Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Iraq War’ Category

Why the International Criminal Court will investigate possible U.S. war crimes — even if the Trump administration says it can’t

leave a comment »

Kelebogile Zvobgo writes in the Washington Post:

Judges in the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court on Thursday authorized Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan. This is a big milestone in international criminal justice — for the first time in history, U.S. leaders, armed forces and intelligence personnel may face a trial in an international court for crimes perpetrated in the context of the nation’s wars abroad.

In April, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected Bensouda’s first request for an investigation. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the Appeals Chamber’s overturning of the decision, calling the ICC “an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body.”

What are the alleged abuses? How does the ICC have jurisdiction over the United States? What will ordinary U.S. citizens make of an ICC investigation? My research explains how U.S. citizens are more supportive of the ICC than the Trump administration’s rhetoric suggests.<

The ICC prosecutor examined evidence of U.S. torture and abuse

In 2006, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Afghan conflict since 2003 — the year Afghanistan became a member of the ICC.

The OTP examined allegations of abuses by both anti-government and pro-government forces, including the Taliban, the Afghan National Security Forces, the United States, armed forces and the CIA. The OTP says the information it gathered indicates, among other allegations, that U.S. interrogation techniques used in Afghanistan — involving “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape” — amount to war crimes.

Some ICC judges are worried about going after the U.S.

The United States is not a member of the ICC. However, the treaty that created the court, the Rome Statute, allows it to investigate citizens of nonmember states if the alleged crimes occurred on the territory of a member state. Once Afghanistan ratified the Rome Statute and joined the ICC in 2003, U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan came under the court’s jurisdiction.

[The International Criminal Court was established 20 years ago. Here’s how.]

In November 2017 — after more than a decade of gathering evidence — the prosecutor requested authorization to open a full investigation, arguing there was “a reasonable basis to believe” U.S. military and intelligence personnel committed war crimes.

A year and a half later, in April 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber unanimously rejected the request. The judges agreed the request was in the ICC’s jurisdiction and admissible before the ICC. However, they claimed the investigation would probably not be successful and, therefore, it would not serve the interests of justice to proceed.

The 2019 decision sparked controversy in the human rights community. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued statements criticizing the court’s judges for capitulating to the Trump administration’s threats and, in the process, abandoning the victims of the alleged crimes.

The ICC will move ahead, despite the political risks

Bensouda swiftly appealed the decision. Her office coordinated a multifaceted response, drawing on submissions from victims’ legal representatives and amicus curiae briefs from human rights organizations.

[The U.S. revoked the visa for the ICC prosecutor. That bodes poorly for international criminal justice.]

On Thursday, the Appeals Chamber unanimously reversed the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision, saying it had gone beyond its power by rejecting the prosecutor’s request. The Rome Statute requires only that the Pre-Trial Chamber determine whether “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” and whether “the case appears to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.”

Since these facts were not in dispute, there was no basis to reject the prosecutor’s request. Last week’s decision authorizes . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2020 at 4:14 pm

Is Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s Revenge for the Iraq War?

leave a comment »

Peter Canellos offers an interesting perspective in Politico, and I can agree that when the George W. Bush administration was pushing the US to invade Iraq — a totally discretionary move, since Iraq posed no danger whatsoever to the US (unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, the home of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists) — the mainstream media at that time seemed to go right along, downplaying any reports that undermined the push to war. (Not all of the mainstream media: the Atlantic published several lengthy articles that made a cogent argument against the attack and invasion, including a piece by James Fallows titled, as I recall, “Iraq: The 51st State.”)

Canellos writes:

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent media blitz included a lot of scripted lines that belie his intentions—such as his assertion during a cozy chat with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson that journalism is crucial for democracy—and one that rings strikingly, resoundingly true: His claim at an October 17 speech at Georgetown University that his views on free expression were shaped by his collegiate frustrations over the failure of the mainstream media to expose the weaknesses of the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

The comment passed with relatively little notice, except among skeptics who saw it as a self-serving, ex-post-facto justification for Facebook’s reluctance to impose constraints on its users’ political assertions. But it was a rare personal admission from one of the least-known and most privacy-obsessed of moguls, and offered an organic, true-to-his-experiences explanation for his decisions at Facebook, many of which have proved to be ruinous for the mainstream media. It turns out it wasn’t just the profit motive that drove Facebook to become the prime source of information around the world; Zuckerberg wished to supplant the mainstream media out of something closer to real animus.

“When I was in college, our country had just gone to war in Iraq,” he explained. “The mood on campus was disbelief. It felt like we were acting without hearing a lot of important perspectives. The toll on our soldiers, families and our national psyche was severe, and most of us felt powerless to stop it. I remember feeling that if more people had a voice to share their experiences, maybe things would have gone differently. Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.”

This is the closest Zuckerberg has ever come to acknowledging a formative event, an aha moment, that shapes his perceptions of the relative merits of the mainstream media and social media. And it feels authentic to the moment; by late 2003, when the 19-year-old computer whiz was pondering the world from a Cambridge dorm room, it had started to dawn on the country that many of the justifications for the Iraq war were faulty—especially the reports of weapons of mass destruction. Young people rightly extended their anger from the Bush administration to the mainstream media that had failed to alert the country to the flimsiness of the government’s case.

If there was any doubt that those resentments linger, Zuckerberg laced his speech with encomiums to the fresh, clean air of direct democracy and backhanded swipes at the mildewed professional media. “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world—a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he declared. “People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.”

He defended political ads on Facebook as a voice for the voiceless, saying he considered banning them but reversed himself because “political ads are an important part of the voice—especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

The specter of a 35-year-old mogul making off-the-cuff decisions about how much speech (or “voice”) is healthy for society engenders a queasy feeling. It suggests that Elizabeth Warren and others may be right that too much monopolistic power exists on one platform— especially one that coyly presents itself as an innocent conduit for information while blithely acknowledging its governing power over constitutional liberties. But pending future action, such power is indeed vested in the character and values of Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg’s criticism of mainstream media might be honestly earned. Like Vietnam before it, the debate over the Iraq war dominates the political attitudes of a big slice of the generation that grew up around it. But it also represents only one window on the much larger, and more complicated, question of how best to provide a check and balance to the power of government, and to properly inform the populace. Zuckerberg may have come to his views sincerely, through his own impressions. Like other youthful conversions, they may be very hard to shake. But they aren’t remotely the last word on the question.

For while Zuckerberg may be open about his intentions, he can seem almost willfully blind to their consequences. In his speech, he tries to capture the long arc of American history, veering from the civil rights movement to the repression of socialists during World War I to the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. He quotes Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. But he never mentions the words “conspiracy theory” or “Donald Trump.”

That left a ghost in the lecture hall at Georgetown, shadowing all of Zuckerberg’s pronouncements and justifications: the abject failure of his chosen mode of communication in the 2016 election, a lapse that threatens to recur if not corrected and that carries more enduring consequences for America than the sins of the mainstream media in the early 2000s.

***

Back when a handful of major news outlets held outsized influence over the national political dialogue, it was common to rail against these unelected gatekeepers. By habitually returning to the mean, insisting on reporting whose candidacy seemed most viable and whose views comported with Main Street assumptions, those media arbiters perpetuated a bland centrism, or so the theory went. They chopped the ends off of the political spectrum, left and right. People who challenged the system had to struggle to be taken seriously.

This critique found a persuasive advocate in the late Ross Perot, who happened to be both a fan of conspiracy theories (particularly regarding POWs) and the CEO of a data firm. Almost three decades ago, when the only web on anyone’s mind was Charlotte’s, Perot envisioned a running national plebiscite, in which average citizens voted like senators. They would simply plug their choices into their home computers, thereby diminishing the importance of Congress and the media’s control of the national debate surrounding its actions.

Perot’s vision of a daily Brexit has yet to come to pass, but his desire to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 6:15 pm

Trump Is Doing the Same Thing on Iran That George W. Bush Did on Iraq

leave a comment »

Understandable in that Trump is devoid of originality and thus naturally must copy. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Last week, intelligence officials testified publicly that Iran has not resumed its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. The next day, President Trump called these officials “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” and advised, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

The first-blush response to this presidential outburst was to dump it in the same category as Trump’s other public eruption against members of his government who undercut his preferred narratives with inconvenient facts. That response is probably correct: this Trump tantrum is probably like all the other Trump tantrums. But there is another possible meaning to this episode: Trump’s rejection of intelligence assessments of Iran’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities eerily echoes the Bush administration’s rejection of Iraq’s WMD capabilities a decade and a half earlier.

Shortly after their testimony, the intelligence officials were summoned to the Oval office for a photographed session in which they publicly smoothed over their breach with the president, and (according to Trump) assured him that their remarks had been misconstrued, despite having been delivered in public and broadcast in their entirety. Yet Trump’s interview broadcast Sunday with Margaret Brennan on CBS made clear how little little headway they made in regaining his trust.

Trump told Brennan he plans to maintain troops in Iraq because, “I want to be able to watch Iran … We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” But would he accept the assessments that he received? No, Trump replied, he wouldn’t.

His reason for rejecting this intelligence was consistent. Trump is unable to separate the question, Do I like Iran’s government and its foreign policy? from the question Is Iran building a nuclear weapon? Tell Trump that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitment, and what he hears you saying is, “Iran is a lovely state run by wonderful people.”

