Later On

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Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Boy, that was quick! Obvious propaganda counteroffensive to reports on US UXOs in Iraq and Afghanistan

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You’ll recall this recent story in the Washington Post on how dozens of children are dying or being maimed each year because the US won’t bother to clean up UXOs in civilian areas. The US knows, of course, that many will die, but so what? (and that seems to be the attitude).

The story (which you definitely should read) puts the US in a pretty ugly light, so it seems very much as if the US military launched a propaganda campaign (which, BTW, would be illegal: no propagandizing in the US). The response the military has choose is not to clean up the UXOs, but to sell the idea that, actually, UXOs do come with some benefits: take or make a victim success story and let everyone know. This one, for example: we not paid for her new prosthetic and fixed up her missing eye, she also discovered a new talent, and she’s extremely good at it. So, though it’s perhaps not all good, there’s at least some good—thanks to the US medical team and our medical technology!!

It’s not hard to imagine some general demanding that his staff find a silver lining to that cloud, or else. The cost of the surgery for one victim is more than repaid by the value of the publicity and propaganda.

But assuming it is in fact a good-faith effort. But even if the US military pays for surgery, buys prosthetics, and conducts physical therapy and rehabilitation not for one but for all victims (except, of course, for those killed on the spot or died later from wounds), that truly is minuscule compared to the trauma inflicted on the innocent children who survive—even if not physically harmed, many are doubtless traumatized by seeing their friends or family members blown to bits.

In the meantime,  the US public is all up in arms because GM’s ignition switch design (and cover-up) may have caused 13 deaths over the past eight years. Of course, those are deaths of US citizens and thus of much greater importance and higher value than the deaths of foreign children we’ve never even met, children we’re killing simply because we don’t want to bother to clean up the mess that we left behind.

That sounds harsh, but isn’t that exactly the attitude? It would sure look that way from a different vantage point—say, Europe, China, Japan, or … well, just about everywhere.

Here’s the actual note, from a column in the current issue of The Week, titled “It wasn’t all bad” (that is the actual title—I am not making this up):

A 7-year-old Afghan girl who lost her arm to an explosive has been enjoying her newfound talent for painting.Less than a year ago, Shah Bibi Tarakhail was playing outside when she picked up what she thought was a rock and threw it on the ground. The resulting explosion took her right arm and right eye. She was brought to the U.S. and fitted with a prosthetic, which she soon began using to create colorful works of abtract art. Arist Davyd Whaley compared her “mind-blowing” paintings to the work of Jackson Pollock.

Two obvious points: First, not all the maimed will turn out to have world-class talent—if, second, Davyd Whaley is to be believed at all. And even if he is spot-on, see the first point in the previous sentence. Wait!—no, three obvious points: Third, none of this surgery/talent show excuses (or is relevant to) the wholesale abandonment of UXOs that will inevitably kill and maim many civilians and the US military’s continuing refusal—even now, even today—to take the first step to clean up the minefields they created.

I guess I’m a little emotional about this, but I think that’s because of having to simply sit here while the slow-motion massacre continues, unable to do anything at all to stop it (see this post). I imagine this is how opponents of abortion feel. I don’t share their feelings because I don’t view the embryo as a person, so that situation is for me very different from this. (I do understand that people disagree on whether an embryo is a person or not, but that discussion will be held separately, if at all. In the meantime, consider this situation: a deadly fire is about to consume a room, and you can save either a 12-year-old girl in the room or a try of a dozen human embryos. Which do you choose?)

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 4:30 pm

A special gift the US provides to third-world countries: Continuing death

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The US seems to be too often criminally irresponsible in its global conduct. Indeed, the entire Iraq War was one enormous criminal action that devastated countless lives, American, Iraqi, and others: families wrecked by the premature and violent death of loved ones, strong and capable individuals being wrecked with wounds and trauma and the psychological costs. And the US continues on its course, seemingly ignoring the costs of its actions. Kevin Sieff reports in the Washington Post:

 As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.

The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.

Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.

“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, referring to the planning.

There are a growing number of tragedies at these high-explosives ranges.

