Tags: fallujah, Iraq, iraq children, iraq deaths, iraq government, Iraq invasion, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, kevin baker, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism
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Thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the war on Iraq
By Kevin Baker
The author is a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry who spent a total of 28 months in Iraq.
|Millions of Iraqi children have suffered the
death of a close family member at the hands
of the U.S. military, and will forever be
impacted by the trauma of living under a
brutal occupation for nearly a decade.
In the next few minutes, as you’re reading this, a mother will give birth in Fallujah. There is a 33% chance because of U.S.-used depleted uranium that the child will be born with a life-crippling birth defect, or dead; a young man will forge through piles of trash for food to feed his impoverished and displaced family. There are over 5 million displaced Iraqis, high estimates of over 1.3 million killed and an entire country with no secure future. Food, water, power, housing, education, safety, freedom of speech—all words absent from America’s “liberated Iraq.” Most of these events are rarely reported.
Today marks the tenth year “anniversary” of the U.S.-led invasion against the people of Iraq. But this wasn’t the beginning of the U.S. war against the people of Iraq, it began much earlier. The United States has been for over 22 years (and still to this day) torturing the Iraqi people. From the bombing of powdered milk factories to the destruction of water purification facilities, the United States government has targeted the most innocent of Iraqis, their children. 500,000 Iraqi children were executed by the United States in the form of sanctions, embargoes, starvation and bombing campaigns prior to the invasion in 2003.
Today Iraq is in shambles because of the almost decade-long US occupation and war. The majority of Iraqi people do not have access to continued supply of clean water, food, shelter, education, healthcare or security. The current Iraqi government has expressed its concern for the Iraqi people in the form of U.S.- supplied guns, bullets and misery. Peaceful demonstrations against government corruption and injustice are met with deadly violence from the new “democratic” government; organizers are jailed and tortured.
Explosions erupt in crowded cities tearing people and families apart, shattering brick and glass while soaking the streets with blood. The country’s once-united national identity, with no sectarian strife, was consciously demolished and manipulated by the U.S. occupation. The people of Iraq never asked for the U.S. invasion or occupation yet it is them who pay the price for it on a daily basis. For them, the Iraq war didn’t end the day the United States withdrew its occupying forces, for them the Iraq war is still very real.
The harsh reality of daily life for the Iraqi people seems to be missing from the mainstream media. The Bush administration submitted false intelligence reports while lying to the American people about WMD’s. Every piece of “evidence” that the Bush administration had introduced to justify going to war with Iraq is now known to be a lie. However, those that convinced the American people it was in our interests to send our loved ones to war and die are still free today.
In fact, those who lied to the American people sending us to die are now waging a new warfare on those service members they depended on to wager their war. They are waging an economic assaults against the enlisted rank-and-file in the form of exterminating the Tuition Assistance programs. The politicians chant slogans like “Support our Troops” while cutting medical aid to those wounded in their wars, and refusing to respond in any meaningful way to the suicide epidemic. The current Democratic administration continues to send young men and women to kill and be killed in the unpopular Afghanistan war, another war for profit based on lies. If this government does not care about its own service members, why would we buy the line that they care about liberating other nations?
On the tenth tragic anniversary of Iraq we send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the people of Iraq. Words cannot express the sorrow, sadness and regret we have for participating in the imperialists’ war. Every war and every act of aggression by the United States is cloaked in the noble cause of “humanitarian intervention” or “promotion of democracy” or “protecting civilians” as bombs, bullets and sanctions rained down upon the heads of the innocent.
Today we mark this anniversary as the most vile crime against humanity in many of our lifetimes. Until people in the United States see the class character of every U.S.- led war, enlisted service members will be sent to kill and die for the wealthy, and millions of innocent people will bear the brutal violence. It is our role as veterans to unmask and expose the real character of U.S. wars and defend the rights of those targeted by U.S.-aggression.
We will continue to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq, fight the Afghanistan war and every war or “intervention” promoted by this government, and expose imperialism as a system we live under, not a policy. The United States government will not re-write history to fit its agenda. The historical tragedy that is known as the “Iraq War” will be remembered for what it is; an act of illegal aggression by the belligerent force of the United States. Together we will work to insure history does not repeat itself, ever again.
Killing Kids is So American January 5, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: civilian casualties, dave lindorff, fallujah, geneva conventions, Iraq war, jaime gonzalez, jim crane, police killing, roger hollander, ross cauti, war, War Crimes
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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.