If that account of Trump’s thinking sounds too simplistic, just look at his answers:

I’m not going to stop [intelligence officials] from testifying. They said they were mischaracterized — maybe they were maybe they weren’t, I don’t really know — but I can tell you this, I want them to have their own opinion and I want them to give me their opinion. But, when I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems …

My intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent. It is a vicious country that kills many people …

So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is — if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.

In fact, intelligence officials did not deny Iran has caused problems. They simply asserted facts about its nuclear weapons. Trump cannot hear those facts without translating it into Iran being comprehensively “wonderful.”

Even more remarkably, Trump explained that intelligence assessments could not be trusted because they had failed in the run-up to the Iraq war:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on here but I should say your intel chiefs do say Iran’s abiding by that nuclear deal. I know you think it’s a bad deal, but—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I disagree with them. I’m — I’m — by the way—

MARGARET BRENNAN: You disagree with that assessment?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. President Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —in Iraq had nuclear weapons — had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.

Trump’s understanding of this history is almost perfectly backwards. U.S. intelligence officials never said Iraq “had nuclear weapons,” or even anything close to that. They did overstate Iraqi weapons capabilities. But — crucially — the Bush administration also pressured intelligence agencies to inflate their findings, as John Judis and Spencer Ackerman reported in 2003, and administration officials overstated the intelligence that was produced, as the Senate Intelligence Committee found in 2008.

The backdrop to this episode does have some important differences with the current moment. The Bush administration had been plunged into an adrenal panic by the 9/11 attacks. Its rush toward war was largely choreographed by Dick Cheney, a skilled bureaucratic operator, and enjoyed broad public legitimacy created by the national unity bestowed upon Bush by the surprise attack. None of these conditions apply to the easily distracted, childlike, and deeply unpopular sitting president.

And while Cheney has departed the scene, National Security Council director John Bolton has assumed a somewhat parallel role. An ultrahawk with a long record of punishing subordinates who undermine the factual basis for his preferred policies, Bolton has emerged as Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser. Bolton in 2015 insisted that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon. (“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.”) He likewise concluded that diplomacy could never work (“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program”) and that “only military action” could stop it.

As Trump has grown alienated from his national security apparatus, Bolton appears to be the one remaining official who has retained a measure of his trust. And while he may not have a Cheney-like ability to manipulate the president, Bolton does benefit from a near vacuum in rival power sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2019 at 4:46 pm

The Priest of Abu Ghraib

leave a comment »

The Smiethsonian has a long and thoughtful article that is very much worth reading. It’s by Jennifer Percy and it begins:

Joshua Casteel was 24 years old when he learned he would be sent to Iraq as an interrogator with the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion. This was his first deployment. It was June 2004, and the war in Iraq had been going on for a little more than a year. Casteel packed a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and didn’t stop reading until he saw the lights of Baghdad in the desert below. From Ali Al Salem Air Base, outside Kuwait City, he took a military bus overnight to Baghdad International Airport. Out his window he saw oil fires, roadside weddings, sand that went on forever.

The next day, he suited up in body armor, strapped on his M-16, and took a heavily armored three-vehicle convoy 20 miles outside Baghdad to Abu Ghraib prison. On the way, he was thinking about Pope John Paul II, who wrote about suffering, human dignity and the nature of personhood and its relationship to the divine. Then the commander asked about newcomers: “Who has never done this before?” Casteel raised his hand. The commander explained that they didn’t fire warning shots. “If you move your selector level from ‘safe’ to ‘semi’ automatic, you shoot to kill,” he said.

Casteel stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 240 pounds. He was a blond, blue-eyed evangelical Christian from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The deployment came six weeks after the revelation of prisoner torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. An Army intelligence officer and a patriot who’d long dreamed of serving his country in uniform, Casteel also had doubts about the morality of the so-called war on terror. Two weeks before he got his assignment letter from the Army, he was accepted to seminary school. He chose Iraq.

His mother, Kristi Casteel, could never picture her son as an interrogator. “He just wasn’t cruel to anyone,” she told me. She worried the job would change him. Casteel tried to rationalize. “Better that they have someone like me in the interrogation room,” he told her, “than someone who doesn’t care about the Geneva Conventions, or just wants to drop bombs.”

Abu Ghraib was already a prison before the Americans arrived, where Saddam Hussein incarcerated, tortured and executed Iraqi dissidents. When Saddam’s regime collapsed, the Americans took the place over and replaced Saddam’s portrait with a banner that read “America is the friend of all Iraqi people.” There was hardly any vegetation, just expanses of dirt and mud between buildings. “At the prison’s edge is a teetering skyline—minaret, palm trees, the mosaic dome of a mosque, rooftops,” Casteel wrote home to his parents. “At sunset I can hear the calls to prayer from the south and from the east. At times it may even appear as if in a round, like choirs of a cathedral, one folded atop the other. But always a few hours after the sun has fallen there is the intermittent echo of small-arms fire, the howling of dogs.” The complex, which now also housed a U.S. military base, had a chapel, a couple of cafeterias, an entertainment shed. When Casteel got to his sleeping quarters, everything was covered in ash. Outside, he saw a plume of smoke from a giant trash pile. The pit burned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes the smoke blew right through Casteel’s sleeping quarters.

Casteel was told that the military’s top priority, above even the search for Osama bin Laden, was to hunt down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and nicknamed the “Sheik of the Slaughterers.” Casteel’s job would be to interrogate prisoners to learn more about Zarqawi’s chief lieutenant, a man named Omar Hussein Hadid, whose army of insurgents had killed 95 Americans with rocket-propelled grenades and crude bombs during the Battle of Fallujah.

For the first week Casteel sat in on interrogations. There were six booths on each side of a long hallway; down the center was a two-way mirror that didn’t always work well, and when it didn’t, the prisoners watched you watch them. The rooms held little beyond plastic chairs, cheap tables, maybe zip ties on the chair legs. Sometimes a steel hook was attached to the floor. Every now and then prisoners were led to a more comfortable room, to confuse them, make them relax. The goal was to make them slip up. Sometimes Casteel saw men kept naked. Sometimes they were handcuffed to chairs.

During lessons, Casteel’s supervisors explained how to use fabricated stories and charges of homosexuality to shame the prisoners and manipulate them. The commanders were clear about who they were dealing with, Casteel remembered.

“These men,” they said, “are the agents of Satan, gentlemen.”

* * *

I met Casteel in 2009, when we were both graduate students in the writing program at the University of Iowa. We took a class together on the art of memoir, and on the side, Casteel told me, he took courses in philosophy and theology. I was surprised when I learned he had been an interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison. He wasn’t like any soldier I had ever met. He loved to sing solos from Les Misérables and gave frequent sermons at local churches. I often saw him in a corduroy blazer, books piled under one arm.

A few years later, I contacted Casteel’s mother, Kristi, because I wished I had gotten to know him better. She invited me to her home in Cedar Rapids and gave me access to a Dropbox account containing Joshua’s many writings and files. The folders had titles like “Heidegger and the Mystery of Pain,” “Flesh and Finitude,” “Heidegger and Sartre on God and Bodies,” “Technologies of Humanness” and “The Rhetoric of Pain.”

Kristi said, “Joshua had a complexity about his life.”

There were folders for academic papers, diary entries, plays—Casteel got a dual master’s degree in playwriting and nonfiction writing—and many jotted-off musings. A small publisher, Essay Press, had put out a short book by Casteel in 2008 titled Letters from Abu Ghraib, composed of selected emails he wrote to friends and family during his six-month deployment. And there were a lot of unfinished projects, including a memoir called No Graven Images.

Peeking into Casteel’s files felt a little like having a conversation with him, even if it was one-sided. But there was so much I still wished to know. Casteel often made difficult and even contradictory choices, which to many people who knew him seemed incomprehensible. He was constantly trying to make sense of how his Christianity fit with the war and his time in Iraq. For him, questioning this paradox at the heart of his life was analogous to figuring out the mystery of Christ. “If Jesus is anything,” Casteel wrote in the introduction to his unfinished memoir, “he is incomprehensible. This is my story of wrestling with that incomprehensibility.”

* * *

Casteel was born into a family of evangelists and raised in Cedar Rapids. His father was an ordained minister with River of Life Ministries, and both of his parents worked as Christian marriage therapists. Joshua was the youngest child of three, and the only boy. For years Casteel soaked up the ecstasy of Pentecostalism, spoke in tongues, attended miracles. On Sundays, he listened to sermons, Scriptures, hymns, and learned about the fight between good and evil.

He was a kid driven by questions of meaning and significance. He lived with what people now like to call “intentionality.” He told his mother he wanted to give himself up to a higher cause—either his country, or God, or both. He even told his mother that his calling might include the ultimate sacrifice. He covered his bedroom walls with cutouts from Army brochures and Marine recruiters, the American flag and the U.S. Constitution, and a large wooden cross.

He attended his first presidential caucus events at age 7, and in high school became president of the local chapter of the Young Republicans. In his parents’ garage he would hold press conferences in a White House built from cardboard, wearing a suit and clip-on tie, his hair parted like Ronald Reagan’s. He got his first gun at 11, during the Gulf War—a 22-caliber rifle with a long-range scope. Rush Limbaugh was a constant presence. So was Billy Graham and Ralph Reed, then head of the Christian Coalition. “On the one hand,” Casteel wrote in his memoir, “the political banter of our ‘fundamentalist’ Christian household hovered around familiar conservative themes: family values, small government, private enterprise (Dad was an entrepreneur). But also always present was what Thomas Friedman refers to as the invisible fist behind the invisible hand in the economy: strong national defense.”

