Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Fisnik Abrashi, was posted to Truthout, May 16, 2009.
"Hitler gave anti-Semitism a bad name," as many high-born Europeans used to say, yearning for the good old days when all right-thinking people could disparage Jews in public. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is similarly giving torture an odious reputation, all in his zeal to prove himself the rightest thinking guy in America. By the time he's finished with his mouthy defense of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," no one with any sense will want to have anything to do with them, at least not where others can see or hear.
Cheney's signature success with torture came when the CIA sent al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi to Egypt, where he "confessed" that Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda in chemical weapons. Al-Libi's statement, extracted under torture, was the smoking gun that Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell all used to sell their pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. So, don't tell Cheney that "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" do not work. They damned sure do if your goal is to get the propaganda you want to go to war.
Few in Congress or the mass media have pushed Cheney on this "great success." Fewer still have seen that that Bush and Cheney's illegal use of torture to sell their pre-emptive war in Iraq was probably their single greatest crime. Why the reluctance? Why do so many Americans refuse to see the obvious?
In large part because Congress, the corporate media, and even the general public were to some degree complicit in the crime. Whatever the CIA told Congressional leaders about waterboarding, sensory and sleep deprivation, stress positions, or sending captives to other counties for interrogation, only the mentally challenged had any excuse for not knowing from the public record at the time the rough outlines of how far Bush and Cheney had stepped beyond the law.
As early as February 2002, the Bush administration publicly announced that it would not abide by the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of enemy captives. Dick Cheney spoke openly of going to "work the dark side." Donald Rumsfeld and others talked of "taking off the gloves" with detainees like John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban and the first known victim of the administration's turn toward torture.
President Bush even used his State of the Union address in January 2003 to let everyone in on the game. "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries," he said. "And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
In these and dozens of similar boasts, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others proudly told the world what they were doing. And, very much like the Good Germans of an earlier time, Congress and the media went along, as did most of the American public. Even worse, almost no one questioned the validity of all the so-called intelligence that the administration's methods produced.
"We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told PBS' Jim Lehrer on September 25, 2002. "We know too that several of the [al-Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaeda in chemical weapons development."
"We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases," President Bush told an audience in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002.
Saddam Hussein's regime "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda," Vice President Cheney told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on January 30, 2003. "He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for use against us."
"I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story."
We now know from several sources that these selling points for invading Iraq came primarily from torturing al-Libi in Egypt. We also know from the recent report of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Bush administration pushed the torturers from the beginning to find such a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. That was one of the major purposes of the entire effort, as only those on the inside truly understood.
But, even before the invasion, anyone paying attention should have been able to see that the administration's "evidence" had to be tainted the moment Mr. Bush stepped beyond the Geneva Conventions and began "working the dark side."
Having failed to catch the crime at the time, many major media figures and members of Congress are understandably reluctant to accuse Bush and Cheney of criminal conduct and bring them to trial now. How much easier just to forget the whole sordid mess and get on with the nation's business. But, if Congress and the media do, they will fail again, as Mr. Cheney's spirited defense of torture and unlimited presidential power will come back to haunt us all in the secret memos of a new administration not so many years from now.
This article, by Susanne Koelbl, was first published in Der Spiegel online, January 28, 2009
The approach to combatting the drug mafia in Afghanistan has spurred an open rift inside NATO. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, top NATO commander John Craddock wants the alliance to kill opium dealers, without proof of connection to the insurgency. NATO commanders, however, do not want to follow the order.
A dispute has emerged among NATO High Command in Afghanistan regarding the conditions under which alliance troops can use deadly violence against those identified as insurgents. In a classified document, which SPIEGEL has obtained, NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, has issued a "guidance" providing NATO troops with the authority "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
According to the document, deadly force is to be used even in those cases where there is no proof that suspects are actively engaged in the armed resistance against the Afghanistan government or against Western troops. It is "no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective," Craddock writes.