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, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Libya, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: birth defects, dave lindorff, depleted uranium, fallujah, libya, libya war, libyan civilians, roger hollander, uranium oxide, uranium weapons, war
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Wednesday 23 March 2011
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.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan surge, Afghanistan War, fallujah, hillary clinton, kandahar, Karzai, marie colvin, marjah, Petraeus, ramzy baroud, roger hollander, Taliban
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(Roger’s note: a friend of mine once said about Hillary Clinton, no truthful words have ever passed through her lips. But sometimes there is truth in irony. Below she is quoted as follows: “We’re not fighting the Afghan people…We’re fighting a small minority of very dedicated, ruthless extremists who unfortunately are able to enlist young men… for a variety of reasons and send them out onto the battlefield.” A small minority of dedicated extremists who enlist young men to send out onto the battlefield: dressed in red, white and blue these dedicated extremists who send young men out onto the battlefield call themselves, president, congress, pentagon, Bush, Obama, Clinton, Gates, Rumsfeld, Cheney …)
Clad in his usual attire of a colorful, striped robe, Afghan President Hamid Karazai appeared more like an emperor as he began his fourth day in Washington. Accompanying him on a somber visit to the Arlington National Cemetery were US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and top US (and NATO) commander in Afghanistan Stanley A. McChrystal – the very men responsible for the war and occupation of his own country.
The well-choreographed and clearly-rehearsed visit seemed set on giving the impression that the relationship between Karzai and these men was that of an independent, confident leader seeking the support of a benevolent superpower.
But what were Karazai’s real reasons for visiting Washington?
Typical media analyses have for months misrepresented the apparent chasm between Afghanistan and the US under Obama’s administration. Even if this administration was genuinely discontented with Karazai’s policies, at least until very recently, the resentment had little to do with the reasons offered by media ‘experts’. It was not because Karazai was failing to deliver on governance, end corruption and so on. Let’s face it, the US war in Afghanistan was never morally grounded, and it never could be either. Not unless the militant mindset that governs US foreign policy somehow acquires a complete overhaul.
For now, let’s face up to reality. Bad days are awaiting Afghanistan. True, it is hard to imagine how Afghanistan’s misfortunes could possibly get any worse. But they will, particularly for those living in Kandahar in the south. Seated next to Karazi during his Washington visit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that her country will “not destroy Kandahar in order to save Kandahar.”
The statement may sound assuring, but it is in fact ominous and very troubling. Clinton was referring to the Bush administration’s policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, she candidly admitted this by saying, “This is not Fallujah,” referring to the Iraqi city which was almost completely destroyed in 2004 by a massive US Marine assault intended to ‘save’ the city. “Lessons have been learned since Iraq,” stated Clinton.
But if lessons were truly learned, then why the fictitious language, the silly assertion that the real intention is to in fact ‘save’ Kandahar? And what other strategy does the US have in store for Afghanistan, aside from the irritating debate on whether to use unmanned drones or do the killing face to face?
Was Karazai in Washington to provide a cover for what is yet to come in the Taliban’s southern stronghold? It’s not unlikely. Considering past and repeated claims of a growing divide between Kabul and Washington, a bloody attack on Kandahar could in fact be seen as the US acting unilaterally in Afghanistan. Add to this scenario the constant and continued calls made by Karazai himself to engage Taliban. A US escalation without public consent from Karazai himself couldn’t possibly be seen as a part of a joint strategy.
At a presentation at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Karazi spoke of an extended US commitment to Afghanistan that would last “beyond the military activity right now … into the future, long after we have retired, and perhaps into our grandsons’ and great-grandsons’ — and great-granddaughters’ — generations.”
“This is something the Afghan people have been seeking for a long, long time,” he said.
Clinton too was concerned about the plight of the ‘people’. She promised to “help the people of Kandahar to recover the entire city to be able to put it to the use and the benefit of the people of Kandahar…We’re not fighting the Afghan people…We’re fighting a small minority of very dedicated, ruthless extremists who unfortunately are able to enlist young men… for a variety of reasons and send them out onto the battlefield.”
Although Clinton wanted us to believe that the Bush era is over, with a new dawn in US foreign policy upon us, she used almost the exact same language, phrased in almost the exact same context that the Bush administration used prior to its major military assaults aimed at ‘saving the people’ from some ‘ruthless extremists’, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And a major assault there will be, for the Taliban’s counter-surge is threatening the US’s counterinsurgency operations.
A quick scan of an article by Marie Colvin in Marjah, Afghanistan, where the Taliban is once more making its presence very clear, highlights the challenges facing the US military throughout the country. Entitled ‘Swift and bloody: the Taliban’s revenge,’ the May 9 article starts with the claim that “rebels have returned.” Throughout, the report was dotted with similar assertions. “Marjah was supposed to be safe…All that progress is threatened by the Taliban ‘surge’…There were always fears that they would re-emerge .. The strength of the Taliban’s presence is gradually becoming clearer…The Taliban are growing bolder…”
The term ‘surge’ was once associated with General David Petraeus’s strategy predicated on the deployment of 30,000 new troops in Afghanistan. That it is now being attributed to the Taliban’s own strategy is ironic, to say the least. Once meant to be a ‘success story, now convincing the world that things are working out in Afghanistan might not be so easy after all. “Worries are growing in the Pentagon that if thousands of marines and Afghan security forces cannot entirely defeat the Taliban in Marjah, a town of only 50,000, securing the far larger prize of Kandahar may be an even greater struggle than has been foreseen,” wrote Colvin.
