The Numbers Game: New Research Shows that US has Saved Millions of Iraqi Lives.

Standard

[Warning: this is satire. I apologise for any confusion. If I offend anyone I want to make absolutely certain that they are the right people.]

In 2006 The Lancet published the second of two ideologically driven mortality “surveys” which claimed that the US had caused over 600,000 deaths in Iraq. This was followed by other such “research” conducted by those who made no effort to conceal their own political bias against George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Some of these organizations claimed to have found astronomical numbers of fatalities, even over a million. One of those who has led the fight to correct these subjective and biased studies is Jim Slobberdrib. For eight years Slobberdrib headed Applied Research Science Enterprises prestigious Iraq Death List project. More recently Slobberdrib has overseen a new study which, by applying newer and even less biased techniques and standards, has found that US actions actually saved many thousands of Iraqis who would otherwise have perished. Since the release of these explosive findings Slobberdrib has been very busy promoting the work by granting interviews to the media. Fortunately, however, he was able to take time out from all of that in order to grant me an interview:

KK: If I could turn first to your work with the respected Iraq Death List project – how exactly did you get the inspiration to start the project, and what were its aims?

JS: Well, it is funny how inspiration can strike at any moment. I was working for Blush, McLieberger and Koch, the PR firm, and, I don’t know, I… I must have been quite dissatisfied with the meaninglessness of it. So much so, I think, that my boss could actually tell even before I really knew myself. He told me that I needed something more meaningful in my life, a chance to give back. As it happened, he said, our firm had a relationship Applied Research Science Enterprises…

KK: A relationship?

JS: Yes, I think they shared office space in Kuala Lumpur or something. And they shared other things – you know, photocopying costs, long-arm staplers and so forth. They also had the same Human Resources department, funnily enough. It worked out quite well for me in the end, because it meant that I could just stay on the payroll despite suddenly and drastically and ummm…

KK: Boldly?

JS: Yes, yes, boldly. Boldly changing my career completely. Of course, there was a significant pay rise and I think that this shows that being daring and taking risks can be quite rewarding in that sense. The rewards are more than merely material, they are also monetary.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Basically, I came up with the idea of doing a truly definitive body count in Iraq which would ensure that the Bush and Blair regimes were absolutely accountable for every single death of every single innocent but only if we could truly verify their innocence and their deadness. I believed utterly, then as now, that it would be wrong to hold someone accountable for abstract statistics, it is only when we can absolutely verify absolute innocence and absolute death that we can think of holding those in power accountable.

KK: So it was a sudden inspiration born out of an urgent humanitarian impulse?

JS: Exactly. They sent me along to meet the people at Applied Research Science Enterprises. They could also tell that I was stricken with a Humanitarian Impulse. They said it made me look troubled and intriguing. They mentioned that the main humanitarian concern in the world was probably the impact of the US invasion of Iraq and that people desperately needed reliable information to make judgements on the moral dimensions of the US action. I said something like: “Hey, wait a minute. If you guys are a research company, why not do some research about the effects of the invasion?” They were really impressed with my idea.

KK: So you didn’t have any directly training or experience as a statistician or epidemiologist or researcher of any sort did you?

JS: Yes, well, I think that this was the greatest strength that I brought to the job. I was an outsider, with a fresh perspective, not some stale old bean-crunching maths person. I wasn’t like The Count from Sesame Street being all mathematical about everything but losing sight of the human picture. I was there because of my Humanitarian Impulse and I could feel it getting stronger all of the time. Some people said I was becoming quite Bohemian. I even thought about writing a poem. I was the ideas man – the humanitarian ideas man. I could do the numbers too, if I wanted. I was used to it. In PR and marketing, we live by the numbers. I was never one of those people who actually makes the numbers, but I was around lots of numbers. Some of these numbers were really big numbers. I mean really big numbers, but they didn’t scare me. I can talk about infinity without getting scared.

KK: Walk us through what Iraq Death List actually did?

JS: Well, we collated reports of fatalities, but we would only actually include a reported fatality if it was independently verified by two Western media sources who had access to eyewitnesses of unimpeachable character. After that it was necessary for us to conduct our own independent verification to absolutely ensure that the eyewitnesses could be relied on.

KK: And then the first Lancet study came out in 2004. According to one of the researchers, they had initially expected that they might see an increase in mortality due to increased rates of disease or disruption to health and sanitation services, but instead they found that tens of thousands of people had been violently killed.

JS: Well, it just goes to show how political and unscientific they were. How are you going to show that someone died of disease because of the invasion? Did George W. Bush come up to them with a syringe full of dysentery or thyphus and inject them? A disease isn’t like a bullet. No one shoots someone with a disease. They were just going to count up some dead people and use some fancy number trick to say if was America’s fault. It’s like If I said that 78 percent of people who died of cancer died because they listened to rap music.

KK: But that wasn’t their main finding.

JS: Sure, but what they did was just as bad. They went around just asking Iraqis if anyone they knew had died and they just took their word for it that. These are Iraqis. They’re the ones who, I mean they’re practically the same people as… well, you know, they hate America. Of course they’re just going to say that the Americans killed my habeebi, or whatever. Hey, that reminds me of a joke a Marine told me: What did the Haji taxi driver say when he saw his child’s severed foot in the middle of the road?

KK: Umm, maybe just tell me later.

JS: Anyway, that wasn’t even the worst of it. They took those claims and then said that if these people said that their loved ones had died it must mean lots of other people had died well. They just made up all of these fictitious dead people. Completely made up. I don’t know how they thought they’d get away with this nonsense, but luckily we had our own definitive Iraq Death List and we could categorically refute their findings.

KK: So this is when you first began to clash with people like Gilbert Burnham and Les Roberts?

JS: Yeah.

KK: So, to set the scene, by this stage it is the end of 2004. A year and a half has passed since the invasion. What confirmed mortality figures did Iraq Death List have at this stage?


JS:
That’s the amazing thing, these jokers were claiming that 100,000 people had died but our confirmed fatalities were zero.

KK: Zero?

JS: Yeah.

KK: That’s quite conservative.

JS: Thanks. Well, anyway you can imagine how ridiculous these people looked, claiming that these nameless 100,000 people had died when we could show that there were no confirmed deaths at all.

KK: But surely some people must have died by this stage.

JS: People die all the time, but none of these deaths could be properly confirmed as being the result of US actions and confirmed as being real.

KK: Being real?

JS: Yeah. I guess one of the greatest challenges we faced at that point was the security situation. Our confirmation protocol is rigorous and we often found it impossible to deploy the hologram team to the areas in which fatalities were witnessed.

KK: Hologram team?

JS: It was vital that we assured ourselves that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed real events, in those cases where eyewitnesses were considered sufficiently credible. We had to eliminate the most obvious possibility – that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed only a clever projection made with hologram technology. But, there were often unacceptable risks in deploying the team.

KK: You mean that these alleged fatalities tended to occur in violent hotspots, in neighborhoods that were too dangerous to send a team into?

JS: I mean in deploying the team to Iraq. It was a very violent place…

KK: Despite having no actual confirmed fatalities?

JS: I know what I’m saying. Let’s not forget that American heroes were dying there every day. If we’d actually had a hologram team, we could never have risked sending them to the country.

KK: You didn’t even have a hologram team?

JS: Apparently it is difficult to find personnel who are appropriately trained and qualified to analyze this sort of technology.

KK: Because it doesn’t exist?

JS: Well, it is definitely cutting edge technology, maybe a bit beyond cutting edge. Anyway, one of our interns proposed a workaround and the “powers that be” decided that this was the way to go. It was decided that a quick trip to the morgue would serve to confirm that the dead were not holograms but in fact corporeal. I was against the decision. You know, I could understand the public relations aspect to it. People were thinking that zero fatalities was too low a figure. Edward Bernays understood this sort of thing. He invented public relations and he knew that ordinary people were very stupid. He called the average man “Dumb Jack” and he would have understood that “Dumb Jack” would never accept that the most scientific and objective measure of fatalities in Iraq was no fatalities at all. I understood the PR aspect of it, but by this time I had my scientist hat firmly on my head and my scientist hat told me it was all wrong.

KK: This was quite a dark time for you, wasn’t it?

JS: Yes, I did suffer from this sense of being conflicted. I was haunted by a recurrent nightmare. I would see “Dumb Jack” who looked just like my dad in his work coveralls. Then “Dumb Tariq” the suicide bomber would come along and decapitate my dad while singing “I Got You Under My Skin” in Frank Sinatra’s voice. Then me and “Dumb Tariq” would kick the head around like a soccer ball. Suddenly I’d realize that all along, every time I opened my mouth a stream of foul brown liquid would gush out, as if I was literally spouting liquid diarrhea. My therapist told me that it meant that when confronting trauma I became fecund with insight.

KK: “Fecund with insight”?

JS: Yeah, full of it apparently.

KK: But eventually you adjusted?

JS: Things got worse before they got better. My proposal that we initiate a capture and release program where Arabs would be banded and, if feasible, microchipped did not go down well. Detractors said that having such a program in the continental US would be of little use in determining death levels in Iraq. I tried to point out that this very same technique had been invaluable in studying declining numbers among Whooping Cranes and that the Arabs in question must themselves be migratory, otherwise they would not be in the continental US if the first place. I was widely pilloried for these ideas. I guess, in hindsight, that I should have talked them through with someone before calling a press conference.

KK: So if we move forward to 2006, and the release of the second Lancet study, widely referred to as “L2”. They estimated a very high mortality at this stage. In fact they estimated around 650,000 excess deaths, with 600,000 due to violence. What was the death toll according to IDL at this time?

JS: In approximate terms it was roughly around 3.

KK: Could you be more precise?

JS: It was 3.

KK: So there was an even bigger difference between your figures than there had been in 2004?

JS: In absolute terms, perhaps, but in percentage terms the gap had narrowed and I…

KK: Sorry, you say the gap had narrowed? What to?

JS: Well, a little over 20 million percent. That sounds a lot, but remember that in 2004 the percentage difference between our estimates was infinity. Infinity is much much larger than 20 million. 20 million is nothing compared to infinity. It’s like comparing, say, the size of a tennis ball with, umm, I don’t know, something infinitely bigger than a tennis ball.

KK: The universe?

JS: OK, maybe not that much bigger, but you get the point. I was very alarmed by the way politics had interfered with our science as if we should just compromise our methods in order to fit in with some antiwar malcontents and their made-up death study. Still, a difference of 20 million percent was just enough to show people once again that the Lancet study was dangerous nonsense.

KK: And now the Democrats in Washington started to take notice?

JS: Yes, they realized that our confirmed and undisputed body count was an invaluable weapon against the President. Of course, Republicans were not happy with me at that point. Senator Oren Stretchy (R-KY) physically threatened me with a yoghurt at a breakfast meeting. Bill O’Reilly said he wanted to chop me to pieces with his hedge-trimmer and feed me to his neighbor’s dachshund, but I think he might have mistaken me for Bernie Sanders’ cousin.

KK: And then, of course, that all changed when Bush actually admitted that your figures were correct.

JS: It was a great moment. Not just for me. Not just for IDL. But for the entire country. The President himself came out and admitted three innocent people had been killed due to his actions. He had saved us from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and from the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. He had finally brought the justice that would give peace to the restless souls of those lost on 9/11, in the Maine and at the Alamo. He had saved the lives of millions of Americans and the price he paid was to carry the burden of guilt forever for those innocent lives lost because of his actions. It was a great moment from a great leader.

You know, people like to compare Bush to Reagan or to Teddy Roosevelt, but to me his greatness transcends the parochial confines of US politics. If the great Winston Churchill and the beloved Mahatma Gandhi had through some miracle conceived a love child, that love child would be George W. Bush.

KK: This was, indeed, a great moment. Bush showed a humble and saintly side to himself that clearly moved people. But there were still those who questioned the actual figure of 3 killed, suggesting that it was on the low side. Perhaps if you gave more detail about IDL‘s methods. I mean, surely there must have been a lot more than 3 people confirmed killed in nearly 4 years of occupation.

JS: More “people” maybe. If you could call them that. But “people” could mean anything. “People” could be insurgents, or terrorists, or militant Islamic extremist fundamentalist Muslim militants. If you think those people are actual “people” then you go ahead and call them that. But you’ll excuse us if we don’t take the same stance. IDL was created out of a Humanitarian Impulse to definitively document the deaths of innocents so that the powerful can be held to account. You can’t treat the good killing, where we kill the bad guys, as being like the bad killing. In fact it should really be set up so that each good killing is subtracted from the number of bad killings.

KK: That would be another reason for saying that the US has killed a negative number of people. Sorry, I guess that is getting a bit ahead of your narrative.

JS: No, you are right though. The US has probably negatively killed much higher numbers of people than we outlined in our latest study. We should maybe revise our findings to take into account the negative killing aspect of killing bad guys. Sorry, where was I?

KK: I think you were about to outline the methods you used to make sure that you only counted the bad killing and not the good killing that we want our politicians to carry out.

JS: Oh, yeah. Right, you see the way I saw it was that we needed unimpeachable character witnesses who could testify to the goodness and innocence of the stiff. You see, one of the problems America faces is that its enemies don’t fight fair. They don’t wear uniforms. They don’t carry weapons. And they aren’t all military age males. You can’t even trust the kids and the babies. These people are so fanatical and so full of hatred that they sew explosives up into their own babies and then fire them out of modified mortar tubes. It was just the same in Vietnam. As one soldier said: The old men, the women, the children – the babies – were all VC or would be VC in about three years. And inside of VC women, I guess there were about a thousand little VC now.”

KK: Who was that?

JS: That was Lieutenant William Calley. He had a breakdown, like combat fatigue, and then they just persecuted him because they needed some sort of scapegoat. Luckily President Nixon knew a thing or two about being the victim of a witch hunt, and he gave him a pardon.

Anyway, so we needed a way to tell who were the fanatic insurgent terrorist Islamists. In a real country we would ask the priest or the preacher, but obviously we couldn’t ask Muslim priests. We couldn’t say that they needed the testimony of a Christian priest either, because that might seem insensitive. I still thought that a respected religious figure was the right sort of person to give this testimony. It finally came to me that the ideal religious personage, who was not objectionable and who commanded very wide respect, was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

KK: So you would accept that someone who had been killed was, in fact, innocent if in life they had been known to an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who was prepared to vouch for their character?

JS: Obviously there is a fine balance that must be achieved here, but we thought that our approach was very reasonable.

KK: And do you still think it was a reasonable approach?

JS: Of course.

KK: Despite what occurred near Kut al-Farraj in mid-2008?

JS: I’m not sure what you are referring to.

KK: Perhaps I can refresh your memory. August the second? A village near Kut al-Farraj? An airstrike using multiple 500lb J-DAM against farm buildings which US personnel described as “hardened”? Surely you must remember that the official IDL mortality count jumped overnight from 4 to 179? Does it ring a bell yet? The airstrike at the village where the Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr happened to live?

JS: Yeah. I’ll never really get that. How can someone called Abdallah be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk? Don’t you need to be Tibetan?

KK: No. Tibetan is also a type of Buddhism. Allen Ginsberg was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

JS: Wasn’t he some sort of Nazi or Communist or something?

KK: You’re thinking of someone else.

JS: Look, our results were sound and the Kut al-Farraj incident only strengthened the validity of our results. It showed that our method was flexible and responsive.

KK: “Strengthened the validity”? Are you really still defending this now? You had assured people for such a long time that the definitive and absolutely reliable death toll was 4 and suddenly almost in an instant it jumped by over 4000 per cent! How can you possibly justify that?

JS: Look, as a layman you might not understand that the best and most definitive figure isn’t some sort of happy medium that corresponds with common sense and accords with a full holistic picture of the context in which the events occur, it comes from taking the most narrow, restrictive and conservative approach possible. For a layman that might seem outwardly to throw up anomalies, like overnight jumps in the figures, but that is exactly how we ensure that our figures are utterly sound and definitive.

And anyway, a 4000 percent jump is tiny compared to a jump of infinity.

KK: This isn’t even particularly relevant because the percentage jump is actually the least of the problems with the new tally.

JS: I know where you are going with this. I just want to say that we had been using a set statistical method for years. We produced the definitive mortality data using that method and as I said before just because the method throws up results which, to a layman might seem really stupid, that does not invalidate the method.

KK: You know what I’m going to ask. The 175 killed Kut al-Farraj in 2008 – were they people?

JS: Look these were 175 certified innocent lives lost. I mean, the word “people” could, you know…

KK: Were they human?

JS: Not as such.

KK: They were…?

JS: OK, they were ducks.

KK: They were ducks. Innocent ducks maybe, but they weren’t people.

JS: Well, from the perspective of an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk they actually are people.

