April 30, 2005, is quite a remarkable double anniversary. 60
years ago today, the invading Red Army first raised its victory flag
over the Reichstag in Berlin. The famous picture
is from a staged re-enactment a few days later.
Thirty years ago today, the last American forces left Vietnam
as the government of South Vietnam surrendered to the advancing
National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army. The iconic picture
from that retreat,
is not actually from the American embassy, but from the roof of a
nearby apartment complex.
I never hear these two events connected by anyone. That they are not
says something, I think, about how hard it is to think outside the
ideological limits of your society, even if you devote your life to
thinking outside the ideological limits ...
The connection seems clear to me. The Red Army's taking of Berlin and
the American retreat from Saigon each represent the defeat of that
era's most rapacious force. And each of these pictures is the
best-known iconic rendering of that defeat (or victory, looked at from
the other side).
That Germany and Nazism were the most destructive and dangerous force
of the 1940's is disputed by no one. But in this country nobody thinks
of their defeat as being due to the Soviet Union. Even an elementary
acquaintance with the facts makes that clear -- estimates are that 80%
of Wehrmach casualties were inflicted by Soviet forces, four times the
number inflicted by Americans, British, French, ... An even higher
proportion of casualties among the Eastern European "satellite" forces
were inflicted by the Soviets.
Even the final assault on Berlin was a matter of the American high
command deciding to allow the Soviet forces to sustain the massive
casualties necessary to take the city.
And yet, in all the chest-beating on the 60th anniversary of
D-Day, the little fact that it was the Soviet Union that won the
war hardly got mentioned -- as it hardly gets mentioned in high school
history classes or in the huge numbers of World War 2 books you can see
at any time in your local Barnes and Noble.
That the United States was the most rapacious and dangerous force in
the late 1960's and early 1970's is, shall we say, much more hotly
contested. And yet, I don't think we need to compare it with the Nazis
to conclude that there really wasn't a rival at the time. Had Mobutu
(installed by the Americans and Belgians) been the dictator of a
superpower instead of a weak African state, he might have been more
Had the Soviet Union had the global reach of the United States, it's
conceivable, I suppose, that it might have been as dangerous.
Certainly, its crushing of Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" in 1968 was
brutal and inexcusable; certainly, it was not even worthy of being
mentioned in the same breath as the brutal devastation of Vietnam.
But with the facts as they were, there is little question. Apologists
for American policies, when faced with the massive criminality and
devastating consequences of the Vietnam War, which is also conceded by
the establishment to have been a mistake (because it was a defeat)
usually fall back on American "intentions," which were supposedly not
just far nobler than Soviet intentions but far nobler than the
intentions of the Vietnamese who fought back against three successive
colonial powers, the Japanese, French, and Americans.
Without trying to address fully that tendentious debate, let me just
suggest that it's much easier to discern one's own good intentions in
the midst of horrible acts than it is to discern those of the other guy.
The devastation of Korea and Vietnam by the United States, just as the
later wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, were justified by the claim that we
beat the Nazis, who were really evil -- even though we actually didn't.
And yet, it was Vietnam that invaded Cambodia and put an end to the
autogenocide of the Khmer Rouge -- and the United States that then
turned to supporting the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese then went on to
install a hated puppet regime, much as the United States did in South
Korea after the war.
And, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, its "Vietnam," the
proximate reason was to remove from power the extremist "Halk" faction
of Afghanistan's communists (the People's Democratic Party of
Afghanistan). In its first year in power, it's been estimated that
Hafizullah Amin's government took over 100,000 people into custody,
never to be heard from again. The Soviet Union, afraid that Amin was
discrediting the Soviet Union -- and that he was a CIA agent --
invaded, rather reluctantly.
It was a "liberation" just like the U.S. removal of Saddam, except that
the Soviet Union did it when the regime was at the height of its
criminal activity; the United States actively supported the criminal
activities of Saddam's regime, then removed him from power 15 years
Despite these initial "good intentions" of the Soviet Union, it then
went on to destroy much of Afghanistan, killing from 1 to 1.5 million
An official apologist for Vietnam or the Soviet Union could, frankly,
construct a far more plausible story of good intentions gone awry in
these various interventions than could any of our homegrown American
apologists regarding the Vietnam War -- or this one.
The Soviet Union was a massive country with a huge industrial base and
inflicted a crushing defeat on Germany. Nazism would never and will
never rise again.
Vietnam, a small mostly agricultural country, could not conceivably do
more than it did -- outlast the Americans, while inflicting just enough
casualties to exact a major political cost. It won for itself only a
Pyrrhic victory and for the Third World only a short respite from U.S.
interventionism. Even for that, the existence of an oppositional
movement in the heart of the empire was essential.
The New York Times has picked up on the story of Cherif
Bassiouni's dismissal as "independent expert" on human rights in
Afghanistan, reporting to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Apparently, he was dismissed the day after he filed a report
that said American forces in Afghanistan had acted as if they were
above the law by "engaging in arbitrary arrests and detentions and
committing abusive practices, including torture."
On his trips to Afghanistan, he made numerous efforts to gain
access to suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners being held by the
Americans, with a notable lack of cooperation. Still, he managed to
discover a few things:
He said he was rebuffed repeatedly in his
efforts to visit prisons at the United States bases in Bagram and
Kandahar by American officials who told him he was exceeding his
He discovered the use of 14 fire bases for detainees, he said, when he
spotted an American military order warning commanders against keeping
captives at the spots for more than two weeks.
Despite the lack of cooperation, he said, he had no trouble learning of
rights violations. "Arbitrary arrest and detention are common knowledge
in Afghanistan because the coalition forces are known to go to villages
and towns and break down doors and arrest people and take them whenever
they want," he said.
He said victims' descriptions of their American captors' appearance had
struck a grim note of recognition because of his past experience. "It
was very reminiscent of what I had seen in the former Yugoslavia, where
you would ask victims of beatings and torture who had abused them and
they would say they couldn't identify them because they wore battle
fatigues with no names and no insignias."