The challenge ahead, although bolstered with all the right (albeit predictable) language is likely to be bloody, just like the rest of this sad Afghanistan episode, which actually began much earlier than 2001.
The US and Karazi (as a supposed representative of the ‘Afghani people’) must come across as united in the face of the extremist minority. Karazi’s visit to the US was the political padding prior to the likely military storm. It was meant to assure the public that the chaos which will follow is in fact part of a counterinsurgency effort; well-planned, calculated, executed and, as always, passionately articulated.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).
Iraq War Vet: “We Were Told to Just Shoot People, and the Officers Would Take Care of Us” April 12, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: civilian casualties, dahr jamail, fallujah, geneva conventions, Iraq, iraq atrocities, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, roger hollander, soldiers
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Wednesday 07 April 2010
On Monday, April 5, Wikileaks.org posted video footage from Iraq, taken from a US military Apache helicopter in July 2007 as soldiers aboard it killed 12 people and wounded two children. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency: photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh.
The US military confirmed the authenticity of the video.
The footage clearly shows an unprovoked slaughter, and is shocking to watch whilst listening to the casual conversation of the soldiers in the background.
As disturbing as the video is, this type of behavior by US soldiers in Iraq is not uncommon.
Truthout has spoken with several soldiers who shared equally horrific stories of the slaughtering of innocent Iraqis by US occupation forces.
“I remember one woman walking by,” said Jason Washburn, a corporal in the US Marines who served three tours in Iraq. He told the audience at the Winter Soldier hearings that took place March 13-16, 2008, in Silver Spring, Maryland, “She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces.”
The hearings provided a platform for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to share the reality of their occupation experiences with the media in the US.
Washburn testified on a panel that discussed the rules of engagement (ROE) in Iraq, and how lax they were, to the point of being virtually nonexistent.
“During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot,” Washburn’s testimony continued, “The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry ‘drop weapons’, or by my third tour, ‘drop shovels’. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”
Hart Viges, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army who served one year in Iraq, told of taking orders over the radio.
“One time they said to ﬁre on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation…. One of the snipers replied back, ‘Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?’ The lieutenant colonel responded, ‘You heard me, trooper, ﬁre on all taxicabs.’ After that, the town lit up, with all the units ﬁring on cars. This was my ﬁrst experience with war, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment.”
Vincent Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take “trophy” photos of bodies.
“An act that took place quite often in Iraq was taking pot shots at cars that drove by,” he said, “This was not an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our eight-month deployment.”
Kelly Dougherty – then executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War – blamed the behavior of soldiers in Iraq on policies of the US government.
“The abuses committed in the occupations, far from being the result of a ‘few bad apples’ misbehaving, are the result of our government’s Middle East policy, which is crafted in the highest spheres of US power,” she said.
Michael Leduc, a corporal in the Marines who was part of the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004, said orders he received from his battalion JAG officer before entering the city were as follows: “You see an individual with a white ﬂag and he does anything but approach you slowly and obey commands, assume it’s a trick and kill him.”
Bryan Casler, a corporal in the Marines, spoke of witnessing the prevalent dehumanizing outlook soldiers took toward Iraqis during the invasion of Iraq.
“… on these convoys, I saw Marines defecate into MRE bags or urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the road,” he stated.
Scott Ewing, who served in Iraq from 2005-2006, admitted on one panel that units intentionally gave candy to Iraqi children for reasons other than “winning hearts and minds.
“There was also another motive,” Ewing said. “If the kids were around our vehicles, the bad guys wouldn’t attack. We used the kids as human shields.”
In response to the WikiLeaks video, the Pentagon, while not officially commenting on the video, announced that two Pentagon investigations cleared the air crew of any wrongdoing.
A statement from the two probes said the air crew had acted appropriately and followed the ROE.
Adam Kokesh served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year.
Speaking on a panel at the aforementioned hearings about the ROE, he held up the ROE card soldiers are issued in Iraq and said, “This card says, ‘Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself’.”
Kokesh pointed out that “reasonable certainty” was the condition for using deadly force under the ROE, and this led to rampant civilian deaths. He discussed taking part in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. During that attack, doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told Truthout there were 736 deaths, over 60 percent of which were civilians.
