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way too much too list here -- chomsky, hass, fisk, engelhardt, podur,
schechter, and many more recently added essays, among so many others...

We also now have a series of blogs online. These self contained sites
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Dispatches, which is delivering just about daily coverage from on the
scene in Iraq, via http://blog.newstandardnews.net/iraqdispatches/
 
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But, for this mailing, I thought I would send two of the many essays we
now have online regarding recent events in Iraq...first an open letter
to troops there, really meant for all of us, by Stan Goff. And then an
article from The Independent in London, by Mark Steel, on the lies we
are daily told.



Open Letter to Our Troops
Stan Goff
  
In 1994, I was running an A-Detachment in 3rd Special Forces, ODA-354 to
be precise, a team that specialized in free-fall parachute infiltration
and special (strategic) reconnaissance. 3rd Special Forces Group's area
of operation encompassed sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, and our
team was specifically designated for the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
So we had two language requirements on the team, Spanish and French
(even though most Haitians actually speak Haitian Kreyol). 

I had a communications sergeant on my team named Ali Tehrani. His father
was an expatriate Iranian who'd married a German, and Ali had been
raised in extremely comfortable circumstances in Europe, where his
father and the society around him pushed him to fluency in English,
German, Spanish, and French. Ali also spoke decent Italian. He was the
most fluent French-speaker on the battalion, and a year before we were
sent to Haiti with the 1994 invasion, Ali had been sent to the camps
constructed by the United States military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for
the purpose of detaining tens of thousands of Haitians who were trying
to escape the brutal repression and grinding poverty of Haiti in
ramshackle boats. Ali was needed there because of his language fluency. 

Ali was typical of many of the "non-white" members of Special Forces in
two respects. He was demonstrably patriotic -- compelled, it seemed, to
prove his devotion to the American security state -- and he adopted the
prevailing attitude within much of Special Operations of Negrophobia --
a kind of institutional disdain for Black troops that served to bloc
other "non-whites" with whites in SF. It's a peculiar mechanism of white
supremacy where there is not a master-race mentality so much as a
deficient-race ideology from which all others could self-exclude. This
-- along with an anabolic version of masculinity -- served as one form
of social glue in SF culture, though there were a few exceptions. 

Ali's Negrophobia wasn't virulent like that I had witnessed in other SF
troops. In fact, he was willing to grant exceptions among individual
Black soldiers fairly easily. It was more part of his obsessive desire
to fit in. 

Ali had spent six months "working the camps" at Guantanamo in 1993. 

When we received word of our mission to invade Haiti in 1994, he reacted
violently. His revulsion toward Haitians was visceral and white-hot.
Given that my own team's mission might depend on both Ali's language
capabilities ("my" language was Spanish) and on our ability to establish
rapport with local Haitians, Ali's outburst sent up a warning flare in
front of me, and I made time to sit down with him for a long talk. 

Ali was, aside from his passive racism and the simmering rage that one
could always sense just below his surface, a very intelligent and
sensitive man. I always suspected that he may have suffered either
physical or psychological abuse as a child. 

When we talked, we fairly quickly concluded together that his aversion
to Haitians had something to do with the role he had been thrown into
against the Haitians at the camps, the role of jail-boss, and he agreed
to keep that in mind and to subordinate his conditioned reflexes on the
matter to mental time-outs in order to assure that he would behave
appropriately while we were on the mission in Haiti, which he did...
most of the time. 

But the point I'm getting to is this. The antagonism that Ali
experienced as an individual toward Haitians was structured by the
institutional antagonism built into the jailer-and-jailed relationship.
Ali had internalized the external reality that he was a prison guard and
they were the prisoners. His job was to dominate, to bend Haitians to
his will, and every exercise of human agency by the Haitians threatened
that. Their very humanity -- that combination of independent
consciousness and will -- was structured by the prison-camp phenomenon
to be an enemy force in relation to Ali and the other prison-keepers. 