Asked what he thought would happen to prisons in Afghanistan now, he
said, "My guess is that torture will go down at the U.S. facilities,
but what will go up is torture at the Afghan facilities. It's the usual
shell game. The U.S. feels the heat, it tries to discontinue the
practice itself, but it finds special forces in the Afghan Army to do
50. Examples of alleged violations include
entry into people’s homes without arrest or search warrants, detention
of nationals and foreigners without judicial authority or judicial
review (sometimes for extended periods of time), beatings resulting in
death, beatings causing bodily harm, forced nudity and public
embarrassment, sleep deprivation, prolonged squatting, and hooding and
sensory deprivation. Since no United States detention centre is open to
inspection, there is no way of ascertaining the veracity of these
allegations. However, several incidents have been reported publicly. On
1 and 2 September 2004, United States Army criminal investigators are
reported to have recommended that two dozen United States soldiers face
criminal charges in connection with the death of two prisoners.
51. The independent expert has received reports from international
human rights organizations and UNAMA of individuals who have died while
held in detention by Coalition forces. At times, reports indicated that
the bodies were returned to families showing signs of torture,
including bruises and internal bleeding from severe beatings and
serious burn marks on victims’ skin.
52. The Government has no knowledge of or control over such detained
persons. Detention conditions are often below the standards of the
Geneva Conventions, as has been reported by the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the detaining forces on a confidential
basis. An American general has been appointed to investigate these
arrests, detention and interrogation practices, but his report has not
yet been made public. AIHRC has been denied access to these facilities,
as has the independent expert who made requests to the appropriate
United States authorities to visit the main detention facility in
Bagram (see para. 9 (b) above).
53. The independent expert has received accounts of acts that fall
under the internationally accepted definition of torture, contained in
the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment. A man from Gardez described his treatment as
follows, “They poured cold water over us and then started beating us
with their fists and with sticks. Sometimes they picked us up on their
shoulders and then threw us down. They were all American soldiers
wearing uniforms ... They untied dogs and they frightened us with the
dogs. The dogs bit us and scratched us with their teeth and nails ...
When we were unable to stand anymore, they tied our hands to an iron
rod on the top of the cell. This kept up from standing normally, and we
were forced to stand on our toes.” Numerous accounts in the press and
by victims corroborate the common use of excessive force at Bagram
airbase and the Kandahar military base, including sleep deprivation,
forcing detainees to sit or stand in painful positions for extended
periods of time, and other “stress and duress” techniques. Others have
described beatings and various acts of humiliation. 35 Accounts of
these violations were originally publicized in early 2002, and there is
some evidence of links between techniques used in Afghanistan and
actions that led to the abuse scandal in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In addition, many Afghans detained by Coalition forces have been
detained for indefinite periods, sometimes held without any formal
charge for over two years. There have been several reports by the
United States Department of Defense on the question of treatment of
All practices with which we are familiar from reporting on Iraq and
Guantanamo. We know little about them from Afghanistan because,
although an internal investigation was conducted by Brig. Gen. Charles
Jacoby, the report remains
classified. We do know about the case of two Afghan detainees who
to death, at least one of them struck so many times in the knee and
leg that doctors said even hadhe survived he would have needed both
Bassiouni says his dismissal was because of pressure by the
Bush administration, angry over his attempt to discover what was being
done. Both the State Department and the U.N. Secretary General's Office
deny this. Brenden Varma, spokesman for Kofi Annan, said that the
decision had been made that the human rights situation in Afghanistan
had improved so much that an independent counsel was no longer needed.
I've just finished wading through a cesspool. Having noticed for months
that I was no longer able to keep track of the unfolding torture
revelations (along with everything else), about a month ago I asked a
friend and colleague to help me do a comprehensive review of the
information that was out there.
Well, yesterday, I read through her notes and reread much of what I had
Seeing it all together like that, along with many things I hadn't seen
and didn't know, brought me to a whole new realization about
what's going on. I'll be trying to express that in a piece I'm working
But for now, let me just write about one of the many stories I reviewed.
As Under the Same Sun pointed
out, no picture is so iconic, so representative of the American
occupation, as the famous "hooded man" from Abu Ghraib -- a man in a
hood, with a black blanket tied around him, standing on a box with arms
spread, with wires clipped to his fingers (picture at above link).
Donovan Webster actually interviewed this man and wrote about it in his
February 2005 Vanity Fair article, "The
Man in the Hood."
His name is Hajji Ali (he asked that his surname not be used). Hajji, a
Muslim honorific denoting one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, has
been twisted by American soldiers, with the easy ignorance and racism
of the colonialist, into a dehumanizing insult -- the occupation's
version of "nigger." (The movie Three Kings had an illuminating
sequence with Ice Cube belaboring an uneducated "white trash" boy for
his use of the term "sand nigger" -- "You can call them towelhead or
camel jockey, but not 'sand nigger' or 'dune coon.'")
He was once mayor of the Al Madifai district and then administrator of
a mosque in Amiriyah district, where in the 1991 Gulf War over 400
women and children were killed when two "smart bombs" hit a major
Here's a series of excerpts from the article, just dealing with him:
Arrested as he walked down a street around 10 a.m. on
October 14, 2003, Haj Ali is still uncertain of his specific
infraction. Surrounded by Hummers and S.U.V.'s near his mosque, he was
quickly handcuffed, hooded, and hustled into a vehicle.
As part of the initial exam at Abu Ghraib, soldiers
Haj Ali's feet apart, and he was made to stand, legs spread, facing a
wall as they began searching his body. Beyond the pat-downs and cavity
exams that are particularly insulting to Muslims, for whom modesty is
an ingrained virtue, the Americans had another deliberate way of
insulting new detainees: by removing their head wraps-an item infused
with history and pride for Iraqis-and throwing them across the room
with their shoes. In Arab cultures, pointing the bottom of a shoe or
foot toward anyone is the pinnacle of insult.
