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 Larry Ray, was published by the Rag Blog, October 4, 2009
Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary filmmaker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.
As a U.S. Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.
It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.
But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.
After a few months of sitting through bogus U.S. military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later.
Since the Vietnam War, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.
The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.
Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.
Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.
The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.
America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.
We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace, and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.
The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson, driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.
In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.
Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.
Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.
It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 U.S. troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.
One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.
Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.
Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy.
But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and drive out the Taliban with brute force.
While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban.
Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.
President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
“Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov
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."
As George W. Bush leaves office and Barack Obama takes over, we are in danger of missing the opportunity for change our new president has promised -- unless we come to grips with what the great historian and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin called our "hidden history," not just of the past eight years but of the past half-century and more.
President Obama will face a staggering array of challenges, most, if not all, of which stem from the policies of Bush. But efforts at reform will fall short if we fail to probe and confront the powerful forces that wanted this disastrous administration in the White House in the first place -- and that remain ready and able to maintain their influence behind the scenes today.
Like most people, I took the failings of George W. Bush at face value: an inattentive, poorly prepared man full of hubris, who committed colossal blunders as a result. Then I spent five years researching my new book, Family of Secrets and came to see that the origins go much deeper. This backstory is getting almost no attention in the talking-heads debate over the Bush legacy. Yet it will continue to play, affecting our country and our lives, long after Bush leaves office.
A more profound explanation for the rise of George W. Bush came as I studied the concerted effort to convince the public that he was independent of, and often in disagreement with, his father. The reason for this, it turned out, was that exactly the opposite was true. W. may have been bumptious where his father was discreet, but in fact the son hewed closely to a playbook that guided his father and even his grandfather.
Over much of the last century, the Bushes have been serving the aims of a very narrow segment from within America's wealthiest interests and families -- typically through involvement in the most anti-New Deal investment banking circles, in the creation of a civilian intelligence service after World War II, and in some of that service's most secretive and still-unacknowledged operations.
Through declassified documents and interviews, I unearthed evidence that George W. Bush's father, the 41st president of the United States, had been working for the intelligence services no less than two decades before he was named CIA director in 1976. Time and again, Bush 41 and his allies have participated in clandestine operations to force presidents to do the bidding of oil and other resource-extraction interests, military contractors and financiers. Whenever a president showed independence or sought reforms that threatened entrenched interests, this group helped to ensure that he was politically attacked and neutralized, or even removed from office, through one means or another.
We are not dealing here with what are commonly dismissed as "conspiracy theories." We are dealing with a reality that is much more subtle, layered and pervasive -- a matrix of power in which crude conspiracies are rarely necessary and in which the execution or subsequent cover-up of anti-democratic acts become practically a norm.
In 1953, 23 years before he became CIA director as a supposed neophyte, George H.W. Bush began preparing to launch an oil-exploration company called Zapata Offshore. His father, investment banker Prescott Bush, had just taken a Senate seat from Connecticut; and his father's close friend Allen Dulles had just taken over the CIA. A staff CIA officer, Thomas J. Devine, purportedly "resigned" to go into the oil business with young George.
Bush then began to travel around the world. His itineraries had little apparent relationship to his limited and perennially unprofitable business enterprises. But they do make sense if the object was intelligence work. When his company at last put a few oil rigs in place, they ended up in highly sensitive spots, such as just off Castro's Cuba before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
As part of his travels, Bush senior even appeared in Dallas on the morning of the Kennedy assassination, although he would famously claim that he could not recall where he was at that historic moment. After leaving the city, he called the FBI with a false tip about a possible assassin, pointedly emphasizing that he was calling from outside Dallas. It is also intriguing to learn that an old friend of Bush's, a White Russian émigré with intelligence connections, shepherded Lee Harvey Oswald upon his return to America in the year preceding the assassination. In any event, when Lyndon Johnson replaced Kennedy, the oilmen and the intelligence-military establishment once again had a friend in the White House.
The pattern continued. New evidence suggests that Bush senior and his associates in the intelligence services, far from being the loyalists to Richard Nixon they claimed to be, had turned on the 35th president early in his administration, unceasingly working to weaken and eventually force him out. These efforts culminated in what appears to have been a deliberately botched Watergate office burglary -- led by former CIA officers.
