Archive for the ‘Military’ Category
But perhaps large-scale killing increases rather than diminishes terrorist activity? The more who are enraged, the more turn to terrorism? It’s hard to know, but think of the US reaction (in terms of anger and violence) after just 3,000 were killed on 9/11, and think what would have been like if 430 times as man—1,300,000—had been killed. Democracy Now! has a video program with transcript. Their blurb:
As the United States begins bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and again delays a withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report has found that the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. … And this is only a conservative estimate.” The true tally, they add, could be more than two million. We are joined by two guests who worked on the report: Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime; and Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
A headline in the NY Times this morning: 3 Shiite Militias Quit Iraqi Siege of ISIS Over U.S. Air Role
I think we in the US do not fully grasp the impact of our wars on the mood of the people in the country where we fight them and on their feelings toward the US.
And yet no officer will suffer any sort of accountability, I am sure. C.J. Chivers reports in the NY Times:
The under secretary of the Army on Wednesday apologized for the military’s treatment of American service members exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq, and announced new steps to provide medical support to those with lingering health effects and to recognize veterans who had been denied awards.
Under Secretary Brad R. Carson acknowledged that the military had not followed its own policies for caring for troops exposed to old and abandoned chemical munitions that had been scattered around Iraq, and vowed improvement. He also said that the Army had reversed a previous decision and approved a Purple Heart medal for a soldier burned by sulfur mustard agent, and that he expected more medals would be issued to other veterans after further review.
“To me the scandal is that we had protocols in place and the medical community knew what they were, and yet we failed in some cases to implement this across the theater,” he said. “That was a mistake, and I apologize for that. I apologize for past actions and am going to fix it going forward.”
Mr. Carson was appointed last fall by Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, to lead a Pentagon working group to identify service members who had been exposed to chemical weapons and offer them medical screening and other support. The effort was in response to an investigation in The New York Times that revealed that the American military had secretly recovered thousands of old and often discarded chemical munitions in Iraq.
The report found that insurgents had used some of the weapons in roadside bombs, that most of the episodes had never been publicly acknowledged and that many troops who had been wounded by the blister or nerve agents had received substandard medical care and denied military awards.
Mr. Carson said the working group’s new instructions, which were distributed to the military services in recent days, would ensure that hundreds of veterans identified by the services, or who have called a hotline set up at Mr. Hagel’s order, would be screened and properly treated. The steps, Mr. Carson said, would also cover troops exposed to chlorine, which insurgents repeatedly used as a makeshift chemical weapon.
“My ambition, and what I am committed to, is to make sure that any person who was exposed to a weaponized chemical or a chemical weapon is addressed through this process,” he said. . . .
Bottom line: The Army did everything in its power to cover up the problem and to let the victims simply suffer on their own, offering no help, but when the story began to get out, the Army (VERY belatedly) responded and said it would help. This is what the military means by “honor”: cover up problems and let the troops suffer, but if you’re about to get caught apologize. No one will be punished.
Related coverage, with links in the sidebar of the main article.
The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons OCT. 14, 2014
More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges NOV. 6, 2014
A Veteran’s Chemical Burns Expanded Military Doctors’ Knowledge, but His Care Faltered DEC. 30, 2014
Thousands of Iraq Chemical Weapons Destroyed in Open Air, Watchdog Says NOV. 22, 2014
Reporters’ Notebook: Examining a Rare Nerve-Agent Shell That Wounded American Troops in Iraq DEC. 4, 2014
C.I.A. Is Said to Have Bought and Destroyed Iraqi Chemical Weapons FEB. 15, 2015
The blundering interference of the US moves closer to home. From TomDistach.com:
One of the mysteries of our era is why there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. Over the last 13 years, American wars and conflicts have repeatedly helped create disaster zones, encouraging the fragmentation of whole countries and societies in the Greater Middle East and Northern Africa. In the process, such American wars, drone assassination campaigns, raids, and conflicts have acted as recruitment posters for and aided and abetted the growth of terror outfits. And here’s where the genuine strangeness begins to enter the picture: after all of this is absorbed and assessed in Washington, the response is regularly more of what hasn’t worked and a clamoring for yet more of it.