Haj Ali was given a prisoner number, "151716," he
speaking each numeral-among the few words he knows in English-with
Then the soldiers shoved him into another room, which
smelled like an unclean bathroom and where he was confronted by three
"Where is Osama bin Laden?"
"Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan," he replied.
"How do you know?"
"I heard it on the news."
"What is your plan? What are your plans to resist
Americans coming to occupy you?"
"I thought the Americans came to liberate us."
"Are you anti-Semitic? Do you hate Christians? Do
Christianity? Do you hate Jesus Christ?"
"No. Why would I hate them?"
For 10 days Haj Ali was detained in Camp Vigilant,
a kind of
tent city at Abu Ghraib, without another question being asked. Then one
day he was taken to a large steel room, perhaps one of the hundreds of
shipping containers around the prison compound, and interrogated by a
50-ish man, one of the three who'd first questioned him.
"I'm going to give you two days to admit what you
interrogator said. "And if you don't, I'm going to send you to a place
where even dogs can't survive. Your hand will rot away, because we're
not going to give you any medicine. It's better for you to admit
"Admit to what?"
"Give us the names of all the people in the
"What people ... ?"
The interrogator, frustrated, dismissed him.
And then there was the music. Graner and a soldier
Sergeant Hydrue Joyner looped a short digital sample of the refrain
from the song "Babylon" by the musician David Gray and played it at
earsplitting levels through a huge speaker just outside Haj Ali's cell
while he was handcuffed, still naked and hooded, to the bottom bar of
his cell, the speaker right next to his ears. (Neither Joyner nor
attorneys for Graner returned telephone requests for comment.)
"'Babylon' ... 'Babylon' ... 'Babylon' ... over and
again," he says, "so loud I thought my head would burst. So loud you
could hear it two kilometers away." (During a later part of our
interview, to confirm what song he was tortured with, I hand Haj Ali my
iPod with Gray's "Babylon" playing on it; he rips the earphones away
from his head and begins to cry.)
"This went on for a day and a night," he says.
Finally the music was turned off, and whispers
heard along the hallway that Graner was approaching. "Graner is
coming," people were saying. "Graner is coming." Haj Ali remained
handcuffed on the cell's floor. His injured hand and arm were so
swollen and painful that he was whimpering. Soon Graner was in front of
him. Haj Ali asked for his medicine. "Graner told me to stick out my
arms as much as I could through the bars. I did, and he put his foot on
my hand and he went back and forth when he was pressing it, grinding
it. I was in so much pain I passed out."
Over the coming days, Haj Ali remained naked in his
damp cell. He was often lifted onto his toes, with his handcuffs laced
through the jail bars above their highest horizontal crosspiece. Then
he was left there, hanging, overnight.
Haj Ali was also regularly deprived of food and
for five days. He notes that the overwhelming majority of abuses
happened on Graner's night shift.
Often at night, Haj Ali and the other inmates,
would be brought out into the cellblock's hallway to be beaten and
humiliated in front of the other prisoners. The guards had nicknames
for everyone, Haj Ali continues. "Colin Powell. Gilligan. Dracula. Wolf
Man. Insulting names." Later he adds, "I think they really hated (the
detainee nicknamed Colin Powell) because they always treated this guy
really bad." ...
Haj Ali claims he was given electrical shocks near
of his stay on Cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib. By this time, his old,
customized blanket had been returned to him by Joyner; he wore it like
a hospital gown for modesty, tying it in the back with its fringed
edges. One night as he was praying, Haj Ali was taken hooded by Graner
and led to another room. "I felt there were 8 or 10 people standing
around," he says. He was then made to stand on a food box and lift his
hands, as electrical wires were clipped between his fingers. "They
would give me electric shocks. I could feel the pulses going even into
my eyeballs. I would collapse and faint." Upon each collapse, the
guards would kick and hit Haj Ali with boots and sticks, saying, "Get
up! Get up!" He believes he was shocked five times.
As he tells me this, Haj Ali begins crying. Army
investigators have not spoken to Haj Ali, but a report on alleged
prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib released last spring noted one instance of
a detainee's being hooked up to wires to "simulate" electric torture.
Following his release, after more than two months,
quickly co-founded an Iraq-based non-governmental organization, Victims
of American Occupation Prison Association, which currently has
thousands of members and is growing daily.
Points to note:
It was not just a simulation; he was given electric shocks.
The interrogation was entirely feckless. They had no idea of what to do
with him, because they had no reason for picking him up.
He was subjected to a wide variety of torture and abuse -- Graner
stepping on his injured hand, deprivation of food, being forced to
listen to "Babylon"
(abusive even if one weren't in detention), and various forms of
The detainee nicknamed "Colin Powell" was particularly hated.
Obviously, this signifies garden-variety American anti-black racism
combined with a perception (accurate or not) that Powell was trying to
"keep the gloves
on" and restrain the soldiers in what they could do.
Via Raed Jarrar's blog, Raed
in the Middle, here's a U.S. soldier's home
video of a bomb blowing up a suspected "insurgent" building. Listen
to the exultation and ask yourself how these soldiers treat Iraqis on
whatever occasions where they actually have contact.
Thursday will mark one year since the televised revelations of U.S.
torture and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
There had been earlier reports, including one by
Amnesty International in July 2003 citing numerous instances of
torture, leading to death in at least one case, but until it was on
American TV it wasn’t quite real.
Since then, we’ve learned much more. We started with prisoners piled
naked into human pyramids, forced to simulate sexual acts, subjected to
sleep deprivation and stress positions and kept hooded. We graduated to
prisoners stripped and smeared in feces, having their food thrown in
the toilet, use of dogs to intimidate and even attack prisoners.
We learned about people beaten
to death. We heard about female U.S. soldiers deliberately smearing
men with fake menstrual
blood, then denying them access to water so they couldn’t wash and
therefore couldn’t pray. We learned about taking women and children
hostage, and even about the torture of children to break their fathers.