Mohammad Yusef, 13, and Sayed Jawad, 14, grew up 100 yards from a firing range used by U.S. and Polish troops in Ghazni province. The boys’ families were accustomed to the thundering explosions from military training exercises, which sometimes shattered windows in their village.

But as those blasts became less common — a function of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal — the boys started wandering onto the range to collect scrap metal to sell. They did not know that some U.S. explosives do not detonate on impact but can still blow up when someone touches them.

Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.

“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.

One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 10:54 am

Identifying the fallen: Follow up

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Earlier this month I blogged about the Pentagon’s indifferent, irresponsible attitude toward identifying the remains of American military personnel. Megan McCloskey looks into reasons in her Pacific Standard article. Well worth the click.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2014 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Military

How orders to commit war crimes are phrased

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Sophie Richardot, a social psychologist at Université de Picardie, France, wrote a research paper, titled “’You Know What to Do With Them’: The Formulation of Orders and Engagement in War Crimes.” Bettina Chang writes about Richardot’s research in Pacific Standard:

Earlier this year, an 88-year-old man was charged in Germany for crimes committed in 1944 Nazi-occupied France. Prosecutors say “the suspect shot 25 men as part of a firing squad, and then helped as troops blockaded and then set fire to a church, in which dozens of women and children were burned alive,” according to the Associated Press. He was only 19 at the time.

On this side of history, during a relatively peaceful era in a stable nation, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the atrocities of war. But the fact of the matter is that people often give orders to commit these types of crimes, and other human beings frequently obey. What does that say about human nature?

Sophie Richardot, a social psychologist at Université de Picardie, France, sought to answer this question. She first became interested in the subject in relation to Milgram’s famed obedience experiment. Milgram showed the disturbing extent to which normal people are willing to inflict pain on people in the name of obeying authority. Richardot says that Milgram’s orders were not coercive, but they were explicit.

From what she knew about the Holocaust and other mass war crimes, however, the orders were more coded and ambiguous. So she set about categorizing the orders given to commit war crimes and looking for patterns.

Her research paper, titled “’You Know What to Do With Them’: The Formulation of Orders and Engagement in War Crimes,” was published in the March/April 2014 issue of Aggression and Violent Behavior. She examined historical accounts of three modern conflicts: the German invasion of the USSR during World War II, the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, and the most recent American conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Richardot found five distinct formulations of orders, each which provides, to some extent, a psychological cushion for subordinates to justify their actions. Regimes that are legally in power, like the United States military, tend to use . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 3:42 pm

Interesting: US military cannot be arsed to identify remains of fallen soldiers, so the Germans do it for us

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The irony is that the soldier was killed when we are at war with Germany, but now we must depend on Germany because the US military really does not want to go to the trouble of identifying fallen soldiers. Megan McCloskey has the story in McClatchy:

U.S. Army Private First Class Lawrence S. Gordon — killed in Normandy in 1944, then mistakenly buried as a German soldier — will soon be going home to his fam

But don’t thank the American military for this belated return. The Pentagon declined to act on his case, despite exhaustive research by civilian investigators that pointed to the location of his remains.

Instead, Gordon’s family and advocates used the same evidence to persuade French and German officials to exhume Gordon and identify him through DNA testing. That’s right: the relatives of this U.S. soldier, who fought against the Germans, are relying on Germany to bring him back home.

Gordon’s case is another example of breakdowns in the American system for finding and identifying tens of thousands of missing service members from past conflicts. More than 9,400 troops are buried as “unknowns” in American cemeteries around the world. Yet, as ProPublica and NPR recently reported, the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (J-PAC) rarely disinters any of those men to try to use DNA to identify them. On average, just 4 percent of such cases move forward.

Several U.S. and international news outlets have written about Gordon’s case, but ProPublica obtained a previously undisclosed J-PAC memo from April 2013 that, for the first time, reveals the agency’s rationale for turning aside his family’s entreaties. One J-PAC historian advised “extreme caution” on the case, saying that making an identification would require a “monumental” amount of research about thousands of Americans and Germans killed in roughly the same area.A Pentagon review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of how the military is managing its mission to find and identify MIAs concludes next month.

