Posts Tagged ‘Bill Van Auken’

Israel’s massacre at sea

June 3, 2010

Bill Van Auken,, June 3, 2010

The Israeli military’s killing of nine civilians and wounding of scores more on a ship carrying humanitarian supplies in international waters was an act of cold-blooded murder and a war crime.

For millions of people around the world, this military assault on an aid convoy carrying wheelchairs, cement, water purification systems, children’s toys and notebook paper to Gaza—all items barred by Israel’s blockade of the occupied territory—epitomizes the role played by Israel, as well as that of its US sponsor, in global affairs.

As always in the aftermath of such atrocities, the Israeli government has blamed its victims. In a televised speech Wednesday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu described the aid convoy as a “flotilla of terror supporters” and praised the slaughter on the high seas as an act of self-defense by besieged Israeli commandos.

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Book bares Israeli nuclear arms deals with apartheid regime

May 25, 2010

By Bill Van Auken,, May 25, 2010

Israel negotiated with South Africa for the sale of nuclear-armed missiles to the apartheid regime in the 1970s, according to a book published today. The revelation has surfaced at an inconvenient time for Washington as it campaigns for increased sanctions against Iran over Tehran’s own nuclear program.

The new book, “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with apartheid South Africa,” was written by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, the senior editor at Foreign Affairs, a publication oriented to the American foreign policy establishment. It has provided the first documentary evidence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. These documents also demonstrate that the Zionist state was prepared to sell these weapons to a pariah regime that had engaged in repeated military attacks on its neighbors, while oppressing and waging unceasing state violence against its own black majority population.

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Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily

April 29, 2010
By Bill Van Auken,, April 28, 2010

An average of 18 US military veterans are taking their lives every day as the Obama administration and the Pentagon grow increasingly defensive about the epidemic of suicides driven by Washington’s wars of aggression.

The stunning figure was reported last week by the Army Times, citing officials in the US Veterans Affairs Department.

The department estimates that there are 950 suicide attempts every month by veterans who are receiving treatment from the department. Of these, 7 percent succeed in taking their own lives, while 11 percent try to kill themselves again within nine months.

The greatest growth in suicides has taken place among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who accounted for 1,868 suicide attempts in fiscal 2009, which ended on September 30. Of these, nearly 100 succeeded in killing themselves.

The connection between the “surge” in military suicides and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is undeniable. The suicide rate within the military doubled between 2001 and 2006, even as it remained flat among the comparable (adjusted for age and gender) civilian population. And the numbers continue to rise steadily. In 2009, 160 active-duty military personnel killed themselves, compared to 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003.

Many have blamed the increasing number of suicides on the repeated combat deployments to which members of the all-volunteer US military are subjected, with the so-called “war on terrorism” approaching its 10th year and nearly 200,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The effect of the repeated deployments is compounded by the shortness of so-called “dwell time”—the interlude at home bases between combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over most of the two wars, this has been limited to just one year because of personnel pressures. While it is now closer to two years, psychological research has indicated that at least three years are necessary to ameliorate the psychological stress inflicted by these deployments.

The military command has tried to obscure the connection. Last month, for example, the Army’s surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, told a Senate committee that the most common factor in military suicides was “fractured relationships of some sort.” Clearly, however, the multiple deployments and the psychological impact that they have upon soldiers is the leading cause of broken marriages and mental health problems that lead to the breaking off of relationships.

Craig Bryan, a former Air Force officer and University of Texas psychologist who advises the Pentagon on suicides, linked the phenomenon to the training given by the military itself.

“We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain and to overcome the fear of injury and death,” he told Time magazine earlier this month. These qualities, designed to prepare soldiers to kill unquestioningly, “are also associated with increased risk for suicide,” he said. He added that these psychological traits cannot be altered “without negatively affecting the fighting capability of our military.” To put it bluntly, suicide, according to Bryan, is an occupational hazard. “Service members are, simply put, more capable of killing themselves by sheer consequence of their professional training,” he said.

The same training, combined with traumatic experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, has created severe difficulties for many veterans of the two wars trying to re-integrate themselves into civilian society. While the suicides are the most glaring and tragic indicator of these problems, there are many others.

Last month, the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan reached 14.7 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than the official nationwide unemployment rate in the US.

According to one recent Veterans Administration estimate, 154,000 US veterans are homeless on any given night, many of them living on the streets. Increasingly, the ranks of this homeless army are being swelled by those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general, was compelled to acknowledge on Monday that the military’s response to soldiers returning from combat with psychological problems has been one of “over-medication.”

