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This interview, with National Security Adviser General James Jones, was published by Spiegel Online International, November 9, 2009
US National Security Adviser James L. Jones talks to SPIEGEL about his skepticism regarding calls for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the chances of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands and President Barack Obama's leadership style. SPIEGEL: General Jones, it's now 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Has the world become a safer place? James L. Jones: Tremendous accomplishments were made over a number of years to bring freedom and democracy to that portion of Europe that was left out of the drive. The events that took place 20 years ago meant for the whole of Europe much more peace and much more opportunity for the citizens that had lived on both sides of the wall. SPIEGEL: But it was not yet the "end of history," as the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama and many others predicted. What is the gravest threat to the American homeland today? Jones: I worry most about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in such a way that they could be acquired by non-governmental organizations, like terrorist groups, especially the radical groups that we know are trying to get these weapons. We're convinced that if they were to get them, they would use them. When a nation state has a nuclear weapon, it's a little bit easier to control the use of it, but for non-governmental groups it's much more difficult. We are obviously worried about North Korea and Iran, but the threat that's hardest to control is the non nation states, groups of individuals who could acquire such a weapon and what they would do. SPIEGEL: Do you assume that some terrorist groups are close to that goal? Jones: We're doing a good job nationally and internationally to make sure that we safeguard that eventuality from happening. SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world, given that the Taliban and al-Qaida are increasing their sphere of influence? Jones: Pakistan is certainly a point of strategic interest for us, for the alliance, and for much of the watching world because of the fact that they are nuclear -- they do have nuclear weapons, and they do have an ongoing insurgency. SPIEGEL: Is it possible that the civilian government and the armed forces could lose control over these nuclear weapons? Jones: It is something that we work on with the Pakistanis regularly. I've been assured that they're doing everything they can to make sure that these weapons are very tightly controlled and secured. SPIEGEL: And you think the generals are assessing the situation realistically? Jones: We are cooperating very closely. We hope that they are successful in combating their insurgencies because since 2006 this has become a real cancer on the border regions. SPIEGEL: The Obama administration is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is asking for additional troops. Jones: Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me. SPIEGEL: You would know. You're also a general and you were in Afghanistan from 2003 to almost 2007 ... Jones: ... and of course when I was there I asked for more troops. When we started in 2003, we had to develop a plan. So by definition, you have to ask for people. SPIEGEL: And now you support General McChrystal's demand for 40,000 additional troops? Jones: We are in the middle of a process with the president and all of his advisers in assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan. I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however. And what's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans. SPIEGEL: To President Hamid Karzai, who has just been reelected after a controversial election? Jones: To the Afghans. And we will put much more emphasis on battling corruption and putting competent and honest people in positions of authority. We will be working with our friends and allies to do that. SPIEGEL: When do you expect a final decision on McChrystal's request? Jones: It will be a decision made by all NATO members, not just the US president. As part of NATO we are one of 28 nations, and we are going to closely follow NATO's discussions of the McChrystal request. It's a NATO request of which the US will do a portion of it, but we think other countries will do their share as well. SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Germans? Jones: I think that will be for Germany to decide. Germany is the third largest troop contributing nation and it has been at the forefront of developing the Afghan National Police, which is something that Germany can do better than us, because they have the training base and the culture for that kind of police training. In the end NATO will decide as a whole who will be responsible for particular contributions. SPIEGEL: What is the goal in Afghanistan right now -- to win the war? Jones: Our definition of the goal has been to defeat, disrupt, and dismantle the al-Qaida network, which is the one that is the most significant threat to our homeland and to the European homeland. These are people that will stop at nothing. So we pay a lot of attention to where they are and what they're doing. We want those three D's, if you will, to make sure that they cannot come back to Afghanistan and reestablish a platform from which they can organize and equip themselves to do what they did several years ago. On that score, we're pretty successful in Afghanistan. SPIEGEL: But al-Qaida has not been destroyed. The terrorists are now operating from Pakistan. Jones: Unfortunately, there are some safe havens in Pakistan and it looks like the Pakistan army is seriously going after them. There are operations in Swat Valley and now in South Waziristan and we hope that they will continue. We intend to be of whatever help we can to ensure that they try to rid themselves of that cancer that exists between the two countries. SPIEGEL: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently expressed her disappointment in how the Pakistani government is fighting al-Qaida. Do you share her view? Jones: Well, if you had been here in March and asked me the question whether I'm more worried about Afghanistan or Pakistan, I would have said Pakistan because they had this policy of appeasement, which was flawed. I think they recognized it as well. Since March, they have done reasonably well in what they set out to do. We hope they have long-term objectives to go after all insurgents, not just theirs, but after the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida, and other groups. This is really going to continue to eat at the fabric of their country if they don't. SPIEGEL: In Afghanistan, you were not amused by the Karzai government. Now he's going to be the next president. How unhappy are you with having to deal with Karzai? Jones: I don't think it's a question of happiness. It's a question of legitimacy. We recognize the election was by far not perfect, but in the end, it's extremely important that the Afghans think they have a legitimate president. If the legitimacy is questioned, then that makes it difficult for allies to continue. SPIEGEL: What do you expect President Karzai to do? Jones: We hope from this election will emerge a partner that will do much better in the second five years in the areas of governance, rule of law, economic development and development with the Afghan Security Forces. But we also need a better plan with the allies to gradually turn over responsibility for the country to Afghan institutions and organizations in as short a time as possible. SPIEGEL: When will the US troops be withdrawn? Jones: I don't know when that will be. But I do know that our president and other leaders are very insistent on doing everything that we can to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later. That we can in fact, begin to turn over responsibility to the Afghans. We can't want this more than the Afghans. So, if they want the promise of a democratic society and