Friday, October 13, 2006
HISTORY LESSONS THAT SOME NEVER SEEM TO LEARN
The Ordinary Face of Evil: David Blunkett said he wanted to bomb transmission equipment.
With the 2004 electoral clock ticking amid growing public concern about U.S. casualties and chaos in Iraq, the Bush administration's hawks are upping the ante militarily. To those familiar with the CIA's Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam, Latin America's death squads or Israel's official policy of targeted murders of Palestinian activists, the results are likely to look chillingly familiar. The Prospect has learned that part of a secret $3 billion in new funds—tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved in early November—will go toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. Experts say it could lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists—up to 120,000 of the estimated 2.5 million former Baath Party members in Iraq. "They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam," says Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism. Ironically, he says, the U.S. forces in Iraq are working with key members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct intelligence agency to set the program in motion. "They're setting up little teams of Seals and Special Forces with teams of Iraqis, working with people who were former senior Iraqi intelligence people, to do these things," Cannistraro says. The plan is part of a last-ditch effort to win the war before time runs out politically. Driving the effort are U.S. neoconservatives and their allies in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, who are clearly worried about America's inability to put down the Iraqi insurgency with time to spare before November. They are concerned that President Bush's political advisers will overrule the national-security team and persuade the president to pull the plug on Iraq. So, going for broke, they've decided to launch an intensified military effort combined with a radical new counterinsurgency program.
The hidden $3 billion will fund covert ("black") operations disguised as an Air Force classified program. According to John Pike, an expert on classified military budgets at globalsecurity.org, the cash, spread over three years, is likely being funneled directly to the CIA, boosting that agency's estimated $4 billion a year budget by fully 25 percent. Operations in Iraq will get the bulk of it, with some money going to Afghanistan. The number of CIA officers in Iraq, now 275, will increase significantly, supplemented by large numbers of the U.S. military's elite counterinsurgency forces. A chunk of those secret funds, according to Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst, will to go to restive tribal sheikhs, especially in Sunni-dominated central Iraq. "I assume there are CIA people going around with bags of cash," says Goodman.
……… Because the militiamen who will make up the paramilitary force are largely from former Iraqi exile political groups, many have personal scores to settle. They will be armed with detailed lists, seized from government files, of Iraqi Baathists. Sporadic but persistent revenge killings against Hussein loyalists have already plagued Iraq. In Baghdad, Basra, and scores of smaller cities and towns, hundreds of former Iraqi officials and members of the Arab Baath Socialist Party have been gunned down, and the murderers have not been arrested or, in most cases, even pursued. Virtually signaling open season on ex-Baathists, Maj. Ian Poole, spokesman for the British forces controlling Basra, told The New York Times: "The fact is, these are former Baath Party officials. That makes it hard to protect them." Chalabi's INC is promising to use its own intelligence teams to act forcefully against opponents of the United States. Chalabi, the darling of U.S. neoconservatives and the Pentagon's choice to be Iraq's first prime minister, is leading the charge for the "de-Baathification" of Iraq. When elements of the U.S. Army in Iraq seek to enlist the support of mid- and low-level Baath officials in trying to put a national bureaucracy back into place, Chalabi objects, often clashing with U.S. Army officers overseeing civil affairs. Echoing Chalabi are various U.S. hawks and neocons. "The Kurds and the Iraqi National Congress have excellent intelligence operations that we should allow them to exploit," read a Wall Street Journal editorial. "Especially to conduct counterinsurgency in the Sunni Triangle." More explicitly citing similar U.S. operations during the Vietnam War were Tom Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for a New American Century. Schmitt wrote a paper calling for a counterinsurgency effort modeled on the so-called COORDS program in Vietnam, an umbrella effort that included the notorious Phoenix assassinations. And, over lunch at a Washington eatery, I asked a neoconservative strategist how to deal with Iraq. "It's time for 'no more Mr. Nice Guy,'" he said. "All those people shouting, 'Down with America!' and dancing in the street when Americans are attacked? We have to kill them."
The Pentagon said that a "gap" in the laws governing warfare made it legally permissible during the gulf war for U.S. tanks to bury thousands of Iraqi troops in their trenches and for U.S. warplanes to bomb the enemy retreating along the so-called Highway of Death. An elaborate legal justification was contained in an appendix to the report on the war sent to Congress by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. The section also accused Iraq of "widespread and premeditated" war crimes and environmental terrorism. But it absolved U.S. forces on war crime issues raised "by some in the post-conflict environment." Newsday disclosed in September that many Iraqi troops were buried alive when the First Mechanized Infantry Division attacked an 8,000-man division defending Saddam Hussein's front line. U.S. commanders told Newsday that thousands had been buried during the two-day assault Feb. 24-25, 1991. During the February 27 Iraqi retreat from Kuwait, tens of thousands of vehicles were destroyed by U.S. jets. But most estimates said 1,000 or fewer Iraqis were killed. According to the new report, the incidents raised questions about the Geneva Convention's prohibition of "denial of quarter" -- refusing to accept an enemy's offer to surrender. It said:
"There is a gap in the law of war in defining precisely when surrender takes effect or how it may be accomplished. An attempt at surrender in the midst of a hard-fought battle is neither easily communicated nor received. The issue is one of reasonableness."
At the time the Iraqi front was breached, commanders were still concerned about the threat of chemical, gas and missile attack. "Because of these uncertainties and the need to minimize loss of U.S. lives, military necessity required that the assault ... be conducted with maximum speed and violence," the report said.
David Blunkett, the UK's former home secretary, has said that during the 2003 invasion of Iraq he suggested to Tony Blair that Britain's military should bomb Aljazeera's television transmitter in Baghdad. Aljazeera television said on Thursday that Blunkett's claims - made in an interview with Britain's Channel 4 television to be aired on Monday - support its belief that the US and Britain deliberately bombed its Baghdad offices during the war. Ahmed al-Sheikh, editor-in-chief of Aljazeera's Arabic channel, said; "This adds to the growing number of evidences that will one day prove that the attack on Aljazeera was premeditated ... at the highest levels. Aljazeera was being targeted at the time because the people who were waging war on Iraq didn't like what it was showing. We talk about terrorism, this is pure terrorism."
"There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place," Blunkett said. "I don't think for a minute in previous wars we'd have thought twice about ensuring that a propaganda mechanism on the soil of the country you were invading would actually continue being able to propagandise against you."
Two weeks after Blunkett pressed the prime minister to attack Aljazeera, the American military bombed the station's Baghdad offices, killing journalist Tareq Ayoub. Blunkett, however, said that although the British government considered targeting Aljazeera's transmission equipment, it considered that journalists were not a legitimate target. "I think there's a big difference between taking out the transmission and taking out journalists - even if you don't agree with them," he said. [This last point would only be true if there was no physical connection between the transmission equipment and the journalists, which was certainly not true in Baghdad. Yet, these evil people can justify killing a journalist by claiming to only want to harm physical property near the journalist. It is like saying you want to stop the US Congress by bombing the Capitol, and it is just unfortunate if there are people inside (which there would be). – dancewater]
Since we've been thinking about The Lancet the past couple of days, I was reminded of Steven Miles's essay two years ago, on the legacy for military medicine of abu Ghraib. (Access is free, fairly painless registration required -- I recommend you go for it.) Funny thing about that, this got little or no attention in the U.S., as far as I know. Miles, by the way, has just come out with a book expanding on this work: Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (Random House). In the Lancet piece, he catalogs the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the prison camps in Afghanistan. Okay, we've heard it before. But his focus is on the participation of medical personnel in the torture and degradation of prisoners, including condoning medical neglect, active participation in torture, and issuance of false death certificates to cover up murder by U.S. military and civilian personnel. Here are just a few examples:
The medical system collaborated with designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations. Army officials stated that a physician and a psychiatrist helped design, approve, and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib.15 This echoes the Secretary of Defense's 2003 memo ordering interrogators to ensure that detainees are “medically and operationally evaluated as suitable” for interrogation plans.6 In one example of a compromised medically monitored interrogation, a detainee collapsed and was apparently unconscious after a beating, medical staff revived the detainee and left, and the abuse continued.22 There are isolated reports that medical personnel directly abused detainees. Two detainees' depositions describe an incident where a doctor allowed a medically untrained guard to suture a prisoner's lacertation from being beaten.22,23
The medical system failed to accurately report illnesses and injuries.34 Abu Ghraib authorities did not notify families of deaths, sicknesses, or transfers to medical facilities as required by the Convention.34,36 A medic inserted a intravenous catheter into the corpse of a detainee who died under torture in order to create evidence that he was alive at the hospital.37 In another case, an Iraqi man, taken into custody by US soldiers was found months later by his family in an Iraqi hospital. He was comatose, had three skull fractures, a severe thumb fracture, and burns on the bottoms of his feet. An accompanying US medical report stated that heat stroke had triggered a heart attack that put him in a coma; it did not mention the injuries.38
Death certificates of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq were falsified or their release or completion was delayed for months.24,39 Medical investigators either failed to investigate unexpected deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan or performed cursory evaluations and physicians routinely attributed detainee deaths on death certificates to heart attacks, heat stroke, or natural causes without noting the unnatural aetiology of the death.40,41 In one example, soldiers tied a beaten detainee to the top of his cell door and gagged him. The death certificate indicated that he died of “natural causes … during his sleep.” After news media coverage, the Pentagon revised the certificate to say that the death was a “homicide” caused by “blunt force injuries and asphyxia.”24
In November, 2003, Iraqi Major General Mowhoush's head was pushed into a sleeping bag while interrogators sat on his chest. He died; medics could not resuscitate him, and a surgeon stated that he died of natural causes.42 6 months later, the Pentagon released a death certificate calling the death a homicide by asphyxia.42 Medical authorities allowed misleading information released by military authorities to go unchallenged for many months.24 In 2004, the US Secretary of Defense issued a stringent policy for death investigations.43
U.S. and Iraqi troops conducting a raid in Baghdad found a blood-soaked torture chamber that may have been operated by a Shiite Muslim militia with ties to the government. Soldiers found Interior Ministry badges in the compound, and U.S. forces saw an Iraqi policeman on the roof of the compound before Sunday's raid, said Lt. Col. Avanulas Smiley, 40, a battalion commander who led U.S. troops in the raid. [Negroponte worked with the Interior Ministry guys. Also, an Iraqi blogger was detained by the Interior Ministry in July 2005. He claimed the Americans were working inside the Interior Ministry at the time. – dancewater] "If there's linkage to Iraqi security forces, then obviously we have a problem and it needs to be addressed," Smiley said. One room of the complex contained a long wooden bench stained with a large pool of blood and urine, which could indicate victims were tortured there. In another room, posters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his white-bearded father, the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, were plastered on the walls. On the floor were stained mattresses strewn among baseball bats, bayonets and electric drills. The compound was empty when it was raided, Smiley said. Troops found a hole at the back of the complex, through which its occupants may have escaped, he said. The compound belongs to a social organization named for al-Sadr's father, who was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1999, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman. On Monday, Brig. Gen. David Halverson, deputy commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, toured the one-story office complex as investigators looked over evidence. Members of a special U.S. task force that investigates death squads collected blood samples and placed pieces of evidence in plastic bags. The investigators, who work with Iraqi counterparts, will try to determine whether the site was tied to Muqtada al-Sadr's organization, Smiley said.
U.S. and Iraqi officers have pledged to crack down on any illegal militias, regardless of their affiliation or connections. "Whoever's doing the killing, we don't really care what political party they belong to," Halverson said. "If they're breaking the rule of law, we're going to bring them to justice." [That covers a lot of people, mostly Americans and Brits. It also covers Bush, Cheney, Blair and Rumsfeld. – dancewater]
Daily War News for October 13, 2006 will be posted later today.