It turns out, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports today, that the same kind of process has been going on so much closer to home — right across the border in Mexico, in fact, resulting in the kind of blowback that Chalmers Johnson would have appreciated. Yet while hysteria and panic reign over the barbaric acts of the faraway Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, U.S. involvement in the “war on drugs” in a neighboring country gets just passing attention here. Curiouser and curiouser, hysteria and panic over Mexico only seem to rise when ISIS is reputed to be involved (at least in the fantasy worlds of various right-wingers). Consider it all part of the true mysteries of our strange American age of repetitive war. Tom
Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon
They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They havepenetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels’ power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.
There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico’s Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilizedthe field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback — violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.
In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that “war” has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels’ grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.
The War in Mexico
If there was an official beginning to Mexico’s war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.
It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico’s war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012.
The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. At least another 25,000 have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.
In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.
Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico’s war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava’s body. “This is what will happen,” it read, “to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats.”
Guerrero is the home of Ayotzinapa, a town where 43 teachers-in-training once attended a rural teachers college. All 43 “disappeared” last September during a demonstration in the neighboring town of Iguala. Their arrest by police, and apparent subsequent murder at the hands of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, was one of the few stories of Mexican suffering to break into the U.S. mainstream media last year. The mayor of Iguala has since admitted that he instructed the police to hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.
Like the “war on terror” globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico: . . .
Rosa Brooks writes in Foreign Policy:
Most of us view perpetual war as deeply inimical to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
We’re not wrong: Since the 9/11 attacks, two successive U.S. presidential administrations have embraced indefinite detention, massive secret surveillance programs, covert cross-border targeted killings, and a host of other troubling practices. In reaction, those concerned with rights and the rule of law have called for an end to the post-9/11 “war paradigm,” insisting that counterterrorism should not be conceptualized as war and urging a return to a law enforcement framework.
That’s an understandable impulse. It’s also largely a waste of time and energy. A decade and a half after 9/11, the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it’s hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.
That’s counterintuitive, but bear with me. Consider, first, the question of whether war and peace have ever been as distinct as we like to imagine and whether war has historically been the exception or the norm. Second, consider the degree to which the protection of human rights and the constraint on untrammeled state power currently depends on our ability to draw sharp lines between war and peace (or, at least, between war and not-war). Much that’s considered unacceptable and unlawful in peacetime becomes permissible in wartime. Third, consider that today it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war — not just because of bad-faith legal and political arguments made by U.S. officials (though we’ve seen plenty of those), but because of genuine and significant changes to the global geopolitical landscape. Finally, think about what we might gain if we abandoned the effort to draw increasingly arbitrary lines between peacetime and wartime and instead focused on developing institutions and norms capable of protecting rights and rule-of-law values at all times.
“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” President Barack Obama said in February. That this statement came as the U.S. president unveiled his request for Congress to authorize military force against yet another enemy — the self-styled Islamic State, this time — was an irony lost on few observers.
No modern politician will praise war. Individual wars, perhaps — but not war as such. American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst. Either way, we view war as the exception and peace as the norm. As Obama put it in a 2013 speech, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.”
On the contrary: For much of human history, war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country’s wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population.
The American Civil War — one of the few to visit its harms on the nation as a whole — occasioned the first U.S. government effort to codify the laws of armed conflict, a set of 1863 instructions issued to Union Army troops during the Civil War. “Modern times are distinguished from earlier ages by the existence, at one and the same time, of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse,” declared General Orders No. 100, better known as the Lieber Code. “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”
This was an optimistic perspective in 1863, coming, as it did, in the middle of a century kicked off in Europe by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted for over a decade and killed more than 3 million people, and during a bloody civil war that killed some 2 percent of the U.S. population. The 19th century was racked by conflict, from uprisings in Serbia and Greece to the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification.
The 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th centuries were similarly marred by widespread conflict, punctuated less by periods of peace than by periods of smaller-scale conflicts. Look back further, and the same is true. As historian Michael Howard put it in The Invention of Peace, “Archaeological, anthropological, as well as all surviving documentary evidence indicates that war, armed conflict between organized political groups, has been the universal norm in human history.”