peace and stability, better opportunities for their children, then this government and all of the governors have to do a much better job than they've done so far. SPIEGEL: Are the United States right now in some kind of negotiations with the Taliban? Jones: No. We've let this electoral process play itself out, and now we will reengage with the government once it's formed. And then we will seriously consider all issues to bring security and stability to Afghanistan, as well as reconciliation and reintegration. SPIEGEL: Afghanistan is famously referred to as the "graveyard of empires." Jones: I know and that's why I say we cannot solve the problems with only military forces. You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and the country will swallow them up as it has done in the past. There are many empires who tried to make Afghanistan a stable and different country, and there have always been neighbors which were not interested in a stable and centralized government. That's why I think it's not a US or European reconstruction program exclusively. We should encourage all of the neighbors to participate. SPIEGEL: Is it difficult to advise the president, Barack Obama? Jones: No, simply because he's a very good student of geopolitics. He understands strategy. He has a very inquisitive mind, and he prepares himself extremely well for all the meetings that he attends. You cannot come to his meetings without being prepared to say something because if you don't say anything, he will call on you. SPIEGEL: How does Obama react if somebody contradicts him? Jones: He actually encourages debate. He wants people to defend their positions. He is willing to listen. SPIEGEL: How do you define your job? Jones: The president can't do everything. So the role of the National Security Council is to identify the strategic issues that the president has to consider. You have to triage the issue, so that he tackles the really hard ones. Then you have to make sure that there's proper preparation of the issues before it gets to him. It starts with working groups, then the deputies of the inter-agency meet, and then the principals -- secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of treasury. I chair that group. And then when it's ready for the president, we have a full National Security Council meeting. And then people give their opinions around the table and then it gets to the point where eventually there's a decision. SPIEGEL: How has being in the White House changed your way of thinking? Are your ideas less like those of a general and more like those of a civilian now? Jones: As a matter of fact, the four years in NATO helped me do that quite a bit because NATO Secure is a political and military job as well. So for me it's not terribly difficult to leave the uniform behind and graduate over to this level, to this different way of looking at things. SPIEGEL: Being a military man, don't you miss having to make tough decisions quickly? Jones: It's more important to make good decisions. We have to ensure that the president is well served by the right process and that we stay at the strategic level. Where other White Houses have gotten in trouble sometimes is when the president gets down to the tactical level. For instance, I started my career in Vietnam when I was 23 years old, and even as a young lieutenant, I could see the influence of the White House in terms of what we were doing on the ground. If you let the president do that, then he's not staying at the level where he should. SPIEGEL: President Obama was elected one year ago. During the last year he has given many great speeches and delivered idealistic messages. Is he about to enter a new phase? Is it now time for delivery? Jones: I think that's right. The first year is your introductory year where you make your speeches, you present yourself, you present an image that you hope the country will embrace and achieve globally. Now the ideas are out there. The tasks are clear. The challenges are visible, and now you have to implement the ideas. SPIEGEL: General Jones, thank you very much for this interview.
This article, by M K Bhadrakumar, was published in the Asia Times, November 9, 2009
Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun.
For a fleeting hour or two, a question hung in the rapidly chilling autumn air in the Hindu Kush: did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speak last weekend at the behest of United States President Barack Obama or did he speak out of turn, as even experienced politicians are wont to? Then it went away. It really does not matter either way.
The damage has been done. Brown's speech on Afghanistan at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London on Friday was appalling in its content, timing and context. Perhaps, the indiscretion was deliberate. Politicians all over need to ventilate frustrations once in a while. Whenever cornered, they instinctively look for a scapegoat.
Things are not going well for the British troops deployed in Afghanistan. Ninety-three men have been killed this year - and, as Brown poignantly said, "That 93 is not just a number. Ninety-three families whose lives will never be the same again; 93 families without a dad, or a husband, a brother or son; 93 families this Christmas with a place at their table no one else will ever be able to fill."
A truly tragic situation, indeed. This tragedy was brought down on the British people by Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who should not have so enthusiastically volunteered for the war in 2001 when the George W Bush administration was contemplating the invasion of Afghanistan as one of the options to mitigate the anguish and anger the American people felt after the September 11 attacks. Of all countries in Europe, Britain knows Afghanistan best, after all. It is not the Falklands.
The British government is under pressure to explain the meaning of this war to a baffled public opinion. At the same time, paradoxically, the British establishment is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping against hope that Obama doesn't waffle.
Hanging onto the American coat-tails and keeping an open-ended presence in the heart of Asia bordering Iran, Central Asia, Xinjiang and Kashmir is critically important for Britain strategically to sustain its residual standing as a "global power" at the present transformational period in the world order, when the US is increasingly turning its attention to the East.
However, all this play still does not justify Brown's speech. Simply put, Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun. There is a long history behind contemporary Anglo-Afghan relations, which Afghans haven't forgotten. Two, Brown could have avoided the use of undiplomatic language - "Cronies and warlords should have no place in the future of a democratic Afghanistan." That's old-fashioned imperial language.
Three, Brown went far too "personal" - finger-pointing at President Hamid Karzai repeatedly by name. You don't finger-point at the president of a sovereign country. Four, Brown butted into a "no-go" zone - Karzai's appointments of cabinet ministers and provincial governors in his new government, having been re-elected for a second five-year term.
These appointments are central to the political contract in Kabul and it is extremely doubtful if Karzai is in a position to oblige Britain or any foreign power. At any rate, it is a bad idea for outside powers to arbitrate between Afghan groups and personalities during a cabinet formation.
The efficiency bar is never applied to power brokers in this part of the world. Look at India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the three biggest "democracies" in South Asia. Few technocrats or professionals hold ministerial posts in the governments in Delhi, Dhaka or Islamabad. There is a cultural context that cannot be overlooked. Ministerial positions are considered as sinecure positions in these countries. Often there is a need to ensure equilibrium between different interest groups by accommodating them in cabinet positions.