In 1971, Stanford University Professor of Psychology Phillip Zimbardo
designed an experiment that would come to be known as the Stanford
Prison Experiment. Subjects were recruited and paid a modest stipend,
whereupon they were separated into "prisoners" and "guards," and placed
in a mock prison built in a Stanford basement. The prisoners were
stripped, deloused, shackled, and placed in prison clothes, while the
guards were given authoritative uniforms, sunglasses, and batons. Long
story short -- within two days there was a near prison riot,
psychosomatic illness began to break out, white middle-class kids in the
role of guards became rapidly and progressively more sadistic and
arbitrary, and the two-week experiment had to be abandoned after only
six days... before someone was badly hurt or killed. 

The experiment seemed to support the truism that "absolute power
corrupts absolutely." But that conclusion serves as a description, not
an explanation. It describes what happens to the individual, but it
fails to account for the role of rationalization that legitimates the
domination, and it completely fails to account for institutional support
of that domination. 

When one uses the term "systemic," she is saying that the source of this
abuse is not individual moral failure, but a predictable expression of
the system and its structures. 

The abuses of detainees, by US troops, by CACI International and Titan
Corporation mercenaries, and by the CIA in Iraq, is "systemic." 

But in the same way that the system found an expression in the thoughts
and emotions of Ali Tehrani, in the same way that the structure of
domination and subjection pushed him to rationalize away his shared
humanity with his Haitian captives, we can now see in the leering grins
of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, who are regular people -- like the
experimental subjects in the Stanford Prison Experiment -- who quickly
learned to behave as sadistic torturers. The military has admitted that
60% of these detainees are neither combatants nor threats. 

As this is written, the US military is about to release hundreds of
detainees who fall in that category, and there will be more horror
stories coming, because it was systemic. 

People were not only humiliated and forced to pose in degrading
positions with each other naked. They were forced to masturbate in front
of taunting guards. Some were sodomized with foreign objects. It appears
that some were also beaten to death during interrogation -- one whose
body was put on ice for a day then carted away the next on a litter with
a faked intravenous infusion in the arm. 

Now the cover stories are being spun out like webs. 

We are being asked to believe that: 

(1) The only abuse that occurred against anyone detained by American
forces in Iraq was photographed and reported. 

(2) No abuses occurred anywhere that were not photographed or reported. 

(3) The one percent of US troops who are the "bad apples" all happen to
serve together in the same unit... the unit that is the only one guilty,
and that happened to get caught because of the photographs. 

(4) The aggressive investigation now being proclaimed by everyone from
George W. Bush to CENTCOM, about abuses that were already on record in
the military (an internal investigation had already been launched in
February by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, but was kept from the
public), would have happened had the photographs and story not been
aired on national television. 

(5) The military was not attempting to cover up their own investigation,
and that they would have informed the public of these abuses even had
Seymour Hersh not put the whole miserable episode into print. 

(6) The military did not cover anything up in the two weeks between the
time CBS warned them that they were going to air an expose and when they
actually did air it. 

(7) No one in the chain of command above Brigadier General Janis
Karpinski is responsible for the failure to halt these abuses, even
though Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez was informed of the
investigation of these abuses, complete with sworn statements and
photographs, by General Taguba last February. 

Other abuses and violations of the Geneva Conventions and Laws of
Warfare are already on record, some with videos available on the web,
such as: 

(1) Shooting people who are clearly not armed and who are engaged in no
threatening behavior. 

(2) Shooting into ambulances. 

(3) Shooting wounded people who are not armed. 

(4) Shooting wounded people who are obviously no longer capable of
fighting. 

(5) Shooting into crowds. 

There has never been a Stanford Military Occupation Experiment to
complement the Stanford Prison Experiment, unless we just count the
military occupations themselves. There is a structured, systemic
antagonism between an occupying military and the people whose land they
occupy. And there will be no investigations of any of it, because there
never are, unless and until the American public is confronted with them.


The National Command Authority and its cheerleaders cannot say out
loud... this is what we are doing, and it can't get done unless we
dehumanize the occupied. This reality, this system, will express itself
in the thoughts and emotions of you, the troops who carry it out,
because this military occupation is in a sense making a prison of Iraq
and making you, the troops, its turnkeys. 

It will only be those exceptional individuals among you in the military
who refuse to surrender their humanity -- no matter how little you may
understand the big picture -- and who will witness. You who do break
with the system and witness are very important people, important to
history, because your refusal to surrender your own moral integrity to
the system may lead to our collective salvation by ending this felonious
occupation. The troops who filed reports about the abuses at the Abu
Ghraib prison were such exceptions. 