KK: Alright, fine, they were innocent dead duck people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that after more than 5 years of brutal war, your official respected mortality figure was that 179 innocents had been killed of whom the vast majority, 175 out of 179, were, in fact, innocent ducks! 175 out of 179!

JS: Could you express that as a percentage?

KK: No.

JS: But you would agree that it is quite a lot less than infinity percent?

KK: If you keep this up, I am going to terminate this interview.

JS: Okay, alright. But you are really missing the most important aspect of this whole thing. The Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr had given names to every single one of the sadly departed innocent ducks, and we knew the names of the four humans. It is only because we know these names that we can honor these innocent lost lives. It is only because they are named and documented that we can give them a measure of justice. It is only because we know exactly who they are and the exact circumstances of their deaths that we can seek accountability or, at the very least, acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Those who die without us documenting and naming them died pointless deaths that made their whole lives totally futile and meaningless. They are nothings and nobodies.

KK: What about those people who have lost loved ones that you have not named? Aren’t they liable to think that you are a self-satisfied insensitive shithead who should have his face smashed in?

JS: Well, people do post that comment on my Facebook wall a lot, but really, I believe that in circumstances like these violence is not the answer.

KK: The whole “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” incident caused quite a loss of confidence in IDL, didn’t it?

JS: We lost a lot of institutional support including that of some of the most prominent US lawmakers and congressional representatives.

KK: Isn’t that the same thing?

JS: No, I’m sure the lawmakers are the ones who write the laws, mostly lobbyists I think. Anyway, then they give the laws to the congress people who, I don’t know, I think they give it to the President to sign or something. Maybe they have to, you know, fight each other to get to the President with their favorite law. They must do something.

Anyway, the real loss, and it was a bitter blow, was the loss of support from some of the most respected foundations. Those guys have got real deep pockets. And do they know how to give a guy a good time? I did a dinner with Ford Foundation once – man, I was seeing double for a week afterwards. Oh God, yeah, I remember now – I had to go on a 4 week course of antibiotics and I had this discharge that I swear to God actually glowed in the dark. It really did!

KK: Right, umm, OK. I think we get the picture, although I am trying very hard not to get an actual mental picture. To get back to the loss of credibility, it must have caused a loss of confidence in the public also.

JS: I never had any confidence in the public.

KK: I mean, the other way around. The public lost confidence in you.

JS: Yeah, like we really cared. Look, I don’t think the public ever really supported our efforts. We took that as a good sign. Our work was clearly too scientifically valid for the layperson to grasp, but people in power could immediately see how useful it was. I think that this is the true test of rigor and validity. This is the way things are heading now. This is the future of science and research because it is usefulness to power that ultimately is the true measure of what is valid and true.

KK: OK. But regardless of that the “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” did spell the end of the IDL project.

JS: Well, that was the foundations, like I said. Our parent company realized that the profits from IDL were on a death spiral downwards and decided to pull the plug before the rot set in. They told me that I felt like I needed a change and funnily enough they had this relationship with a publishing firm.

KK: And the resultant memoir was Slobberdrib: Saint or Savior? It did well?

JS: Yes it did extremely well. Incredibly well really. It was really really successful. Not so much in terms of sales. But it was an incredibly rewarding experience. It was really about the whole process, you know, like writing things and that sort of process stuff.

KK: There were also financial rewards. I believe that despite never having published a book before you were given a 2.8 million US dollar advance. How much of that advance have the publisher made back from sales of the book?

JS: As a percentage it would be about, umm…. Can you think of something that is 176 times as big as a tennis ball?

KK: And then things changed for you once again?

JS: Well I was in Jordan on location with the cast and crew of the new biopic Slobberdrib: Shake Hands with Satan – actually that’s coming out in the fall and it’s got George Clooney playing yours truly and that black guy from Homeland (did you know that he’s actually British?) Anyway, it’s got him playing my best buddy in military intelligence. It’s gonna be a hit movie. Anyway, so there’s me in Jordan, consulting for the film – telling Clooney how to be more, you know, like me, and I get this call…

KK: No, wait, wait, wait… I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to clarify. You said Jordan, but you never actually went to the Middle East before?

JS: No this was my first visit. It’s pretty amazing, especially in the desert. It’s like, really sandy just like it is in the movies.

KK: The point I was trying to make, or ask maybe, is, why are they filming your life story in the Middle East when you were never in the Middle East?

JS: Oh yeah, I mean no. Yeah, no they decided that to make the story more accessible they would have my character as some sort of maverick humanitarian who struggles against the powers that be to save his buddies and to do the right thing. That’s basically me, but they gave me a slightly different back-story. In the movie I’m a bomb disposal expert who dedicates his life to protecting the innocent after the trauma of seeing a duck killed due to the callous indifference of a French rival bomb disposal guy. I kill the baddies and win the girl from the French baddy (who actually turns out to be Muqtada al-Sadr in a rubber mask – so I kill him too).

KK: So it’s more like some sort of fantasy version, not the humdrum reality of a guy working from an office in DC?

JS: I wouldn’t call it fantasy. There’s no dragons or orcs or whatever. They didn’t even use my idea about finding Aladdin’s lamp and rescuing the sexy Princess in those see-through culottes or whatever they’re called.

KK: OK, can we get back to the call you got in Jordan? Could I just guess that your employer had suddenly realized that you needed a drastic change in career?

JS: There’s no need to be facetious. It was actually the old crew from Applied Research Science Enterprises. New techniques and new approaches had been developed that virtually threw the whole issue of mortality in Iraq on its head. They needed me to come back to head a new study. This one would be far less restrictive than the last. It would be more of a totally inclusive survey of excess mortality.

KK: Like the Lancet surveys?

JS: No, not like those, obviously. They were political, we wanted to to do a survey that was purely scientific without all that politics. A recent study found that there were nearly 500,000 excess deaths in Iraq. As every reputable newspaper pointed out, this totally destroyed the findings of the Lancet studies. It absolutely blew those bastards out of the water.

KK: But surely these figures were much closer to the Lancet results than, say, your own results?

JS: Read the papers man! Don’t take my word for it. It just blew those bastards away. Totally discredited the washed up hacks. But we were still worried that there was some sort of political antiwar bias. Like I said, I don’t care if your politics are antiwar, but if you’re going to do science then, Brother, you gotta leave that shit at the door. You know what I’m saying? You can do science and say that lots of Iraqis died, but it becomes political when you say Americans killed them. That is just projecting your antiwar anti-America bias onto the figures. So even though some of the latest work to be done on Iraq suggests that lots of people died, over time we are seeing that less and less political bias is included in the figures.

KK: So it’s not political to say that Iraqis were killed by other Iraqis?

JS: No of course not. I like to explain it this way; back home we have a big problem with what we call black-on-black violence in the inner cities. Now, if you say a black man killed another black man that’s just saying something because it happened. It happens all the time. But if you say that a white cop killed a black man that’s political. You’re not describing a fact, you’re making a political statement. Now maybe if you’re wanting to run for mayor of, oh I don’t know, some black city, you might say a white cop killed a black guy. You might get lots of votes for saying that. But science isn’t about winning votes and there’s no room in science for politics like that.

KK: Reporters Without Borders put out a report about journalists killed in Iraq and it basically said that 83% of the killers of journalists were unidentified, but were enemies of the United States. Someone, someone who I actually know personally, criticized them for blithely characterizing unknown murderers this way without evidence. I think she even used the word “political”.

JS: Well, obviously that’s not political is it? Enemies of the USA hate our freedoms and hate our free press. My God, its the First Amendment – the First! Obviously our enemies kill journalists. Its dog-bites-man stuff. Perfectly non-political. Absolutely scientific. As for your friend – you know I think some people are so politicized they don’t even know what the word political actually means. Really, I could say some stuff myself about that Reporters Without Borders outfit and their so-called “report”. You know how they said that 9% of reporters were killed by US forces? Well, it turns out that two of those so-called “reporters” were insurgents on that film they put out with the helicopter shooting.

KK: You mean the Reuters employees whose deaths were shown in the Collateral Murder video?

JS: Buddy, they might have taken a paycheck from Reuters and done some journalism on the side, but those guys were fully-fledged one thousand percent insurgents. The Army even said they were insurgents. I’m pretty sure I saw that Collateral Damage thing and those guys were shooting rockets at our boys in the Apaches and then these reinforcements drive up using their own kids as human shields, and then they were just shooting off their AKs, a total killer frenzy. They were even shooting themselves just to make our boys look bad.

KK: Are you sure you actually watched Collateral Murder?

JS: I’m 98 percent certain. All I’m going to say is that if Reporters Without Borders researched those alleged Reuters employees they wouldn’t have found a single ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who would testify that they definitely weren’t insurgents, and I bet the same is true of every one of those guys that our boys killed.

But going back to our new project, we saw our job as being to produce research a product that reflected a high mortality expectation, which we find a lot of the audience demands, but doesn’t have this distorted political component of US forces killing Iraqis. Our focus groups found that the best way to present the most credible results that the public would actually believe in (but were actually really really scientific and in no way political) was to have a very high mortality rate but to say that it was all brought about by Iraqi on Iraqi violence.

Things have changed a bit since the early days of IDL and that sort of approach wasn’t possible back then.

KK: Why is that, exactly?

JS: Well, you know, the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq was a very sensitive issue. There was a lot of misunderstanding. The President did his best to enlighten people. But even after Donald Rumsfeld explained all about “unknown unknowns”, a lot of people thought that Saddam’s WMD’s would either be found, or they didn’t exist. It’s just one of those “unknown unknowns”. He could have developed weaponized sand for all we know, and just left it in the desert to degrade into inert form. We will never ever know.

So the whole situation was very political, and I guess that is why the reporting was political too. For the first few years it was all about Coalition forces fighting against Iraqis. There was hardly anything about Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Maybe it’s not the journalists’ fault. They would wander along and than see a bunch of dead Iraqis and think: OK the US is fighting a war here, and war is hell, so they must have killed these guys. We now know, of course, that these Iraqis were almost certainly killed by other Iraqis. Iraqis kill each other all of the time, and the great irony of the situation was that it was only the mass-murdering genocidal maniac tyrant Saddam who, like Tito in Yugoslavia, stopped them from their traditional fratricidal violence. It’s like that British guy said a century ago, Iraqis “love fighting for fighting’s sake” and “they have no objection to being killed”.

I guess after that, you know from 2006 onwards, the news started to cover more and more Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence until that was all they covered. All of that political stuff about Americans killing Iraqis kind of faded away and we saw that it was all really about the same thing its always about – the same thing we see in movies and on TV – it was all about fanatical Islamists, terrorists, suicide bombers and cruel barbarians who chop people’s heads off.

KK: So the predictive programming of the entertainment media which unrelentingly pounds people with notions of Eastern barbarity and Western superiority made it natural for people to gravitate to this new narrative of incomprehensibly violent Iraqis who just kill each other for no reason that a civilized Westerner could ever really understand?

JS: Did you mean to say that?

KK: No, it just kind of slipped out. Do continue.

JS: Well, I guess I really have to confess now that I’d really got it all wrong earlier with the IDL. You see, you remember how I told you that there was good killing and bad killing? Well, that’s a perfectly good scientific way of understanding the difference between, well you know, the difference between good killing and bad killing. Anyway, it might be great science, but it’s not actually very mathematical. After talking it over with my people I came up with this great inspiration. Instead of good and bad killing, we should be talking about positive and negative killing in the mathematical sense. So when you positively kill someone there’s one less person in the world but when you negatively kill someone then there is one more person in the world. Now so there is no confusion let me make it absolutely clear that this is not about procreation. These are processes which we refer to as dekilling, or unkilling, or enlifing. This might be confusing initially, but when you enlife someone it means, well it doesn’t usually mean that there’s this person that you actually see that you’ve actually somehow enlifed. It’s more like say if there was a unit and at the end of a tour we calculated that they have killed negative 100 people, that means that by their actions there are 100 more people alive today than there would have been otherwise.

KK: Is that an indicative example. Would, say, a company have that sort of negative kill rate in a one year tour?

JS: Look, this is all new science and we really haven’t gone through the individual outfits completely yet, but our initial findings are phenomenal. We have some outfits that racked up huge negative kill rates. I even joked with a Sergeant from a mortar battalion that they should change their motto to “Life from Above”.

KK: Just so our audience understands, negative killing isn’t the same as killing bad guys? It’s not just another name for “good killing” is it?

JS: Oh no. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, negative killing is the sum total of all of those actions which are, in fact, life giving or life preserving. I need to emphasize again that this is not about procreation. The Pentagon would never countenance that sort of thing, not with Iraqi’s anyway. Like a lot of military outfits around the world they do have a long and proud tradition of having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to sexual violence, but they really draw the line at fraternization. And they especially draw the line at there being a bunch of half-Iraqi half-White-Christian-American babies. I think you can see how that would not be in the interests of national security.

Negative killing is more about those things that save people from short or long term mortal threats. So, say, you might go into a house and in the confusion shoot dead one of the members of a family, but if by way of compensation you give the remaining family members a lifetime supply of chlorine tablets and that saves all eleven survivors from a deadly cholera outbreak, that means you’ve actually got a net negative kill rate of 10 people.

KK: So the negative killings come mainly from, say, civic action programs? From those outfits who build the wells and vaccinate the kids and have slogans like “we care, so you don’t have to”?

JS: Well, obviously that is a major part of the US military’s negative killing capacity. But our research has shown that often it in those activities that attract the most criticism from the bleeding-heart antiwar douchebags that actually have the greatest capacity to give life. Often people say our boys are trigger happy to the point of being a rampaging murdering horde. You have GIs just shooting up Iraqi cars just because they’re on the road, more or less, and people get wasted for almost any dumb reason. I mean, in 2005 we shot over one billion bullets during a period when our best estimates were that there were only 30,000 insurgents. That means we shot over 30,000 bullets for every insurgent in the whole country. That’s a lot of bullets, and those things are dangerous. It’s almost like you’d think that those guys who did the Lancet studies were on to something after all.

KK: Okay. I’m sure this is leading somewhere.

JS: Just hang on a sec, I’m getting there, but first you’ve got to think about the kind of firepower our grunts are packing these days. I mean a platoon of these guys could just about take out a city block as long as there weren’t any enemy soldiers or anything. Imagine you’ve got a mounted patrol. Every fourth GI has an M249 light machine gun. Every vehicle is mounted with maybe a .50 caliber machine gun or a Mk 19 grenade launcher which is like a sort of machine gun which fires 40mm grenades at a rate of about one every second. So, when this patrol hits an IED what they do is that they all just open up with all their weapons. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of dead civilians, right?

KK: If you say so.

JS: Well it’s true. Doing things like that does actually generate a positive kill rate, but have you thought about how much of a negative kill rate this could generate?

KK: Err…?

JS: Picture this: A cute little baby girl at home with mom. Mom’s proud of her beautiful first-born. Daddy’s out working his job at the office. It’s Friday, he’s planning on doing some renovations on the weekend and he’s going to drop by the Haji Home Depot after work. Mom’s feeding her beautiful baby girl from her firm young breast, little knowing that outside there creeps the dirty swarthy misshapen figure of an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist insurgent laying his filthy coward IED bomb. Mom puts baby down for an afternoon nap. Feeling good about herself she glances out through the window and waves to the friendly and handsome GI’s who wave back and make playful boyish remarks to each other about the beautiful young Haji woman. Then wham! The explosion throws mom back against the wall and she slumps unconscious. But oh no! What’s happened to baby girl? Unfortunately, Haji homes are flimsy, and Daddy hasn’t had the chance to fix up that sagging detached wall. The wall has fallen on baby’s crib! She has no air, and Mommy’s lying unconscious! Just then, like the ferocious thunder of freedom, the sound rings out of a couple of dozen really heavily armed red-blooded American boys letting loose with all they have. Just in the nick of time a .50 cal round punches a hole through the flimsy Haji wall and the baby is saved. What do ya think of that?

KK: It sounds a little umm… specific or, I don’t know, maybe a little unlikely.

LS: You might well think that. But remember just how many bullets we fired in Iraq – about a billion each year, right? Well if each bullet was the size of a tennis ball, then a billion bullets would be like infinity or even bigger.

KK: So, if you fire enough bullets at inhabited buildings you will save lots of lives by punching air holes in collapsed masonry?