In this part of the world, no one asks uncomfortable questions as to whether the politicians holding ministerial posts are indeed worthy of their exalted status - whether they have had formal education or are intellectually endowed and can think through problems and issues or are professionally competent. It is simply assumed that they are where they are because of what they are as politicians.
Besides, according to the Afghan constitution, Karzai has to go to parliament and seek endorsements for his cabinet appointments - a criteria that is lacking in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. There is a power calculus at work in Kabul, one that cannot be micromanaged by Karzai.
Therefore, what Karzai can be expected to do is to appoint efficient civil servants to assist the political figures - "cronies and warlords" - who sit in his cabinet. On the contrary, what Western countries are trying to do is to impose on Karzai an English-speaking cabinet. Such an approach can only have one outcome, that is, a government that pulls in a dozen or more directions with no one in charge. That will be a sure recipe for greater inefficiency and corruption.
Therefore, Britain seems to be needlessly muddying the waters in the Afghan leader's difficult equations with the West, and this right on the eve of Obama's announcement of his new war strategy. What the calculation behind this could be is hard to tell. If any North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country is singularly responsible for the deterioration of Karzai's equations with the West, it is Britain. And it all began as a scuffle over the appointment of provincial governors in Helmand and over the creation of the post of a viceroy for Lord Paddy Ashdown to browbeat Karzai, and it progressively widened into a rift that inveigled third parties.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry didn't even take a full day to rebuff the British leader's "instructions on the composition of Afghan governmental organs and the political policy of Afghanistan".
Now, what does London do? Is the British contingent in Helmand going to be withdrawn, which was precisely what Brown threatened he would do? Clearly, Karzai should be allowed to have a team of his choice in Kabul. He is entitled to it, just as is any occupant of No 10 Downing Street in London.
For argument's sake, what are Britain's choices today? If Karzai chooses his ways and policies and doesn't follow London's guidelines, will Britain remove him from power? Even assuming that Britain had such profound influence or clout, who would replace him? The three Afghan leaders in the succession chain would be Karzai's first and second vice presidents and the speaker of parliament. From the current lineup, Britain will have to settle for Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili or Younus Qanooni.
Thereby hangs a tale. It is yet to sink in that Karzai's victory signifies a turning point in Afghan politics. He rubbished the shenanigans in the Western political armory. Karzai's appearance on the victory rostrum in front of the Western media, flanked by Fahim and Khalili, said it all. If the West has not grasped the meaning of it, then it has lost its way completely.
Secondly, a splendid occasion is at hand to gracefully "legitimize" Karzai II, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested last week in an interview with the New York Times. Kouchner pointed out that Western political experts who knew nothing about Afghanistan detected fraud by sampling ballots. "This is science. But politics is not science. It's the common touch," he said.
Kouchner obviously desires a good working relationship with Karzai's government. France has deployed a 3,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. That is a sensible approach. Of all Western statesmen today who articulate on Afghanistan, Kouchner has a special claim to offer advice. He knows Afghanistan. He was a participant in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, living and working inside Afghanistan as a young doctor assisting the mujahideen.
Equally, Kouchner underlined that NATO is in a virtual quagmire in Afghanistan. He asked with biting sarcasm, "What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem. We [NATO] need to talk to one another as allies."
The West should propose to Karzai to seek help from all available quarters, especially from regional powers and other regional security bodies that are wiling to cooperate. At the present stage, as a reconciliation process with the Taliban is about to commence, the attempt should be to lend credence to Karzai's standing as far as possible, but at any rate not to discredit it for whatever reason. Karzai is not the enemy. He still prefers to be on the side of the Western alliance. Allow him to continue to the extent he can while navigating his way in a political arena of immense complexity.
It is not in the interests of Afghanistan's stabilization that a cabal of foreign countries - the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - continues to hold the strings of conflict-resolution. Clearly, this is not the time for Britain's "great game" maneuverings in pursuit of its lost glory as a world power. The best bet for NATO is to get behind Karzai as quickly as possible.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
This article by Devlin Barrett andf Pamela Hess, was posted to Yahoo News, August 24, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared anew — as the president has repeatedly — that on the subject of detainee interrogation he "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush tactics. They took pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
Attorney General Holder said he had chosen a veteran prosecutor to determine whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appointed by President Bush in 2006, expressed dismay by the prospect of prosecutions for CIA officers. He noted that career prosecutors have already reviewed and declined to prosecute the alleged abuses.
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report by the CIA's inspector general said they went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.
"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be done," one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
The report concluded the CIA used "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices in questioning "high-value" terror suspects.
Monday's documents represent the largest single release of information about the Bush administration's once-secret system of capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in overseas prisons.
White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future cases they would more carefully check to make sure such suspects are not tortured.
In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri's mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.
The interrogator denied making a direct threat.
Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your children,'" one veteran officer said in the report.
Death threats violate anti-torture laws.
In another instance, an interrogator pinched the carotid artery of a detainee until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times. The interrogator, a CIA debriefer accustomed to questioning willing subjects, said he had only recently been trained to conduct interrogations.
Top Republican senators said they were troubled by the decision to begin a new investigation, which they said could weaken U.S. intelligence efforts. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the revelations showed the Bush administration went down a "dark road of excusing torture."
Investigators credited the detention-and-interrogation program for developing intelligence that prevented multiple attacks against Americans. One CIA operative interviewed for the report said the program thwarted al-Qaida plots to attack the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, derail trains, blow up gas stations and cut the suspension line of a bridge.
"In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective," investigators wrote, backing an argument by former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that the program saved lives.
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether so-called "enhanced interrogation" tactics contributed to that success. Those tactics include waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says is torture. Measuring the success of such interrogation is "a more subjective process and not without some concern," the report said.