Ironically, Nixon's career had been launched with the quiet backing of Wall Street finance figures upset with the man Nixon would defeat, a leading congressional supporter of banking reform, and Prescott Bush himself had played a key role. Yet, when Nixon finally achieved the presidency, he became surprisingly resistant to pressure from the very power centers that had helped him get to the top. He turned a deaf ear to the demands of the oil industry, battled with the CIA and cut the Pentagon out of the loop as he (and his aide Henry Kissinger) negotiated secretly with Moscow and Beijing.
These acts estranged Nixon from those who felt he had betrayed his sponsors -- men who had the means to do him in. Bush senior, it turns out, was closely allied with the surprising number of White House officials with covert ties to the intelligence service that surrounded Nixon. Through it all, Bush senior would routinely claim to be "out of the loop," as he would later pretend during the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan era, although we know that as vice president he was at the center of that and other abuses of power.
None of this let up after Nixon was forced to resign. His pliant successor, Gerald Ford, brought in young staffers named Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and the two participated in the so-called Halloween massacre, which saw the administration veer in a far-right direction on foreign policy, a development that paved the way for the appointment of Bush senior as CIA director. This happened just as Congress was launched into the deepest investigation ever of intelligence abuses, and public voices were clamoring to reopen official inquiries into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, his brother, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Then came Jimmy Carter, whose plans to reform the CIA were an echo of JFK's intent to scatter the CIA to the winds after the ruinous Bay of Pigs invasion. When Carter defeated Ford, ousted Bush from the CIA helm and sought to bring the intelligence juggernaut under control, he ended up deeply compromised by complex financial shenanigans orchestrated by figures from the same intelligence circles -- and undermined by the crisis with Iran, exacerbated by covert dissident CIA elements tied to Bush. Carter was a one-term president, defeated by a ticket with none other than George H.W. Bush, backed by a phalanx of CIA officers, as vice president. And then Bush senior became president himself.
Bill Clinton apparently grasped the pattern. He cultivated a friendly relationship with the elder Bush and instituted virtually no significant reforms in, or issued challenges to, either the intelligence or military establishments.
All this is relevant today because the furtive forces and pressures that haunted, and ultimately dominated, these past presidents have not abated.
Indeed, what the presidency of George W. Bush truly represented was the unfettered, most reckless manifestation of the objectives this group has pursued for many decades. In Bush 43's trademark pattern of showing the old man how it's done, the son was bringing virtually into the open the kinds of things his father preferred pursued sub-rosa. But behind the different façade it was the same game all over again.
The dirty tricks of Karl Rove, who got his first job under Bush 41 at the Republican Party during Watergate; the use of the Supreme Court to force an election their way; an early move to suppress the records of prior presidencies; the maniacal secrecy of Vice President Cheney; the false rationale used to justify the seizure of Iraqi oil reserves through invasion; the clampdown on dissent and the unauthorized domestic eavesdropping, the efforts to smear independent voices like Joseph Wilson (the husband of CIA officer Valerie Plame) and newsman Dan Rather; and last and perhaps most significant, the unleashing from government oversight of their friends and allies in finance and industry -- these and more emerged from the old dreams and methods of this anti-democratic culture.
Now, as a new president enters the White House promising reform, how much will he be able to achieve if his reforms step on the same big toes? We must begin to take seriously, and speak openly about, the true nature of the forces behind the Bush family enterprise. If we do not, we will find ourselves, several years from now, shaking our heads at new disaster, still unable to comprehend what has happened -- and why.
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.
This article, by Robert Reid, was published by the Aslciated Press, January 21, 2009
Iraq is willing to have the U.S. withdraw all its troops and assume security for the country before the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush, the spokesman of the Iraqi prime minister said.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made the comment Tuesday, a day before President Barack Obama and his senior commanders were to meet in Washington to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama promised during the campaign to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. The new president said in his inaugural address Tuesday that he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."
The government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah reported Wednesday that Iraqi authorities have drafted contingency plans in case Obama orders a "sudden" withdrawal of all forces and not just combat troops.
Al-Dabbagh told Associated Press Television News that Iraqis had been worried about a quick U.S. departure.
But with the emphasis on a responsible withdrawal, al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government was willing for the U.S. to leave "even before the end of 2011." The Bush administration agreed in a security agreement signed in November to remove all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
The chairman of parliament's defense committee, Abbas al-Bayati, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Iraqis hoped Obama would stick by the timeline laid the agreement.
"Nevertheless, we already have a 'Plan B,' which is that we have the ability to deploy any needed troops to any hot area in Iraq," al-Bayati said. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country and we believe we have passed the worst" despite a lack of air and artillery power.