LS: Well, were not completely stupid, you know. We do realize that there is a limited number of people who actually end up in the situation of being trapped under rubble without air, even during a US-led occupation. (We did actually offer an infantry regiment to China to shoot up the city where they had that last quake, but they declined due to security concerns.) Anyway, it’s not just about that, there are many other ways in which stray bullets can save lives. Picture now 36 year old Mohammed al-Derpderp. He’s just got that promotion he’s been after for years. He’s regional sales manager for the Haji vacuum-cleaner company. Finally, after all of those years of hard work he has his feet on the ladder. The only way is up. But, uh-oh! What is that on his neck? Could it be a pre-cancerous mole that is destined in ten years time to bring about poor Mohammed’s death in the most painful, degrading and lingeringly awful way possible? Why yes it is. Luckily he’s walking down the street one day and he’s coming up to where his uncouth Haji neighbours have left a pile of their shitty junk lying blocking a side road. Now, the nearby friendly US dismounted patrol heard AK’s firing earlier that day, so they know that the bad guys are around. They see the junk and they know it could have been put there by the bad guys. The leader decides that it’s time for some reconnaissance by fire. He tells his men to open up and they let loose steel hail like the volley of the titans! A round hits the wall near our friend Mohammed, it shatters and a searing fragment zips through the air slicing off the offending mole and cauterizing the wound to boot. Hey-presto and Allahu-fucking-akbar – 53 years later Mohammed al-Derpderp dies in bed surrounded by weeping relatives while from outside he can hear his great-grandkids laughing as they chase the Haji chickens around the dusty yard. Now that’s a happy ending.

KK: I see. So US forces have “enlifed” (if I have the terminology right) lots of Iraqis with stray bullets. Anything else?

JS: You bet there is. The list is as long as your arm. Airstrikes taking out dangerously substandard housing. White phosphorus sterilizing contaminated chicken. Fuel-air bombs taking out colonies of plague-bearing rats. We’ve found that people who have been exposed to toxins from our burn pits are significantly more likely to quit smoking, for example.

KK: So what does this all add up to, in terms of numbers of negative kills?

JS: Well, I haven’t even got to the best part yet. You see, we started thinking about what was the greatest threat to Iraqis, and you know what we came up with don’t you?

KK: Ummm.

JS: You’ll kick yourself. … Give up? Alright I’ll tell you – the biggest mortal threat to the life of an Iraqi is another Iraqi. You see now? That’s right, it’s just what we were talking about before. So we sat down and we calculated just how much risk Iraqis posed to other Iraqis. Are you ready for this? Yes? Alright. We calculated that over the average lifespan, taking all possible deadly acts and working out, conservatively, the likelihood that they would undertake such acts, we calculated that over the average lifespan the average Iraqi kills approximately 2.8 other Iraqis. You know what that means, don’t you?

KK: That means that every time you kill an Iraqi, you actually save Iraqi lives. Extraordinary.

JS: Well, once we realized that, it was a whole new ball game. We started looking way further back, right back to 1990. Do you know what we found? This will blow your freaking mind. We found that if you look at all the demographic data and look at the overall increased mortality form all causes there have been an excess of 4.6 million deaths. Because of our bombing and sanctions before our invasion and occupation, the good old US of A can take credit for nearly every single damn one of those Iraqi deaths! Conservatively, we can claim at least for at least 4 million of those deaths, which translates to us saving 11.2 million Iraqi lives. That means that we have saved the life of nearly half of every single Iraqi alive today by killing their neighbors and loved ones.

KK: Amazing. Well that seems as good a point as any to wrap this up. It just remains for me to thank my guest Jim Slobberdrib…

JS: My pleasure.


KK:
…and I’d also like to thank the National Security Agency for allowing us to publish their transcript of our conversation. Next week I will be discussing the issue of Palestine with a woman who sounds caring, but advocates genocide. Be sure to tune in.
Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.

Advertisements

“Collateral Murder”: Evidence of Genocide

Standard

In Iraq, you can’t put pink gloves on Apache helicopter pilots and send them into the Ultimate Fighting ring and ask them to take a knee. These are attack pilots wearing gloves of steel, and they go into the ring throwing powerful punches of explosive steel. They are there to win, and they will win.” Lt. Col. Chris Wallach

The video known as “Collateral Murder” is strong evidence of genocide being carried out by the US against the people of Iraq. Hidden in the horrors of its brutality is a rich historical record revealing an armed force which systematically targets and kills non-combatants. The events shown are war crimes violating the principle of non-combatant immunity in numerous clearly illegal ways including attacking those rendering aid to the wounded. They are also evidence of genocide because there are clear indications that these war crimes are representative of enshrined procedures. They indicate that the ambiguities of the US Rules of Engagement mandate the systematic mass murder of civilians when applied by US personnel. They indicate something of a tactical, strategic and doctrinal approach that radically violates the fundamental obligations to distinguish between civilians and enemy personnel and the combatant status of enemies. Finally they indicate something about the way in which the US indoctrinates its personnel in a way guaranteed to create murderers.

Lt. Col. Wallach was the commander of the aircrew. He recently said: “Ultimately, my combat pilots at the scene did the best they could under extreme and surreal conditions.” However, we now know that the only incident to occur before we are able to see what is occurring was a report of small arms fire being heard. If there is a surreal aspect to any of this it comes from the minds of the aircrew and those who command both air and ground forces. I am going to go through exactly what it is that the gun camera footage shows. It shows a massacre of non-combatants, followed by the murder of rescuers, and finally a more obscure sequence which definitely involves another murder of rescuers.

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of this footage: “You’re looking at a situation through a soda straw, and you have no context or perspective.” Therefore, after describing exactly what is shown, taking into account exactly what is known and exactly what is not known from the footage, I will provide that context that Gates calls for. But the context does not, or should not, counter what our eyes and ears reveal to us. On the contrary, the very evidence that apologists like Gates and Wallach produce to show that the aircrew were legitimate in their actions is in fact evidence that their behaviours are not isolated. This is very strong evidence that by the manner in which, in practice, the US defines “hostile intent”; the manner in which it practices its doctrine of “force protection”; and the manner in which it indoctrinates and situates its forces, the US was systematically murdering non-combatants. In this case killing non-combatants inextricably means killing civilians. Placed in the context of more than two decades of direct and indirect destruction of Iraq in social, political, biological, economic, cultural, ecological, and physical terms, this systematic killing is clear and compelling evidence of genocide. Those who insist that this is merely warfare join the vast ranks of genocide perpetrators, deniers and apologists who insist that other genocides were warfare with inevitable, if regrettable, instances of civilian death.

As I have written elsewhere, all of the common claims of genocide deniers are regularly applied to US “military” actions, but they tend to be overlooked as they are so pervasive that they are seldom examined or challenged. Ultimately denial of US genocide relies on people having a vague notion that genocide involves actions like the mass gassings at Nazi death camps. But the word genocide was coined by someone who did not know at that time about the mass gassings and who applied the word to far more that the Nazi project to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

Genocide??

So, what exactly is genocide? The man who coined the term, Raphäel Lemkin, was a Polish Jew and a legal scholar. Impelled by knowledge of the Armenian Holocaust as well as the history of state sanctioned or controlled pogroms against Jews, Lemkin devoted much of his life to understanding mass violence against ethnic populations. In 1933 he proposed that there be an international law which, among other acts, prohibited acts of “barbarity” and “vandalism”. “Barbarity” was conceived as violence against members of a “collectivity” on the basis that they were of that “collectivity” and “with the goal of its extermination”. “Vandalism” was the destruction of the “cultural or artistic heritage” of a “collectivity … with the goal of its extermination”.

The German occupation of most of Europe was the horrific crucible in which Lemkin synthesised “vandalism” and “barbarity”. He recognised a greater process of which they were both part – the process he called “genocide”. Genocide was “a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples.” Extermination, or the intent to exterminate, was no longer a requisite. The occupant could impose a “national pattern” onto the land, once it was cleansed by killing or forced migration, or onto the people themselves. And despite knowing that Europe’s Jews were slated for complete annihilation, Lemkin’s examples of genocide included such things as forcing the people of Luxembourg to take German names. His most common exemplar of genocide was the treatment of Poland – a comprehensive and systematic genocide in which killing people was only one of many forms of genocidal destruction.

I think it is important that we realise that the fluidity of identity does not allow for actual extermination to be undertaken as a project. Genocide is a schizophrenic undertaking full of bizarre contradictions such that it cannot truly be said that the Germans attempted to exterminate the Jews, or even Europe’s Jews. The Germans had immense difficulties in even defining who was Jewish for a start. They said Jews were a “race” but ultimately they relied on confessional identification to define them. As Yehuda Bauer wrote: “One can see how confused Nazi racism was when Jewish grandparents were defined by religion rather than so-called racial criteria.”(1) As well as the fact that many with Jewish heritage would inevitably successfully evade detection, in the Nuremburg Laws (and later when deciding who to kill at Wannsee), exemptions were made on various criteria, such as being a decorated war hero. However defined, there were Jews in the German military(2) and there were Jewish civilians living unincarcerated in Berlin when Soviet troops arrived.(3)

Mischling exemption application

“Half-Jew” Anton Mayer. Such photos accompanied applications for “exemptions”.

So, as the Genocide Convention outlines, genocide is an attack on people, rather than states, with the “intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such….” Lemkin referred to these collectivities as having a “biological structure”. There is a genetic interconnection involved here, but that does not mean that Lemkin believed in Nazi racial theories or any racist or racialist notions. The most evident proof of this is the inclusion in both his own work and in the Genocide Convention the practice of “transferring the children of the group to another group”. If genocides were truly about racial hygiene and racial hatred that would hardly be a recognised component, would it?

If it is not about race, then what is it about? Though he never articulated it, the answer stared Lemkin right in the face and he obviously grasped it at an unconscious or intuitive level. If we refer to one of these collectivities as a genos, what ties the genos together is not “biological interrelation” but rather personal interconnection and, most particularly, familial interrelation.

Genocide is about Power not Hatred

I want to outline a simplified cartoon narrative, just to illustrate a point: In feudal Europe mass violence was used in acts of war or banditry which were only distinguishable from each other by scale and the rank of participants. A Baron might conquer the demesne of another Baron just as one King might conquer the realm of another King. In relative terms the peasants of the demesne or the realm might have had very little concern over who exactly ruled. The change in rulers would not be akin to a foreign occupation as we would currently understand it. By the time of Napoleon, however, it was beginning to be a little different. People had started to develop a national consciousness. The national genos associated itself with a territory of land and aspired to a nation-state polity based on that (often rather generous) sense of territorial entitlement. By 1871, the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine were quite unhappy at being made German. Nationalism would become the dominant political ideology for the entire twentieth century. The multinational and largely interchangeable feudal ruling class was gone. This was not an unprecedented situation, but it was something that Europe had not faced for since the times of Charlemagne (well, in reality it had, but I’m still in cartoon generalisation mode here, so bear with me).

There are many ways in which an external imperial power might exercise hegemony over the territory of a national genos in various ways, but they are limited by the strength of national feeling and, perhaps more importantly, the hegemony cannot be stable because national sentiment might at any time cohere around demands for the end to imperial hegemony. A transnational quasi-imperial system of governance has arisen specifically to limit economic sovereignty, for example. There are good arguments to be made that this is in itself genocidal and that the poorer nations of the world are subject to “structural genocide”. The carrots and sticks of global governance, however, do not apply to nation states that are reasonably populous, but more generously resourced, with a strong potential for industrial development. If they have a national consciousness that does not allow foreign dominance, which includes rule by those who are not loyal to the national genos, then there is no military way of establishing dominance. It is not the sovereign that is the problem, it is the people, hence the recourse to genocide.

War or Genocide?
If genocide is “war against peoples” how can it be distinguished from normal war? If we go back to German conquests in World War II, it is quite easy to distinguish between primarily military operations in the West and the largely genocidal actions in the East. The conquest and occupation of Western Europe was undeniably brutal but (leaving aside the genocide of Jews and Roma) German actions, including the killing of innocents, were taken as a means of countering physical threats to German forces. In the East, by contrast, inflicting starvation was more for the purposes of cleansing land of unwanted inhabitants than for feeding German troops. Security was the excuse for massacres, not the reason for massacres. When armed resistance began behind the advancing German front in the East, Hitler himself said: “This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.”(5)

As a general rule of thumb, then, one might look at a conquest and occupation and ask: does this more resemble what the Germans did in Belgium or what they did in Poland? For anyone acquainted with the comprehensive and widespread nature of destruction inflicted on Iraq during the occupation – destruction which was economic, political, cultural, moral, intellectual, social and environmental as well as physically deadly to Iraqis – the answer is all too clear. More Poles died than Iraqis, but to say of that the US occupation of Iraq was not as bad as the German occupation of Poland is to say very little indeed. The Germans wanted to go much further in a shorter time than did the US. They wanted to extinguish Poland as an entity. In contrast the systematic destruction of Iraq began 23 years ago with sanctions and bombing. 7 million Poles died in less than 6 years – most were killed directly. Around 2.5 million Iraqis have died, perhaps more – roughly half through violence and half through malnutrition and disease. Despite this, the similarities are more striking than the differences. Much like the German view of Poland, US policy elites (such as Joe Biden, Peter Galbraith and the Council on Foreign Relations) openly talked of “the end of Iraq” – proposing a partition which would be the destruction of Iraq as a nation-state.

What does the Collateral Murder Video Reveal?
Along with the bigger picture of comprehensive and manifold destruction that is the Iraq Genocide, it is possible to see indications of genocide at a smaller scale. If there are two types of war – genocide and military war – then which sort involves the systematic killing of civilians? The Collateral Murder video leaves many unanswered questions, but one thing it does show is that the killing that occurs is indicative of more widespread behaviours.

1) Are the Victims Combatants? Are they Armed?
The footage we see is from one of two participating Apache helicopter gunships. The call-sign of the gunship, or rather its “Aerial Weapons Team”, is Crazy Horse One Eight. The voice of the gunner who shoots is distinguishable throughout. He is controlling the gun camera and we can see what he sees. Further, it is clear from the fact he refers to things indicated by his sights that someone else, presumably the pilot, is seeing the same video feed and using it to make judgements. This is very important because the viewer can tell that they did not make a positive identification of weapons when initially claimed as, even with the benefit of going through one frame at a time, it is not possible to make a positive identification of weapons. It is also possible to tell that they are lying frequently about what they can see.
vlcsnap-2013-10-14-14h27m37s122vlcsnap-2013-10-03-12h12m14s124

Our first view of the first group of victims (Pic 1) shows over a dozen men who are clearly acting in a casual manner. In general they are progressing but here is also milling and conversation going on amongst them. Two of them have visible shoulder straps. These are from cameras and they look like cameras considerably more than they look like weapons. They identify one other “weapon” which is inflated to the claim that there are “five to six” armed individuals. Pic 2 and the frame immediately preceding it show a long object that could easily be mistaken for an RPG (rocket propelled grenade launcher). However this is not what the gunner will later claim is an RPG and having viewed the entire footage it seems almost inconceivable that the object is in fact an RPG.
vlcsnap-2013-10-03-12h27m46s82
vlcsnap-2013-10-03-12h23m03s22
In Pic 3 we can see the object that the gunner claims is an RPG. It is a camera. It looks a lot more like a camera than an RPG. The reader is invited to review the footage starting at about 00:02:30 and determine whether they think it is feasible that the gunner has made a “positive identification” as required by the ROE (rules of engagement). As for the long object that looked a little like an RPG we can see in Pic 4 that it is now being used like a crutch. In our next fleeting glimpse it looks fairly insubstantial, lending some credence to the speculation that it might actually have been a tripod. There is no visible RPG tube later. Mention is made by ground forces that they believe there might be an RPG round under a body, but bear in mind the only claim that there was an RPG was of something we know for certain was a camera. Further, if it had been an RPG it would pose no threat to the gunship which was far beyond its effective range and too fast to be effectively targeted by a weapon designed for use against armoured ground vehicles. One writer described it as like trying to hit a wasp with a slingshot. And then there is the unexplained statement by the gunner: “Yeah, we had a guy shooting – and now he’s behind the building.” Someone responds as if he was referring to something else (30 minutes earlier small arms fire was heard in the area but its source never identified – that is the only evidence of hostile activity in the area at this point) but the context seems to suggest that he is saying that the “guy shooting” was journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen who may well have been “shooting” his camera.

An hour after these events we do see armed individuals – after an unexplained 30 minute gap in the footage. Before I turn to that, however, I would like to turn to the elephant in the room which seems utterly absent from discussions of whether or not the group of victims carried weapons – that is the fact that so many are quite clearly unarmed.
vlcsnap-2013-10-08-14h26m12s79
vlcsnap-2013-10-14-16h35m29s115

Pics 5 and 6 show armed men. The two men in pic 6 are not visible for very long, but one in particular is so obviously armed that it is quite unmistakeable. Likewise with the US personnel in pic 5. Uniforms aside, the fact that they carry long arms is very distinct. The demeanour and behaviour is clearly different also. The visibly armed men in both instances move in a purposeful manner, often briskly, and they pay attention to those in front. When Namir Noor-Eldeen was aiming his camera lens at the gunship his companions were just standing around having a chat. The gunships were clearly both seen and heard by the men. The gunner who will soon murder these men is quite able to see that they are in no way preparing for an engagement. Though two carry cameras and one a long object, it is clear that all others are plainly unarmed. Here is the ICRC’s (International Committee of the Red Cross) one sentence heading describing “Chapter 1, Rule 1” of customary International Humanitarian Law: Rule 1. The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”
vlcsnap-2013-10-05-14h03m41s218
vlcsnap-2013-10-08-16h32m22s42
In the second attack the two armed men from pic 6 seem to have entered a building. After that this is heard from the gunner [G] and what is almost certainly the pilot [P] of Crazy Horse 18:

31:21 (add 26 seconds to get time on Wikileaks video) …[P] So there’s at least six individuals in that building with weapons.

31:30 [G] We can put a missile in it.

31:31 [P] If you’d like, ah, Crazyhorse One-Eight could put a missile in that building.

31:46 [P] It’s a triangle building. Appears to be ah, abandoned.

31:51 [G] Yeah, looks like it’s under construction, abandoned.

31:52 [P]Appears to be abandoned, under construction.

31:56 [P] Uh, like I said, six individuals walked in there from our previous engagement.

The footage shows nothing of these armed men in the building. The entrance is obscured for 30 seconds and then the gun camera is pointed at the sky for a further minute. When it swings back we see two unarmed men entering the building. Moments later (pic 8) we see another unarmed man walking in front of the building just before the first hellfire missile hits where he stands. 

2) Targeting Rescuers

Rescuers are specifically targeted in the first engagement and seem to be specifically targeted in the second. In the second the footage shows three rescuers (indicated by arrows in pic 9) have arrived after the first missile strike. The gun camera swings away before the second missile is fired. (The camera shows a rectangular reticule while a round dot seems to indicate the point at which the weapon systems are aimed. These are kept aligned at most times but it is very interesting to trace the separation and realignment of these that occurs during this second engagement. It certainly seems conceivable that the camera is deliberately trained away from the aim point of the weapons at times in order to conceal visible events.) While target is out of view we hear:

36:49 Firing.

36:53 There it goes! Look at that bitch go!

36:56 Patoosh!

37:03 Ah, sweet.

37:07 Need a little more room.

37:09 Nice missile.

37:11 Does it look good?

37:12 Sweet!
vlcsnap-2013-10-08-16h36m39s65
vlcsnap-2013-10-08-13h55m59s123
Pic 10 shows some people who were passing and tried to rescue the wounded Reuters worker Saeed Chmagh. A man runs ahead of the van to the victim. Never at any stage do any people or the van give any indication that they are approaching the dead, and yet:
07:07 Yeah Bushmaster, we have a van that’s approaching and picking up the bodies.

07:14 Where’s that van at?

07:15 Right down there by the bodies.

07:16 Okay, yeah.

07:18 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly uh picking up bodies and weapons.

07:25 Let me engage.

07:28 Can I shoot?

07:31 Roger. Break. Uh Crazyhorse One-Eight request permission to uh engage.

07:36 Picking up the wounded?

07:38 Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.

07:41 Come on, let us shoot!

07:44 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:49 They’re taking him.

07:51 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.

07:59 Roger. We have a black SUV-uh Bongo truck [van] picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

08:02 Fuck.

08:06 This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage.

08:12 One-Eight, engage.

Note firstly that they are being dishonest when talking about “bodies and weapons” but that the pretence is fairly thin. When asked “Picking up the wounded?” the voice I have identified as [P] replies “Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.” Then the gunner’s voice says with some agitation, “They’re taking him.” They know full well that they are targeting innocent rescuers and others who hear their radio discussion must also have known.

To properly contextualise this we should look at the US propensity for “double tap” strikes. In it’s use of drones the US has for years been conducting delayed second strikes on targets for the express purpose of killing to who attempt to rescue or treat the wounded. These practices have continued until now despite massive negative publicity, and despite the fact that such actions are war crimes.

This practice can be further contextualised. The sanctions imposed on Iraq caused very, very serious degradation to Iraqi health system, including the hospital system. This worked in conjunction with the malnutrition caused by the sanctions and caused hundreds of thousands to die prematurely, particularly infants and children. During the occupation the degradation of Iraq’s hospitals continued even further. Dahr Jamail produced a report in 2005 that detailed a shocking situation. The ability of the Iraqi medical establishment to attend to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people was abysmal. Most of the urgent medical needs were caused by US actions and the near total disablement of Iraq’s health system was also caused by US actions. Among those who were unable to access adequate care were those wounded by the US. Among the most prominent, and certainly most dramatic, causes of degraded medical care were direct attacks on medical personnel, on clinics and hospitals, on ambulances and on civilian rescuers.

It seems clear from the audio of Collateral Murder that it is normal to target rescuers. Even though the rescuers in the van were nothing but people stopping to help, and the aircrew had no reason to think otherwise, they are clearly transformed into combatants in the delusional world of the gunner, particularly when he utters those chilling words: “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

3) “Delightful Bloodlust”

The pretrial testimony of Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), which was smuggled out of a courtroom in May 2013, became most noted for the phrase: “delightful bloodlust”. It is an unusual usage and clearly Manning wished to make people think about what he was saying and to draw attention to the “delight” shown by the killers. There is delight shown. There is eagerness to kill and there is pleasure shown at killing the completely helpless victims. But there are also notes of strain and mental compulsion. The transcript printed above clearly shows the extreme agitation that having to wait for permission to kill more people causes. One can certainly here it in the gunner’s voice when he says “Come on, let us shoot!” In the minutes preceding this is a sequence of events which even more clearly show the “delightful bloodlust” of the Aerial Weapons Team.

Perhaps the most harrowing and disturbing part of Collateral Murder is not either of the times where we can see them mowing down innocent civilians, nor the two visible instances of missiles exploding and killing what seem to be innocent civilians, but the time the camera spends tracking a wounded victim – Reuters worker Saeed Chmagh. The speakers exaggerate when they say he is crawling. What we see is someone too badly wounded to crawl. His suffering is so readily apparent, like his helplessness and his desperation, that it is shockingly offensive when we here:

06:33 Come on, buddy.

06:38 All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.

What weapon do they expect Saeed Chmagh to pick up? How could they possibly expect someone too badly hurt to even crawl to pick up a weapon? What do they suppose he would do with a weapon? If you ask these questions you begin to realise the degree to which gunner is subject to an irrational delusion. He is unable to see a human being. If he saw a human being he would immediately realise that a human being in that state, and in those circumstances, is not going to pick up a weapon no matter how hard you wish him to do so. He might just as reasonably been begging for him to turn into a twelve-point buck. What the gunner sees is a target. He wants to kill the target because he has been trained to believe that is the most meritorious act possible – one which will earn him applause from superiors and peers, and bounteous admiration, if not envy, from the civilian community back home. In order to be able to kill the target the must be able to indicate that certain criteria have been met.

The US has long sought to create military personnel who kill discriminatingly but without volition. In World War II US studies led by Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall found that only 15 to 20 per cent of riflemen would fire at the enemy in an engagement:

And thus, since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare — psychological warfare conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops. Propaganda and various other crude forms of psychological enabling have always been present in warfare, but in the second half of this century psychology has had an impact as great as that of technology on the modern battlefield.

When S. L. A. Marshall was sent to the Korean War to make the same kind of investigation that he had done in World War II, he found that (as a result of new training techniques initiated in response to his earlier findings) 55 percent of infantrymen were firing their weapons — and in some perimeter-defense crises, almost everyone was. These training techniques were further perfected, and in Vietnam the firing rate appears to have been around 90 to 95 percent. The triad of methods used to achieve this remarkable increase in killing are desensitization, conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms. (6)

The result of the strength, intensity and sophistication of US military indoctrination is to make US personnel into killers and the sort of military code which other nations historically use (not necessarily successfully) to prevent their killers from becoming murderers is largely absent. The US military does not mandate killing innocents, instead it redefines the concepts of innocence, of combatant status, and even of civilian status. For example, in 1969 the top US commander in Viet Nam, Gen. William Westmoreland, claimed that absolutely no civilians had ever been killed by the US in designated free-fire zones, because no-one in a free-fire zone was a civilian, by definition.(7) In Iraq the most disturbing manifestation of this must be the use of the term “bad guys”. This is infantilisation taken to the point of complete insanity. This all-pervasive term (used throughout the chain of command, and used in official documents) maintains the projection of a Hollywood narrative onto real events of violence and, perhaps more importantly, means that personnel do not have to reflect on the nature of their victims.
This is the opening paragraph of the introduction of Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian’s book Collateral Damage:

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza, or Vietnam, are placed in “atrocity-producing situations.” Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke dangerous. The fear and stress pushes troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the real enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy, and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed over time to innocent civilians, who are seen to support the insurgents. Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing—the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm—to murder. The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing.(8)

There are two things that must be added to that. One is that the US military is very good at making its personnel want to kill. Killing becomes a matter that defines the identity of the GI. In the US military culture the combatant identity and, to be frank, the sense of manhood is linked to killing. Acts of killing are, as mentioned, lauded and rewarded with everything from badges to beer to R and R leave passes. Commanders, like General Mattis, tell personnel such things as: “It’s fun to shoot some people. You know, its a hell of a hoot. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So its a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”(9) The results can be seen in reports such as Neil Shea’s “Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace” which shows a norm of violent, racist and angry men among whom mass murderers are bound to arise. Even back in the US the prevalence of serious violence is alarming. In 2009 David Philipps investigated an infantry brigade stationed in Colorado Springs whose murder rate was 114 times as high as that of their community (he also published a book on the brigade in 2010).

More important even than the strong desire to kill is the fact of the “atrocity producing situations” in which US personnel are placed. The term was coined by Robert Jay Lifton with regard to US actions in Indochina. Naturally it has lent itself incredibly well to biased apologism. If a Japanese psychiatrist had implied that Japanese atrocities in China had been “produced” by “situations” it would undoubtedly be condemned. In fact at the individual level it is the situational factors more than the indoctrination that cause personnel to commit murders and other atrocities but, just as with military mass rape, the most important thing to understand is that these situations don’t simply arise but are created by doctrine and strategy and shaped by tactical practices. Both Japanese and US personnel were immersed in “atrocity producing situations” because the “military” strategy pursued in Manchuria, China, Indochina, and Iraq was a genocidal strategy.

US practices have ensure that US personnel are as alienated from the civilian population as possible. The dividing lines between civilian and combatant are deliberately and systematically blurred. They are manipulated into a sense of enmity with the local population. Threats are more prevalently defined in racial, ethnic, national, political or religious terms rather than military status (which might include arms, training, rank, or membership in a given military or paramilitary formation). No areas, or few areas, outside of bases are made secure from attack. The result is that the entire occupied country of people homes and farms and workplaces becomes viewed as a battlefield and all the people of it become threats. Far from the traditional approach of military organisations seeking to quell or overcome fear, the US military seeks to enhance fear and to channel using “reactive firing”. The fearfulness of US personnel was one of the things that Iraqi’s found surprising and noteworthy. Even US reporter Dahr Jamail wrote that he “marvelled at how scared they were, despite being the ones with the biggest guns.”(10)

Along with the irrational fear was the very real fact that US personnel were often gratuitously put into circumstance where they really were risking their own lives if they were not prepared to kill civilians. For example, they might be deployed to unmarked traffic control points (TCPs) which civilians had great difficulty in even being able to see (imagine how easy it would be at dusk to miss the presence of personnel in camouflaged uniforms at an unmarked TCP) but at the same time left the US personnel extremely vulnerable to suicide bomb attacks.

Fear may or may not be considered a factor in the actions of the murderers in Collateral Murder but it does shape the situation in which they are acting. The US doctrine of “force protection” is explained as being a result of the extreme US aversion to casualties.(11) (I should further refine this to say aversion to battlefield casualties. The US is not averse to producing its own psychological casualties or toxicological and radiological casualties. There widespread exposure to Agent Orange in Indochina, and in the “Gulf War”, when the US had 114 personnel killed by enemy action, an utterly astronomical 250,000 of 697,000 who served contracted Gulf War Syndrome. Apart from exposure to burning oil wells the causes of Gulf War Syndrome, which are understood to be multiple, are the result of US actions. A recent report has detailed the horrific impact of the reckless use of burn pits by the US military which once again illustrates a fundamental lack of concenr for the health and wellbeing of their own). The US officials and commanders may genuinely fear the negative publicity that battlefield casualties might cause, but the actual doctrine of “force protection” becomes a blatant war crime in its application:

A reactive, ‘‘kinetic’’ strategy has lowered the threshold for the use of violence and, in many cases, transferred risk from soldiers to civilians. Particularly in areas designated as hostile, hard-charging house raids, belligerent street patrols, and tense checkpoints make up for a shortage of soldiers on the ground and direct violence away from soldiers and toward civilians. Defying virtually every theory of counterinsurgency, military officials have pursued force protection even at the expense of mission accomplishment. (12)

Transferring risk from soldiers to civilians is a war crime in itself. If you read, for example, the tactical choices made in the Second Battle of Fallujah under the rationale of “force protection” they become a clearly genocidal when applied in a city that still had many tens of thousands of civilian residents. What now seems most poignant is that not only was white phosphorous use to clear bunkers in “shake ‘n’ bake” fire missions (a war crime) but also depleted uranium munitions were used when there was a belief that armed resistors were using walls for cover. One “lessons learned” report from Fallujah II mandates tactics that would almost amount to annihilating all human life in a piecemeal manner: always fire into every room when clearing and always use fragmentation grenades. Use 120 mm tank shells on all buildings before approach. On any enemy contact, burn the place down or use c4 plus propane to create suffocating fuel-air explosive. Marines also used large numbers of demolition charges and thermobaric weapons which cause “concussions, collapsed lungs, internal hemorrhaging and eardrum ruptures.”(13)

This is the background to the events of Collateral Murder and in it we can see common themes. The first is that the “combat” is not some exchange of violent acts, but a one-sided act. In the past the word “combat” would not have been applied to such actions which, depending on one’s moral stance, might have been described as slaughter, murder, assassination or butchery. The second is that, in practice, the transfer of risk is extreme and clearly criminal. Despite seeing nothing that was definitely a weapon, the gunner “positively identifies” six AK-47s and then “positively identifies” a camera as being an RPG launcher. Following this the crew simply murder outright some people who stop to aid the wounded. Afterwards, those killed were designated as insurgents.

The “hostile intent” or “hostile action” which would trigger killings under the Rules of Engagement (ROE) varied widely, and it is clear that even at the time of Collateral Murder when there was a clear single document of “Rules of Engagement” the practice was far more liberal but also clearly codified (and once again a clear war crime). Veteran testimony demonstrates that “hostile intent” or “hostile actions” could be seen in wearing certain clothes, being out after curfew, carrying binoculars or a camera or talking on the phone. The film The Hurt Locker is an extraordinarily offensive collection of some of the rationalisations under which US personnel murdered civilians, presented as if all of these fantasies were in fact real even when they are clearly ridiculous and risible.

4) Lies

One of the most interesting things about Collateral Murder is the lying that goes on. Initially Wikileaks released an edited version of the footage and enraged opponents released extra footage which “proved” that Wikileaks was distorting reality by omitting those parts which show that the aircrew were responding to serious threats to ground forces who had come under fire. Then Wikileaks released all the footage that they had and it was clear that far from giving a context of armed conflict, the aircrew were just inventing things and saying them on air. We’ve already seen them conjure 6 AK-47’s and an RPG launcher from thin to non-existent visual evidence.

When a van appears they claim it is picking up bodies for no apparent reason. Then apparently they are “picking up bodies and weapons” despite a lack of any indication that they are doing so or that there are actually any weapons to be retrieved. The gunner then seeks permission to fire, perhaps on this basis, and does nothing to correct the distortion that was created even when it is amply clear that the targets are fully engaged in trying to rescue Saeed Chmagh and not collecting bodies nor weapons.

And then there is this:

11:11 Hey yeah, roger, be advised, there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break. 

11:19 We also took some RPGs off, uh, earlier, so just uh make sure your men keep your eyes open.

It is such a bald and bold lie that it almost makes one question one’s own eyes. They seem to be lying to the ground forces, but I’m not entirely certain that that is logical. I believe that the ground forces were close to the scene throughout the previous action and thus would have heard that there was no small arms fire (if that is indeed what was being claimed). As for the meaning of the second line it is ambiguous, clearly, but it is obviously part of the warning. The question is whether the lies are really addressed to the ground troops or whether they are more for the sake of recording for posterity and to aid in future legal situations.

5) Killing Journalists

One of the salient aspects of the loose application of the ROE with regard to “hostile intent” is the fact that it clearly causes disproportionate deaths among journalists. Iraq was the deadliest war ever for journalists. In the first three years 71 were killed, more than the 63 killed in Vietnam, the 17 killed in Korea, and even the 69 killed in World War II. The BRussells Tribunal counts a total of 352 Iraqi and 30 non-Iraqi fatalities among media workers up until December 2012. Other reports suggest less, but all reports agree that the majority were killed in a targeted fashion by unknown groups. I would invite the reader to read analyses such as this report by Reporters Without Borders which states that “at least 16 journalists” were killed by the US and then goes on to give details of 15 presumed killed by the US which does not even count the 3 Al-Jazeera staff killed in April 2003. Given that we know that the US considered actions common to journalists to be evidence of “hostile intent”, given that we can see in Collateral Murder that US personnel will seek and receive permission to engage journalists engaged in reporting, and given that we know the US was behind death squads who were killing dissidents, intellectuals, and inconvenient people, does it seem at all acceptable to state that only 16 (or 22) were killed by the US while 83% of deaths were caused by unknown parties who, despite being unknown, are described as “resisting coalition forces and Iraqi authorities”?

It is much more reasonable to draw the inference that directly or through proxies the US was engaged in an unprecedented series of journalists’ murders. If it should also be true that their enemies (who owe their existence to the US occupation) are also guilty of an unprecedented campaign of journalists’ murders, that does not alter the basic truth about US actions. Given that this is the case, it may be that the gun camera footage is actually showing a targeted murder of media personnel. If you saw the footage with the sound turned off that is exactly what you would conclude is occurring in the first ten minutes. Perhaps, given the amount of lies being told, that is what is deliberately concealed. This would resolve a number of outstanding mysteries. It would explain the desperation to kill Saeed Chmagh, first when begging him to pick up a weapon and then when waiting for permission to engage when he is being rescued. It would explain why the gunner gets so agitated waiting for permission to fire when there seems a possibility that the wounded man might be rescued. It might help explain why the other speaker in the same gunship (whom I think of as the pilot) seems to be censoring himself when he says things such as “This is Operation, ah, Operation Secure” (which sounds as if he had meant to say something different and rethought). It might also give a partial explanation for the circumstances which he was commenting on, the sudden rapid appearance of large numbers of ground forces whom had evidently been in waiting nearby and had been told: “Hotel Two-Six, you need to move to that location once Crazyhorse is done and get pictures.”

If it was an assassination deliberately made to look like something else, then it would certainly make it less valuable as evidence of genocide but I thought it would be irresponsible not to mention the possibility. There are mysteries and questions regarding this footage. One source of uncertainty is the unexplained 30 minute ellipsis. The entire sequence which follows is equally mysterious. We cannot really discern what is occurring but the shot of the two seemingly unarmed men entering the half-built building is suggestive of another possible assassination. They certainly appear as if going to meet someone in the building.

Conclusion

Leaving aside the possibility that this was this footage shows targeted killing missions, what is shown is the application of rules and policy based procedures which involve the murder of noncombatants and the targeting and murder of rescuers. The real context of these event is that after 12 years of genocidal sanctions the US invaded and instituted an occupation regime that furthered instability, made reconstruction impossible, created a violent insurgency and then created a bitter sectarian civil war. Of particular significance is the tactic of attacking rescuers, one which is being applied elsewhere. This is an appalling way of psychologically attacking and traumatising the entire genos terrorising those who would act out of humanitarian impulses and giving the entire population a sense of helplessness and utter impotence. On these counts what is shown is evidence of genocide.

This footage reveals an aircrew for whom mass-murder is part of their job. The gunner is eager to the point of desperation to kill men who pose no evident threat. Put within the context of US military indoctrination and the way in which US practices create “atrocity producing situations” this is also evidence of genocide. This can occur with or without racial hatred. Indeed, the violent racial and religious hostility which exists in the US military (descending from the highest levels) is merely useful for the purposes of genocide in the same way the fanatical nationalism and military chauvinism are useful for the purposes of genocide.

Iraq is potentially one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. It has the longest history of any nation. Before reaching the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of it had exported $100 billion in oil and yet it still struggles with shattered infrastructure. Electricity generation is less than half that which was generated before 1990. It remains unstable and vulnerable. By committing genocide the US empire has effectively quelled a threat to its imperial hegemony for more than a generation. Michael Leunig drew a cartoon that explains exactly how to do it:
Leunig - How to do it

(1) Yehuda Bauer, “The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, 1933-1938,” excerpt from A History of the Holocaust, New York: Franklin Watts, 1982. Reprinted in Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, p 345.

(2) There were about 150,000 “Jews” in the German military. The vast majority were “Mischlinge” (“part-Jews” who would be slated for extermination if detected in Poland, for example) were but there were at least a few completely Jewish personnel including at least one who was religiously observant.

(3) Vasili Grossman (a Soviet war correspondent) wrote of: “Thousands of encounters. Thousands of Berliners in the streets. A Jewish woman with her husband. An old man, a Jew, who burst into tears when he learned about the fate of those who went to Lublin.” Illustrating not only the capriciousness of a system of mass murder which saw a higher percentage of German Jews survive than Polish Jews, but also the lingering doubt of knowing but not knowing the fate of “evacuees”.(4)

(4) In this, as in so much else, the German Judeocide serves as an extreme example of the insane schizophrenia common to genocides. Genocide, in its essence, is the province of “shoot then cry”. It is nation building with napalm. For every ten hamlets you destroy you build a well and call yourself humanitarian. It is the madness of starting a “quit smoking” campaign in Iraq in 2004 when US personnel were killing hundreds each day. It is, in Fred Branfman’s words“U.S. Ambassador to Laos G. McMurtrie Godley III… moving happily through a Lao refugee camp, friendly and genial to the survivors of his mass murder…” [from personal email]. Branfman went on to write: “…- one cannot imagine a Nazi acting similarly at Aushchwitz. I do think it’s important to understand the new age we have entered in which human beings are mere blips on a radar screen, of no more importance than cockroaches or flies, to U.S. Leaders.” All true, of course, but the Germans did, in even more grotesque ways, evince the same forms of cognitive dissonance. For example, they made a propaganda film about how good life in the Warsaw Ghetto was. They made anti-Soviet propaganda out of the massacre of Poles in Katyn while they were themselves massacring many more Poles, and anti-British propaganda about the famines which British policies created in India while carrying out the same policies to the same effect in occupied Soviet territory. The German people somehow knew, but didn’t know that Jews were being killed in mass executions. They knew, but somehow didn’t know, about the conditions inside the concentration camps.

Our desire to make the Judeocide somehow unique and totally unrepeatable and unrelated to other genocide is as dangerous as it is understandable. (Not that Branfman is subject to that delusion. He wrote that after witnessing the effects of the bombing in Laos: “Without any conscious decision on my part, I immediately found myself committing to do whatever I could to try and stop this unimaginable horror. As a Jew steeped in the Holocaust, I felt as if I had discovered the truth of Auschwitz and Buchenwald while the killing was still going on.”)

Unfortunately, Branfman is wrong to so distinguish between German hatred and US callousness on two grounds. One is that hatred of coloured people in general and East Asians in particular was not in short supply. Anti-Semitism has deep roots, but white supremacy is powerful, sharp and so prevalent that it goes almost unnoticed. Hatred of “Gooks” had been further inflated by the Phillipines War, the brutal Pacific War, and the Korean Genocide. The second is that hate, whether in the Judeocide or in the Indochina Genocide, is of secondary importance. Those who actually undertook to kill millions of Jews, the actual planners of the Endlösung (“Final Solution”) took the same attitude as those who killed hundreds of thousands of Laotians. They pursued concrete strategic objectives (as they phrased things) and the Jews were no more than inconvenient unpeople. The public rhetoric of extermination expounded by Hitler and other German leaders seems ultimately to have little proven concrete relevance to high level policy. One of the most chilling realisations I have ever had is that from the outside there is nothing much to distinguish those who plan the systematic mass killing of civilians by high-altitude bombardment and those who plan the systematic mass killing of civilians by gas. I don’t want to overstate this (there is certainly room to infer a different mental state among Nazi mass murderers) but for me there is no longer the comfort of believing that if we avoid trappings like brown-shirts, the Fuhrerprinzip and militarised mass rallies we are safe from committing crimes akin to those of the Third Reich.

(5) Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006, p 65.

(6) Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York, Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995, p 251.

(7) James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam, New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.

(8) Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p viii.

(9) Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 409.

(10) Dahr Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2007, p 48.

(11) Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p 58.

(12) Thomas W. Smith, “Protecting Civiliansor Soldiers? Humanitarian Law and the Economy of Risk in Iraq”, International Studies Perspectives(2008) 9, p 145.

(13) Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, pp 403-4.

The Guardian’s Death Squad Documentary May Shock and Disturb, But the Truth is Far Worse

Standard

In what to many must seem a shocking exposé, the Guardian and BBC, after a 15 month investigation have produced a dramatic full-length documentary about US involvement in the formation and running of death squads in Iraq. One journalist describes the result as a “staggering… blockbuster”. But, by creating a false context, by omission, by deceptive emphasis and by specious analysis the Guardian and BBC have create a false and toothless critique. Indeed, though the authors would probably deny it vehemently, the impression given in this documentary is not inconsistent with the villain of the piece, James Steele, being a rogue Kurtz-like figure, with Col. James Coffman cast in the role of faithful sidekick. Other links to the established death squad practices are conspicuously absent – links such as John Negroponte’s appointment as Ambassador to Iraq and Steven Casteel’s role in forming the Police Commando units which functioned as death squads (not to mention ordering the Oregon National Guard to return rescued prisoners to their torturers). Even at the most basic level, the fundamental context was obscured, including one fact that the widespread use of death squads confirmed – the US-led “counterinsurgency” was not war, it was genocide.

Perhaps the most striking thing of all is that, after 15 months of investigation and nearly ten years after US officials set in motion the “Salvador option” in Iraq, this documentary reveals much less of substance than was being reported in 2005. In fact, it is a triumph of style over substance which packs an emotive punch, but disarms watchers by its lack of informational revelation. In January of 2005 it became public knowledge that the US was pursuing a death squad programme. In May 2005 the New York Times published the story showing Steele’s involvement in torture. In the intervening years people like Dahr Jamail continued to report on the US orchestration of death squad activity. And Max Fuller spent years and numerous articles (not to mention a website and the book Crying Wolf: Selling Counterinsurgency as Sectarian Civil War) documenting the death squad programme as well as revealing a deliberate ploy to misrepresent US-run death squads as sectarian murder.

Here is what I found wrong with James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq:

1) Mortality Data

One of the key distortions here is something very basic, the use of “more than 120,000” as a mortality figure. Some may argue that given the controversy over the mortality, it is only sensible to be conservative. But these figures are more than simply abstract numbers. When some people, most notoriously David Irving, put the case that only one million European Jews died during World War II, the media didn’t suddenly adopt the more conservative figure. In fact, Irving was thrown in prison. Irving’s casualty figure was crucial to his genocide denial, and the same is true of the lower figure used in “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. A mortality of 120,000 immediately colours the way in which we perceive US actions in Iraq.

While many simply accept such figures on the basis of faith, the origins of the lowee estimates lie entirely in the work of scoundrels and fools. The figures produced by the two Lancet (“L1 and “L2)surveys indicate a far higher level of mortality and have been reinforced by sources such as the ORB poll. The nail in the coffin of these lower estimates (based on adding the Iraq Body Count figure to those in the Iraq War Logs) came when Les Roberts and students at Columbia subjected the two data sets to analysis, by pains-taking cross-referencing, showed that the two sets of data should be extrapolated to indicate a figure of a similar order, though slightly lower, than the ORB survey suggested. IBC claim that they have a different analysis of the correspondence between IWL and IBC wherein the vast majority of the IWL fatalities are in the IBC count (81%). They also claim, completely speciously, that they can distinguish combatant and non-combatant casualties. However, IWL is thought to cover only about 50% of US military reports (omitting special forces actions, for example, not to mention the incident shown in the footage released as Collateral Murder). Also remember that, as with the “mere gook rule” in Vietnam,1 US forces regularly report civilian deaths at their own hands, such as those in Collateral Murder, as being combatant deaths as a matter of policy.2 You can either conclude that IBC made an honest mistake, trust them on their analysis, and simply add another 15,000 deaths whilst also conveniently ignoring the undisputed fact that the US systematically mischaracterised non-combatant deaths as combatant deaths, or you might think that maybe IBC are not to be trusted. After all, they swore blind in defence of their figure before IWL came out, and barely skipped a beat when the figure jumped over 10% overnight.

We can also use our own brains on this topic. In 2006, the Baghdad morgue received 16,000 bodies of whom 80-85% were victims of violence. In 2005 Robert Fisk wrote: “…in July 2003 – three months after the invasion – 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 – 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.” We are really talking about an average of (if you will excuse some arguable rounding up) 1000 per month violent deaths until at least the end of 2007 (with the “surge” being the most violent time of the entire occupation). That gives a figure of 59,000 violent deaths. Let’s be conservative and say that right through to the withdrawal of US troops 50,000 people killed by violence ended up in the Baghdad morgue. What percentage of Iraq’s fatalities does it seem likely to you will have passed through the morgue of Baghdad? Just over 20% of Iraq’s population live in Baghdad, and many who died in Baghdad would not have been taken to the morgue. I think that estimating the Baghdad morgue data as representing any more than 10-15% of Iraqi mortality would be an offence against basic rationality and numeracy, so that too indicates that the figure of 120,000 is a massive underestimate, possibly of entirely the wrong order of magnitude. Another simple and universal yardstick is the number of orphans. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs estimates that there are 4.5 million orphans (presumably those who have lost at least on parent) of whom 70% have lost parents since 2003. Is it possible that the 120,000 (which includes children) could have an average of 26.25 offspring? What about the number of widows in Iraq. One estimate is that 2.5 million Iraqi women have been widowed by the war. That seems inexplicably high, and in fact estimates range from 1 million to 3 million total Iraqi widows, but it is another indication that 120,000 is simply untenable and far below an actual conservative figure.

2) US War Aims

One of the central lies of the Iraq occupation, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated perhaps, is not just that the US sought some sort of peaceful independent democratic Iraq, but that it sought to impose any sort of stable unified regime at all. No doubt many US personnel were genuinely engaged in attempting to create stability, but from the beginning decisions made at cabinet level and later those emanating from the CPA, very effectively and systematically continued the work that began in 1990, and continued through years of bombing and sanctions and military action. That work was to inflict maximum damage on the fabric of Iraq’s society through attacks on social, political, intellectual, religious and economic health, and through the direct killing and immiseration of the Iraqi people. That process is called genocide.

The only evidence that the US ever sought stability is their own say so, and this is hardly surprising if you consider how unlikely it would be for them to admit instead to a desire to destabilise, weaken and fracture Iraq even further than they already had. The reader may recall that famously Gen. Eric Shinseki was over-ruled on the required number of troops for an effective occupation, and only one third of that number was committed. Some readers may be aware that State Department planning for a successful post-invasion occupation (the “Future of Iraq” project) was systematically sabotaged and subverted. Then the original occupying authority, ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) was fatally undermined by understaffing, lack of resources, and lack of standing within a chain of command. It was a joke, the only real resources and agency in the country were US military, which ORHA could not exert authority over, or the extant Iraqi institutions, which the US repudiated. After 61 days ORHA was replaced with the next seemingly Joseph Heller inspired spoof of governance – Bremer’s “Coalition Provisional Authority” (CPA).

With the CPA nominally in charge, actual power devolved to a confusing patchwork of military authorities whose only focus was security. Those who have read Imperial Life in the Emerald City know that there was systematic waste, fraud and mismanagement which ensured that reconstruction money belonging to the peoples of Iraq and the US was never successfully used for reconstruction. Everything was undermined. Even James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq showed that a mere 6 senior civilian police were supposed to train 30,000 police in 18 months. This sort of thing happened in every imaginable area of governance. So strong is the pattern that explanations of coincidence or incompetence cannot be borne, nor can explanations of systemic failure due to virulent partisan ideology (such as Rajiv Chandrasekaran puts forward).

In the meantime, abetted by the CPA, the US military was actually generating the very insurgency that this documentary would have us believe that the US sought desperately to avoid. As David Keen, author of Endless War, discusses here a function of the “war on terror” is to generate the very enemies which the US can use to justify its “war”. I myself have written about a prior instance of this pattern of US behaviour, the Second Indochina War, wherein the US acted to create recruit, arm and finance its insurgent opposition in order to effectuate genocide against the peoples of Indochina.

In Iraq too, the US actually became the midwives and nurturers of the very insurgency they claimed to be combating. The most obvious example is that by attacking or mistreating civilians, the US acted to recruit survivors and the bereaved as their enemies. In addition, though, accounts from early on in the occupation, in amongst the chaos, US forces left massive amounts of ordnance unguarded in the middle of the desert.3 A wild goose chase for WMD that the administration knew did not exist kept US personnel from securing actual conventional ordnance.4 And in one instance the US Marines more or less simply handed 800 assault rifles, 27 pick-up trucks and 50 radios over to a newly formed Fallujan brigade which promptly and predictably continued in its established role of armed resistance to Coalition occupation in spite of this generosity.5

The US regime also subverted its own personnel’s attempts to secure Iraq’s borders from the arrival of money, arms and fighters. Luis Montalvan gives an extraordinary testimony of obfuscation over the installation of a system for tracking migration, concluding: “From 2007—from 2003 to 2007, no computer systems for tracking immigration or emigration installed—were installed along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This surely contributed to the instability of Iraq. Foreign fighters and criminals were free to move transnationally with little fear of apprehension. It is probable that significant numbers of Americans and Iraqis were wounded and killed as a result of this.”

And then there was the infamous CPA Executive Order Number 2. At a stroke it made 500,000 often armed Iraqi military personnel unemployed. Where there had been none, there was now an insurgency. It should also be noted that the first executive order droves tens of thousands of government employees out of work and inevitably the two together were a massive jump start to insurgency where no serious organised armed resistance had existed to that point.

Also, as will be discussed below, the documentary distinctly gives the impression that US backed death squad activities inadvertently helped fuel sectarian civil war. This relies on the fallacy that death squads are a “dirty war” technique of genuine counterinsurgency (which I will counter below) and ignores the evidence that the US deliberately acted to sow ethnic and sectarian division in Iraq.

3) The “Dirty War” Fallacy

The phrase “dirty war” is used in this documentary to connote that the death squads are a form of counterinsurgency, if perhaps a morally questionable one. But the phrase “dirty war” was first applied to the killings and disappearances in Argentina, not by the Junta’s critics, but by the Junta itself. It is an excuse and a rationalisation of political terror. The Argentine politicide was part of a plan of drastic, if not revolutionary, societal transformation, referred to as el Proceso. The Junta who seized power in 1976 sought a “sanitized, purified culture”.6 Under cover of fighting “terrorism” and insurgency, the Junta implemented a totalitarian anticommunist “free-market” regime by destroying any possible ideological opposition or potentially rival power structures. Feierstein writes: “All those targeted had in common not their political identity, but rather the fact that they participated in the social movements of that time.”7 Those targeted were unionists, leaders of agrarian leagues, and community workers working with the urban poor. This was done over a period of years under the guise of fighting the “dirty war” against “terrorist” guerrillas, despite the fact that Argentina’s Montonero guerrillas were a spent force within 6 months of the coup.8 Some social structures (principally the Church) were cleansed rather than disintegrated, becoming instruments of furthering authoritarian obedience.9 To further ensure unquestioning obedience, books were burned and banned, then a blanket law criminalised writing, publishing, printing, distributing or selling anything found to be “subversive” after the fact. This created a sense of uncertainty and fear. As Galeano puts it: “In this program for a society of deaf mutes, each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.”10

What stands out most in el Proceso is the disappearances. Argentina has the sad distinction of being the first place to nominalise “disappear” into “the disappeared”, just as Guatemala had earlier made its unhappy linguistic contribution with the transitive verb “to disappear [someone]”.11 To disappear someone, rather than to simply gun them down in the streets, is to bring about awful uncertainties about their fate – for the loved ones of the disappeared uncertainty prevents the grieving process and even hope becomes a torment, for everyone the imaginings of protracted torture, usually all too real, become a source of great terror. According to Antonius Robben: “Argentine society became terror-stricken. The terror was intended to debilitate people politically and emotionally without them ever fathoming the magnitude of the force that hit them.”12

I would argue that what distinguishes Argentina from “dirty wars” in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Afghanistan and Iraq is that the Argentine Junta, perhaps unwisely in the circumstances, defeated the actual guerillas rather than ensuring their continuance to provide better cover for their ongoing autogenocide. But the pretence of war is often rather thin, surviving only because it is never challenged. Moreover, certain tactics and certain weapons systems are not even suited for military conflict at all. Look, for example, at the armed unmanned aerial vehicles which are currently used by the US government for a “targeted killing” programme. A Predator drone may carry a very lethal payload and the Reaper (formerly “Predator-B”) may carry 4 Hellfire missiles and 2 500-lb bombs. They are not suited for “fighting” opponents with an opportunity to fight back. In fact, while Obama is set on expanding drone usage even further, the US military is set to cut back on drone production because drones are not suited to “contested airspace” and require “permissive” conditions. Reading between those lines you can see that “combat” drones are in fact nothing of the sort because they do not engage in actual combat. The “hunter-killer” appellation is more honest. Reapers and Predators are for use against those who cannot fight back – like aerial death squads.

Death squads, by nature, are not a military tactic whatever their “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror” pretensions. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it is a universal trait for death squad programmes to seek to conflate combatant targets with non-combatant. This is not restricted to death squad activity itself, but it part of the belligerent political discourse of the putative counterinsurgent regime. During the Cold War, the enemies were the “communists” and deliberate efforts were made to create the impression that the ideological identification was equivalent to combatant status, at least in as much as legitimising killing. The same applies to the uses of the terms “Islamist” and “militant”. Part of this process is to divide the world up into two camps – as Bush Jr said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

But Bush wasn’t stating anything new. Early in the Cold War, in Guatemala the motto was “’For liberation or against it.’ From this Manichean vision sprung the paranoid anti-communist taxonomy that added to the list of enemies not only communists, but ‘philocommunists,’ ‘crypto-communists,’ ‘castro-communists,’ ‘archi-communists,’ ‘pro-communists,’ and finally the ‘useful fools.’”13 In 1962, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff defined “insurgency” as any illegal form of opposition to regime rule, thus including passive resistance, joining banned unions or strikes, or anything else deemed illegal by a given regime. At this time they openly embraced terror tactics, such as those conducted by death squads, as “counterterror”.14 In South Vietnam, before there was any armed insurgency, the Diem regime conducted an horrific terror (seemingly forgotten to history) thought to have cost 75,000 lives.15 Mobile guillotines travelled the countryside to execute those denounced as communists and the campaign came to a head in 1959 with the notorious Decree 10/59 under which all forms of political opposition were made treason and any act of sabotage was punishable by death. Local officials could label anyone they wished “communist” and thus secure summary sentences of death or life imprisonment.16 Then, the US deliberately created the term Viet Cong, to conflate political dissent with combatant status, and then, when their own personnel began to reinterpret VC as referring solely to combatants, the US military then came up with another term – ‘Viet Cong infrastructure’. Prados defines them as “a shadowy network of Viet Cong village authorities, informers, tax collectors, propaganda teams, officials of community groups, and the like, who collectively came to be called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).” “Sympathizers” were also counted.17 It was the “VCI” that were the main supposed targets of the “Phoenix Programme” – the US run dedicated death squad programme. Those targeted were usually tortured and/or killed,18 so the programme was a war crime in any respect, but when it was expanded throughout South Viet Nam, it was run in such a way that the vast majority of victims were not in any manner involved with the NLF. Instead of using specific intelligence to target people with at least some known connection to the NLF, lists of names were coerced from detainees physically. Cash incentives were also offered for informers, while President Thieu used the programme to kill political rivals.19 “Neutralizations” resulting from the programme were about 20,000 each year. In 1969, out of a US figure of 19,534 “neutralizations” less than 150 were believed to be senior NLF cadres and only 1 (one) had been specifically targeted.20

In Argentina most victims were not guerillas but union leaders, young students, journalists, pacifists, nuns, priests and friends of such people. 21% of victims were students; 10.7% were professionals and 5.7% were teachers or professors. 10% were Jews who were tortured in specific anti-Semitic ways. CIA noted at the time the use of “torture, battlefield ‘justice,’ a fuzzing of the distinction between active guerilla and civilian supporter…arbitrary arrest… death ‘squads’….” Generals increasingly come to understand the threats as being Peronism and unionism. “One Argentine general is quoted as having said that ‘in order to save 20 million Argentines from socialism, it may be necessary to sacrifice 50,000 lives.’”21 General Jorge Rafael Videla defined his “enemy” in the following terms: “a terrorist is not only someone with a weapon or a bomb, but anyone who spreads ideas which are contrary to our western and Christian civilization.”22

As you can see there is a crossover between main force military “counterinsurgency” activities and death squad activities. In El Salvador, by 1992 there were 6800 guerilla’s and they were faced with over 60,000 regular military and over 50,000 ORDEN paramilitaries (many acting as death squads). The UN found the government side responsible for 95% of deaths, concluding that the violence was not guerilla war, but rather repression. This was also true of the 35 year “guerilla war” in Guatemala. UN estimates over 200,000 were killed. 93% of torture, disappearance and execution committed by government forces; 3% by guerillas and 4% described as “private”. The army was involved in 90.52% of massacres, alone in 55% of cases, in collaboration for the others. “In a majority of the massacres committed by the state, especially by the army, the counterinsurgency strategy led to multiple acts of savagery such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls…; impaling the victims; amputating their limbs; burning them alive; extracting their viscera while still alive and in the presence of others… and opening the wombs of pregnant women.” A favoured way of torturing to death was to stab someone then throw them into a pit where they would be burnt to death. Specific deliberate raping torturing killing of women and children was a “counterinsurgency” tactic. “The murder of children was adopted by the army as terrorism – as a counterinsurgency tactic, part of a scorched earth operation.” It was a way of further attacking social cohesion – destroy the graves and the children and there are no ancestors or descendants. Rape was used as weapon to destroy social cohesion.23

The same blurring even applies to the current UAV “targeted killing” programme. The targets are “militants”, not combatants, and in the Israeli “targeted killing” programme (on which the US programme is apparently modelled), though Israeli courts use an “immanent threat” justification to legitimise the strikes,24in practice no victims pose an immanent threat and less than half are even wanted militants, while the rest are, once again, community leaders or political activists.25 If, like Israel and the US, “targeted killings” are carried out with missiles, then it is guaranteed that the majority of victims will not be those specifically targeted. Thus in 2002 when the US conducted a strike on an Afghan villager because he was tall (and therefore may have been Osama Bin Laden who was also tall and may have been in Afghanistan) they also killed two bystanders who were innocent of being tall.26 In the US case, they use “signature strikes”, where there is no known target, more often than “personality strikes”, which ensures that many innocents are killed. In addtion the US uses “double tap” strikes which are follow up attacks designed to kill those who come to help the wounded. It is estimated that about 50 civilians are killed for each known terrorist, but the US has a long standing habit of labelling anyone it murders a combatant by definition.27 William Westmoreland confidently proclaimed that no civilians had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because people in free-fire zones, whether 9 weeks old or 90 years old, were not civilians by definition.28 Similarly the US government currently defines any “military age male” as a militant unless proven otherwise, and not only do they not investigate such matters, we have no evidence that the US even tries to ascertain whom it has killed other than “military age males”.

As counterinsurgency death squad or targeted killing programmes can only be counterproductive in practical terms, not least because actual combatants are considerably harder to kill than civilians. These are much more efficient at eliminating political dissidents, activists and organisers, but at the same time inflicting terror on the general populace. We have already seen how this occurred in Argentina, but a recent report Living Under Dronesdevotes 30 pages to the non-lethal effects of social disintegration, mental trauma, economic and educational damage, health impacts, and cultural destruction. The constant presence of Reaper and Predator UAV’s audibly buzzing overhead and the constant threat of sudden incineration that accompanies the noise, creates constant grinding stress: “Drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there”. This plays the same role that disappearances do, heightening terror and trauma through “a chronic state of intense uncertainty [while] the later reappearance of highly mutilated corpses instils fear of the unknown rather than the known.”29 Signs of torture and mutilation on the bodies of loved ones creates deep psychological scars, but also militates against compromise promotes armed resistance over unarmed resistance.

The result is what is referred to as the “culture of terror” (a phrase also used to describe the post-2001 interventionism of the US). It inflicts exactly that state earlier mentioned wherein “each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.” This “culture of terror” and, indeed, the very use of deaths squads as a tactic are symptomatic of genocide, in as much as genocide was coined to denote war against peoples rather than armies. The inventor of the term “genocide”, Raphäel Lemkin, put it this way: “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be regarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations.” It is part of a “composite and manifold” set of behaviours that signify a “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group”. The claim of those committing genocide that they are fighting “dirty wars” against insurgents has not merely been made in Argentina and Guatemala, but in every major act of genocide including the Herero genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda (usually known as the Rwanda Genocide), the subsequent genocide against the Hutu in Rwanda and Eastern Congo, and the Bangladesh Genocide (in what was then “East Pakistan”).

If you really want to give proper context to the US backed death squads in Iraq, it is essential to recognise them as a functional part of an ongoing genocide. It is increasingly difficult to seriously maintain that two decades of systematic destruction unleashed on Iraq by the US and allies were somehow unintended. And it is more evidently fatuous than ever to make the false distinction between the genocidal sanctions period and the occupation period which only saw an increase in the tempo of death and destruction. Each period saw a multiplicity of tactics and policies which worked together in exactly the manner originally described by Lemkin when he sought to explain the new concept which he called “genocide”. As Max Fuller wrote in 2006:

Iraq’s ‘democratic opening’ was just as vital a fig leaf for all-out dirty war as Duarte’s civilian presidency was in El Salvador. At this moment all of the voices are telling us the same thing and that is that US-trained, armed and backed forces are committing yet another genocide. Islamofascism is just another cover for ruthless political, economic and social repression, with Shiite militiamen in Iraq no more needing to take their orders from Tehran than Guatemalan death squads needed to take theirs from the Vatican. The objective is not a mystery. It is total neo-colonial domination.”

4) Steele in the Heart of Darkness

One version of the Steele documentary opens with an ominous soundtrack and describes him: “…a shadowy figure, always in the background….” The impression given is that Steele was a radical and puissant figure, and there is a definite implication that he was a rogue (with the possibility left open to viewers that US officials turned a wilful blind eye). In terms of relationships with other US personnel, Steele is placed in a very short vertical chain. Top officials may have valued his knowledge and analysis, but the death squad activities are subject only to a lack of oversight by unnamed officials, with one very important exception. Steele’s sidekick, Colonel Coffman, reported to General David Petraeus, but as to how much Petraeus actually knew, we are left doubting. That is quite literally all of the interconnection shown in this documentary – it implicates two US personnel and leaves one with a question mark. The problem is that this is a completely specious, irrational and amnesiac image of the evolution of US founded death squad programmes in Iraq.

In October of 2003, Steven Casteel arrived in Iraq to become the senior US advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Fuller describes his background thus:

Whilst Casteel’s background is said to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the operation against Escobar was a joint intelligence effort, involving the CIA, DEA, Delta Force and a top-secret military intelligence surveillance unit knows as Centra Spike (Marihemp, SpecWarNet). The operation had no impact on Colombia’s position as the world’s major source of cocaine… with the centre of gravity ultimately shifting to dozens of micro cartels (Houston Chronicle). However, the operation did lead to the formation of a death squad known as Los Pepes, which was to form the nucleus for Colombia’s present paramilitary death-squad umbrella organisation, the AUC, responsible for over 80 percent of the country’s most serious human-rights abuses (Colombia Journal). Whilst no official connection was ever admitted, Los Pepes relied on the intelligence data held in the fifth-floor steel vault at the US Embassy in Bogota that served as the operation’s nerve centre. Lists of the death squad’s victims rapidly came to mirror those of Escobar’s associates collated at the embassy headquarters (Cocaine.org, Cannabis News).

Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees.”

In December of 2003 Robert Dreyfuss reported that money had been set aside to form a paramilitary militia which analysts immediately pegged as being a death squad programme akin to Phoenix. The programme would bring together both former exile group members and “senior Iraqi intelligence people” from the notorious Mukhabarat of the former regime. James Steele arrived early in 2004 to run the paramilitaries which Casteel was creating, Steele had been in and out of Iraq during 2003, but wasn’t actually assigned to the paramilitaries until after June 2004 when David Petraeus took charge of the newly created “Multi-National Security Transition Command” which trained and equipped Iraqi forces. Also in June 2004 John Negroponte began his tenure as US ambassador to Iraq. It is in no way possible for me to any justice here to the intimate association that Negroponte has to death squad activities, but his record in Latin America is highly enlightening reading. Here’s a taste of his records from Dahr Jamail:

In Honduras he earned the distinction of being accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights while he worked as “a tough cold warrior who enthusiastically carried out President Ronald Reagan’s strategy,” according to cables sent between Negroponte and Washington during his tenure there. The human rights violations carried out by Negroponte were described as “systematic.”

The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA. Records document his “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” comprised of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people. Negroponte had full knowledge of these activities while making sure U.S. military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77.4 million a year during his tenure. Under his watch civilian deaths sky-rocketed into the tens of thousands. Negroponte has been described as an “old fashioned imperialist” and got his start during the Vietnam War in the CIA’s Phoenix program….”

The first of the paramilitaries under Steele’s guidance was publicly acknowledged in September 2004. In charge of one of the first Brigades was General Rashid Flayih, a former Ba’athist General who played a key role in crushing the 1991 uprising in southern Iraq (itself often misleadingly described as sectarian in nature). Moreover, as Fuller writes: “Even more significantly than the continued tenure of General Rashid Flayih, is that of General Adnan Thabit. Adnan was instrumental in establishing the Police Commandos according to Maas and is currently [ in charge of all of the Interior Ministry’s extensive security forces. Adnan is a Sunni and was a Baathist intelligence officer. Like Rashid, Adnan has a history of collaboration with the CIA.” The original prime targets were not the “Sunni insurgents” but the Mehdi Army. This Shia militia is, in US media discourse, an implacable enemy of the Sunni “insurgents” despite the fact that the Mehdi army’s leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, gave such vocal and voluble support to Sunni resistance in Falluja – even sending aid and personnel to Fallujah. Just as today Sadr’s support of the “Sunni uprising” and its demands is an unmentionable sour note spoiling the self-serving Western discourse of ethnic and sectarian fragmentation and calls for partition (Peter Galbraith, a major and influential partition advocate, has been allowed to make hundreds of millions of dollars out of his Iraq dealings).

So the death squads were US planned and run and though the sectarian aspect was deliberately inbuilt, it was both Sunni and Shia. The documentary leaves intact the impression that infiltration by Shia militias was the driving force behind the sectarian tensions, and a probable force driving the brutal excesses, rather than a calculated deliberate aspect of the death squad programme as designed by the US. Fuller shows that the implementation of the “Salvador option” created sectarian division by design to further the push for partition. Scott Ritter predicted that “the Salvador option will serve as the impetus for all-out civil war. In the same manner that the CPA-backed assassination of Baathists prompted the restructuring and strengthening of the Sunni-led resistance, any effort by US-backed Kurdish and Shia assassination teams to target Sunni resistance leaders will remove all impediments for a general outbreak of ethnic and religious warfare in Iraq.”

Rather than enlighten viewers to the comprehensive and intentional nature of the US death squad policy, the documentary makes it seem as if the callous and scary Steele had, in his ruthless pursuit of counterinsurgency, unleashed sectarian hatreds and opened up the paramilitaries to Shia militia infiltration because their vicious hatefulness and violence, though morally unacceptable to we civilised Westerners, could be harnessed to suppressing the anti-occupation resistance.

There is the deliberate implication that Steele was valued for his ability to utilise “human intelligence” and in the alternative version he is even touted as an expert as getting “actionable intelligence”. Indeed the entire documentary barely mentions the key death squad trait associated with these Special Police Commandos (disappearing live people and producing mutilated corpses). Instead it concentrates on detentions and torture under interrogation. However, I believe that the reason that the “actionable intelligence” quote is dropped from the official version is that it cannot be reconciled with the reality of the death squad activity in Iraq. The documentary, in either version, insinuates that officials did not enquire too closely into Steele’s methods because he got results. But the implication that these results had something to do with counterinsurgency is patent nonsense. At the height of death squad activity hundreds of corpses were turning up each week with signs of torture, only someone seriously deluded would believe that this torture was all done as a way of gathering real intelligence about insurgent threats to the Occupation and the puppet regime. Torture is not a very effective way of getting reliable intelligence from detainee interrogations.

In a “culture of terror” obviously torture promotes terror as has been discussed, but in death squad terror systems torture may also serve other purposes. One already touched upon is the production of what might be called “actionable intelligence” if one acknowledges that “actionable” need not mean “truthful”. As mentioned, in the Phoenix programme, torture was used to generate lists of names simply to perpetuate a largely indiscriminate terror programme. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, found that pro-democracy Uzbek activists were being tortured to produce “intelligence” about “terrorists” in other countries for the use by the US and UK: “The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda.” (Incidentally, the same Craig Murray said of the Salvador option: “The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time.”) Murray testified to the “Bush Commission” to the effect that “they needed false intelligence from torture chambers” in order to justify the war on terror. Indeed, even the justification for the invasion of Iraq had an integral element gained by torturing false intelligence from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The intelligence produced allows some officials to claim innocence or honest error. Other functionaries are genuinely innocent, actually believing the falsehoods, while others maintain ignorance with varying degrees of wilfulness. This includes those in the media, who are as much a part of this system as CIA or Pentagon employees. So if Steele was actually valued for his “human intelligence” gathering (and I think that much less likely than that he was valued for his skill at repression, terror and genocide) then the “actionable intelligence” was known to be false.

On the subject of torture, it remains to be noted that in a process similar to that used to produce self-justifying “intelligence”, there is a psychology of confession and the reification of the victim as malefactor in the mind of the persecutor. Whether in Argentine torture camps, or in the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng, torturers force confessions not for external consumption, but to create a reality which justifies their cruelty even if that reality extends no further than the four walls of a single cell. In this instance, however, the US created a grotesque high-tech dystopian version, like Soviet show trials but with Hollywood pizazz. In a reality show called Terrorists in the Grip of Justice a “parade” of torture victims provided by the SPC Wolf Brigade, confessed to heinous crimes including the murders of people later revealed to be alive.

5) Reel Bad Arabs

One of the strongest distortions in this documentary is the way it isolates the Iraqi paramilitaries’ actions from those of US occupation forces. We are left with the impression that no matter what degree of knowledge US officials possessed, their crime was one of inaction – not putting a stop to things getting out of hand as their ruthless Kurtz built his private army of thugs, and as that very army was infiltrated by vengeful sectarian militias. But as with Indochina or Argentina or Guatemala or El Salvador, the existence of dedicated death squads, or paramilitaries that function as death squads does not preclude death squad type activities from regular forces. The “counterinsurgency” tactics used in South Vietnam, in El Salvador, and in Iraq essentially involve all military personnel in a campaign of terror, in which many, even if quite unwillingly, will find themselves in the role of death squad executioner.

Let us examine the realities of detention at the hands of US occupation forces in Iraq. Many men were detained in “house raids” which seemed almost invariably based on false or faulty intelligence. If that seems unlikely, consider that the US was using torture on detainees to gain information when the vast majority (estimated at 70%-90%) were innocent. Just like the paramilitary death squads, the US forces right from the beginning were torturing innocent people to get “actionable intelligence” on other innocent people. After just 6 months of US occupation, Abu Ghraib alone was crowded with 10,000 detainees. The US also gained intelligence by buying it, and replicated all of the venality and private vengeance that they cannot but have known (having gone down this road before) is an inevitable result of a denunciation system of bribery and coercion.

So within months of the invasion, terror spread to every Iraqi, because none was safe. Each night going to sleep brought the possibility of awakening suddenly to the violent invasion of a US house raid. “Military age” males were subject to detention. They were then “Persons Under Control” or PUCs. They would then pass through a chain of custody. Even before they reached the destination where interrogators were authorised to torture information out of them that they did not possess, the guards along the way might take the opportunity to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC”. The radically dehumanised process (wherein human beings labelled as “PUC”s) would make detainees inot nothing but anonymous living meat with bags on their heads in a factory-like process. Those who arrested them might understand that they are innocent of wrongdoing, they will have seen the humanity in their eyes, but, like so much else in this dystopian nightmare, all humanity was systematically effaced. So to the next tiers of people in the PUC production line, they are nothing more than a “bad guy”. Ricks even documents that some US personnel maliciously wrote “IED” on the bags of innocent detainees, just in order to prompt abuse which might easily prove fatal.30

Torture of detainees not an aberration for the US. According to Darius Rejali, contemporary US torture combines two distinct styles which he labels “French Modern” and “Anglo-Saxon Modern”.31 Key features include electrotorture, water torture, sleep deprivation and positional torture. These are what he labels “clean torture” techniques, meaning that they are physical tortures which, no matter how much agony they produce, leave no lasting scars: “Used by authoritarian states abroad, it is torture; but used at home, it is probably good policing.”32 Although Rejali emphasises on innumerable occasions that clean tortures occur in response to monitoring, I think that it is reasonable in this instance to take a more nuanced approach. The US doesn’t fear monitoring. Aside from the facts that a former President has happily admitted ordering torture and that Donald Rumsfeld is one of only very few high officials in modern times known to have ordered specific torture techniques to be used,33 systematic US torture is also well documented by NGOs, the UN, and many major news organisations outside of the US. In fact, the utility of “clean” torture is that it allows people, including torturers, to rationalise the effects as being primarily emotional or mental when they may, like water-boarding, cause excruciating physical pain. As Rejali points out even sleep deprivation causes physical pain.34 And yet these are widely understood to be psychological techniques, inducing fear and breaking down resistance.

Of course there is a great deal done by US personnel that is not among these “clean” tortures. Former interrogator Tony Lagouranis describes how “North Babel was probably the place where I saw the worst evidence of abuse. This was from August to October of 2004, so, it was well after the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we were no longer using any harsh tactics within the prison, but I was working with a marine unit, and they would go out and do a raid and stay in the detainee’s homes, and torture them there. They were far worse than anything that I ever saw in a prison. They were breaking bones. They were smashing people’s feet with the back of an axe head. They burned people. Yeah, they were doing some pretty harsh stuff.”

Somehow, however, these non-“clean”acts are erased when it comes to analysis. The entire world saw that attack dogs were made to bite naked restrained prisoners with photos such as these:

Yet whenever the use of dogs is mentioned something strange happens. For Rejali, the Nazis “set

dogs” on prisoners, but the US “threatens” with them.35 Alfred McCoy, another torture specialist

and strong critic of the US, takes the same approach, emphasising on multiple occasions the Arab

cultural sensitivities and fear of dogs. (Apparently Arabs are peculiarly sensitive to being bound

naked and blindfolded while military attack dogs savage them. Who would have thought?)

Our attitude seems to be that above all, though they might trick people into feeling fear or trick them into a “simulation” of drowning, US terror is somehow fake and unthreatening. But, for the loved ones of those taken by the US military, they were disappeared as effectively as if they had been taken by a Guatemalan death squad. Relatives would have no way of knowing where they were or even whether they were still alive for days, but often that might turn into weeks or even months. These were carceral disappearances with most victims entering a Kafkaesque realm of capricious abuse and arbitrary treatment within a characteristically massive and inhuman prison machinery. The prospect of dying in custody was also very real.

The terror inflicted through these indiscriminate detention policies as not the only way in which the US (and to a lesser degree Coalition partners) created a “culture of terror” which was part of their genocide in Iraq. US forces used ordnance guaranteed to kill civilians, such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster munitions, and large explosive munitions such as 1000lb and 2000lb JDAMs:

In addition, US forces were more intimately killing. As I have written previously:

…in excess of 100,000, civilians have been killed in a very atomised and geographically dispersed pattern with small arms by coalition forces. The closest parallel to this would be something like the Herero genocide, an early 20th Century colonial genocide.

In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that US personnel have gone“from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”36 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over. This is the result of a disproportionate fear and lack of security induced within US personnel as well as such policies and tactics as: force protection; reactive firing; suppressive fire; reconnaissance by fire. These are of relevance during convoy operations, house raids and at checkpoints and I am quite confident that each of these situations has been shaped by US policy in such a way as to maximise civilian deaths, often putting US personnel in the situation of being unwilling murderers. Joshua Key describes, from early in the occupation, having to build a “corpse shack” where Iraqis could go to collect the bodies of relatives killed by his company. It was “near our front gate, so relatives could retrieve their loved ones without entering our compound.”37

And then there are also those instances when, given legitimacy by rules of engagement, US personnel quite eagerly commit murder. International Humanitarian Law and even US Field Manuals forbid the killing of non-combatants, but if the ROE redefines a civilian as a combatant, because they stopped to help a wounded person, or carry a shovel, or do something suspicious, then considerable eagerness to kill people may take over. “Delightful bloodlust” as Bradley Manning terms it. This bloodlust is systematically induced in personnel subjected to intense military indoctrination using psychologically sophisticated techniques.

The same fundamental rules of representation and discourse apply to all mainstream Western media products, including both Hollywood blockbusters and “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. Above all, the average US person, including their heavily armed military personnel, can never be shown as a threat to the innocent. For Arabs (as for Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Africans etc. etc.), one is allowed to say that violence is part of their culture, but only the bad apples of the US commit abuses. Above all, one can never suggest that civilians might fear US personnel.

Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.

1 Jeffrey Record, “How America“s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North“s” Victory“ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.

2 Stjepan Gabriel Meštrović, Rules of engagement?: a social anatomy of an American war crime – Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq, New York: Algora, 2008, p 171.

3 Joshua Key writes of loading 1000 rpg and mortar rounds on to a truck, driving it into the middle of the desert and just leaving it. (Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, The Deserter’s Tale: Why I Walked Away from the War in Iraq, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2007, pp 78-9.)

4 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 156.

5 Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 142.

6 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, New York: Henry Holt, 2007, p 105.

7 Daniel Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina and its genocidal characteristics,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2),June, p 150.

8 Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp 107-9.

9 Ibid, p 110.

10 Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America (1973), New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997, p 282.

11 Frank M. Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects of State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, pp 116.

12 Antonius C. G. M. Robben, “Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p 96.

13 Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2), June, p 198.

14 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror, Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, pp 29-30.

15 William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, p 32 n 6.

16 David W. P. Elliott, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975, Volume 1. London and Armonk, NY: East Gate, 2003, p 195-6.

17 John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 204-5, 210.

18 Tucker gives figures which suggest that just less than one third: “Between 1968 and 1972 it accounted for the deaths of 26,369 people; another 33,358 were captured and 22,013 surrendered,” (Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 151). These overly precise figures, however, should in themselves arouse suspicion, and accounts of the functioning of the programme make it seem unlikely that any accurate count of those killed was kept, although sometimes, in the words of an officer who helped oversee the programme, “they’d come back to camp with ears to prove they’d killed people,” (Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), p 361).

19 Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 116.

20 John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 142.

21 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 96-8

22 Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina…” p 153.

23 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 41-9.

24 Michael L. Gross, “Killing civilians intentionally: double effect, reprisal, and necessity in the Middle East”, Political Science Quarterly, 120.4 (Winter 2005), p569.

25 Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, London: Verso, 2005, p 132.

26 Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2004, p 29.

27 See above n 1 and n 2.

28 James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.

29 Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects…”, p 118.

30 Ricks, Fiasco, p 271.

31 Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp 20; 420.

32 Ibid, p 255.

33 Ibid, p 412.

34 Ibid, p 290.

35 Ibid, p 433.

36 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

37 Key, Deserter’s Tale, p 84.

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

Standard

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.

Image

There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.

Image

[By XcepticZP at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons]

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film.  In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.”  He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”

Image

[Angela George [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions.  The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda.  It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background.  Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists.  Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.  We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.

Image

You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

The third sweatshop scene is also brief. A boy succeeds in producing a usable image. The image is taken without thanks or reward. Then there is a cut to a particularly young and vulnerable looking child. His expression is not inconsistent with a look of anxiety. He looks to the side, as if watching the successfully reconstructed image being taken. But there is only the merest hint of curiosity or concern as his head turns back and down almost immediately, as if returning to work. This is the culmination of this sweatshop depictions.

Inevitably now you feel a queasiness and a sense of concealed horror. The coda to this, the fourth reference, is the already mentioned juxtaposition of the film scene with the documentary photo. Just to tidy away any niggling sense that the film makers might be playing you like an idiot violin.

So why the “sweatshop kids”? As I’ve mentioned the whole pictures-from-shredded-mugshots scenario is a bit too cheesy and overtly Hollywood to make great suspense. It is true that the film has some other rather implausible nail-biting parts, but these are all last minute glitches. The sweatshop storyline carries on throughout most of the movie. And there is no need at all, other than propaganda, to just decide that it should be a bunch of oppressed kids who are doing the work of putting together paper shreds. Not only is it a very silly idea – risking the onset of disbelief – but it actually destroys the main potential for suspense. Engaged adults committed to reconstructing pictures because they actively wish to apprehend the fugitives are inherently far more suspenseful than a bunch of sullen, frightened and apathetic children forced to reconstruct documents without any understanding of why they must do so.

The answer to why this is done is that one of the purposes of this film is to transform, disrupt or destroy certain “memes”. I’m quite serious in writing that. “Meme” might be a buzzword (so to speak), or even worse, yesterday’s buzzword, but it is a very appropriate word to use for those quanta of information that convey a “truth”. In particular, and far more to the point, a “meme” can belie an entire orthodox discourse. The Iranian revolution created many such memes, their power being almost entire due to the fact that they ran counter to the established official discourse. In many instances, not least those coming out of the hostage taking at the embassy, one might see young impassioned revolutionaries animated by a desire for justice and freedom who gave of themselves bravely, sacrificing without hesitation. To present that as being all there was to the story would be ludicrous. One cannot, and should not, ignore the violence and excesses of revolution whether their source is secular or religious in its expression. But to erase it altogether is equally wrong, but hardly surprising on the US part.