We learned about electric shock, mock executions, water torture. In
total, according to the Associated Press, as of March, at
least 108 people had died in U.S. custody since 9/11. Some of these
people were picked up for no reason; according to the Red Cross, 70 to
90% of Iraqi detainees were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shortly after 9/11, a decision was made to “take the gloves off” with
al-Qaeda suspects, which included, in practice, anyone detained in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Last week, the Washington Post gave
a glimpse into how these policies were further developed in Iraq:
“Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated ‘wish
lists’ of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees
in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution,
blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes.”
Those discussions led to “rules of engagement” for interrogation that
were then approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
Shortly thereafter, they tried torturing a detainee by beating the
soles of his feet with a baton. This is an old Ottoman torture
technique, known as falaka; called bastinado in English, it‘s part of
the arsenal of any police state.
Last week, Human
Rights Watch reported that perhaps 150 people since 9/11 have been
sent by the United States to other countries to be tortured. Given the
wide variety of techniques U.S. interrogators are happy to employ, what
more was to be done to these men?
As we claim to democratize the world with bombs, we tell everyone that
we stand for human rights, democratic accountability, and the rule of
law. Yet, in the past year, we’ve seen virtually no accountability.
A handful of lower-level brutes and sadists, following orders to
extract information by any means necessary, and having a little fun
into the bargain, have been punished. But, despite overwhelming
evidence, the Army inspector-general recently cleared
Sanchez and three of his top deputies of any responsibility for
torture. Brigadier-General Janice Karpinsky received a reprimand for
dereliction of duty; that was it.
The rest of the world, will never forget what they saw on April 28,
2004. Unfortunately, in this country, it’s almost as if nothing had
happened. For the right wing, the entire torture scandal has been
reduced to what they call “fraternity-style hazing” at Abu Ghraib.
In Iraq, the U.S.-controlled state TV is getting sensational ratings
with a show called “Terror
in the Hands of Justice,” where tortured resistance fighters are
filmed “admitting” that they are criminals, alcoholics, and have
participated in homosexual orgies. Here, we have “24,” a prime-time
show seemingly designed to justify torture. It’s all about the
virtually nonexistent “ticking bomb” scenario -- in this case, a
nuclear bomb. Our maverick hero Kiefer Sutherland, fighting against the
terrorist-supporting Amnesty Global and a weak, indecisive president,
foils the plot by breaking a few fingers.
Still, this issue refuses to go away. Of the numerous scandals
associated with the Iraq war, this is the only one that has involved
investigations, even if they were whitewashes. Our imperialist morality
is comfortable with bombing of civilian areas; it would be difficult to
be imperialists otherwise. But torture does not sit so comfortably; a
national campaign against torture would be one of the best ways to open
people’s eyes to the gross immorality of the occupation.
Yesterday, I participated in a three-way discussion about Left/Antiwar
Strategy on the show Against the
Grain, which airs on KPFA, Berkeley's Pacifica station.
With three people and an hour, we could only set the stage for the
discussions that are needed. You can listen to the show here.
According to yesterday's
Wall Street Journal, Venezuela will be raising its tax rate on
private oil firms, which produce 40% of Venezuel's oil, from 34% to the
standard income tax rate of 50%.
Last year, the government increased the royalty rate on several heavy
oil projects conducted by ExxonMobil in the Orinoco belt from 1% (an
ultralow rate to get ExxonMobil to do the major upfront investment
needed) to 16.6% (a pretty typical royalty rate in the early days of
colonial oil concessions and in the post-nationalization days of
neocolonial oil concessions). ExxonMobil is paying the new rate under
According to the Journal, "Venezuela is seeking
to increase revenue to fund
social programs ranging from adult-literacy and job-training programs
to subsidized food prices at a state-run grocery chain, now the
Just as Chavez is distinguished from Castro by maintenance of electoral
democracy, freedom of speech, and virtually complete absence of state
repression, he is distinguished from reformers like Allende by the
realization that he can never rest on his laurels -- you have to keep
moving and build systematic transformation or all your achievements
remain vulnerable to reaction.
The moderate success of the Iraqi resistance in tying down the Bush
administration is helping to create space for him to do this (and the
high oil prices aren't hurting him either), just as it helped Argentina
last month to restructure over $100 billion of external debt by
offering creditors a mere 30 cents on the dollar. About 80% of
creditors accepted the deal, and the Bush administration didn't even
When the Vietnamese finally pushed U.S. forces out, their country was
half-ruined (and then subjected to further ills, like a Chinese
invasion and a U.S. embargo). But their fight kept the United States
from intervening directly in Central America in the 1980's.
to AFP, der Panzerkardinal wrote a letter to American
bishops in June 2004 saying that strong supporters of the right to an
abortion must be denied the Catholic sacraments. He mentioned
specifically "the case of a Catholic politician consistently
campaigning and voting for
permissive abortion and euthanasia laws."
Three guesses who he was referring to. The U.S. bishops
eventually left it up to the individual priest's choice, the kind of
decision that will be more difficult now that the Grand Inquisitor is
And, of course, the MSM has responded with alacrity to its
task of whitewashing him (while burying the truth about him deep in the
articles). The Times opens up by talking about how he has gone about
"setting out some of the themes of his papacy in conciliatory
language." The Post tells us that "Pope, U.S. Cardinals Push Softer
Image." The LA Times goes one step further, telling us in the
subheadline that "his personality and his past belie stereotypes."
In other words, they want to push the pleasant fiction that,
because Ratzinger has started off, as one would expect him to do, by
using a little vague, mushy language, and because he hasn't bitten any
children's heads off onstage, that his papacy will somehow contradict
the entire trend of his life in the past 35 years. Just once, it would
be nice to pick up a newspaper and not have one's intelligence
Well, the College of Cardinals, in its infinite wisdom, has
managed to find someone even more conservative than Pope John Paul 2 --
Joseph Ratzinger, elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1977, and
called to Rome in 1981 by John Paul 2 to serve as prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the post he has held ever
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the body
upholding doctrinal purity in worldwide Catholicism and, as prefect,
Ratzinger is the church's top theologian. Between 1908 and 1965, it was
named the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office.
Before 1908, it was called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of
and Universal Inquisition, and was tasked to " "maintain and defend the
integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false
Our new Grand Inquisitor, a former
Hitler Youth, is often known as the "Panzer Cardinal." He has downplayed
the child abuse scandal, suggesting that "the constant presence in
the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United
States, is a planned campaign." He is very concerned about violence
against children, however, having said, in regard to same-sex unions,
"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would
actually mean doing violence to these children."
He was also heavily involved in John Paul 2's attempt to reign
in liberation theology and revolution in Latin America at a time when
the Reagan administration was backing or creating murderous
counterinsurgencies in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Here's a
passage from my favorite book, Eduardo Galeano's Century
of the Wind, third volume of his Memory of Fire
trilogy. Keep in mind that Galeano uses "America" the way most Latin
Americans do, not the way most residents of the United States do:
1984: The Vatican
The Holy Office of the Inquisition
now bears the more discreet name of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith. It no longers burns heretics alive, although it
might like to. Its chief headache these days comes from America. In the
name of the Holy Father, the inquisitors summon Latin American
theologians Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez, and the Vatican
sharply reprimands them for lacking respect for the Church of Fear.
The Church of Fear, opulent multinational enterprise, devotee
of pain and death, is anxious to nail on a cross any son of a carpenter
of the breed that now circulates within America's coasts inciting
fishermen and defying empires.
The hypocrisy of the Bush administration has once again exceeded all
previously known bounds. A familiar statement; in a way, all of us
suffer from a sort of death of outrage. But here’s something to make
you angry, if anything still can.
You may recall that, back in September, the Bush administration shifted
$3.4 billion of the congressional allocation for reconstruction away
from water, electricity, and oil into “security.” At the time, only
about 5% of the money allocated had been spent and only about
one-fourth of that was actually going to benefit the Iraqi people,
instead of to private mercenaries, government corruption, and corporate
The New York Times reports recently that, of 81 water reconstruction
projects being planned, all but 13 have been defunded. The Kurdish
north, which has been harmed by the occupation much less than the rest
of the country, lost all but two of the 20 projects being planned.
The project for Halabja, $10 million allocated to bring water to a town
where only half the population has access to running water, was one of
those that was cut.
A little historical review is required to understand how heinous this
is. On March 16, 1988, as part of Saddam’s Anfal campaign in which
100-200,000 Kurds were killed, Saddam’s forces attacked the town of
Halabja with chemical weapons. Somewhere from 3-8000 people died in
agony, grotesquely distorted and discolored.
The United States intervened to make sure the Security Council did not
act nor even issue a toothless condemnation. As it unfolded, the United
States actually increased the flow of agricultural credits that was its
primary means of supporting Saddam’s war machine. The United States
even deliberately put out disinformation suggesting that Iran was
responsible for the attack. It aided and abetted the massacre of
Halabja and is guilty as an accomplice of Saddam’s, a fact he will
surely bring up at his trial if allowed to.
You might think that afterwards the United States would want to bury
its guilt over the dead of Halabja, but you would only be half right.
Halabja remained buried until Saddam crossed a certain “line in the
sand” in Kuwait. Since that time, Halabja has been rhetorically used by
three U.S. administrations in order to justify the first Gulf War, the
sanctions, the 1998 Desert Fox war, the ongoing invasion and occupation
of Iraq, and all the other ills that the United States has made Iraqi
flesh heir to.
On March 16, 1998, the 10th anniversary of the gassing, James Rubin at
the State Department presided over a special ritual commemoration -- in
the middle of a propaganda campaign that culminated in the December
1998 bombing. And it is not an accident that George Bush chose March
16, 2003, the 15th anniversary, as the occasion to launch his twin
ultimatums -- one, to Iraq to capitulate immediately or face war, the
other to the United Nations, to capitulate immediately or face war in
Iraq. In that speech, he showed his pious horror at the suffering of
Halabja’s dead, suggesting that they died because the U.N. was
ineffectual, not because the United States smade the U.N. ineffectual.
Although the victims of Halabja have garnered a great deal of
rhetorical concern, any actual help is a different matter. Two years
after the regime change, the disabled and gravely ill survivors of the
nightmarish attack wait in vain for any medical aid, compensation, or
other restitution from the United States, some attempt to expiate its
own guilt for their condition. Cuba has 25,000 doctors in Venezuela,
but apparently with our $11 trillion GDP we cannot afford any help for
these people we have so grievously wronged.
A little over a year ago, on the 16th anniversary of the gassing, Paul
Bremer and Colin Powell flew to Halabja for the commemoration and
decided to “help” the town, not by providing water, but by allocating
$1 million for the building of two schools. The Washington Kurdish
Institute found evidence of cytotoxic chemicals in the soil on those
sites; the United States has refused to follow up with a serious study,
confident that the children of Halabja won’t mind just a little bit
Those plans for schools are about the only thing that’s been done so
far to “help” the people of Halabja. The hypocrisy of the Bush
administration and our whole American exceptionalist culture stand
revealed as ultimately monstrous and revolting. If you’re looking for
something concrete to do, campaign for justice for Halabja.
Last nigth, I spoke in a public debate about the Israeli wall and its
effect on Israeli-Palestinian relations and on Israeli security. When I
was originally invited, I jumped at the chance, because the right wing
almost never agrees to a debate on equal terms. You can go on Bill
O'Reilly and get screamed at, but that's about as far as it goes.
It quickly became obvious during the course of the debate why the
Israeli professor who headed up the other side agreed to a debate; he's
not a right-winger, and he even recognizes that the occupation is
indefensible. He completely undercut the students on his side who are
gung-ho supporters of the occupation and the wall.
Anyway, I thought I'd post my opening statement:
I’ll discuss whether the separation wall is a legitimate means of
assuring Israeli security. Notice there is no question about
Palestinian security; few even acknowledge that as a concern.
I’ll argue that the wall is totally illegitimate, and also that it is
part of a larger project that is not about assuring Israeli security
but rather what Baruch Kimmerling calls politicide, the destruction of
Palestinian society as a society, although not necessarily the
destruction of Palestinians as individuals.
I’ll use the framework of Catholic “just war” doctrine; the building of
the wall is not a war, but recent Israeli policy certainly seems like
one to the Palestinians.
Four of the requirements that a war be just are that it be a last
resort, that it be conducted by a legitimate authority, that it be done
to redress or avert a wrong, and that the means discriminate
appropriately between combatants and noncombatants.
Let’s start with the last resort , the claim that the Israelis have no
partner for peace.
This claim starts with the negotiations at Camp David in 2000, where
Ehud Barak supposedly put forward a “generous offer” that included 95%
of the occupied territories, an offer which was spurned by Arafat
because the Palestinians don’t want to negotiate, but rather to destroy
Israel and expel the Jews.
In fact, as Robert Malley, an American staffer at the talks pointed out,
“Strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer. …The Israelis
always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal.” Barak,
having called for the meeting, resolutely refused to deal with Arafat
face to face or put forward anything concrete. The idea was to get
Arafat to agree to severe concessions before even starting
negotiations, which would then necessitate further concessions. For
example, he had to agree to abandon claim to almost 10% of Palestinian
land from the start. If you remember that East Jerusalem is usually not
included in those number, that Israel has no intention of giving up the
Jordan Valley, that the numerous bypass roads would remain in Israeli
hands, the best Arafat might have been able to get is what is being
proposed now, about half of the West Bank -- this after conceding 78%
of historic Palestine, including 23% gained by Israel completely
illegitimately through ethnic cleansing. It’s also possible, as Tanya
Reinhart theorizes, that it was a deliberate ploy to galvanize
Israeli public opinion behind the state by making Arafat look as if he
Since that time, basically, Israel has refused to negotiate with
Palestinians. Instead, they have repeatedly targeted Palestinian
security forces and government offices, especially during the April
2002 invasion. Also, their assassination policy, billed as reprisals
for Palestinian attacks, has frequently been the reverse -- “reprisals”
for unilateral truces declared by Palestinian groups. At least three
times, with the assassination of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud in November 2001,
Salah Shehadeh in July 2002, and Ismail Abu Shanab in August 2003, the
Israelis have acted to end a truce or, in the case of Shehadeh, to head
off a unilateral truce that was about to be declared. Just as with
Sharon’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the provocation was that
Palestinians appeared too reasonable and too ready to negotiate.
Israel is building the wall on Palestinian land. Even if you neglect
international law, which makes it clear the Israeli occupation is
illegal and accept the Oslo framework that the land is “disputed,” you
have no right to build your wall on disputed territory. End of story.
Israel has no right except might. The International Court of Justice
has confirmed this with an advisory
ruling that the wall violates international law.
Redress or avert a wrong. Although the wall has helped for now to cut
down on Israeli deaths, that’s not what it was designed for. It’s part
of a larger strategy that began with Ariel Sharon’s staged provocation
at the Temple Mount in September 2000, continued with the violent
crackdown on Palestinian protests, assaults on the Palestinian
government, the invasions of April 2002 and April 2004 (among others),
and the systematic closures.
There are two competing imperatives: to gain as much land for Israel as
possible and to avoid being forced into a position where Palestinians
are a majority and Israelis have to choose between some sort of
democracy and their identity as a Jewish state -- the so-called
As Benjamin Schwarz points out in this month’s Atlantic, the wall was
conceived long before the second intifada started; he quotes Arnon
Soffer calling the wall “a last desperate attempt to save the state of
Israel” -- from the demographic problem, not from Palestinian attacks,
which in no way endanger the state.
To save Israelis from attacks, they would built the wall along the
Green Line, not deep in Palestinian territory. That would have more
effectively addressed any Israeli security concern; I’ll say again that
those concerns are an afterthought for the Israeli government. Changes
have been made to the original plan because the Israeli government sees
a clear opportunity to grab far more land. Withdrawing from much of
Gaza will cut off a large chunk of the demographic problem while
forfeiting land worth nothing to the Israelis; the land of the West
Bank, however, is worth a great deal. In fact, some of the most fertile
land is now being cut off by the wall.
Far from discriminating between civilians and military, the occupation
in general, the closures and siege, and the wall in particular, are
directly aimed at civilians, at the mass of Palestinian society. Before
the closures began, it was bad enough; deliberate colonial-style forced
underdevelopment of Palestinian society so it could be a source of
cheap labor for Israel, stealing of land and settlement building,
bypass roads, and police-state measures.
With the closures, it’s at a new level. They target civilians directly
and children preferentially. According to a 2002
USAID report, over one-fifth of Palestinian children suffer from
severe acute or chronic malnutrition; the numbers have eased only
slightly since then. This is almost three times the pre-closure level.
According to the 2003
Ziegler report, 50% of Palestinian families were eating one meal a
day; access to health care has dropped by roughly 50%. Over 1.5 million
Palestinians are dependent on international food aid to survive. The
toll in death and misery from these measures dwarfs the direct toll
from Israeli bombings and invasions.
The wall exacerbates all of this. The projected path constantly
changes, but over
200,000 Palestinians will be trapped on the Western side of the
wall, and something like 150,000 will be cut off from their land by the
wall; at one point, the Israeli state actually implemented its
“absentee owner” rule to appropriate land in East Jerusalem owned by
Palestinians cut off by the wall.
Reliable projections are that, once the eastern part of the wall is
built, cutting off Palestinians from the Jordan valley, 45 to 50% of the West Bank
will have been taken away from Palestinians.
In short, the wall and the closures are about starving children and
denying access to health care so that Palestinian society is so beaten
down that Israel can grab even more of their land than it has in the
past 57 years. Most Israeli military actions that kill civilians are
justified, just like U.S. actions in Iraq, by the pernicious doctrine
of “collateral damage” -- as long as the target is military, it doesn’t
matter how many civilians are killed. Morally indefensible as that is,
this is worse. Far from being a defense of Israelis against terrorism,
the wall targets Palestinian civilians to serve Israeli expansionism;
it is state terrorism far beyond what Palestinian suicide bombers are
While I was busy with other things, the second anniversary of the fall
of Saddam's regime crept up on me. Last year today, I was in Baghdad.
Firdaus Square, the site of the heavily televised, American-staged
toppling of Saddam's statue two years ago, was cordoned off with razor
wire as were numerous major intersections. The city was on edge and the
failure of the occupation, even in the terms of the conquerors, was all
too clear to anyone living there.
This year, Firdaus
Square was filled with tens of thousands of Shi'a protesting the
occupation and calling for U.S. withdrawal. The mobilization was done
by the Sadrists, without any backing from Sistani. Although the
Sadrists have been trying to work with the Sunni Association of Muslim
Scholars and others like the Iraq National Foundation Conference on
building a trans-sectarian anti-occupation political agenda,
unfortunately, Sunnis did not participate in this protest.
This time, U.S. occupation forces seem to have gotten a little more
politically mature. A little over a year ago, they precipitated an
unnecessary confrontation with the Mahdi Army (a confrontation Sadr
didn't want) first by closing the Sadrist newspaper and then by a
military crackdown on what Sadrists
described as peaceful demonstrations -- after a few protesters were
killed, then the Mahdi Army rose up and actually swept coalition forces
out of a large part of southern Iraq.
This time, they didn't crack down, and actually allowed the Sadrists to
protest peacefully, unmolested. The reasoning is, of course, that
Iraqis can protest all they want without exerting any leverage on U.S.
forces or on the Bush administration -- a reason that could backfire if
Iraqis can push their new government to start taking a stand on
The Sadrists have also become more sophisticated politically, and are
very ready to work all the levers of power. In Basra, Edmund
Sanders of the LA Times reports, even though Sadrists won only 12
of 41 city council seats, as opposed to 20 for SCIRI, they have crafted
a coalition of all the other groups and are actually running things.
At the same time, reports
Anthony Shadid, their militia in Basra is well organized and has
thrown down the gauntlet to SCIRI's Badr Brigades, saying effectively
that if SCIRI wants to rule through strongarm tactics, the Sadrists can
play that game as well (one of the messy open secrets of the occupation
is that Basra and much of the South are not in revolt because of
iron-fisted rule by Islamist militias propped up by British and other
Of course, the Sadrists have many unsavory
tactics and political goals, but their re-emergence as a
responsible, at least somewhat anti-sectarian, anti-occupation group is
definitely a positive step.
Update: According to Dexter
Filkins's report for the Times, in fact, members of the AMS said
Sunni adherents of theirs did participate in the protest. The symbolism
of Shi'a and Sunni marching together to demand an end to the occupation
is particularly important at this time.
in the Christian Science Monitor has an explanation of the final
compromise necessary to end the standoff and form the new Iraqi
Kurds dropped their immediate demand
oil-rich city of Kirkuk be added to their autonomous section of Iraq,
and Shiite Arabs said they wouldn't insist on dismantling the Kurds' peshmerga
Given the history of Arab-Kurdish relations in Iraq, of course, the
desire of the Kurds for a guaranteed share of oil revenues and for some
sort of independent existence of their own armed militias are very
The three northern governorates that had a de facto autonomy after the
Gulf War and that now have at least some de jure autonomy through the Transitional
Administrative Law do not, however, have the oil; that is in the
areas around Mosul and Kirkuk.
Kirkuk, furthermore, is a place inhabited originally by Kurds and
Turcomans, but under Saddam's Arabization policies a large Arab
contingent was created -- think of it as Northern Ireland with the
United Kingdom's historical Protestantization policies. Just as in
those cases, or in Bosnia, struggles over land and ethnicity become
very ugly because they are in a sense existential.
The violence in Kirkuk has been nothing, of course, like Bosnia, but
there has been trouble. According
to one member of the Kurdish PUK (Talabani's party), Saddam's
policies displaced about 600,000 Kurds from Kirkuk. Many of them have
returned and many Arabs have left, under some feeling of danger.
Because of its large non-Kurdish popultion, Kirkuk should have some
compromise solution. Unfortunately, the difficult compromises Kurds and
Shi'a have make in order to live with each other just get put off while
the occupation continues.
Along with a high-powered creative team, I've taken over operation of
the Occupation Watch
website. Every day, we'll be picking 10 or 12 of the most useful
mainstream news articles, alternative news articles, blog posts, and
more, plus several of the best analysis pieces on Iraq and posting
them, along with a News Watch much in the style of Cursor.
Excerpts from today's News Watch (go to Occupation Watch to see the
After a long delayed vote for the new
speaker of the National Assembly,
the vote went to Hajim
al-Hassani, the first Sunni candidate the major Kurdish and Shi'a
agree upon after interim President Ghazi al-Yawir turned down the
post on the grounds that there were too few elected Sunni Arab
legislators for him be able to wield any influence. Hassani is a long
term exile, who spent twelve years working in Los Angeles. His record
is mixed. As minister of industry, he led the privatization
program for the US-appointed interim government (which very
quietly announced on March 21 a change in Iraq's investment law,
allowing foreign investors to enter the Iraqi securities market and own
up to 49% of publicly listed companies). During the April assault on Fallujah,
Hassani helped push for a negotiated settlement, explaining to John
Abizaid, who wanted to "finish Fallujah" in two days, "Yeah,
you may finish Fallujah but I guarantee you, you'll have all Iraq as
one big Fallujah." During the more violent November assault,
however, as his Islamic Party resigned from the government in protest,
he broke with the party to retain his post as minister of industry,
lending tacit support to the US military's destruction
of the town.