The war has left many Iraqis conflicted - anxious to see the Americans leave but fearful of the future if they depart too soon. Distrust of rival sectarian and ethnic groups still runs deep, along with doubts about Iraq's political leadership.
Across this war-shattered country, many Iraqis watched the transfer of power in Washington on Arab satellite television stations. Many of them expressed hope that the departure of the president who launched the Iraq war in 2003 would speed the return of peace.
"I think that the U.S. image and policies will improve because Obama will try to avoid the awful mistakes committed by Bush," said Ripwar Karim, 26, a Kurdish merchant who watched the inauguration in a cafe in Sulaimaniyah.
Several others in the cafe cheered when Obama appeared on the TV screen but gave a "thumbs-down" sign when the camera honed in on Bush.
"Bush was as a nightmare on the chests of the Iraqis for the last eight years," said Ahmed Salih, an engineer in Fallujah. "Today we got rid of a problem that lasted eight years. Bush divided Iraq instead of uniting it. He proclaimed democracy but we haven't seen it."
U.S. officials are carefully watching the Jan. 31 provincial elections in Iraq as a sign of whether the country is moving sectarian and ethnic conflicts from the battlefield to the ballot box.
Violence is down sharply but attacks still continue.
A car bomb exploded Wednesday near the convoy of Sunni politician and educator Ziyad al-Ani, killing three people and wounding five, police said. Al-Ani escaped injury, they said.
A roadside bomb also exploded early Wednesday in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one civilian and wounding another, police Col. Baldar Shukir said.
A blast late Tuesday killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another in Baghdad, police in the capital said.
WASHINGTON — President Obama gave his national security team on Wednesday a new mission to end the war in Iraq, nearly six years after United States-led forces invaded, but he held off ordering a troop withdrawal right away to hear concerns and options from his military commanders.
On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama summoned senior civilian and uniformed officials to the White House to begin fulfilling his campaign promise to pull combat forces out of Iraq in 16 months. Among those meeting with Mr. Obama was Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of American forces in the Middle East, who had not seen him since the Nov. 4 election.
“I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement after the meeting. He added that he planned to “undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region.”
While the economy has overtaken Iraq on Mr. Obama’s agenda, his opposition to the war was the original foundation of his presidential race, and ending it stands as perhaps the most salient test of his commitment to his campaign promises. Yet fulfilling his pledge also could put him at odds from the start with generals who worry that acting too quickly may jeopardize the progress achieved since President Bush sent in more forces and General Petraeus revamped the strategy two years ago.
The meeting on Wednesday served mainly to brief Mr. Obama on the state of affairs in Iraq. He heard from Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of forces in Iraq, who participated by secure videoconference from Baghdad, and the departing United States ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker. The session did not focus on specific withdrawal proposals but instead featured a broad discussion of the political climate and security situation, according to senior officials.
Among the topics were the challenges as Iraq moves through a series of critical elections this year and the required changes to the location, size and mission of the American military force under a new agreement between Washington and Baghdad, the officials said. General Petraeus also weighed in on the regional implications of Iraq.
Military planners have prepared a series of possible withdrawal plans that, in the words of one official, “range from conservative to aggressive.” One of them matches the president’s 16-month timetable, although Mr. Obama always envisioned a substantial “residual force” remaining beyond that to train Iraqi forces and hunt terrorist cells.
Senior officials said another proposal for a more gradual withdrawal was drawn up to meet the terms of the agreement recently sealed by Mr. Bush and Iraqi officials, which requires the United States to pull combat forces out of Iraqi cities by June and to withdraw all troops from the country by the end of 2011.
General Odierno initially favored withdrawing just 2 of the remaining 14 combat brigades by summer or fall, and military planners drew up a faster option only in recent weeks, on the assumption Mr. Obama would ask for it. But a number of senior officers have warned about the risks of a rapid withdrawal, military officials said.
Since the election, Mr. Obama has reaffirmed his intention to end the war, while leaving room to rethink the details by saying he would listen to his commanders before issuing any orders. In his Inaugural Address on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said, “We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people.”
Aides said he was taking a cautious approach to make sure that his promise would be executed effectively and safely for the troops. “This will start a planning process,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said before the meeting.
Some opponents of the war said they intended to hold Mr. Obama to his campaign promise. “I take him at his word,” said Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, a group opposing the Iraq conflict. “He could not have been clearer as a candidate. There’s no reason for me to believe he will not fulfill that campaign pledge of 16 months.”
