Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 23 September 2009 23:39
It is all too easy to get dazzled by the facades of high politics and state policy, to be taken up with tactics, metrics, movements, trends, with ideologies and philosophies, as if the life of the world was actually conducted on this elevated plane. But sometimes a glimpse of reality shows through the increasingly threadbare curtain, and we can see the grubby, petty, deadly truth of how the world really works. Two particularly telling glimpses came through this week, throwing harsh, glaring light on the all-pervasive corruption of American political system – and on the collusion of governments, business and the underworld in killing the poor and poisoning the planet to maintain the comfort and privilege of the "developed" world.
First we have a new interview with Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator turned whistleblower who has been the target of the most draconian "state secrets" campaign in American history. A few weeks ago, Edmonds was allowed to tell part of her remarkable story in public, under oath, for the first time.
It should have been the mother of all media blockbusters: a scandal encompassing Congressional corruption, executive branch bribery, international espionage, warmongering skullduggery, nuclear proliferation – even bisexual honey traps! The headlines practically write themselves, in one-word tabloid screamers: "Sex! War! Bribes! Spies! Treason!" What journalist could resist such a feast? Alas, there are no more journalists in the editorial offices and corporate boardrooms of America's media conglomerates. And so Edmonds' testimony was buried many fathoms deep.
But Philip Giraldi at The American Conservative has kept the waters stirring with an article that draws out some of the essentials of Edmond's journey through the heart of American darkness. It's a tale worth reading in full -- there are plenty of devils in the details -- but here are a few excerpts:
PHILIP GIRALDI: We were very interested to learn of your four-hour deposition in the case involving allegations that Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accepted money from the Turkish government in return for political favors. You provided many names and details for the first time on the record and swore an oath confirming that the deposition was true.
Basically, you map out a corruption scheme involving U.S. government employees and members of Congress and agents of foreign governments. These agents were able to obtain information that was either used directly by those foreign governments or sold to third parties, with the proceeds often used as bribes to breed further corruption. Let’s start with the first government official you identified, Marc Grossman, then the third highest-ranking official at the State Department...and he allegedly uses this position to do favors for “Turkish interests”—both for the Turkish government and for possible criminal interests. ... So the network starts with a person like Grossman in the State Department providing information that enables Turkish and Israeli intelligence officers to have access to people in Congress, who then provide classified information that winds up in the foreign embassies?
EDMONDS: Absolutely. And we also had Pentagon officials doing the same thing. We were looking at Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. They had a list of individuals in the Pentagon broken down by access to certain types of information. Some of them would be policy related, some of them would be weapons-technology related, some of them would be nuclear-related. Perle and Feith would provide the names of those Americans, officials in the Pentagon, to Grossman, together with highly sensitive personal information: this person is a closet gay; this person has a chronic gambling issue; this person is an alcoholic. The files on the American targets would contain things like the size of their mortgages or whether they were going through divorces. One Air Force major I remember was going through a really nasty divorce and a child custody fight. They detailed all different kinds of vulnerabilities. ... Some of those individuals on the list were also working for the RAND Corporation. RAND ended up becoming one of the prime targets for these foreign agents. ...
GIRALDI: We know Grossman was receiving money for services.
EDMONDS: Yes. Sometimes he would give money to the people who were working with him, identified in phone calls on a first-name basis, whether it’s a John or a Joe. He also took care of some other people, including his contact at the New York Times. Grossman would brag, “We just fax to our people at the New York Times. They print it under their names.” ...
GIRALDI: ... Both Feith and Perle were lobbyists for Turkey and also were involved with Israel on defense contracts, including some for Northrop Grumman, which Feith represented in Israel.
EDMONDS: They had arrangements with various companies, some of them members of the American Turkish Council. They had arrangements with Kissinger’s group, with Northrop Grumman, with former secretary of state James Baker’s group, and also with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The monitoring of the Turks picked up contacts with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Perle in the summer of 2001, four months before 9/11. They were discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the U.S. would invade Iraq and divide the country. The UK would take the south, the rest would go to the U.S. They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil. The Turks were very supportive, but wanted a three-part division of Iraq to include their own occupation of the Kurdish region. The three Defense Department officials said that would be more than they could agree to, but they continued daily communications to the ambassador and his defense attaché in an attempt to convince them to help.
Meanwhile Scowcroft, who was also the chairman of the American Turkish Council, Baker, Richard Armitage, and Grossman began negotiating separately for a possible Turkish protectorate. ... Scowcroft was all for invading Iraq in 2001 and even wrote a paper for the Pentagon explaining why the Turkish northern front would be essential. I know Scowcroft came off as a hero to some for saying he was against the war, but he was very much for it until his client’s conditions were not met by the Bush administration. ...
GIRALDI: This corruption wasn’t confined to the State Department and the Pentagon—it infected Congress as well. You’ve named people like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a registered agent of the Turkish government. In your deposition, you describe the process of breaking foreign-originated contributions into small units, $200 or less, so that the source didn’t have to be reported. Was this the primary means of influencing congressmen, or did foreign agents exploit vulnerabilities to get what they wanted using something like blackmail?
EDMONDS: In early 1997, because of the information that the FBI was getting on the Turkish diplomatic community, the Justice Department had already started to investigate several Republican congressmen. The number-one congressman involved with the Turkish community, both in terms of providing information and doing favors, was Bob Livingston. Number-two after him was Dan Burton, and then he became number-one until Hastert became the speaker of the House...as the FBI developed more information, [Democrat] Tom Lantos was added to this list....
And in 2000, another representative was added to the list, Jan Schakowsky, the Democratic congresswoman from Illinois. Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. When Jan Schakowsky’s mother died, the Turkish woman went to the funeral, hoping to exploit her vulnerability. They later were intimate in Schakowsky’s townhouse, which had been set up with recording devices and hidden cameras. They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois. They already had Hastert, the mayor, and several other Illinois state senators involved. I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman.
GIRALDI: So we have a pattern of corruption starting with government officials providing information to foreigners and helping them make contact with other Americans who had valuable information. Some of these officials, like Marc Grossman, were receiving money directly. Others were receiving business favors: Pentagon associates like Doug Feith and Richard Perle had interests in Israel and Turkey. The stolen information was being sold, and the money that was being generated was used to corrupt certain congressmen to influence policy and provide still more information—in many cases information related to nuclear technology.
EDMONDS: As well as weapons technology, conventional weapons technology, and Pentagon policy-related information. ...
GIRALDI: You also have information on al-Qaeda, specifically al-Qaeda in Central Asia and Bosnia. You were privy to conversations that suggested the CIA was supporting al-Qaeda in central Asia and the Balkans, training people to get money, get weapons, and this contact continued until 9/11…
EDMONDS: ... So these conversations, between 1997 and 2001, had to do with a Central Asia operation that involved bin Laden. Not once did anybody use the word “al-Qaeda.” It was always “mujahideen,” always “bin Laden” and, in fact, not “bin Laden” but “bin Ladens” plural. There were several bin Ladens who were going on private jets to Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. The Turkish ambassador in Azerbaijan worked with them.
There were bin Ladens, with the help of Pakistanis or Saudis, under our management. Marc Grossman was leading it, 100 percent, bringing people from East Turkestan into Kyrgyzstan, from Kyrgyzstan to Azerbaijan, from Azerbaijan some of them were being channeled to Chechnya, some of them were being channeled to Bosnia. From Turkey, they were putting all these bin Ladens on NATO planes. People and weapons went one way, drugs came back.
GIRALDI: Was the U.S. government aware of this circular deal?
EDMONDS: 100 percent. A lot of the drugs were going to Belgium with NATO planes. After that, they went to the UK, and a lot came to the U.S. via military planes to distribution centers in Chicago and Paterson, New Jersey. Turkish diplomats who would never be searched were coming with suitcases of heroin.
GIRALDI: And, of course, none of this has been investigated. What do you think the chances are that the Obama administration will try to end this criminal activity?
