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Killing Kids is So American January 5, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Thursday, January 5, 2012 by ThisCan’tBeHappening.net

According to news reports, 15-year-old eighth-grader Jaime Gonzalez, who was shot and killed yesterday by police in his middle school in Brownsville, TX, was hit at least two times: in the chest and once “from the back of the head.”Jaime Gonzalez is seen in this photo obtained from Facebook by CBS affiliate KGBT-TV in Harlingen, Texas. (KGBT-TV via Facebook)

Police say they were called by school authorities because Gonzalez was carrying a gun, which turned out, at least according to the police, to be a “realistic-looking” pellet gun, a weapon that uses compressed air to fire a metal pellet which, while perhaps a threat to the eye at close range, does not pose a serious threat to life.

There is now a national discussion going on in the media about whether police used excessive force in the incident, and there is, in Brownsville and at Gonzalez’s school, and of course in the Gonzalez family, both anger and mourning. The boy had reportedly been a victim of bullying.

Let me say unequivocally from the outset that, yes, whatever police authorities may say about “justified use of force,” the cops in this instance used excessive force (American cops these days are in military mode, and justify just about any firing of an officer’s weapon). Unless there were other children who were being held hostage by Gonzalez (there were not), or who were near him and being threatened (there were not), the police had no reason to kill him. Furthermore, there is the question of why three shots were fired, why they were fired at the chest of a child with clear intent to kill, and of course, there’s that shot to the back of the head, which is simply unjustifiable under any circumstances.

But having said that, I want to call attention to another point, that gets beyond this one case of overkill by police: the double standard of concern when it is an American kid and when it is foreign kids who are killed.

I’m referring here to Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands of kids even younger than Jaime Gonzalez, most of whom were not even armed, have been killed by American bombs and by the guns of American soldiers, and whose deaths evoke not the slightest word of sympathy or regret from either the killers themselves or the leaders, military and civilian, who issue the orders that led to their deaths. Nor is any concern about this slaughter of innocents expressed by the millions of Americans whose taxes pay for this ongoing atrocity.

Take Fallujah, a city of 300,000 in Iraq that in 2004 was the scene of one of the most brutal and brutish fighting of the US invasion of Iraq.

In what was clearly a war crime, the Bush/Cheney administration and the Pentagon ordered the leveling of Fallujah in retaliation for the killing by resistance fighters of four Blackwater mercenaries in the city, and the hanging of their burned bodies from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The assault on the city was a pure case of “collective punishment,” a tactic which is expressly declared a “war crime” by the Nuremberg Charter, drawn up and approved by the Allies at the end of World War II, and encoded in the Geneva Conventions in 1949.

The assaults on Fallujah, first in April, when the onslaught was called off because of nationwide protests in Iraq over the massive civilian casualties, and then in November when a larger and even more devastating assault was mounted that leveled nearly half the buildings in the city, also featured more war crimes, including the deliberate attack on and bombing of hospitals, and the executing of captured and wounded enemy fighters.

One of those crimes though, well documented by American reporters (though none of those from the mainstream press ever labeled what was happening as a war crime), was the deliberate entrapment of all “combat-aged males” in the city before the assault began. Under the Geneva Conventions, all civilians must be allowed to flee the scene of a battle or impending battle. Furthermore, since 1970, all those under 18, even if they are armed fighters, are defined as having “protected status” and must to be offered special protection by military forces.

Instead, as AP reporter Jim Krane wrote at the time, the US military ordered a cordon of Marines and members of the British Black Watch regiment to be placed around Fallujah in mid-October, three weeks ahead of the announced assault on the city. Civilian residents were urged to flee. But they had to pass through checkpoints, before being taken to heavily guarded refugee camps, and at these checkpoints, all males between the ages of 15 and 55 were turned back. Since the Pentagon was estimating the number of insurgents in the city at only about 4000 (and concedes that many of them had slipped away from the city before the attack began), it was clear that most of those boys and men were civilian non-combatants. Krane, asking about this, quoted a 1st Cavalry Division officer who declined to be identified as saying of those who were denied safe passage from the future free-fire kill zone, “We assume they’ll go home and just wait out the storm or find a place that’s safe.”

Easy words, but with over 10,000 buildings flattened in the ensuing US blitz on the city, finding safety would have been quite a challenge, and in fact well over 6000 civilians were killed in the nine-day attack in November. Bodies are still reportedly being pulled from the wreckage seven years later.

There was no remorse expressed at this slaughter, which included many 15-year-old boys just like Jaime Gonzalez, and younger kids too. Not by President Bush or Vice President Cheney, not by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or L. Paul Bremer, the jack-booted proconsul who headed up the US occupation administration in Iraq at the time, or by any of the commanders on the ground who set the rules of engagement for the assault. Nor was there any outrage expressed by the bulk of the American people in whose name this slaughter was conducted. Instead, the “victory” was cheered and the Marines were dubbed “heroes.”

Apparently for Americans, murdering young Iraqi boys and civilians in general is no big deal, any more than it is a big deal when helicopter gunships mow down young boys collecting wood on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, or execute sleeping high school students in a nigh-raided compound.

An exception is Ross Caputi, a Marine who was part of that assault on Fallujah, who in a powerful message of contrition last month published in the British newspaper, the Guardian (but not in any major US publication), wrote movingly that, “As a US marine who lost close friends in the siege of Fallujah in Iraq seven years ago, I understand that we were the aggressors.”