At the same time, some veterans of the Bush White House warned against making precipitous moves, or even changing the mission. Peter D. Feaver, a national security aide to Mr. Bush, said a key to the turnaround in Iraq in the past two years was the decision to redefine the mission, focusing it on protecting the civilian population.|
“It may sound like an easy thing to do, and it is certainly the president’s call,” said Mr. Feaver, now a professor at Duke University. “But there are risks associated with changing the mission, so it shouldn’t be done lightly.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama and his advisers said it was important to signal a commitment from his presidency’s inception. On the campaign trail last summer, Mr. Obama said, “My first day in office, I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war responsibly and deliberately but decisively.”
In fact, he did not call in the Joint Chiefs, but he did invite their chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser; Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; and other top advisers. Hillary Rodham Clinton was not confirmed as secretary of state until after the meeting got under way.
Officials said Mr. Obama would meet in the coming days with the rest of the Joint Chiefs, who include the heads of all four services.
This article, by John Nichols, was published in The Nation, January 21, 2009.
Apparently Barack Obama took his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" a tad more seriously than did his predecessor.
Lawyers for the United States government -- the one now led by Obama -- acted even as the inaugural celebrations were going on to halt the Guantánamo Bay military commission trials.
Obama, in one of his first official acts, ordered a suspension of the trials, which had been adjourned in anticipation of the transition of authority from former President George Bush to his successor.
The motion filed by Obama's lawyers called for a 120-day moratorium on legal proceedings so that "the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration that initiated the controversial trials, joined in the motion.
The order to halt to the tribunals was issed "in the interests of justice," according to the official request to the military judges.
"The suspension of military commissions so soon after President Obama took office is an indication of the sense of urgency he feels about reversing the destructive course that the previous administration was taking in fighting terrorism," declared Gabor Rona, the international director of Human Rights First.
Obama must, of course, do much more in the interest of justice. "It's a great first step but it is only a first step," notes Rona. "It will permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration to undertake a thorough review of both the pending cases and the military commissions process generally."
But Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has represented Guantánamo suspects told BBC Radio 4: "It's going to take some work but what he [Obama] is looking at I think here is a very clear-cut distinction between this administration and the last."
That would seem to be a fair assessment of the moment, and the beginning of definition of change we can believe in.
Today, for one day, let us all focus on the triumph of our liberal democracy to successfully navigate through another election that significantly changed the political philosophy of those who represent us in Washington, DC.
Our Nation survived eight years of increased unitary government, where the executive usurps power from the people, legislature, and courts.
For the 56th time, we the people shall peacefully transfer executive leadership. Our legislative branch was pruned, too, as 14 new Senators and 65 new Representatives were chosen (some in elections, and some to fill vacancies) to serve us in Washington. This represents a rare 15 percent turnover of our 535 elected officials on the Hill - the highest in the past 40 years. We expect less of a unitary government and the folly of pre-emptive war, and more checks and balances where Congress decides issues regading war and peace.
Yes, this Inauguration Day is made even more precious and poignant as our Nation now fights two wars and nearly 300,000 troops are deployed overseas.
Before we rush to congratulate ourselves and take our fragile liberties for granted, let's take a moment to thank our Nation's founders, including Thomas Paine, who declared, "For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."
VCS thanks Mr. Paine for his wisdom. We, too, have been fighting for the rule of law that remains one of the most essential components of evolutionary political thought since the Dark Ages. Paine celebrates what would have been his 272nd birthday on January 29.
When all is said and done, VCS hopes January 20, 2009, marks the start of a return to the rule of law Paine so eloquently praised. Obviously, we will closely monitor the work of all three branches of our government as it restores habeas corpus, ends barbaric torture, and ends illegal domestic spying.
Veterans for Common Sense looks forward with hope to the significant challenges and fresh opportunities available to the incoming Obama Administration and the 111th Congress. We temper our expectation with the knowledge that we are fighting two wars during a deep economic recession exacerbated by those wars.