The report describes at least one mock execution, which would also violate U.S. anti-torture laws. To terrify one detainee, interrogators pretended to execute the prisoner in a nearby room. A senior officer said it was a transparent ruse that yielded no benefit.
As the report was released, Attorney General Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in the handling of suspects.
The administration also announced Monday that all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual. The manual, last updated in September 2006, prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
Formation of the new interrogation unit for "high-value" detainees does not mean the CIA is out of the business of questioning terror suspects, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing president on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group" and will be located at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would be significantly broader than under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
Obama campaigned vigorously against Bush administration interrogation practices in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't particularly favor prosecuting officials in connection with instances of prisoner abuse.
Burton said Holder "ultimately is going to make the decisions."
CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail message to agency employees Monday that he intended "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too," he said.
Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one CIA employee — contractor David Passaro_ has been prosecuted for detainee abuse.
This article, by Mark Benjamin, was posted to Salon, Februuary 24, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to move forward with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration. Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Salon Tuesday that his panel would soon announce a hearing to study various commission plans. His staff said the announcement could come as early as Wednesday.
While Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers and North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones drafted a bill to create a commission to review abuse of war powers during the Bush administration, Leahy's Senate commission would represent the first concrete steps forward toward a broad review of U.S. torture since 9/11.
Spearheading Senate efforts to establish a torture commission is Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can't yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, "I am convinced it is going to happen." In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. "Stay on this," he said. "This is going to be big."
Whitehouse admitted he had not discussed the plan yet with President Obama, who has been notably wishy-washy on the notion since taking office. On the one hand, Obama has consistently said that "my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture." Yet on the other hand, he has insisted that "nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen; but that generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards."
According to Whitehouse, current politics dictate that Congress should take the lead on establishing a torture commission. "When you look at the economic meltdown that [Obama] was left by the Bush administration, you can see why he would want to reassure the American public that he is out there looking at these problems and trying to solve them and not focusing on the sins of the past," he said.
Whitehouse, however, predicted that Obama would not object to a torture commission moving forward in Congress. Besides, he said, "When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don't need the executive branch's approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter."
Plans to establish the commission still remain in their infancy, as senators and staff look at previous panels, such as the 9-11 Commission, and investigations following Watergate. Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, noted that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis. The prospect of future prosecutions, he said, are beside the point. Most important was putting a spotlight on abuses committed by the Bush administration.
"We have this American government, which has an architecture and a shape and a system that drives it and constrains it and that keeps it honest," he said. "And what happened is that the Bush administration figured out a lot of ways to tunnel through the walls and sneak over the fences. So now we need to go back and say, 'We have got to plant those walls deeper so you can not tunnel under them.' We've got to spotlight how they did it," Whitehouse explained. "The ultimate goal in this is to protect and enhance American democracy."
Last week, retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, known for conducting an honest investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, discussed his support for such a commission in an exclusive interview with Salon. Taguba joined a group of former high-level diplomats and law enforcement officials who also announced their support for a torture commission late last week, along with 18 rights groups.
During that interview, Taguba stated that any review must include close analysis of claims from Bush administration officials that abusive interrogations worked. "Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices," Taguba said. "What would they know?"
Whitehouse agreed, and depicted as ironic the fact that some members of the intelligence community saw themselves as "the Lance Armstrongs of interrogation," while some members of the military objected to abuse as ineffective. "In fact, the exact opposite was true," Whitehouse said about such claims from the CIA."It was amateur hour with them, and the career, tough, serious military interrogators said that this just was not effective," he said. "But it is important to prove the point, because they keep saying, 'We saved lives. We interrupted plans. We did this, that and the other.'" Whitehouse added, "Well, when you drill down, there is never a fact there. It turns into fog and evasion."
This article, by Pamela Hess, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions, according to a report for President Barack Obama, who has ordered the terrorist detention center closed within a year.
The report recommended some changes, including an increase in group recreation for some of the camp’s more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not officially been released.
Some of the hard-core prisoners are not currently allowed to meet with other prisoners for prayer or socialization and are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the prisoners who could be affected by the change. Prolonged social isolation has been known to harm mental health among prisoners.
The 85-page report by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Navy’s second in command, was written in response to Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
As a presidential candidate, Obama criticized the detention center that human rights groups and many in the international community widely condemned for harsh treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration. The military has defended its actions, saying prisoners have been treated humanely since the center was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The report found the camp to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, the international rules that require the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, like the war on terrorism. The camp’s controversial force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes was also found to be compliant with the Geneva guidelines, a second government official confirmed.
Last month, the military judge in charge of deciding whether to charge Guantanamo detainees with crimes told The Washington Post at least one of the prisoners was tortured in 2002 and 2003, alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani.
About 800 prisoners have been held there, many for years and nearly all without criminal charges. There are now around 250, including 17 from China who the United States wants to set free but cannot return to China for fear they will be tortured by the government.
Guantanamo was selected for legal reasons: as a military base, it is sovereign U.S. territory but, according to Bush administration lawyers, was outside the scope of the Constitution. That would allow prisoners to be prosecuted for war crimes using evidence that would be difficult to use in the U.S. civilian court system.
This article, by Robert Burns, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 23, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces split opinions within the military on whether to make the speedy withdrawal from Iraq he championed on the campaign trail.
Obama’s top generals in Baghdad are pressing for an elongated timetable, while some influential senior advisers inside the Pentagon are more amenable to a quicker pullout.
Although Obama has yet to decide the matter, his announcement last week that he’s sending thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan implies a drawdown of at least two brigades from Iraq by summer.
But that does not answer the question that has been dangling over Iraq since he took office in January: Will Obama stick to his stated goal of a 16-month pullout or opt for a slower, less risky approac
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Baghdad, favors a longer timetable for leaving Iraq. He sees 2009 as a pivotal year, with parliamentary elections set to be held in December; he doesn’t want to lose more than two of the 14 combat brigades that are now in Iraq before the end of the year. And he believes the U.S. military will need to remain engaged in Iraq, to some degree, for years to come.
Odierno’s boss at U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, leans toward Odierno’s view.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has steered clear of the debate over withdrawing from Iraq, but he sees his battlefield as an increasingly urgent priority — not just for additional combat troops but also for Iraq-focused surveillance aircraft and more civilian support.
There are now about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, compared with 38,000 in Afghanistan. Obama has directed 17,000 more to head to Afghanistan, including Marines and soldiers who had been in line for Iraq duty.
At the Pentagon, a more mixed view prevails. The uniformed service chiefs see Iraq as a strain on their troops and, more broadly, a drain on their resources. The Marines, in particular, are in the tough position of having a foothold in both major U.S. wars — Iraq and Afghanistan. As a relatively small service, they would prefer to concentrate more fully on Afghanistan, if only they could get out of Iraq.
Neither Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said publicly whether he supports a 16-month withdrawal timeline. But they have their own perspective — an obligation to consider the full spectrum of threats and potential threats to U.S. national security.
“There’s a very clear understanding of what is at stake here,” Mullen said Feb. 10.
“And it’s very natural for Gen. Odierno to want to go slower and to hang onto capability as long as possible,” he added. “That’s not unusual. It’s very natural for Gen. McKiernan to say, ‘I need more.’ And so that’s the tension. We don’t have an infinite pot (of resources and deployable forces). We have to make hard decisions about where to accept risk.”
In internal discussions, the emphasis appears to be on getting out responsibly rather than quickly, several officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.
Obama must weigh an array of hard-to-figure tradeoffs in security and politics. And he must reconcile his conviction that the combat phase of U.S. involvement in Iraq must end with his commanders’ concern in Baghdad that hard-fought gains could be squandered.
It boils down to this: How much more effort is the Iraq war worth? What is the risk of leaving too soon?
Is the 16-month timetable too short, given the uncertain state of stability and political reconciliation in Iraq and the potential cost of seeing the country slide back into widespread sectarian war?
And is anything substantially beyond 16 months too long, given the call for still more troops in Afghanistan, where Obama himself has said the battle against extremists is going in the wrong direction?
Obama is still considering his options, which officials say includes a less hurried, 23-month withdrawal. The deadline he inherited from the Bush administration is Dec. 31, 2011, the date set in a security agreement with Baghdad that says all U.S. troops, not just combat forces, must be gone by then.
One clue to some of the thinking inside the White House might lie with the views of Obama’s national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones. Jones co-chaired a study published in January 2008 on the way ahead in Afghanistan. The group endorsed the idea of providing more military support for Afghanistan, including resources that become available as combat forces are withdrawn from Iraq.
The president has an additional factor to weigh: the political cost of backing off the 16-month pullout timetable that was a prominent feature of his campaign. Although he has said he thinks 16 months is a reasonable timetable, he also has assured military leaders that he will consider their advice.
Notably absent, at least so far, is even a whiff of public pressure from fellow Democrats to stick to a 16-month timeline. That suggests Obama’s party might be satisfied so long as he makes early and clear steps in the direction of ending U.S. combat involvement in Iraq, even if on a somewhat longer timeline.
Obama campaigned for the White House on a promise that he would end the war and get U.S. commanders moving immediately on a transition to Iraqi control of their own security. He said military experts believe combat troops can be pulled out safely at a rate of one to two brigades a month, meaning all 14 combat brigades there now could be gone within 16 months, which equates to mid-2010.
Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who was the executive officer for Petraeus when the general was in Baghdad overseeing the “surge” of U.S. forces in 2007-08, said he thinks it likely that Obama will pull at least four combat brigades out of Iraq by the end of this year. But he hopes the president does not insist on getting all 14 brigades out within 16 months.
“If the president orders it, the military can do it, but whether it’s advisable or not is a different story,” he said in a telephone interview. “Quite frankly, I don’t think it is, given the risk you would incur to potentially upsetting the political situation” inside Iraq.
This article, by James Glanz, C. J. Chivers and William Rashbaum, was published by the New York Times, February 15, 2009
Federal authorities examining the early, chaotic days of the $125 billion American-led effort to rebuild Iraq have significantly broadened their inquiry to include senior American military officers who oversaw the program, according to interviews with senior government officials and court documents.
Court records show that last month investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when the small operation grew into a frenzied attempt to remake the country’s broken infrastructure. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, according to two federal officials involved in the inquiry.
It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, and both said they had nothing to hide from investigators. Yet officials say that several criminal cases over the past few years point to widespread corruption in the operation the men helped to run. As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004.
Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said.
Mr. Stoffel, who gave investigators information about the office where Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle worked, was deemed credible enough that he was granted limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his information, according to government documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials and Mr. Stoffel’s lawyer, John H. Quinn Jr. There is no evidence that his death was related to his allegations of corruption.
Prosecutors have won 35 convictions on cases related to reconstruction in Iraq, yet most of them involved private contractors or midlevel officials. The current inquiry is aiming at higher-level officials, according to investigators involved in the case, and is also trying to determine if there are connections between those officials and figures in the other cases. Although Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle were military officers, they worked in a civilian contracting office.
“These long-running investigations continue to mature and expand, embracing a wider array of potential suspects,” a federal investigator said.
The reconstruction effort, intended to improve services and convince Iraqis of American good will, largely managed to do neither. The wider investigation raises the question of whether American corruption was a primary factor in damaging an effort whose failures have been ascribed to poor planning and unforeseen violence.
The investigations, which are being conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Justice Department, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and other federal agencies, cover a period when millions of dollars in cash, often in stacks of shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills, were dispensed from a loosely guarded safe in the basement of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.
Former American officials describe payments to local contractors from huge sums of cash dumped onto tables and stuffed into sacks as if it were Halloween candy.
“You had no oversight, chaos and breathtaking sums of money,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who helped create the Wartime Contracting Commission, an oversight board. “And over all of that was the notion that failure was O.K. It doesn’t get any better for criminals than that set of circumstances.”
In one case of graft from that period, Maj. John L. Cockerham of the Army pleaded guilty to accepting nearly $10 million in bribes as a contracting officer for the Iraq war and other military efforts from 2004 to 2007, when he was arrested. Major Cockerham’s wife has also pleaded guilty, as have several other contracting officers.
In Major Cockerham’s private notebooks, Colonel Bell is identified as a possible recipient of an enormous bribe as recently as 2006, the two senior federal officials said. It is unclear whether the bribe was actually offered or paid.
When asked if Major Cockerham had ever offered him a bribe, Colonel Bell said in a telephone interview, “I think we’ll end the discussion,” but stayed on the line. Colonel Bell’s response was equally terse when asked if he thought that Colonel Hirtle had carried out his duties properly: “No discussion on that at this time.”
The current focus on Colonel Bell is revealed in federal court papers filed in Georgia, where he has a residence and is trying to quash a subpoena of his bank records by the Special Inspector General. The papers, dated Jan. 27, indicate that Colonel Bell’s records were sought in connection with an investigation of bribery, kickbacks and fraud.
Colonel Bell said that he sought to quash the subpoena not because he had anything to hide, but because the document contained inaccuracies. “If they clean it up, I won’t have a problem,” he said, suggesting that he would cooperate. He declined to detail the inaccuracies, although his handwritten notations on the court papers indicated that the home address and the bank account number on the subpoena were incorrect.
Asked whether he knew why the records had been subpoenaed, he said, “That is not for me to direct what they’re going to do.”
Another case that has raised investigators’ suspicions about top contracting officials involves a company, variously known as American Logistics Services and Lee Dynamics International, that repeatedly won construction contracts for millions of dollars despite a dismal track record.
One contracting official committed suicide in 2006 a day after admitting to investigators that she had taken $225,000 in bribes to rig bids in favor of the company. At least two other former contracting officials in Iraq have admitted to taking bribes in the case and are cooperating with investigators. It is unknown what information they may have provided on Colonel Hirtle, a high-ranking contracting official in Baghdad. But Colonel Hirtle signed the company’s first major contract in Iraq in May 2004, a roughly $10 million deal to build arms warehouses for the fledgling Iraqi security forces, according to a copy of the contract and federal officials. The warehouses went largely unbuilt. Investigators said the inquiry into the Lee case was continuing.
“I can’t talk to any media right now, because I don’t know anything about this and I’ve got to do some research on it,” Colonel Hirtle said when reached by phone in California, before abruptly hanging up.
The next day, Colonel Hirtle said he had been “taken aback” by questions about an investigation involving himself. “I try to keep things as transparent and aboveboard as I can,” he said, referring questions to an Air Force public affairs office.
The Air Force referred questions to the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, where a spokesman, Christopher Grey, said the command “does not discuss or confirm the names of persons who may or may not be under investigation.”
An extraordinary element of the current investigation is a voice from beyond the grave: that of Mr. Stoffel, who died with a British associate, Joseph J. Wemple, in a burst of automatic gunfire on a dangerous highway north of Baghdad in December 2004 as he returned from a business meeting at a nearby military base.
A previously unknown Iraqi group claimed responsibility for the killings, which remain unsolved. The men may simply have been unlucky enough to be engulfed in the violence that was then just beginning to grip the country.
On May 20, 2004, a little more than a week after Colonel Hirtle signed the Lee company’s warehouse contract, Mr. Stoffel was granted limited immunity by the Special Inspector General for what amounted to a whistle-blower’s complaint. Copies of the immunity document were obtained from two former business associates of Mr. Stoffel.
The picture of corruption Mr. Stoffel painted, including the clandestine delivery of bribes, was “like a classic New York scenario,” said a former business associate.
“Fifty thousand dollars delivered in pizza boxes to secure contracts,” said the former associate, a consultant in the arms business with whom Mr. Stoffel sometimes worked in the former Eastern bloc. “Of course, it just looked like a pizza delivery.”
It was Mr. Stoffel’s experience with Eastern bloc weaponry that helped him win a contract to refurbish Iraq’s Soviet-era tanks as part of a program to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces. Mr. Stoffel’s company remains locked in a dispute over payments it says are owed by the Iraqi government.
His problems with American officials were what led him to make the accusations of corruption. Mr. Stoffel, the associate said, “was trying to do this as quietly as possible, to blow the whistle.”
“He knew enough about what was going on, and he was getting pretty frustrated.”
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 2, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (IPS) - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.
But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.
Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.
A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.
Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."
Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.
Gates and Mullen had discussed the relabeling scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, according to a Dec. 18 New York Times story.
Obama decided against making any public reference to his order to the military to draft a detailed 16-month combat troop withdrawal policy, apparently so that he can announce his decision only after consulting with his field commanders and the Pentagon.
The first clear indication of the intention of Petraeus, Odierno and their allies to try to get Obama to amend his decision came on Jan. 29 when the New York Times published an interview with Odierno, ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives".
The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly".
The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the Jan. 21 meeting when retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.
Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable".
The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.
Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.
The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.
If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.
That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petreaus and Odierno.
Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, Gen. George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge.
It was Keane who protected Petraeus's interests in ensuring the maximum number of troops in Iraq against the efforts by other military leaders to accelerate troop withdrawal in 2007 and 2008. As Bob Woodward reported in "The War Within", Keane persuaded President George W. Bush to override the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress of prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as well its impact on the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
Bush agreed in September 2007 to guarantee that Petraeus would have as many troops as he needed for as long as wanted, according to Woodward's account.
Keane had also prevailed on Gates in April 2008 to make Petraeus the new commander of CENTCOM. Keane argued that keeping Petraeus in the field was the best insurance against a Democratic administration reversing the Bush policy toward Iraq.
Keane had operated on the assumption that a Democratic president would probably not take the political risk of rejecting Petraeus's recommendation on the pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq. Woodward quotes Keane as telling Gates, "Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."
Obama told Petraeus in Baghdad last July that, if elected, he would regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus's obvious interest in maximising U.S. troop strength in Iraq, according to Time magazine's Joe Klein.
But judging from Petraeus's shock at Obama's Jan. 21 decision, he had not taken Obama's previous rejection of his arguments seriously. That miscalculation suggests that Petraeus had begun to accept Keane's assertion that a newly-elected Democratic president would not dare to override his policy recommendation on troops in Iraq.
This article, by Laila Al-Arian, was posted to Democratic Underground.com, February 6, 2009
How can a war that destroys a peoples’ country, kills over a million, and creates over four million refugees in a country of 30 million be said to be based on a desire to help people? And yet we have the nerve to call *them* terrorists.
U.S. soldiers have long been used by our nation’s leaders and war profiteers as pawns in the service or their plans. Not only are they sent to foreign lands to fight and die, but they are used in numerous public relations stunts. When people criticize a war, especially during the Bush/Cheney administration, our leaders pretend that our criticisms are directed at “the troops” rather than at the leaders who started the war. When Democratic Congresspersons threaten to withhold funds for continuation of the war, they are accused of withholding funds for the protection of “our troops”.
These claims are of course absurd. Criticism of a war is almost always directed at those who create and propagate it – not at those who fight in it. And nothing would protect our troops more than to end the war and send them home. Yet, those who have an interest in the continuation of war never miss an opportunity to slam a war’s opponents as being unpatriotic and against “our troops”.
My perspective on war
When I was very young, like the vast majority of Americans I bought into the idea that it was always a good and patriotic thing to fight in American wars. My liberal parents told me that our country was on the side of virtue and justice in every war it had fought in. Undoubtedly, that’s what they were taught in school – just as I was. But with the onset of the Vietnam War (when I was a teenager) they actually became active in protesting against it.
One thing that makes it difficult to assess justifications for war is that the true motivations are rarely if ever publicly announced, and there are usually multiple true motivations. Different historical accounts provide so many different reasons for wars.
That said, my ideas on valid justifications for war are very similar to the justifications provided by the United Nations. I believe that self-defense and the stopping of genocide (or something similar) are the only two valid justifications for war. As such, the more I read the more I have come to realize that so many of our wars were not justified, contrary to what I had been taught. At this time, our only wars that I believe to have been justified were the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, and the war to stop the genocide in Kosovo. A very many of them were motivated largely by the worst kinds of motives, including war profiteering, imperialism and racism.
Therefore, I no longer believe in a draft – for my country or any other. I used to believe in it because it made sense to me that if people want the privileges of citizenship they should be required to pay for those privileges in times of great danger to their country. After all, how can a country exist if it doesn’t have the power to defend itself in times of need? But since I realized the extent to which war has been abused by our nation’s leaders through much of our history, I have come to feel differently. If a country can’t persuade its citizens voluntarily to fight for it when necessary, then maybe that country shouldn’t exist.
In order for our nation’s war profiteers to be able to use our troops as pawns in their propaganda projects, they have to make them out to be so sacred that the least criticism of them, or even implied criticism, is seen as something akin to treason. Sometimes that is not very hard to do. For Americans who have been brought up to believe that the purpose of every American war is to protect them from a fate worse than death, it is easy to understand the unquestioned reverence they have for our troops. They believe that they are in great danger, and the only thing standing between them and a fate worse than death are our American soldiers.
So, our soldiers can be looked upon as heroes. Or, they can be looked upon as naïve pawns who obediently do what they’re told in the service of those who start wars for their own benefit. Or they can be looked upon as both at the same time. But who are they really?
The truth is that many of them really are heroes – exposing themselves to great risks for what they see as the defense of their country. What percentage of them falls into that category? I wouldn’t even hazard to guess. But undoubtedly, many are heroes and very naïve about what they are being used for at the same time. In my opinion, the most admirable ones are those who, like John Kerry, joined up with the intention of defending their country, but who kept their minds open enough to later turn against a very unjustified war, and who subsequently led anti-war efforts.
And what about the many atrocities that have been committed in so many of our wars, especially in our war against the Philippines, the Vietnam War, and the most recent war and occupation of Iraq? If our soldiers are heroes, then how do you explain all those atrocities? Well, I would say that in most large groups of people there will be a mixture of bad apples and good ones and everything in between. I’m a very non-judgmental person. I don’t judge people by the group they belong to, but as individuals – for the most part. I’m even willing to withhold judgment on individual Republicans until I know something about them individually. And there is a fair share of them in my family.
Variations in U.S. soldiers’ attitudes and behavior over time or other circumstances
Accounts of the behavior of U.S. soldiers during war time have varied greatly. This does not necessarily mean that the differing accounts are unreliable. It is very likely that soldier behavior varies greatly according to their training, leadership and other circumstances, all which vary greatly over time and even within specific time periods.
Retired Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall wrote in “Men against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War” that, based on his interviews with soldiers during World War II, only about 15% of them fired their guns at the enemy during combat. His conclusion from his interviews was that it was not fear, but rather humanity, that caused this low firing rate.
Marshall’s conclusions have since become very controversial, as much higher rates of firing were found during the Vietnam War. But even in that war, firing rates were found to be only around 80% – far short of the army ideal of 100%. And Marshall himself found much higher rates during the Vietnam War. So probably the differences were real, reflecting either differences in training or perhaps racial hatred as a factor during the Vietnam War.
Former U.S. Marine Tyler Boudreau, explains in an article in The Progressive, “To Kill or Not to Kill”, how his Marine training was meant to compensate for the U.S. military’s concerns over low firing rates. Referring to the Marshall studies, he says:
You can just imagine the military’s dismay upon getting this news… When I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1989, drill instructors conveyed the gory destruction of human bodies with genuine zest… To master one’s reluctance to take life, one must stop revering life so much… We trained ourselves with flair to gouge eyeballs from our enemies’ sockets and crush their skulls with the heels of our boots as they lay quivering on the ground. The higher a Marine could swing his leg up into the air and the deeper his heel sunk into the dirt… the more virile he began to feel.
I found this image of a lust to gouge out eyeballs, and to thrust bayonets into real bodies, very off-putting… It sounded un-Marine to me… Though we came out of our training determined to be very good Marines, I don’t think we were ever encouraged to think of ourselves as, or be, bloodthirsty. In my day, we prided ourselves, I thought, on cool professionalism that didn’t depend on hating an enemy.
The former Marine who wrote that e-mail was Daniel Ellsberg, the man who blew the whistle on the Vietnam War with his leak of the Pentagon Papers.
The problems posed in combating guerilla warfare by an occupied and repressed population
Boudreau had a change of heart during his service in the Iraq War:
In 2005, after 12 years of active service in the Marine Corps and with growing reservations about the war, I… resigned my commission. It struck me that, in our headlong pursuit to deliver freedom and democracy and to expel an oppressive regime and combat terrorism, we had inadvertently lost sight of the very people we’d been deployed to help.
Boudreau explains the specific problems that tend to occur during a guerilla war, especially one in which the people of the occupied country respond with hatred and ferocity to what they see as repression and imperialism:
Because the conflict was unconventional, and because our adversaries wore no uniforms and were indistinguishable from the local populace, we began to view all people with suspicion. The distinction between the lives we could revere and those we were compelled to dismiss suddenly became blurred. This was problematic amidst an operation in which gaining popular support, as a method to undermine insurgents, was the paramount task put forth…
As our frustration swelled, our operations shifted conspicuously from humanitarian to a fierce battle of will with the insurgents and, by definition, with the populace in which they concealed themselves. The more casualties we took, the heavier our hand became with the locals…
Speaking out against the Iraq War – “Winter Soldiers”
An article in The Nation, titled “Winter Soldiers Speak”, made this point more forcefully. Written by Laila Al-Arian, the article is taken from the accounts of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) at the March 2008 Winter Soldier summit in Silver Spring, Maryland:
Pfc. Clifton Hicks was given an order. Abu Ghraib had become a "free-fire zone," Hicks was told, and no "friendlies" or civilians remained in the area. "Game on. All weapons free," his captain said. Upon that command, Hicks's unit opened a furious fusillade, firing wildly into cars, at people scurrying for cover, at anything that moved. Sent in to survey the damage, Hicks found the area littered with human and animal corpses, including women and children, but he saw no military gear or weapons of any kind near the bodies. In the aftermath of the massacre, Hicks was told that his unit had killed 700-800 "enemy combatants." But he knew the dead were not terrorists or insurgents; they were innocent Iraqis. "I will agree to swear to that till the day I die," he said. "I didn't see one enemy on that operation."
Soldiers and marines at Winter Soldier described the frustration of routinely raiding the wrong homes and arresting the wrong people… "This is not an isolated incident," the testifiers uttered over and over… insisting that the atrocities they committed or witnessed were common….
While the Winter Soldiers offered a searing critique of the military's treatment of civilians, which they described as alternately inhumane and sadistic, they also empathized with fellow soldiers thrust into a chaotic urban theater where the lines between combatants and civilians are blurred. "It's criminal to put such patriotic Americans...in a situation where their morals are at odds with their survival instincts"…
But as much light as was shone on the situation by US veterans, it only begins to scratch the surface of what Iraqis have to put up with:
The Winter Soldier hearings also featured Iraqi testifiers like Salam Talib… Though Talib said he was encouraged to see so many US veterans describing their experiences in frank terms, the testimonies were not much of a revelation for him. "What the American soldiers are talking about is everyday life for Iraqis. They're not even talking about 10 percent of what's happening there" … "They are simply giving credibility to the stories that have been told over and over from Iraq by journalists, Iraqis and humanitarian organizations…
The stories that Talib refers to are the ones that the U.S. corporate news media refuses to cover. To do so would be embarrassing to our country, and what is worse (since the rest of the world already knows about these things) it would cause the American people to turn against the Iraq occupation even more than they already have.
The inherent contradictions of the Iraq War and occupation
Boudreau sums up his article by noting some of the inherent contradictions facing U.S. troops in Iraq:
Empathy and aggression do not go hand in hand… It is not possible to reduce one’s regard for an enemy’s life without reducing one’s regard for all life. And it is not possible to genuinely strive to help a people, to reach out to them, while simultaneously preparing to kill them. You cannot achieve excellence in both war and humanity at the same time.
As true as Boudreau’s statement is, it does not go to the root of the problem in our occupation of Iraq. He says that “It is not possible to genuinely strive to help a people while simultaneously preparing to kill them”. Well, yeah. But that statement totally ignores the most glaring fact about the Iraq War and occupation (and so many other U.S. wars as well): Its purpose was not genuine and its purpose was NOT to “help a people”. How can a war that destroys a peoples’ country, kills over a million, and creates over four million refugees in a country with a population of between 25 and 30 million be said to be based on a desire to help people? And yet we have the nerve to call them terrorists.
The hypocrisy is mind boggling. The purpose of this war was not to remove a threat to our country, not to fight terrorism and not to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. The purpose of the war was to enrich the profiteers who advocated it. Given that purpose, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why our troops were faced with the hatred and ferocious resistance that they encountered.