So were Tom Glen and Ron Ridenhour. 

In The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch wrote in 1979 about US
leadership during the occupation of Vietnam: 

Success in our society has to be ratified by publicity... all politics
becomes a form of spectacle. It is well known that Madison Avenue
packages politicians and markets them as if they were cereals or
deodorants; but the art of public relations penetrates more deeply into
political life... The modern prince [an apt turn of phrase for the
current member of the Bush political dynasty] ... confuses successful
completion of the task at hand with the impression he makes or hopes to
make on others. Thus American officials blundered into the war in
Vietnam... More concerned with the trappings than with the reality of
power, they convinced themselves that failure to intervene would damage
American 'credibility...' [They] fret about their ability to rise to
crisis, to project an image of decisiveness, to give a convincing
performance of executive power... Public relations and propaganda have
exalted the image and the pseudo-event. 

What these images of the Abu Ghraib humiliation and torture have done in
the United States is collide with the "exalted image and the
pseudo-event" of the Bush propaganda apparatus, just as the images of
the My Lai massacre did in 1969. That collision between the reality and
the real image of war startles civilians here in the La-La Land of wide
screen TV and suburban SUV's, and it shakes them out of their opiated
shopper dream-state. 

My Lai is what General Colin Powell was remembering when he implemented
"the Powell Doctrine" for the military, which includes a co-opted press
and a vigorous attempt to keep things like flag-draped coffins off of
those wide screen TVs. 

Most of you don't remember My Lai. 

On March 16, 1968, units of the Americal Division, to which Powell was
assigned as a staff officer in Chu Lai, entered a Vietnamese village
called My Lai and spent four hours raping women, burning houses, then
finally massacring men, women, and children -- including infants who
dying women tried to shield with their own bullet-riddled bodies. The
massacre was stopped by a Georgia-born helicopter pilot named Hugh
Clowers Thompson who landed his chopper between the few surviving
Vietnamese and the blood-intoxicated soldiers, and ordered his door
gunners to open fire on the Americans if they failed to stand down. 

A few weeks later, General Creighton Abrams, then commanding general in
Vietnam, received a letter from a young Specialist-4 in the Americal
Division named Tom Glen: 

The average GI's attitude toward and treatment of the Vietnamese people
all too often is a complete denial of all our country is attempting to
accomplish in the realm of human relations... Far beyond merely
dismissing the Vietnamese as 'slopes' or 'gooks,' in both deed and
thought, too many American soldiers seem to discount their very
humanity; and with this attitude inflict upon the Vietnamese citizenry
humiliations, both psychological and physical, that can have only a
debilitating effect upon efforts to unify the people in loyalty to the
Saigon government, particularly when such acts are carried out at unit
levels and thereby acquire the aspect of sanctioned policy... [American
soldiers attack Vietnamese] for mere pleasure, fire indiscriminately
into Vietnamese homes and without provocation or justification shoot at
the people themselves... Fired with an emotionalism that belies
unconscionable hatred, and armed with a vocabulary consisting of 'You
VC,' soldiers commonly 'interrogate' by means of torture that has been
presented as the particular habit of the enemy. Severe beatings and
torture at knife point are usual means of questioning captives or of
convincing a suspect that he is, indeed, a Viet Cong... It would indeed
be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier
that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human
feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the
frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs... What has
been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in
others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal. If this is
indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked, but can
through a more firm implementation of the codes of MACV (Military
Assistance Command Vietnam) and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be
eradicated. 

Glen's letter was forwarded from Abrams' office to the Americal Division
and ended up with Major Colin Powell in Chu Lai. 

Powell never followed up by questioning Glen, and instead ended his
"investigation" of Glen's allegations after accepting uncritically the
claim by Glen's commander that Glen hadn't been close enough to "the
front" (whatever that was supposed to be in Vietnam) to have any
knowledge of such alleged abuses. Powell then began his career as a
damage-control expert in the military by writing a letter, dated
December 13, 1968, in which he said, ""There may be isolated cases of
mistreatment of civilians and POWs... [but] this by no means reflects
the general attitude throughout the Division... In direct refutation of
this [Glen's] portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal
soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." He went on to impugn
Glen's account for having been brought to light only reluctantly and
lacking sufficient detail. 

This was, of course, horseshit. Abuses were systemic. 

Glen had only heard through rumors about My Lai. It was another GI, Ron
Ridenhour, an infantryman who was not willing to surrender his humanity
to occupier-racism, who finally pieced together, on his own initiative,
the story of the My Lai massacre, and brought it to public light. When
the photographs of the massacre were combined with Ridenhour's account,
and the American public was confronted with the reality of an entire
unit participating in a systematic massacre of civilians, it marked a
turning point in the loss of political support in the United States for
continued military occupation of Vietnam. 

Powell himself admitted war crimes in his memoir, My American Journey,
where he wrote, "I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for
military-age male... If a helo spotted a peasant in black pajamas who
looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and
fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of
hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him." Powell
would also come to the defense of Brigadier General John Donaldson who
had the door gunners on his own helicopter shoot Vietnamese for sport.
Donaldson was exonerated, naturally, in a military investigation. 

Powell not only developed as a skilled cover-up artist, he would
eventually incorporate this ability to manage public perception about
war as a key element in the "Powell Doctrine," which he imposed on the
military and the press. He never forgot My Lai, and he has always
believed that exposure of My Lai and other atrocities were responsible
for the US defeat in Vietnam. 

Donald Rumsfeld shares these beliefs with Colin Powell. They are both
wrong. The two phenomena that collide with this Powell-Rumsfeld
orientation were and are (1) the decision of their 'enemy' never to
quit, and (2) the inevitability that someone who is part of the
occupation force will be confronted with these contradictions between
"the exalted image and the pseudo-event" and the real character of war
-- and that this someone will expose it in an attempt to rescue his or
her own humanity. 

The war in Vietnam was lost by the French then the Americans because
they didn't belong there, and the resistance endeavored to do whatever
was necessary to make that point. This is also the situation in Iraq
 
So I'll leave to others the analysis of whether the troops facing courts
martial are scapegoats (they are, and they are also probably guilty as
hell), and whether or not the military is letting the officers off with
reprimands and walking papers to prevent the fire spreading (which it
is). I'll just emphasize that the war in Iraq cannot be won. Not because
of the inability of US troops to fight, but because we don't belong
there. And since that's the case (which I firmly believe it is) every
life -- Iraqi, American, or otherwise -- that is lost or ruined... is
wasted. 

All this talk of whether Military Intelligence or the mercenaries
working for CACI International or the CIA or the MP commanders were
responsible is diversionary bullshit so we won't see how Iraq itself has
become the Stanford Military Occupation Experiment. 

Because if we conclude that the problem is systemic, then the only thing
to do to stop this is to walk away. And the Bush administration sent
troops there for the purpose not of building democracies, but of
building permanent military bases in the heart of oil country, and if
they walk away, they can't rightly build bases, can they? 

So we can either blithely obey and support our new Neros, or we can
continue to cling to the absurd notion that the vandal can rebuild the
house they just ravaged, or we can do what we might to make them walk
away. Troops that come forward will play a key role in this moral
imperative. 

Every troop that comes forward with accounts of the inhumanity of this
war -- while jeopardizing his or her career -- is serving to hasten an
end to this criminal enterprise of the Military-Petroleum Complex. These
troop/witnesses will serve to hasten an end to the suffering of Iraqi
families and the suffering of the families of the occupying forces. They
will serve to prevent more torture, more humiliation, more suspicion and
hatred, and more lives being thrown away on this imperial folly. 

Every troop who keeps his secrets, who faithfully serves the system and
never bears witness, can travel for the rest of his life. 

She can go to Rio de Janeiro. 

He can go to Bangladesh. 

She can go to Lagos, or Montreal, or Tokyo, or Moscow, or Antarctica. 

But no matter where he goes, there he'll be -- alone with the growing
weight of his own silence on his head, wrapping himself in his own
rationalizations, and restlessly turning away from the faces that look
back at him in the mirrors of his memory. 