And the century that followed the Lieber Code’s historical misremembering was no better: Two world wars wiped out tens of millions, to say nothing of the numerous non-Western conflicts that engulfed parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even the fortunate United States was in a state of near-constant warfare throughout the 20th century. There were the two world wars, of course, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And there were many other conflicts between 1900 and 2000 that Americans have largely edited out of the national narrative. Between 1900 and 2000, the United States has also used military force in China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Turkey, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other places. Granted, these were mostly “small wars” — but as legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, “It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.”
Why should Americans expect anything different from the 21st century? . . .
It’s been read that, within the US military, the true enemy is not some foreign power, but the other branches of the service: if you’re Navy, the enemy is the Army and the Air Force and the Marine Corps; if you’re Air Force, the enemy is the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps; and so on.
The budgetary fights and the deep-seated desire to dominate and control the other service branches is profound. The Coast Guard, as part of DHS and not DOD, stands somewhat aside.
In particular, the Air Force resents being tasked with close air support—supporting the troops on the ground feels to Air Force brass like having their wings clipped. So the Air Force has fought to kill the A10 Warthog from the outset. The fact that the A10 is a low-cost and highly effective combat aircraft is irrelevant: the Air Force does not want to do close air support. Period.
James Fallows has a good column on the intense fight—which may be successful—to kill the A10.
I argued that the importance of the A-10/F-35 story had relatively little to do with the comparative virtues of either airplane—one relatively cheap but battle-proven and very effective, the other increasingly expensive but also fragile and increasingly difficult to keep out of the repair shop. Rather the real significance was what their stories showed about the cultural and even moral characteristics of the way we think and act on national defense.
Moral? Yes, moral. In public we generally talk about defense as if it were mainly a matter of bombs, machines, and the dollars that buy them. Of course those matter. But from Napoleon (“in warfare the moral is to the physical as three is to one”) to Air Force strategist John Boyd (what counts in combat is “people, ideas, and hardware — in that order!”), students of conflict have emphasized the crucial role of character and integrity.
Character and integrity are involved in this battle-of-the-warplanes in the following way (as sketched out in my story): The A-10, which is flown by the Air Force, has always had a strange stepchild status there. It is truly beloved by the Army, whose ground troops the A-10 has saved or protected in so many engagements. To the Air Force, in contrast, this mission of “close air support” has never been a budgetary or cultural priority—as opposed to bombing, aerial combat, “air superiority” in general, and even transport.
In a rationally organized defense system, the A-10 would belong to the Army, which needs and loves it. The Army could include it in its budgets, keep as many flying as possible, make it the center of its close-air-support arsenal. But for bureaucratic reasons known in shorthand as the “Key West agreement,” the Army directly controls armed helicopters but not many fixed-wing airplanes. Thus through the decades we’ve seen a long push-pull struggle between the Air Force, chronically eager to dump the A-10 and make way for other models, including now the troubled F-35, and the Army, which wants the A-10 but has no direct way to keep it in the budget.
Several weeks ago I mentioned the truly alarming news that a three-star Air Force general had warned his officers against speaking up about the A-10’s (very strong) combat record. As the Arizona Daily Independent reported, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Post told officers that if word of his views ever got out he would deny it, but he wanted them to know that passing information to Congress about the A-10’s effectiveness constituted “treason.” When the news came out, the Air Force didn’t even deny the comments; a spokesperson just called them “hyperbole.”
Since then, news continues to emerge of the institutional military—some people in uniform, others in the contractor diaspora—trying to make the A-10 look worse than it really is, and the F-35 look better. For what these episodes show about military-industrial-political culture, here is a reading list:
“Lying to Win: Air Force Misrepresents Combat Records In Campaign to Retire A-10.” This is a report last month from a retired Air Force officer named Tony Carr at his John Q. Public blog.
“The Little “Fighter” That Couldn’t: Moral Hazard and the F-35,” a John Q. Public update by Carr yesterday on the mounting bad news about the F-35 and military efforts to contain it.
“Now the U.S. Air Force Wants You to Believe the A-10 Is Too Old to Fight,” byJoseph Trevithick this week for the War Is Boring site on Medium. You’re getting the drift of these news reports.
