War News for Monday, November 28, 2005
Bring 'em on: Three British pilgrims killed and three injured in an attack on their bus in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Mortar attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Three US soldiers injured after an attack on their convoy in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Two Canadians, one Briton and an American reported kidnapped in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Mayor's guard shot dead in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Tribal leader shot dead by US forces in Baiji
Travelling around southern Iraq in the late 1990s to investigate the effects of U.N. economic sanctions on ordinary Iraqis, Jesuit Father Simon Harak stopped at a hospital in Basra. Meeting with him and his colleagues from the anti-sanction group Voices in the Wilderness, Dr. Jenan Hassan briefed them about the medical horrors she and other doctors were confronting as a result of the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons by the U.S. Army in southern Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war. There was a fivefold increase in cancer, especially leukemia, she said, and a five- to eightfold increase in children born with genetic defects.
Dr. Hassan showed the Voices group some of the newborns.
“We saw a baby with a head growing out of his head,” recalled Harak. “We saw babies with intestines growing outside their bodies.”
Sitting in his spartan cubicle in Lower Manhattan, where he works as the anti-militarism coordinator for the War Resisters League, Harak, a 57-year-old Arab-American whose parents are from Lebanon, emphasized that, in comparison to the 300 tons of DU weaponry used against Iraq in the first Gulf war, U.S. forces deployed more than 1,000 tons during the 2003 invasion.
“Given the fact that there is an incubation period involved here,” he pointed out, “we shall soon be seeing the second wave of cancer and birth defects as a result of that war.”
From his computer, a crucial weapon of 21st century dissent, the Jesuit dispatches the results of his DU research to hundreds of people throughout the country. He maintains close contact with the Manhattan Project, the only group that devotes itself exclusively to DU. Their collaboration is still mainly on the level of information gathering. Harak’s goal is for information to translate into social action.
“Depleted uranium,” he explained in his methodical, professorial way (having once taught ethics at Fairfield College), “is 60 percent radioactive. It is also heavy metal toxic. It is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process of nuclear weapons production from which uranium’s most radioactive isotope, U235, is recovered for re-use in new fuel rods.”
The DU weapons used in Iraq were far more deadly, he explained, far more enduring—Japanese scientist Katsuma Yagasaki estimates that DU’s radiation has a half-life of 4.5 billion years—and far less publicized than car bombs and roadside bombs. The DU was present in missiles, tank shells, and rocket-propelled grenades. Formidable at armor piercing, these weapons were known to aerosolize on impact into tiny particles that could be inhaled or ingested.Former US AG
: Clark and others say a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because, they argue, the country is effectively under foreign military occupation. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist the trial will conform to international standards.
British War Enquiry
: Leading opposition figures from the Conservative, Liberal-Democratic, Scottish National and Plaid Cymru (Welsh) parties have banded together to back the cross-party motion titled "Conduct of Government policy in relation to the war against Iraq" to demand that the case for an inquiry be debated in the House of Commons. They seem assured of the 200 signatures required to get such a debate -- and then the loyalty of Blair's dismayed and disillusioned Labor members of Parliament will be sorely tested.
Shooting Iraqis for Sport!
: Bernhard at Moon of Alabama has a thread worth reading.
: The US has been accused of running a secret military detention center in the UN-administrated province of Kosovo that the Council of Europe’s human right envoy has likened to the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Council of Europe (CoE) human rights envoy Alvaro Gil-Robles told the French Daily Le Monde on Friday that he had visited the US’s Bondsteel military camp in Kosovo and described it as a “smaller version of Guantanamo”.
: So why invoke the Official Secrets Act to ban such material? Here the plot thickens. Blair is desperate not to have any split with Washington on public view. He senses that a dam may be about to burst, revealing Anglo-American splits over Iraq just when Bush’s policy there is facing domestic opposition. So far discipline has held on this front. Britain’s military and diplomatic elite may excoriate Pentagon policy in Iraq and excoriate Blair for failing to use leverage over it. But the public line has held that there is “not a rice paper” between the two leaders.
Opinion and Commentary
Shoot the Messenger
What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when U.S. forces killed Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see.
The Falluja offensive was one of the bloodiest assaults of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On April 5, 2004, U.S. forces laid siege to the city after the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries days earlier. When the U.S. forces, led by the First Marine Expeditionary Force, attempted to take Falluja on April 7, they faced fierce guerrilla resistance. A U.S. helicopter attacked a mosque, hitting the minaret and killing at least a dozen people. Within a week, some 600 Iraqis were dead, many of them women and children. By April 9, some thirty Marines had been killed and Falluja had become a symbol of resistance against the occupation.
What was more devastating than the direct resistance U.S. forces encountered in Falluja was the effect the story of the local defense of the city and the U.S. killing of civilians was having on the broader Iraqi population. A handful of unembedded journalists, most prominently from Al Jazeera, were providing the world with independent, eyewitness accounts. Al Jazeera's camera crew was also uploading video of the devastation for all the world, including Iraqis, to see. Inspired by the defense of Falluja and outraged by the U.S. onslaught, smaller uprisings broke out across Iraq, as members of the Iraqi police and army abandoned their posts, some joining the resistance.
Faced with a public relations disaster, U.S. officials did what they do best -- they attacked the messenger. On April 11, with the unembedded reporters exposing the reality of the siege of Falluja, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies." A few days later, on April 15, Rumsfeld echoed those remarks calling Al Jazeera "vicious."
It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror. "Blair replied that would cause a big problem. There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do -- and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it."
To date, there has been no credible rejection of the Mirror's report from the White House or 10 Downing Street. Instead, the British government has activated its Official Secrets Act, threatening news organizations that publish any portion of the five-page memo. Already, one British official has been accused of violating the act for allegedly passing it on to a member of Parliament. Former British Defense Minister Peter Kilfoyle has called on Blair's government to release the memo. "It's frightening to think that such a powerful man as Bush can propose such cavalier actions," he said. "I hope the Prime Minister insists this memo be published. It gives an insight into the mindset of those who were the architects of war."
The Bush Administration clearly blamed Al Jazeera for undermining the first siege on Falluja and fueling Iraqi public opinion and resistance against the U.S. occupation. Given Washington's record of attacking Al Jazeera both militarily and verbally, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the Bush Administration could have simply decided that it was time to take the network out. What is needed now is for a British newspaper or magazine to publish the memo for all the world to see -- and if they face legal action, they should be backed up by every major media organization in the world. If true, Bush's threat is a bold confirmation of what many journalists already believe: that the Bush Administration views us all as enemy combatants.Feel the Draft
As public support for the war withers (63 percent of Americans now disapprove of the situation in Iraq, according to the latest CNN/ Gallup/ USA Today poll) the Pentagon is upping the ante with boosted sign-up bonuses, video games, and slick ads to woo parents. Recruiters are also aggressively going after poor rural and minority youth.
Counter-recruiters say the government is closing off choices for underprivileged kids. "People see the money that would be going to education and CUNY schools for funding and scholarships so they could go to college is just going to the war," says Gloria Quinones, a mom who helped organize the demo in East Harlem. "It's like they're being backed up against the wall so they have no other options."
The House of Representatives just voted to slash student loans by more than $14 billion; if the language stays in the final budget bill, that would be the biggest cut in the history of the federal loan program. Yet the Pentagon is spending $7 billion a month to maintain the Iraq occupation.
And still recruiters are scrambling to meet their quotas. The increased pressure on young people is only provoking more resistance, anti-war activists say. "These days it's pretty hard to find anyone who supports what the military is doing," says David Tykulsker of Brooklyn Parents for Peace, which has been hosting tables outside Brooklyn high schools to inform students of their right to opt out of the Pentagon's recruitment lists.
Under the Leave No Child Behind Act, schools are required to turn over the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all students -- though students can remove their names if they request that.
Tykulsker claims that a member of the city's Panel for Educational Policy recently told him as many as half of New York City students have chosen to remove their names from the lists -- a number that if true would top the 19 percent opt-out rate recently reported in Boston.
A spokesperson with New York's Department of Education said no overall figures exist because the city is not required to keep such data.
Yet even as some students opt out of the lists that schools are mandated to provide, the Pentagon has hired a direct marketing firm to amass data on young people aged 16 to 25 -- including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, ethnicity, religious affiliation, grade-point averages, school interests, and other info pulled from motor vehicle records, commercial data vendors, Armed Services aptitude tests, and scholarship survey forms -- possibly even medical lists.
Unlike the student lists compiled by schools, there is no opt-out form for the Pentagon's Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies (JAMRS) Recruiting Database. Last month a coalition of parents, anti-war, and privacy groups wrote to the Department of Defense demanding that the $343 million program be dismantled.
"Initially I think people were shocked at the privacy issues involved with turning over student records. Now I think people are more shocked at what the military is actually doing," Tykulsker says. "This is a military that's engaged in serious illegal acts, ranging from torture and illegal detentions to the use of chemical warfare," he adds, referring to reports that the Army used white phosphorus in the siege of Falluja. "The idea that we would be subjecting our children to this is ludicrous."
The recruiters whose job is to enlist new troops hear the dissent -- and argue they're part of protecting it. "We're so quick to voice our opinions, but why do you have the right to do that? Because of the men and women in uniform who protect our freedom," says the African American Army sergeant working the desk in Flatbush. "You might not support the reason for the war, but all of us are Americans. I've been in the Army for 18 years -- for me, this is a livelihood. This is my career."Dems to blame also
Kerry supporters claim he was not being dishonest in making these false claims but that he had been fooled by "bad intelligence" passed on by the Bush administration. However, well before Kerry's vote to authorize the invasion, former UN inspector Scott Ritter personally told the senator and his senior staff that claims about Iraq still having WMDs or WMD programs were not based on valid intelligence. According to Ritter, "Kerry knew that there was a verifiable case to be made to debunk the president's statements regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMDs, but he chose not to act on it."
Joining Kerry in voting to authorize the invasion was North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who-in the face of growing public skepticism of the Bush administration's WMD claims-rushed to the president's defense in an op-ed article published in the Washington Post. In his commentary, Edwards claimed that Iraq was "a grave and growing threat" and that Congress should therefore "endorse the use of all necessary means to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction." The Bush administration was so impressed with Edwards' arguments that they posted the article on the State Department website. Again, despite the fact that Edwards' claims were completely groundless, the Democratic Party rewarded him less than two years later with its nomination for vice president.
By 2004, it was recognized that the administration's WMD claims were bogus and the war was not going well. The incumbent president and vice president, who had misled the nation into a disastrous war through phony claims of an Iraqi military threat, were therefore quite vulnerable to losing the November election. But instead of nominating candidates who opposed the war and challenged these false WMD claims, the Democrats chose two men who had also misled the nation into war by frightening the American public into believing that a war-ravaged Third World country on the far side of the planet threatened our nation's security and advocated continued prosecution of the bloody counter-insurgency campaign resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation. Though enormous sums of money and volunteer hours which could have gone into anti-war organizing instead went into the campaigns of these pro-invasion senators, many anti-war activists refused on principle to support them. Not surprisingly, the Democrats lost.
Kerry's failure to tell the truth continues to hurt the anti-war movement, as President Bush to this day quotes Kerry's false statements about Iraq's pre-invasion military capability as a means of covering up for the lies of his administration. For example, in his recent Veteran's Day speech in Pennsylvania in which he attacked the anti-war movement, President Bush was able to say, "Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: 'When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security'."Seymour Hersh
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration’s best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” He added, “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.” One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.
A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”
He continued, “We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004.” The war against the insurgency “may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win,” he said. “As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we’re set to go. There’s no sense that the world is caving in. We’re in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message.”
One Pentagon adviser told me, “There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don’t think the President will go for it”—until the insurgency is broken. “He’s not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics.”
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.
Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.
“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”
There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, “The people in the institutional Army feel they don’t have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They’re planning on staying the course until 2009. I can’t believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there’s no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army.” O’Hanlon noted that “if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels.”
Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
One person with whom the Pentagon’s top commanders have shared their private views for decades is Representative John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The President and his key aides were enraged when, on November 17th, Murtha gave a speech in the House calling for a withdrawal of troops within six months. The speech was filled with devastating information. For example, Murtha reported that the number of attacks in Iraq has increased from a hundred and fifty a week to more than seven hundred a week in the past year. He said that an estimated fifty thousand American soldiers will suffer “from what I call battle fatigue” in the war, and he said that the Americans were seen as “the common enemy” in Iraq. He also took issue with one of the White House’s claims—that foreign fighters were playing the major role in the insurgency. Murtha said that American soldiers “haven’t captured any in this latest activity”—the continuing battle in western Anbar province, near the border with Syria. “So this idea that they’re coming in from outside, we still think there’s only seven per cent.”