 

The Comical Lies We Are Told
Mark Steel

There's a charmingly off-key, surreal logic to the line coming from the
British establishment, that any repercussions from torturing people are
the Daily Mirror's fault for telling us it happened. For example, this
Colonel Black says, "The decision to publish has played right into the
hands of the insurgents. There will be more people prepared to kill the
troops." So it's not torturing that annoys people, it's showing photos.
Perhaps the people who've been tortured will scream, "Oh my God they've
shown my worst side. I told them my left profile always makes me look
chubby when there's a sack on my head. Now I'm really annoyed." 

Whatever the origins of the photos, none of the figures condemning them
seem to dispute that torture is taking place. So the idea must be that
the Iraqis would never have known we were torturing them if it wasn't in
the newspapers. They'd think "There is a sharp buzzing in my left
testicle consistent with the pain experienced following primitive
torture techniques, but there must be some other explanation because
I've looked in the Daily Mirror and there's nothing about it at all." 

The Americans are probably regretting they didn't try a similar tactic,
ignoring the issue of torture and contesting the validity of the
pictures. They could have claimed it was a fashion shoot, and originally
there was a caption underneath that said, "Black cape, chiffon, $ 199.95
from Miss Selfridge - leads, $ 79.95 the pair from Prada (also available
in pink or khaki)." Or they were merely passing the time with the
traditional game of "pin the electrode on the donkey", and the Iraqi had
never played before so he lost his bearings and clipped the wires to his
own nuts. 

It may be that the troops involved in these incidents follow the
philosophy of one newspaper columnist, who wrote last week that there is
hope because the people of Fallujah are learning to fear the occupying
troops, and "fear is the beginning of wisdom". 

Look at those photos with that in mind, and we're doing these blokes a
favour. They might have bad dreams for a couple of years, but once
they're over that they'll have the intuition of a Buddhist priest.
They'll be giving advice such as "Always remember, my friend, the most
generous gift is that which cannot be wrapped," and they'll owe it all
to the firm but fair "increase your wisdom" course in Fallujah barracks.
If only we could hear the soundtrack to those photos, we'd know the US
soldiers were saying, "This might sting a bit, but it's for your own
good. Believe me, it will hurt me more than it hurts you." 

The frustrating thing for people who run the world's armies is that this
sort of thing keeps happening. The investigation into the My Lai
massacre found that hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were murdered, as
GIs shouted "Hey, I got another one" and "Chalk one up for me."
Following the Falklands War, a corporal in the Parachute Regiment
revealed how his colleagues had bayoneted unarmed prisoners and cut off
their ears as trophies, and there are similar examples after every war. 

So maybe someone should work out whether there's a pattern here. If it
was discovered that every week a dustman had locked a couple of
residents in a wheelie-bin and administered electric shocks to their
rectum, local authorities might ponder whether the problem wasn't just
the individuals but something in the nature of the job. 

This is one reason why the pleas from people who support the occupation
on the grounds that it will help the Iraqis appear increasingly tragic.
They implore the Americans to be democratic and truthful and not to
electrocute people, in case they spoil the good work done in
overthrowing Saddam. But the Americans didn't overthrow Saddam to create
a nicer Iraq, they wanted to secure a Middle-East that served their own
interests. 

As with most military occupations, the true motives become increasingly
evident as time goes on. At first, when the Americans were full of
promises, surveys suggested most Iraqis supported the US presence, just
as Catholic areas of Northern Ireland greeted the arrival of British
troops in 1969 by offering them cups of tea. But military occupations
almost inevitably lead to the majority of the population being seen as a
threat, and eventually as sub-human, who it would be a laugh to
photograph wearing a black cape and jump leads. 

So surveys now suggest most Iraqis would rather the invasion hadn't
happened. Maybe that was part of the thinking behind killing hundreds of
civilians in Fallujah. They saw they were 3 per cent behind in the
polls, and figured if they wiped out the right 3 per cent they'd be back
on level pegging. 

It also suggests few Iraqis will believe the statement that the
occupation forces will "leave no stone unturned" in rooting out the
torture. Because during the invasion, the instant response whenever a
missile killed a pile of civilians was to suggest that Saddam had done
it himself to make the Americans look bad. Perhaps this investigation
will go the same way. Donald Rumsfeld will announce that having looked
into the matter, it turns out that for propaganda purposes, the Iraqis
have set up a self-electrocution torture chamber in a photo booth in
Woolworths. 


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