Gordon’s family benefited from a fluke of circumstance: Gordon was in a German cemetery in France, not an American one, allowing his case to advance without the U.S. military’s participation. . .

Continue reading.

The US military continues its descent. For more information on this aspect, see McCloskey’s story “The Military Is Leaving the Missing Behind.”

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 11:25 am

Posted in Military

Orwell was ahead of his time: Newspeak for “hunger strike”

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U.S. now calls Guantánamo hunger strike ‘long term non-religious fasting’

There seems to be a marked absence of a sense of shame.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2014 at 4:24 pm

An SR-71 Blackbird pilot shares his experiences

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 March 2014 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Military

John Boyd, an interesting military thinker

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2014 at 11:37 am

Posted in Military

Why the Army should fire generals and promote captains

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An interesting and thoughtful essay by Adrian Bonenberger in the Washington Post:

Adrian Bonenberger, a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is a retired Army captain and combat veteran. He is the author of “Afghan Post.”

As Army leadership ponders who and what to cut from its budget, the first groups in the crosshairs are the junior and mid-level officers. This is a logical step: To wage counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army expanded its fighting force, and now it’s time to draw down. What isn’t logical is that other ranks will largely get a free pass.

The Army, and the military overall, would be better served by retiring some of the generals, colonels and senior lieutenant colonels, and promoting the best captains, majors and junior lieutenant colonels into those roles.

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Army stood at 480,000 soldiers. Over the next decade, it ballooned to 565,000 soldiers in 2011 and has since shrunk back to 528,000. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that the Army needed to reduce its numbers to as few as 380,000, the lowest since before World War II. It seems likely that the Pentagon will adopt this number as its target for 2020. These cuts will overwhelmingly fall where the recent growth occurred: younger soldiers and officers, nearly all of whom joined to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the officer side, this means dismissing captains and majors — the ranks where people entered the force to fight terrorism. No plans have been announced to scale back the numbers of higher-ranking officers such as senior lieutenant colonels and colonels. (The number of generals is assigned by Congress and is constant at 230 in the Army.) Having more experienced, higher-ranking soldiers and officers means that the force will remain strategically flexible and able to expand rapidly if the need arises — even as it loses junior officers.

But cutting personnel who have the most direct experience with contemporary wars — the senior captains, most majors and the junior lieutenant colonels — erodes U.S. military capabilities in precisely the place they’re needed most.

Most of the colonels and generals leading the Army were trained to fight World War III against the Soviets; most of the captains and majors have trained and fought against al-Qaeda, Sunni militias and the Taliban. Unfortunately, few colonels and generals have, in practical terms, been able to adapt their 1980s and ’90s training to the needs of today’s warfare.

The best evidence for this is that we didn’t win in Iraq and haven’t won in Afghanistan. Military journalist Thomas E. Ricks has argued that America’s generals and colonels have been largely responsible for these failures. Small, transient battlefield successes — the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and partnering with militias in Afghanistan to defeat Taliban groups — were largely products of enterprising junior officers: perceptive lieutenants, captains and occasionally majors. In the past three years, those officers have been promoted to captains, majors and lieutenant colonels — and now they’re the ones on the chopping block.

Another reason to consider promoting mid-level officers into substantial leadership roles is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2014 at 9:06 am

Posted in Military

Explicitly embracing a false claim

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Rep. Hunter thinks that embracing a false claim is a good thing to do. I think that captures the problem right there.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2014 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Military

Deadly drone strike in Yemen failed to comply with Obama’s rules to protect civilians

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It strikes me that Obama is a little too quick to make promises: all too often, his promises are broken, sometimes very quickly. Greg Miller writes in the Washington Post:

A U.S. drone strike in December that killed at least a dozen people in Yemen failed to comply with rules imposed by President Obama last year to protect civilians, according to an investigation by a human rights organization released Thursday.The report by Human Rights Watch concluded that the strike, which was carried out by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, targeted a line of vehicles that were part of a wedding procession, and that evidence indicates “some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians.”
The findings contradict assertions by U.S. officials that only militants were killed in the operation, although the report acknowledged that members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, may have been among the dead.Overall, Human Rights Watch “found that the operations did not comply with the targeted killing policies that President Obama outlined” in a speech in May, the report said, citing in particular Obama’s requirement of “near-certainty” that no civilians would be harmed.The report represents the most detailed independent examination to date of a strike that has focused attention on the administration’s struggles to tighten the rules for targeted killing, provide more information about such operations to the public and gradually shift full control of the drone campaign from the CIA to the Pentagon.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to comment on the report or the Dec. 12 strike but said the United States takes “extraordinary care” in its counter­terrorism operations to avoid civilian casualties and noted that Yemeni officials described the targets as “dangerous senior al-Qaeda militants.”

The investigation by Human Rights Watch, a group that has been consistently critical of the targeted killing program, concluded that the attack killed 12 men, ages 20 to 65, and wounded 15 others, citing accounts from survivors, relatives of the dead, local officials and news media reports.

The attack targeted a convoy of 11 vehicles traveling from the site of a wedding near the city of Rad’a to the groom’s village, according to the report, which said that the bride was among a small number of female travelers and that “shrapnel grazed the bride under one eye, and blew her trousseau to pieces.” . . .

Continue reading. I wonder whether this was one of the strikes made on a cellphone rather than a person. And it seems that US officials routinely lie to the public. Unfortunate, but I suppose it is one of the things we simply have to accept and allow for. (Cf., of course, James Clapper.)

UPDATE: And be sure to read this report at The Intercept by Ryan Devereaux. Just one part of that article:

. . . Obama administration officials have insisted since the strike that only members of al Qaeda were killed. Defense Department spokesman Bill Speaks reiterated to TheIntercept on Wednesday “that the Yemeni Government has stated that the targets of this operation were dangerous senior al Qaeda militants,” but he declined to provide any details or evidence to support that conclusion. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden also declined.

The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that, according to three anonymous U.S. officials, two government investigations concluded that only members of al Qaeda were hit in the strike:

Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, ordered an independent investigation by an Air Force general and the White House requested another by the National Counterterrorism Center. Both concluded no civilians were killed. Votel’s staff also showed lawmakers video of the operation. Two U.S. officials who watched the video and were briefed on the investigations said it showed three trucks in the convoy were hit, all carrying armed men.

But the officialsofficial provided no details, no evidence — and were not be quoted by name. The AP explained:

The officials said the Pentagon can’t release details because both the U.S. military and the CIA fly drones over Yemen. By statute, the military strikes can be acknowledged, but the CIA operations cannot. The officials said that if they explain one strike but not another, they are revealing by default which ones are being carried out by the CIA.

But at its core, the Human Rights Watch report makes the case that a swirling mix of competing accounts surrounding the strike demands a transparent investigation and publicly available findings. In an interview with The Intercept Wednesday, Letta Tayler, the author of the report, said the contradictory claims her team uncovered investigating the strike were “mind boggling.”

“It would be comical if we were not talking about human beings who were killed and yet, that is what we’re talking about,” Tayler said. “And that’s why the silence is unconscionable.”

“The contradictory accounts that we documented cry out for an official explanation,” she added. “The families of those killed deserve to know what happened and why the U.S. turned this wedding procession into a funeral.”

Tayler said her organization has “serious questions about how intelligence is gathered in Yemen and how it is being used.” But, she noted: ”We do not know if faulty intelligence led to this strike or not, because we do not know enough about the strike itself.” . . .

Again, the issue is in part whether we can trust US officials to speak the truth if the facts are inconvenient, embarrassing, and/or illegal. Prior experience shows that we cannot. An open and transparent investigation is the only solution. Likelihood of that, with this administration? Pretty low, I’d say.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2014 at 10:11 am

Where is the great Al Qaeda courtroom drama?

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Amy Davidson writes for the New Yorker:

This is a country that likes trials of the century—a couple of them a year, if possible. We’ve also, as politicians remind us, been convulsed as a nation by the September 11th attacks, which are supposed to have changed our expectations of everything from Presidents to airplane rides and privacy. The one thing that the memory of 9/11 hasn’t had the power to do, strangely, is get us engrossed in the actual judicial proceedings involving members of Al Qaeda. When it comes to bringing terrorists to justice in a courtroom, we seem to get bored.

