Tomgram: Slaughter, Lies, and Video in Afghanistan

September 13, 2008

The Value of One, the Value of None

An Anatomy of Collateral Damage
in the Bush Era

By Tom Engelhardt

In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice
President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in “a secure, undisclosed location,” which she describes as “one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located
hundreds of feet below bedrock…” That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, “the Commander in Chief’s Suite.”

Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, “he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head,
“rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”

When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn’t exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president — forget the vice-president — including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation’s capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?

On the other hand, the well-armored Vice President and his aide David Addington played a leading role, as Mayer documents in grim detail, in loosing a Global War on Terror that was also a global war of terror on lands thousands of miles distant. In this new war, “the gloves came off,” “the shackles were removed” — images much loved within the administration and, in the case of those “shackles,” by George Tenet’s CIA. In the process, no price in human abasement or human life proved too high to pay — as long as it was paid
by someone else.

Recently, it was paid by up to 60 Afghan children.

The Value of None

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


US rejects Khadr’s child soldier defence

May 2, 2008
US Rejects Canadian’s Child Soldier Defense
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/050208R.shtml
Jane Sutton reports for Reuters: “A Canadian captured in Afghanistan at age 15 can be tried for murder in the Guantanamo war crimes court, a US military judge ruled in rejecting claims that he was a child soldier who should be rehabilitated rather than prosecuted.”

Tomgram: The Natives of Planet Earth

April 7, 2008

[Note to Tomdispatch Readers: Last week, I appealed to you to consider writing your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and workmates to suggest that they go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of the Tomdispatch main screen, put in their e-addresses, and sign on for an email notifying them whenever a post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, the only kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a flood of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this and didn’t quite get around to it, now’s a perfect time. Plenty of exciting material, including new pieces by Ira Chernus, Rebecca Solnit, Patrick Cockburn, and Michael Klare in the coming weeks!

I also wanted to add a note of appreciation for all your letters. I now think of the Tomdispatch email in-box as the university of my later life. Your tips, your encouragement, your descriptions of worlds I would otherwise never encounter, and even your fierce critiques have been most welcome. I read everything that arrives with care and try, as best I can, to respond, at least briefly, if only to acknowledge that I have indeed seen them. Sometimes, however, being but one person, I get swept away and simply can’t respond. For that, my apologies. Tom]

American Grand Delusions

Why the Testimony of General Petraeus Will Be Delusional
By Tom Engelhardt

Yes, their defensive zone is the planet and they patrol it regularly. As ever, their planes and drones have been in the skies these last weeks. They struck a village in Somalia, tribal areas in Pakistan, rural areas in Afghanistan, and urban neighborhoods in Iraq. Their troops are training and advising the Iraqi army and police as well as the new Afghan army, while their Special Operations forces are planning to train Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps in that country’s wild, mountainous borderlands.

Their Vice President arrived in Baghdad not long before the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched its recent (failed) offensive against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern oil city of Basra. To “discuss” their needs in their President’s eternal War on Terror, two of their top diplomats, a deputy secretary of state and an assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, arrived in Pakistan — to the helpless outrage of the local press — on the very day newly elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was being given the oath of office. (“I don’t think it is a good idea for them to be here on this particular day… right here in Islamabad, meeting with senior politicians in the new government, trying to dictate terms…” was the way Zaffar Abbas, editor of the newspaper Dawn, put it.)

At home, their politicians have nationally televised debates in which they fervently discuss just how quickly they would launch air assaults against Pakistan’s tribal areas, without permission from the Pakistani government but based on “actionable intelligence” on terrorists. Their drones cruise the skies of the world looking for terrorist suspects to — in the phrase of the hour — “take out.” Agents from their intelligence services have, these last years, roamed the planet, kidnapping terrorist suspects directly off the streets of major cities and transporting them to their own secret prisons, or those of other countries willing to employ torture methods. Their spy satellites circle the globe listening in on conversations wherever they please, while their military has divided the whole planet into “commands,” the last of which, Africom, was just formed.