EDMONDS: ... As soon as Obama became president, he showed us that the State Secrets Privilege was going to continue to be a tool of choice. It’s an arcane executive privilege to cover up wrongdoing—in many cases, criminal activities. And the Obama administration has not only defended using the State Secrets Privilege, it has been trying to take it even further than the previous terrible administration by maintaining that the U.S. government has sovereign immunity. This is Obama’s change: his administration seems to think it doesn’t even have to invoke state secrets as our leaders are emperors who possess this sovereign immunity. This is not the kind of language that anybody in a democracy would use.
Get the picture? It's play for pay. Nukes, drugs, guns, war, terror -- our Establishment paladins will peddle them all, if the price is right, if there's a slice in it for them, if it suits their personal agenda.
And Giraldi points out the very crux of the matter: "of course, none of this has been investigated." Why should it be? It's the just the way things are done. The Turks and Israelis certainly aren't the first foreign interests to buy congressfolk and government officials like so many cheap suits off the rack. The Nazis and Brits did a wholesale business in bribery and influence-peddling in the years before America's entry into World War II. Gore Vidal has been a prime chronicler of the vast British espionage operation in the pre-war United States, especially in his last novel, The Golden Age. He's also touched upon the similar Nazi effort as well, writing of
...the corrupt Senator William Borah, the so-called lion of Idaho, who had once roared, "I'd rather be right than president," causing my grandfather [Sen. T.P. Gore] to murmur, "Of course, he was neither." In 1940, when the poor and supposedly virtuous Borah died, several hundred thousand dollars were found in his safety deposit box. Where had the money come from? asked the press. "He was my friend," said Senator Gore, for public consumption, "I do not speculate." But when I asked him who had paid off Borah, the answer was blunt. "The Nazis. To keep us out of the war."
William Borah, Dennis Hastert, Brits and Nazis, al Qaeda, Turks and Israelis: the players change, but the game goes on -- with ever-higher and more destructive stakes.
The second curtain-tearing glimpse this week was provided by George Monbiot in the Guardian, writing about the Trafigura scandal: a well-connected oil trading company -- hard-wired to the Tories who will almost certainly take power in the UK next year -- dumping toxic slops in the Ivory Coast, striking down tens of thousands of people with disease, and killing fifteen people. As Monbiot points out, this horror story is just business as usual for governments and corporations -- including the most "enlightened" and "progressive" ones:
On the day that the Guardian [broke the Trafigura story], it also carried a story about a shipwreck discovered in 480 metres of water off the Italian coast. Detectives found the ship after a tip-off from a mafioso. It appears to have been carrying drums of nuclear waste when the mafia used explosives to scuttle it. The informant, Francesco Fonti, said his clan had been paid £100,000 to get rid of it. What makes this story interesting is that the waste appears to be Norwegian. Norway is famous for its tough environmental laws, but a shipload of nuclear waste doesn't go missing without someone high-up looking the other way.
Italian prosecutors are investigating the scuttling of a further 41 ships. But most of them weren't sunk, like Fonti's vessel, off the coast of Italy; they were lost off the coast of Somalia. When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal hemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost "something like $1,000 a tonne." On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe's picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.
Well, that's just Somalia, of course. In the past few years, the enlightened world has amply demonstrated just what it thinks of Somalia. Monbiot points out the fact that at least some of the infamous Somali pirates took to the water to stop the dumping of the developed world's poisons on their shores:
Most of them take to the seas only for blood and booty; but some have formed coastal patrols to prevent over-fishing and illegal dumping by foreign fleets. Some of the vessels being protected from pirates by Combined Task Force 151, the rich world's policing operation in the Gulf of Aden, have come to fish illegally or dump toxic waste. The warships make no attempt to stop them.
As Monbiot notes, there are strict laws against such toxic dumping: laws passed with much fanfare, to make politicians look good -- and the folks back home feel good about themselves. But there is a neat trick that our elites like to use when it comes to laws that inconvenience their power and profits: they just don't enforce them. Simple, eh? Don't you wish you could do that?
The law couldn't be clearer: the Basel convention, supported by European directives, forbids European Union or OECD nations from dumping hazardous wastes in poorer countries. But without enforcement, the law is useless. So, for instance, while all our dead electronic equipment is supposed to be recycled by licensed companies at home, according to Consumers International around 6.6m tonnes of it leaves the European Union illegally every year.
Much of it lands in West Africa. An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found computers which once belonged to the NHS being broken up and burnt by children on Ghanaian rubbish dumps. They were trying to extract copper and aluminum by burning off the plastics, with the result that they were inhaling lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans and brominated flame retardants. Tests in another of the world's great fly-tips, Guiyu in China, show that 80% of the children of that city have dangerous levels of lead in their blood...
A black market run by criminal gangs is dumping our electronic waste on the poor, but since the European directive banning this practice was incorporated into British law in January 2007, the Environment Agency hasn't made a single prosecution. Dump your telly over a hedge and you can expect big trouble. Dump 10,000 in Nigeria and you can expect to get away with it.
Or as the man said: "Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king." Monbiot zeroes in on the underworld connections to the elite's dirty business:
All over the world the cosa nostra, yakuza, triads, bratva and the rest make much of their fortune by disposing of our uncomfortable truths. It suits all the rich nations – even, it seems, the government of Norway – not to ask too many questions, so long as the waste goes to far away countries of which we know nothing. Only when the mobs make the mistake of dumping it off their own coasts does the state start to get huffy.
The Trafigura story is a metaphor for corporate capitalism. The effort of all enterprises is to keep the profits and dump the costs on someone else. Price risks are dumped on farmers, health and safety risks are dumped on subcontractors, insolvency risks are dumped on creditors, social and economic risks are dumped on the state, toxic waste is dumped on the poor, greenhouse gases are dumped on everyone.
This too is nothing new, of course. I've often written here and elsewhere of the shadowlands where state power, terrorism, Big Money and criminal organizations mix, mingle, squabble and conspire. Indeed, modern American history cannot be understood without an inkling of the essential role played by the underworld, as I noted back in 2004:
Anyone who wants to understand the reality of modern America should pick up Gus Russo's latest book, "The Outfit." With diligent research and relentless candor, Russo strips away the façade of America's pious national myths, showing in great detail how the criminal underworld and the even more criminal "upperworld" of big business and politics have fused in a deadly symbiosis that underlies the nation's power structure.
You could begin unraveling this dirty skein at almost any point in the last century, but let's join the story at a critical juncture: 1960, when Democrats Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson battled for the right to face Republican Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Of course, bribery, corruption, violence and vote-rigging have long been an integral part of America's glorious electoral heritage - a shining example to all the world - but the 1960 election was the first time that the country's mobsters had intervened so directly, and so decisively, in the national ballot.
They'd seen one of their creations in the White House before, of course: Harry Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who was plucked from obscurity by Tom Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City mob. Pendergast, whose iron grip on local politics was augmented by the judicious use of murder, eventually propelled Truman to the U.S. Senate. From there, having won a well-deserved reputation as a zealous scourge of corporate war profiteering (the mob steered clear of that particular racket, which was dominated by bluebloods like the Bushes), Truman was chosen as vice president in 1944. A few months later, Franklin Roosevelt died - and Pendergast's boy was suddenly president of the United States.
Although Truman kept his own hands clean of bribes (except the usual ones known as "campaign contributions"), he retained a fierce tribal loyalty to the Kansas City gang and their overlords: "The Outfit," the Chicago-based heirs of Al Capone, and the nation's most powerful underworld organization. In one of the major scandals of Truman's administration, his Attorney General, Tom Clark, approved early paroles for three of the Outfit's most notorious figures. A second scandal followed when Truman rewarded Clark for these gangland services rendered with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
...In 1960, all three major candidates were mobbed up. JFK's father, the ex-bootlegger Joe Kennedy, dealt directly with his former associates in the Outfit, tapping them for untraceable vote-buying cash and their unrivaled vote-rigging muscle. Nixon, then vice president, had long worked his mob contacts - chiefly the Los Angeles gang of Mickey Cohen and New York's Meyer Lansky - for secret campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Chicago Outfit - playing both sides as always - sought Nixon's favor by agreeing to a CIA request for help in assassinating Fidel Castro.