“The F-35 Is Still FUBAR,” by A.C. Vicens yesterday in Mother Jones.
“Operation Destroy CAS Update,” by the Arizona Daily Independent, which has been all over the A-10 story. CAS is, again, close air support, the mission at which the A-10 has been unexcelled, and the story details Air Force efforts to blunt that fact.
“U.S. Rep. McSally Urges Halt to ‘Disproportionate’ A-10 Cuts.” Martha McSally, a first-term Republican Representative from Arizona who is herself a former A-10 pilot (and was the first woman in U.S. history to fly combat missions), writes to the new Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, to complain about the anti-Warthog effort.
The Monthly Newsletter, by Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. My friend Richard Aboulafia is an always-quoted expert on aircraft issues both civilian and military. He devotes his latest newsletter to putting the A-10 debate in strategic perspective.
As I say, it’s a debate that matters in the short- and medium- term for the aircraft the military uses, and in the long term for the way the country thinks about its defense. More links after the jump. . .
Certain the Latin American and South American military/security forces that the US trained for its favorite dictators were specifically trained in torture techniques. The US has a long record of helping repressive regimes oppress their citizens, and training in torture was just one service the US offered.
And apparently the US is still at it. Peter Maass reports for The Intercept:
Investigative reporter James Gordon Meek broke an important story this week: He revealed that U.S.-backed forces in Iraq are committing the same type of horrific war crimes — wanton killings of prisoners, beheadings, torture — as the Islamic State fighters on the other side of the front line.
Meek’s report, broadcast by ABC News and based on photos and cellphone videos that Iraqi fighters had proudly shared on social media, shows the Humvees and M4A1 assault rifles that the U.S. government has supplied in abundance to Iraq’s armed forces. In its effort to push the Islamic State out of Iraq, the U.S. is providing Baghdad with nearly $1 billion a year in weapons, in addition to training by several thousand American advisers.
U.S. and Iraqi officials professed surprise at what is happening, and told ABC that investigations would be launched to get to the bottom of it. If this sounds familiar in a “Casablanca” way — gambling in the casino, stop the presses — it should. Back in 2005, when Facebook was a curiousity used by just a few thousand students and Instagram was years away from being invented, the sorts of abuses that Meek recently found on social media sites were well underway.
Back then, I visited Samarra, a contested town in the heart of what was known as the Sunni Triangle, and wrote about the abuses I saw while accompanying Iraqi and U.S. forces on joint raids. I saw beatings, witnessed a mock execution, and heard, inside an Iraqi detention center, the terrible screams of a man being tortured. I received the same sorts of reactions that greeted Meek’s story: U.S. and Iraqi officials expressed surprise and promised to punish any wrongdoers.
That’s because torture, rather than being an aberration, was embedded in a strategy that was described, at the time, as the Salvadorization of Iraq—the use of dirty-war tactics to defeat an insurgency. It is more than a footnote of history that the origins of this policy appear to date to 2004, when the effort to train and equip Iraqi forces got underway in earnest under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, who went on to command all U.S. forces in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, then became director of the CIA, then resigned and pleaded guilty to disclosing a trove of highly-classified information to his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell, and lying to the FBI about it.
I was hardly the first to witness the abuses and hypocrisy that were the hammer and anvil of the American program to build up Iraqi forces. In 2004, Oregon National Guard troops in Baghdad observed officers inside a Ministry of Interior compound beating and torturing prisoners; they entered the compound and found dozens of abused detainees, including one who had just been shot. The Oregon soldiers reported what they had found and received an incredible order from their commanders—leave the compound now.
In 2010, the deluge of military and diplomatic files that were released by Wikileaks included a document that explained why the Oregon soldiers had been told to forget about what they had seen—FRAGO 242, as the order was called, required U.S. troops to not investigate any abuses committed by Iraqi forces unless U.S. troops were involved. In other words, so long as Iraqis were doing the torturing rather than Americans, it was none of our business. Move along, nothing to see here. [Truly Orwellian—and totally lacking in morality, but a good look at what “honor” means in the military. – LG]
Then, as now, the reason these abuses were tolerated was . . .