Caputi, who hails form a military family, wrote:

I understand the psychology that causes the aggressors to blame their victims. I understand the justifications and mechanisms. I understand the emotional urge to want to hate the people who killed someone dear to you. But to describe the psychology that preserves such false beliefs is not to ignore the objective moral truth that no attacker can ever justly blame their victims for defending themselves.

The same distorted morality has been used to justify attacks against the native Americans, the Vietnamese, El Salvadorans, and the Afghans. It is the same story over and over again. These people have been dehumanized, their God-given right to self-defense has been delegitimized, their resistance has been reframed as terrorism, and US soldiers have been sent to kill them.

History has preserved these lies, normalized them, and socialized them into our culture: so much so that legitimate resistance against US aggression is incomprehensible to most, and to even raise this question is seen as un-American.

History has defined the US veteran as a hero, and in doing so it has automatically defined anyone who fights against him as the bad guy. It has reversed the roles of aggressor and defender, moralized the immoral, and shaped our society’s present understanding of war.

As a society, it is time for us Americans to stop condoning all this violence, particularly against children. No amount of rationalizing by police and by their bloody-minded supporters can justify the killing of Jaime Gonzalez and other children like him, and no amount of rationalizing by the purveyors of fear in government and media or by the rabid neo-cons and neo-liberals who back them and urge them on can justify America’s endless brutal imperial wars and the the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, many of them children, that are such an integral part of those wars.

© 2012 Dave Lindorff

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Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006).

Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They “Protect” Civilians? March 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Libya, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
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Wednesday 23 March 2011

by: Dave Lindorff  |  This Can’t Be Happening | News Analysis

Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They "Protect" Civilians?
On a tour led by an official of the Libyan government, a girl is seen next to a house covered in shrapnel marks on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli that government officials said was targeted by western air strikes, March 25, 2011. (Photo: Moises Saman / The New York Times)

President Obama’s criminal launch of an undeclared and Congressionally unauthorized war against Libya may be compounded by the crime of spreading toxic uranium oxide in populated areas of that country.

This is latest concern of groups like the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, which monitor the military use of so-called depleted-uranium (DU) anti-tank and bunker-penetrating shells.

Images of Libyan civilians and rebels celebrating around the burning hulks of the Libyan army’s tanks and armored personnel carriers, which had been hit by US, French and British aircraft ordinance in the early hours of the US-led assault on the forces of Col. Muammar Gaddafy, could well have been unknowingly inhaling the deadly dust of the uranium weapons favored by Western military forces for anti-tank warfare.

Specifically, the British-built Harrier jets used by British naval air forces and also by US Marine pilots, are often equipped with pod-mounted cannons that fire 20 mm shells–shells that often have uranium projectiles designed to penetrate heavy armor.

So far, the US has not introduced its A-10 Thunderbolts, known also as Warthogs, into the Libyan campaign, probably because these sub-sonic, straight-wing craft, while heavily armored, are vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles which Libyan forces are known to possess in large numbers. Once the air-control situation is improved by continued bombardment, however, these specialized ground-attack aircraft will probably be added to the attacking forces. The A-10 has a particularly large automatic cannon which fires an unusually large 30 mm shell. These shells are often fitted with solid uranium projectiles for attacking tanks, APCs or groups of fighters holed up in concrete bunkers.

A-10s were heavily used in the Balkan conflict, and officials of Kosovo were dismayed to learn that some 11 tons of uranium weapons were fired there, leaving dangerous uranium dust fallout in their wake.

The US military is fond of DU weapons because the material, made from uranium from which the fissionable U-235 has been removed, because it is extremely heavy, and, in alloy form, also extremely hard. Because of its mass, such projectiles can penetrate even the heaviest armor. Then, in the heat caused by the collision with an object, the uranium bursts into flame at extreme heat, causing an explosive (and toxic) inferno inside a tank or other vehicle, which usually also ignites any ammunition being carried. Soldiers inside a target vehicle are incinerated. The problem is that the resulting uranium oxide produced by such explosions, besides being highly toxic chemically, is also a microscopic alpha-emitter, which if inhaled or ingested by human beings is extremely carcinogenic and mutagenic.

Cities in Iraq where DU weapons were heavily used, such as Basra, Samara, Baghdad, Mosul and probably especially Fallujah, which was virtually leveled in a November 2004 Marine assault, are showing high rates of birth defects, many of which, along with unusually high rates of leukemia, medical experts say are emblematic of fetal radiation damage.

A University of Michigan peer-reviewed study of births in Fallujah published in December 2010 found that of 547 births in Fallujah General Hospital in May of 2010, six years after the all-out US assault on that city of 300,000, in which DU weapons were reportedly used widely, 15% of babies had birth defects–a rate more than five times higher than the global average of 2-3%.

It would be a tragic irony if rebels in Libya, after calling for assistance from the US and other NATO countries, succeeded in overthrowing the country’s long-time tyrant Gaddafy, only to have their country contaminated by uranium dust–the fate already suffered by the peoples of Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. 

Obama Administration Silent on IDF Murder of 19-Year-Old American September 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Published on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 by ThisCan’tBeHappening.netby Dave Lindorff

Murder is murder, and terror is terror, you might think. But when terror is committed against an American citizen by the state of Israel the response from the US government is not protest, and it is surely not to demand justice, much less seek vengeance. It is silence.
In 1985, when terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front, in an act of piracy on the high seas in the Mediterranean, took control of the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, and executed the Jewish American Leon Klinghoffer, shooting him in the forehead and then pushing the wheelchair-bound 69-year-old overboard, the US responded with dramatic action. To rescue the passengers, Italian negotiators had worked out a deal granting safe passage to Tunisia to the pirates, in return for the freeing of the ship and its other passengers. But President Ronald Reagan dispatched a US fighter plane to intercept the plane carrying the PLF pirates to safety, and forced it to land at a US airbase in Italy, where they were turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution.

