwelling on (and “dwelling on” = fleetingly mentioned) civilian casualties. Washington elites may squabble over some things, but as for foreigners killed by our numerous wars, our Beltway crew adheres to a sullen code of omertà.

Club rules do, however, permit one loophole: Washington officials may bemoan the nightmare of civilian casualties — but only if they can be pinned on a 24-year-old Army private first class named Bradley Manning.

Pfc. Manning, you will remember, is the young soldier who is soon to be court-martialed for passing some 750,000 military and diplomatic documents, a large chunk of them classified, to the website WikiLeaks.  Among those leaks, there was indeed some serious stuff about how Americans dealt with civilians in invaded countries.  For instance, the documents revealed that the U.S. military, then the occupying force in Iraq, did little or nothing to prevent Iraqi authorities from torturing prisoners in a variety of gruesome ways, sometimes to death.

Then there was that gun-sight video — unclassified but buried in classified material — of an American Apache helicopter opening fire on a crowd on a Baghdad street, gunning down a dozen men, including two Reuters employees, and injuring more, including children.  There were also those field reports about how jumpy American soldiers repeatedly shot down civilians at roadside checkpoints; about night raids gone wrong both in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a count of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, a tally whose existence the U.S. military had previously denied possessing.

Together, these leaks and many others offered a composite portrait of military and political debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan whose grinding theme has been civilian casualties, a fact not much noted here in the U.S.  A tiny number of low-ranking American soldiers have been held to account for rare instances of premeditated murder of civilians, but most of the troops who kill civilians in the midst of the chaos of war are not tried, much less convicted.  We don’t talk about these cases a lot either.  On the other hand, officials of all types make free with lusty condemnations of Bradley Manning, whose leaks are luridly credited with potential (though not actual) deaths.

Putting Lives in Danger

“[WikiLeaks] might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the release of the Afghan War Logs in July 2010.  This was, of course, the same Admiral Mullen who had endorsed a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which would lead to a tremendous “surge” in casualties among civilians and soldiers alike.  Here are counts — undoubtedly undercounts, in fact — of real Afghan corpses that, at least in part, resulted from the policy he supported: 2,412 in 2009, 2,777 in 2010, 1,462 in the first half 2011, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.  As far as anyone knows, here are the corpses that resulted from the release of those WikiLeaks documents: 0.  (And don’t forget, the stalemate war with the Taliban has not budged in the period since that surge.)  Who, then, has blood on his hands, Pfc. Manning — or Admiral Mullen?

Of course the admiral is hardly alone.  In fact, whole tabernacle choirs have joined in the condemnation of Manning and WikiLeaks for “causing” carnage, thanks to their disclosures.

Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, also spoke sternly of Manning’s leaks, accusing him of “moral culpability.”  He added, “And that’s where I think the verdict is ‘guilty’ on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences.”

This was, of course, the same Robert Gates who pushed for escalation in Afghanistan in 2009 and, in March 2011, flew to the Kingdom of Bahrain to offer his own personal “reassurance of support” to a ruling monarchy already busy shooting and torturing nonviolent civilian protesters.  So again, when it comes to blood and indifference to consequences, Bradley Manning — or Robert Gates?

Nor have such attitudes been confined to the military. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Manning’s (alleged) leak of 250,000 diplomatic cables of being “an attack on the international community” that “puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”

As a senator, of course, she supported the invasion of Iraq in flagrant contravention of the U.N. Charter.  She was subsequently a leading hawk when it came to escalating and expanding the Afghan War, and is now responsible for disbursing an annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt’s ruling junta whose forces have repeatedly opened fire on nonviolent civilian protesters.  So who’s been attacking the international community and putting lives in danger, Bradley Manning — or Hillary Clinton?

Harold Koh, former Yale Law School dean, liberal lion, and currently the State Department’s top legal adviser, has announced that the same leaked diplomatic cables “could place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals — from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security.”

This is the same Harold Koh who, in March 2010, provided a tortured legal rationale for the Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, despite the inevitable and well-documented civilian casualties they cause.  So who is risking the lives of countless innocent individuals, Bradley Manning — or Harold Koh?

Much of the media have clambered aboard the bandwagon, blaming WikiLeaks and Manning for damage done by wars they once energetically cheered on.

In early 2011, to pick just one example from the ranks of journalism, New Yorker writer George Packer professed his horror that WikiLeaks had released a memo marked “secret/noforn” listing spots throughout the world of vital strategic or economic interest to the United States.  Asked by radio host Brian Lehrer whether this disclosure had crossed a new line by making a gratuitous gift to terrorists, Packer replied with an appalled yes.

Now, among the “secrets” contained in this document are the facts that the Strait of Gibraltar is a vital shipping lane and that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in minerals. Have we Americans become so infantilized that factoids of basic geography must be considered state secrets?  (Maybe best not to answer that question.)  The “threat” of this document’s release has since been roundly debunked by various military intellectuals.

Nevertheless, Packer’s response was instructive.  Here was a typical liberal hawk, who had can-canned to the post-9/11 drumbeat of war as a therapeutic wake-up call from “the bland comforts of peace,” now affronted by WikiLeaks’ supposed recklessness.  Civilian casualties do not seem to have been on Packer’s mind when he supported the invasion of Iraq, nor has he written much about them since.

In an enthusiastic 2006 New Yorker essay on counterinsurgency warfare, for example, the very words “civilian casualties” never come up, despite their centrality to COIN theory, practice, and history.  It is a fact that, as Operation Enduring Freedom shifted to counterinsurgency tactics in 2009, civilian casualties in Afghanistan skyrocketed.  So, for that matter, have American military casualties.  (More than half of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan occurred in the past three years.)

Liberal hawks like Packer may consider WikiLeaks out of bounds, but really, who in these last years has been the most reckless, Bradley Manning — or George Packer and some of his pro-war colleagues at the New Yorker like Jeffrey Goldberg (who has since left for the Atlantic Monthly, where he’s been busily clearing a path for war with Iran) and editor David Remnick?

Centrist and liberal nonprofit think tanks have been no less selectively blind when it comes to civilian carnage. Liza Goitein, a lawyer at the liberal-minded Brennan Center at NYU Law School, has also taken out after Bradley Manning.  In the midst of an otherwise deft diagnosis of Washington’s compulsive urge to over-classify everything — the federal government classifies an amazing 77 million documents a year — she pauses just long enough to accuse Manning of “criminal recklessness” for putting civilians named in the Afghan War logs in peril — “a disclosure,” as she puts it, “that surely endangers their safety.”

It’s worth noting that, until the moment Goitein made this charge, not a single report or press release issued by the Brennan Center has ever so much as uttered a mention of civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military.  The absence of civilian casualties is almost palpable in the work of the Brennan Center’s program in  “Liberty and National Security.”  For example, this program’s 2011 report “Rethinking Radicalization,” which explored effective, lawful ways to prevent American Muslims from turning terrorist, makes not a single reference to the tens of thousands of well-documented civilian casualties caused by American military force in the Muslim world, which according to many scholars is the prime mover of terrorist blowback.  The report on how to combat the threat of Muslim terrorists, written by Pakistan-born Faiza Patel, does not, in fact, even contain the words “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “drone strike,” “Pakistan” or “civilian casualties.”

This is almost incredible, because terrorists themselves have freely confessed that what motivated their acts of wanton violence has been the damage done by foreign military occupation back home or simply in the Muslim world.  Asked by a federal judge why he tried to blow up Times Square with a car bomb in May 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad answered that he was motivated by the civilian carnage the U.S. had caused in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  How could any report about “rethinking radicalization” fail to mention this?  Although the Brennan Center does much valuable work, Goitein’s selective finger-pointing on civilian casualties is emblematic of a blindness to war’s consequences widespread among American institutions.

American Military Whistleblowers

Knowledge may indeed have its risks, but how many civilian deaths can actually be traced to the WikiLeaks revelations?  How many military deaths?  To the best of anyone’s knowledge, not a single one.  After much huffing and puffing, the Pentagon has quietly denied — and then denied again — that there is any evidence at all of the Taliban targeting the Afghan civilians named in the leaked war logs.

In the end, the “grave risks” involved in the publication of the War Logs and of those State Department documents have been wildly exaggerated.  Embarrassment, yes.  A look inside two grim wars and the workings of imperial diplomacy, yes.  Blood, no.

On the other hand, the grave risks that were hidden in those leaked documents, as well as in all the other government distortions, cover-ups, and lies of the past decade, have been graphically illustrated in aortal red.  The civilian carnage caused by our rush to war in Iraq and by our deeply entrenched stalemate of a war in Afghanistan (and the Pakistani tribal borderlands) is not speculative or theoretical but all-too real.

And yet no one anywhere has been held to much account: not in the political class, not in the military, not in the think tanks, not among the scholars, nor the media.  Only one individual, it seems, will pay, even if he actually spilled none of the blood.  Our foreign policy elites seem to think Bradley Manning is well-cast for the role of fall guy and scapegoat.  This is an injustice.

Someday, it will be clearer to Americans that Pfc. Manning has joined the ranks of great American military whistleblowers like Dan Ellsberg (who was first in his class at Marine officer training school); Vietnam War infantryman Ron Ridenhour, who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre; and the sailors and marines who, in 1777, reported the torture of British captives by their politically connected commanding officer.  These servicemen, too, were vilified in their times. Today, we honor them, as someday Pfc. Manning will be honored.

Chase Madar is the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, to be published by OR Books in February.  He is an attorney in New York, a TomDispatch regular, and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, American Conservative Magazine, and CounterPunch.  (To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the coming trial of Bradley Manning, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) He tweets @ChMadar.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Chase Madar

Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, WikiLeaked at the State Department

6:59 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

"Wikileaks Logo" by DonkeyHotey on flickr

"Wikileaks Logo" by DonkeyHotey on flickr

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It’s hardly a secret at this late date that, while the Obama administration arrived in office promoting “a new standard of openness” in government, in practice it’s cast not sunshine, but a penumbra of gloom over the workings of Washington.  Talk about a closed and punitive crew.  Its Justice Department has notoriously gone after government whistleblowers and leakers, launching significantly more (largely unsuccessful) prosecutions than any of Obama’s predecessors.  His people lit out with particular ferocity after WikiLeaks, and specifically Bradley Manning, the young Army private accused of passing enormous caches of Army and State Department documents to that website.  In the process, it developed special forms of pre-punishment to torment him while he was confined, still uncharged, at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.  (It also went to ludicrous lengths to bar government officials, workers, contractors, the military, and anyone else linked to them from reading the leaked documents to which everyone else on Earth already had access.)

When it came to books by witnesses within the government or the military offering some version of critical openness, darkness has again been the order of the day.  The Pentagon actually bought up and burned more or less the complete stock of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s insider’s account of Pentagon and Defense Information Agency mistakes in the invasion of Afghanistan, Operation Dark Heart (already thoroughly vetted by the Army Reserve), and forced his publisher to put out a highly redacted second edition.

More recently, the CIA took out after The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda, a memoir by Ali H. Soufan, a former FBI agent long involved in the battle against al-Qaeda, demanding “extensive cuts.”  “In fact,” wrote New York Times reporter Scott Shane, “some of the information that the agency argues is classified, according to two people who have seen the correspondence between the F.B.I. and C.I.A., has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11, and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.” Read the rest of this entry →

Tomgram: Chase Madar, A Medal for Bradley Manning?

6:53 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com

Dick Cheney got one (as secretary of defense), so did Donald Rumsfeld (back in 1977), not to speak of Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, and General H. Norman Schwartzkopf (for Gulf War I).  Of course, so did Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and (posthumously) César Chávez, not to speak of Estée Lauder.  President George W. Bush hit the trifecta in a single ceremony, awarding one to General Tommy Franks (who commanded U.S. forces in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and who, the president said, “led the forces that fought and won two wars in the defense of the world’s security and helped liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world”), another to George Tenet (who oversaw the CIA through the torture and black-sites era), and a third to L. Paul Bremer III (the American proconsul in Baghdad during our ill-fated occupation of Iraq, whom the president praised for “work[ing] day and night in difficult and dangerous conditions to stabilize the country, to help its people rebuild and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty”).  More recently, Barack Obama bestowed one on former British Prime Minister (and Iraq War enthusiast) Tony Blair and, in a surprise move barely a week ago, to “one of the nation’s finest public servants,” retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

I’m talking, of course, about America’s highest civilian honor (even if it can be awarded to generals), the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The Gates award was bestowed unexpectedly at a Pentagon retirement ceremony for the Secretary of Defense who, visibly moved, ad libbed, “It is a big surprise. But we should have known a couple of months ago that you’re getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff.”  It was the same week that unnamed “American officials” leaked the latest covert ops news to the New York Times — that “the clandestine American military campaign to combat al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia” and that a U.S. drone aircraft had attacked militants there for the first time since 2009.  Consider this the seventh war the Obama administration is now pursuing in the Greater Middle East.

Of course, some American “warriors” just naturally deserve medals, just as some have carte blanche to leak information about secret or “clandestine” U.S. operations without fear of penalty; others get nothing but trouble for their patriotic leaking activities.  Such is the case of Army Private Bradley Manning whose sad saga Chase Madar continues to cover for TomDispatch.com. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

*****

Bradley Manning, American Hero
Four Reasons Why Pfc. Bradley Manning Deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Not a Prison Cell
By Chase Madar

We still don’t know if he did it or not, but if Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army private from Oklahoma, actually supplied WikiLeaks with its choicest material — the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War logs, and the State Department cables — which startled and riveted the world, then he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom instead of a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth.

President Obama recently gave one of those medals to retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who managed the two bloody, disastrous wars about which the WikiLeaks-released documents revealed so much.  Is he really more deserving than the young private who, after almost ten years of mayhem and catastrophe, gave Americans — and the world — a far fuller sense of what our government is actually doing abroad?

Bradley Manning, awaiting a court martial in December, faces the prospect of long years in prison.  He is charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917.  He has put his sanity and his freedom on the line so that Americans might know what our government has done — and is still doing — globally.  He has blown the whistle on criminal violations of American military law.  He has exposed our secretive government’s pathological over-classification of important public documents.

Here are four compelling reasons why, if he did what the government accuses him of doing, he deserves that medal, not jail time.

1: At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.

In the past 10 years, American statecraft has moved from calamity to catastrophe, laying waste to other nations while never failing to damage our own national interests.  Do we even need to be reminded that our self-defeating response to 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) has killed roughly 225,000 civilians and 6,000 American soldiers, while costing our country more than $3.2 trillion?  We are hemorrhaging blood and money.  Few outside Washington would argue that any of this is making America safer.

An employee who screwed up this badly would either be fired on the spot or put under heavy supervision.  Downsizing our entire foreign policy establishment is not an option.  However, the website WikiLeaks has at least tried to make public scrutiny of our self-destructive statesmen and -women a reality by exposing their work to ordinary citizens.

Consider our invasion of Iraq, a war based on distortions, government secrecy, and the complaisant failure of our major media to ask the important questions.  But what if someone like Bradley Manning had provided the press with the necessary government documents, which would have made so much self-evident in the months before the war began?  Might this not have prevented disaster?  We’ll never know, of course, but could additional public scrutiny have been salutary under the circumstances?

Thanks to Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures, we do have a sense of what did happen afterwards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just how the U.S. operates in the world.  Thanks to those disclosures, we now know just how Washington leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War and just how it pressured the Germans to prevent them from prosecuting CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man and shipped him off to be tortured abroad.

As our foreign policy threatens to careen into yet more disasters in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, we can only hope that more whistleblowers will follow the alleged example of Bradley Manning and release vital public documents before it’s too late.  A foreign policy based on secrets and spin has manifestly failed us.  In a democracy, the workings of our government should not be shrouded in an opaque cloud of secrecy.  For bringing us the truth, for breaking the seal on that self-protective policy of secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2: Knowledge is powerful.  The WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.

Wasn’t it American policy to spread democracy in the Middle East, to extend our freedom to others, as both recent American presidents have insisted?

No single American has done more to help further this goal than Pfc. Bradley Manning.  The chain reaction of democratic protests and uprisings that has swept Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and even in a modest way Iraq, all began in Tunisia, where leaked U.S. State Department cables about the staggering corruption of the ruling Ben Ali dynasty helped trigger the rebellion.  In all cases, these societies were smoldering with longstanding grievances against oppressive, incompetent governments and economies stifled by cronyism.  The revelations from the WikiLeaks State Department documents played a widely acknowledged role in sparking these pro-democracy uprisings.

In Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen, the people’s revolts under way have occurred despite U.S. support for their autocratic rulers.  In each of these nations, in fact, we bankrolled the dictators, while helping to arm and train their militaries. The alliance with Mubarak’s autocratic state cost the U.S. more than $60 billion and did nothing for American security — other than inspire terrorist blowback from radicalized Egyptians like Mohammad Atta and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Even if U.S. policy was firmly on the wrong side of things, we should be proud that at least one American — Bradley Manning — was on the right side.  If indeed he gave those documents to WikiLeaks, then he played a catalytic role in bringing about the Arab Spring, something neither Barack Obama nor former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (that recent surprise recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom) could claim.  Perhaps once the Egyptians consolidate their democracy, they, too, will award Manning their equivalent of such a medal.

3: Bradley Manning has exposed the pathological over-classification of America’s public documents.

“Secrecy is for losers,” as the late Senator and United Nations Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say.  If this is indeed the case, it would be hard to find a bigger loser than the U.S. government.

How pathological is our government’s addiction to secrecy?  In June, the National Security Agency declassified documents from 1809, while the Department of Defense only last month declassified the Pentagon Papers, publicly available in book form these last four decades.  Our government is only just now finishing its declassification of documents relating to World War I.

This would be ridiculous if it weren’t tragic.  Ask the historians.  Barton J. Bernstein, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University and a founder of its international relations program, describes the government’s classification of foreign-policy documents as “bizarre, arbitrary, and nonsensical.”  George Herring, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky and author of the encyclopedic From Colony to Superpower: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy, has chronicled how his delight at being appointed to a CIA advisory panel on declassification turned to disgust once he realized that he was being used as window dressing by an agency with no intention of opening its records, no matter how important or how old, to public scrutiny.

Any historian worth his salt would warn us that such over-classification is a leading cause of national amnesia and repetitive war disorder.  If a society like ours doesn’t know its own history, it becomes the great power equivalent of a itinerant amnesiac, not knowing what it did yesterday or where it will end up tomorrow.  Right now, classification is the disease of Washington, secrecy its mania, and dementia its end point.  As an ostensibly democratic nation, we, its citizens, risk such ignorance at our national peril.

President Obama came into office promising a “sunshine” policy for his administration while singing the praises of whistleblowers.  He has since launched the fiercest campaign against whistleblowers the republic has ever seen, and further plunged our foreign policy into the shadows.  Challenging the classification of each tightly guarded document is, however, impossible.  No organization has the resources to fight this fight, nor would they be likely to win right now.  Absent a radical change in our government’s diplomatic and military bureaucracies, massive over-classification will only continue.

If we hope to know what our government is actually doing in our name globally, we need massive leaks from insider whistleblowers to journalists who can then sort out what we need to know, given that the government won’t.  This, in fact, has been the modus operandi of WikiLeaks.  Our whistleblower protection laws urgently need to catch up to this state of affairs, and though we are hardly there yet, Bradley Manning helped take us part of the way.  He did what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office.  For striking a blow against our government’s fanatical insistence on covering its mistakes and errors with blanket secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves not punishment, but the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

4. At immense personal cost, Bradley Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon.

Bradley Manning is only the latest in a long line of whistleblowers in and out of uniform who have risked everything to put our country back on the right path.

Take Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a Pentagon-commissioned secret history of the Vietnam War and the official lies and distortions that the government used to sell it.  Many of the documents it included were classed at a much higher security clearance than anything Bradley Manning is accused of releasing — and yet Ellsberg was not convicted of a single crime and became a national hero.

Given the era when all this went down, it’s forgivable to assume that Ellsberg must have been a hippie who somehow sneaked into the Pentagon archives, beads and patchouli trailing behind him.  What many no longer realize is that Ellsberg had been a model U.S. Marine.  First in his class at officer training school at Quantico, he deferred graduate school at Harvard to remain on active duty in the Marine Corps.  Ellsberg saw his high-risk exposure of the disastrous and deceitful nature of the Vietnam War as fully consonant with his long career of patriotic service in and out of uniform.

And Ellsberg is hardly alone.  Ask Lt. Colonel (ret.) Darrel Vandeveld.  Or Tom Drake, formerly of the National Security Agency.

Transparency in statecraft was not invented last week by WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange.  It is a longstanding American tradition.  James Madison put the matter succinctly: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

A 1960 Congressional Committee on Government Operations report caught the same spirit: “Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society… Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than the people.”  John F. Kennedy made the same point in 1961: “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society.”  Hugo Black, great Alabaman justice of the twentieth-century Supreme Court had this to say: “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.”  And the first of World-War-I-era president Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points couldn’t have been more explicit: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

We need to know what our government’s commitments are, as our foreign policy elites have clearly demonstrated they cannot be left to their own devices.  Based on the last decade of carnage and folly, without public debate — and aggressive media investigations — we have every reason to expect more of the same.

If there’s anything to learn from that decade, it’s that government secrecy and lies come at a very high price in blood and money.  Thanks to the whistleblowing revelations attributed to Bradley Manning, we at least have a far clearer picture of the problems we face in trying to supervise our own government.  If he was the one responsible for the WikiLeaks revelations, then for his gift to the republic, purchased at great price, he deserves not prison, but a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the heartfelt gratitude of his country.

Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, the American Conservative magazine, CounterPunch.org, and Le Monde Diplomatique.  His next book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, will be published by O/R Books this fall.  He is covering the Bradley Manning case and trial for TomDispatch.comTo listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Chase Madar

Tomgram: Juan Cole, American Policy on the Brink

8:50 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

He was a poor 26-year-old trying to eke out a living and help pay for his sisters’ schooling.  He met the deep corruption of the Tunisian regime face to face in the most everyday and humiliating way — in the form of bribes he couldn’t afford just to keep his little stand open and the power of a bureaucracy to shut him down on a whim.  In frustration, in protest, he doused himself with paint thinner and burned himself to death (though it took days for that death to come).

His name was Mohammed Bouazizi; he came from the town of Sidi Bouzid, which you’ve never heard of; and his is a terrible story.  Now, he’s known across the Middle East as the man who started the Tunisian revolution and will undoubtedly go down in history — along with Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who calmly seated himself in a Saigon street in June 1963 and started a political firestorm by immolating himself to protest a repressive American-backed South Vietnamese government; and Jan Palach, the Czech student who did the same in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in January 1969 as a response to the Soviet invasion of his country.  In all three cases, others followed their painful example.  In all three cases, sooner or later it ended badly for the powers-that-be.

Across the Middle East today, immolations are on the rise and nervous American-backed autocrats are listening to the rumbling from below, like the Egyptian demonstrators already reportedly chanting, “We are next, we are next, [Tunisian dictator] Ben Ali, tell [Egyptian autocrat Hosni] Mubarak he is next.”

In his act, however happenstantially, Bouazizi combined two crucial things that ensure the upheavals he began won’t be restricted to Tunisia.  At his little stand, he sold fruit, and to die, he used a petroleum-based product.  Basic foods and fuel are experiencing startling price rises globally.  Behind the Tunisian events, like recent riots in Algeria, Jordan, and elsewhere, lie the rising cost of things that people can’t do without.  In Algeria, young rioters torching buildings were also chanting, “Bring us sugar!”  As Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author most recently of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, points out, we’ve entered the age of resource revolts and there’s no turning back.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses what rising food prices mean globally, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

*****

The Year of Living Dangerously 
Rising Commodity Prices and Extreme Weather Events Threaten Global Stability
 
By Michael T. Klare

Get ready for a rocky year.  From now on, rising prices, powerful storms, severe droughts and floods, and other unexpected events are likely to play havoc with the fabric of global society, producing chaos and political unrest. Start with a simple fact: the prices of basic food staples are already approaching or exceeding their 2008 peaks, that year when deadly riots erupted in dozens of countries around the world.

It’s not surprising then that food and energy experts are beginning to warn that 2011 could be the year of living dangerously — and so could 2012, 2013, and on into the future.  Add to the soaring cost of the grains that keep so many impoverished people alive a comparable rise in oil prices — again nearing levels not seen since the peak months of 2008 — and you can already hear the first rumblings about the tenuous economic recovery being in danger of imminent collapse.  Think of those rising energy prices as adding further fuel to global discontent.

Already, combined with staggering levels of youth unemployment and a deep mistrust of autocratic, repressive governments, food prices have sparked riots in Algeria and mass protests in Tunisia that, to the surprise of the world, ousted long-time dictator President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his corrupt extended family.  And many of the social stresses evident in those two countries are present across the Middle East and elsewhere.  No one can predict where the next explosion will occur, but with food prices still climbing and other economic pressures mounting, more upheavals appear inevitable. These may be the first resource revolts to catch our attention, but they won’t be the last.

Put simply, global consumption patterns are now beginning to challenge the planet’s natural resource limits.  Populations are still on the rise, and from Brazil to India, Turkey to China, new powers are rising as well.  With them goes an urge for a more American-style life.  Not surprisingly, the demand for basic commodities is significantly on the rise, even as supplies in many instances are shrinking.  At the same time, climate change, itself a product of unbridled energy use, is adding to the pressure on supplies, and speculators are betting on a situation trending progressively worse.  Add these together and the road ahead appears increasingly rocky.

Breadbaskets without Bread

Let’s begin with food, the most important and volatile of these commodities.  Food prices declined in October 2008 after the onset of the global financial crisis, but that seems to have been an anomaly.  The December 2010 index of global food prices compiled by the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) hit a record 215, one point higher than in the spring of 2008.  (In that index, based on a “bundle” of food staples, a baseline of 100 represents average prices in 2002-2004.)  In fact, some food products, including sugar, cooking oils, and fats, are now trading substantially above their 2008 levels; others, including dairy products, grains, and meat, are inching perilously close to record levels.

As 2011 begins, food experts fear that, within months, prices for key staples will climb above the 2008 threshold and stay there, causing extreme hardship for poor people around the world.  “We are at a very high level,” said a worried Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the FAO.  “These levels in the previous episode led to problems and riots across the world.” 

Of particular concern to Abbassian and his colleagues is the rising cost of corn, rice, and wheat, the staple crops of billions in many of the poorest countries.  According to the FAO, by the end of 2010 international corn and wheat prices were already approaching their 2008 peak levels (about $260 and $340 per metric ton, respectively).

Analysts attribute the rise in grain prices to growing demand in both developed and developing nations, along with a number of cataclysmic weather-related events and speculation by investors.  An extreme drought and fierce fires last summer destroyed a large percentage of the wheat crop in Russia and Ukraine, while heavy flooding in India and the inundation of 20% of Pakistan damaged significant parts of the grain output of those countries. At the same time, unusually hot and dry weather suppressed production in a number of other key farming areas.

What makes the picture look so worrisome today are indications that the severity and frequency of extreme weather events appear to be on the rise.  In the past few weeks alone, several such events point the way to serious supply problems ahead.  Most significant has been the unprecedented rainfall and flooding in Australia that put an area more than twice the size of California largely underwater, significantly disrupting wheat cultivation there.  Australia is one of the world’s leading wheat producers.  Unusually dry conditions in the American Midwest and Argentina have also hinted at future problems in grain and corn output.  It’s still too early to predict the size of this year’s grain and corn harvests, but many analysts are warning of a shortfall in supplies, along with sky-high prices.

Mainstream analysts and government officials are loathe to attribute this traffic jam of extreme weather events to global warming.  Huge variations in rainfall can be normal, especially in places like Australia that are susceptible to El Niño/La Niña ocean-temperature oscillations, and politicians are fearful of assuming responsibility for a problem as massive as climate change.  But climate change theory has long suggested that the warming trend — 2010 tied 2005 for the warmest year on record and nine of the 10 warmest years have come in the last decade — will be accompanied by an increase in the frequency and severity of storms.  It’s hard to escape the conclusion that recent events, including those Australian floods, are tied to rising global temperatures.

The Energy Crisis Returns

Soaring food prices are being driven as well by speculative investments and the rising price of oil.  Partly in response to the diminishing value of the dollar, some investors are sinking their money into food futures (along with gold and silver) as a speculative hedge.  At the same time, the price of oil is edging toward the $100 mark, making it increasingly profitable for farmers to switch from growing corn for human consumption to growing it for the manufacture of ethanol, which in turn reduces the amount of farm acreage devoted to staples.  Oil would have to fall below $50 per barrel to make the cultivation of corn as a food product competitive with ethanol production — and that’s not likely to happen.  So even if more corn is produced this year, less will be available for food purposes and the price of what remains is bound to rise.

The precipitous rise in oil prices has startled the experts.  Not so long ago, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) was projecting a price range of $70-$80 per barrel in 2011, but as the year began oil was already trading above $90 a barrel and some analysts predict that it will reach $100 before the year is out.  A few are even talking about the $150 barrel and gas prices at the pump of $4 or more.  If prices climb above $100, global consumer spending could take another nosedive.

“Oil prices are entering a dangerous zone for the global economy,” says Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA).  “The oil import bills are becoming a threat to the economic recovery.”

As with food, the rising cost of oil is a product of growing demand, insufficient supplies, and speculative investments.  According to the most recent projections from the IEA, daily global oil consumption in 2011 will average 87.4 million barrels, an increase of about two million barrels from the first quarter of 2010.  Much of the extra demand is coming from China, where a newly-minted middle class is buying automobiles at a record clip, as well as from the United States, where previously cautious consumers are slowly returning to pre-2008 driving habits.

At a time when the oil industry is experiencing declining rates of output at many existing oil fields and finding it ever more difficult to add production, even two million extra barrels per day can be a daunting challenge (and greater demand is expected in the coming years).  In the United States, for example, much hope was placed in oil exploration in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska, but in the wake of the BP disaster, this seems like a forlorn prospect.  Production in Mexico and the North Sea, two bright spots of recent years, is facing a sharp decline, while other key producers, including those in the Middle East, are struggling to maintain current output levels at existing fields.

Many energy analysts believe that the world is at (or will soon reach) peak oil — the moment when global petroleum output achieves a maximum sustainable daily rate and begins a long-term, irreversible decline.  Others contend that higher levels of output are still possible.  Whatever the truth of the matter, at this moment the oil industry is finding it increasingly difficult, and ever more costly, to boost output above current levels.  This, combined with insatiable demand, is driving prices skyward.

Under these circumstances, speculators are again being drawn into the oil market as a rare sure bet.  Such speculators helped push oil prices to a record $147 per barrel back in 2008, but fled the market when prices crashed as the American economy headed to a meltdown.  Now, they’re coming back.  “Hedge funds and private investors are buying up financial instruments tied to the price of crude, and thereby helping push up oil prices,” the Wall Street Journal reported in late December.

Most analysts are expecting a price surge this spring or summer when American motorists hit the road.  “We will have a spring rally that will take us to between $3.10 and $3.50 a gallon for gasoline at service stations in the United States,” predicted Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

The rising price of gas will, in turn, hurt consumers just as they show signs of opening their wallets again.  No less worrisome, oil-importing countries like the United States, Japan, and many in Europe will face soaring bills for fuel imports, further enfeebling economies already suffering from profound weakness. 

According to some calculations, oil prices added another $72 billion to America’s mammoth balance-of-payments deficit last year.  Europe had to cough up an additional $70 billion for imported oil and Japan $27 billion.  “It is a very telling story,” says the IEA’s Fatih Birol of recent oil-price data.  “2010 rang the first alarm bells and 2011 price levels could bring us to the same financial crisis times that we saw in 2008.”

Rising food prices leading to riots, protests, and revolts, mounting oil prices, mammoth worldwide unemployment, and a collapsed recovery — it looks like the perfect set of preconditions for a global tsunami of instability and turmoil.  Events in Algeria and Tunisia give us just an inkling of what this maelstrom might look like, but where and how it will next erupt, and in what form, is anyone’s guess.  A single guarantee: we haven’t seen the last of resource revolts which, in the coming years, could reach an intensity we scarcely imagine today.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet.  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses what rising food prices mean globally, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.  A documentary movie version of his previous book, “Blood and Oil,” is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Copyright 2011 Michael T. Klare

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Manhunters, Inc.