Casteel was consumed by feelings of loyalty to America and believed in America as a “Shining City on a Hill.” His father had been a captain in the Army, and his grandfather had fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. At his grandfather’s funeral, Joshua placed an old West Point badge in his casket.

One summer, at Bible camp, when Casteel was 14 years old, a man named Steve, a self-declared prophet, had a revelation that Casteel was destined to be a powerful and historically significant man. When Steve was kicked out of the ministry for false prophecy, Casteel asked the camp pastor whether the prophecy was still worth anything. “It doesn’t mean it wasn’t true,” the pastor said. “God can speak through a false prophet.”

* * *

Kristi Casteel describes her son as a happy and affectionate child, obedient as they come. The two forged a close and trusting relationship right from the beginning. One day when Casteel was 3 years old she found him sobbing uncontrollably. He brought her outside. “It’s really bad,” he said. “A little worm is dead.” The worm had dried out in the sun. Casteel dug a tiny grave and buried it. “Jesus loves the little wormies,” he told his mother. “All the little wormies of the world.” As a teenager he made small but symbolic acts in the name of God. He torched his collection of unholy CDs. He anointed the high school doorways and baseball dugouts with oil from the Christian bookstore. He blew a shofar from centerfield.

His mother said he could sometimes get lonely, staying home on weekends rather than partying or socializing with other teenagers. He didn’t drink or do drugs. Some of his friends took to calling him “Mama’s Boy.” Other classmates thought he was gay because many of his friends were girls, because he acted in school plays and musicals, because he had a hormone imbalance called gynecomastia that gave him breasts. For years, until he had surgery, he was teased in the locker room, and refused to take off his shirt to swim or change backstage during school plays.

He and his mother talked about everything—faith, friendships, girls, dreams, disappointments, fears, philosophy, theology, art, literature, music. “We were very much alike in many ways, and just naturally connected on a deep level,” Kristi told me. Joshua was never as close to his father, Everett, who didn’t share his son’s temperament or interests. (In 2010, Everett Casteel died from complications related to a brain tumor.) With his mother, Joshua was always sweet. He gave her a tiny crystal swan, a ragged cotton bunny (she collected bunnies), a pink chiffon blouse, a large print of an angel that he thought looked like her, and a framed poem he wrote about her and the meaning of her name. Casteel was always praying to Mary, the mother of God. For Kristi, it made sense. “We identified with Mary and Jesus—it just seemed to naturally evolve,” she says. “People mentioned his likeness to Christ again and again.”

Kristi had always worried that God would take her son. She had gone into his bedroom at night when he was a few weeks old and heard God talking: Give him back to me. You need to let him go. She tried to make sense of it. She later thought of the story of Isaac, when Abraham raised a knife above his son’s head to prove his faith in God.

“Whenever that fear entered my mind,” she told me, “I reminded myself that all of our children are on loan to us, and I shouldn’t live in fear of something I couldn’t know would happen.”

* * *

Casteel never forgot Steve’s prophecy, and a month after he turned 17 he enlisted as an Army reservist in Iowa City under the delayed entry program, in part to help his chances of getting accepted to West Point. That summer, between junior and senior year of high school, . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2019 at 3:13 pm

Lest we forget: “Vice” vs. the Real Dick Cheney

leave a comment »

Nicholas Lemann writes in the New Yorker:

Adam McKay, the director of “Vice,” has an exuberant and fantastic filmmaking style that inoculates him against the kind of indignant fact-checking to which Hollywood depictions of history are often subjected. Who wants to be an old grump and point out that, for example, there is no evidence that Dick Cheney, the movie’s antihero, suggested to the President that they head out to the White House lawn for a round of circle jerk, or that Dick and Lynne Cheney spoke to each other in bed in mock-Shakespearean pentameter? But “Vice” isn’t asking to be judged purely as a work of fiction, either; its implicit claim is that it plays around with the facts about Cheney in order to get closer to the truth.

By that standard, there’s no problem about the regular flights into speculation and satire, but there is one major false note in “Vice.” That’s when a young Cheney rather plaintively asks his mentor, the congressman turned White House aide Donald Rumsfeld, “What do we believe in?” Rumsfeld bursts into uncontrollable laughter, turns away, and disappears into his office. Through the closed door we can still hear him cackling. Actually, it’s clear that Cheney, even that early, was a deeply committed and ideological conservative—one whose phlegmatic demeanor and eagerness to master the details of government masked who he really was for a very long time.

In the early nineteen-sixties, Cheney dropped out of Yale twice, but one professor there made a deep impression on him. That was H. Bradford Westerfield, a diplomatic historian who believed that it was possible that the United States would fall victim to a Communist takeover. “Ominously, the infectious defeatism drifts across the Atlantic and begins to insinuate itself into the mind of America,” he warned in his book “The Instruments of America’s Foreign Policy.” Another crucial experience for the Cheneys—both of whom were children of career federal civil servants—was their brief tour of duty in Madison, Wisconsin, at the height of the sixties, when they were enrolled in graduate school, at the University of Wisconsin.

Many years later, Lynne Cheney told me, “I distinctly remember going to class, and having to walk through people in whiteface, conducting guerrilla theatre, often swinging animal entrails over their heads, as part of a protest against Dow Chemical. And then the shocking thing was that you would enter the classroom and here would be all these nice young people who honestly wanted to learn to write an essay.” Dick Cheney, during an internship in Washington, D.C., took a delegation from Capitol Hill to a Students for a Democratic Society meeting in Madison, so that they could see the unvarnished face of student radicalism, and also to a faculty meeting, where he was struck by the professors’ lack of alarm over the left’s activities. Cheney and Rumsfeld’s first jobs in a Presidential Administration were at the Office of Economic Opportunity, during Richard Nixon’s first term—Rumsfeld was the director and Cheney was his deputy. This is presented in “Vice” as an anodyne bureaucratic assignment, but, because the O.E.O. had been created to carry out Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, their jobs entailed dismantling the most sixties-infused agency of the federal government. From Cheney’s point of view, the work had the quality of removing the serpent from the breast of state.

The episode that best foreshadowed the Cheney we came to know in the years after the 9/11 attacks occurred at the end of his service as Secretary of Defense, under George H. W. Bush—another job that “Vice” understands in terms of power, not ideas. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, Cheney, with the help of aides such as Lewis (Scooter) Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, who later joined him in the George W. Bush Administration, commissioned a study with the bland title “Defense Planning Guidance.” It envisioned a post-Cold War world in which there would only ever be one superpower, the United States: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival,” the document said. It was skeptical of power exercised by the United Nations and other multinational alliances, as opposed to that exercised by the United States unilaterally. Cheney’s circle did not support the first President Bush’s decision to conclude the Gulf War without toppling Saddam Hussein and installing a new government in Iraq. The 9/11 attacks provided Cheney and his allies with an unexpected opportunity to enact their long-standing views.

“Vice” treats conservatism as a combination of resistance to the civil-rights movement, the Koch brothers’ eagerness to reduce taxes and regulations, and pure opportunism. Cheney’s conservatism, at heart, is none of these. It is what might be called threatism. Powerful, determined, immensely destructive forces—the Soviet Union, radical Islam, the domestic left—want to destroy American freedom and democracy. Complacent politicians, especially liberal ones, are incapable either of understanding this or of summoning the will to combat it. For the small cadre who do understand, it is imperative to use power unusually quietly, expertly, and aggressively. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2019 at 2:34 pm

American Exceptionalism Is a Dangerous Myth

leave a comment »

Eric Levitz writes in New York:

Donald Trump has done more to elevate the left’s critique of U.S. foreign policy than any politician in modern memory.

As a presidential candidate, the mogul told Republican primary audiences that George W. Bush had lied the United States into Iraq; that said war had done a “tremendous disservice to humanity”; and that America could have saved countless lives by investing $5 trillion in domestic infrastructure instead. As commander-in-chief, Trump has suggested that there is no moral distinction between the U.S. and other great powers; that American foreign policy in the Middle East is largely dictated by the interests of arms manufacturers; and that the U.S. judges foreign regimes by their utility to American economic interests, not their commitment to human rights.

But if Trump’s descriptions of geopolitics echo Noam Chomsky, his prescriptions owe more to Attila the Hun. The president does see the invasion of Iraq as a criminal waste — but only because the U.S. failed to expropriate the region’s oil fields. He does imply that, in the eyes of the American state, Raytheon’s profits count more than journalists’ lives —but he sees that as a good thing. And when Trump suggests our country isn’t “so innocent,” he isn’t imploring neoconservatives to hold America to higher moral standards, but rather, to hold foreign autocrats to lower ones.

In other words, the Trump presidency can be read as an object lesson in the virtues of hypocrisy. Having a global hegemon that preaches human rights — while propping up dictators and incinerating schoolchildren — is bad. But having one that does those things while preaching nihilism is worse; not least because even a nominal commitment to liberal values can function as a constraint against their violation. Trump’s distaste for the whole “shining city on a hill” shtick has, among other things, enabled the Pentagon to tolerate higher levels of civilian casualties in the Middle East, the Israeli government to accelerate settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and the Saudi crown prince to take a bonesaw to international law.