The military commission trying Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of being behind Al Qaeda’s attack, in 2000, on the U.S.S. Cole, convened for hearings this week in Guantánamo Bay; only one reporter, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Heraldmade it down there. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, goes on trial next week, for alleged involvement in post-2001 plots, with his lawyers coming closer to eliciting testimony from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed 9/11 mastermind. K.S.M. himself may not go to trial until next year; there have been repeated delays. But who would even know if there weren’t? Although they were followed closely in certain quarters, the eyes of the nation have not exactly turned to his pre-trial hearings, which have staggered along at Guantánamo, like an out-of-town show that no one has any intention of seeing. The week after next, K.S.M. will have been our prisoner for eleven years, and we haven’t managed to convict him of anything. What happened to the desire for a big trial to show the world what our legal system can accomplish?

What is odd is that the name “Al Qaeda” is still toxically stimulating—but only, it seems, when it is applied to Benghazi or to activity on the phone lines of Americans. It has power when it is used politically, theoretically, abstractly—as a measure of distance from a certain ideology, or in the service of the story someone wants to tell, or as a way to ignore restraints. When it comes to a prisoner and the proceedings (or lack of them) against him, though, “Al Qaeda” seems to have a somnolent quality. We just want to be woken up in a few years, after whatever ruling comes down from whatever judge has been assigned to cases we haven’t sorted out. There is a vague sense that the term “bringing to justice” only has to do with drones.

Why is this? It’s not just a matter of attention span—again, Americans love following trials. But maybe they like real trials; the kind that move to the logic we’ve learned from a thousand shows. Most of the defendants aren’t being tried, say, in the Southern District of New York, in the city where people were murdered on 9/11. Instead, it’s all taking place in tossed-together military commissions at Guantánamo, with no party really sure how it’s all supposed to work. Sometimes “unprecedented” means momentous; sometimes it means that nobody knows basic rules, like whether the judge or the prison-camp commander gets to decide what the defendants wear. The pretrial hearings for K.S.M. and the other alleged 9/11 conspirators have, at times, been like bizarre exercises in legal improv—embarrassing to watch. Last week, prosecutors added a conspiracy charge to the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi. This would, as Charlie Savage, of the Times pointed out, be a straightforward move if these were prosecutors in a real court (and, lest anyone forget, we have plenty of real courts available in this country). But no one is sure if conspiracy, which is not an internationally recognized war crime, is something you can try before a military commission. So there will likely be more hearings, delays, and litigation—just to establish the parameters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2014 at 10:46 am

US military shot through with corruption

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Lauren Kirchner writes in Pacific Standard:

Over 1,200 military officers and soldiers have been implicated in a long-running, widespread kickback scheme in the National Guard, according to a Congressional oversight panel last week. The scheme is as simple as it is scandalous. In 2005, with the country embattled in two wars, the Army National Guard established a “Recruiting Assistance Program” to help make signing up for service more attractive. The program awarded cash bonuses to National Guard soldiers, retirees, and their relatives for referring and signing up new recruits.

Aside from the occasional friend making a referral, though, in actuality, hundreds of service members who were professional recruiters took advantage of the program too, pocketing in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Investigators also say that “in many cases, high school guidance counselors and even principals with access to their students’ personal information took credit for recruiting students who they happened to know were joining the Army,” according to The New York Times. Although the program ended in 2012, this investigation will likely take years.

“Clearly, we’re talking about one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army,” Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Committee, told USA Today.

While this investigation is certainly impressive in size, and scope, and the potential cost of the crimes being examined (estimated at nearly $100 million), it’s not at all unprecedented. With regard to shocking scandals involving various branches of the military, it’s not even alone in the current news cycle. There are the queasy-making scandals, like widespread cheating on exams in Navy and Air Force programs that train men and women to handle nuclear reactors and launch intercontinental missiles, among other things. There are icky individual cases, like the head of a program to prevent sexual assault in the Air Force being arrested for sexual battery outside a strip club, and absurd cases, like the Navy commander who traded military secrets for prostitutes and Lady Gaga tickets.

Then, of course, there are the insidious scandals that actually drain the nation’s war chest, one greasy palm at a time. In 2011, an FBI-led task force against contract corruption in Afghanistan reported that the U.S. had spent over $770 billion on private contractors in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait since 2002. That includes money for both fighting and reconstruction. “With that much money at stake, fraud and corruption are inevitable,” reads a summary on the FBI website. And that grand total has certainly grown since then. As for how much money has been wasted through corruption, the FBI didn’t say. But also in 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting determined that the total money lost through waste and fraud throughout the supply chain was “at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion.” The commission also warned that “as least as much additional waste may develop if host countries cannot or will not sustain U.S.-funded projects and programs after the United States hands them over or reduces its support.”

Joe Newman, director of communications at the Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit watchdog group, says that this type of corruption—if not on this scale—has been going on since long before President Eisenhower warned of the potential for undue influence of the military-industrial complex in 1961. Certainly, if money corrupts, there was quite a lot of it wrapped up in that complex since 2002. Newman says that it’s not the case that the culture of the military is itself corrupt. Rather, the inherent structure of the military means that when people high up in the chain of command aren’t held responsible for the crimes they commit, that message will quickly ripple down the ranks. The fact that over 200 of the 1,200 service members being investigated in the National Guard kickback scheme are officers, including two generals, is a dangerous one.

“The military by its very nature is a very top-down institution,” Newman says. “And it’s based on discipline, and it’s based on integrity. That’s thoroughly shaken by some of these scandals: if officers and generals and colonels are being implicated in some of these scandals, what effect does that have on the guys lower down? Does it become OK to steal something from the supply room, because the command structure up top has already set that tone?”

Speaking of “supply rooms,” one of the most valuable supplies that soldiers overseas can access is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2014 at 10:43 am

Posted in Law, Military

The Menace of the Military Mind

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Chris Hedges writes at TruthDig.com:

I had my first experience with the U.S. military when I was a young reporter covering the civil war in El Salvador. We journalists were briefed at the American Embassy each week by a U.S. Army colonel who at the time headed the military group of U.S. advisers to the Salvadoran army. The reality of the war, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, bore little resemblance to the description regurgitated each week for consumption by the press. But what was most evident was not the blatant misinformation—this particular colonel had apparently learned to dissemble to the public during his multiple tours in Vietnam—but the hatred of the press by this man and most other senior officers in the U.S. military. When first told that he would have to meet the press once a week, the colonel reportedly protested against having to waste his time with those “limp-dicked communists.”

For the next 20 years I would go on from war zone to war zone as a foreign correspondent immersed in military culture. Repetitive rote learning and an insistence on blind obedience—similar to the approach used to train a dog—work on the battlefield. The military exerts nearly total control over the lives of its members. Its long-established hierarchy ensures that those who embrace the approved modes of behavior rise and those who do not are belittled, insulted and hazed. Many of the marks of civilian life are stripped away. Personal modes of dress, hairstyle, speech and behavior are heavily regulated. Individuality is physically and then psychologically crushed. Aggressiveness is rewarded. Compassion is demeaned. Violence is the favorite form of communication. These qualities are an asset in war; they are a disaster in civil society.

Homer in “The Iliad” showed his understanding of war. His heroes are not pleasant men. They are vain, imperial, filled with rage and violent. And Homer’s central character in “The Odyssey,” Odysseus, in his journey home from war must learn to shed his “hero’s heart,” to strip from himself the military attributes that served him in war but threaten to doom him off the battlefield. The qualities that serve us in war defeat us in peace.

Most institutions have a propensity to promote mediocrities, those whose primary strengths are knowing where power lies, being subservient and obsequious to the centers of power and never letting morality get in the way of one’s career. The military is the worst in this respect. In the military, whether at the Paris Island boot camp or West Point, you are trained not to think but to obey. What amazes me about the military is how stupid and bovine its senior officers are. Those with brains and the willingness to use them seem to be pushed out long before they can rise to the senior-officer ranks. The many Army generals I met over the years not only lacked the most rudimentary creativity and independence of thought but nearly always saw the press, as well as an informed public, as impinging on their love of order, regimentation, unwavering obedience to authority and single-minded use of force to solve complex problems.