10:39 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch readersAtop the last post, I made an offer to TD readers and Chalmers Johnson enthusiasts -- a signed copy of Johnson's new book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, in return for a $150 contribution to the site.  The response was little short of amazing and wonderful for our coffers.  Thank you so much.  Believe me, it will make a difference.  Those of you who have already contributed, be patient.  It will take a little while to get the books signed and off to you.  Those of you who haven’t, don’t miss the opportunity.  By the way, right now at the Dismantling the Empire “page” at Amazon.com, you can buy Johnson’s book, my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, and Andrew Bacevich’s just published Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War as a threesome for a strikingly cut-rate price. And as long as you’ve visited Amazon via a TomDispatch link, this site will receive a small percentage of the proceeds!  (Keep your eye out late next week for a special Andrew Bacevich surprise post before I shut the site down until Labor Day.)  Tom]

The 9/11 killers were mass assassins who gave up their own lives to murder thousands.  It’s now clear that, in response, the U.S. went into the global assassination business.  The first of its “targeted killings” in the Global War on Terror launched by the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama administration seems to have taken place in Yemen in 2002.  That November, a Predator drone loosed a Hellfire missile at a car carrying six alleged al-Qaeda operatives.  Ever since, an American campaign of assassination from the air via drones operated by “pilots” thousands of miles from those being killed (and so, in a sense, the very opposite of the 9/11 attackers) has only escalated, especially in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.  There, the CIA is now running the planet’s first 24/7 Terminator war.

It’s increasingly clear that the ground-war version of the Global War on Terror has featured its own growing assassination wing.  Striking numbers of special operations forces have by now been assigned to what can only be termed assassination missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  We don’t yet know the full scope of these activities, but it was no mistake that our last Afghan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal, emerged from a world of counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency.  He made his reputation in the shadows as a “manhunter,” overseeing the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command which, among other things, ran what journalist Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

McChrystal received kudos in the U.S. media for the counterinsurgency strategy he implemented in Afghanistan and for restricting U.S. troops from calling in air and artillery support when civilians might be in the vicinity.  However, he surrounded himself with former special operations officers, surged in thousands of special operations troops, and cranked up the activities of special ops assassination teams.  Now, new war commander General David Petraeus, who has a reputation as the guru of counterinsurgency, is overseeing a further escalation of counter-terror operations in that country.

In other words, the U.S. military is now in the “man-hunting” business in a big way in Afghanistan and globally.  Thanks to the massive recent release of secret U.S. military documents by the website Wikileaks, we know far more about what was largely a secret set of activities in Afghanistan (though Anand Gopal did a riveting report on special ops "night raids" for TomDispatch in January), and in particular about a previously unknown manhunting unit called Task Force 373.  TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee, author of Halliburton’s Army, who has spent much time reporting on the American war in Afghanistan, digs deep into what can now be known about this secretive task force, the doctrine it swears by, and the missions it carries out. Tom

The Secret Killers 
Assassination in Afghanistan and Task Force 373 
By Pratap Chatterjee

"Find, fix, finish, and follow-up" is the way the Pentagon describes the mission of secret military teams in Afghanistan which have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda wherever they may be found. Some call these “manhunting” operations and the units assigned to them “capture/kill” teams.

Whatever terminology you choose, the details of dozens of their specific operations — and how they regularly went badly wrong — have been revealed for the first time in the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents published by the website Wikileaksin July to a storm of news coverage and official protest.  Representing a form of U.S. covert warfare now on the rise, these teams regularly make more enemies than friends and undermine any goodwill created by U.S. reconstruction projects.

When Danny Hall and Gordon Phillips, the civilian and military directors of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, arrived for a meeting with Gul Agha Sherzai, the local governor, in mid-June 2007, they knew that they had a lot of apologizing to do. Philips had to explain why a covert U.S. military “capture/kill” team named Task Force 373, hunting for Qari Ur-Rahman, an alleged Taliban commander given the code-name “Carbon,” had called in an AC-130 Spectre gunship and inadvertently killed seven Afghan police officers in the middle of the night.

The incident vividly demonstrated the inherent clash between two doctrines in the U.S. war in Afghanistan — counterinsurgency (“protecting the people”) and counterterrorism (killing terrorists). Although the Obama administration has given lip service to the former, the latter has been, and continues to be, the driving force in its war in Afghanistan.

For Hall, a Foreign Service officer who was less than two months away from a plush assignment in London, working with the military had already proven more difficult than he expected. In an article for Foreign Service Journal published a couple of months before the meeting, he wrote, “I felt like I never really knew what was going on, where I was supposed to be, what my role was, or if I even had one. In particular, I didn’t speak either language that I needed: Pashtu or military.”

It had been no less awkward for Phillips. Just a month earlier, he had personally handed over “solatia” payments — condolence payments for civilian deaths wrongfully caused by U.S. forces — in Governor Sherzai’s presence, while condemning the act of a Taliban suicide bomber who had killed 19 civilians, setting off the incident in question. “We come here as your guests,” he told the relatives of those killed, “invited to aid in the reconstruction and improved security and governance of Nangarhar, to bring you a better life and a brighter future for you and your children.  Today, as I look upon the victims and their families, I join you in mourning for your loved ones.”

Hall and Phillips were in charge of a portfolio of 33 active U.S. reconstruction projects worth $11 million in Nangarhar, focused on road-building, school supplies, and an agricultural program aimed at exporting fruits and vegetables from the province.

Yet the mission of their military-led “provincial reconstruction team” (made up of civilian experts, State department officials, and soldiers) appeared to be in direct conflict with those of the “capture/kill” team of special operations forces (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Green Berets, together with operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division) whose mandate was to pursue Afghans alleged to be terrorists as well as insurgent leaders.  That team was leaving a trail of dead civilian bodies and recrimination in its wake.

Details of some of the missions of Task Force 373 first became public as a result of more than 76,000 incident reports leaked to the public by Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, together with analyses of those documents in Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and the New York Times. A full accounting of the depredations of the task force may be some time in coming, however, as the Obama administration refuses to comment on its ongoing assassination spree in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A short history of the unit can nonetheless be gleaned from a careful reading of the Wikileaks documents as well as related reports from Afghanistan and unclassified Special Forces reports.

The Wikileaks data suggests that as many as 2,058 people on a secret hit list called the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” (JPEL) were considered “capture/kill” targets in Afghanistan. A total of 757 prisoners — most likely from this list — were being held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF), a U.S.-run prison on Bagram Air Base as of the end of December 2009.

Capture/Kill Operations

The idea of “joint” teams from different branches of the military working collaboratively with the CIA was first conceived in 1980 after the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, when personnel from the Air Force, Army, and Navy engaged in a disastrously botched, seat-of-the-pants attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran with help from the Agency. Eight soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided in the Iranian desert. Afterwards, a high-level, six-member commission led by Admiral James L. Holloway, III recommended the creation of a Joint Special Forces command to ensure that different branches of the military and the CIA should do far more advance coordination planning in the future.

This process accelerated greatly after September 11, 2001.  That month, a CIA team called Jawbreaker headed for Afghanistan to plan a U.S.-led invasion of the country. Shortly thereafter, an Army Green Beret team set up Task Force Dagger to pursue the same mission. Despite an initial rivalry between the commanders of the two groups, they eventually teamed up.

The first covert “joint” team involving the CIA and various military special operations forces to work together in Afghanistan was Task Force 5, charged with the mission of capturing or killing "high value targets" like Osama bin Laden, senior leaders of al-Qaeda, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban. A sister organization set up in Iraq was called Task Force 20. The two were eventually combined into Task Force 121 by General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command.

In a new book to be released this month, Operation Darkheart, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer describes the work of Task Force 121 in 2003, when he was serving as part of a team dubbed the Jedi Knights.  Working under the alias of Major Christopher Stryker, he ran operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military equivalent of the CIA) out of Bagram Air Base.

One October night, Shaffer was dropped into a village near Asadabad in Kunar province by an MH-47 Chinook helicopter to lead a “joint” team, including Army Rangers (a Special Forces division) and 10th Mountain Division troops.  They were on a mission to capture a lieutenant of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord allied with the Taliban, based on information provided by the CIA.

It wasn’t easy. “They succeeded in striking at the core of the Taliban and their safe havens across the border in Pakistan. For a moment Shaffer saw us winning the war,” reads the promotional material for the book. “Then the military brass got involved. The policies that top officials relied on were hopelessly flawed. Shaffer and his team were forced to sit and watch as the insurgency grew — just across the border in Pakistan.”