It’s understandable, then, that many liberal intellectuals are eager to revive the national myths that Trump has busted. Such thinkers concede that Trump has highlighted flaws in the triumphalist, Cold War narrative about American global leadership. And they acknowledge the necessity of rethinking what “leading the free world” truly requires of the United States. But they nevertheless insist that America’s self-conception as an exceptional power — which is to say, as a hegemon whose foreign policy is shaped by universal ideals (as opposed to mercenary interests) — isn’t just a beneficent fiction, but an actual fact. And that compulsion is unfortunate; because it will be difficult for liberals to realize their vision for America’s exceptional future, if they refuse to grapple with its unexceptional past.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, former Hillary Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan presents one of the more compelling cases for making America exceptional again. Against Dick Cheney’s arrogant, unilateralist approach to world leadership — and Trump’s nihilistic disavowal of America’s international obligations — Sullivan offers a call for restoring the U.S. to its former role as a benevolent hegemon, one whose global supremacy is legitimated by its demonstrable commitment to spreading peace, democracy, and shared prosperity.

Crucially, Sullivan recognizes that this restoration is contingent on sweeping reform. He acknowledges that,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2019 at 2:30 pm

Nico Walker is a convicted bank robber. ‘Cherry’ proves he’s also a must-read author.

leave a comment »

Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post Book World writes:

You won’t hear Nico Walker on a book tour anytime soon because he’s serving two more years in prison for bank robbery. But don’t wait to pick up his lacerating new novel about the horrors of war and addiction. “Cherry” is a miracle of literary serendipity, a triumph born of gore and suffering that reads as if it’s been scratched out with a dirty needle across the tender skin of a man’s forearm.
The story of how this autobiographical novel evolved is almost as remarkable as the story of how its debut author survived. In 2005 and 2006, Walker served as an Army medic in Iraq, where he was commended for valor and saw many of his buddies blown to pieces. Returning to civilian life depressed and traumatized, he became addicted to heroin, a habit he funded with extravagant success by robbing 10 banks in four months.
In 2013, when Walker was behind bars in the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky., his journey from hero to thief became the subject of a harrowing profile in BuzzFeed. One of many people struck by that story was Matthew Johnson, a publisher at the independent press Tyrant Books. Fascinated by the historical tradition of war vets taking up bank robbery, Johnson sent Walker books and encouraged him to write about his life. Eventually, through one of those wildly circuitous trajectories that make up the map of literary history, Walker’s disheveled manuscript ended up at Alfred A. Knopf, the nation’s most prestigious publishing house.
In a gracious and unusually detailed acknowledgment at the end of “Cherry,” Walker credits Tim O’Connell, his editor at Knopf, with transforming those typewritten pages into this tour de force. But when I contacted O’Connell, he claimed he did nothing but edit Walker’s manuscript as usual. “It is the fruit of his hard work and remarkable natural talents,” O’Connell said, “especially his voice, which is unlike any other. Nico simply poured everything he had into it.”
That sounds right — and true to the searing authenticity of this novel, which tries to answer the question, “How do you get to be a scumbag?” But in the process of laying out the road to perdition, Walker demonstrates the depths of his humanity and challenges us to bridge the distance that we imagine separates us from the damned.

We meet the unnamed narrator in 2003 when he’s a listless college student raised by a nice middle-class family. From the start, his tone is one of mournful candor with a trace of straight-faced wit. “I sold drugs but it wasn’t like I was bad or anything,” he says. “I wasn’t bothering anybody; I didn’t even eat meat. I had a job at the shoe store. Another mistake I made. No interest whatsoever in shoes. I was marked for failure.”
With the same rueful smirk, he enlists in the Army “because I’d been saying I would.” The inane tests, the screaming sergeants, the empty slogans — none of it impresses him. “You just had to remember it was all make-believe,” he says. “We were pretending to be soldiers. The Army was pretending to be the Army.”
But there’s nothing make-believe about the blood that’s soon gushing across these pages. As an Army medic, he goes on missions that are vaguely explained, often impromptu, frequently disastrous. His fellow soldiers are regularly called upon to brutalize the local people. The Iraqis, for their part, are experts at planting IEDs in the roads. “I was supposed to pretend to be some kind of great healer,” the narrator says, but his medical expertise rarely involves more than scraping up bits of his friends and zipping them in bags. “I was not a hero,” he says.
Of course, we’ve heard these stories before, in superb fiction and nonfiction by other soldiers. But Walker, 33, brings a raw and casual brutality to the narrative of battle. His rambling collection of chaotic anecdotes involve drugs and porn, acts of cruelty and kindness, unending boredom pierced by spikes of terror. These juxtapositions convey the fundamental disorder of the American mission and its deleterious effect on the young people forced to implement it. His language, relentlessly profane but never angry, simmers at the level of morose disappointment, something like Holden Caulfield Goes to War: “I’m glad I missed the battle because it was probably bulls— and the Army just murdered your dog anyway.”
But Walker also channels an even older novelist who saw the carnage of war. His prose echoes Ernest Hemingway’s cadences to powerful effect like this: “By the time it was fall you could tell we were all a little off. In that state none of us could have passed in polite society; those of us who’d been kicking in doors and tearing houses up and shooting people, we were psychotic. And we were ready for it to end. There was nothing interesting about it anymore. There was nothing.”
Ironically, that sense of sliding into the abyss accelerates when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2018 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Books, Iraq War

War Without End: The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.

leave a comment »

C.J. Chivers paints a grim but realistic picture:

Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night. They were about 30 men in all, riflemen and machine-gunners reinforced with scouts, a mix of original platoon members and replacements who filled gaps left by the wounded and the dead. Many of them considered their plan foolish, a draining and dangerous waste of time, another example of a frustrated Army unit’s trying to show activity for the brass in a war low on focus and hope. They muttered foul words as they moved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

He faced the steep uphill climb, physically ready, emotionally spent. We’re just trying to get out of here in two months, he thought. He and his fellow soldiers had been in the valley long enough that they moved in the sinewy, late-deployment fitness of infantry squads seasoned by war. Sweat soaked his back. His quadriceps and calves drove him on, pushing him like a pack animal for the soldier beside him, Specialist Arturo Molano, who carried an M240 machine gun. The two fell into a rhythm. One soldier would get over a hard patch, turn around and extend a hand to the other. “Hey, man, you good?” Soto would ask. Molano would say he was fine. “You want me to carry the gun?” Soto would offer. Molano declined every time. Soto considered Molano to be selfless and tough, someone who routinely carried more than men of much larger size. He liked being partnered with someone like this.

After a few hours, Second Platoon reached the crest, high above the valley. The soldiers inhaled deeply, taking in the thin air. Away from the outpost’s burning trash, the air tasted clean.

A few soldiers went forward to check the trail before the rest of the platoon moved to the ambush site. With little more than whispers, the soldiers arranged themselves in a triangle astride a mountain footpath. Second Lt. Justin Smith, their platoon leader, put Molano at one corner and a second man with an M240 at another, with their machine guns angled back toward each other so their fire could create an interlocking zone of flying lead. Other soldiers set claymore mines on small stands.

Everything was ready before dark. The air was chilly and the ridge raked by gusts. Soto was shivering. He pulled a dry undershirt and socks from his pack, changed clothes, ate a protein bar and washed it down with water. He saw his company’s outpost below, across the open space, and realized this must be what it looked like to militants when they attacked. A distant call to prayer floated on the mountain air.

In early October, the Afghan war will be 17 years old, a milestone that has loomed with grim inevitability as the fighting has continued without a clear exit strategy across three presidential administrations. With this anniversary, prospective recruits born after the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be old enough to enlist. And Afghanistan is not the sole enduring American campaign. The war in Iraq, which started in 2003, has resumed and continues in a different form over the border in Syria, where the American military also has settled into a string of ground outposts without articulating a plan or schedule for a way out. The United States has at various times declared success in its many campaigns — in late 2001; in the spring of 2003; in 2008; in the short-lived withdrawal from Iraq late in 2011; and in its allies’ recapture more recently of the ruins of Ramadi, Falluja, Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State, a terrorist organization, formed in the crucible of occupied Iraq, that did not even exist when the wars to defeat terrorism started. And still the wars grind on, with the conflict in Afghanistan on track to be a destination for American soldiers born after it began.

More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. More are killed or wounded each year, in smaller numbers but often in dreary circumstances, including the fatal attack in July on Cpl. Joseph Maciel by an Afghan soldier — a member of the very forces that the United States has underwritten, trained and equipped, and yet as a matter of necessity and practice now guards itself against.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

As the costs have grown — whether measured by dollars spent, stature lost or blood shed — the wars’ architects and the commentators supporting them have often been ready with optimistic or airbrushed predictions, each pitched to the latest project or newly appointed general’s plan. According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.

Aside from displacing tyrants and leading to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, none of this turned out as pitched. Prominent successes were short-lived. New thugs rose where old thugs fell. Corruption and lawlessness remain endemic. An uncountable tally of civilians — many times the number of those who perished in the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 — were killed. Others were wounded or driven from their homes, first by American action and then by violent social forces American action helped unleash.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine. Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Almost two decades after the White House cast American troops as liberators to be welcomed, large swaths of territory where the Pentagon deployed combat forces are under stubborn insurgent influence. Areas once touted as markers of counterinsurgency progress have become no-go zones, regions in which almost no Americans dare tread, save a few journalists and aid workers, or private military contractors or American military and C.I.A. teams.

Across these years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks. They did not make policy. They lived within it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US cannot afford this.

Denying reality is ultimately a losing strategy.

A disheartening report: New CIA Director Gina Haspel Oversaw Torture at a Black Site Then Lost Evidence of It

with 3 comments

Matthew Gault writes in Motherboard:

In another shake up in Washington, Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State and President Trump said he will promote CIA Chief Mike Pompeo to the position. Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Haspel famously ran the CIA’s first black site prison in Thailand during the early days of the War on Terror.

