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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
By Courage to Resist. September 4, 2009 (updated regularly)
Consolidated and up-to-date list of easy action items
We have a lot of information about GI resistance and how to help objectors spread out over hundreds of pages on couragetoresist.org. However, sometimes folks just want to know what needs to be done and how to do it, including:
Cliff Cornell in currently jailed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Expected release: March 2010
Cliff traveled to Canada in 2005 to resist Iraq deployment. “I don’t want to be killing innocent people,” he explained at the time. He was deported from Canada in February 2009 and was convicted of desertion at Ft. Steward, Georgia in May. More information about Cliff.
Anthony Michael Anderson, PO Box 305, Fort Sill OK 73503-5305
Tony Anderson is currently jailed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Expected release: November 2009
Tony was sentenced to 14 months in the stockade for resisting Iraq deployment. “I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don’t regret following my conscience,” he said at his trial. More information about Tony.
Travis Bishop, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Travis is currently jailed near Fort Hood TX awaiting transfer to Fort Lewis WA.
Note that Travis is still in need of donations to cover his defense costs. Please see info below.
Expected release: July 2010
Travis, with the Army's 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to 12 months in the stockade for resisting deployment to Afghanistan. Travis explained that he had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for a conscience objector discharge until just before he was scheduled to deploy. Amnesty International has declared him to be a “prisoner of conscience”. More information about Travis. Also: freetravisbishop.wordpress.com
Leo Church, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Leo Church is currently jailed at Fort Lewis WA.
He is not a exactly a "war resister", but is deserving of support.
Expected release: May 2010
Leo is currently serving eight months for going AWOL in order to help his three young children who became homeless with their mother while he had been at basic and advanced initial training. More information about Leo. Also: freeleochurch.wordpress.com
Dustin Stevens is not currently in jail, but on restriction at Fort Bragg NC.
The correspondence limitations described below do not yet apply.
He has been charged with desertion and is facing possible court martial.
We recently helped expose the outrageous treatment of dozens of soldiers at Fort Bragg, NC with “Echo Platoon - Warehousing soldiers in the homeland” by Courage to Resist's Sarah Lazare and Dahr Jamail, Tom Dispatch. August 10, 2009. Now the most outspoken of the "Ft. Bragg 50" needs our support!
About directly corresponding with and supporting jailed military objectors
Know that your correspondence will be read and reviewed by the military; however, general political content is not usually a basis for censorship.
Do not send stamps, photos, magazines, newspapers, etc. Photocopied articles and photocopied photos, when accompanied by a personal letter, are usually OK.
You may send a money order (payable to the jailed resister). This money will be deposited into their “safe keeping” fund administered by the stockade. From this fund, they may purchase postage stamps (to write you back) and phone cards (to call family and friends).
You may send a book; however, you must order books from amazon.com (or bn.com) and have them shipped directly to the resister. Consider asking the jailed resister if they have any specific title requests, or general categories of interest (mystery, political history, sci-fi, etc.) prior to ordering.
2: Donate to resister defense funds
Courage to Resist has hosted many individual resister defense funds since 2006, including Army objectors Agustin Aguayo, Cliff Cornell, Robin Long, Ryan Jackson, Tony Anderson, and Victor Agosto. These funds have ensured that those courageous soldiers had civilian legal counsel and support while in jail.
The following individual resister efforts are in need of your support:
"To Commanding General - Free Army conscientious objector Dustin Stevens and end the illegal pre-trial punishment of Dustin Stevens and the Fort Bragg 50! ...These soldiers are subjected to many months of unjust and illegal punishment prior to their day in court. We respectfully request that the Army improve living conditions, reassign sadistic supervisors, end all informal punishments, and expedite resolution for these soldiers..."
"To Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada - I am writing from the U.S. to ask that you abide by the House of Commons resolution to create a program to allow war objectors, including U.S. resisters, to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and to cease all deportation and removal proceedings against them..."
"To the German Government - AWOL U.S. soldier André Shepherd applied for asylum in Germany. His tour of duty as a U.S. soldier in Iraq made him convinced that he could no longer participate in a war which breaks international law... we appeal to you, grant André Shepherd asylum..."
This letter was written a few minutes before Afghan war resister Travis Bishop was shackeled and taken away after his court-martial at Fort Hood.
To everyone who still cares:
I can not say that a year in prison doesn’t scare me: I am terrified. I just cried in the bathroom so no one could see.
But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish had I not gone to prison.
Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you.
Victor and myself are starting something big . . . and it is now up to all of you to continue on.
With all of my heart,
This statement was published by Amnesty International USA, August 6, 2009.
Amnesty International today reiterated its view that US soldiers who refuse on genuine grounds of conscience to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan should be recognized as conscientious objectors under US law and should not face imprisonment.
One such case appears to be that of Victor Agosto, who yesterday received a 30-day prison sentence for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. Victor Agosto joined the army in 2005 and served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq; according to reports, his experience there and what he describes as "self education" about US foreign policy and international law convinced him that "the occupation [in Afghanistan] is immoral and unjust".
In the past few years, the organization has appealed for the release of a number of US soldiers who have been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing to join their units in Iraq or Afghanistan after developing moral objections to US military operations there.
Victor Agosto received a relatively light sentence after accepting a plea agreement. However, others have been dealt with more harshly, receiving sentences of up to 15 months' imprisonment. The maximum penalty could amount to several years.
Amnesty International recognizes that the military authorities need to have strict procedures when allowing serving military personnel to be relieved of duties. However, the organization believes that the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adequate provision should be made to respect such rights, even for serving soldiers.
US law recognizes the right to conscientious objection only on grounds of opposition to all war in any form. Thus, soldiers who object to serving in a particular war currently have no way of legally registering for exemption on this ground. Some have their applications for conscientious objection refused; others, knowing such applications to be futile, go "absent without leave".
Currently there are other soldiers who face imprisonment for their beliefs. For example, Travis Bishop is scheduled to be court--martialled at Fort Hood, Texas, on 14 August, for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Amnesty International has recognised as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection to the armed conflict. They included Camilo Mejía, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster, who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs and was sentenced the same year to 14 months' imprisonment. Another, Kevin Benderman, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of abuses he allegedly witnessed there.Agustin Aguayo was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the armed conflict in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialled and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
In addition, Amnesty International has appealed to the Canadian authorities not to deport US soldiers claiming conscientious objection to serving in the US military. Around 200 soldiers are reported to have fled to Canada, where some have sought refugee protection.
Amnesty International believes the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified.
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, either refuses to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these beliefs, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have first taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.
Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of any person to any country where he or she would face a substantial risk of becoming a prisoner of conscience.
This was originally posted, by Salena Coppa, to her blog ActiveDutyPatriot , June 13 2009
Though the story has not yet gone public, this isn't a good time for milblogger's freedom of speech. I myself am facing potential charges for having a different political opinion than some of my leadership believes I should, and another milblogger who shall remain nameless is as well. Certain prominent milblogs, especially ones from Iraq and Afghanistan, have been removed-Pink's War, Big Tobacco, and LT G among them. Too much honesty, too much humor, too much reality. Too much free thinking.
In something straight out of Joseph Heller, however, at the same time that some are getting in trouble for voicing opinions, the Army has apparently decided that it wants to hear Soldier's stories on social networking sites. As the article says..
The commander said the unblocking of some social networking sites was in keeping with direction from Army senior leaders to have Soldiers tell the Army story.
"This order first and foremost is about establishing web-filtering standards. However, it was crafted deliberately to meet the intent of Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are encouraging Soldiers to tell their stories and maintain contact with the American people. Leveraging social media is an effective way to tell the Army story."
Hey, you know what's another effective way to tell the Army story? NOT PROSECUTING PEOPLE WHO TELL IT. I'm just saying. FYI. This buck sergeant's view.
In other news, I got my promotion counseling today, on why I'm not going to make staff. One part of it's fair-my PTSD has gotten out of control a couple times over the lat few months, and I do need to work on that. The other part of it, though, really ticks me off. Because I'm flagged.
Why am I flagged? Well, given that it happened the day after I accepted the IVAW appointment to the Board of Directors, some people might be excused for thinking the two are linked. Supposedly, some sort of investigation was opened. However, I can't tell you for sure why I'm flagged. Why's that? Because I haven't gotten a single piece of paper telling me about it. How did I find out? By taking a peek at my ERB. Yay, Army.
There's also some dispute about whether or not you can take leave while flagged, which tells me that no one's read AR 600-8-2 in a while. The answer for those of you following at home, is that you're not allowed to take ADVANCE or EXCESS leave, but you are allowed to take REGULAR leave, because regular leave is not a "favorable personnel action", it's something you earn.
If you can't tell, I'm a bit frustrated with the situation right now.
This article, by Stephen Webster, was posted to Raw Story, May 23, 2009
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco warned the Obama administration on Friday of severe sanctions if it does not comply with the court’s order to turn over a secret document an Islamic group says proves they were illegally spied upon.
The case, Al-Haramain v. Obama (see also: Al-Haramain V. Bush), springs out of a government mistake in which a secret document detailing the wiretapping of calls between attorneys and Saudi charity Al-Haramain was turned over to the charity’s counsel.
The document was taken back by the government, and the Department of Justice has since maintained that the attorneys who read it should not be allowed to use their memories to pursue litigation over the illegal spying.
“It could be a scene from Kafka or Brazil ,” noted Wired when the story first broke in March 2007. “Imagine a government agency, in a bureaucratic foul-up, accidentally gives you a copy of a document marked ‘top secret.’ And it contains a log of some of your private phone calls.”
“Walker, bringing to a head months of volleying between the government, the plaintiffs and himself, ordered Justice Department lawyers to explain why he should not essentially enter a default judgment against the government for violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by spying on the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation,” reported Law.com.
“The government has refused to obey court orders by repeatedly stonewalling Walker’s attempt to move the case forward, Walker wrote.”
“The Court noted the government was ‘continuing to assert legal positions already specifically rejected by the court in previous orders’ and ‘government officials in one or more defendant agencies, including the NSA Director … are refusing to cooperate with the court’s orders,’” noted the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. “Judge Walker ordered the government to show cause as to ‘why, as a sanction for failing to obey the court’s orders’ the government ’should not be prohibited … from opposing the liability’ for spying without warrants and that the ‘court should not deem liability … established and proceed to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to plaintiffs.’ A hearing is set for June 3, 2009 in the San Francisco federal court.” Should Walker rule in favor of Al-Haramain, it would not fully satisfy the group’s legal aims, but “it would be a stiff rebuke to an administration that has pledged to reconsider Bush’s broad claims of secrecy in all cases touching on national security,” noted Bob Egelko at The San Francisco Chronicle.
He continued: “The department, under both Bush and Obama, has argued that courts have no power to decide the legality of the surveillance program unless the government acknowledges that it monitored a particular person or group. It has not done so in Al-Haramain’s case.”
“The case is one of more than three dozen domestic surveillance lawsuits pending before Walker,” reported CBS5 in San Francisco.
“Congress granted immunity to the telecommunication companies last year, essentially killing their eavesdropping lawsuits and leaving before Walker the Al-Haramain case as the only surviving legal challenge to the government’s eavesdropping program,” reported the Associated Press.
This report, was published in the Associated Press, Februuary 23, 2009
ALBANY, N.Y. — Documents show the prosecution declined a soldier’s signed offer to plead guilty and go to prison for the 2005 killing of two officers at a base in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez was honorably discharged last month. He faced a possible death penalty but was acquitted by a military jury in December of the alleged June 2005 “fragging” with explosives of Capt. Phillip Esposito of Suffern, N.Y., and 1st Lt. Louis Allen of Milford, Pa.
Documents obtained by the New York Times show that more than two years before the trial, Martinez signed an offer to plead guilty to the murder charges and be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The offer was rejected by Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, now retired.
Maj. John Benson, a prosecutor in the case who was not involved in the decision to reject the plea offer, says there was concern within the Army that Martinez might have been eligible for parole after 10 years despite having acknowledged murdering two officers.
After his acquittal, Martinez, a supply sergeant originally from the Troy, N.Y. area, told the Albany Times Union he was “very very innocent.”
This article, by Mark Townsend, was published by The Observer, February 22, 2009
Binyam Mohamed will return to Britain suffering from a huge range of injuries after being beaten by US guards right up to the point of his departure from Guantánamo Bay, according to the first detailed accounts of his treatment inside the camp.
Mohamed will arrive back tomorrow in the UK, where he was a British resident between 1984 and 2002. During medical examinations last week, doctors discovered injuries and ailments resulting from apparently brutal treatment in detention.
Mohamed was found to be suffering from bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, severe damage to ligaments as well as profound emotional and psychological problems which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantánamo's guards to give him counselling.
Mohamed's British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said his client had been beaten "dozens" of times inside the notorious US camp in Cuba with the most recent abuse occurring during recent weeks. He said: "He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper. What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages."
Lieutenant colonel Yvonne Bradley, Mohamed's US military attorney, added: "He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don't like to think about it because my country is behind all this."
The former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who campaigned for Guantánamo Bay to be closed, said any allegation of US abuse against a British resident inside the prison should be urgently raised by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
"If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued," said Goldsmith.
Claims that Mohamed was beaten during the period after President Obama announced Guantánamo's closure in January risk harming diplomatic relations between the administration and the British government. Prime minister Gordon Brown is believed to have raised Mohamed's case with the US president during their first talk following Obama's inauguration two months ago.
Stafford Smith, the director of legal charity Reprieve, said yesterday that Mohamed had been routinely beaten by Guantánamo's notorious emergency reaction force, a six-strong team of guards in riot gear who have been the subject of previous abuse allegations. The alleged beatings were routinely administered against Mohamed "for no reason" and some were "recent" according to Stafford Smith.
Upon his return to England after more than four years inside Guantánamo, Mohamed will be taken to a secure, secret location in order for him to be fully rehabilitated by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. Mohamed will be kept under a "voluntary security arrangement" which involves reporting to the authorities, but he will not be subject to an anti-terror control order. His lawyers reiterate that he has nothing to hide after US terror charges against him were dropped last year.
Mohamed will not be debriefed upon his arrival by the British authorities or face any interview from the British security agencies. At least one MI5 officer is currently waiting to hear whether he will face a criminal investigation over alleged complicity in the torture of Mohamed, who settled in Kensington, west London, after arriving from Ethiopia as a teenage asylum seeker.
Mohamed's eventual testimony may also shed light on MI5's alleged complicity in his interrogation and alleged torture. One likely step will involve suing the British government and its security services over potential allegations of complicity in his illegal detention, abduction, treatment and interrogation.
Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of the anti-terrorism laws, warned yesterday that, once settled, Mohamed's possible legal action against the US or British authorities could force them to disclose vital evidence relating to the torture allegations.
Following his arrest in Pakistan more than six years ago, Mohamed has claimed he was told by British government officials that everything would be done to help him.
Lt Col Bradley, who is staying in England until Thursday to welcome Mohamed, said the most crucial issue was stabilising his health. Mohamed's weight has fallen from 170lbs to about 125lbs. "He needs to get his weight back on and start eating," she said.
Mohamed's return to England coincides with signs that the government is preparing to accept more detainees from Guantánamo in the face of increasing US pressure to help shut the camp.
The Foreign Office appears to be softening its stance towards accepting more detainees from the prison after last month insisting there were "no plans" to accept more inmates. The position has now shifted to a statement explaining that "no formal decision has been made" on the UK accepting detainees from other countries.
A Foreign Office source added that all cases were now being reviewed on an individual basis by the home secretary Jacqui Smith. This comes amid intensifying pressure from the US authorities, with the Observer learning that direct requests for Britain to accept more detainees have now been lodged by the Obama administration. Sources at the US department of defence said talks were ongoing with countries, including the UK, to re-house inmates.
Dean Boyd, spokesman for the US department of justice, said: "We will undoubtedly need the assistance of our close friends and allies as we work towards closing Guantánamo."
Goldsmith said Britain should accept prisoners from the camp if it would help Obama to close it down.
British citizens and residents mentioned in the report is Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, from Rochdale, who claims he was tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by two MI5 officers. Ahmed was convicted of being a member of al-Qaida at Manchester crown court, yet the jury was not told that three of the fingernails of his left hand had been removed. The response from MI5 to the allegations that it had colluded in Ahmed's torture were heard in camera, however, after the press and the public were excluded from the proceedings. Ahmed's description of the cell in which he claims he was tortured closely matches that where Salahuddin Amin, 33, from Luton, says he was tortured by ISI officers between interviews with MI5 officers.
Zeeshan Siddiqui, 25, from London, who was detained in Pakistan in 2005, also claims he was interviewed by British intelligence agents during a period in which he was tortured.
Other cases include that of a London medical student who was detained in Karachi and tortured after the July 2005 attacks in London. Another case involving Britons allegedly tortured in Pakistan and questioned by UK agents involves a British Hizb ut-Tahrir supporter.
Rashid Rauf, from Birmingham, was detained in Pakistan and questioned over suspected terrorist activity in 2006. He was reportedly killed after a US drone attack in Pakistan's tribal regions, though his body has never been found.
Hasan said: "What the research suggests is that these are not incidents involving one particular rogue officer or two, but rather an array of individuals involved over a period of several years.
"The issue is not just British complicity in the torture of British citizens, it is the issue of British complicity in the torture period. We know of at least 10 cases, but the complicity probably runs much deeper because it involves a series of terrorism suspects who are Pakistani. This is the heart of the matter.
"They are not the same individuals [MI5 officers] all the time. I know that the people who have gone to see Siddiqui in Peshawar are not the same people who have seen Ahmed in Rawalpindi."
Last night the government faced calls to clarify precisely its relationship with Pakistan's intelligence agencies, which are known to routinely use torture.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that an investigation by the British security services had revealed "there is nothing to suggest they have engaged in torture in Pakistan". He added: "Our policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment, for any purpose."
But former shadow home secretary David Davis said the claims from Pakistan served to "reinforce" allegations that UK authorities, at the very least, ignored Pakistani torture techniques.
"The British agencies can no longer pretend that 'Hear no evil, see no evil' is applicable in the modern world," he added.
Last week HRW submitted evidence to parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee is to question Miliband and Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, over a legal loophole which appears to offer British intelligence officers immunity in the UK for any crimes committed overseas.
It has also emerged that New York-based HRW detailed its concerns in a letter to the UK government last October but has yet to receive a response.
The letter arrived at the same time that the Attorney General was tasked with deciding if Scotland Yard should begin a criminal investigation into British security agents' treatment of Binyam Mohamed. Crown prosecutors are currently weighing up the evidence.
Hasan said that evidence indicated a considerable number of UK officers were involved in interviewing terrorism suspects after they were allegedly tortured. He told the Observer: "We don't know who the individuals [British intelligence officers] were, but when you have different personnel coming in and behaving in a similar fashion it implies some level of systemic approach to the situation, rather than one eager beaver deciding it is absolutely fine for someone to be beaten or hung upside down."
He accused British intelligence officers of turning a blind eye as UK citizens endured torture at the hands of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
"They [the British] have met the suspect ... and have conspicuously failed to notice that someone is in a state of high physical distress, showing signs of injury. If you are a secret service agent and fail to notice that their fingernails are missing, you ought to be fired."
Britain's former chief legal adviser, Lord Goldsmith, said that the Foreign Office would want to examine any British involvement in torture allegations very carefully and, if necessary, bring individuals "to book" to ensure such behaviour was "eradicated".
This essay, by Norman Soloman, was published in the Truthout, February 3, 2009
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking."
And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote: "And death will be our darling and fear will be our name." Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.
The US war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.
Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired US Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."
But the "war on terrorism" rubric - increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" - kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."
There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize - or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.
The new US "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.
Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.
And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double US troop deployments in that country within a year.
"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago. "It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void ..."
Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: "This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion.... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."
And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just as there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.
It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America - but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.
For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the January 30 discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.
Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.
And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.
This article, by Ernesto Londoño and Qais Mizher, was published in the Washington Post, January 29, 2009
The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq.
Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
The officials said Blackwater must leave the country as soon as a joint Iraqi-U.S. committee finishes drawing up guidelines for private contractors under the security agreement. It is unclear how long that will take. Blackwater employees and other U.S. contractors had been immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.
"When the work of this committee ends," Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said, private security companies "will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don't have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately."
The State Department said Wednesday that its contractors will obey Iraqi law.
"We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel," spokesman Noel Clay said.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said she was not aware of the Iraqi government's decision.
"It would be irresponsible for me to comment on a decision that may or may not have been reached," she said in an e-mail Wednesday.
The United States was unable to persuade the Iraqi government to extend the immunity of its contractors past the expiration of the U.N. Security Council resolution on Dec. 31. No American diplomat has been killed during missions secured by Blackwater.
The North Carolina company became widely despised by Iraqis after a string of incidents during which its heavily armed guards were accused of using excessive force. The deadliest was the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in Nisoor Square, in central Baghdad, when Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqis in a crowded street, killing 17 civilians, after the guards' convoy reportedly came under fire.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington last month charged five of the men with voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent act. The men entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial. A sixth guard reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
Private security companies working for the U.S. government in Iraq have been required to obtain licenses from the Iraqi Interior Ministry since 2004, but some have operated without licenses, and until this year, there was little the Iraqi government could do to enforce the rule.
The ministry revoked Blackwater's license in September 2007 and threatened to expel the company's employees, but U.S. officials ignored the order and renewed the company's contract the following April.
Iraqi officials said Wednesday they decided not to issue the company a new license largely because of the Nisoor Square shooting.
"We informed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq about this decision, and they will have to find another company to replace them," said Gen. Hussain Kamal, a senior Interior Ministry official.
Blackwater employees were also accused of shooting Iraqi guards working for a television station in the spring of 2007. And on Dec. 24, 2006, a drunk Blackwater guard fatally shot a guard employed by Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi.
According to a congressional report issued in October 2007, Blackwater guards have been involved in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005.
The company has received more than $1 billion from the federal government since 2000. In recent months, however, Blackwater has expanded its business model to rely less heavily on private security work overseas. Though tremendously profitable, the field has generated an avalanche of bad publicity for the company and exposed it to numerous lawsuits.
The two other large security companies that protect American diplomats in Iraq are DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, both based in Northern Virginia.
Blackwater employees work under the supervision of the embassy's regional security officer. The company's drivers and bodyguards take U.S. diplomats to meetings outside the Green Zone, and its pilots often fly in small helicopters over convoys as an added security measure. The Blackwater employees live in a compound in the Green Zone that is informally referred to as "man camp." According to the October 2007 congressional report, Blackwater guards made more than $1,200 per day.
Private security contractors in Iraq last year became deeply concerned about losing their immunity with the implementation of the security agreement, which U.S. officials feared would trigger a mass exodus. But few have left. Instead, in recent months, Western private security companies have sought to build strong relationships with the Iraqi government and have hired more Iraqi guards.
Sami Hawa Hamud al-Sabahin, who was among those wounded in the Nisoor Square shooting, said he was overjoyed to hear the news about Blackwater.
"It makes me happy and lets me feel that the government didn't forget us," he said.
Umm Tahsin , the widow of Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein, one of the men killed in the shooting, also applauded the government's decision. But she lamented that neither the Iraqi nor the U.S. government has compensated her family for their loss.
"Those people are a group of criminals," she said of Blackwater. "What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family."
This article, by John Dean, was posted to AlterNet, January 24, 2009
Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.
It is difficult to believe that Eric Holder would agree not to enforce the law, like his recent Republican predecessors. Indeed, if he were to do so, President Obama should withdraw his nomination. But as MSNBC "Countdown" anchor Keith Olbermann stated earlier this week, even if the Obama Administration for whatever reason does not investigate and prosecute these crimes, this still does not mean that the Bush Administration officials who were involved in torture are going to get a pass.
With few exceptions, the discussion about what the Obama Administration will do regarding the torture of detainees during the Bush years has been framed as a domestic matter, and the fate of those involved in torturing has been largely viewed as a question of whether the Department of Justice will take action. In fact, not only is the world watching what the Obama Administration does regarding Bush's torturers, but other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so.
Bush's Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy
Philippe Sands, a Queen's Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney's counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.
After reading Sands's book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross's NPR show "Fresh Air," on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity -- for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.
Here is what Professor Sands told Terry Gross on NPR: "In talking to prosecutors around the world, as I have done, they all recognize the very real political difficulties of taking on someone who has been Vice President of the United States, or President of the United States, or Secretary of Defense of the United States. But those arguments melt away as you go a little down the chain. And I don't think the same arguments would apply in relation to the man, for example, who was Vice President Cheney's general counsel, at the time the decisions were taken, David Addington ... I think he faces a very real risk of, you know, investigation for complicity in an act that amounts to torture ... " Later, referring to "international investigations," he added that Addington (and others) were at "serious risk of being investigated."
These are remarkable statements from a very well-informed man. Because we have a common publisher, I was able to contact him in London, and pose a few questions. I find his book, statements and responses to my questions chilling.
Q & A With Professor Philippe Sands
The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:
John W. Dean: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you -- and others with your expertise and background -- have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?
Philippe Sands: Last week's intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: "The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture"). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.|
JD: If yes, can you share what you and others might do, and when?
PS: I am in the process of completing the epilogue to my book Torture Team, which will be published in May 2009. That will set out, in detail, what I learned when I made a return visit to the European judge and prosecutor with whom I met in the summer of 2007, as described in the book. Watch this space.
JD: If no, what would it take for those like you to call for all countries with potential jurisdiction to take action?
PS: More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules. In the United Kingdom, one criminal investigation is already underway, in relation to the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee who is a British resident. I doubt it will be the last. That said, having set out the relevant facts in one case [in my book], to the best of my abilities, I feel it will now be for others to take this forward as they consider appropriate.
JD: Also, when talking to Ms. Gross you said that you did not think that David Addington and others involved in torture were likely to be travelling outside the United States. Do you know for a fact that any country might take action? Have you discussed this with any prosecutors who could do so?
PS: This will be addressed in the epilogue to Torture Team.
JD: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?
PS: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney's confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution". What happens thereafter is a matter for the prosecutor, who may decide that, in accordance with applicable standards ("authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State") and the facts of the case, including the prospects for a successful prosecution, that proceeding to actual prosecution is not justified.
JD: Finally, you mentioned the case proceeding in the UK regarding possible torture of a British national. Is it possible that even an American ally like Great Britain could seek extradition, and undertake prosecution, of U.S. officials like Addington and Yoo for facilitating the torture of a citizen of Great Britain -- if the U.S. fails to act?
PS: It is possible. The more likely scenario, however, is that which occurred in Senator Pinochet's case: the unwitting traveller sets foot in the wrong country at the wrong time.
What Will The Obama Administration Do?
As all who have followed this issue know, President Obama hedged after he was elected as to what he may or may not do. So too did his Attorney General nominee. After Eric Holder declared waterboarding to be unlawful, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee truly followed up as to what he was going to do, but it appears they are going to now press him on that point.
My question is how can the Obama Administration not investigate, and, if appropriate, prosecute given the world is watching, because if they do not, other may do so? How could there be "change we can believe in" if the new administration harbors war criminals -- which is the way that Philippe Sands and the rest of the world, familiar with the facts which have surfaced even without an investigation, view those who facilitated or engaged in torture?
One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence -- the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.
We must all hope that the Obama Administration does the right thing, rather than forcing another country to clean up the mess and seek to erase the dangerous precedent these people have created for our country. A first clue may come when Holder resumes testifying.