Almost a quarter century after Operation Eagle Claw, Shaffer, who was part of the Able Danger team that had pursued Al Qaeda in the 1990s, describes the bitter turf wars between the CIA and Special Forces teams over how the shadowy world of secret assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should be run.

Task Force 373

Fast forward to 2007, the first time Task Force 373 is mentioned in the Wikileaks documents. We don’t know whether its number means anything, but coincidentally or not, chapter 373 of the U.S. Code 10, the act of Congress that sets out what the U.S. military is legally allowed to do, permits the Secretary of Defense to empower any “civilian employee” of the military “to execute warrants and make arrests without a warrant” in criminal matters. Whether or not this is indeed the basis for that “373” remains a classified matter — as indeed, until the Wikileaks document dump occurred, was the very existence of the group.

Analysts say that Task Force 373 complements Task Force 121 by using “white forces” like the Rangers and the Green Berets, as opposed to the more secretive Delta Force. Task Force 373 is supposedly run out of three military bases — in Kabul, the Afghan capital; Kandahar, the country’s second largest city; and Khost City near the Pakistani tribal lands.  It’s possible that some of its operations also come out of Camp Marmal, a German base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Sources familiar with the program say that the task force has its own helicopters and aircraft, notably AC-130 Spectre gunships, dedicated only to its use.

Its commander appears to have been Brigadier General Raymond Palumbo, based out of the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Palumbo, however, left Fort Bragg in mid-July, shortly after General Stanley McChrystal was relieved as Afghan war commander by President Obama. The name of the new commander of the task force is not known.

In more than 100 incident reports in the Wikileaks files, Task Force 373 is described as leading numerous “capture/kill” efforts, notably in Khost, Paktika, and Nangarhar provinces, all bordering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northern Pakistan. Some reportedly resulted in successful captures, while others led to the death of local police officers or even small children, causing angry villagers to protest and attack U.S.-led military forces.

In April 2007, David Adams, commander of the Khost provincial reconstruction team, was called to meet with elders from the village of Gurbuz in Khost province, who were angry about Task Force 373′s operations in their community. The incident report on Wikileaks does not indicate just what Task Force 373 did to upset Gurbuz’s elders, but the governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal, had been publicly complaining about Special Forces operations and civilian deaths in his province since December 2006, when five civilians were killed in a raid on Darnami village.

"This is our land,” he said then. “I’ve been asking with greater force: Let us sit together, we know our Afghan brothers, we know our culture better. With these operations we should not create more enemies. We are in a position to reduce mistakes."

As Adams would later recall in an op-ed he co-authored for the Wall Street Journal, “The increasing number of raids on Afghan homes alienated many of Khost’s tribal elders.”

On June 12, 2007, Danny Hall and Gordon Philips, working in Nangarhar province just northeast of Khost, were called into that meeting with Governor Sherzai to explain how Task Force 373 had killed those seven local Afghan police officers.  Like Jamal, Sherzai made the point to Hall and Philips that “he strongly encourages better coordination… and he further emphasized that he does not want to see this happen again.”

Less than a week later, a Task Force 373 team fired five rockets at a compound in Nangar Khel in Paktika province to the south of Khost, in an attempt to kill Abu Laith al-Libi, an alleged al-Qaeda member from Libya. When the U.S. forces made it to the village, they found that Task Force 373 had destroyed a madrassa (or Islamic school), killing six children and grievously wounding a seventh who, despite the efforts of a U.S. medical team, would soon die. (In late January 2008, al-Libi was reported killed by a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone strike in a village near Mir Ali in North Waziristan in Pakistan.)

Paktika Governor Akram Khapalwak met with the U.S. military the day after the raid. Unlike his counterparts in Khost and Nangarhar, Khapalwak agreed to support the “talking points” developed for Task Force 373 to explain the incident to the media. According to the Wikileaks incident report, the governor then “echoed the tragedy of children being killed, but stressed this could’ve been prevented had the people exposed the presence of insurgents in the area.”

However, no military talking points, no matter in whose mouth, could stop the civilian deaths as long as Task Force 373’s raids continued.

On October 4, 2007, its members called in an air strike — 500 pound Paveway bombs — on a house in the village of Laswanday, just six miles from Nangar Khel in Paktika province (where those seven children had already died). This time, four men, one woman, and a girl — all civilians — as well as a donkey, a dog, and several chickens would be slaughtered. A dozen U.S. soldiers were injured, but the soldiers reported that not one “enemy” was detained or killed.

The Missing Afghan Story

Not all raids resulted in civilian deaths.  The U.S. military incident reports released by Wikileaks suggest that Task Force 373 had better luck in capturing “targets” alive and avoiding civilian deaths on December 14, 2007. The 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was asked that day to support Task Force 373 in a search in Paktika province for Bitonai and Nadr, two alleged al-Qaeda leaders listed on the JPEL. The operation took place just outside the town of Orgun, close to U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB) Harriman. Located 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, it hosts about 300 soldiers as well as a small CIA compound, and is often visited by chattering military helicopters well as sleepy camel herds belonging to local Pashtuns.

An airborne assault team code-named “Operation Spartan” descended on the compounds where Bitonai and Nadr were supposed to be living, but failed to find them. When a local Afghan informant told the Special Forces soldiers that the suspects were at a location about two miles away, Task Force 373 seized both men as well as 33 others who were detained at FOB Harriman for questioning and possible transfer to the prison at Bagram.

But when Task Force 373 was on the prowl, civilians were, it seems, always at risk, and while the Wikileaks documents reveal what the U.S soldiers were willing to report, the Afghan side of the story was often left in a ditch.  For example, on a Monday night in mid-November 2009, Task Force 373 conducted an operation to capture or kill an alleged militant code-named “Ballentine” in Ghazni province. A terse incident report announced that one Afghan woman and four “insurgents” had been killed. The next morning, Task Force White Eagle, a Polish unit under the command of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, reported that some 80 people gathered to protest the killings. The window of an armored vehicle was damaged by the angry villagers, but the documents don’t offer us their version of the incident.

In an ironic twist, one of the last Task Force 373 incidents recorded in the Wikileaks documents was almost a reprise of the original Operation Eagle Claw disaster that led to the creation of the “joint” capture/kill teams. Just before sunrise on October 26, 2009, two U.S. helicopters, a UH-1 Huey and an AH-1 Cobra, collided near the town of Garmsir in the southern province of Helmand, killing four Marines.

Closely allied with Task Force 373 is a British unit, Task Force 42, composed of Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment commandos who operate in Helmand province and are mentioned in several Wikileaks incident reports.

Manhunting

“Capture/kill” is a key part of a new military “doctrine” developed by the Special Forces Command established after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Under the leadership of GeneralBryan D. Brown, who took over the Special Forces Command in September 2003, the doctrine came to be known as F4, which stood for "find, fix, finish, and follow-up" — a slightly euphemistic but not hard to understand message about how alleged terrorists and insurgents were to be dealt with.

Under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush years, Brown began setting up “joint Special Forces” teams to conduct F4 missions outside war zones.  These were given the anodyne name “Military Liaison Elements.” At least one killing by such a team in Paraguay (of an armed robber not on any targeting list) was written up by New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Thom Shanker. The team, whose presence had not been made known to the U.S. ambassador there, was ordered to leave the country.

“The number-one requirement is to defend the homeland. And so sometimes that requires that you find and capture or kill terrorist targets around the world that are trying to do harm to this nation,” Brown told the House Committee on Armed Services in March 2006. “Our foreign partners… are willing but incapable nations that want help in building their own capability to defend their borders and eliminate terrorism in their countries or in their regions.” In April 2007, President Bush rewarded Brown’s planning by creating a special high-level office at the Pentagon for an assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities.

Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War as the architect of the covert arms-and-money supply chain to the mujaheedin in the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, was nominated to fill the position. Under his leadership, a new directive was issued in December 2008 to "develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations."  In this way, the “capture/kill” program was institutionalized in Washington.

"The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war… It’s a war of partners… but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists," Vickers told the Washington Post as 2007 ended. "That’s why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important… and our Special Operations forces play a large role."

George W. Bush’s departure from the White House did not dampen the enthusiasm for F4.  Quite the contrary: even though the F4 formula has recently been tinkered with, in typical military fashion, and has now become “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze,” or F3EA, President Obama has, by all accounts, expanded military intelligence gathering and “capture/kill” programs globally in tandem with an escalation of drone-strike operations by the CIA.

There are quite a few outspoken supporters of the “capture/kill” doctrine. Columbia University Professor Austin Long is one academic who has jumped on the F3EA bandwagon. Noting its similarity to the Phoenix assassination program, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during the U.S. war in Vietnam (which he defends), he has called for a shrinking of the U.S. military “footprint” in Afghanistan to 13,000 Special Forces troops who would focus exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly assassination operations. “Phoenix suggests that intelligence coordination and the integration of intelligence with an action arm can have a powerful effect on even extremely large and capable armed groups,” he and his co-author William Rosenau wrote in a July 2009 Rand Institute monograph entitled” “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Others are even more aggressively inclined. Lieutenant George Crawford, who retired from the position of “lead strategist” for the Special Forces Command to go work for Archimedes Global, Inc., a Washington consulting firm, has suggested that F3EA be replaced by one term: “Manhunting.” In a monograph published by the Joint Special Operations University in September 2009, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare,” Crawford spells out “how to best address the responsibility to develop manhunting as a capability for American national security.”

Killing the Wrong People

The strange evolution of these concepts, the creation of ever more global hunter-killer teams whose purpose in life is assassination 24/7, and the civilians these “joint Special Forces” teams regularly kill in their raids on supposed “targets” have unsettled even military experts.

For example, Christopher Lamb, the acting director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Martin Cinnamond, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan, penned an article for the Spring 2010 issue of the Joint Forces Quarterly in which they wrote: “There is broad agreement… that the indirect approach to counterinsurgency should take precedence over kill/capture operations. However, the opposite has occurred.”

Other military types claim that the hunter-killer approach is short-sighted and counterproductive. “My take on Task Force 373 and other task forces, it has a purpose because it keeps the enemy off balance. But It does not understand the fundamental root cause of the conflict, of why people are supporting the Taliban,” says Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who resigned from the government last September. Hoh, who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, adds: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

Task Force 373 may be a nightmare for Afghans.  For the rest of us — now that Wikileaks has flushed it into the open — it should be seen as a symptom of deeper policy disasters.  After all, it raises a basic question: Is this country really going to become known as a global Manhunters, Inc.?

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist, TomDispatch regular, and senior editor at CorpWatch who has worked extensively in the Middle East and Central Asia, including nine trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He has written two books about the war on terror: Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). He recommends using DiaryDig to better understand the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary. A good glossary of military acronyms can be found by clicking here. You can contact him via email at pchatterjee@igc.org.

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Out, Damned Spot!

10:08 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch ReadersA number of you have written in asking whether my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, was going to be available as an ebook.  It can now be purchased for your Kindle via Amazon.com by clicking here.  Those of us old enough to remain firmly devoted to that ancient object, the book, can still order it with actual paper pages by clicking here.  The latest reviews of the book can be viewed by clicking here.  Keep in mind that every time you go to Amazon through a TomDispatch link and buy a copy of my book (or download a kindle version of it), you also make a little contribution to TomDispatch without spending an extra cent.  So think about buying copies for friends and, while you’re at it, convincing them to spend some time at this site as well.  Many thanks.  By the way, check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which I discuss the three stages of the developing Wikileaks story by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here. Tom]

Whose Hands? Whose Blood? 
Killing Civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq
 
By Tom Engelhardt

Consider the following statement offered by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a news conference last week.  He was discussing Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks as well as the person who has taken responsibility for the vast, still ongoing Afghan War document dump at that site. "Mr. Assange,” Mullen commented, “can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” 

Now, if you were the proverbial fair-minded visitor from Mars (who in school civics texts of my childhood always seemed to land on Main Street, U.S.A., to survey the wonders of our American system), you might be a bit taken aback by Mullen’s statement.  After all, one of the revelations in the trove of leaked documents Assange put online had to do with how much blood from innocent Afghan civilians was already on American hands. 

The British Guardian was one of three publications given early access to the leaked archive, and it began its main article this way: “A huge cache of secret U.S. military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents. They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes…”  Or as the paper added in a piece headlined “Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths”: “Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called ‘blue on white’ events, cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.”  Or as it also reported, when exploring documents related to Task Force 373, an “undisclosed ‘black’ unit” of U.S. special operations forces focused on assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda “senior officials”: “The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women, and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.”

Admittedly, the events recorded in the Wikileaks archive took place between 2004 and the end of 2009, and so don’t cover the last six months of the Obama administration’s across-the-board surge in Afghanistan.  Then again, Admiral Mullen became chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2007, and so has been at the helm of the American war machine for more than two of the years in question.

He was, for example, chairman in July 2008, when an American plane or planes took out an Afghan bridal party — 70 to 90 strong and made up mostly of women — on a road near the Pakistani border.  They were "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates." The bride, whose name we don’t know, died, as did at least 27 other members of the party, including children.  Mullen was similarly chairman in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children. Among the dead were 76 members of one extended family, headed by Reza Khan, a "wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport."

Mullen was still chairman in April 2009 when members of the family of Awal Khan, an Afghan army artillery commander on duty elsewhere, were killed in a U.S.-led raid in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.  Among them were his "schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, employed by a government department.” Another daughter was wounded and the pregnant wife of Khan’s cousin was shot five times in the abdomen. 

Mullen remained chairman when, in November 2009, two relatives of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture, were shot down in cold blood in Ghazni City in a Special Operations night raid; as he was — and here we move beyond the Wikileaks time frame — when, in February 2010, U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters struck a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children; as he also was when, in that same month, in a special operations night raid, two pregnant women and a teenage girl, as well as a police officer and his brother, were shot to death in their home in a village near Gardez, the capital of Paktia province.  After which, the soldiers reportedly dug the bullets out of the bodies, washed the wounds with alcohol, and tried to cover the incident up.  He was no less chairman late last month when residents of a small town in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan claimed that a NATO missile attack had killed 52 civilians, an incident that, like just about every other one mentioned above and so many more, was initially denied by U.S. and NATO spokespeople and is now being “investigated.” 

And this represents only a grim, minimalist highlight reel among rafts of such incidents, including enough repeated killings or woundings of innocent civilians at checkpoints that previous Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal commented: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”  In other words, if your basic Martian visitor were to take the concept of command responsibility at all seriously, he might reasonably weigh actual blood (those hundreds of unreported civilian casualties of the American war the Guardian highlighted, for example) against prospective blood (possible Afghan informers killed by the Taliban via names combed from the Wikileaks documents) and arrive at quite a different conclusion from Chairman Mullen.

In fact, being from another planet, he might even have picked up on something that most Americans would be unlikely to notice — that, with only slight alterations, Mullen’s blistering comment about Assange could be applied remarkably well to Mullen himself. “Chairman Mullen,” that Martian might have responded, “can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he is doing, but the truth is he already has on his hands the blood of some young soldiers and that of many Afghan families.”

Killing Fields, Then and Now

Fortunately, there are remarkably few Martians in America, as was apparent last week when the Wikileaks story broke.  Certainly, they were in scarce supply in the upper reaches of the Pentagon and, it seemed, hardly less scarce in the mainstream media.  If, for instance, you read the version of the Wikileaks story produced — with the same several weeks of special access — by the New York Times, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the Times reporters had accessed a different archive of documents than had the Guardian crew. 

While the Guardian led with the central significance of those unreported killings of Afghan civilians, the Times led with reports (mainly via Afghan intelligence) on a Pakistani double-cross of the American war effort — of the ties, that is, between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Taliban. The paper’s major sidebar piece concerned the experiences and travails of Outpost Keating, an isolated American base in Afghanistan.  To stumble across the issue of civilian deaths at American hands in the Times coverage, you had to make your way off the front page and through two full four-column Wikileaks-themed pages and deep into a third. 

With rare exceptions, this was typical of initial American coverage of last week’s document dump.  And if you think about it, it gives a certain grim reportorial reality to the term Americans favor for the deaths of civilians at the hands of our forces: “collateral damage” — that is, damage not central to what’s going down.  The Guardian saw it differently, as undoubtedly do Afghans (and Iraqis) who have experienced collateral damage firsthand.   

The Wikileaks leak story, in fact, remained a remarkably bloodless saga in the U.S. until Admiral Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who has overseen the Afghan War since he was confirmed in his post in December 2006) took control of it and began focusing directly on blood — specifically, the blood on Julian Assange’s hands.  Within a few days, that had become the Wikileaks story, as headlines like CNN’s “Top military official: WikiLeaks founder may have ‘blood’ on his hands” indicated.  On ABC News, for instance, in a typical “bloody hands” piece of reportage, the Secretary of Defense told interviewer Christiane Amanpour that, whatever Assange’s legal culpability might be, when it came to “moral culpability… that’s where I think the verdict is guilty on Wikileaks.”

Moral culpability.  From the Martian point of view, it might have been considered a curious phrase from the lips of the man responsible for the last three and a half years of two deeply destructive wars that have accomplished nothing and have been responsible for killing, wounding, or driving into exile millions of ordinary Iraqis and Afghans. Given the reality of those wars, our increasingly wide-eyed visitor, now undoubtedly camping out on the Washington Mall, might have been struck by the selectivity of our sense of what constitutes blood and what constitutes collateral damage.  After all, one major American magazine did decide to put civilian war damage front and center the very week the Wikileaks archive went up.  With the headline "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan," TIME magazine featured a cover image of a young Afghan woman whose nose and ears had reportedly been sliced off by a “local Taliban commander” as a punishment for running away from an abusive home.

Indeed, the Taliban has regularly been responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians, including women and children who, among other things, ride in vehicles over its roadside bombs or suffer the results of suicide bombings aimed at government figures or U.S. and NATO forces.  The Taliban also has its own list of horrors and crimes for which it should be considered morally culpable.  In addition, the Taliban has reportedly threatened to go through the Wikileaks archive, ferret out the names of Afghan informers, and “punish” them, undoubtedly spilling exactly the kind of “blood” Mullen has been talking about.   

Our Martian might have noticed as well that the TIME cover wasn’t a singular event in the U.S.  In recent years, Americans have often enough been focused on the killing, wounding, or maiming of innocent civilians and have indeed been quite capable of treating such acts as a central fact of war and policy-making.  Such deaths have, in fact, been seen as crucially important — as long as the civilians weren’t killed by Americans, in which case the incidents were the understandable, if sad, byproduct of other, far more commendable plans and desires.  In this way, in Afghanistan, repeated attacks on wedding parties, funerals, and even a baby-naming ceremony by the U.S. Air Force or special operations night raids have never been a subject of much concern or the material for magazine covers.

On the other hand, the Bush administration (and Americans generally) dealt with the 9/11 deaths of almost 3,000 innocent civilians in New York City as the central and defining event of the twenty-first century.  Each of those deaths was memorialized in the papers.  Relatives of the dead or those who survived were paid huge sums to console them for the tragedy, and a billion-dollar memorial was planned at what quickly became known as Ground Zero.  In repeated rites of mourning nationwide, their deaths were remembered as the central, animating fact of American life.  In addition, of course, the murder of those civilian innocents officially sent the U.S. military plunging into the Global War on Terror, Afghanistan, and then Iraq. 

Similarly — though who remembers it now? — one key trump card played against those who opposed the invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s “killing fields.”  The Iraqi dictator had indeed gassed Kurds and, with the help of military targeting intelligence provided by his American allies, Iranian troops in his war with Iran in the 1980s.  After the first Gulf War, his forces had brutally suppressed a Shiite uprising in the south of Iraq, murdering perhaps tens of thousands of Shiites and, north and south, buried the dead in mass, unmarked graves, some of which were uncovered after the U.S. invasion of 2003.  In addition, Saddam’s torture chambers and prisons had been busy places indeed.

His was a brutal regime; his killing fields were a moral nightmare; and in the period leading up to the war (and after), they were also a central fact of American life.  On the other hand, however many Iraqis died in those killing fields, more would undoubtedly die in the years that followed, thanks to the events loosed by the Bush administration’s invasion.  That dying has yet to end, and seems once again to be on the rise.  Yet those deaths have never been a central fact of American life, nor an acceptable argument for getting out of Iraq, nor an acknowledged responsibility of Washington, nor of Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Defense Gates, or any of their predecessors.  They were just collateral damage.  Some of their survivors got, at best, tiny solatia payments from the U.S. military, and often enough the dead were buried in unmarked graves or no graves at all.   

Similarly, in Afghanistan in 2010, much attention and controversy surrounded the decision of our previous war commander, General McChrystal, to issue constraining “rules of engagement” to try to cut down on civilian casualties by U.S. troops.  The American question has been: Was the general “handcuffing” American soldiers by making it ever harder for them to call in air or artillery support when civilians might be in the area?  Was he, that is, just too COIN-ish and too tough on American troops?  On the other hand, little attention in the mainstream was paid to the way McChrystal was ramping up special operations forces targeting Taliban leaders, forces whose night raids were, as the Wikileaks documents showed, repeatedly responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians (and so for the anger of other Afghans).

Collateral Damage in America

Here, then, is a fact that our Martian (but few Americans) might notice: in almost nine years of futile and brutal war in Afghanistan and more than seven years of the same in Iraq, the U.S. has filled metaphorical tower upon tower with the exceedingly unmetaphorical bodies of civilian innocents, via air attacks, checkpoint shootings, night raids, artillery and missile fire, and in some cases, the direct act of murder.  Afghans and Iraqis have died in numbers impossible to count (though some have tried).  Among those deaths was that of a good Samaritan who stopped his minivan on a Baghdad street, in July 2007, to help transport Iraqis wounded by an American Apache helicopter attack to the hospital.  In repayment, he and his two children were gunned down by that same Apache crew.  (The children survived; the event was covered up; typically, no American took responsibility for it; and, despite the fact that two Reuters employees died, the case was not further investigated, and no one was punished or even reprimanded.) 

That was one of hundreds, or thousands, of similar events in both wars that Americans have known little or nothing about.  Now, Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst deployed to eastern Baghdad, who reportedly leaked the video of the event to Wikileaks and may have been involved in leaking those 92,000 documents as well, is preparing to face a court-martial and on a suicide watch, branded a “traitor” by a U.S. senator, his future execution endorsed by the ranking minority member of the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on terrorism, and almost certain to find himself behind bars for years or decades to come. 

As for the men who oversaw the endless wars that produced that video (and, without doubt, many similar ones similarly cloaked in the secrecy of "national security"), their fates are no less sure.  When Admiral Mullen relinquishes his post and retires, he will undoubtedly have the choice of lucrative corporate boards to sit on, and, if he cares to, lucrative consulting to do for the Pentagon or eager defense contractors, as well as an impressive pension to take home with him.  Secretary of Defense Gates will undoubtedly leave his post with a wide range of job offers to consider, and if he wishes, he will probably get a million-dollar contract to write his memoirs.  Both will be praised, no matter what happens in or to their wars.  Neither will be considered in any way responsible for those tens of thousands of dead civilians in distant lands.

Moral culpability?  It doesn’t apply.  Not to Americans — not unless they leak military secrets.  None of the men responsible will ever look at their hands and experience an “out, damned spot!” moment.  That’s a guarantee.  However, a young man who, it seems, saw the blood and didn’t want it on his hands, who found himself “actively involved in something that I was completely against,” who had an urge to try to end two terrible wars, hoping his act would cause “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms,” will pay the price for them.  He will be another body not to count in the collateral damage their wars have caused.  He will also be collateral damage to the Afghan antiwar movement that wasn’t. 

The men who led us down this path, the presidents who presided over our wars, the military figures and secretaries of defense, the intelligence chiefs and ambassadors who helped make them happen, will have libraries to inaugurate, books to write, awards to accept, speeches to give, honors to receive.  They will be treated with great respect, while Americans — once we have finally left the lands we insistently fought over — will undoubtedly feel little culpability either.  And if blowback comes to the United States, and the first suicide drones arrive, everyone will be deeply puzzled and angered, but one thing is certain, we will not consider any damage done to our society "collateral" damage.

So much blood.  So many hands.  So little culpability.  No remorse.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has just been published. You can catch him discussing it on a TomCast video by clicking here Check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which he discusses the three stages of the developing Wikileaks story by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

[Note for readers:  I would especially like to thank Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog, Antiwar.com, and Paul Woodward’s the War in Context website for helping keep me up to date on America’s ongoing wars.  I couldn’t do without them.  A bow of appreciation to all three.]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt