Posts Tagged ‘Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan’

Images of Islam and Muslims in Western media

May 16, 2010

Dr Nasir Khan, June 19, 2007

Present-day images of Muslims and Islam in Western media vary considerably. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the general drift of Western concerns has been to portray Islam as the main enemy of the West and the Muslim world as a hotbed of terrorism that threatens Western civilisation and its democratic values. Thus in the present-day hegemonic world order — under which all norms of civilised behaviour in the conduct of foreign policy have been discarded by the Bush Administration and its allies in London and Tel Aviv — Muslims are associated with terrorism. We have seen over the last few years the expansion of President Bush’s destructive war, the inhuman treatment of captive population of Iraq and Afghanistan, rampant abuse of prisoners from Muslim countries by American and British forces, total indifference towards the human rights of prisoners of war or of those suspected of resisting or opposing the American occupation of their countries and false propaganda to cover up the real objectives and crimes against humanity of the neocon rulers in Washington and London.

Needless to say, the so-called ‘Islamic challenge’ is based on assumptions that have no basis in reality. They misrepresent, distort and mislead rather than enlighten and inform. Over the last fifteen years a number of publications have appeared that have borne sensational titles like ‘Sword of Islam’, ‘The Islamic Threat’, ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’, ‘Islam’s New Battle Cry’ and ‘What went wrong with Islam?’. They reveal the sort of preconceived image of Islam their writers had intended to convey to their readers. According to such projections, Islam is a challenge to Western values as well as to West’s economic and political interests. But in view of the real power wielded by the West in general and America in particular throughout the Middle East and beyond, the so-called ‘threat of Islam’ is quite groundless.

But right-wing political manipulators and Christian fundamentalists can very easily provoke major crises between the Muslim world and the West; we have only to recall the case of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The real aim of some Danish and Norwegian right-wing newspapers to publish these cartoons was to provoke hostile reactions from Muslims and thus cause more bitterness and resentment between Muslims and Christians. They tried to cover up their anti-Islamic campaign behind the smokescreen of the argument that publishing the cartoons was a demonstration of the West’s freedom of expression. They were xenophobic, racist and disrespectful of immigrant cultures in Europe and the Islamic culture in particular. How could hurting the feelings of over one billion Muslims was to serve the interests of free Press, freedom of expression or civil liberties? An anti-Islam fundamentalist Christian by the name of Mr Selbekk, the Norwegian editor of Magazinet reprinted the cartoons which were first published in Denmark. He was asked if he would also publish any cartoons that insulted Jesus, said: No. Thus this gentleman’s vaunted ideal of ‘freedom of expression’ was limited to insulting the Prophet Muhammad and obviously did not extend to insulting the gods, prophets and spiritual avatars of any other major religion.

However, it is important to look at the strategic goals of such editors and publishers. They did succeed in their objective, which was to cause maximum provocation to Muslims worldwide and to create an atmosphere of contempt and hatred towards them among the followers of other religions. Muslims were predictably and understandably offended and their reactions led to some horrible incidents in various parts of the globe. What those who reacted violently did not realise was that they had fallen in the trap of anti-Muslim mischief-mongers, who, through provocation had achieved their goal. Now the stage was set to repeat the old charge: Muslims were fanatics, volatile and irrational — they were ‘terrorists’! The divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ as cultural opposites was reinforced and widened.

The anti-Muslim media keep on churning out the common stereotypes that portray Muslims, compared to Westerners, as more prone to conflict and violence. These media publish accounts of conflicts in the Muslim countries as self-evident truths to reinforce the image. There is a general tendency to oversimplify or ignore altogether diverse trends and complex socio-economic factors that lead to instability and conflicts in various Muslim countries. The explanations offered and conclusions drawn sometimes are based on implicit, but more often, explicit assumptions about the superiority of Western, ‘Judaeo-Christian’ culture, while the Islamic world is thought to be an epicentre of brutality and disharmony.

A very common stereotype in the Western media is that Islamic countries are inherently prone to violence, fanaticism, medieval ideas and prejudices. This means that Islam, both as a religion and as a cultural influence, is to bear the responsibility for all such regional ills. The West is the harbinger of sweetness and light (but occasionally also darkness and misery), peace and civility (but occasionally predatory wars and barbarism), rationality and open-mindedness (but occasionally irrationality, racism and prejudice, and always is focused on its own interests). All those who have taken the trouble to look at the last few centuries’ history of Western colonialism, extending from the time of the so-called  ‘discoveries’ of America by Columbus in 1492 and of India by Vasco de Gama in 1498 by sea routes, the ‘discovery’ of Africa by the European for slave trade show the ‘noble’ hands of Western nations that were extended to the people of Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia have left their marks on every continent. We cannot go into historical details here. But the global expansion of Western colonialism is the story of plunder and destruction across continents. No doubt, the seeds of Western civilisation were sown in this way. Within Western societies, the internal conflicts, violence and wars present us with a gory history. This superior culture when seen in the limited sphere of geopolitics and international relations in the last one hundred years only leaves a legacy of two World Wars, more wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq), invasions and coups (Guatemala, Grenada, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Congo, southern Africa), concentration camps, racist massacres undertaken on a large scale by the flag-bearers of Western civilisation.

It is obvious that cultural differences between nations and peoples of the world are a fact of history. And in this context generalising about cultural differences is unavoidable. But in no way can such differences be equated with mutual exclusiveness or inevitable hostility between different cultures. Where the initial instinct is not to enter into an anthropological or historical study of comparative cultures, but rather to foment strife and hatred between nations and religions for ulterior motives the consequences can be disastrous. Let us take the events in the aftermath of the bombing of Oklahoma City in the United States on 19 April 1995. The media rushed to spread rumours that a ‘Middle Eastern man’ [i.e. a Muslim Arab] was responsible for the carnage. As a result Muslims throughout the United States were targeted for physical abuse, rough treatment and social ostracism. Their mosques were desecrated, Muslim women ere harassed and cars belonging to ‘Middle Easterns’ damaged. A British newspaper Today published on its front page a frightening picture of a fireman carrying the burnt remains of a dead child under the headline In the name of Islam’. Identifying the perpetrator of such a reprehensible act alone would not be sufficient; Islam also had to be brought in to ignite the communal passions of people against members of another faith. However, it soon became evident that the bomber was a fair-haired American soldier, a decorated Gulf War (1991) veteran. The religion of this right-wing terrorist was not Islam but Christianity. But no one in either American or British media labelled him a ‘Christian terrorist’ or apologised to Muslims for the wrongs done to them. Once again the freedom to tell the truth and report events fairly had taken a back seat.

The second instance is the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by a few persons, most of whom came from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a close ally of America. They saw the policies pursued by the US in the Middle East and its support for the anachronistic rule by the House of Saud as the stumbling block towards a fair social order in their country as well as the rest of the Middle East. No matter what the nature of their grievances, I regard this attack terribly wrong. It provided ammunition to the neocons and right-wing fanatics in Washington to unleash the reign of terror, war, death and destruction in the Middle East and the petroleum regions in the general vicinity. At the same time, we ask a simple question: What had these bombings to do with millions of ordinary Muslim citizens of Europe and America? The answer is: nothing whatsoever. We witnessed that they were victimised everywhere by many white Westerners in the most grotesque and despicable ways.

During my stay in Europe for more than four decades, I have become acutely aware that the negative images of Islam and Islamic civilisation need a serious historical analysis for general readers as well as academic scholars that enables us to rise above oft-repeated and worn-out clichés of media and partisan scholarship and thus show the facts of the problematic relations between the two world religions and their civilisations. My book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (2006) deals these themes and issues. It is clear that both Islam and the West suffer from the perceptual problems of adversary relationship going far back in history. Their mutual perceptions have been distorted by religious dogmas, political developments and traditional prejudices. If we take a look at the history of European colonial expansion in Americas, Australia and in the East (China, India, the Middle East and North Africa, etc.) the old balance of power between the East and the West had changed. The colonial power over other nations also strengthened the collective consciousness of the industrial West, or its assumption that it was more powerful and therefore superior to the rest of the world. The colonised and subjugated people also started to perceive the West as materially, culturally, and morally superior. It is true the West was superior in producing machines, modern weaponry and efficient armies to invade and subjugate other countries of the world. This made Western nations more powerful, but that did not mean they were morally or intellectually superior. But the subjugated races were not in a position to advance such challenging views. In such uneven power relations under colonialism no genuine communication was possible. The same is true of the current neo-colonial war in Iraq by the Bush Administration to achieve full control over the oil resources and assert political hegemony over the entire Middle East.