A proper narrative of the hostage crisis in Tehran would juxtapose the aspirations of brave, intelligent, dedicated, moral revolutionaries; the vicious excesses of revolutionary violence; the repressive nature of Shah’s régime; the repression of the revolution and the republican régime; the role of the US and the ongoing role of the CIA operating out of the Tehran embassy; the suffering and ill-treatment of the hostages in a 444 day ordeal. But that sort of narrative is balanced. It does two unwelcome things – it humanises Iranians as victims of the US régime; and it indicts the régimes of the Shah; the US, and the Islamic Republic, but not the peoples of the US or Iran. Another undesirable thing is that the idea that a CIA officer could be a hero is risible. Indeed, without trying to sound too anarchistic here, a balanced view of what the history tells us with regard to the actions of individuals is that when they act out of individual conscience they may be “heroic”, but when they act under orders as agents of régimes they will almost always be either victims or “villains” or both. So, for example, Lt. Calley and Capt. Medina were ordered to “kill anything that moves” at My Lai; but W.O. Hugh Thompson who risked his own life, the lives of his men, and threatened to kill his compatriots in order to bring that same slaughter to an end, did so because of his own sense of humanity, not from orders, or duty, or military indoctrination. Indeed, the history of Iran-US relations going back to 1953 can be seen as two peoples who share exactly the same two enemies – their own and the other’s state régimes which would have them slaughter each other. As with the trenches of the Western Front in WWI, the revelation of common humanity and circumstance is a serious threat to the “fighting spirit” required to achieve the geostrategic goals of the ruling class. In the trenches, among the troops of WWI, demonisation and atrocity propaganda were common techniques to combat the threat of “live and let live”.13 Image

The point is to ensure that people don’t start seeing anything admirable in Iran’s revolutionaries, nor see them as potential agents of their own liberation. The US will bring them “democracy” in its own time. In the lens through which the West is meant to view the lesser beings of the East – Persians (like Filipinos) are “half devil and half child”, or maybe about four-fifths devil in this instance. The point is this, the US did a bad thing by overthrowing Mossadeq – that is the official reality, complete with official apology (unlike all of the other places where the US has overthrown the rightful government). However, the way they are constructing the meaning of this fact echoes Colin Powell’s “pottery barn rule” – you know, the one that says that if you illegally invade a country you are morally obligated to occupy it for years, steal billions from its people, kill hundreds of thousands, rewrite its constitution to your own liking; and so forth. I think you get the picture. The admission of guilt in the Mossadeq overthrow is being rewritten as license, nay duty, to deal with the consequences (the repressive régime of the Islamic Republic) while the Iranian people are necessarily recast as the monstrous creations of US intervention who can only be redeemed by further US intervention – 80% devil, 20% child (the approved portions for victims of Islamofascism).Image

The shredded documents are of central importance. The makers of Argo went to extraordinary lengths to subliminally create negative associations with the issue, though not that issue alone. The entirety of the Iranian revolution is sullied, not by the association of revolutionaries with the suffering brought about by the revolution in reality, but by filthying the very characters of the participants in the same way that the orators of Occupy Wall Street movement are smeared with ordure and disfigured (figuratively) in The Dark Knight Rises. Not only was this a serious undertaking, but it was a risky one too. If someone of prominence had, in timely fashion, started pulling at the “sweatshop kids” thread they could might have caused considerable unravelling long before Oscar time. I cannot help but think of Glenn Greenwald. But Greenwald, like many other astute political critics, has been so busy critiqueing the even more repugnant CIA propaganda of the year, that it is only now after Argo has won best picture that people are posting trenchant, but comparatively simple posts criticising Argo‘s historical inaccuracy, racist monolithic depictions of fanatical Iranians, and CIA/US boosterism. Image

In a sane world, the Hollywood critics would have so totally panned Zero Dark Thirty that it was never an Oscar contender, nor seen as anything but a prurient sadistic flick for maladjusted teenagers – the contemporary equivalent of another ambivalent CIA assassination/torture propaganda flick from the previous millenium, The Evil Men Do (the difference being that while Charles Bronson was known to some as “Mr Monkey Scrotum Features”, director Kathryn Bigelow more subtly manages to place the ugliness inside of her characters, like cancerous pus that oozes just below the surface).

In a sane world? One cogent blogger writes: “What if instead of making a movie about the hostage situation and replaying the same narrative of victim Americans, villain Iranians, Ben Affleck made a movie about the 1953 coup? What if someone made a movie about the CIA teaching the Iranian intelligence agency torture methods copied from the Nazis? What if we gave a little bit more background before jumping to make labels of good guy and bad guy?” But is the audience living in a sane world?

In a sane world the audience would never accept such a portrayal of the CIA. It might be possible to have a CIA hero, if, and only if, s/he was just doing a job in an Agency context of, in film terms, rampant evil villainy. I do hate to break it to everyone, but in cinema conventions the scheming, murdering, corrupt torturers are supposed to be the “bad guys”. At best, people should perceive the idea of CIA heroes as a bit off and uncomfortable, if not disgusting or simply comical. The irony is that the hostage crisis occurred in the middle of a period when no one would have dared make a film with a CIA officer as hero unless they were a renegade being persecuted by the agency (or unless it was some violent b-grade right-wing action film starring Charles Bronson). I am not merely referring to a matter of taste here. There is something utterly basic at issue as well. Something so fundamental that it strikes at the roots of the entire film, making a nonsense of everything that is projected on to the screen.

In a sane world the central premise that the CIA was animated by a concern for the preservation of the lives of 6 human beings, just because they were US citizens and innocent of wrongdoing, would be widely and immediately apparent as utter unadulterated nonsense. In 1979 many people were aware, and they seem to have since forgotten, that the CIA was happy enough to kill innocent US citizens themselves when it seemed expedient. Unknown numbers of deaths were brought about by the reckless drug experiments undertaken on thousands of unwitting victims. As investigations such as those of the “Church Committee” showed the CIA’s lack of concern for their victims’ safety alone established that these innocent US citizens were as disposable to the CIA as toilet paper. Enough people would have known this that no such movie as Argo could have been a large mainstream Hollywood hit without it raising serious questions about what exactly the CIA’s real motives were.

What were the CIA’s real motives? Let me begin by saying that I can understand why the fugitive diplomats would have feared for their lives at the hands of the Iranian government. I understand why Western diplomats such as the Canadians and the gratuitously maligned UK and New Zealand diplomats took steps to help them evade capture and escape. Nevertheless, in the cold light of day and historical retrospect, the greatest risk to the lives of the fugitives was from the CIA, not the Iranian régime. The film as much as gives that away at one point when a CIA character says: “Six Americans get pulled out of a Canadian diplomat’s house and executed it’s a world outrage. Six Americans get caught playing movie make-believe with the CIA at the airport and executed, it’s a national embarrassment.” The audience doesn’t see a problem with that, because they are preconditioned to expect that the “Mad Mullahs” will gladly cause “world outrage” because they froth at the mouth and hate everyone and everything Western, and because the film keeps telling us that they will execute them publicly and juxtaposing such claims with grotesque imagery based on real executions.

Let us take a step back from our conditioning here and remember that:

  1. contrary to the depiction of the film (which would have us believe that the embassy was stormed three days after the CIA reported no sign of “pre-revolutionary” activity) the revolutionary régime had been in power for over 9 months – long enough to stop screaming fanatical slogans and spraying spittle everywhere; and long enough to develop a degree of concern about international perceptions and diplomacy.
  2. One very central point about the hostage crisis which is omitted is the shady US role in its origins. Even if one dismisses some things as conspiracy nonsense, the perfectly well established and uncontroversial facts of the “October Surprise” conspiracy were also omitted from Argo. They were omitted because they would show that the US establishment tended to see the hostages as disposable pawns
  3. If the “mad mullahs” really were so determined to do public beheadings of US citizens as Argo claims, they had reasonably easy access to 52 others, some of whom they could very credibly have tried for spying and for committing other crimes in Iran.
  4. Another point about the hostage crisis, so crucial and central to the history that it absolutely had to be obscured, is that the Iranian régime was making a show of being at arm’s length from the actions of the kidnappers. You see they had learnt a thing or two from being at the receiving end of the CIA’s dirty tricks – (im)plausible denial being one of them.
  5. The US discourse around these events was ripe, it was fecund, it was completely laden with what I call “stuff”. The blindfolded hostages. The young radicals. The red headbands. The yellow ribbons. The counting of the days. And above it all the stern visage of the Grand Ayatollah (Big Brother) Khomeini.
    Image

[By Mr.minoque (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

Tropes were flying through the air thick and fast, attaching themselves to memes with such violence that if you weren’t careful you could lose an eye. The resulting one-eyed narrative is positively mythic in quality.

The mythic narrative (where everything was larger than life) was a propaganda coup for the US régime, particularly for the CIA, who had been having a hard time of it since 1974 and weren’t exactly anyone’s favourite people, as has already been mentioned. The US government got to pull its “helpless giant” act – always a favourite, particularly to distract from dirty hands. The CIA and their Hawk allies were able to use the whole thing as leverage against Carter and do their bit to get him replaced by Reagan (that was the essence of the aforementioned “October surprise”).

Taking all of this into account, we can conclude that if the Iranian régime had gotten hold of the fugitives, then they might have simply put them with the other hostages, but that would have spoilt the pretence of the independence of the kidnappers. They might have killed them, furthering their international pariah status. Or, they might have done the thing that posed the greatest threat to the CIA. They might have protected them from those whom they would explain as being regrettably but understandably over-enthusiastic young revolutionaries. They might have interrogated them to check that they weren’t spies (for form’s sake), and then given them a nice escort to the airport for a civilised journey home as seen on TV by the entire globe. Having done that, the Iranian régime would suddenly look more reasonable, especially to non-aligned countries, and a little bit of a crack would appear in the US demonisation discourse. A crucial crack, because although the Iranian régime would remain brutally repressive to its own people, it would be plainly apparent that it was actually rational and subject to appeals other than brute force.

So you tell me: Is it more realistic that the CIA, an organisation that had shown itself in no uncertain terms to be both brutal and callous, would care deeply for the lives of 6 citizens? Or would they care more about geopolitical manoeuvres and the domestic political game against Carter? We need to get back to where we were in 1979 with regards to what was considered credible in film. In their own way of distorting history and privileging US personnel’s suffering over that inflicted by US personnel, films of the time like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were bad enough, but Argo would not have been seen as a serious film in 1979. 1979 was more than 10 years after Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner had taken a postmodern pickaxe to the serious dramatic pretensions of spy adventures. In 1979, the small screen saw Alec Guiness playing George Smiley in an adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that was at least as grim and disillusioned and unheroic as the more recent film adaptation, while on the big screen Roger Moore’s James Bond saved the word from evil space shuttle hijackers in Moonraker (featuring that guy with steel teeth!). There was no in-between. That should tell you all you need to know.

Conclusion – Get Angry

In Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism” one of the few differences between US totalitarianism and Fascist or Communist totalitarianism is that under Fascist corporatism or Communism the state exerts a central control over corporations and in inverted totalitarianism that arrangement is, umm, inverted. I’m always a bit sceptical about the use of the word totalitarian. It functions better, to my mind, at highlighting a tendency rather than being used as some absolute characterisation. But Wolin’s usage can easily accommodate this, and he is absolutely correct in characterising the locus of state power in US society. (Some people might pick a fight with him over the locus of power in Fascist and Nazi societies, but there are two sides to that argument.) The point is, however, that restricting our understanding of what constitutes the “state” in the US to government only and not including corporate power is foolish and untenable.

Hollywood produces state propaganda not because Karl Rove tells them to – he just gives them some suggestions and they are happy to oblige. Hollywood produces state propaganda because Hollywood is part of the state, a big and important part of the state. As I have written elsewhere, the corporatist powers of the US régime form an “empire complex”, a team that might squabble, but pulls in the same direction. Newscorp stands shoulder to shoulder with the DoD, Goldman Sachs walks arm in arm with the Dept. of Treasury, while the FDA seems little more than a deformed growth and mildly irritating growth on Monsanto’s back. You get the picture anyway. The non-governmental “stakeholders” of the imperial state are more numerous and often bigger than the biggest governmental peers. This is state propaganda – straight from the politburo with the rubber stamp of approval as state propaganda given by the people who made the film in the first place, because they are part of the politburo.

So we must stop catering to those who claim that Ben Affleck means well, or that Hollywood liberals are not jingoistic right-wing scumbags, or that the CIA was ever anything but rotten at the core. Mark Ames writes a fantastic retrospective on some of the unsavoury violence of the CIA. The only time they ever had real limitations put on them was during the administration of this guy called Jimmy Carter:

As everyone knows, Carter’s presidency was one long bummer. But what most people don’t know — or have forgotten — is that Carter did more than any president to bring the national security state under control. Especially the CIA, which Carter gutted, purged, and chained down with a whole set of policies and guidelines meant to protect American citizens’ civil liberties.

In his first year in office, Carter purged nearly 20% of the Agency’s 4500 employees, gutting the ranks of clandestine operatives, sending hundreds of dirty trickster vets into the private sector to seethe for the next few years. Carter signed an executive order worked out with Frank Church and the Senate committee on intelligence putting more serious limits on the CIA’s powers — unequivocally banning assassinations, restricting the CIA’s ability to spy domestically, and putting their covert operations under strict oversight under the president, Congressional committees and the attorney general. The CIA’s paramilitary was even disbanded, though not banned.

What happened to Carter, according to former US, Iranian, Israeli and Russian officials, is that there was this, like, hostage crisis thing, right? It was in Tehran in Iran, OK? Maybe you’ve heard of it? Anyway, this guy who worked for the CIA, called George H. W. Bush, went to Paris in October of 1980 to make deal with Iranian officials to delay reaching a deal with the US on releasing the hostages because any such deal might have gained Carter some votes. It worked. Carter was voted out. The CIA found new funds, new respectability, new drugs and arms to sell, new torturers and death squads to train, and new lies to tell. Yay.

And then liberal Ben Affleck and liberal George Clooney made a movie about what great guys the CIA are. How should we act when the wilfully blind watch this smug flag-waving offensive propaganda and tell us that we’re being unfair and political to criticise it? Do we go on the defensive? “Yes, but Edward Said wrote…”; “It is entertainment, but…”; “Yes, but when you analyse the protrayal of the Islamic male…”? Or do we show them our anger, our distaste, and our disdain? Why the hell should we be apologising for just pointing out basic known facts that people like to forget as much as possible? They’re the CIA. They are murderers. They were murderers. That is the reality. Grow up. Santa Claus does not exist, and if there is any such thing as a “hero” in real life then, by definition, they aren’t loyal CIA officers. Grow up.

Get angry.

1Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, London: Penguin, 2007, p 105.

2Ibid.

3William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe:

Common Courage Press, 2004, p 72.

4Roger Morris, “The Undertaker’s Tally (Part 1): Sharp Elbows,” TomDispatch, 1 February 2007. Retrieved 2

February 2007 from http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=165669.

5 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror,Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, p 172.

6 Blum, Killing Hope, p 72.

7 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq,

Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2003, pp 38-9.

8 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p 105.

9 Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror, pp 43-5.

10 Ibid.

11 Amin Saikal, Islam and the West: Conflict or Cooperation, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, p 73.

12 Gary Sick, All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, p 98.

13 Eric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1979, p 107; J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p 17.

MP from Aotearoa so Islamophobic that even the Israeli Ambassador calls his remarks “vicious”

Standard

Image

An MP from the “New Zealand First” party wrote an opinion piece in which he wrote:

“If you are a young male, aged between, say, about 19 and about 35, and you’re a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines . . .” He then referred to New Zealanders lossing their rights because of “a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”.

He also claimed that El Al did not allow Muslims to travel in their aircraft, which made them one of the safest airlines in the world. Israeli Ambassador Shemi Tzur said: “Claims by MP Prosser that Israeli airline El Al bans passengers on the basis of their ethnicity or religion are not only false but also vicious in character. All travellers are equally important on El Al and in Israel”.

Prosser’s party leader is standing by him in the face of calls for resignation, but he may be liable to legal action under the Human Rights Act and the race relations laws. Nevertheless, it is essential that Prosser be forced to resign. It cannot be acceptable to have a representative of the people of Aotearoa who uses a word like “Wogistan”.

As such, I would humbly like to implore those of you who are not residents of Aotearoa (AKA New Zealand) to contact a New Zealand embassy or consulate in order to register your disgust and call for Prosser’s resignation. Please help. How would you feel if a democratic representative of your country lost the moral high ground to the Israeli ambassador?