The "War Crimes Times," was officially launched Saturday, January 17, at an action in Washington, DC. At 11:30 AM, Saturday, January 17th, at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, activists surprised and delighted tourists as they distributed the Inaugural Issue and displayed a huge banner saying:
“ARREST BUSH AND CHENEY CORPORATE MEDIA: PARTNERS IN CRIME? READ WarCrimesTimes.org”
Tarak Kauff, former army paratrooper and coordinator of the action, told reporters,“The Newseum, the showpiece home of the corporate media, was chosen as the initial distribution point of the War Crimes Times to highlight the mass media's negligence. The WCT is a newspaper created to fill the void left by the corporate media’s failure to report the Bush Administration’s numerous and severe war crimes. The pre-inauguration timing and Washington DC location were also chosen to demand that the Obama Administration vigorously and unconditionally prosecute Bush and all members of his administration responsible for these crimes.”
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jan. 19 -- On the eve of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, military commission proceedings lumbered forward against five men accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and, separately, against a Canadian charged with killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. But with the president-elect having promised to close down the detention facility here, the military base was infused with a sense that this legal process is doomed.
Both the prosecution and defense had sought a delay, which was denied, and government officials here are expecting an order down the chain of command shortly after the inauguration telling them to halt proceedings, sources said.
Judge Stephen R. Henley, an Army colonel, intimated several times Monday that the rulings he issued or the matters under discussion in a series of pretrial motions might well be moot.
"If later sessions are scheduled," Henley said, addressing one legal matter. Later he referred to "the next session -- should it occur." He also said, "It will be scheduled -- if at all -- in the future."
"You get a sense from the judge's statements that the commissions are going to stop very soon," said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, military counsel for Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a Saudi national accused of war crimes and murder for his alleged role in the 9/11 attacks.
Obama has not detailed a process to shut down the detention center, but defense attorneys here anticipate that he will suspend proceedings before laying out a plan to deal with the roughly 245 detainees who remain imprisoned. Some detainees are likely to be returned home, others resettled in third countries, and an unknown number transferred to federal courts or military courts-martial for prosecution.
At the 9/11 hearing Monday, the defendants gave no indication that they were aware of any pending decision by Obama. But the proceeding was again marked by interjections from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who asserted responsibility for organizing the attacks, as he has in the past, but with an apparent dig at his ostensible boss.
"I am the mastermind of 9/11, not Osama bin Laden," Mohammed said during argument over whether the case needed to be re-arraigned because of a technical error by Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official charged with deciding who goes to trial at Guantanamo. The judge ruled that the case could go forward despite the error.
Mohammed also waved a copy of The Washington Post containing an article by Bob Woodward in which Crawford said another detainee was tortured at Guantanamo Bay. The matter arose during a discussion about an order signed by the judge to protect classified information, which the defense said was too broad.
One of the defense attorneys argued that the order would prevent them from discussing the article containing Crawford's statements or any public document that referred to the CIA or other intelligence agencies.
"Everybody knows this order was written by the CIA," Mohammed said. "Their true reason is to protect themselves against their own wrongdoing."
During the discussion, a civilian lawyer advising Mohammed noted that his daughter lives in Iran and has tuberculosis. He said the order prevented his passing information to Iran that Mohammed had provided about his family's medical history because defendants' statements are presumptively classified. The judge said he might amend the order.
Relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks attended proceedings for the second time, and some of them were struck by the minutiae that came up in court.
At one point, Mohammed disputed a claim by the prosecution that cushions were provided to the defendants to compensate for the time they spent sitting on hard benches in a van that takes them to court. "It's not true that they put cushions," Mohammed said.
"It's slow-going, but we're patient," said Jimmy Riches, a retired New York City firefighter, who carried the body of his son Jimmy, also a firefighter, from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Among the 779 people who have passed through Guantanamo, three have had trials. Riches said he had no objection to the Obama administration moving the proceeding to another court as long as a fair proceeding is followed by the death penalty for defendants who, he noted, have admitted they helped organize the attacks.
Not all relatives of 9/11 victims agreed. "Mr. Obama needs to reexamine his stance and he needs to keep these tribunals going," said Donald Arias, a retired Air Force officer who lost his brother Adam in the attack on New York.
Another of the defendants, Ramzi Binalshibh, said in court Monday: "We are proud of 9/11."
Obama's administration will face a thicket of legal, logistical and diplomatic hurdles to achieve its aims, including deciding whether to halt the imminent trial of Omar Khadr, the Canadian, who was 15 when he was detained in Afghanistan. The administration is under pressure from rights groups not to allow the trial of someone who was a "child soldier" at the time of his capture.
If Khadr's trial goes ahead next Monday, the Obama administration will find it difficult if not impossible to transfer him to another legal forum because of double jeopardy, defense attorneys said.