Haspel has tortured people, overseen the torture of people, and destroyed the evidence of said torture. A quick reminder—torture isn’t an effective method of intelligence gathering.

We know this because of cables the CIA declassified describing the torture. In August 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah—former manager of a training camp in Afghanistan—and began to torture him at a black site in Thailand while Haspel was running it. The Senate’s infamous torture report also details the torture of Zubaydah while he was in Haspel’s custody.

“Subject began crying as he was told that we wanted information to stop operations against the U.S,” the cables read. “Subject was told he could stop the process at any time. Subject continued with his appeal that he has told all that he has and muttered ‘help me.’ Between 1250 and 1315 the waterboard technique was applied numerous times. Subject was put into a large box at 1317.”

To get a sense of Zubaydah’s treatment, the Senate report mentions his name 1,343 times in 712 pages.

On another day, “subject was led to the small box and shut in at 1349 hours…at 1412 hours, subject could be heard sobbing, which continued for some time.” When the CIA captured Zubaydah, he had two eyes. Now he has one. He was waterboarded a total of 83 times.

According to the Senate’s torture report, “CIA Headquarters formally proposed that [Zubaydah] be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that [Zubaydah] not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead [Zubaydah] to develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness.’”

Haspel was the head of the Thailand site during Zubaydah’s torture, a position referred to in the documents as the “chief of base.” Repeatedly in the cables, the chief of base or COB takes a direct role in the torture. “On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques applied to [Zubaydah] would be discontinued,” the Senate torture report explained.

At one point, the chief of base congratulated Zubaydah on a fine acting job and accused him of faking a mental breakdown under torture, according to CIA psychologist and torture architect James Mitchell. “Good job,” Mitchell wrote in his book, quoting the COB. “I like the way you’re drooling, it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.” Several former associates put her in the room at the time of Zubaydah’s torture. She signed many of the reports sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

One cable detailed in the Senate report attributed to Detention Site Green’s chief of base read notes some opposition to the techniques: . . .

Continue reading.

A willingness to torture people is to my mind a sign of bad character, as is a willingness to torture animals.

Trump has declared that he wants the US to resume its practice of torture. He has also called for the entire family of any terrorist to be murdered (i.e., no due process). The US seems to be circling the moral drain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 11:19 am

After the liberation of Mosul, an orgy of killing

leave a comment »

This is a depressing report, but it does reflect the on-going costs of George W. Bush’s boneheaded decision to invade Iraq, a totally unnecessary invasion sold to the American public by a series of lies. None of those who lied us into war have faced any accountability whatsoever. Dishonest and incompetent Presidents do a lot of damage, as we have seen.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports in the Guardian. It’s a lengthy article, which begins:

One hot and sticky evening in July, in the dying days of the battle for Mosul, a group of Iraqi army officers sat for dinner in a requisitioned civilian house not far from the ruins of the mosque where, three years earlier, the leader of Islamic State had announced the creation of a new caliphate.

At the head of the table sat the commander, large and burly, flanked by his two majors. The rest of the officers were seated according to rank, with the youngest officers placed at the far end. The commander, who was trying to lose weight, had banned his cook from serving meat at mealtimes, but tonight was a special occasion. The day before, his unit had liberated another block of streets in the Old City without suffering any casualties. In celebration, a feast of bread soaked in okra stew, and roasted meat shredded over heaps of rice flavoured with nuts and raisins, was laid out on a white plastic table.

Over the previous eight months, since the commander and his men had started fighting in Mosul, the caliphate had shrunk to a tiny sliver of the Old City squeezed between the River Tigris and advancing columns of army and police forces. Thousands of Isis fighters, who captured the city in 2014, were now trapped, living without running water or electricity, with dwindling supplies of food and medicine, being bombed day and night by US drones and jets. Caught in the siege with them were thousands of civilians. The few who were managing to escape came out filthy, emaciated and crazed by thirst and the constant bombing.

The officers at dinner that night were all veterans of the war against Isis, but nothing in their long years of fighting compared to what they had experienced over the past few weeks in Mosul, one of the fiercest urban battles since the second world war. They fought in narrow alleyways, old stone houses and dense networks of tunnels and basements. Their advance was sometimes measured in metres, and their casualties were mounting.

“We have one more battle and Mosul will be fully liberated, inshallah,” the commander said as he tucked into his meal. A captain who was still limping from a recent injury said: “Our fathers used to talk about the Iran-Iraq war as the ‘long war’. That one lasted for eight years. Well, soon this war against Isis will surpass it.”

Laughing, the commander asked the officers to open the military maps on their phones and proceeded to explain the plan for the next day’s advance. “You jump into this building, make a fire base here and here at street corners,” he said, giving them the coordinates of the street. “You advance towards this high building. Your flanks will be secured by other units. Once you take the building, you will dominate the whole area with your snipers and we can reach the river in few hours.”

Before leaving, a wiry junior officer named Taha asked the commander: “Sir, what do we do with the two detainees?” The prisoners had crossed the frontlines the night before and taken shelter with a civilian who denounced them to the army. “We tried to hand them to the intelligence service, but they refused to take them.”

“Yes,” the commander said, “they told me: ‘You deal with detainees from your end. We can’t hold them because of human rights and Red Cross inspections.’”

“We worked on them all night,” said the junior officer. “One eventually confessed that he was with Daesh [Isis], but he said he left them two months ago.” At that, everyone in the room laughed. “The other,” the junior officer continued, “we beat him hard but he didn’t confess, so I think he must be innocent.”

“Just finish them,” said a major.

“Release one and finish the other,” the commander said.

The sentence issued, now came the question of who would be bestowed with the honour of executing an Isis fighter. Kifah, a tall and lean soldier, stood next to the table and asked to be given the prisoner. But the junior officer suggested that they gift the prisoner to a captain who was still grieving the loss of his brother, killed by Isis a month ago.

“Call him and give him the detainee,” said the commander, getting up from his chair. The officers rose swiftly and stood to attention as he made his way to the living room where tea was to be served.

In a neighbouring house, the two detainees were squatting in a corner, resting against the green walls of a bare room, lit by a fluorescent light that hung from the ceiling. Outside the room, soldiers in T-shirts and shorts walked back and forth, paying no attention to the two captives.

Shortly after dinner, Taha walked into the room and grabbed the head of the younger man who was to be released on the commander’s order. He had been beaten so hard that a large ball of pink flesh had replaced his right eye, and his lips were blue, thick and pouting. “Eh, you have lost your eye, who did this to you?” asked Taha, laughing.

From the circle of soldiers that had formed around the two detainees, a very skinny soldier came forward grinning. “Why? Why did you do this to this poor citizen?” Taha mocked, and the soldiers hooted in response. The young detainee stared back blankly at the soldiers with his remaining eye.

“You,” the junior officer said to the condemned man, “come with me.” When they reached the street, two soldiers bundled him into the back of a Humvee to be delivered as a gift to the grieving officer.

The junior officer lifted his chin and eyebrows, a gesture to signal that it was all over. When the Humvee had driven off, the second detainee was brought in. The soldiers pushed him into the dark street and told him to run away quickly. If he turned back, they would shoot him. The man hobbled into the darkness, dragging his broken body along, likely to be detained and tortured by another army unit.

The following morning, Taha and two officers headed to the Old City to scout the frontline before the coming battle. They walked through streets scattered with twisted cars and lorries, past half-collapsed houses and craters left by airstrikes. As they reached the end of an alleyway, they heard a woman’s drawn-out screams.

Not far off, a soldier from another unit was dragging a thin young woman by her wrist. Her shirt was torn open and her headscarf had slid down to her shoulder, revealing stringy, salt-and-pepper hair. She tried to resist as she stumbled barefoot over rocks, moaning and pleading for help, but the soldier pulled her into a bombed-out house. Two soldiers who followed him told the officers, laughing, that they knew the woman was with Daesh because they had found “five bundles” ($50,000) on her. (Mosul is a rich city, and because Iraq has no banking system, the woman could have been carrying all her family savings in cash. But after three years of Isis rule, most people in the city had sold everything in order to feed their family, and anyone who had enough money to allow them to leave had already done so. Thus, the woman was suspected of being linked to Isis.)

The officers grumbled about the lucky soldier who had stumbled across this money. “And he got a woman as well,” said one.

“But did you see how ugly she was?” answered the other, and they turned and walked on.

They stopped by the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had addressed his followers in 2014, to snap selfies in the rubble. The medieval al-Hadba minaret, which had long been a symbol of the city, with its elegant design and familiar leaning shape, lay in heaps of 800-year-old bricks. It had been blown up by retreating Isis fighters in mid-June.

From behind the ruins, refugees were pouring out of shelled houses. They emerged dazed and scared after months of siege and bombardment. Even by the standards of Mosul, they were wretched and miserable. A soldier carrying an old woman stopped in the middle of the road to rest. She clung to his back, fearing that he might leave her in the middle of this madness. Taha went to the soldier and lent him a hand, and together they carried her to a shed where medics were trying to help other people fleeing.

They were followed by the woman’s young daughter, who held a large Qur’an in her hands, and her injured brother, who lay on a stretcher carried by two soldiers. His bones stuck out of his skinny flesh, his right leg was bandaged and he had an old scar that stretched the length of his abdomen. After depositing him in the shed, the two men left. Now other soldiers took an interest in him, grabbing him and starting to question him about his injuries.

“He was trying to get water from the river when he was shot by a sniper,” cried his sister as her brother lay in the stretcher, smiling faintly.