“I can tell you that we are concerned about over-medication,” the general said, adding that “we’re very concerned about the panoply of drugs that are being used and the numbers of drugs that are being used.”

According to a report in the Military Times last month, one in six members of the US military is using some form of psychotropic drug, while 15 percent of soldiers admitted to abusing prescription drugs over the previous month.

Schoomaker’s comments came at a press conference called to respond to an article published in the New York Times Sunday exposing a so-called “warrior transition unit” at Fort Carson, Colorado. It referred to this facility and similar units as “’warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers.”

Soldiers interviewed in the article said that they were given pain pills to which they became addicted as well as sleeping pills and other medication, while alcohol and heroin were readily available in their barracks. Little or no therapy was on offer, however.

At least four soldiers sent to the unit at Fort Carson have committed suicide there since 2007.

On April 16, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, testified on Capitol Hill on veteran suicides, providing equally telling numbers. He reported that VA suicide hotlines were fielding 10,000 calls a month.

Shinseki told a congressional panel that he was haunted by two images of US military personnel. The first was that of new recruits who “outperform all of our expectations, great youngsters.”

The second is that of veterans who make up a “a disproportionate share of the nation’s homeless, jobless, mental health (problems), depressed patients, substance abusers, suicides.”

“Something happened” along the way, said Shinseki, “and that’s what we’re about is to try to figure this out.”

It is not a great mystery. These “great youngsters” are thrown into wars of aggression and colonial-style occupations where they are exposed to horrific violence and employed in the subjugation of entire populations, with the inevitable killing of civilian men, women and children. Those who acknowledge the mental and emotional trauma created by these conditions are treated as pariahs and weaklings

On the same day that Shinseki was testifying in Washington, 27-year-old Jesse Huff, an Iraq war veteran, killed himself outside a Veterans Administration medical facility in Dayton, Ohio, where he had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Huff, who had been injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, shot himself twice in the head with an assault rifle at the foot of a statue to the Union soldiers of the Civil War. A cousin told the Associated Press that he “hadn’t been the same” since returning from Iraq, while the father of a young man with whom he lived said that Huff was “really hurting.”

Obama’s surge: killing spree on both sides of AfPak border

February 3, 2010

By Bill Van Auken,, Feb 3, 2010

CIA drone missile attacks claimed the lives of 123 civilians last month alone in Pakistan, it was reported this week. Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, US Special Forces have launched an assassination campaign against alleged leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement in preparation for an imminent military offensive.

These killings are the product of the military “surge” ordered by the Obama administration, which is increasing the US troop deployment in the country by another 30,000. With other NATO countries providing between 5,000 and 10,000 additional soldiers, the occupation force in Afghanistan is set to swell to 150,000 by the fall of this year.

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Obama’s Afghan escalation and the decay of democracy

December 16, 2009

Bill Van Auken,, Dec 16, 2009

With President Barack Obama approaching his first anniversary in office, his escalation of the Afghanistan war is writing a new chapter in the history of Washington’s shredding of democratic forms of rule in order to further militarist aggression abroad.

This has become increasingly clear since the announcement earlier this month of the plan to send an additional 30,000 US soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan. It was further spelled out in Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, where he enunciated what has been widely described as the “Obama doctrine.”

The Obama doctrine incorporates all of the essentials of the Bush doctrine—preemptive war and the assertion of the right of the United States, as the world’s “sole military superpower,” to launch military aggression unilaterally as it sees fit. Obama’s contribution is to argue openly for the junking of existing international rules of war and the recognition of what was previously defined as aggressive war as a legitimate instrument of foreign policy.

Key passages of this hypocritical address tacitly recognized that imperialist war in general, and the US war in Afghanistan in particular, remain deeply unpopular at home and abroad.

Obama acknowledged the existence of “deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause,” adding that this “is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.” He lamented a “disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public.”

The US president dismissed popular antiwar sentiment in the US and around the world as naive. “Peace requires responsibility,” said Obama. “Peace requires sacrifice.” In short, peace requires war, whether those forced to die and to pay for it like it or not.

This theme has been further amplified since the Nobel speech, both by Obama and in the media.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” Obama was asked why, under conditions where “most Americans…don’t believe this war is worth fighting,” he decided to escalate it anyway.

The president replied, “Because I think it’s the right thing to do. And that’s my job… If I was worried about what polled well there are a whole bunch of things we wouldn’t have done this year.”