“We changed the ROE more often than we changed our underwear,” Kokesh said, “At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark.”
Kokesh also testified that during two cease-fires in the midst of the siege, the military decided to let out as many women and children from the embattled city as possible, but this did not include most men.
“For males, they had to be under 14 years of age,” he said, “So I had to go over there and turn men back, who had just been separated from their women and children. We thought we were being gracious.”
Steve Casey served in Iraq for over a year starting in mid-2003.
“We were scheduled to go home in April 2004, but due to rising violence we stayed in with Operation Blackjack,” Casey said, “I watched soldiers firing into the radiators and windows of oncoming vehicles. Those who didn’t turn around were unfortunately neutralized one way or another – well over 20 times I personally witnessed this. There was a lot of collateral damage.”
Jason Hurd served in central Baghdad from November 2004 until November 2005. He told of how, after his unit took “stray rounds” from a nearby firefight, a machine gunner responded by firing over 200 rounds into a nearby building.
“We fired indiscriminately at this building,” he said. “Things like that happened every day in Iraq. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction.”
Hurd said the situation deteriorated rapidly while he was in Iraq. “Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality.”
Other soldiers Truthout has interviewed have often laughed when asked about their ROE in Iraq.
Garret Reppenhagen served in Iraq from February 2004-2005 in the city of Baquba, 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) northeast of Baghdad. He said his first experience in Iraq was being on a patrol that killed two Iraqi farmers as they worked in their field at night.
“I was told they were out in the fields farming because their pumps only operated with electricity, which meant they had to go out in the dark when there was electricity,” he explained, “I asked the sergeant, if he knew this, why did he fire on the men. He told me because the men were out after curfew. I was never given another ROE during my time in Iraq.”
Emmanuel added: “We took fire while trying to blow up a bridge. Many of the attackers were part of the general population. This led to our squad shooting at everything and anything in order to push through the town. I remember myself emptying magazines into the town, never identifying a target.”
Emmanuel spoke of abusing prisoners he knew were innocent, adding, “We took it upon ourselves to harass them, and took them to the desert to throw them out of our Humvees, while kicking and punching them when we threw them out.”
Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three tours in Iraq.
“My commander told me, ‘Kill those who need to be killed, and save those who need to be saved’; that was our mission on our first tour,” he said of his first deployment during the invasion.
“After that the ROE changed, and carrying a shovel, or standing on a rooftop talking on a cell phone, or being out after curfew [meant those people] were to be killed. I can’t tell you how many people died because of this. By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”
When this Truthout reporter was in Baghdad in November 2004, my Iraqi interpreter was in the Abu Hanifa mosque that was raided by US and Iraqi soldiers during Friday prayers.
“Everyone was there for Friday prayers, when five Humvees and several trucks carrying [US soldiers and] Iraqi National Guards entered,” Abu Talat told Truthout on the phone from within the mosque while the raid was in progress. “Everyone starting yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the greatest) because they were frightened. Then the soldiers started shooting the people praying!”
“They have just shot and killed at least four of the people praying,” he said in a panicked voice, “At least 10 other people are wounded now. We are on our bellies and in a very bad situation.”
Iraqi Red Crescent later confirmed to Truthout that at least four people were killed, and nine wounded. Truthout later witnessed pieces of brain splattered on one of the walls inside the mosque while large blood stains covered carpets at several places.
This type of indiscriminate killing has been typical from the initial invasion of Iraq.
Truthout spoke with Iraq war veteran and former National Guard and Army Reserve member Jason Moon, who was there for the invasion.
“While on our initial convoy into Iraq in early June 2003, we were given a direct order that if any children or civilians got in front of the vehicles in our convoy, we were not to stop, we were not to slow down, we were to keep driving. In the event an insurgent attacked us from behind human shields, we were supposed to count. If there were thirty or less civilians we were allowed to fire into the area. If there were over thirty, we were supposed to take fire and send it up the chain of command. These were the rules of engagement. I don’t know about you, but if you are getting shot at from a crowd of people, how fast are you going to count, and how accurately?”
Moon brought back a video that shows his sergeant declaring, “The difference between an insurgent and an Iraqi civilian is whether they are dead or alive.”
Moon explains the thinking: “If you kill a civilian he becomes an insurgent because you retroactively make that person a threat.”
According to the Pentagon probes of the killings shown in the WikiLeaks video, the air crew had “reason to believe” the people seen in the video were fighters before opening fire.
Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions speaks to the “basic rule” regarding the protection of civilians:
“In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”
What is happening in Iraq seems to reflect what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls “atrocity-producing situations.” He used this term first in his book “The Nazi Doctors.” In 2004, he wrote an article for The Nation, applying his insights to the Iraq War and occupation.
“Atrocity-producing situations,” Lifton wrote, occur when a power structure sets up an environment where “ordinary people, men or women no better or worse than you or I, can regularly commit atrocities…. This kind of atrocity-producing situation … surely occurs to some degrees in all wars, including World War II, our last ‘good war.’ But a counterinsurgency war in a hostile setting, especially when driven by profound ideological distortions, is particularly prone to sustained atrocity – all the more so when it becomes an occupation.”
Cliff Hicks served in Iraq from October 2003 to August 2004.
“There was a tall apartment complex, the only spot from where people could see over our perimeter,” Hicks told Truthout, “There would be laundry hanging off the balconies, and people hanging out on the roof for fresh air. The place was full of kids and families. On rare occasions, a fighter would get atop the building and shoot at our passing vehicles. They never really hit anybody. We just knew to be careful when we were over by that part of the wall, and nobody did shit about it until one day a lieutenant colonel was driving down and they shot at his vehicle and he got scared. So he jumped through a bunch of hoops and cut through some red tape and got a C-130 to come out the next night and all but leveled the place. Earlier that evening when I was returning from a patrol the apartment had been packed full of people.”
Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of “The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan,” (Haymarket Books, 2009), and “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq,” (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.
Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja November 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: birth defects, enas irbahim, falluja, fallujah, Iraq, iraq atrocities, iraq birth abnormalities, iraq birth defects, iraq civilians, iraq contamination, Iraq health, Iraq invasion, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, iraq war crimes, martin chulov, roger hollander, war, War Crimes, white phosphorus
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Fatima Ahmed, born after the assault in Fallujah, has deformities that include two heads.
Iraqi former battle zone sees abnormal clusters of infant tumours and deformities
Fallujah, an Iraqi city forever marked by the U.S. assault there, is dealing with another claim to infamy—infant deformities running up to 15 times higher than normal and a spike in cases of early-life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials from the fighting. —JCL
Doctors in Iraq‘s war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.
The extraordinary rise in birth defects has crystallised over recent months as specialists working in Falluja’s over-stretched health system have started compiling detailed clinical records of all babies born.
Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems – are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.
A group of Iraqi and British officials, including the former Iraqi minister for women’s affairs, Dr Nawal Majeed a-Sammarai, and the British doctors David Halpin and Chris Burns-Cox, have petitioned the UN general assembly to ask that an independent committee fully investigate the defects and help clean up toxic materials left over decades of war – including the six years since Saddam Hussein was ousted.
“We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies,” said Falluja general hospital’s director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais. “Before 2003 [the start of the war] I was seeing sporadic numbers of deformities in babies. Now the frequency of deformities has increased dramatically.”
The rise in frequency is stark – from two admissions a fortnight a year ago to two a day now. “Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,” he said. “There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years [old] with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours.”
After several years of speculation and anecdotal evidence, a picture of a highly disturbing phenomenon in one of Iraq’s most battered areas has now taken shape. Previously all miscarried babies, including those with birth defects or infants who were not given ongoing care, were not listed as abnormal cases.
The Guardian asked a paediatrician, Samira Abdul Ghani, to keep precise records over a three-week period. Her records reveal that 37 babies with anomalies, many of them neural tube defects, were born during that period at Falluja general hospital alone.
Dr Bassam Allah, the head of the hospital’s children’s ward, this week urged international experts to take soil samples across Falluja and for scientists to mount an investigation into the causes of so many ailments, most of which he said had been “acquired” by mothers before or during pregnancy.
Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.
Falluja’s frontline doctors are reluctant to draw a direct link with the fighting. They instead cite multiple factors that could be contributors.
“These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother,” said Dr Qais. “We simply don’t have the answers yet.”
The anomalies are evident all through Falluja’s newly opened general hospital and in centres for disabled people across the city. On 2 November alone, there were four cases of neuro-tube defects in the neo-natal ward and several more were in the intensive care ward and an outpatient clinic.
Falluja was the scene of the only two setpiece battles that followed the US-led invasion. Twice in 2004, US marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting with Sunni militia groups who had aligned with former Ba’athists and Iraqi army elements.
The first battle was fought to find those responsible for the deaths of four Blackwater private security contractors working for the US. The city was bombarded heavily by American artillery and fighter jets. Controversial weaponry was used, including white phosphorus, which the US government admitted deploying.
Statistics on infant tumours are not considered as reliable as new data about nervous system anomalies, which are usually evident immediately after birth. Dr Abdul Wahid Salah, a neurosurgeon, said: “With neuro-tube defects, their heads are often larger than normal, they can have deficiencies in hearts and eyes and their lower limbs are often listless. There has been no orderly registration here in the period after the war and we have suffered from that. But [in relation to the rise in tumours] I can say with certainty that we have noticed a sharp rise in malignancy of the blood and this is not a congenital anomaly – it is an acquired disease.”
Despite fully funding the construction of the new hospital, a well-equipped facility that opened in August, Iraq’s health ministry remains largely disfunctional and unable to co-ordinate a response to the city’s pressing needs.
The government’s lack of capacity has led Falluja officials, who have historically been wary of foreign intervention, to ask for help from the international community. “Even in the scientific field, there has been a reluctance to reach out to the exterior countries,” said Dr Salah. “But we have passed that point now. I am doing multiple surgeries every day. I have one assistant and I am obliged to do everything myself.”
Additional reporting: Enas Ibrahim.
(Roger’s Note: We read about Falluja [Fallujah] when it was big news, we read about the US military destroying a city and terrorizing its residents in order to bring them Democracy. Then we forgot about Falluja. Now it comes back to haunt, not to haunt us but rather the ungrateful Iraqi residents of Falluja, sort of a gift that keeps on giving. The amount of human suffering and damage caused by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably beyond our comprehension, we think about it when it is brought to attention in articles like that I have posted above. My point: make no mistake about it, the Iraq holocuast was not a “mistake” or a political miscalculation; it is a criminal act of the highest order, and if there were justice the entire Bush neo-Fascist cabal would be tried and convicted.)
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan air strikes, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, dave lindorff, fallujah, farah, Iraq war, roger hollander, Taliban, white phosphorus
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.
“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.
Civilians Pay the Price of War From Above May 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan massacre, Afghanistan War, air strikes, casualty, civilian, civilian casualties, fallujah, gaza, hamid karzai, human shield, israel, Karzai, najaf, robert fisk, roger hollander, suicide bombers, Taliban, terrorism
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www.trughdig.com, May 10, 2009
|AP photo / Musadeq Sadeq|
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.
Of course there will be an inquiry. And in the meantime, we shall be told that all the dead Afghan civilians were being used as “human shields” by the Taliban and we shall say that we “deeply regret” innocent lives that were lost. But we shall say that it’s all the fault of the terrorists, not our heroic pilots and the US Marine special forces who were target spotting around Bala Baluk and Ganjabad.
When the Americans destroy Iraqi homes, there is an inquiry. And oh how the Israelis love inquiries (though they rarely reveal anything). It’s the history of the modern Middle East. We are always right and when we are not, we (sometimes) apologise and then we blame it all on the “terrorists”. Yes, we know the throat-cutters and beheaders and suicide bombers are quite prepared to slaughter the innocent.
But it was a sign of just how terrible the Afghan slaughter was that the powerless President Hamid Karzai sounded like a beacon of goodness yesterday appealing for “a higher platform of morality” in waging war, that we should conduct war as “better human beings”.
And of course, the reason is quite simple. We live, they die. We don’t risk our brave lads on the ground—not for civilians. Not for anything. Fire phosphorus shells into Fallujah. Fire tank shells into Najaf. We know we kill the innocent. Israel does exactly the same. It said the same after its allies massacred 1,700 at the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila in 1982 and in the deaths of more than a thousand civilians in Lebanon in 2006 and after the death of more than a thousand Palestinians in Gaza this year.
And if we kill some gunmen at the same time—“terrorists”, of course—then it is the same old “human shield” tactic and ultimately the “terrorists” are to blame. Our military tactics are now fully aligned with Israel.
The reality is that international law forbids armies from shooting wildly in crowded tenements and bombing wildly into villages—even when enemy forces are present—but that went by the board in our 1991 bombing of Iraq and in Bosnia and in Nato’s Serbia war and in our 2001 Afghan adventure and in 2003 in Iraq. Let’s have that inquiry. And “human shields”. And terror, terror, terror. Something else I notice. Innocent or “terrorists”, civilians or Taliban, always it is the Muslims who are to blame.
Iraq air raids hit mostly women and children April 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War, Women.
Tags: afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, children war casualties, civilian casualties, fallujah, iraq air strikes, Iraq civilian casualties, iraq noncombatants, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, Karzai, kim sengupta, lancet, NATO, roger hollander, women war casualties
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Kim Sengupta, Defence correspondent
www.independent.co.uk, April 16, 2009
Report urges review of military strategy when targeting urban areas
Air strikes and artillery barrages have taken a heavy toll among the most vulnerable of the Iraqi people, with children and women forming a disproportionate number of the dead.
Analysis carried out for the research group Iraq Body Count (IBC) found that 39 per cent of those killed in air raids by the US-led coalition were children and 46 per cent were women. Fatalities caused by mortars, used by American and Iraqi government forces as well as insurgents, were 42 per cent children and 44 per cent women.
Twelve per cent of those killed by suicide bombings, mainly the tool of militant Sunni groups, were children and 16 per cent were females. One in five (21 per cent) of those killed by car bombs, used by both Shia and Sunni fighters, was a child; one in four (28 per cent) was a woman.
The figures, compiled by academics at King’s College and Royal Holloway, University of London, show that hi-tech weaponry has caused lethal damage to those in the population who would be furthest away from the conflict.
The victims of one of the most brutal and common types of killings in the war – abduction and execution by death squad – were 95 per cent men, many of them bearing marks of torture.
The report, The Weapons That Kill Civilians, Deaths of Children and Noncombatants in Iraq, was compiled from a sample of 60,481 deaths in 14,196 events over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion. Civilian casualties from concentrated bouts of violence, such as the two sieges of Fallujah, were excluded.
IBC estimates that the total deaths in the conflict so far number 99,774. The medical journal The Lancet has maintained in another study that more than 600,000 people were killed in the first three years of the war. IBC holds that the indiscriminate nature of the fatalities caused by air strikes shows they should not be used in urban areas.
Growing anger over civilian casualties caused by air raids in another front of the “war on terror”, Afghanistan, has led to the US, UK and their Nato partners reviewing their policy of using warplanes. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, recently said this had become the most contentious issue between him and Western powers.
From 2004 to 2007, the overall tonnage of munition dropped from planes in the Afghan conflict rose from 163 tonnes a year to 1,956 tonnes, an increase of 1,100 per cent. Since 2001 the US air force has dropped 14,049 tonnes of bombs in Afghanistan and 18,858 in Iraq.
Professor John Sloboda, of Royal Holloway, co-author of the report, said: “Our weapon-specific findings have implications for a wide range of conflicts, because the patterns found in this study are likely to be replicated for these weapons whenever they are used.
*Last night a US army sergeant was facing life imprisonment after being found guilty of executing four Iraqi detainees in 2007. Master Sgt John Hartley shot four men in the head and dumped their bodies in a canal in West Rasheed area of Baghdad. He is due to be sentenced today.
GI Resistance Alive and Well in Chicago February 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, AWOL, conscientious objection, conscious objector, fallujah, gi resistance, gis, Iraq, iraq veterans, ivaw, military industrial complex, national guard, pakistan, patrick dunn, paul muller, president obama, Robert Gates, roger hollander, surge, tyler zabel, u.s. military, war, war on terror, war resistance chicago, War Resisters
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With a new administration taking office in Washington, and an era of profound economic crisis on the horizon, the U.S. military apparatus is undergoing a strategic makeover. In many respects, conditions “on the ground” have remained essentially the same: violence rages on in Iraq (Obama and his commanders disagree about whether to extend the fighting for another sixteen or twenty-three months); air strikes continue to kill Pakistani civilians (though now at a much higher rate); Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer under U.S.-funded occupation; corporate war profiteers continue to receive high-level government appointments; the U.S. military budget pushes along on its path of annual expansion. And yet at the same time the elite managers of the military-industrial complex are engineering a shift in both their marketing image and their operational focus. Blackwater Worldwide has changed its name to Xe; military recruitment figures have increased as the economy declines; weapons programs are being advertised as instruments of “job creation”; torture and secret imprisonment have been symbolically expunged from the national conscience; Marine commanders are proposing a full-scale transfer of forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.
This last item is particularly relevant, as President Obama has ordered an immediate fifty percent increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (from 36,000 to 53,500), with thousands more expected to deploy by early summer. In the face of sustained public opposition to the Iraq war, the military establishment has found it necessary to direct its ambitions elsewhere – and with Robert Gates staying on as Defense Secretary, the “surge” gimmick that sold so well in the context of Iraq is now being used to promote a similar strategy in the historically unconquerable terrain of Afghanistan. Evidently, the hope of the new administration is that a fresh White House image, renewed international support, and the appearance of a connection to the 9/11 attacks will turn Afghanistan into a preferred venue for its highly profitable “global war on terror.”
For many rank-and-file GIs, however, this image of the war in Afghanistan as a “good war” is not at all convincing. Extreme climate, austere geography, and vague military strategies combine to make the country into a hellish environment for day-to-day ground operations. Moreover, those familiar with life in the region are doubtful that a U.S.-led “troop surge” will contribute substantially to the well-being of the Afghan people.
But in the eyes of some enlistees, the problems with the war in Afghanistan extend far beyond the agonies of wartime experience, or doubts about the underlying geopolitical strategy.
A groundbreaking event in Chicago this week featured a panel of six military veterans, all of whom have spoken out not only against the war in Iraq, or even against the war in Afghanistan, but against the “global war on terror” as a whole. The panel was organized by the Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), and its participants set a bold and courageous tone for GI resistance in the age of Obama-imperialism.
One of the veterans, Tyler Zabel, could face deployment to Afghanistan at any moment. A member of the Illinois Army National Guard who enlisted at the age of seventeen, Tyler has already survived a horrifying ordeal at the hands of the military bureaucracy. After completing basic training at Fort Benning, GA, Tyler returned to Chicago and began the application process to become a Conscientious Objector. Having joined the military in order to serve the people of his country, he was appalled by the rampant bloodlust and blind conformity he witnessed during his time at Fort Benning. After meeting a young woman in Chicago who had experienced war first-hand during her childhood in El Salvador, his perspective was deepened and he became a committed pacifist.
The military’s application system for Conscientious Objectors seems designed to prevent people like Tyler – who are morally opposed to the combat missions for which they are being trained – from acting on their moral convictions. In addition to three official interviews (including both a religious and a psychological evaluation), Tyler was required to submit a long essay explaining his refusal to engage in combat. Only then would he begin the excruciating process of waiting for his application to be reviewed, which usually takes between six months and one year, during which time the applicant remains an active member of his unit.
In Tyler’s case, however, the system was especially unfriendly. One of the first officers he consulted about his application, his squad leader Sergeant First Class Washington, provided false information about Tyler’s eligibility, claiming that his lack of religious affiliation would prevent him from becoming a CO. (This has not been true since a Supreme Court decision in 1971 expanded the basis for Conscientious Objection beyond religious grounds.) The same officer also withheld a key document pertaining to Tyler’s case – document AR 600-43 – falsely claiming that the information it contained was classified. (The document is in fact available through the IVAW website.)
Then, a few months later, when it seemed that the worst was over, Tyler received a call from the military notifying him that he would be deployed to Afghanistan in one week. He was flabbergasted. Normal practice within the military allows six months advance notice for calls such as this – and Tyler had already informed the military at length of his pacifism and opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly, his life was thrown into a state of panic. The personal transformation he had undergone during the previous year, his relationships, his work, his life itself – the U.S. government was asking him to sacrifice all of this for a war that he found morally abhorrent.
But this was not the end. Just one day before Tyler was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, he received another call from the military indicating that he would not have to deploy after all. Then, as if this torment was not enough, he was contacted yet again a month later with reissued orders for deployment.
In Tyler’s mind, this was the last straw. Instead of reporting for deployment, he decided to go AWOL and face the risk of military prosecution. After weeks in hiding – during which time he could not work and rarely left his home – he decided to turn himself in to his old unit. The response of his commanders was to “demote” him to a lower rank – indicating that their intention was not to enforce military policy, but to manipulate Tyler (an active war resister) into psychological submission. This indication was confirmed earlier this month when Tyler’s commanders failed to contact him for drill practice, as is the unit’s routine procedure; when he telephoned them to resolve the confusion, his commanders accused him of insubordination for his absence. Confronted with this final pattern of abuse, Tyler knew that it was time to get out of the military for good. Instead of reporting to his unit, he stayed home and has not gone back since.
For several months Tyler has lived in a state of legal and existential limbo, knowing that the military could show up at any moment to haul him off to prison (or worse, to Afghanistan). He has received advice from numerous activists and politicians, but his best allies have been fellow veterans from IVAW, whose support has strengthened his will and inspired him to speak out publicly. Now, empowered by these relations of solidarity, he is determined not only to resist the military’s internal abuses, but to combat the spread of militarism throughout society. “They need this war [in Afghanistan] to continue to expand the military-industrial complex,” he says, “which our society now depends on” – but we can resist this expansion by “closing the door to recruitment, and opening the door for resistance,” both within and outside the military.
Tyler’s moral opposition to the military-industrial complex was echoed by the other members of the IVAW panel in Chicago. Two national guardsmen (one of whom is now a militant labor organizer with the IWW) described their success at fomenting resistance among fellow rank-and-file guard members. By sharing ideas and literature at their base, they were able to establish strong personal relationships that served as a bottom-up defense against the military’s institutionalized discipline. Another AWOL veteran described the U.S. military as an institution whose mission is to “exterminate” the oppressed people of the world “like so many cockroaches,” while emphasizing the damage inflicted on vulnerable enlistees by the military’s “racist, sexist, and homophobic practices.”
All members of the panel recognized the need for movements of counter-recruitment and anti-militarization to intensify under the new political administration. As Fallujah veteran D. Paul Muller pointed out, the armed forces are under strict orders to “keep the recruitment numbers up, keep the high school students coming in.” With wealthy financial institutions tightening their budgets, military planners are under pressure to ensure that taxpayer funds continue to flow into the massive “defense” economy. Competition among lobbyists and policymakers for access to these funds has escalated in recent months, and the various branches of the military are devising new marketing strategies to cope with this financially starved environment.
For more information, go to http://ivaw.org/.