So when I heard James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force lieutenant general and currently the federal government’s director of national intelligence, denounce Edward Snowden and his “accomplices”—meaning journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week I was not surprised. Clapper charged, without offering any evidence, that the Snowden disclosures had caused “profound damage” and endangered American lives. And all who have aided Snowden are, it appears, guilty of treason in Clapper’s eyes.

Clapper and many others who have come out of the military discern no difference between terrorists and reporters, and by reporters I am not referring to the boot-licking courtiers on television and in Washington who masquerade as reporters. Carry out an interview with a member of al-Qaida, as I have, and you become in the eyes of generals like Clapper a member of al-Qaida. Most generals I know recognize no need for an independent press. The munchkins who dutifully sit through their press briefings or follow them around in preapproved press pools and publish their lies are the generals’ idea of journalism.

When I was in Central America the U.S. officers who were providing support to the military of El Salvador or Guatemala, along with help to the Contra forces then fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, did not distinguish between us journalists and the rebel forces or the leftist Sandinista government. We were one and the same. The reporters and photographers, often after a day or two of hiking to reach small villages, would report on massacres by the Salvadoran army, the Guatemalan army or the Contras. When the stories appeared, the U.S. officers usually would go volcanic. But their rage would be directed not at those who pulled the triggers but at those who wrote about the mass killings or photographed the bodies.

This is why, after Barack Obama signed into law Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the U.S. military to seize U.S. citizens who “substantially support” al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” to strip them of due process and to hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, I sued the president.

I and my fellow plaintiffs won in U.S. District Court. When Obama appealed the ruling it was overturned. We are now trying to go to the Supreme Court. Section 1021 is a chilling reminder of what people like Clapper could do to destroy constitutional rights. They see no useful role for a free press, one that questions and challenges power, and are deeply hostile to its existence. I expect Clapper, if he has a free hand, to lock us up, just as the Egyptian military has arrested a number of Al-Jazeera journalists, including some Westerners, on terrorism-related charges. The military mind is amazingly uniform.

The U.S. military has won the ideological war. The nation sees human and social problems as military problems. To fight terrorists Americans have become terrorists. Peace is for the weak. War is for the strong. Hypermasculinity has triumphed over empathy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2014 at 11:40 am

Good review of the many missteps of Robert Gates

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They were heavily de-emphasized (I think that’s a mixed metaphor) in his book. Jonathan Alter explains in the New Yorker.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2014 at 6:08 pm

The backpack nuclear bomb

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Fascinating story with cool graphics and effects on how the US built a backpack (90 lb) nuclear bomb. It’s in Foreign Affairs and (free) registration is required if you don’t have a login already. Well worth the effort.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Military, Technology

Pentagon investigations point to military system that promotes abusive leaders

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Craig Whitlock points out in the Washington Post another area in which the military is falling woefully short, and an area at the heart of their competency: command leadership. (In addition, of course, there is the rape culture aspect of the military, along with the enormous number of Air Force members who routinely cheat on their readiness tests: these are the troops responsible for our nuclear weapons, not a group one wants to see compromised.) Whitlock’s report:

There are miserable bosses, and then there are toxic military commanders.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt was unquestionably among the latter in the view of some staff members under his thumb. A profane screamer, he ran through six executive officers and aide-de-camps in a year. He retired this month after an Air Force inquiry concluded that he was “cruel and oppressive” and mistreated subordinates.

More than a dozen people who worked with Brig. Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, a retired commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported him as a verbally abusive taskmaster. One was so desperate to escape from division headquarters in San Francisco that he asked for a transfer to Iraq. An Army investigation cited the general for “exhibiting paranoia” and making officers cry.

Troops who served under Army Brig. Gen. Eugene Mascolo of the Connecticut National Guard, described him as “dictatorial,” “unglued” and a master of “profanity-fused outbursts.” An Army investigation found widespread evidence of “verbal mistreatment.” He received a written reprimand but remains in the National Guard.

U.S. military commanders are not trained to be soft or touchy-feely. But over the past two years, the Pentagon has been forced to conduct a striking number of inspector-general investigations of generals and admirals accused of emotionally brutal behavior, according to military documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The affliction of abusive leadership has even infected some civilian leaders at the Pentagon, raising questions about the Defense Department’s ability to detect and root out flaws in its command culture.

[Read excerpts from investigations into allegations of toxic leadership]

Inspector-general files show, for example, that Army officers described the working atmosphere under Joyce E. Morrow, a powerful civilian official at Army headquarters, as “toxic,” corrosive” and “like you were in a prisoner of war camp.” Officers complained of menial servitude and said they were forced to fetch Morrow’s iced tea, which she would refuse to drink if it was not served in a cup with a lid and a straw, but no ice.

Most military commanders are upstanding and well-respected by their troops. Many are hailed as heroes, particularly after more than a dozen years of war. But in recent months, the armed forces have been shaken by an embarrassing number of generals and admirals who have gotten into trouble for gambling, drinking and sleeping around, among other ethical lapses.

Some current and former officers say those cases are symptomatic of a more damaging problem: a system that promotes and tolerates too many lousy leaders.

“This is a larger issue of not only officer misconduct involving ethical issues, but let’s call these guys for what they are: toxic leaders,” said Christopher Walach, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander who served two combat tours in Iraq.

Walach said he left the Army in 2008 largely because of what he described as a destructive command climate. “It destroys the message that draws many into the ranks of the military in the first place,” he said.

Leaders at the Pentagon said they haven’t looked into whether the number of toxic or unethical leaders has increased. . .

Continue reading. Leaders at the Pentagon seem inclined to preserve their ignorance.

A sidebar to the piece:

Find out what witnesses had to say about leadership from the reports on Schmidt, Donahue, Mascolo and Morrow. Go read.

Read the report on Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt

Read the report on Army Brig. Gen. Scott F. Donahue

Read the report on Army Brig. Gen. Eugene L. Mascolo

Read the report on Joyce Morrow

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2014 at 10:26 am

Posted in Mental Health, Military

Almost everything in Dr. Strangelove was true

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A very interesting look back by Eric Schlosser in the New Yorker:

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”

President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.

In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2014 at 10:47 am

Posted in Government, Military

Justified and superheroes

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I am watching the TV series Justified with considerable pleasure. I tried it once before but checked out way too early. Now I find it captivating. US Marshal Raylen Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) is the protagonist, a guy not averse to shooting down a bad guy it the chance arises.

It made me wonder about the idea of a superhero whose superpower was exactly that: the ability to kill anyone with impunity: so powerful that he could kill and expect not effective retribution. That seems to apply to some degree to Raylen Givens but even more so the US, which is more a superpower than superhero, but it seems that a lot of what we’ve done lately is kill with impunity: the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the Global War on Terrorism, now with Special Forces operations in 134 countries. We can kill anywhere, anyone. But now the drawback of that superpower becomes apparent: being able to kill people, and to demonstrate that repeatedly, does not exactly win you many friends. You can see the arc of the graphic novel., and you can see the odd turns the US has taken over the past 14 years.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2014 at 3:23 pm

Our secret wars will not end well

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Nick Turse writes at TomDispatch:

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration iswaging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget.  Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally.  This presence — now, in nearly 70% of the world’s nations — provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.

In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world.  By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post.  In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120.  Today, that figure has risen higher still.

In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs.  This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy andextensive electronic spying, the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection.  Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.

Growth Industry

Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era.   SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001.  Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding).  Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.

A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012-2013.  For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators — Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel — were deployed.   “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed.  “We have to go searching through stuff.  It takes a long time to do that.”  Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year.  “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.

Globalized Special Ops

Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization.  In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate…”

While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter.  The 12% jump in national deployments — from 120 to 134 — during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth.  SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2014 at 11:59 am

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