The NATO commander has long been frustrated by the reluctance of some NATO member states -- particularly Germany -- to take aggressive action against those involved in the drug trade. Craddock rationalizes his directive by writing that the alliance "has decided that (drug traffickers and narcotics facilities) are inextricably linked to the Opposing Military Forces, and thus may be attacked." In the document, Craddock writes that the directive is the result of an October 2008 meeting of NATO defense ministers in which it was agreed that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan may attack opium traffickers.
The directive was sent on Jan. 5 to Egon Ramms, the German leader at NATO Command in Brunssum, Netherlands, which is currently in charge of the NATO ISAF mission, as well as David McKiernan, the commander of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Neither want to follow it. Both consider the order to be illegitimate and believe it violates both ISAF rules of engagement and international law, the "Law of Armed Conflict."
A classified letter issued by McKiernan's Kabul office in response claims that Craddock is trying to create a "new category" in the rules of engagement for dealing with opposing forces that would "seriously undermine the commitment ISAF has made to the Afghan people and the international community ... to restrain our use of force and avoid civilian casualties to the greatest degree predictable."
A value equivalent to 50 percent of Afghanistan's gross national product is generated through the production and trade of opium and the heroin that is derived from it. Of those earnings, at least $100 million flows each year to the Taliban and its allies, which is used to purchase weapons and pay fighters. That, at least, is the estimate given by Antonio Maria Costas, head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime.
But the chain of people profiting from the drug trade goes a lot further -- reaching day laborers in the fields, drug laboratory workers and going all the way up to police stations, provincial governments and high-level government circles that include some with close proximity to President Hamid Karzai. If Craddock's order were to go into effect, it would lead to the addition of thousands of Afghans to the description of so-called "legitimate military targets" and could also land them on so-called targeting lists.
The Taliban are still responsible for the majority of civilian victims in Afghanistan. According to a United Nations report, more than half of the approximately 2,000 citizens killed last year died as a result of suicide attacks, car bombs and fighting with extremists. Nevertheless, relations between the Americans and the local population are extremely tense due the rising number of US-led air strikes and the dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.
Afghan villagers complain of the increase in the deaths of relatives who were mistakenly killed during military operations carried out by the Americans and their allies, such as the one carried out recently in Masamut, a village in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman. The US army announced that it had "eliminated" 32 Taliban insurgents. However, survivors claim that 13 civilians had been killed during the search for a Taliban commander. In the eyes of many Afghans the former liberators have long become ruthless occupiers.
German NATO General Ramms made it perfectly clear in his answer to General Craddock that he was not prepared to deviate from the current rules of engagement for attacks, which reportedly deeply angered Craddock. The US general, who is considered a loyal Bush man and fears that he could be replaced by the new US president, has already made his intention known internally that he would like to relieve any commander who doesn't want to follow his instructions to go after the drug mafia of his duties. Back in December, Central Command in Florida, which is responsible for the US Armed Forces deployment in Afghanistan, yet again watered-down provisions in the rules of engagement for the Afghanistan deployment pertaining to the protection of civilians. According to the new rules, US forces can now bomb drug labs if they have previous analysis that the operation would not kill "more than 10 civilians."
This article was published in The National (United Arab Emirates), January 26, 2009
George Mitchell will travel to Jerusalem this week amid a tense ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and a fierce electoral battle in Israel. As Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, a role he held under the Clinton administration, he will seek to bolster the tenuous ceasefire and set the stage for a renewed push for peace. In anticipation of Mr Mitchell’s visit, the rhetoric from Israel’s myriad political parties is focused on the stagnant peace process. With the exception of some far right parties, each is portraying their candidates as the best suited to work with the Obama administration for peace.
Anyone who follows the seemingly impenetrable world of Israeli politics will not find any of this novel. What is new is the increasingly vocal and unified push from Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, for the peace process to be put on a more productive track. The move comes as a result of a rare show of unity at the inaugural Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait in response to Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza and the failure of the United States or the international community to stem the slaughter.
The core of the Saudi-led diplomatic push is the Arab Peace Initiative. The plan envisions a grand bargain for Middle East peace. It calls for Israel to withdraw to borders demarcated in 1967, a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee situation. In return, the Arab world offers full diplomatic relations and a formal end to the 60 years of conflict, ostensibly opening a massive regional market for Israeli goods and services. For a country that relies heavily on the tourism industry, this is no small offer.
However, the initiative has struggled to gain traction. It was not until support for the plan was reaffirmed in 2007 that the Arabs began to receive a tentative positive response from Israeli politicians. Both the defence minister, Ehud Barak, and the president, Shimon Peres, have shown interest in negotiating a deal based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
But in the wake of the Gaza assault Arab governments are finding it increasingly difficult to justify dialogue with an Israeli state that appears to pay little more than lip service to peace. The difficulty facing the Arab leadership is convincing Israel that opening relations with perceptively hostile neighbours is in its best interest, a difficult task when Israelis are not the ones doing most of the dying. Short of a sudden outbreak of altruism in Israel’s halls of government, there is little to indicate that the country will change its policy of delay tactics in any peace talks.
Instead the Arab world must focus its diplomatic efforts on the US. Despite perceptions in this region that the US and Israel are inseparable allies, an image bolstered by the Bush administration, the US has interests in the Middle East that rely heavily on Arab support. The country’s efforts in Iraq, Iran and even Afghanistan would suffer should its relations weaken with the Arab world. Without continued co-operation from Arab states to control the inflow of foreign insurgents, Iraq’s tenuous calm could end along with US hopes of a peaceful withdrawal. Diplomatic pressure on Iran would weaken if Arab states ceased their co-operation with the embargo. And attempts to secure Afghanistan would falter without the availability of Arab airspace and bases.
The Arab Peace Initiative remains the most practicable path to peace and Palestinian statehood. But Arabs will never convince Israel of this: only the US has the power to push for its adoption.
This article, by Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn, was published in The Washington Post, January
President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.
After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now "backpedaling and trying to buy time" by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.
"All but about 60 who have been approved for release," assuming countries can be found to accept them, "are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people," said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.
Obama officials said they want to make their own judgments.
"The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable," another senior official said. But "it's clear that we can't clear up this issue overnight" partly because the files "are not comprehensive."
Charles D. "Cully" Stimson, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs in 2006-2007, said he had persistent problems in attempts to assemble all information on individual cases. Threats to recommend the release or transfer of a detainee were often required, he said, to persuade the CIA to "cough up a sentence or two."
A second former Pentagon official said most individual files are heavily summarized dossiers that do not contain the kind of background and investigative work that would be put together by a federal prosecution team. He described "regular food fights" among different parts of the government over information-sharing on the detainees.
A CIA spokesman denied that the agency had not been "forthcoming" with detainee information, saying that such suggestions were "simply wrong" and that "we have worked very closely with other agencies to share what we know" about the prisoners. While denying there had been problems, one intelligence official said the Defense Department was far more likely to be responsible for any information lapses, since it had initially detained and interrogated most of the prisoners and had been in charge of them at the prison.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that the Defense Department would cooperate fully in the review.
"Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized," Morrell said. He added that "in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents . . . which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor."
"Not all the documents are physically located in one place," Morrell said, but most are available through a database.
"The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review."
There have been indications from within and outside the government for some time, however, that evidence and other materials on the Guantanamo prisoners were in disarray, even though most of the detainees have been held for years.
Justice Department lawyers responding in federal courts to defense challenges over the past six months have said repeatedly that the government was overwhelmed by the sudden need to assemble material after Supreme Court rulings giving detainees habeas corpus and other rights.
In one federal filing, the Justice Department said that "the record . . . is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case." In another filing, the department said that "defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis."
Evidence gathered for military commission trials is in disarray, according to some former officials, who said military lawyers lacked the trial experience to prosecute complex international terrorism cases.