Compare this to another more recent act of piracy, the violent assault and high-seas boarding of the Turkish cruise ship Mavi Marmara and a flotilla of smaller ships bound from Turkey to Gaza by troops from the Israeli Defense Force, who commandeered the vessels, killing eight Turkish and one young Turkish-American passenger. The US failed to condemn this latter act of piracy, and as for the American who was slain, 19-year old Furkan Dogan, there was not a word of protest.

Worse yet, we now learn only now that in July, two months after the May 31 IDF attack, the Turkish government supplied the Obama Administration with the result of the Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine’s autopsy of young Dogan, which showed clearly that he had been murdered by two shots to the face fired by Israeli commandos at point blank range while he lay, gravely injured, on the deck of the ship.

Dogan’s other wounds, according to the autopsy, included a shot to the back, leg and foot. He was said to have been writhing in a conscious or semi-consciousness state on the deck “for some time” when he was executed.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, says it sent the autopsy report to the US via the US Embassy in Turkey, as soon as it was completed, assuming the US would want to prosecute Israel for his death. Instead, the Obama administration and the US Justice Department sat on the information, saying nothing. A request for information from the Justice Department about the autopsy elicited only a brief “We have no comment for you,” from DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd.

Meanwhile, while Israel has been claiming that its boarding party on the Mavi Marmara only used their guns and killed people after they were attacked by passengers and crew on the ship, the truth appears to be that they came aboard guns blazing, and intent on causing harm. A fact-finding mission of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has concluded that Dogan, for example, was not resisting the boarding, but rather, was filming it, using a small hand-held video camera from his position on the boat’s top deck.

He would not be the only videographer or photographer shot. IDF troops made a concerted effort to stop all photographers and videographers from recording their actions, not only shooting at those who were filming them, but also confiscating or destroying hundreds of cameras, memory cards and other recording equipment.

Turkish medical examiners concluded that five others of the nine killed, in addition to Dogan, were slain execution-style by IDF troops in the assault on the Mavi Marmara.

Although the conclusions of the Human Rights Commissioner’s report and of the Turkish medical examiners has been big news in Turkey for the past week, the US media has maintained a news blackout, even though one of the murdered victims was an American. It’s a sad commentary on the extent to which the US corporate media have become propagandists for the US and Israeli governments.

The UN fact-finding mission, which interviewed 112 witnesses to the attack, was chaired by Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Q.C., retired judge of the International Criminal Court and former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago. Other members included Sir Desmond de Silva, Q.C. of the United Kingdom, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Ms. Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia, founding member of the board of directors of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.

© 2010 ThisCan’tBeHappening.net

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). All his work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

The Bodies of Those Who Died in Vain Litter our Landscape May 30, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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Sun, 05/30/2010 – 12:15 — Anonymous
by: 

It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I am sick to death of the glorification of war in America.

And I am even sicker of politicians who wrap themselves in the bloody flag and try to rub off some of the stench of death from the bodies of those who have died, mostly in vain for worthless causes, in hopes that taking on some of the odor will cause them to be perceived as admirable patriots themselves.

President George W. Bush, who dodged danger in the Vietnam War by signing up for the Texas National Guard and then ducked even that domestic duty, and Vice President Dick Cheney who used five different excuses to duck military service, morbidly rubbed themselves with that flag for eight long years, even as they sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm’s for their own personal political advantage.

President Barack Obama (who also avoided military service), continued this obscene tradition when, in his weekly PR address to the nation, he urged Americans to “leave a flower” on the grave of a soldier who died in one of America’s wars “so the rest of us might inherit the blessings of this nation.” Obama is also sending young Americans to kill and die halfway around the world in a war that has no purpose other than to demonstrate his political “toughness.” Yet he disingenuously declares that it was “to preserve America and advance the ideals we cherish” that “led patriots in each generation to sacrifice their own lives to secure the life of our nation, from the trenches of World War I to the battles of World War II, from Inchon and Khe Sanh, from Mosul to Marja.”

What utter crap and nonsense!

I’ll grant you that there were noble motivations that led many Americans to die fighting for this country’s independence. The same can be said for those soldiers who fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War who had the noble goal of ending the crime of slavery. And indeed it was the decision by a group of freed slaves in 1866 in South Carolina to disinter the bodies of Union soldiers who had died in Confederate captivity and who had been unceremoniously dumped in a collective grave, and to give them all decent burials, that established the first Memorial Day.

But to claim that the over 100,000 American soldiers who died on the front lines in World War I were defending American freedoms, as Memorial Day speakers like Obama do year after year, is simply a lie. World War I was never about a threat to America. It was a war of empire, fought by the European powers, none of which was any better or worse than the others, and the US joined that conflict not for noble reasons or for defense, but in hopes of picking up some of the pieces. My own maternal grandfather, a promising sprinter who had Olympic aspirations, was struck with mustard gas in the trenches and, unable to run anymore with his permanently scarred lungs, ended up having to settle for coaching high school as a career. (My paternal grandfather won a silver star for heroism as an ambulance driver on the front, but was so damaged by what he experienced that he never talked about it at all, my father says.) Sadly, their sacrifices and heroism served no noble cause.

World War II, at least in Europe, may have had some moral justification, though there can be some legitimate debate as to whether the US and its freedoms were ever really threatened, and certainly many of the Americans who died in that war saw their struggle as worthy, so that we may at least in good conscience honor their deaths.