Johnson was backed by the Carlos Marcello gang out of New Orleans, who paid the all-powerful Texas senator $100,000 a year to keep the legislative heat off their gambling and racing interests. Of course, this mob dime was small beer to Lyndon, whose career had been bankrolled by massive cash infusions (some of them legal) from the construction and military servicing firm Brown & Root - now more famous as the chief cash cow in the Halliburton empire. (Like the Outfit, Halliburton always plays both sides.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Kennedy's Outfit connections trumped Johnson's Marcello play for the nomination, then Joe's vote-riggers outmuscled Nixon's vote-riggers in the election - the closest in American history. Nixon felt, rightly, that he'd been robbed of a presidency he'd bought fair and square. Thus he went on to even greater illegality - including outright treason in his secret negotiations with Vietnamese officials to scuttle peace talks before the 1968 election - to ensure his perch atop the greasy pole. Millions of people would die from his expansion of a war that U.S. officials had already privately conceded was a disastrous mistake. As Russo points out, gangland's rap sheet looks like a hymnbook next to the genocidal record of the upperworld.
And on it goes. A war of aggression in Iraq -- avidly sought by the profiteers and propagandists in the network revealed by Edmonds -- kills more than a million innocent people while engendering perhaps the most gargantuan corruption scams in world history: loot which sloshes back into the coffers of America's elite, enabling them to tighten their grip on the nation's politics even further, buying candidates -- even the most "progressive" ones -- who will ensure that any "bailouts" or "reforms" will serve the privileged first, and that the militarist agenda of endless conflict, burgeoning arms sales, and bottomless expenditures for the war machine will continue unhindered.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 22 September 2009 20:50
A few years ago, I won an award for a piece I'd written for The Moscow Times (and CounterPunch.) By hook, crook and the kindness of others, I flew out to San Francisco, then caught the last night ferry to San Rafael, where the ceremony was being held the next day. I was one of several people being noted by Project Censored for their "Top 25 Censored Stories" volume of that year.
The honorees were supposed to give speeches, so, weary with jet lag, I worked on mine in my motel room, while keeping one eye on the television, where an astonishing spectacle was playing out: an Austrian actor mounting an Enron-sponsored coup to take over one of the largest governments in the world.
But in the end, I didn't like my speech, so just before the ceremony began, I quickly wrote out something else, and said that instead. Just tonight, I ran across those tattered notes in the back of a desk drawer, and found that they still hold true as an explanation for what I'm trying to do with all this political writing. So I thought I'd set it down here. This is what I told them:
Years ago, during the run-up to the first Gulf War, I wrote a short piece about the sea of propaganda that was flooding the country, and the difficulty of cutting through to the blood-and-iron reality behind it all. This is the whole of that piece:
I think we are living in a world of lies: lies that don't even know they are lies, because they are the children and grandchildren of lies.
One of the hardest things about doing stories like the ones honored here tonight is that the reality of our world is buried under so many layers of official deception and well-cultivated public ignorance about our history and our political system. Even if you break through somehow, momentarily, and hold up a fragment of the truth, most people have no context for dealing with it. It's like a bolt from the blue, they can't process the information. And so the sea of lies closes over us again, and again, and again.
But I don't know what else we can do, except to keep on telling as much of the truth as we can find, to anyone who will listen: reclaiming reality, fragment by fragment, one person at a time.
It's an endless task -- maybe a hopeless task -- but the alternative is a surrender to the worst elements in our society -- and in ourselves. Thank you.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 21 September 2009 15:54
As Barack Obama continues his noble struggle to reform the wreck of America's health care system by forcing millions of people to pay billions of dollars to the very insurance companies who wrecked America's health care system – continuing his winning policy of reforming the wreck of America's financial system by giving trillions of dollars to the scamsters who wrecked America's financial system -- his soldiers in the good and necessary war of good necessity in Afghanistan have been implenting their own reforms to health care practices in their "host" country.
Dahr Jamail reports on the underreported story of an American assault on an Afghan hospital earlier this month, during which armed soldiers "stormed" through the wards, looking for Taliban fighters – and then insisted on vetting all incoming patients to decide if they are worthy of treatment or not.
On September 7, American troops invaded a hospital run by a Swedish aid agency:
Soldiers demanded that hospital administrators inform the military of any incoming patients who might be insurgents, after which the military would then decide if said patients would be admitted or not. [Agency director Anders] Fange called the incident "not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement" between nongovernmental organizations and international forces.
Fange said that US troops broke down doors and tied up visitors and hospital staff.
As Jamail notes, the blatantly illegal raid is all of a piece of American health care approaches in lands occupied in the Terror War. He details once more the American attacks on medical centers during the destruction of Fallujah in late 2004, which I noted in the Moscow Times while the attack – a vast blood sacrifice to celebrate the re-election of George W. Bush – was still going on:
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
This is what has happened, is happening, and will go on happening on the ground in the Terror War. It is endemic. It is unavoidable. It is inherent in the premise and practice of military aggression. It doesn't matter how many clinics or schools you build (or promise to build), or many soccer balls and candy bars you give out to the kids -- these atrocities by the invader are the only things that register, the only things that matter. Ten thousand, 40,000 or a million more troops (and mercenaries) will not bring "victory" in these situations; they will only engender more death, ruin, hatred and resistance.
So what to do in Afghanistan? Simple -- the same thing I advocated years ago, in another Moscow Times piece written during the 2004 election campaign, after the first, failed attack on Fallujah, but before the city's final destruction a few months later:
As the red wheel of [the Terror War] continues to roll, spewing hundreds of corpses in its wake, it becomes clearer by the hour that there is only one way for America to end this stomach-churning nightmare it has created: get out.
That's it. The occupying armies – including [the] corporate mercenaries – should leave now.
...[Our leaders'] chest-beating pronouncements about "staying the course" and "seeing it through" are just so much rag-chewing nonsense. The way to rectify a crime is not to keep doing it – or in John Kerry's ludicrous formulations, to keep doing it in some different, "better" way – but simply to stop doing it. The illegal invasion was a crime, the occupation is a crime, and if you would not be a criminal, you must stop committing crimes.
John Kerry then has morphed into Barack Obama now: a "progressive," "liberal," "anti-war" Democrat who nonetheless throws himself wholeheartedly behind the retrograde, reactionary, bloodthirsty wars of the militarist oligarchy. Obama is now agonizing over this burning question: when he sends more American forces to Afghanistan shortly, should he call them "combat troops" or "advisers and trainers"? That is the range of acceptable choices available.
For the only "exit strategy" that Obama is offering is the patenly false hope that a Western-trained Afghan army and police force will eventually provide all the necessary security for a stable, legitimate democratic government. But Ann Jones at TomDispatch gives the detailed lie to this fantasy.
Jones did a remarkable thing in this day and age: rather than simply regurgitating the latest missive from self-interested parties in the Pentagon and White House about the great strides being made in training Afghanistan's security forces, she actually went there and saw what was happening. The result was grimly illuminating. You should read the whole piece to get the full picture, but here are some telling excerpts:
Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. ...
In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground -- the sacred territory President Obama gropes for -- is that, whatever else happens, the U.S. must speed up the training of "the Afghan security forces."
...What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training? Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?
My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of "Basic Warrior Training" 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.
In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it's a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin -- the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets -- and many are undoubtedly Taliban.
As Jones notes, the brilliant minds of General David Petraeus' big brass brain trust have been surprised to see how Taliban fighters are continually increasing their combat sophistication and effectiveness, "as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments," as the Washington Post reports. Jones draws the obvious conclusion: they have been attending training sessions -- provided, along with money, weapons and equipment, by the Americans themselves.
While training and arming your enemies might not be "best practice" for protecting your own troops, or, indeed, winning a war, it does tie in nicely with what, in the end, is the ultimate goal of the war in Afghanistan -- indeed, the goal of the great, never-ending Terror War itself: profits. Jones:
Earlier this year, the U.S. training program became slightly more compelling with the introduction of a U.S.-made weapon, the M-16 rifle, which was phased in over four months as a replacement for the venerable Kalashnikov. Even U.S. trainers admit that, in Afghanistan, the Kalashnikov is actually the superior weapon. Light and accurate, it requires no cleaning even in the dust of the high desert, and every man and boy already knows it well. The strange and sensitive M-16, on the other hand, may be more accurate at slightly greater distances, but only if a soldier can keep it clean, while managing to adjust and readjust its notoriously sensitive sights. The struggling soldiers of the ANA may not ace that test, but now that the U.S. military has generously passed on its old M-16s to Afghans, it can buy new ones at taxpayer expense, a prospect certain to gladden the heart of any arms manufacturer. (Incidentally, thanks must go to the Illinois National Guard [who were sent to Afghanistan to train the local army] for risking their lives to make possible such handsome corporate profits.)
"Our" Afghans are never going to fight for an American cause, with or without American troops, the way we imagine they should. They're never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seem about to ratify in office, despite incontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud. Why should they? Even if the U.S. could win their minds, their hearts are not in it.
Jones goes on to make the point that this is not an argument for sending more American troops; this would only exacerbate the existing problems, engendering more of the inherent atrocities noted above, which in turn give rise to fiercer and broader resistance. Again, the only answer is to end the war. I mean, that is the only answer if the question is what course would be in the best interests -- morally, politically, financially -- of the American people, and human civilization as a whole.
But of course, that question does not concern our profiteering militarist oligarchy in the slightest. And so the bad medicine of the Terror War -- the ultimate "public option," with the government picking up the tab -- will keep being dispensed all over the world.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 18 September 2009 13:29
America has "tea-baggers," who channel the very real and justified anger felt by millions into partisan hackery in the service of Big Money; but in Germany, this is what the disaffected are doing: putting together a new "anti-capitalist, pro-social justice" that could "shake up the political landscape" in the upcoming national elections. As the Guardian reports:
[Frank Spieth's] anti-capitalist, pro-social justice Die Linke is striking a chord with an increasingly disenfranchised electorate, espousing causes – such as inequality, reunification issues and, crucially, the war in Afghanistan – that are finding a receptive audience in both east and west.
"Our voters are representative of millions of Germans who feel cut off from the political process and they could have a significant impact on Germany's political landscape," said 62-year-old Spieth, who left the Social Democratic party (SPD) in 2003 after 37 years in protest at its restructuring of the social welfare state.
Why is the party striking a chord? Here's one all-too-familiar reason: the mainstream parties are seen as virtual clones of one another, concerned entirely with the aggrandizement of their own factions -- and of the elite interests they serve:
Polls gives the party about 14%, but after huge gains recently made in key regional elections at the end of August, where it won 21% in the western state of Saarland, Die Linke is being seen as the party that could shake up the political landscape in the 27 September vote.
The policies of bigger parties, including the chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and its junior Social Democrat partner, are now seen to be disturbingly similar in comparison.
"Generally there are only a few themes that particularly distinguish most of the parties," according to Renate Köcher, joint head of the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. "It's only really Die Linke that stands out, in particular for their critical position regarding the German economy and societal order."
Predictably, Die Linke is being denounced by the mainstreamers as being nothing more than -- what else? -- a bunch of dirty commies. There are of course some former communists in its ranks; which is not surprising, given that the communists once controlled half of the Cold War-divided country for more than 40 year -- and where the former communist half still languishes in poverty and deprivation years after reunification. (The ranks of the mainstream parties contain former Communists as well). But Spieth says Die Linke is a much broader church:
Spieth embodies the verve and drive of many in Die Linke. The party, founded just two years ago is, he admits, "a motley crew of democratic socialists, social democrats, communists, Christians, you name it".
The party is also doing something remarkable in a modern Western democracy: supporting the majority's desire to pull out of the unpopular imperial adventures which their leaders love so well:
[Die Linke] came into its own in the aftermath of a recent Nato air strike, ordered by the German military, in northern Afghanistan. The attack triggered a fierce debate about pulling German forces out of Afghanistan. Die Linke is the only party in parliament that is calling for the immediate withdrawal of German troops. As many as 80% of people in Germany are against the Afghan mission.
"It's got people talking about the war, which the other parties had wanted to exclude from the discussion, and that can only be a good thing for us," said Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD finance minister and one of Die Linke's most prominent leaders.
"The majority of people are against this war due to our own appalling experiences in two world wars but if we don't keep this issue on the agenda, no one will," he told the Guardian at an anti-war rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
The point here is not to praise Die Linke -- or any political party -- unreservedly, but to wonder: where are the prominent Democrats (or in the UK, the Labour bigwigs) with the guts to leave their dysfunctional, corrupted parties and make common cause with the millions of people suffering under political systems now given over entirely to the service of financial elites and war profiteers? Where are the vote-winning coalitions of the disaffected ardently calling for social justice and anti-militarism -- instead of veering off into neo-fascist militancy?
There are tens of millions of people across the Western world who are deeply disturbed by the state of modern society -- a society whose discontents stem overwhelmingly from the inherent corruptions of unjust rule by rapacious, belligerent elites. Yet much of this discontent is being seized upon by rightwing forces -- many of them in the pay of those same elites -- who re-direct this anger toward the most vulnerable in society, very deliberately playing the game of divide-and-conquer that elites have used to such devastating effect for centuries.
There are virtually no prominent voices on the national scene speaking out for social justice and against anti-militarism -- that is, no voices with any credibility. Barack Obama, once seen by millions as a kind mystical embodiment of these hopes, has instead given them a master class in disillusionment. His health care "reform" -- which could have improved the daily lives of tens of millions of people in the most immediate way -- turns out to be nothing more than a scam to funnel public money to big insurance and drug companies. His "reform" of the Wall Street shell games that have cost millions of people their homes and livelihoods turns out to be an elaborate scam to funnel trillions of dollars in public money to the gamesters themselves -- who are now playing whole new shell games with the bailout money. His "reform" of Bush's foreign policy has turned out to be an expansion of unnecessary, unwinnable wars which drain the treasury, stain the nation's honor, waste the lives of its soldiers, increase corruption and extremism, and destabilize the world.
All of these policies -- which are of course unoriginal to Obama, being merely continuances of sinister patterns embedded deep in the structure of imperial, oligarchic rule -- are exacerbating the inchoate anger and despair of the people, who can see and feel that their concerns are not being addressed. So in step the corporate-sponsored Right and the religious extremists to use their massive financial and media resources to try direct this anger at the poor, at minorities, at the weak, the marginalized -- and anyone who tries to help them.
Candidates and parties in America that do try to address these concerns in a positive way, in the name of social justice and anti-militarism, have virtually no support, generally receiving less that one percent in any national vote -- and even less than this next-to-nothing at the state and local levels.
So again: where is the American "Linke"? Those who should be spearheading such a movement are instead quibbling over how many more troops we should send to kill villagers in Afghanistan, or the precise calibrations of the transfer of public wealth to the insurance companies and the financial house ... or how, in the immortal words of Michael Moore, we can best support the president -- as Obama defends and extends Bush's policies on torture, secrecy, indefinite detention, assassinations, Wall Street coddling and military aggression -- because Obama is just "faking right to go left."
And how many people will die, languish or be dispossessed by these "fake" policies until Obama finally hangs that big left turn, Michael? What number would be acceptable to you? Ten thousand? A million? When the next "unfortunate incident" kills another dozen children in Afghanistan, will you, like Madeline Albright, bite your lower lip with sad but steadfast determination and say, "We think that it's worth it"?
There will be no "Linkeage" in America as long as this cringing, blinkered stance holds sway, even among the most prominent "dissenters" in the land. Moore and those like him are just pouring salt in the wounds of the people, who can clearly see that Obama is not acting in their interest. The old folk saying holds true here: "Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining." Don't tell me Obama is for me when I can see with my own eyes that he is against me.
Thus any message of genuine, positive dissent is discredited; and in the vacuum left by the Democrats' eager embrace of militarist oligarchy and the dissidents' craven refusal to acknowledge the truth about their White House hero, the Right rushes in with its poison brew. And in this noxious atmosphere, who knows what rough beast is even now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born?
I don't mean to make a fetish of "the People" in all of this. Obviously, for millions of individuals out there, the "politics of resentment" fills a deep psychological need. They don't want social justice or peace; they do want to crush someone weaker -- in the same way that their own souls have been crushed, by parents, by circumstances, by social and cultural and political systems. (Arthur Silber has written with great insight on this theme over the years; consult his fine work -- and give him some support if you can, for he is in dire straits.) Resentment is one of the great engines driving human behavior, and cannot be waved away with a few pretty words about solidarity or a chorus of Kumbaya.
But none of us -- or few of us anyway -- are beyond redemption. The inner turmoil that fuels the politics of resentment can be addressed and in some cases mitigated by offering a genuine alternative: a clear-eyed, tough-minded, realistic movement toward peaceful, productive, humane social justice. Not something which promises an earthly paradise, but a system which is oriented toward social justice, which aims at it, strives for it, which makes the goal of social justice the context and arena of our lives. Of course, these lives will still be marked by all our human failings -- greed, aggression, fear, and yes, resentment; these will never disappear, but they can perhaps be better accommodated, made less virulent, given less scope and capacity for harm, in a system which has, as it were, a prejudice for social justice (just as Pope John Paul II used to speak of the Church's "prejudice for the poor"), as opposed to the current prejudice for profits, privilege and power. Such a system might -- just might -- give us the opportunity to fashion a somewhat better world.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 14:19
At some point earlier this month, Barack Obama took a moment out of his busy day to sign an "execute order." That is, he ordered American agents to kill a man without any legal procedure whatsoever: no arrest, no trial, no formal presentation – and disputation – of evidence, no defense…and no warning. They killed him on the open road, in a sneak attack; he was not engaged in combat, he was not posing an imminent threat to anyone at the time, he had not been charged with any crime. This kind of thing is ordinarily regarded as murder. Certainly, if you or I killed someone in this way – or paid someone to do it – then we would find ourselves in the dock, facing life imprisonment or our own execution. But then, you and I are subject to the law; our leaders are not.
Let's say it again, just to let the reality of the situation sink in a bit further: at some point last week, Barack Obama ordered men in his employ to murder another human being. And not a single voice of protest was raised anywhere in the American political and media establishments. Churchmen did not thunder from the pulpits about this lawless action. The self-proclaimed patriots and liberty-lovers on the ever-more militant Right did not denounce this most extreme expression of state tyranny: the leader's arbitrary power to kill anyone he pleases. It is simply an accepted, undisputed fact of American life today that American leaders can and do – and should – murder people, anywhere in the world, if they see fit. When this supreme tyranny is noted at all, it is simply to celebrate the Leader for his toughness -- or perhaps chide him for not killing even more people in this fashion.
I wrote a great deal about this theme when George W. Bush was president. I began back in November 2001, after the Washington Post reported that Bush had signed an executive order giving himself the power to order the killing of anyone he arbitrarily designated a terrorist. Year after year, I wrote of how this murderous edict was put into practice around the world, and of its virulently corrosive effects on American society. Now Barack Obama is availing himself of these same powers. There is not one crumb, one atom, one photon of difference between Obama and Bush on this issue. They both believe that the president of the United States can have people killed outside of any semblance of a judicial process: murdered, in cold blood, in sneak attacks, with any "collateral damage" regarded as an acceptable by-product – just like the terrorists they claim to be fighting with these methods.
Nor does this doctrine of presidential murder make any distinction between American citizens and foreigner. Indeed, one of the first people known to have been killed in this way was an American citizen living in Yemen. So let us put the reality in its plainest terms: if the president of the United States decides to call you a terrorist and kill you, he can. He doesn't have to arrest you, he doesn't have to charge you, he doesn't have to put you on trial, he doesn't have to convict you, he doesn't have to sentence you, he doesn't have to allow you any appeals: he can just kill you. And no one in the American power structure will speak up for you or denounce your murder; they won't even see that it's wrong, they won't even consider it remarkable. It's just business as usual. It's just the way things are done. It's just the way we are now.
These reflections are prompted by the killing of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan man accused of being an al Qaeda operative. We are told – by unnamed American intelligence officials – that Nabhan was suspected of a hotel bombing in Kenya and a failed attempt to shoot down an airliner. We are told, by unnamed American intelligence officials, that Nabhan was suspected of involvement in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa. Grievous accusations; they may even be true. But of course, how can we know? For are the unnamed American intelligence officials who tell us these things the same unnamed American intelligence officials who told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who told us that Saddam Hussein was involved with al Qaeda? That he had purchased uranium "yellowcake" from Niger? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who used to tell us that the Soviet Union was not collapsing in the 1980s but was in fact developing super-secret weapons to destroy us all? Or that North Vietnamese boats had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who are always trotted out to justify any action or agenda of the government of the day, without ever producing any evidence whatsoever of their claims?
The truth is that we cannot know what Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan did or did not do – beyond the fact that he had joined the "wrong" side (i.e., one not currently backed by America) in a multi-sided, hydra-headed civil war in Somalia. Nabhan was fighting with a faction of Islamic militants called al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab once belonged to a coalition of Islamic groups which had brought the first measure of stability to Somalia after many years of anarchy and chaos under fractious warlords who had driven American forces from the country in 1993. In late 2006, this coalition was overthrown by an American-assisted invasion of Ethiopian troops – with the aid of some of those same warlords from 1993, now on the CIA payroll and fighting for the Americans. A horrible crucifixion of the Somali people ensued, turning the already ravaged nation into one of the greatest humanitarian disasters on earth. Meanwhile, al-Shabab only grew stronger and more radical during the reign of terror instigated by the American-Ethiopian "regime change" operation.
In the end, after many atrocities, the American-backed Ethiopian forces withdrew – and the Americans helped place the head of the ousted Islamic coalition back into power as the president of the Western-backed "transitional government." Yes, it is as bizarre as it sounds: the Americans paid their former enemies to help oust a leader whom they then put back into power again. The end result of the American intervention in Somalia has been the pointless slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people; the utter ruin, dispossession and near-starvation of millions of people; the growth of extremism; and ever-greater violence, chaos, and instability. It is a crime of monstrous, mind-boggling proportions.
The result of Nabhan's murder will only be more suffering for Somalis. Al-Shabab will certainly retaliate – but with no way of striking at the United States, they will have to lash out locally. The murder will also serve as lesson for would-be terrorists around the world – the same lesson that the War on Terror has been teaching day after day, year after year, from the day it was launched by George W. Bush to its continuance and expansion by Barack Obama today. That lesson is stark and simple: Murder works. Murder is the way to advance your agenda. Murder is what "serious" players on the world stage do. There is no law but the law of power; there is no way but the way of violence. There is no morality, there is no liberty, we share no common humanity.
This is the example that America now sets for the world. This is what we teach our children – and the children of our victims. This is what Barack Obama affirmed once again when he signed his "execute order."
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 14 September 2009 10:00
The Economist -- the veritable Bible of the Anglo-American Establishment -- paints a grim portrait of the Iraqi regime installed at the point of American guns: a sinkhole of torture, execution, increasing repression and brazen power-grabs.
The Shia-led government has overseen a ballooning of the country’s security apparatus. Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state.
Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.
The domestic-security apparatus is at its busiest since Saddam was overthrown six years ago, especially in the capital. In July the Baghdad police reimposed a nightly curfew, making it easier for the police, taking orders from politicians, to arrest people disliked by the Shia-led government. In particular, they have been targeting leaders of the Awakening Councils, groups of Sunnis, many of them former insurgents and sympathisers, who have helped the government to drive out or capture Sunni rebels who refused to come onside. Instead of being drawn into the new power set-up, many of them in the past few months have been hauled off to prison. In the most delicate cases, the arrests are being made by an elite unit called the Baghdad Brigade, also known as “the dirty squad”, which is said to report to the office of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.
There are more details in the full story. However, the Economist is being a bit demure in attributing the current degradation to the machinations of the al-Maliki regime alone. The United States has been deeply, directly and instrumentally involved in the dirty work of the Iraqi regime since the very beginning of the conquest. In fact, the Iraqi security forces whose atrocities are detailed in the Economist were created by the Americans, as I noted in a Moscow Times article way back in August 2003:
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo – perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad – and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people – even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" – aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis – men, women and children as young as 11 – seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
It didn't take a genius to see, in August 2003, what would happen when the American conquerors began filling the old torture chambers of Abu Ghraib with innocent captives. The International Red Cross later estimated that some 70-90 percent of the thousands of prisoners rounded up by the Americans in Iraq were not guilty of any kind of crime whatsoever, much less any connection to terrorism or the insurgency.
But these tortures -- which the Economist does at least mention in passing -- are just the tip of a very large slag-heap of atrocities. The United States has also been running its own "dirty squads" from the very start, as we detailed here last year in A Furnace Seal'd: The Wondrous Death Squads of the American Elite.
That post was occasioned by the release of Bob Woodward's latest lumbering tome from the deepest bowels of the Beltway. As we noted last year:
Woodward revealed -- or, rather, confirmed -- the existence of what he called the key element to the "success" of Bush's escalation of the war crime in Iraq: a "secret killing program" aimed at assassinating anyone arbitrarily deemed a "terrorist" by the leaders of the foreign forces occupying the conquered land.
In a TV appearance to puff the book, Woodward celebrated the arbitrary murder, by methods unknown, of people designated "terrorists," by criteria unknown, as "a wonderful example of American ingenuity solving a problem in war, as we often have." ....
What is most noteworthy about the "revelations" is that they have provoked no controversy at all. The United States admits that it is operating secret death squads in Iraq, and this barely rates a passing mention in the press, and certainly no comment whatsoever on the campaign trail, no debate among the national leadership. And this despite the fact that, as Woodward makes clear, the targets of the American death squads are not merely "terrorists," as the general public broadly understands the term -- i.e., religious extremists in the al Qaeda mold -- but anyone arbitrarily designated an "insurgent" or a leader in "the resistance."
That is, anyone who resists the invasion and occupation of his native land is deemed a legitimate target for a secret death squad. For execution without charges, without trial, without evidence. And this, to Woodward, is "wonderful" and "amazing." By this logic, of course, the Nazis were fully justified in murdering leaders of the French resistance in World War II. The British would certainly have been justified in sneaking into George Washington's house and killing the insurgent leader in his bed. (And his wife too, no doubt, as an acceptable level of "collateral damage.") In fact, Woodward sternly warns members -- members, mind you, not just leaders -- of "the resistance" to "get your rear end out of town;" i.e., leave your native land or else be murdered in your bed by secret assassins of the occupying power.
This is the heroic, honorable stance of the American elite in the 21st century. What the Nazis did, we do, and for the same reason: to secure the forcible occupation of a land we conquered through an unprovoked war of aggression. It is indeed wonderful and amazing that such a state of affairs -- such an abyss of depravity -- is accepted so calmly by the great and good among us....and by tens of millions of our fellow citizens.
The 2008 post goes on to detail just some of the vast amount of information, readily available in mainstream newspapers and magazines, about the American use of death squads and "paramilitaries" to carry out "extrajudicial killings" of people accused -- by someone, somewhere, for some reason or no reason at all -- of being "terrorists" or "insurgents," or "bad guys," to use the playground parlance so favored by our high priests and their media acolytes. These killings, these "dirty squads," have been part of the occupation of Iraq since the beginning, as has the systematic use of torture and the unlawful detention of innocent people. That al-Maliki is carrying on the practices and policies of those who put him into power should come as no surprise -- not even to the Economist.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 12 September 2009 14:41
"I took some flesh home and called it my son."
The NATO airstrike that killed more than 70 civilians near Kunduz earlier this month was a deadly confluence of two primary elements that characterize the living hell of Afghanistan: relentless violence and crushing poverty.
The villagers were slaughtered while trying to siphon gasoline from two fuel tankers that the Taliban had hijacked from the occupation forces. The trucks were stranded in the ford of a shallow river. Unable to get the trucks out, the insurgents invited local villagers to come gather the fuel for themselves. The prospect of salvaging a can or two of free fuel to help them get through the coming winter drove many of the villagers out into the dead of night. At about 1 a.m, an airstrike ordered by a German commander struck the fuel tankers and the surrounding area.
The result was a firestorm that ripped the villagers to pieces and roasted their bodies beyond all recognition. But that was not the end of it, nor, perhaps, the worst of it. For then the survivors of the slain had to come to the smoking field and try to find their loved ones amidst the gruesome, ungodly residue.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who has contributed some of the most remarkable reporting from the Terror War's fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke to some of the survivors. Their stories speak with bleak and harrowing eloquence of the reality of the war, beyond all the pious rhetoric and strategic reviews and "serious" analysis in the imperial courts.
Below are some excerpts, but you should read the entire piece, which was the top story, blazoned across the top of the front page, in the print edition of Saturday's Guardian. Saturday editions of UK papers are generally the equivalent of Sunday editions of US paper, the big showcase edition of the week. Try to imagine a major American paper giving up such prime real estate to let the victims of the "good war" in Afghanistan tell their story in their own words.
From the Guardian:
At first light last Friday, in the Chardarah district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, the villagers gathered around the twisted wreckage of two fuel tankers that had been hit by a Nato airstrike. They picked their way through a heap of almost a hundred charred bodies and mangled limbs which were mixed with ash, mud and the melted plastic of jerry cans, looking for their brothers, sons and cousins. They called out their names but received no answers. By this time, everyone was dead.
What followed is one of the more macabre scenes of this or any war. The grief-stricken relatives began to argue and fight over the remains of the men and boys who a few hours earlier had greedily sought the tanker's fuel. Poor people in one of the world's poorest countries, they had been trying to hoard as much as they could for the coming winter.
"We didn't recognise any of the dead when we arrived," said Omar Khan, the turbaned village chief of Eissa Khail. "It was like a chemical bomb had gone off, everything was burned. The bodies were like this," he brought his two hands together, his fingers curling like claws. "There were like burned tree logs, like charcoal.
"The villagers were fighting over the corpses. People were saying this is my brother, this is my cousin, and no one could identify anyone."
So the elders stepped in. They collected all the bodies they could and asked the people to tell them how many relatives each family had lost.
A queue formed. One by one the bereaved gave the names of missing brothers, cousins, sons and nephews, and each in turn received their quota of corpses. It didn't matter who was who, everyone was mangled beyond recognition anyway. All that mattered was that they had a body to bury and perform prayers upon.
...Jan Mohammad, an old man with a white beard and green eyes, said angrily: "I ran, I ran to find my son because nobody would give me a lift. I couldn't find him."
He dropped his head on his palm that was resting on the table, and started banging his head against his white mottled hand. When he raised his head his eyes were red and tears were rolling down his cheek: "I couldn't find my son, so I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son. I told my wife we had him, but I didn't let his children or anyone see. We buried the flesh as it if was my son."
He broke off, then shouted at the young Assadullah, who had knocked at the old man's house and told his son to come with them there was free fuel for everyone, "You destroyed my home", Assadu-llah turned his head and looked at the wall. "You destroyed my home," he shouted again. Jan Mohammad dropped his head again on his palm and rolled it left and right, his big gray turban moving like a huge pendulum, "Taouba [forgiveness]," he hissed. "People lost their fathers and sons for a little bit of fuel. Forgiveness."
Omar Khan, the village chief, was crying now and looking at the ceiling.
...Islamu-ldin, a 20-year-old from Issa khail village with tufts of hair sprouting from his cheek, took his turn to speak. He said he ran for three hours to get to the riverbed to look for his brother.
"Our village is far from the river, I searched a lot through the dead, and I found my brother. I recognized him from his clothes. But we only found his upper body, maybe someone took the legs, maybe it just burned to ashes."
Omar Khan was weeping openly now. A few other men resisted, but their eyes were as red as those of Jan Muhamad, who was babbling and shouting at the young Assadullah again and again.
.."At midnight my brother and nephew went to get fuel. I also wanted to go but I didn't have a car," said Saleh Muhamad. "At one in the morning I went to bed. When I heard the explosion I called my brother but his phone was off … when I arrived at 3am there were dead everywhereI was searching for my brother and nephew but I couldn't find anyone.
"I had a torch with me and I could see well, but I still couldn't recognise anyone." His eyes looked straight through me as he said: "I found one body and took it home and we buried it. It was a full body, with arms and legs. We buried it well."
Further comment would be superfluous here. Omar Khan's reaction is the only proper, fully human response to the horrific reality of these monstrous operations of power, the blind, brute drive for domination.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
Well, it's that time of year again, when all of us who pontificate in public must offer up a comment on the momentous events of September 11, 2001. I don't have much to add beyond what I said on the subject two years ago -- or even what I said on the subject eight years ago, in a newspaper column written the day after the events, and published on September 14. Both of these pieces are excerpted below.
First, from September 11, 2007:
A commenter asked recently about my take on 9/11. In light of the anniversary ... I thought this might be a good time to set out, very briefly, what I think on the subject.
It's really quite
simple and, to my mind, self-evident: the "official" story of what
happened on September 11, 2001, is not a complete or accurate account.
(We should of course speak of official stories,
because there have been several shifting, contradictory scenarios
offered by the great and the good in the six years since the attack.
However, for clarity's sake, we'll stick with the singular for now, and
will assume -- as the entire media and political establishment does --
that the report by the Hamilton-Kean 9/11 Commission is the final
put it plainly, this official account is riddled with holes:
unexplained inconsistencies, unprecedented occurrences, astounding
coincidences, mysterious lacunae, and deliberate obfuscations. It is,
in fact, a more improbable "conspiracy theory" than many of those
suggested by the much-derided "9/11 truth movement."
more, the commission that was finally, grudgingly appointed to look
into the attacks was obviously a whitewash from the word go. As I wrote in the Moscow Times when the panel was first formed, in January 2003:
George W. Bush's first choice to head an "independent" probe into the
Sept. 11 attacks – suspected war criminal Henry Kissinger – went down
like a bad pretzel, he quickly plucked another warm body from the
stagnant pool of Establishment worthies who are periodically called
upon to roll out the whitewash when the big boys screw up.
replacement, retired New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, was a "safe pair
of hands," we were assured by the professional assurers in the
mainstream media. The fact that he'd been out of public life for years
– and that he hadn't collaborated in the deaths of tens of thousands of
Cambodians, Chileans and East Timorese – certainly made him less
controversial than his predecessor, although to be fair, Kissinger's
expertise in mass murder surely would have given the panel some unique
insights into the terrorist atrocity.
now it seems that Kean might possess some unique insights of his own.
Fortune Magazine reports this week that both Kean and Bush share an
unusually well-placed business partner: one Khalid bin Mahfouz – a
shadowy figure who looms large in the financial web that binds the
Bushes, the bin Ladens and the Saudis.
like so many worthies, followed the revolving door out of public
service into lucrative sweetheart deals and well-wadded sinecures on
corporate boards. One of these, of course, is an oil company – pretty
much a requirement for White House work these days. (Or as the sign
says on the Oval Office door: "If your rigs ain't rockin', don't come
a-knockin'!") Kean is a director of Amerada Hess, an oil giant married
up to Saudi Arabia's Delta Oil in a venture to pump black gold in
Azerbaijan. (The partnership is incorporated in a secretive offshore
"tax haven," natch. You can't expect a worthy like Kean to pay taxes
like some grubby wage slave.)
Delta's biggest backers are close associates of the aforesaid Mahfouz,
a Saudi wheeler-dealer who has helped bankroll some of most dubious
players on the world scene: Abu Nidal, Manuel Noreiga, Saddam Hussein
and George W. Bush. Mahfouz was also a front for the bin Laden family,
funneling their vast wealth through American cut-outs in a bid to gain
power and influence in the United States, reports Wayne Madsen of In
of those cut-outs was Mahfouz factotum James Bath, a partner in George
W.'s early oil venture, Arbusto (and a comrade in suspension from
Bush's glory-less days as an AWOL National Guardsman). Bath has
admitted serving as a pass-through for secret Saudi money. Years later,
when Bush's maladroit business skills were about to sink another of his
companies, Harken Energy, the firm was saved by a $25 million
investment from a Swiss bank – a subsidiary of the Bank of Credit and
Commerce International (BBCI), partly owned by the beneficent Mahfouz.
was BCCI? Only "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history,"
according to the United States Senate. What did BCCI do? "It engaged in
pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the
Americas," says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the
operation. "It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses
and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the
financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It
financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and
Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.
boatload of heavy Establishment lumber was piloted by the Commission's
executive director, Phillip Zelikow, who determined just what got
investigated, and what did not. As the world knows, Zelikow was a Bush
Administration insider, a Condi Rice colleague who had helped pick many
of the Administration figures he was now called upon to probe. After
the Commission finally produced its report -- printed on sheets of
Swiss cheese -- Zelikow went to work for Condi at the State Department.
profound failures of the Commission report have been amply detailed
elsewhere by many hands. For our purposes here it is enough to say that
it was not a thorough, independent investigation in any way, and that
such a probe is still needed: a genuinely independent, wide-ranging,
in-depth investigation, with full subpoena powers and full access to
all material, whatever its security classification -- and testimony
under oath, and under pain of perjury, from every relevant official,
including [George W. Bush and Dick Cheney].
Let us have such a probe, and let the chips fall where they may....
But you and I know that there will never be
an investigation like that into 9/11. Regardless of what it might or
might not reveal about the origin of the attacks, such a free-wheeling,
fully-powered probe would inevitably uncover other vast
swamps of bloody murk in the shadowlands where state power, criminal
gangs, covert ops and financial interests mingle, merge, squabble and
seethe. It would, in other words, open a window into the real way
that the world works, into the bestial realm of raw power and savage
greed that churns on behind the facade of public events and the
trappings of state.
this infernal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood. The rubes
are never to know what their betters are getting up to, and how they are getting up to it, and the true cost -- in blood, so much blood, so much suffering and sorrow -- of their goings-on.
said, I certainly applaud any and all efforts to force something like a
more real investigation into events of that portentous day.
of portents, it happens that I was one of the first people who
reported, in print, in a mainstream publication, how the
Cheney-Rumsfeld group, the Project for a New American Century, had
declared -- back in September 2000 -- that it would take a "new Pearl
Harbor" to "catalyze" the American people into supporting the
militarist agenda the group had laid out. I first wrote of this in The Moscow Times in September 2002
(following on from the excellent work by Neil Mackay in Scotland's
Sunday Herald). I also wrote more extensively about it in a mainstream
U.S. paper, the Bergen Record, in February 2003, when PNAC had rated
only a very few mentions in the American press. In both of these
articles, I also noted that after 9/11 -- which was duly described as a
"new Pearl Harbor" by Bush and his officials -- almost the entire PNAC
agenda became official U.S. government policy.
are just indisputable facts: The Bushists admitted they needed a "new
Pearl Harbor" to enact their program. They got a "new Pearl Harbor."
Then they enacted their program.
It seems to me that any
genuine investigation into 9/11 would include, among many other avenues
and areas of exploration, a look into whether these facts represent one
of the most astonishing pieces of political luck in history, or
something else. Pace the estimable George Monbiot, Alex Cockburn, Greg Palast and others, that doesn't seem like an outrageous idea to me.
This was written on September 12, 2001:
.... And so the
unimaginable has come, at last, to America. Unimaginable, that the
innocent could lie dead in their thousands, buried beneath the ruins of
ordinary life. Unimaginable, that the destruction that has swept back
and forth across the world in great waves, leaving the innocent lying
dead in their millions, should have at last spilled over the strong
sea-walls that preserved the nation's wealth and tranquility.
Unimaginable, that Americans should know what so many, too many, have
known before: the sudden, gutting horror of mass-murdering injustice.
did it happen? America spends $30 billion a year, year after year after
year, on "intelligence." Untold trillions have been spent on "defense."
The nation bristles with powerful ordnance, it "projects dominance" (as
the strategists like to say) all over the globe. And yet its leaders
are like blind men, raging like Oedipus, unable to see their attackers
or defend their people or understand what is happening to them.
and wounded, they fall back on empty rhetoric: "an attack on democracy"
– as if the suspected plotters, who spent years in a war to the death
with the Soviet Union, give a damn what America's political system
might be. Then come the metaphysical explanations: "A new evil has come
upon us." "This is a war between good and evil."
yes, it's evil – as the killing of every innocent person is – but it
isn't new. It's as old as the hills, as old as any chipped flint dug up
from the ground. It's religious arrogance, tribalism, lust for power
and – let's be honest about it – a falling-out among former allies, old
comrades in undercover war. Each one of these is a powerful engine of
hatred – churning in the dirt of the real world, in the mixed matter of
the human brain, in the murk and folly of human history.
arrogance: the implacable, impenetrable conviction that absolute truth
is in your sole possession. You are good, favored by God; your enemies
are evil, demonic. Tribalism (or in "civilized" terms, nationalism,
patriotism): the belief that your country, your people, your
grievances, your interests are above all others, that your values are
so important that innocent people must sometimes be sacrificed to them.
Lust for power: the burning desire to impose your will on the whole
world – or failing that, to bring the whole world crumbling down around
a falling-out. The White House points the finger of blame at Osama Bin
Laden – a demon made to order, right out of central casting,
remorseless, demented, crafty, rich. Like Saddam Hussein – another
sinister figure suspected of collusion in the attack – Bin Laden was
once empowered by America itself. The same intelligence services that
now stand blind, struck and wounded, cynically embraced these brutal
renegades as pawns in the Great Game of geopolitics; embraced them,
armed them, paid them, built them up into autonomous powers – then,
like Dr. Frankenstein, lost control of their creatures. The used became
the users, and in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Afghanistan – and now, New York
and Washington – they have killed their thousands, and their tens of
In the name of religion. In the service of patriotism. In the lust for power – to project their dominance.
This is not a new evil. It's as old as the hills, and is with us always.
atrocity tends to raze the ground of history. In the aftermath, with
the cries of lamentation rising over fresh graves, it is always Zero
Hour. "That which happened" – to borrow the poet Paul Celan's phrase
for the Nazis' unspeakable crimes – buries what came before, effaces
the paths that led us to this place, strips away the cloak of reason (a
thin rag in the best of times), and leaves nothing but the bare,
anguished call for revenge.
will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder
is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand
eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for
generations? Past folly undoes us, but who, in the Zero Hour, can
ignore the lamentations? Who can deny the ghosts, these loved ones
gone, the red food demanded by the dead?
is no answer. It will not stop. They say the world has now changed
irreversibly, that nothing will ever be the same. But it will be the same. The same engines of hatred, the same murk, the same dirt, the same mixed matter in human brains.
This is not a new evil. It's as old as the hills, and it is with us always.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 10 September 2009 22:13
Want to know the true significance of Barack Obama's speech on health care "reform" Wednesday night? Then just follow the money: Insurance Stocks Rise After Obama Speech (Truthdig):
Remember President Obama’s reference during his health care address to “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations”? Well, those expectations were apparently met by that same address. Insurance company stocks got a boost from the speech, which foreshadowed the death of the public option and promised to deliver millions of currently “irresponsible” customers.
Truthdig then quotes Reuters:
Shares of U.S. health insurers climbed on Thursday after analysts saw no “game changers” from President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated speech on health reform.
Following the speech, analysts predicted any changes to the system would be moderate, with Obama backing many initiatives put forth earlier this week by a leading Senate committee. The possibility a threatening public health plan would be enacted also now seemed doubtful, analysts said.
Think about that: "No game changers." But isn't the point of reform to, you know, change the game?
But of course there will be no reform, and there was never going to be. Obama is going to "reform" America's broken health care system the same way he has "reformed" the War on Terror and "reformed" Wall Street: by taking the existing policies and making them even worse.
My old Moscow Times colleague Matt Taibbi nails the reality of the situation to the wall in his latest Rolling Stone piece: Sick and Wrong. In addition to detailing the deliberately engineered failure of any genuine "reform," Taibbi rightfully ties the health care debacle to the larger system failure of "the political entity known as the United States of America."
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 10 September 2009 11:24
NATO, the "North Atlantic" treaty organization now fighting a slaughterous war in, er, Central Asia, is going green,setting up a new panel of heavy-duty worthies to pursue the strategic ramifications of global climate change. But as David Cronin reports in the Guardian, when militarists mull the ailments of Mother Earth, they aren't looking to mop the old lady's brow; they're trying to shake her down for every little bauble she's got left. The whole piece is worth reading, but here are some excerpts:
Over the past week a group appointed by the new Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen held its first meeting on how the "strategic concept" guiding the organisation's activities should be updated to take account of climate change and other key challenges. The group's chief? One Madeleine Albright, previously US secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright, lest we forget, is the same woman who foisted mass pauperisation on Iraq in pursuit of the ignoble goal of putting that country's oil resources under western control. In 1996, she was asked on the TV show 60 Minutes if she could justify the deaths of half of a million Iraqi children caused, according to Unicef, by an economic embargo that deprived the country of basic medicines. "I think this is a very hard choice but the price – we think the price is worth it," she replied.
Albright's deputy in the new group will be Jeroen van der Veer, until recently the chief executive of Shell. Thanks to the makers of the film The Age of Stupid, we know that Shell's gas flaring in the Niger Delta releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the other sources of greenhouse gas emissions in sub-Saharan Africa combined.
...Rather than taking a broad definition of human security, which acknowledges that the future of humanity depends on changing how ecological resources are managed, it is merely interested in grabbing as much of those resources as it can. That much was acknowledged by Rasmussen's predecessor as secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before he stepped down over the summer. He spent much of his final year in the job predicting how climate change will increase competition between countries over water, territory and farmland. Nato should have an aggressive and interventionist role in disputes over resources, he suggested, by, for example, protecting oil and gas pipelines identified as critical to the west.
Cronin also makes the crucial connection between NATO's particularly grabby take on greenness, and its current civilian-shredding misadventure in Afghanistan:
Nato's interest in climate change cannot be divorced from the nasty, imperialist war that George Bush declared against Afghanistan and Barack Obama has pledged to continue. A recent paper by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives ridicules the myth that British and other Nato forces are solely driven by the need to defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban so that bombings on European trains and buses can be prevented. While Afghanistan may have limited significance as an energy supplier itself, its neighbours Iran and Turkmenistan are blessed (or cursed, depending on one's perspective) with the world's second and third largest reserves of natural gas. The US has been eager to tap into those reserves – especially those of Turkmenistan – and to route a pipeline through Afghanistan since at least the 1990s. Departing slightly from the official narrative about the necessity of the war on terror, Richard Boucher, then America's assistant secretary for state, spoke in 2007 about linking south and central Asia for energy purposes.
As we said yesterday, the war in Afghanistan has no other purpose than the maintenance and expansion of the power and privilege of the elite. That is why the war has such a strange, absurdist, contradictory nature. The outward polices -- surges, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, reconstruction, nation-building, etc. -- can and do shift wildly, act at cross-purposes, undermine each other, exacerbate problems, produce more insecurity, and very often make no sense whatsoever...if measured by their ostensible goals. But they are, in the end, a meaningless sideshow, a toxic combination of deliberate deceit and catastrophic self-delusion that masks the war's true purpose. As with Iraq, if you view this war through the prism of elite aggrandizement, it all becomes, in the immortal words of that strange, absurdist warmonger of yore, "perfectly clear."