In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."
He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."
In the last days before Israel imposed a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza to avoid embarrassing the incoming Obama administration, it upped its assault, driving troops deeper into Gaza City, intensifying its artillery bombardment and creating thousands more displaced people.
Israel's military strategy in Gaza, even in what its officials were calling the "final act," followed a blueprint laid down during the Lebanon war more than two years ago.
Then, Israel destroyed much of Lebanon's infrastructure in a month of intensive air strikes. Even in the war's last few hours, as a cease-fire was being finalized, Israel fired more than a million cluster bombs over south Lebanon, apparently in the hope that the area could be made as uninhabitable as possible.
(While this number seems hard to believe, consider this: It requires 1,700 shells to disperse about a million bombs. Most were fired from tanks, of which Israel had dozens lined up along the border. It isn't too hard to imagine, say, 50 tanks each firing 34 shells into Lebanon over the course of a few hours. According to the New York Times, Israel has a multiple-launch rocket system that can fire 12 shells in a minute.)
Similarly, Israel's destruction of Gaza continued with unrelenting vigor to the very last moment, even though, according to reports in the Israeli media, the air force exhausted what it called its "bank of Hamas targets" in the first few days of fighting.
The military sidestepped the problem by widening its definition of Hamas-affiliated buildings. Or as one senior official explained: "There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum because everything is connected, and everything supports terrorism against Israel."
That included mosques, universities, most government buildings, the courts, 25 schools, 20 ambulances and several hospitals, as well as bridges, roads, 10 electricity-generating stations, sewage lines and 1,500 factories, workshops and shops.
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah estimate the damage so far at $1.9 billion, pointing out that at least 21,000 apartment buildings need repairing or rebuilding, forcing 100,000 Palestinians into refugeedom once again. In addition, 80 percent of all agricultural infrastructure and crops were destroyed. The PA has described its estimate as conservative.
None of this will be regretted by Israel. In fact, the general devastation, far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive's unstated goal. Israel has sought the political, as well as military, emasculation of Hamas through the widespread destruction of Gaza's infrastructure and economy.
This is known as the "Dahiya Doctrine," named after a suburb of Beirut that was almost leveled during Israel's attack on Lebanon in summer 2006. The doctrine was encapsulated in a phrase used by Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of staff at the time. He said Lebanon's bombardment would "turn back the clock 20 years."
The commanding officer in Israel's south, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, echoed those sentiments on the Gaza offensive's first day. The aim, he said, was to "send Gaza decades into the past."
Beyond these sound bites, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the head of Israel's northern command, clarified in October the practical aspects of the strategy: "What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan."
In the interview, Eisenkot was discussing the next round of hostilities with Hezbollah. However, the doctrine was intended for use in Gaza, too. Gabriel Siboni, a colonel in the reserves, set out the new "security concept" in an article published by Tel Aviv University's Institute of National Security Studies two months before the assault on Gaza. Conventional military strategies for waging war against states and armies, he wrote, could not defeat subnational resistance movements, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that have deep roots in the local population.
The goal instead was to use "disproportionate force," thereby "inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes." Siboni identified the chief target of Israel's rampages as decision-makers and the power elite, including "economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the [enemy] organization."
The best Israel could hope for against Hamas and n, Siboni conceded, was a cease-fire on improved terms for Israel and delaying the next confrontation by leaving "the enemy floundering in expensive, long-term processes of reconstruction."
In the case of Gaza's lengthy reconstruction, however, Israel says it hopes not to repeat the mistakes of Lebanon. Then, Hezbollah, aided by Iranian funds, further bolstered its reputation among the local population by quickly moving to finance the rebuilding of Lebanese homes destroyed by Israel.
According to the Israeli media, the foreign ministry has already assembled a task force for "the day after" to ensure neither Hamas nor Iran take the credit for Gaza's reconstruction.
Israel wants all aid to be channeled either through the Palestinian Authority or international bodies. Sealing off Gaza, by preventing smuggling through tunnels under the border with Egypt, is an integral part of this strategy.
Much to Israel's satisfaction, the rebuilding of Gaza is likely to be even slower than might have been expected.
Diplomats point out that even if Western aid flows to the Palestinian Authority, it will have little effect if Israel maintains the blockade, curbing imports of steel, cement and money. And international donors are already reported to be tired of funding building projects in Gaza only to see them destroyed by Israel a short time later.
With more than a hint of exasperation, Norway Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere summed up the general view of donors last week: "Shall we give once more for the construction of something which is being destroyed, reconstructed and destroyed?"
The following report, by Jackie Northam, was broadcast on NPR, January 21, 2008
the verge of signing an executive order — perhaps as early as Thursday morning — setting a one-year deadline to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The still-unsigned executive order is expected to call for an immediate review of how to handle the approximately 245 prisoners who remain at Guantanamo. Some may be repatriated or sent to third nations.
About 60 detainees have already been cleared for release, but the outgoing Bush administration had little luck in finding a home for them.
The executive order will also cover the possibility that some prisoners will be transferred to facilities in the U.S.
Status Of Military Commissions In Doubt
It's not believed that the order will call for a halt to the troubled military commissions which were set up as a legal system to try the detainees. However, hours after taking office, Obama requested that all pending military hearings at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba be suspended for 120 days.
The new president wants a complete review of the military commissions used to try the detainees at the remote prison camp. The move was seen as the first step in closing Guantanamo.
Other executive orders are expected soon, including one that would establish new rules for interrogation methods.
From the start, the military commissions — designed solely for use in Guantanamo courtrooms — were widely criticized as inherently unfair to the detainees: The trials were mired in delays and plagued by legal challenges.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to close the detention camp and signaled that he was not happy with the commissions.
"I think, clearly, the new administration's legal review of military commissions began long before yesterday's inauguration," says Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
He says it is important that Obama made the decision to suspend the commissions quickly, because the longer the procedures were allowed to continue, the more difficult it would be for him to pull them back later.
21 Cases On Hold
Obama's decision immediately froze Tuesday's trial of a Canadian-born detainee, as well as the trial Wednesday of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. The five, who were facing the death penalty, protested the delay in their case. Earlier, they had said they wanted to be "martyrs."
The new president's decision effectively brings all 21 pending cases at Guantanamo to a halt until at least May 20, while the new administration studies the process.
Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says it's unlikely the commissions will be reconstituted.
"Obviously, the military commissions have been severely discredited everywhere — in our legal system, in the court of public opinion and around the world. So I find it hard to imagine that the Obama administration would exert itself to preserve their viability," Fidell says.
People involved with the Obama transition team say the order would also include repatriating some of the detainees — and transferring others into the United States. Ireland and Switzerland signaled on Wednesday that they may be willing to take some of the prisoners.
Geneve Mantri with Amnesty International says these moves by the Obama administration are positive steps.
"What we're really looking forward to seeing is what the administration puts in its place — what human rights safeguard it has, whether it has the safeguards we'd like to see in any legal system, and all the things that most people have criticized this process as lacking," Mantri says.
A 'Mare's Nest' Of Legal Woes
The Obama administration will have to decide what legal system should be used to prosecute the detainees and where they will be detained, says Fidell.
"The Bush administration left the Obama administration with a mare's nest of legal and practical problems. And it's going to take some time, and the best minds that the legal profession has, to sort those problems out," he says.
The new administration will also have to decide what to do with detainees whom the government does not have enough evidence to try — but whom U.S. intelligence agencies say are too dangerous to release. Waxman, the former detainee affairs official, says Obama will have to strike the right balance.
"In trying to navigate these policy dilemmas, the new president needs to balance on the one hand security, with on the other hand, not just civil liberties, but also legitimacy," he says.
Waxman says it's more important now to move competently, rather than quickly, in deciding what to do with Guantanamo.