But Khe Sanh? Mosul? And for god’s sake, Marjah? Let’s get real.

Khe Sanh, one of the major battles in the Vietnam War, was just one little piece of a huge malignant disaster in a war that was criminal from its inception, and that had no purpose beyond perpetuating the neocolonialist control by the US of a long-subjugated people who were fighting to be free, just as our own ancestors had done. The over 58,000 Americans who died in that war, who contributed to the killing of over 2 million Vietnamese, many or most of them civilians, may have engaged in personal acts of bravery, but they were not, as a group, heroes. Nor were they over there fighting for American freedom. Some, like Lt. William Calley, who did not die, were no doubt murderers. Most, though, were simply victims–victims of their own government’s years of lying and deceit.

If we memorialize them, it should be by vowing never again to allow our government to commit such crimes, and to send Americans to fight and die for such criminal policies.

Sadly, we’ve already allowed that to happen, though, over and over again–in the Panama, in Grenada, in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan and perhaps, before long, Iran and/or Pakistan.

Take the president’s mention of Mosul. It is a city in Iraq, and the Americans who died there and in other Iraqi cities died because of the criminality of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who manufactured a criminal war of aggression against Iraq, a country that posed no threat to the US. They died too because of the cowardice and venality of the Democrats in Congress who allowed themselves to be bullied and extorted into supporting that criminal war. The five thousand Americans who died, and the hundreds of thousands more who have been gravely wounded in that war, not to mention the more than a million who fought there or worked in support roles for others who fought, were not defending any of our “cherished ideals.” They were simply helping oil companies like Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Shell and yes, British Petroleum, secure control of the Iraqi oilfields. They were simply helping Bush and Cheney win re-election. They were simply helping inflate the profits of Halliburton, Boeing, Lockheed, Blackwater and other war profiteers.

Noble deaths indeed.

As for Marjah, its mention at all in the same breath as the American Revolution or the Civil War is simply laughable, but it is also truly grotesque. The little farming communities that the Pentagon PR machine lyingly described as a small city swarming with Taliban fighters was nothing but a staged and carefully managed battle set, designed to make Americans forget that the US was (and is) bogged down in an unwinnable war of conquest and occupation in Afghanistan. The few American soldiers and Marines who died there died for the sake of White House and Pentagon propaganda, not for the sake of defending Americans’ vaunted freedoms. The set has now been torn down, the klieg lights have been turned off, and “Marjah” has reverted to Taliban territory again.

This blind worship of US militarism has got to stop!

Never again should Americans be sent to kill and die for politicians.

If and when America and American freedom are really threatened, I have no doubt that American men and women will rise to the occasion and show the kind of nobility and heroism that was evident in the Revolution and the Civil War. But in the meantime, we need to stop glorifying all these wars that were criminal, or that could have been avoided. Memorial Day should be a day to demand peace, a day to demand an end to a military-industrial complex that claims nearly half of the nation’s general funds, a day to focus on the real threats to American’s “cherished ideals,” most of which are purely domestic, and a day to celebrate what those ideals are: equalty before the law, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from government intrusion in our lives, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers, and the right to stand up and say that our political leaders are, for the most part, crooks, charlatans and even war criminals.

Afghanistan’s My Lai Massacre March 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Students executed by US forces in Kunar Province

Friday 05 March 2010

by: Dave Lindorff, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
 

 

photo
(Photo: Omer Wazir; Edited: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)

When Charlie Company’s Lt. William Calley ordered and encouraged his men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 men, women and children in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of Vietnamese and Calley’s men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on the US soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who learned of the massacre and began a private investigation, ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company, who witnessed the whole thing and reported it all to Ridenhour. And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in the US media.

Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a mistake – a massacre, which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others in Kunar Province on December 26.

Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a Bernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ridenhour among the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has investigated this war crime the way Hersh investigated My Lai.

There is a Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but he’s a Brit. While American reporters, like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote “CNN’s” December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon’s initial cover story – that the dead were part of a secret bomb squad – at face value, Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources – the dead boys’ headmaster, other townspeople and Afghan government officials – and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime – the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the US like The New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon’s lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on February 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot. Starkey reported the US government’s damning admission</a>. Yet still the US media remain silent as the grave.

Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a captive. Yet, in Kunar on December 26, US-led forces, or perhaps US soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodedly executed eight hand-cuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and a third was 15.

I called the secretary of defense’s office to ask if any investigation was underway into this crime or if one was planned, was told I had to send a written request, which I did. To date, I have heard nothing. What the Pentagon has done – no surprise – is to pass the buck by leaving any investigation to the International Security Assistance Force – a fancy name for the US-led NATO force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a clever ruse, since Congress has no authority to compel testimony from NATO or the ISAF as it would the Pentagon. A source at the Senate Armed Services Committee says the ISAF is investigating, and that the committee has asked for a “briefing” – that means nothing would be under oath – once that investigation is complete, but don’t hold your breath or expect anything dramatic.

I also contacted the press office of the House Armed Services Committee to see if any hearings into this crime have been planned. The answer is no, though the press officer asked me to send her details of the incident. (Not a good sign that House members and staff are paying much attention – the killings led to countrywide student demonstrations in Afghanistan, to a formal protest by the office of President Hamid Karzai and to an investigation by the Afghan government, which concluded that innocent students had been handcuffed and executed and, no doubt, contributed to a call by the Afghan government for prosecution and execution of American soldiers who kill Afghan civilians.)

