Friday, October 05, 2007

Slap Blast Maim Kill--Iraq Afghanistan Myanmar, Too

I had intended to write about Blackwater and mercenerization of the American military as a violation of the principle of the citizen army--the people who fight only in defense of their freedoms, their families, their homes--what any number of Iraqis and Afghanis are doing now against the United States and its goon squads of mercs. But then the New York Times ran a long investigative piece October 4, by Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen describing how the Justice Department under the unctuous Alberto Gonzalez wrote in 2005 and since has reaffirmed a legal opinion approving the CIA's most brutal interrogation methods--including slapping, water boarding, prolonged exposure of naked inmates to the cold and loud noises--offensive music, say--and whatever else struck their fancy. The opinions are. of course, secret. There are among us those who have not flinched from calling these 'methods' torture--violations of the Geneva Conventions and various human rights treaties, as well as American law and traditions, not to mention a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that the Geneva Conventions apply to prisoners taken in this war and a tepid Congressional vote banning techniques that violate the Geneva accords, which are defined in part as acts that shock {our} collective conscience, or at least the consciences of people who believe in human dignity. That's not something that al Qaeda concerns itself with, either. Nor do the generals who rule Myanmar shy from torture and murder of their opponents, among them monks, nuns and children.

The White House admits the existence of the memos but denies they justify torture. It promises to fight to the bitter end to keep the documents from becoming, however. Trust us, is the mantra of he Courtiers of the Emperor Boy George. Why? They and their king have violated so many laws, oaths and treaties that just reading the articles of impeachment and the charges of the war crimes tribunal will take many months. That's assuming the Congress finally realizes that torture is one of many egregious, blatant violations of the Constitution and the law that require the harshest sanctions--impeachment and extraordinary rendition in orange jumpsuits and black hoods to the Hague for trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

That brings me to Blackwater and the chief unlearned and now repeated lesson of Vietnam--or maybe it was learned and is being deliberately repeated, in which case our society is more depraved than the most cynical among us could have imagined--to the point where the conspiracy paranoics with their microwave blocking aluminum foil hats must be viewed as sane. The Washington Post ran an unremittingly sad piece yesterday morning by Sudarsan Raghavan tracing the paths of five people who died in the recent Blackwater shoot up of a Baghdad traffic square on September 16 that killed at least 14 people and wounded another 18. Blackwater USA is paid to protect Sate Department personnel and other non-military officials and visitors in Iraq. Essentially, they appear to be high-paid thugs, with big guns and big motors, who have been accused of killing upwards of 200 people and who consider themselves immune from prosecution--anywhere. What are these goons other than killers who are paid better than their uniformed counterparts. I can only imagine what their presence in the same theatre of war does wonder for the standing army of citizens, especially the multiply deployed National Guard units, whose members are giving up considerable in terms of family and income. Well, this war is all about money, is it not?

The Blackwater goon squads are the logical extension of the style of war the U.S. developed in Vietnam and is now in the process of refining--turning soldiers into hunters of humans, not fighters of battles intended to defeat an enemy force or seize and hold territory. Whether official or not, the name of that war was to kill the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese--kill your enemy, who could be anyone. It didn't work, but rather than learn from the experience that the military should not be abused in that fashion--that is, that it should not be turned into a collection of death squads and torturers--our military leaders seem to have embraced the notion that in Iraq and Afghanistan--probably any "asymmetric war'--pacification is achieved through killing the enemy, who is basically any man, woman or child the soldiers in the field perceive as a threat. If the bad guys should be captured--and only bad guys are captured--it is fair to use 'rough interrogation' techniques , redefined as not torture, to extract from them the truth. But do not take pictures. The American forces are dehumanized y their dehumanization of the other. They are turned into cold killers, told to lay aside or bury their sense of justice. Psychopaths and sociopaths have no problem with that, but for many it is difficult--witness the extraordinary rates of post traumatic stress disorder among returning veterans.

The U.S. military compounds this dehumanization by refusing to print body counts or even allowing images and coverage of its own returning dead, as if the cause is too noble to be sullied by death. Absent such counts, David Petraeus cited he Iraqi government for becoming one of the largest consumers of U.S. supplied arms. He didn't say that many were AK 47's--cheap knock-offs of the Kalashnikov--or that Iraq was negotiating a $100-million arms deal with China (a fact he might not have known). Yet in a story in today's Los Angeles Times, Ned Parker describes how the elite 13-member Painted Demon sniper squad, three of whose members are now on trial for murder, felt pressured to make kills. These are the snipers who set out bait and killed anyone who touched it. How convenient for the Army now to call them rogues--and what a lie. From sniper killings to the Marines at Haditha to Abu Ghraib to My Lai 4, these atrocities are of a piece and they are reminiscent in terms of U.S. history to another war of extermination--the 19th century campaign against Native Americans.

In Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando as Kurtz sees and embraces that soullessness as 'the Horror' that is the essence of the Vietnam War. The movie, one of the greats, is Coppola's remake of and homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, set in the Belgian Congo during Colonial times as opposed to Vietnam. Kurtz in the Congo goes completely over to the forces of darkness by embracing depravity. His soul is not absent, purged, buried away; it is thoroughly corrupted by his power over all aspects of the lives of people who are his slaves. His soul has turned vile and rancid.

The first rule of warfare is 'know your enemy.' It was ignored in Vietnam and again in Afghanistan and Iraq, with disastrous results but for good reason. The real enemies were fear and blind devotion to that fear and ambition and ultimately our own leaders, who disgraced the nation. We stayed in Vietnam not because politicians feared an expansionist Russia or China, although they did, but because ultimately the commitment of troops even on a small scale as advisers set up a dynamic in which no president wanted to be the one to 'lose' a war, even one based on false assumptions and phony evidence. Fear ruled after Septetmber 11, 2001, when Congress voted for these fiascos and now they continue because not just Bush and Cheney but many of the same bravehearts in and out of Congress who endorsed them in the first place are now afraid to lose by bringing the troops home. That's why we can't count on this or any Congress to punish the Emperor Boy and his Privy Council for all manner of high crimes and misdemeanors--they are too afraid.

The Horror. The Horror.

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