The Western ways to see Islam as a monolithic religious and political force is against all historical facts and contemporary political realities. Islam is not a monolithic force; the diversity within the Islamic world is wider than most Westerners think. Within three decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim community split into Sunni and Shia factions following a civil war. This division proved to be permanent, and further divisions within the two main branches have characterised Islamic faith and polity for fourteen centuries. The spread of Islam followed different paths in different countries and regions of the world. At present over one billion people of all races, languages, nationalities and cultures are Muslims. Their socio-cultural conditions as well as their doctrinal affiliations show much diversity and complexity. What this means is that Islam as a universal religion, like Christianity, is not a monolithic entity; this is despite the fact that Muslims share some fundamental beliefs in One God and His revelations through the prophets.

However, historical and religious traditions and myths have a life of their own. Once they have become part of a culture they continue to shape and restructure the collective consciousness of vast populations. The anti-Islamic tradition in the Christendoms has a long historical pedigree and it continues to be a dynamic factor affecting and determining international relations. The study of history helps us to see facts in their historical evolutionary process and thus lighten the cultural baggage that has often poisoned relationships between the two religious communities. An honest and balanced study of the past and the present-day geopolitical realities of the global hegemonic world order means that we no longer have to passively accept distorted legacies and close our eyes to what is happening in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and also in Pakistan at the hands of the United States, its allies and the marionette Muslim ruling cliques.

The question of ‘Islamic terrorism’, the denial of women’s rights under Islam and the alleged irreconcilability of Islamic and Western values appear all the time in the Western media. But such accusations reveal a deep-rooted ignorance and confusion. They have no relationship to reality. We should bear in mind that a follower of a religion is not necessarily a true representative or spokesperson of that religion. Neither can the individual acts of terrorism, state-terrorism or superpower-terrorism be imputed to religion whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Hinduism. If an individual or group from a Muslim community resorts to extremism in political or religious spheres for whatever reason or commits a crime, the general tendency is to hold the whole Islamic tradition responsible. What happens if someone from Western culture or a Christian right-wing extremist resorts to violence or commits a crime? He is held responsible as an individual and no one blames the Western culture or Christianity for his actions. Do we not have some powerful leaders in the West who are Christian right-wingers and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children? Does anyone blame Christianity for that? We ask these questions and expect our readers to ask these questions and then try to find some answers.

With regard to women, the Qur’an gave them legal rights of inheritance and divorce in the seventh-century, which Western women would not receive until the 19th or 20th century. There is nothing in Islam about obligatory veiling of women or their seclusion, either. In fact, such practices came into Islam about three generations after the death of the Prophet Muhammad under the influence of the Greek Christians of Byzantium. In fact there has been a high degree of cultural interaction between Christians and Muslims from the beginning of Islamic history.

The fundamental values of fraternity, respect, justice and peace are common in all the major civilisations and the five major religions. To call democracy ‘a Western value’ is simply bizarre; the monarchical system prevailed in Europe where the kings held absolute powers under the divine right to rule. The evolution of democratic and constitutional form of government took shape much later. Contrary to what the media and populist politicians assert, there is nothing in Islam that goes against democracy and democratic values.

Nasir Khan, Dr Philos, is a historian and a peace activist. He is the author of Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings and more recent Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey. He has written numerous articles on international affairs and the issues of human rights.

See also, Jeremy R. Hammond, Our “Enemy” Islam

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Hedges: No One Cares

May 4, 2010

Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, May 3, 2010

We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares.