There is still time for real heroes to stand up in the midst of this imperial adventure that may now appropriately be called Obama’s War in Afghanistan. Plenty of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan know that nine innocent Afghan children were captured and murdered at America’s hands last December in Kunar. There are also probably people who were involved in the planning or carrying out of this criminal operation who are sickened by what happened. But these people are, so far, holding their tongues, whether out of fear or out of simply not knowing where to turn. (Note: If you have information you may contact me.)

There are also plenty of reporters in Afghanistan and in Washington who could be investigating this story. They are not. Don’t ask me why. They certainly should not be able to call themselves journalists – at least with a straight face.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net. Lindorff may be reached at dlindorff@yahoo.com

Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes October 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
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Published on Saturday, October 17, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Dave Lindorff

On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases-Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.

Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.

This is another belated step forward in the decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to acknowledge the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (It is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins-most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets-an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)

Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam-the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.

According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.

Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam-a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.

One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the way, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.

It may seem a pathetic stab at principle given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions). He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.

But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million hectares-12% of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25% of the southern half of the country-might be a war crime.

Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.

The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such aid was ever given.

Dao says he didn’t mention significance for Vietnamese dioxin victims of the VA’s decision to recognize three new diseases as being Agent Orange-linked, because “my beat is veterans,” and because he only had 800 words in which to cover his story. That may be true (though surely the Vietnamese at least deserved a one-sentence mention). But back on July 25, when the Times ran a story (by Janie Lorber, not by Dao) about the finding by an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine linking Parkinsons, ischemic heart disease and leukemia to Agent Orange, upon which the latest VA decision was based, it also failed to mention the Vietnamese victims. In that case, the lapse was simply journalistically inexcuseable, since it was about a new medical finding, not a policy decision regarding the treatment of veterans.

At this point, the only way the New York Times can salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation on this topic would be by having Dao, Lorber or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam. They could start by calling a veteran at Veterans for Peace or the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Obama’s Health Care Waterloo June 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
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Dave Lindorff

www.opednews.com, June 19, 2009

The Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are finally hitting the inevitable wall that was bound to confront them because of the president’s congenital inability to be a bold leader, and because of the party’s toxic decades-old decision to betray its working class New Deal base in favor of wholesale corporate whoredom.

The wall is health care reform, which both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had hoped would be the ticket for them to ride to victory in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election.

But you cannot achieve the twin goals of reducing health care costs and providing access to health care to 50 million uninsured people, while leaving the profit centers of the current system—doctors, hospitals and the health insurance industry—in charge and in a position to continue to reap profits.

Watching President Obama address the American Medical Association was a cringe-inducing experience as he assured the assembled doctors he was not going to expand Medicare payments “broadly” to cover all patients, or end the current “piece-work reimbursement” system that has so enriched physicians, or as he told them that savings would “not come off your backs.” It was particularly cringe-inducing when he told the AMA that he knew that making money was not why its members were in the profession, saying, “That is not why you became doctors. That is not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R. That is not what brings you back to a patient’s bedside to check in or makes you call a loved one to say it’ll be fine. You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers. You entered this profession to be healers – and that’s what our health care system should let you be. “

Oh please. I know there are plenty of wonderful doctors who are dedicated to their patients and to patient care. But I also know plenty of doctors who have told me how half their classmates in medical school were mainly in it for the money, and that study halls and cafeterias of American med schools echo with the conversations about what can be made working in particular specialties. Not to mention the corrupt and insidious profit-sharing arrangements doctors enter into with labs, CAT-Scan and MRI test centers, pharmaceutical companies and other businesses, to earn profits by sending patients for unnecessary tests and treatments.

One can only imagine what he would be saying to insurance industry executives about his “reform” plans.

Because Obama and Congressional Democrats are unwilling to cut themselves off from the lucrative campaign-funding bonanza that is the health care industry, they cannot address seriously either the cost or the access crisis that plagues health care in the US, and that makes health care in this country cost 20 percent of GDP—twice what it costs in any other modern nation on a per capita or GDP basis, and that still leaves one in six Americans without ready access to even routine health care.

The answer to this crisis is obvious: a single-payer “socialized” system, in which you still have private doctors, and private or publicly run hospitals, but where the government sets the payment rates for treatment, and provides all compensation to health care providers.

If Democrats in Congress were serious about health care reform, they would immediately order the Congressional Budget Office to conduct a cost study of instituting such a program—a study that would include an estimate of the savings to individuals and employers if health care costs were lifted entirely off their backs (because obviously it would require considerable new government revenue to fund a single-payer program, but that’s only half the equation—the other half, the savings, is simply ignored by critics and doomsayers on the right and in the health care industry). Instead, Obama and the Democratic Congress are studiously avoiding even allowing any mention of the single-payer option. (A New York Times report today on the various health care plans working their way through Congress, and coming out of the White House, completely blacked out any mention of a single-payer bill in the House authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which the House leadership has prevented from even getting a token hearing.)

Obama’s unwillingness to lead on this issue will doom his health care plan. There is obviously no way Congress is going to shake off its corrupt leech-like attachment to corporate sponsors and their cash-spreading lobbyists, but had the new president wanted to make a historic mark and cruise to victory in 2012, he could have, like President Lyndon Johnson before him in his campaign for Medicare in 1965, put himself solidly behind a single-payer plan and made the case that it could cut America’s collective health bill in half while opening the door to every American.

Instead, he’s likely to end up with worse than nothing—that is with even more uninsured Americans come 2012, and with health care costs moving up as a share of GDP—and could well find himself out of a job. The policy that his handlers, like White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, had conceived of as Obama’s ticket to re-election, health care reform, could well prove instead to be his Waterloo.