As far as they are concerned, nowhere do their interests not come into play; nowhere, in fact, are they not paramount. As their President put it recently, “If [our] strategic interests are not in Iraq — the convergence point for the twin threats of al Qaeda and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden’s deputy has called ‘the place for the greatest battle,’ the country at the heart of the most volatile region on Earth — then where are they?” (And you could easily substitute the names of other countries for Iraq.)

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Mark Danner, Generals Bin Laden and Bush

March 26, 2008

Today, in his usual remarkable way, Mark Danner takes stock of the President’s failed War on Terror abroad. One day, we will also need to take full stock of George W. Bush’s War on Terror at home. After all, conceptually speaking, the War on Terror lay at the heart of everything he and his top officials hoped for in an administration — in, as they called it, a “unitary executive” that would be unrestrained by the checks and balances of either Congress or the courts. The announcement (not declaration) of “war” was, in fact, a necessity for this administration, the only lever available with which to pry a commander-in-chief presidency out of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Without the President’s self-proclaimed War on Terror, there would have been no “war” at all, and so no “wartime” atmosphere or “wartime” presidency to be invoked to cow Congress into backing Bush’s future war of choice in Iraq. Without “war” and “wartime,” it would have been impossible to bring the American people along so readily and difficult to apply “war rules” from the Guantanamo prison complex in Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Otherwise, as Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris recently pointed out in the New Yorker, how could American officials and commanders have designated those prisoners seized by the U.S. military in Iraq as “‘security detainees,’ a label that had gained currency in the war on terror, to describe ‘unlawful combatants’ and other prisoners who had been denied P.O.W. status and could be held indefinitely, in isolation and secrecy, without judicial recourse.”

Every hope the Bush administration’s top officials had of future power hinged on the War on Terror that preceded actual war anywhere. True, in World War I, not 19 hijackers, but a single assassin triggered the mobilizing of the armies of all the Great Powers of Europe, which did indeed lead to global war. But after 9/11, on the provocation of 19 men (and the scattered bands behind them), only one power mobilized, which meant, by the standards of history, there was no war to be had. Only aggression.

On the domestic power grab that the President and his men (and a few women) believed would lead not just to a global Pax Americana, but to a Pax Republicana at home, the equivalent of a National Intelligence Estimate has yet to arrive. But the recent, little noted loss of the previously safe Illinois seat of former House of Representatives Majority Leader Dennis Hastert — a contest into which a strapped National Republican Congressional Committee poured $1.2 million (20% of the cash it had on hand) against a neophyte Democratic candidate — is a striking sign that Bush’s Pax Republicana may prove anything but generational. In the meantime, consider with Mark Danner, author most recently of The Secret Way to War, the fate of that global Pax Americana which the War on Terror was intended to bring about. Tom

Taking Stock of the War on Terror

A Defeat Only American Power Could Have Brought About

By Mark Danner

[This essay was adapted from an address first delivered in February at the Tenth Asia Security Conference at the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis in New Delhi.]

To contemplate a prewar map of Baghdad — as I do the one before me, with sectarian neighborhoods traced out in blue and red and yellow — is to look back on a lost Baghdad, a Baghdad of our dreams. My map of 2003 is colored mostly a rather neutral yellow, indicating the “mixed” neighborhoods of the city, predominant just five years ago. To take up a contemporary map after this is to be confronted by a riot of bright color: Shia blue has moved in irrevocably from the East of the Tigris; Sunni red has fled before it, as Shia militias pushed the Sunnis inexorably west toward Abu Ghraib and Anbar province, and nearly out of the capital itself. And everywhere, it seems, the pale yellow of those mixed neighborhoods is gone, obliterated in the months and years of sectarian war.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over

February 27, 2008

Tomgram: NoamChomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over

One of Noam Chomsky’s latest books — a conversation with David Barsamian — is entitled What We Say Goes. It catches a powerful theme of Chomsky’s: that we have long been living on a one-way planet and that the language we regularly wield to describe the realities of our world is tailored to Washington’s interests.