Continues >>

Kolko: 35 Years Since the Fall of Saigon

May 4, 2010

Why the U.S. Still Doesn’t Get the Message

By Gabriel Kolko, Counterpunch, May 3, 2010

The United States’ wars have always been very expensive and capital-intensive, fought with the most modern weapons available and assuming a modern, concentrated enemy such as the Soviet Union. The ever-growing Pentagon budget is virtually the only issue both Republicans and Democrats agree upon. But there are major economic and social liabilities in increasingly expensive, protracted wars, and these—as in the case of Vietnam—eventually proved decisive.

The U.S. wars since 1950 have been against decentralized enemies in situations without clearly defined fronts, as exist in conventional wars. Faced with high firepower, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, even Iraq, America’s adversaries disperse — they fight from caves, behind jungle foliage, etc.,– using cheap, relatively primitive military technology against the most advanced U.S. artillery, tanks, helicopters, and air power. In the end, its adversaries’ patience and ingenuity, and willingness to make sacrifices, succeed in winning wars, not battles. Its enemies never stand and fight on U.S. terms, offering targets. The war in Vietnam was very protracted and expensive, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also prolonged—and increasingly a political liability to the party in power in Washington. This has repeatedly illustrated the limits of American power, and the Korean war established the first precedent.

When the Korean war ended, the U.S. leaders swore they would never fight another land war in Asia. The Korean war was fought to a draw, basically a defeat for U.S. objectives to reunite the country. Vietnam proved yet again that the U.S. could not win a land war—and it failed entirely there, at least in the military sense. Their ultimate success was due to the confusion of the Vietnamese Communists themselves, not the success of the Saigon regime or American arms. The U.S. has always been vulnerable militarily precisely because its enemies have been primarily poor and compelled the adapt to the limits of their power.

After its defeat in Vietnam in 1975 the U.S. leaders once again resolved yet again never to fight a land war without massive military power from the inception of a conflict and the support of the American people — which gradually eroded during the Vietnam war. The Weinberger doctrine in 1984 enshrined this principle. The U.S. has won wars against small, relatively weak enemies, as in Nicaragua, but in both Iraq and Afghanistan it has made the mistakes of the Korea and Vietnam wars all over again. It still wishes to be the “indispensable power,” to quote former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but it cannot win the victories it covets. Like a drunken person, it no longer controls itself, its environments, or makes its actions conform to its perceptions. It is therefore a danger both to itself and the world.

Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914, Another Century of War? and The Age of War: the US Confronts the World and After Socialism. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. His latest book is World in Crisis.

Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily

April 29, 2010
By Bill Van Auken, wsws.com, 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.”

Cynthia McKinney: Leaders’ lack of respect for rule of law makes us all victims of 9/11

March 15, 2010

Cynthia McKinney, The Independent/UK, March 15, 2010

The war on terror did not go away with George Bush. When President Barack Obama came to power there was so much hope, but as the US Green Party presidential candidate I did not share it.

I heard candidate Obama’s speeches and knew that he would be a War President. What I did not realise was the extent to which the policies of President Obama would mirror those of his predecessor, including the renewal of the Patriot Act and commission of war crimes. Sadly, President Obama’s Justice Department is now in US courts defending the criminal acts of the Bush administration.

In his State of the Union address to the nation, President Obama defended war, erosion of civil and human rights, creation of the police state, ignoring the US Constitution and the norms of international law, by invoking the tragedy of 11 September, 2001. Tony Blair also leaps to his own criminal defence by invoking 9/11.

All of us in the peace community, who stand for justice and human dignity, have become victims of 9/11. Those of us who expect our national leaders to promote respect for the environment are now victims of 9/11. Survivors of those who are now dead from the prosecution of these wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere around the world are now victims of 9/11. And the mothers and fathers, siblings and family of the too many dead soldiers are now counted among the victims of 9/11. And sadly, the entire global community that expects national leaders to respect the rule of law and tell them the truth are now victims of 9/11.