Details about the US attack on Fallujah continue to
According to independent documentary filmmaker, Mark Manning, who
recently spent two
weeks in Fallujah, "The city itself has been devastated. Most
houses have been seriously damaged, with about 65% of them totally
destroyed... Many of the houses were fired, meaning that the troops
burned them down after searching them. Many houses with white flags and
markings stating 'Family Here' were destroyed." With almost every
building destroyed and with serious damage, the vast majority of
Fallujans still live as refugees in other cities or encampments on the
outskirts of town. According to the interim government's deputy
minister for industry, Muhammad Abdul al-A'ani, only
90 families had received compensation of around US $1,500 each so
far. The new speaker of the National Assembly, Hajim al-Hassani, was
responsible for this compensation program as minister of industry.
The Iraqi resistance's coordinated attack on the Abu Ghraib
prison, a symbol of US torture and humiliation of Iraqis, comes right
in the mainstream that the resistance has
lost steam. This attack has once again sparked
a debate about whether the Iraqi resistance has developed a more
organized military structure. Meanwhile, Sec. Rumsfeld has
ordered the senior military staff to study a RAND report that
argues that US forces face groups of "disparate opposition elements"
with "no center of gravity, or clear leader," and "flatter, more linear
networks rather than the pyramidical hierarchies and command and
control systems of traditional insurgent organizations." Analysts at
RAND theorize "netwar"
as the counterinsurgency focus for the future, weaving together such
disparate elements as the Zapatistas, al-Qaeda, the activists in the
1999 Seattle protests, and the Iraqi resistance.
The “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States
Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction” has done reasonably well what it
was created to do. Unfortunately, it was created to provide political
cover for the Bush administration in the middle of a scandal that
dwarfs Watergate, Iran-contra, and even Lewinsky-gate, but that, in
contrast to those events, has led to no in-depth investigation, minimal
television coverage, and hardly any calls for the heads responsible to
Think back to late January 2004 and the preliminary report of the Iraq
Survey Group, which concluded that no weapons of mass destruction had
been found in Iraq. This came on top of what was by then a mounting
wave of revelations that the Bush administration had repeatedly and
deliberately deceived the American public -- and attempted to deceive
the world -- about the evidence it claimed to have regarding Iraq’s
Post-war, those revelations started with Joseph Wilson’s account that,
acting for the Bush administration, he had debunked the claims that
Iraq was buying uranium from Niger. It included the British
government’s apology for its “dodgy dossier,” in which it plagiarized
12-year-old information from a graduate student’s paper and passed it
off as current intelligence, and the revelation that Tony Blair’s claim
that Iraq could deploy its nonexistent chemical and biological weapons
in 45 minutes was known to based on a single uncorroborated statement
by an untrustworthy defector. It included a comprehensive accounting in
the Washington Post showing that Iraq was not and could not have been
using its famous aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. It also
included a comprehensive debunking in the Associated Press of virtually
every element of Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003, presentation to the
U.N. Security Council. It even included a description of the role of
Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their Office of Special Plans in pressuring the
CIA, distorting their conclusions, and even setting them aside in order
to create the most urgent and compelling justification for war.
This wave, and the wave of political discontent with the Bush
administration, crested when David Kay’s report came out. Yet, within
days of its issuance, the administration, with the help of prominent
Democrats like Jane Harman on the House Intelligence Committee, had
already spun the issue around from administration deception to
something called “intelligence failures,” shifting blame from the
coterie of top officials who had lied us into a war to the intelligence
agencies had been pressured to come up with those lies. The creation of
this commission was the final step in the process, and helped to head
off any chance of a serious investigation into those lies.
Instead of impeachment proceedings for Bush, we saw a very skillful
bureaucratic maneuver that killed two birds with one stone --
deflection of attention and also an attack on the CIA, seen as an
institutional obstacle to implementation of the
Cheney-Rumsfeld-neoconservative foreign policy agenda. The check
provided by the CIA is a pragmatic, not a moral one, but if heeded
might have kept the administration out of embarrassing adventures like
support for the military coup attempt in Venezuela and perhaps even out
of the more than two-year-long occupation of Iraq.
Although the commission was specifically not tasked with considering
the administration’s use of intelligence, it still went out of its way
to opine that political pressure from the administration played no part
in the “intelligence failures,” because “The analysts who worked Iraqi
weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political
cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.” Of
course, not only would such an admission be tantamount to saying one
didn’t do one’s job properly, in the current political climate
intelligence analysts had to know that they would be punished for any
Similarly, the commission reserves particularly harsh criticism for the
way the President’s Daily Brief is prepared, characterizing them as
“more alarmist and less nuanced” than longer reports like the famously
flawed October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (heavily worked over
by the Office of Special Plans). Their “attention-grabbing headlines
of repetition” supposedly gave top officials the impression that
dramatic claims were much better sourced and heavily corroborated than,
in fact, they were.
The commission is clearly trying to imply that some sort of
scaremongering from the intelligence community stampeded the
administration into war. And yet, there is no mention of another
“attention-grabbing headline” from the August 6, 2001 PDB -- “Bin Laden
Determined to Attack in US.” To the uninitiated, this might well seem
alarming, yet it didn’t grab enough attention for Bush to cut short his
vacation at Crawford or to bring back other top officials to Washington
DC. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the administration got
“alarmed” by claims that supported its pre-existing plans, like the
invasion of Iraq, but couldn’t be bothered by claims that had little to
do with an imperial agenda, but, of course, the commission escapes it
Much of what the commission concludes about the shortcomings of the
intelligence community is true and recapitulates what thoughtful
critics on the inside like Richard Clarke and Michael Scheuer have been
saying. In a sense, it is the fault not so much of the commission but
of the Bush administration that created it as a diversion and of
political figures from across the spectrum who allowed themselves to be
The most alarming thing about the report is that the sections on
intelligence regarding Iran and North Korea have been kept classified.
The justification given is that there’s no reason for the U.S.
government to tip its hand to the remaining members of Bush’s “axis of
evil.” But, given the administration’s saber-rattling and consideration
of regime change attempts in both countries, the public’s right to know
is a far more compelling consideration. If the slightest move is made
toward any military aggression against Iran (the more likely scenario
of the two), the first thing we should demand is declassification of