Juan Cole, at his Informed Comment website, had a good example of the strangeness of this targeted language recently. When Serbs stormed the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, he offered the following comment (with so many years of the term “Islamofascism” in mind): “…given that the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians, will the Republican Party and Fox Cable News now start fulminating against ‘Christofascism?'”

Of course, the minute you try to turn the Washington norm (in word or act) around, as Chomsky did in a piece entitled What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?, you’ve already entered the theater of the absurd. “Terror” is a particularly good example of this. “Terror” is something that, by (recent) definition, is committed by free-floating groups or movements against innocent civilians and is utterly reprehensible (unless the group turns out to be the CIA running car bombs into Baghdad or car and camel bombs into Afghanistan, in which case it’s not a topic that’s either much discussed, or condemned in our world). On the other hand, that weapon of terror, air power, which is at the heart of the American way of war, simply doesn’t qualify under the category of “terror” at all — no matter how terrifying it may be to innocent civilians who find themselves underneath the missiles and bombs.

It’s with this in mind that Chomsky turns to terror of every kind in the Middle East in the context of the car bombing of a major figure in Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement. By the way, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a new collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, has just been published and is highly recommended. Tom

The Most Wanted List

International Terrorism

By Noam Chomsky

On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: “one way or the other he was brought to justice.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”

Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as “one of the U.S. and Israel’s most wanted men” was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, “A militant wanted the world over,” an accompanying story reported that he was “superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden” after 9/11 and so ranked only second among “the most wanted militants in the world.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Barbarism Lite

February 22, 2008

According to the New Yorker’s Paul Kramer, here’s what A.F. Miller of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment wrote in a letter to the Omaha World-Herald in May 1900 from the Philippines about the treatment of a prisoner taken by his unit: “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.”

One American was indeed finally brought to trial for the widespread use of “the water cure” in the Philippines at the turn of the previous century as the Filipino insurgency was suppressed. Captain Edwin Glenn, a judge advocate, supervised such a torture session. For this, he was convicted and sentenced to a “one-month suspension and a fifty-dollar fine.” He retired from the Army in 1919 as a brigadier general.

Many were the American defenses of “the water cure” back then, including the blunt suggestion that, on racial grounds, Filipinos were not “owed the ‘protective’ limits of ‘civilized warfare.'” Many have been the defenses of waterboarding and other forms of torture in the Bush years — among them, the all-but-racially based suggestion that America’s enemies (you know who) don’t deserve to be dealt with according to the laws of civilization, including the Geneva Conventions. Then and now, a relatively small but hardy crew of Americans, in and out of government, protested, wrote, and struggled against such practices.

In our time, they have included Karen J. Greenberg, co-editor of the monumental Torture Papers and a Tomdispatch regular, who writes below about the latest defense of “the water cure,” this time by the Justice Department’s Stephen Bradbury. Another member of this crew is Scott Horton who, at his eloquent Harper’s Magazine blog, No Comment, pointed out recently that Bradbury’s testimony before a congressional committee represented but the first of a Valentine’s Day torture trifecta. Among those who stepped up to the plate that day was the President himself who defended waterboarding in an interview with the BBC this way: “To the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn’t have prevented?”

With that in mind, enter the torture museum and history be damned. Tom

Visiting the Torture Museum

Barbarism Then and Now

By Karen J. Greenberg

Sometimes a little stroll through history can have its uses. Take, as an example, the continuing debate over torture in post-9/11 America. Last week, Stephen Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, testified before the House Judiciary Committee about waterboarding. In defending its use, Bradbury took a deep dive into the past. He claimed that the CIA’s waterboarding of at least three of its prisoners bore “no resemblance” to what torturers in the Spanish Inquisition had done when they used what was then called “the Water Torture.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


AP Confirms Secret Camp Inside Guantanamo

February 9, 2008
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/020708J.shtml
Andrew O. Selsky, of The Associated Press, reports: “Somewhere amid the cactus-studded hills on this sprawling Navy base, separate from the cells where hundreds of men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have been locked up for years, is a place even more closely guarded – a jailhouse so protected that its very location is top secret. For the first time, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo has confirmed the existence of the mysterious Camp 7. In an interview with The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby also provided a few details about the maximum-security lockup.”