Everyone now knows that the Bush administration did not tell the truth about many things, including the Iraq war and 9/11. The leaders of the 9/11 Commission told us that. Why must the world continue to live inside a lie? I remain hopeful that we will learn the truth because more and more people around the world are demanding it.

Cynthia McKinney served in the US Congress for 12 years and was the 2008 Green Party nominee for President of the United States. She now serves as a juror on the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation’s Russell Tribunal on Palestine

www.allthingscynthiamckinney.com; more information on 9/11 at www.reinvestigate911.org

Obama Administration’s Budget calls for billions of dollars in new spending for drones

February 2, 2010
Jason Leopold, Truthout, Report, Feb 2, 2010

photo
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: deltaMike, BloodInOurWells)

This is how major US defense contractors reacted to the Obama administration’s unveiling of its fiscal year 2011 spending plan for the Pentagon, part of the president’s overall $3.8 trillion budget proposal.

Shares of General Dynamics, a maker of military aircraft, submarines and munitions, rose 3.9 percent and closed at $69.43 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the uptick due in large part to additional spending on the war in Afghanistan, according to Sanford Bernstein, a financial research firm.

Continues >>

The Contours of Recent American Foreign Policy

August 3, 2009

Searching For Enemies

By Gabriel Kolko, Counterpunch, July 31 – August 2, 2009

War, from preparation for it through to its aftermath, has defined both the essential nature of the major capitalist nations and their relative power since at least 1914. War became the major catalyst of change for revolutionary movements in Russia, China, and Vietnam. While wars also created reactionary and fascistic parties, particularly in the case of Italy and Germany, in the longer run they brought about domestic social changes of far-reaching magnitude. The Bolshevik Revolution was the preeminent example of this ironic symbiosis of war and revolution.

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President Obama ignores torture

July 29, 2009

By Helen Thomas | Times Union, July 29, 2009

Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.

Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.

Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the ‘black sites” sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.

“The United States will not torture,” Obama said in his directive. But he has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the torturing.

Members of Congress knew a lot about U.S. torture practices. But Republicans loyal to the Bush administration and Democrats, too, played along and kept silent at the horror of it all.

Why did no bells ring for the U.S. lawmakers — particularly those privy to the brutality — when briefed on the abusive treatment of the captives. Did they owe more allegiance to the CIA than to the honor of our country?

There are hair-raising reports of methods that Americans — including private contractors — have used to coerce information from our prisoners.

They include slamming a prisoner against a wall; denying him sleep and food; waterboarding him under so-called enhanced interrogation; and keeping him in a crate filled with insects.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan, marveling at the courage of American soldiers, used to say: “Where do we get such men?” And I have to ask: “Where did we get such people who would inflict so much pain and ruthlessness on others?”

William Rivers Pitt, a best-selling author who wrote “The Greatest Sedition is Silence,” recently raised the emotional question of whether U.S. adoption of torture has debased the international standards for treatment of prisoners and that our enemies may now feel that they can torture Americans. Pitt specifically expressed concern about Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan last month.

American military leaders had warned President Bush over and over that U.S. torture of prisoners could boomerang against our troops. But he would not listen.

Obama has blocked publication of pictures of the harsh treatment of prisoners from our two ongoing wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — but the word still gets around.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com.

Deaths of US Troops Exceed 5,000 in Wars

July 22, 2009

Andrea Stone  | Truthout.org, Tuesday 22 July 2009

US Marines carry coffin of Brandon T. Lara. US Marines carry the coffin of Brandon T. Lara, who was killed in Iraq on July 19, 2009. (Photo: Gerry)

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached two solemn milestones Monday: July has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the combined death toll surpassed 5,000.

Four Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Robert Carr said. That brings the number of U.S. servicemembers killed so far this month to at least 30. The previous deadliest month was June 2008, when 28 died, the Pentagon said.

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Privatization of ‘Obama’s War’

June 8, 2009

By Michael Winship | Consortiumnews.com, June 7, 2009

Editor’s Note: President Barack Obama is making some moves on the international chess board – reaching out to the Muslim world, chastising Israel for its harsh treatment of Palestinians and seeking to bring Iran and hard-line Arab states into regional peace talks.