Here Obama said more than he intended. This “bunch of things” includes his administration’s allocation of trillions of dollars to prop up Wall Street, while doing nothing to aid the millions who have lost their jobs, their incomes and their homes.

The “60 Minutes” segment was eerily reminiscent of interviews given by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2007 and 2008, as the Bush administration was carrying out its own “surge” in Iraq in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Appearing on Fox News in January 2007, Cheney dismissed the hostility of the American public to the war. “I don’t think any president worth his salt can afford to make decisions of this magnitude according to the polls,” he said.

Asked on ABC News in May 2008 if he didn’t “care what the American people think” about the war, Cheney replied, “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.”

In Obama’s case, the indifference to the public’s hostility to war is all the more breathtaking since the Democratic president owes his 2008 election victory precisely to such sentiments.

The media, which universally hailed the Oslo address, has expanded on the theme that the will of the people must not be allowed to interfere with the waging of war. The New York Times published an editorial Monday admitting that in Europe “ambivalence has long been replaced by fierce demands for withdrawal” from Afghanistan. Indeed, polls in France and Germany have shown two-thirds of the public supporting an end to the US-NATO intervention.

In the face of such mass opposition, the Times counseled: “Democratically elected leaders cannot ignore public skepticism, but they should not surrender to it when they know better. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy must educate their voters to the harsh reality that Europe will also pay a high price if the Taliban and Al Qaeda get to retake Afghanistan and further destabilize Pakistan.”

Presumably, Washington has set the standard on how best to “educate the voters”: by frightening them with manufactured terrorist threats and deceiving them with phony pretexts for war.

The real motives driving US militarism are to remain hidden from the public. This was illustrated by Time magazine’s Joe Klein, a journalistic conduit for the political and national security establishment, in an article posted Sunday. Klein put forward the thesis that the US military had to remain in Afghanistan to forestall an Islamist-backed military coup in Pakistan and diminish the threat of war between Pakistan and India.

“Some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the president,” he wrote.

That is, there are the real reasons for the US war in Afghanistan and the fraudulent ones palmed off on the American people.

The most fundamental of these “unspoken” motives is the drive by US imperialism to assert its hegemony in a region containing some of the world’s largest energy reserves together with the pipelines to siphon them off to the West. It was this aim that led to US plans for war in Afghanistan being hatched long before September 11, 2001.

Obama is continuing and escalating a dirty colonial war to suppress popular resistance to foreign occupation and to secure the interests of the corporate and financial oligarchy that rules the US.

Despite systematic disinformation from the government and the mass media, millions of American working people have drawn their own conclusions from more than eight years of war in Afghanistan and more than six years in Iraq. The mass opposition to war, however, can find no means of expression within the existing political establishment. After going to the polls in both 2006 and 2008 to vote against war, the American people are confronted with the continuation and escalation of military aggression.

Neither the pursuit of imperialist wars in the face of public opposition, nor the execution of economic policies that defend the profits and wealth of the ruling elite at the expense of the rest of the population, can be carried out by democratic means. Both ultimately require methods of repression and intimidation. This is the fundamental reason that the Obama administration has kept intact all of the essential police state policies and institutions created under George W. Bush.

The fight against war, like the defense of democratic rights, can be waged successfully only through the independent mobilization of the working class against capitalism, which is creating intolerable conditions for billions of people around the world together with the threat of ever bloodier conflagrations.

Mercenaries and assassins: The real face of Obama’s “good war”

December 14, 2009

Bill Van Auken,, Dec 13, 2009

Reports that mercenaries employed by the notorious Blackwater-Xe military contracting firm participated in CIA assassinations in Iraq and Afghanistan have further exposed the real character of so-called “good war” that is being escalated by the Obama administration.

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Death squads, disappearances and torture in Pakistan

September 16, 2009

Washington’s  “good war”

Bill Van Auken,, Sept 16, 2009

As the Obama administration prepares a major escalation of the so-called AfPak war, reports from Pakistan’s Swat Valley, near Afghanistan’s eastern border, provide a gruesome indication of the kind of war that the Pentagon and its local allies are waging.

While touted by Obama and his supporters as the “good war,” there is mounting evidence that the Pentagon and the CIA are engaged in a war against the population of the region involving death squads, disappearances and torture.

The Pakistani army sent 20,000 troops into Swat, part of the country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), last April to wage war against ethnic Pashtun Islamist movements (routinely described as the Pakistani Taliban) that have supported fellow Pashtuns across the border who are resisting the US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

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