That is if his adoption of a policy of expanded war in Afghanistan—another example of a failure to lead—doesn’t prove to be this president’s bigger policy disaster.

___________________

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. He is author of “Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains” (Bantam Books, 1992), and most recently of “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Blowing Our Chance for Real Health Care Reform June 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Dave Lindorff

If you want to fix the disaster that is called the American healthcare system, the first thing to do is to clearly point out what its major failings are, and there are two of these.

The first is cost. America is one of the most expensive places, or possibly the most expensive place, in the world to get sick or injured. The corollary of that is that it is one of the best places to make a killing if you are in the medical business, whether as a doctor, a hospital company, a pharmaceutical firm or a nursing home owner.

The second is access. One in six Americans—a total of 50 million people at latest count—have no way to pay for that care. Too young for Medicare, too “well off” for Medicaid, but too poor to buy private health insurance or too sick to be admitted into a plan, or employed by a company that doesn’t provide health benefits, these people get no medical care until they get so sick that they are brought into a hospital emergency room where they get treated (often too late) at public expense, or at the hospital’s expense, with the cost shifted onto taxpayers or onto insured patients’ premiums.

Any reform of this atrocious “system” must address these two major failings or it is no reform at all.

And that’s where all the various versions of Obamacare fall flat.

Simply put, you cannot solve either of these problems by leaving the payment system for medical care in the hands of the private insurance industry, since the whole paradigm of insurance is to make money by keeping high-risk people out of the insured pool, and by keeping reimbursements and coverage for premium payers as low as possible.

Having a so-called “public option” plan working in competition with private insurance plans will not solve this problem. Either the public option will become like the private options—trimming benefits and rejecting some applicants—or it will become a dumping ground for all the high-cost, high-risk people that the private sector insurance industry doesn’t want. At that point, the public plan will become a huge cost burden on the taxpayer, who will begin demanding that it cut back in the benefits it provides, taking us right back to where we started.

The fact that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are both raising the issue of the high cost of health care “reform,” and are talking about ways to raise revenues to pay for it tells us all we need to know about the alleged “reform” schemes they are contemplating. They are doomed and, even if implemented, will not work.

Real reform of the American health care system would not cost money. It would save money.

There is a level of dishonesty in what passes for the debate over health care “reform” in both Congress and the media that is stunning in its brazenness and/or venality. Of course real reform would cost more in government spending. But that is because real reform would remove the cost of medical care from both employers and from workers (who over the last 20 years have been shouldering an increasing share of their own medical care). And that shift would mean more profits for US companies, which would free up more money for wages, and it would mean less money deducted from paychecks, meaning higher incomes for workers.

If President Obama had any political courage at all, he’d simply get on TV and say this: I will create a plan that will cover everyone, lift the burden of paying for health care from individuals and employers, and have the government pay for it all. You the taxpayer will pay for this plan with higher taxes, but you will no longer have any significant medical bills, you will no longer have health insurance premiums deducted from your paycheck, your employer will no longer be paying for employee medical coverage, and you will never have to worry about losing health benefits again, even if you are laid off. (Incidentally, eliminating employer-funded health insurance would go a long way towards allowing workers to fight to have unions, and to strike for contracts, by ending the threat that they would lose their benefits.)

Of course, to do that the president would have to be talking about what is variously known as national health care or a single-payer plan, in which the government is the insurer of health care for all.

This option isn’t even being discussed in this so-called debate. As I’ve written earlier, even though there is an excellent single-payer system in place that has been running for a third of a century just to the north in Canada—a system where patients have absolute freedom to choose their doctor, get instant access to a hospital and to expert specialist care in emergencies, and have a healthier society by every statistical measure—all at a fraction of the staggering cost of healthcare in the US, not one Canadian expert working in that system has been invited down to discuss its workings with the White House or with members of Congress.

There has been a lot of negative propaganda spread about Canada’s single-payer system, by right-wing, business-funded “no-think” tanks, and by medical industry lobbies from the American Medical Assn. to the pharmaceutical industry, but no government committee or agency has bothered, or dared, to bring in Canadian experts to respond to and debunk that propaganda. The corporate liars talk about waiting lists and lack of access to CAT-scan or MRI machines. But all we really need to know about the Canadian, and other similar single-payer systems, is that nowhere that they have been instituted have they been later terminated, even when, as in Canada, right-wing governments have been elected to power. The public, whether in Canada, or France, or England, or Taiwan or elsewhere, loves their public health insurance system, whatever flaws or problems with underfunding those systems may have at certain times. Trying ot eliminate such systems would be political suicide for a conservative government, as even arch-free-marketer British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who never met a government activity that she didn’t want to privatize, learned.

Right now, with half of all Americans reportedly fearing that they could lose their jobs, and with one in five Americans reportedly either unemployed, or involuntarily working part-time, we have a situation where a majority of Americans either have no health insurance, have lost their health insurance, or are in danger of losing their employer-funded health insurance. It is a unique moment when a bold president and Congress could act to end private health insurance and establish a public single-payer insurance plan to insure and provide access to affordable medical care to all Americans.

Instead of this, we are being offered half measures or no measures at all by leaders who are shamelessly in hock to the health care industry or who are afraid of its power.