“This is the injury of a fighter,” said one soldier. “Take him to where his brothers are.” Two men helped the injured man to his feet and walked him across the street into an empty shop, where he was shot.

The women screamed, begged and wailed, but the soldiers ignored them. “You are Daesh,” one soldier said. “All of you in the Old City are Daesh.”


One of the factors that had aided Isis’s takeover of Mosul was the conduct of the Iraqi army and security forces stationed in the city, who behaved like sectarian occupation forces, mistreating and detaining the population at will. In the early stages of the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi army and police, keen to change their prevailing image, had taken care to preserve the lives of civilians. Soldiers and officers used their vehicles to help people evacuate their homes, and offered water and medical help. But the Old City was seen as the last refuge of Isis, and almost every inhabitant was treated as a suspect. Fighting-age men from other parts of the city, and those with injuries, were detained on the spot. The rest were sent to detention centres, where their identity would be checked.

On the way back from the Old City, the officers went into the basement of an old stone house, where a couple of soldiers lay on filthy mattresses, recording military coordinates of the different battalions taking part in the next day’s offensive. The filth in the house matched the ruins of the streets outside. Flies swarmed over discarded food packets, and dozens of empty plastic bottles lay amid piles of women’s clothing and other domestic items.

Then, on the radio, between batches of numbers, came the words: “We caught a Daesh.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Iraq War

The Uncounted

leave a comment »

The military routinely lies and covers up any information that it finds incriminating or even embarrassing. (The military idea of “honor” seems to have some special meaning that allows for lying and cheating, if not stealing.) Azmat Kahn and Anand Gopal report in the NY Times:

Late on the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, Basim Razzo sat in the study of his home on the eastern side of Mosul, his face lit up by a computer screen. His wife, Mayada, was already upstairs in bed, but Basim could lose hours clicking through car reviews on YouTube: the BMW Alpina B7, the Audi Q7. Almost every night went like this. Basim had long harbored a taste for fast rides, but around ISIS-occupied Mosul, the auto showrooms sat dark, and the family car in his garage — a 1991 BMW — had barely been used in a year. There simply was nowhere to go.

The Razzos lived in the Woods, a bucolic neighborhood on the banks of the Tigris, where marble and stucco villas sprawled amid forests of eucalyptus, chinar and pine. Cafes and restaurants lined the riverbanks, but ever since the city fell to ISIS the previous year, Basim and Mayada had preferred to entertain at home. They would set up chairs poolside and put kebabs on the grill, and Mayada would serve pizza or Chinese fried rice, all in an effort to maintain life as they’d always known it. Their son, Yahya, had abandoned his studies at Mosul University and fled for Erbil, and they had not seen him since; those who left when ISIS took over could re-enter the caliphate, but once there, they could not leave — an impasse that stranded people wherever they found themselves. Birthdays, weddings and graduations came and went, the celebrations stockpiled for that impossibly distant moment: liberation.

Next door to Basim’s home stood the nearly identical home belonging to his brother, Mohannad, and his wife, Azza. They were almost certainly asleep at that hour, but Basim guessed that their 18-year-old son, Najib, was still up. A few months earlier, he was arrested by the ISIS religious police for wearing jeans and a T-shirt with English writing. They gave him 10 lashes and, as a further measure of humiliation, clipped his hair into a buzz cut. Now he spent most of his time indoors, usually on Facebook. “Someday it’ll all be over,” Najib had posted just a few days earlier. “Until that day, I’ll hold on with all my strength.”

Sometimes, after his parents locked up for the night, Najib would fish the key out of the cupboard and steal over to his uncle’s house. Basim had the uncanny ability to make his nephew forget the darkness of their situation. He had a glass-half-full exuberance, grounded in the belief that every human life — every setback and success, every heartbreak and triumph — is written by the 40th day in the womb. Basim was not a particularly religious man, but that small article of faith underpinned what seemed to him an ineluctable truth, even in wartime Iraq: Everything happens for a reason. It was an assurance he offered everyone; Yahya had lost a year’s worth of education, but in exile he had met, and proposed to, the love of his life. “You see?” Basim would tell Mayada. “You see? That’s fate.”

Basim had felt this way for as long as he could remember. A 56-year-old account manager at Huawei, the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, he studied engineering in the 1980s at Western Michigan University. He and Mayada lived in Portage, Mich., in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that Mayada also used as the headquarters for her work as an Avon representative; she started small, offering makeup and skin cream to neighbors, but soon expanded sales to Kalamazoo and Comstock. Within a year, she’d saved up enough to buy Basim a $700 Minolta camera. Basim came to rely on her ability to impose order on the strange and the mundane, to master effortlessly everything from Yahya’s chemistry homework to the alien repartee of faculty picnics and Rotary clubs. It was fate. They had been married now for 33 years.

Around midnight, Basim heard a thump from the second floor. He peeked out of his office and saw a sliver of light under the door to the bedroom of his daughter, Tuqa. He called out for her to go to bed. At 21, Tuqa would often stay up late, and though Basim knew that he wasn’t a good example himself and that the current conditions afforded little reason to be up early, he believed in the calming power of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. He waited at the foot of the stairs, called out again, and the sliver went dark.

It was 1 a.m. when Basim finally shut down the computer and headed upstairs to bed. He settled in next to Mayada, who was fast asleep.

Some time later, he snapped awake. His shirt was drenched, and there was a strange taste — blood? — on his tongue. The air was thick and acrid. He looked up. He was in the bedroom, but the roof was nearly gone. He could see the night sky, the stars over Mosul. Basim reached out and found his legs pressed just inches from his face by what remained of his bed. He began to panic. He turned to his left, and there was a heap of rubble. “Mayada!” he screamed. “Mayada!” It was then that he noticed the silence. “Mayada!” he shouted. “Tuqa!” The bedroom walls were missing, leaving only the bare supports. He could see the dark outlines of treetops. He began to hear the faraway, unmistakable sound of a woman’s voice. He cried out, and the voice shouted back, “Where are you?” It was Azza, his sister-in-law, somewhere outside.

“Mayada’s gone!” he shouted.

“No, no, I’ll find her!”

“No, no, no, she’s gone,” he cried back. “They’re all gone!”

Later that same day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses.

The clip is one of hundreds the coalition has released since the American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. Also posted to Defense Department websites, they are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other — precise, transparent and unyielding. In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

American military planners go to great lengths to distinguish today’s precision strikes from the air raids of earlier wars, which were carried out with little or no regard for civilian casualties. They describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

Yet until we raised his case, Basim’s family was not among those counted. Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad and Najib were four of an unknown number of Iraqi civilians whose deaths the coalition has placed in the “ISIS” column. Estimates from Airwars and other nongovernmental organizations suggest that the civilian death toll is much higher, but the coalition disputes such figures, arguing that they are based not on specific intelligence but local news reports and testimony gathered from afar. When the coalition notes a mission irregularity or receives an allegation, it conducts its own inquiry and publishes a sentence-long analysis of its findings. But no one knows how many Iraqis have simply gone uncounted.

Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.

We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Basim woke up in a ward at Mosul General Hospital, heavy with bandages. He was disoriented, but he remembered being pried loose from the rubble, the neighbors’ hands all over his body, the backhoe serving him down to the earth, the flashing lights of an ambulance waiting in the distance. The rescuers worked quickly. Everyone knew it had been an airstrike; the planes could return at any minute to finish the job.

In the hospital, Basim was hazily aware of nurses and orderlies, but it was not until morning that he saw . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 1:37 pm

Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?

leave a comment »

Apparently so. Aaron Glantz writes in Reveal News:

Retired Gen. James Mattis earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for leading U.S. Marines into battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2004. In that assault, members of the Marine Corps, under Mattis’ command, shot at ambulances and aid workers. They cordoned off the city, preventing civilians from escaping. They posed for trophy photos with the people they killed.

Each of these offenses has put other military commanders and members of the rank and file in front of international war crimes tribunals. The doctrine that landed them there dates back to World War II, when an American military tribunal held Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita accountable for war crimes in the Philippines. His execution later was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the siege of Fallujah, which I covered as an unembedded journalist, Marines killed so many civilians that the municipal soccer stadium had to be turned into a graveyard.

In the years since, Mattis – called a “warrior monk” by his supporters – repeatedly has protected American service members who killed civilians, using his status as a division commander to wipe away criminal charges against Marines accused of massacring 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 and granting clemency to some of those convicted in connection with the 2006 murder of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi, who was taken outside his home and shot in the face four times.

These actions show a different side of Mattis, now 66, than has been featured in most profiles published since his nomination as President-elect Donald Trump’s defense secretary, which have portrayed him as a strong proponent of the Geneva Conventions and an anti-torture advocate.

Although Mattis argued against the siege of Fallujah beforehand, both international and U.S. law are clear: As the commanding general, he should be held accountable for atrocities committed by Marines under his command. Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting received no reply to messages sent to Mattis’ personal, business and military email addresses. Trump’s transition team likewise did not respond to inquiries. Mattis’ biography on the transition team’s website does not mention the battle.

There have been credible reports that U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Mattis did target civilians, conducted indiscriminate attacks and also conducted attacks against military objectives that caused disproportionate casualties to civilians during military operations in Fallujah,” said Gabor Rona, who teaches international law at Columbia University and worked as a legal adviser at the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the time of the siege.

“All of these are war crimes,” Rona said. “Applying the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Mattis would be responsible for these misdeeds, these war crimes of troops under his command if he … either knew, should’ve known or did nothing to prevent or punish this behavior.”