However, even as Obama makes those rhetorical and diplomatic moves, the wars in Iraq and, especially, Afghanistan grind on, with some disturbing similarities to George W. Bush’s approach, writes Michal Winship in this guest essay:

The sudden reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney over the last few months – seeming to emerge from his famous undisclosed location more frequently now than he ever did when he was in office – does not mean six more weeks of winter.

But it does bring to mind that classic country and western song, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” Or, maybe, “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will.”

In his self-appointed role as voice of the opposition, Mr. Cheney has been playing Nostradamus, gloomily predicting doom if the Obama White House continues to set aside Bush administration policy, setting the stage for recrimination and finger-pointing should there be another terrorist attack on America.

Cheney’s grouchy legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this week, The Washington Post reported for the first time that while vice president, Cheney oversaw “at least” four of those briefings given to senior members of Congress about enhanced interrogation techniques; “part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees…

“An official who witnessed one of Cheney’s briefing sessions with lawmakers said the vice president’s presence appeared to be calculated to give additional heft to the CIA’s case for maintaining the program.”

And remember Halliburton, the international energy services company of which Cheney used to be the CEO? After the fall of Baghdad, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR were the happy recipients of billions of dollars in outside contracts to take care of the military and rebuild Iraq’s petroleum industry.

Waste, shoddy workmanship (like faulty wiring that caused fatal electric shocks) and corruption ran wild, Pentagon investigators allege, even as Vice President Cheney was still receiving deferred compensation and stock options.

Reporting for TomDispatch.com, Pratap Chatterjee, author of the book, Halliburton’s Army, writes, “In early May, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, DCAA [Defense Contract Audit Agency] director April G. Stephenson told the independent, bipartisan, congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that, since 2004, her staff had sent 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other possible violations of the law to the Pentagon inspector general.

“The ‘vast majority’ of these cases, she testified, were linked to KBR, which accounts for a staggering 43 percent of the dollars the Pentagon has spent in Iraq.”

In one instance, KBR was charging an average $38,000 apiece for “prefabricated living units” on bases in Iraq; another contractor offered to provide them for $18,000. But of a questionable $553 million in payments to KBR that the DCCA blocked or suspended, the Pentagon has gone ahead and agreed to pay $439 million, accepting KBR’s explanations.

KBR, Halliburton and the private security firm Blackwater have come to symbolize the excesses of outsourcing warfare. So you’d think that with a new sheriff like Barack Obama in town, such practices would be on the “Things Not to Do” list. Not so.

According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of this year, there has been a 23 percent increase in the number of private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq and a 29 percent hike in Afghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately half of our forces fighting in the two countries.

“This means,” according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, “there are a whopping 242,647 contractors working on these two U.S. wars.”

Scahill, who runs an excellent new website called “Rebel Reports,” spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

“What we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war,” he said.

By hiring foreign nationals as mercenaries, “You turn the entire world into your recruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to an escalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies to participate in your wars.

“In the process of doing that you undermine US democratic policies.  And you also violate the sovereignty of other nations, because you’re making their citizens combatants in a war to which their country is not a party.

“I feel that the end game of all of this could well be the disintegration of the nation-state apparatus in the world. And it could be replaced by a scenario where you have corporations with their own private armies. To me, that would be a devastating development. But it’s happening on a micro level. And I fear it will start to happen on a much bigger scale.”

Jeremy Scahill’s comments come just as Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, the man slated to be the new commander of our troops in Afghanistan says the cost of our strategy there is going to cost America and its NATO allies billions of additional dollars for years to come.

In fact, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon last month, as of next year, the cost of the war in Afghanistan – more and more known as “Obama’s War” – will exceed the cost of the war in Iraq.

The President asserted in his Cairo speech on Thursday that he has no desire to keep troops or establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

But according to Jeremy Scahill, “I think what we’re seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world,” he told Moyers, “but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era.”

Maybe that’s one more reason Dick Cheney, private contractor emeritus, won’t go away.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS.  Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at http://www.pbs.org/moyers.


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