17 years ago, the Clintons had a similar opportunity to grab the health care industry by the neck, strangle it, and produce a single-payer alternative. They blew that chance by trying to keep the health care greed-heads happy. Now, almost a generation later, we have another shot at it, and Obama and his Democratic Congress are doing the same thing again. There is a strong likelihood that they will fail, like the Clintons before them. If they succeed in coming up with some kind of hybrid public-private Frankenstein of a system that includes a public insurance option, it will simply delay the inevitable disaster, as medical costs, already 20 percent of GDP—the highest share of any economy in the world—continue to soar, and as the cost of the public plan, which will inevitably become a dumping ground for high-cost patients, becomes politically untenable. In the end, we will have even more expensive and inaccessible healthcare than we have today.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but only if Americans rip their eyes away from their crisp new digital-image TV screens and start demanding real health care reform will we get honest reform. A good place to begin would be to start writing and phoning your local media outlets to ask why they are not reporting on single-payer, and in particular on the single-payer bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), which is being silently blocked and killed by his colleagues in the Democratic congressional leadership and by the White House. A good place to begin would also be to start calling your elected representatives to demand that they support Rep. Conyers’ single-payer bill.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Caught in a Lie: US is Using White Phosphorus in Afghanistan as a Weapon May 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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by Dave Lindorff

When doctors started reporting that some of the victims of the US bombing of several villages in Farah Province last week—an attack that left between 117 and 147 civilians dead, most of them women and children—were turning up with deep, sharp burns on their body that “looked like” they’d been caused by white phosphorus, the US military was quick to deny responsibility.

US officials—who initially denied that the US had even bombed any civilians in Farah despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including massive craters where houses had once stood—insisted that “no white phosphorus” was used in the attacks on several villages in Farah.

Official military policy on the use of white phosphorus is to only use the high-intensity, self-igniting material as a smoke screen during battles or to illuminate targets, not as a weapon against human beings—even enemy troops.

Now that policy, and the military’s blanket denial that phosphorus was used in Farah, have to be challenged, thanks to a recent report filed from a remote area of Afghanistan by a New York Times reporter.

C.J. Chivers, writing in the May 14 edition of the NY Times, in an article headlined “Korangal Memo: In Bleak Afghan Outpost, Troops Slog On,” wrote of how an embattled US Army unit in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan, had come under attack following a morning memorial service for one of its members, Pfc. Richard Demeter, who had been killed the day before by a mine.

Chivers wrote:

“After the ceremony, the violence resumed. The soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, which was pounded by mortars and then white phosphorus rounds from a 155 millimeter howitzer.

“What did the insurgents do? When the smoldering subsided, they attacked from exactly the same spot, shelling the outpost with 30-millimeter grenades and putting the soldiers on notice that the last display of firepower had little effect. The Americans escalated. An A-10 aircraft made several gun runs, then dropped a 500-pound bomb.”

It is clear from this passage that the military’s use of the phosphorus shells had not been for the officially sanctioned purpose of providing cover. The soldiers had no intention of climbing that hill to attack the spotter on the ridge themselves. They were trying to destroy him with shells and bombs. In fact, the last thing they would have wanted to do was provide the enemy spotter with a smoke cover, which would have helped him escape, and which also would have hidden him from the A-10 ground attack planes which had been called in to make gun runs at his position. Nor was this a case of illuminating the target. The incident, as Chivers reports, took place in broad daylight.

Clearly then, this article demonstrates that it is routine for US soldiers to call in phosphorus rounds to attack enemy soldiers, which is supposed to be against US military policy for this material. Whoever was manning the howitzer had a stock of the weapons on hand, and was ready to fire them.

The US initially flatly denied using white phosphorus weapons in Iraq, when reports first began to come out, including from US troops themselves, that they had been used extensively against insurgents defending the city of Fallujah against US Marines in November 2004. Under mounting pressure, the Pentagon first admitted that it had used the chemical in Fallujah but only “for illumination.” Later, the Pentagon added that it had used phosphorus as a “screen” to hide troops. But finally, in 2005, the Pentagon was forced to admit that it had also used white phosphorus directly as a weapon against enemy Iraqi troops in the assault on Fallujah, a city of 300,000 that still held many civilians.

The same pattern of denial and eventual admission regarding the use of this controversial and deadly weapon by US forces now seems to be repeating itself in Afghanistan.

It is odd that given the controversy over the use of white phosphorus weapons, which result in terrible wounds and eventual death as phosphorus particles burn their way down through flesh to the bone and sometimes straight onward through a body, leaving a charred channel of destruction, the New York Times’ Chivers—or more likely his editors back in New York?—ignored any mention of the issue while reporting on the use of the chemical rounds to attack a lone spotter on the ridge.

Given the current controversy over whether the US used white phosphorus shells or bombs in Falah Province only days before, it is hard to understand why the issue wasn’t mentioned in this particular article. Indeed, in the online version of the story, the word phosphorus is set as a hotlink to an article on the controversy over the battlefield use of phosphorus, indicating that at least someone at the Times has integrity and a good news sense.

As for the US government and the Pentagon, it is clear that they know the weapon is a vicious and controversial one, and that besides causing horrific and painful wounds, it is profoundly dangerous for innocent civilians, particularly when used in town or village settings.

It is bad enough that the US is using this weapon. It is even worse that it is forced to lie about it.

Surely if the goal of US policy is to win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s people, it shouldn’t be using a weapon that causes such terrible and indiscriminate wounds. Then again, maybe winning those hearts and minds isn’t really the goal. Maybe, as in the so-called “Pacification Program” applied by US forces in rural South Vietnam, the goal is to terrorize Afghan villagers in Taliban-dominated regions into rejecting the Taliban in their midst.

Requests for answers from the press office at the Pentagon, and at military headquarters in Afghanistan, regarding US policy on the use of white phosphorus, and on the specific use of the shells mentioned in the New York Times article were ignored.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Torturing Judge Bybee: Make Him Eat His Own Words April 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Dave Lindorff

If the day comes that Congress finally does its duty and begins an impeachment effort against 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Judge Jay Bybee, the former Bush assistant attorney general who in 2002 authored a key memo justifying the use of torture against captives in the Afghanistan invasion and the so-called “War on Terror,” it would be fitting punishment to watch him squirm as his own words as a judge were played back to him.

It was as an Appeals Court Judge Bybee, sitting on a case being heard in 2006 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that he wrote the following words:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.” (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 v. Laidlaw Transit Services, Inc.).

Yet causing words to become “so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean” was precisely the goal of the 48-page memo, just released by the Obama Administration, which Bybee wrote for the Bush/Cheney White House authorizing the use of what any ordinary person, and indeed the US Criminal Code, would define as torture against captives held in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The actual Geneva Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, incorporated in 1996 by act of Congress as a part of the US Criminal Code, Title 18, Sections 2340-2340A, is quite unambiguous in its proscription. As Bybee notes in his memo, the Convention Against Torture defines torture as:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Now we know that what US CIA agents, military interrogators, and even prison guards charged with “softening up” detainees, were doing to captives included repeated waterboardings (over 100 times in the case of some captives), slamming into walls while leashed to a neck restraint, enforced sleeplessness for as long as 11 days at a time, subjection to prolonged periods of extreme heat or cold, attacks by dogs, being locked in a box with biting insects, etc. ad nauseum.

Yet Bybee, in his capacity as counsel to the president in the office of the Attorney General, went to great creative lengths to make the words in that act “elastic” to the point that they “lose their ordinary meaning.”

For example, in his memo Bybee wrote:

“We…conclude that certain acts may be cruel, inhumane or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Sec. 2340A’s proscription against torture.”

Then, because he saw that that term “severe” in the statute was problematic, Bybee went out of his way to try to make it mean something more extreme. He found a legal case involving a hospital that was being sued for refusing to admit an emergency medical patient, concluding that severe pain would have to be pain “equivalent to (sic) intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”

Obviously, when someone says they have a “severe headache” or tells the doctor that they have a “severe pain” in their lower back, they aren’t talking about facing death, organ failure of impairment of bodily function. They are using the word in its “ordinary meaning” to communicate that they are hurting badly. But then Asst. Attorney General Bybee isn’t interested in what Judge Bybee called “the ordinary meaning” of words. He’s looking for weasel words. He’s trying to get words to be “elastic,” and to mean “the opposite of what they appear to mean.”

But Bybee also recognized in the event that Bush or his subordinates were someday to be hauled before a court and prosecuted for war crimes, he would need to offer them a second line of defense, so, ever the good mob attorney, the future appellate court judge offered up this beauty:

“To violate Section 2340A, the statute requires that severe pain and suffering must be inflicted with specific intent. In order for a defendant to have acted with specific intent, he must expressly intend to achieve the forbidden act.”

What this means, writes Bybee, is that, “If the defendant [the government torturer] acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was reasonably likely to result from his actions, but no more, he would have acted with only general intent” but not “specific intent” to cause pain.” Put another way, he writes, “As a theoretical matter therefore, knowledge alone that a particular result is certain to occur does not constitute specific intent.”

How’s that for elastic? Let’s imagine a killer who fires a gun at a victim, hitting him square between the eyes and killing him. He could offer up the Bybee Defense, arguing that when he pointed his gun towards the victim, at a range of 10 feet, he knew that death was “reasonably likely” to result from his actions, “but no more.” Using Bybee’s reasoning here, he should not be convicted, or even charged with first-degree murder, because he lacked “specific intent” to kill.

But Bybee, noting that a jury might not buy such a line of defense, offers up yet another rationale for torture not being torture. He writes, in the memo:

“Furthermore, a showing that an individual acted with a good faith belief that his conduct would not produce a result that the law prohibits negates specific intent.”

Call this the Faith-Based No Torture Defense. According to FBNTD, if you don’t believe you are torturing someone, you aren’t torturing them. Here Bybee turns to case law with, not a torture case, but rather the example of a defendant in a mail fraud trial, who successfully argued that if he had a good faith belief that the material he was mailing was truthful, he wasn’t guilty of mail fraud. But of course, torture isn’t mail fraud, and the evidence of the pain and suffering being inflicted at the hands of the torturer is right there before his eyes, whatever he may “believe.”

Let’s face it. This word-twisting judge, sitting in his black robes in a court that ranks just below the US Supreme Court in importance, is a disgrace not just to the US court system, not just to the legal profession, but to the English language.

He should not only be impeached and removed from his post by Congress; he should be disbarred by fellow members of his legal profession and then prosecuted as a war criminal by his former employer, the US Dept. of Justice, for his role in authorizing and promoting the use of torture by US military and intelligence agency personnel. If convicted, he should be sentenced to a long term in jail, and while confined should be forced to write 100 times a day on a blackboard:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.”

While Bybee himself may have never personally tortured anything but the English language, his eventual prosecution for war crimes could be facilitated by a little legal research he did in that same memo. For as Bybee noted in that memo, the USA PATRIOT Act, in addition to eviscerating much of the Bill of Rights, also amended Section 2340A of the US law prohibiting torture to include the offense of “conspiracy to commit torture”–and if Bybee’s memo doesn’t meet the definition of conspiracy, I don’t know what the word conspiracy means.

Hey, I never thought I’d find myself commending the PATRIOT Act, but here’s one little piece of it that we should not be trying to rescind.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

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