Nearly 13 years later, the siege of Fallujah has receded from the headlines. But for those of us who experienced the events firsthand, the death and destruction are seared into our memories. The lack of accountability for the killing of so many civilians grates like nails on chalkboard.

Given his command responsibility, Mattis’ confirmation hearing for defense secretary, which starts Thursday, provides an opportunity to probe his role in the killings, including asking whether he committed war crimes.

***

I spent parts of three years in Iraq, covering the war as an independent, unembedded journalist, including work in and around Fallujah at the time of the April 2004 siege. The year before, in May 2003, I had spent $10 to take a taxi from Baghdad to Fallujah and – as an American journalist armed only with a microphone – walked freely among the fruit and vegetable sellers, buying a Seiko watch with a fake leather band and sitting in on a Friday prayer to hear from Jamal Shakur, the city’s most strident and powerful imam.

Although AK-47s were being sold openly on the street and there already had been clashes with American troops, the imam urged nonviolence.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he preached. Do not confront the Americans, he said. Do not turn out to protest.

But as the U.S. government bungled the occupation, anti-American sentiment grew. Basic services such as electricity, knocked out during the initial invasion in March 2003, were not restored. Insurgent attacks increased, and along with them the number of civilians killed in American counterattacks. Thousands of Iraqis disappeared into Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s old lockup outside Baghdad, by then operated by the U.S. military.

A year later, Fallujah was destroyed by the Marines under Mattis’ command. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I find it a very bad sign that war crimes now are okay for the US to do (e.g., torturing prisoners, sometimes to death). No accountability tends to make things get worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2017 at 6:14 pm

At Site of Deaths, Our Reporters Find Cost of U.S.-ISIS Battle

with 2 comments

As you read the report, try to imagine how the survivors feel about the United States. How would you feel about a foreign country that comes into your country and does this? I’m not sure we’re attacking terrorism the best way.

Tim Arango reports:

MOSUL, Iraq — Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in west Mosul after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block.

At the site on Sunday, more than a week after the bombing runs, reporters for The New York Times saw weary survivors trying to find bodies in the wreckage. Iraqi officials said the final death toll could reach 200 killed, or even more. That would make it one of the worst instances of civilian casualties from an attack by the United States-led forces during the long military involvement with Iraq, starting in 1990.

The pace of fighting against the Islamic State here has grown more urgent, with Iraqi officers saying the American-led coalition has been quicker to strike urban targets from the air with less time to weigh the risks for civilians. They say the change is a reflection of a renewed push by the American military under the Trump administration to speed up the battle for Mosul.

That push is coming at the moment that the battle for Mosul is nearing its most dangerous phase for civilians, with the fight reaching into the twisting alleys and densely populated areas of the old city. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are pinned down here in tight quarters with Islamic State fighters who do not care if they live or die.

At the same time, more American Special Operations troops, some dressed in the black uniforms and driving black vehicles — the colors of their Iraqi counterparts — are closer to the front lines. That way, in theory, the targeting of Islamic State fighters should become more precise for the coalition. Another 200 American soldiers, from the 82nd Airborne Division, are heading to Iraq to support that battle over the next few days.

Many Iraqi commanders welcome the more aggressive American role, saying that under the Obama administration coalition officers were too risk averse. Iraqis also say fighting for the dense, urban spaces of western Mosul requires more airpower, even if that means more civilians will die.

When those decisions turn tragic, it looks like this: a panorama of destruction in the neighborhood of Mosul Jidideh so vast one resident compared the destruction to that of Hiroshima, Japan, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in World War II. There was a charred arm, wrapped in a piece of red fabric, poking from the rubble; rescue workers in red jump suits and face masks, to avoid the stench, some with rifles slung over their shoulders, searching the wreckage for bodies.

One of the survivors, Omar Adnan, stood near his destroyed home on Sunday and held up a white sheet of paper with 27 names of his extended family members, either dead or missing, written in blue ink. . .

Continue reading.

To be fair, this is exactly what not only Trump but several of the GOP candidates promised. Ted Cruz would bomb until the sand glowed, if memory serves. And Trump kept repeating that we had to be “tougher” (which seems to have been the total of his secret plan to defeat ISIS), and this is what “being tougher” looks like and does.

And didn’t Bush and Cheney say everything in Iraq would be peaceful and prosperous by now? I wonder if they have the faintest recognition of what they have done. Probably not. Self-deception is powerful, as Daniel Goleman discusses in his excellent Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2017 at 2:35 pm

Trump increases risks for U.S. troops in Iraq

leave a comment »

Trump is incompetent. He acts on impulse, he doesn’t think things through, and he fails to consult with competent advisers (and shows bad judgment in picking his closest advisers: Michael Flynn, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, and so on, including the White House lawyer who though it would be a good idea to fire all the Inspectors General in the Federal government and replace them with Trump stooges.

David Zucchino reports in the NY Times:

Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe had survived another day battling Islamic State fighters in Mosul last weekend when he heard startling news: The new American president had temporarily barred Iraqis from entering the United States and wanted tougher vetting.

Captain Musawe, who commands an infantry unit of the Iraqi Army’s elite counterterrorism force, considers himself already fully vetted: He has been trained by American officers in Iraq and in Jordan. And backed by American advisers, he has fought the Islamic State in three Iraqi cities, including three months of brutal street combat in Mosul.

“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves,” Captain Musawe told a New York Times reporter who was with him this week at his barricaded position inside Mosul.

President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order has driven a wedge between many Iraqi soldiers and their American allies. Officers and enlisted men interviewed on the front lines in Mosul said they interpreted the order as an affront — not only to them but also to fellow soldiers who have died in the battle for Mosul.

Continue reading the main story

“An insult to their dignity,” said Capt. Abdul Saami al-Azzi, another officer with the counterterrorism force in Mosul. He said he was hurt and disappointed by a nation he had considered a respectful partner. “It is really embarrassing.”

The American and Iraqi militaries have negotiated an often tenuous and strained relationship over the years. But few episodes have so blindsided the current generation of Iraqi soldiers, who are accustomed to viewing the United States as their partner in a shared struggle to defeat insurgents and build a viable nation.

The timing of the order hit the Iraqi military in Mosul like an incoming rocket. Iraqi forces have reached a pivotal moment, seizing half of Mosul and preparing to assault the remaining half — supported by American advisers, Special Operations forces and airstrikes by the United States-led coalition.

Why, some soldiers asked, had Mr. Trump chosen this moment to lump together all Iraqis as mortal threats to America — soldiers, civilians and terrorists alike?

“This decision by Trump blows up our liberation efforts of cooperation and coordination with American forces,” said Brig. Gen. Mizhir Khalid al-Mashhadani, a counterterrorism force commander in Mosul.

Astounded by the announcement, General Mashhadani, who speaks English, said he asked his American counterparts about the president’s order. He said several told him they considered the decision hasty and its consequences poorly considered.

The travel ban was all the more perplexing to those Iraqi troops who had heard Mr. Trump vow as a candidate to wipe out the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Some also heard the president promise, when issuing the order, to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States.

For some soldiers, those comments seemed to equate Iraqi soldiers — by virtue of their nationality and religion — with the very terrorists they were fighting. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s bad.

Trump should be removed from office.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 6:46 pm

Judicial Watch Wants to Salt the Earth Over Hillary Clinton’s Corpse

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum has an interesting post worth reading about the unrelenting and irrational hostility the Right has against Hillary Clinton—this is their continued insistence that there must be something bad in the emails, despite the inability of the FBI and a Congressional committee to find anything. This is similar to the continued insistence that Clinton must have done something wrong in Benghazi, despite the inability of countless investigations to turn anything up and the inability of those holding that view to state anything specific that she did wrong. Same with the Clinton Foundation. A look at the Trump Foundation found sleazy practice along with outright violation of the law, but in all the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, nothing was exposed except a lot of good works. The fact is, those on the Right just don’t like her, they really, really don’t like her. It doesn’t matter what she does, there must be something wrong because… they dislike her.

The post is worth reading, but I’ll quote just the postscript:

I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I’ll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn’t happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.

So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton’s emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here’s my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton’s emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?

I know I’m missing something here, but I’ve been missing it for a long time.

Specifically, if anyone can get all the emails of a previous Secretary of State just by filing a FOIA request, let’s see all the emails from Secretary of State Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009). That’s a very interesting period, covering the 9/11 attacks, the initial of the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq. Those emails would be quite interesting, and if they are available with a simple FOIA request, let’s do it.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2016 at 11:30 am

The Iraq War evaluated from the British side

leave a comment »

In the NY Review of Books Goeffrey Wheatcroft has a very interesting review of three recent books on Britain’s part in the Iraq War failure, one of which is the Chilcot Report. The review is definitely worth reading. The review begins:

How did it happen? By now it is effortless to say that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by American and British forces was the most disastrous—and disgraceful—such intervention of our time. It’s also well-nigh pointless to say so: How many people reading this would disagree? For Americans, Iraq is their worst foreign calamity since Vietnam (although far more citizens of each country were killed than were Americans); for the British, it’s the worst at least since Suez sixty years ago this autumn, though really much worse on every score, from political dishonesty to damage to the national interest to sheer human suffering.

Although skeptics wondered how much more the very-long-awaited Report of the Iraq Inquiry by a committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot could tell us when it appeared at last in July, it proves to contain a wealth of evidence and acute criticism, the more weighty for its sober tone and for having the imprimatur of the official government publisher. In all, it is a further and devastating indictment not only of Tony Blair personally but of a whole apparatus of state and government, Cabinet, Parliament, armed forces, and, far from least, intelligence agencies.

Among its conclusions the report says that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; that the British “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”; that military action “was not a last resort”; that when the United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix said weeks before the invasion that he “had not found any weapons of mass destruction and the items that were not accounted for might not exist,” Blair wanted Blix “to harden up his findings.”

The report also found that deep sectarian divisions in Iraq “were exacerbated by…de Ba’athification and…demobilisation of the Iraqi army”; that Blair was warned by his diplomats and ministers of the “inadequacy of U.S. plans” for Iraq after the invasion, and of what they saw as his “inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning”; and that “there was no collective discussion of the decision by senior Ministers,” who were regularly bypassed and ignored by Blair.

And of course claims about Iraqi WMDs were presented by Downing Street in a way that “conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence,” which is putting it generously. Chilcot stops short of saying directly that the invasion was illegal or that Blair lied to Parliament, but he is severe on the shameful collusion of the British intelligence agencies, and on the sinister way in which Blair’s attorney general changed his opinion about the legality of the invasion.

Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam “were wholly inadequate,” Chilcot says, and “the people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” Those might seem like statements of the blindingly obvious, as does the solemn verdict that the invasion “failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq.” It did more than merely fail, and not only was every reason we were given for the war falsified; every one of them has been stood on its head. Extreme violence in Iraq precipitated by the invasion metastasized into the hideous conflict in neighboring Syria and the implosion of the wider region, the exact opposite of that birth of peaceable pro-Western democracy that proponents of the invasion had insisted would come about. While Blair at his most abject still says that all these horrors were unforeseeable, Chilcot makes clear that they were not only foreseeable, but widely foreseen.

Nor are those the only repercussions. Chilcot coyly says that “the widespread perception”—meaning the correct belief—that Downing Street distorted the intelligence about Saddam’s weaponry has left a “damaging legacy,” undermining trust and confidence in politicians. It is not fanciful to see the Brexit vote, the disruption of the Labour Party, and the rise of Donald Trump among those consequences, all part of the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments that were so discredited by Iraq. And so how could it have happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2016 at 10:59 am

Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of U.S. Wars at $4.8 Trillion Since 2001

leave a comment »

Are we really and truly getting our money’s worth? Had that money been spent on domestic programs (such as infrastructure repair and maintenance, improvements to railway service, and so on), what an enormous difference it would have made. Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

THE TOTAL U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet.

Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.

The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this:

  • The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017
  • Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion.
  • The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion.
  • Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion.
  • Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.
  • And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion).

Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, she writes. For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2016 at 12:40 pm

Barbara Lee’s Lone Vote on Sept. 14, 2001, Was as Prescient as it was Brave and Heroic

leave a comment »

In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald looks back on how Congress responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

Almost immediately after the 9/11 attack, while bodies were still buried in the rubble, George W. Bush demanded from Congress the legal authorization to use military force against those responsible for the attack, which everyone understood would start with an invasion of Afghanistan. The resulting resolution that was immediately cooked up was both vague and broad, providing that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Despite this broadness, or because of it, the House of Representatives on September 14 approved the Resolution by a vote of 420-1. The Senate approved it the same day by a vote of 98-0. The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, who – three days after the 9/11 attack, in a climate of virtually full-scale homogeneity – not only voted “no” but stood up on the House floor to deliver this eloquent, unflinching and, as it turns out, extremely prescient explanation for her opposition:

In an op-ed she published in The San Francisco Chronicle 9 days later, she explained her vote by pointing out that the resolution “was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.” She added: “A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed.”

For her lone stance, Lee was deluged with rancid insults and death threats to the point where she needed around-the-clock bodyguards. She was vilified as “anti-American” by numerous outlets including The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Timeseditorialized on September 18 that “Ms. Lee is a long-practicing supporter of America’s enemies — from Fidel Castro on down” and that “while most of the left-wing Democrats spent the week praising President Bush and trying to sound as moderate as possible, Barbara Lee continued to sail under her true colors.” Since then, she has been repeatedly rejected in her bids to join the House Democratic leadership, typically losing to candidates close to Wall Street and in support of militarism. I documented numerous other ugly attacks when I wrote about her for The Guardian in 2013.

But beyond the obvious bravery needed to take the stand she took, she has been completely vindicated on the merits. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:07 am

How many terrorists does the U.S. itself create? ISIS leader was held in Abu Ghraib prison

leave a comment »

When the U.S. uses a drone-fired missile to kill an entire wedding party, how do you think the surviving family members feel? I suppose in part the answer depends on how you feel about your own family members and how you would feel if a foreign power fired a missile into a group of them. But I think many would take it hard.

And how would feel about being imprisoned and tortured by soldiers from a foreign nation, and being humiliated in your own country? Or what would you feel if that happened to a relative or friend? Again, you might accept that such things happen, but I can easily imagine that some might carry a serious grudge.

Joshua Eaton reports in The Intercept:

In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.

At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.

Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State.

Experts have long known that Baghdadi spent time in U.S. custody during the occupation of Iraq. Previous reports suggested he was at Camp Bucca, a sprawling detention facility in southern Iraq. But the U.S. Army confirmed toThe Intercept that Baghdadi spent most of his time in U.S. custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib.

Baghdadi’s detainee records don’t mention Abu Ghraib by name. But the internment serial number that U.S. forces issued when they processed him came from the infamous prison, according to Army spokesperson Troy A. Rolan Sr.

“Former detainee al-Baghdadi’s internment serial number sequence number begins with ‘157,’” Rolan said, describing the first three digits of the second half of Baghdadi’s serial number. “This number range was assigned at the Abu Ghraib theater internment facility.”

The details of Baghdadi’s biography have always been murky, and his time in U.S. custody is no exception. In June 2014, the Daily Beast reported that the United States held Baghdadi at Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009, citing Army Col. Kenneth King, the camp’s former commanding officer. However, King backtracked after U.S. officials told ABC News that Baghdadi was out of U.S. custody by 2006.

Days later, the Pentagon confirmed that Baghdadi was only in U.S. custody for 10 months, from February to December 2004. The Department of Defense told the fact-checking website PunditFact in a statement that Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca. “A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”

In February 2015, the Army released Baghdadi’s detainee records to Business Insider, in response to a records request. They showed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more worth reading.

Later in the article:

. . . In the occupation’s first few years, U.S. facilities like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca developed a reputation as “jihadi universities” where hard-line extremists indoctrinated and recruited less radical inmates. Analysts have long suspected that Baghdadi took full advantage of his time at Bucca to link up with the jihadis and former Iraqi military officials who would later fill out the Islamic State’s leadership.

In November 2014, the Soufan Group, a private intelligence firm, published a list of nine Islamic State leaders it said had been detained at Camp Bucca. The list included Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr, a former Iraqi military official who became head of the Islamic State’s military council and is widely reported to have spent time in Bucca. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 2:43 pm

As ISIS Brewed in Iraq, the White House and Congress Cut Eyes and Ears on the Ground

leave a comment »

Jeff Gerth and Joby Warrick report in ProPublica:

A week before the last U.S. soldiers left his country in December 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Washington to meet the team that would help shape Iraq’s future once the troops and tanks were gone.

Over dinner at the Blair House, guest quarters for elite White House visitors since the 1940s, the dour Iraqi sipped tea while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of how her department’s civilian experts could help Iraqis avoid a return to terrorism and sectarian bloodshed.

Iraq would see a “robust civilian presence,” Clinton told reporters afterward, summing up the Obama administration’s pledges to Maliki. “We are working to achieve that,” she said.

Less than three years later, the relatively calm Iraq that Maliki had led in 2011 was gone. The country’s government was in crisis, its U.S.-trained army humiliated, and a third of its territory overrun by fighters from the Islamic State. Meanwhile, State Department programs aimed at helping Iraqis prevent such an outcome had been slashed or curtailed, and some had never materialized at all.

Clinton’s political foes would later seek to blame her, together with President Obama, for the Islamic State’s stunning takeover of western Iraq, saying the State Department failed to preserve fragile security gains achieved at great cost by U.S. troops. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump last week asserted that Obama “founded” the Islamic State and that Clinton was “the most valuable player” in the group’s creation. Trump later contended that he was being sarcastic.

But an intensive review of the record during Clinton’s tenure presents a broader picture of missteps and miscalculations by multiple actors — including her State Department as well as the Maliki government, the White House and Congress — that left Iraqi security forces weakened and vulnerable to the Islamic State’s 2014 surge.

Documents and interviews point to ambitious plans by State Department officials to take control of dozens of military-run programs in Iraq, from training assistance for Iraqi police to new intelligence-collection outposts in Mosul and other key Iraqi cities. But the State Department scrapped or truncated many of the plans, sometimes at the behest of a skeptical Congress and other times on orders from the White House, which balked at the high costs and potential risks of U.S. civilians being killed or kidnapped. Still other efforts were thwarted by a Maliki government that viewed many of the programs as an unwelcome intrusion in Iraqi affairs.

Senior State Department leaders were at fault as well, according to documents and interviews with officials who helped manage Iraqi aid programs after the withdrawal. By early 2012, pressed by the White House to reduce the U.S. civilian footprint in Iraq, the department had begun implementing sweeping, across-the-board cuts that extended to security and counterterrorism initiatives once considered crucial for Iraq’s stability after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a joint investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post found. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2016 at 2:05 pm

%d bloggers like this: