Saudi Arabia is an Obedient Puppet of the US, Not a Rogue

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A reader of On Genocide‘s facebook page shared a link to this article. The premise of the article is that Saudi Arabia supports Islamist terrorists, but the US can’t do anything about it because Saudi Arabia has the US bent over an oil barrel. They are described as being in a “Mexican stand-off”. This is an incredibly naïve analysis. There is no parity between SA and the US. The Saudi régime is an extremely obedient and vulnerable client of the US and if they are supporting terrorists it is with blessings from Washington.

The US has a long established practice of blaming its puppet leaders for doing things or forcing the US to do things that the US wants to do, but has to pretend that it does not want to do. For most of the Korean War the US actively sabotaged peace negotiations, but they blamed Syngman Rhee for it using racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

In Viet Nam they had to cycle through a number of a lot of leaders looking for people with the right stuff. Though they had initially supported the monarchy, Edward Lansdale famously used PR expertise, including deadly false-flag bombings to install Ngo Dinh Diem. Later, the US government played a crucial role in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem. It remains to be noted, however, that although Diem was supposedly out of favour for a number of reasons, the last straw for the US government is generally held to be when, on September the 19th, it was learned that Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was negotiating with Hanoi. Both brothers were dead by November the 2nd.1 Diem had also threatened to prevent any increase in the number of US “advisors” in South Vietnam.2

Diem’s replacement, General Duong Van Minh, had strong ties with the Buddhist community and good communication with the French. He began working with the French towards neutralisation. The Pentagon organised his overthrow.3 His replacement, General Nguyen Khanh, soon decided that the only reasonable solution for South Vietnam was a neutral coalition government and set up communications with the National Liberation Front. The US got hold of a letter written by him to a NLF central committee member in which Khanh declared opposition to US intervention. They overthrew him a month later. The replacements were General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky. In Jonathan Neale’s words: “Both were corrupt in the usual bribery and export import ways. But both were also heavily involved in the heroin trade. Finally the American embassy had found someone at the bottom of the barrel who would do as they were told.”4

Once the US had installed these completely dependent underlings the propaganda machine quickly swung into action, blaming them for the profligate corruption, destruction and obstruction of peace that the US itself created. You will be very surprised to read that this propaganda drew on racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

Similar tropes have been deployed regarding US client dictators throughout the world. The US loves ostentatiously corrupt dictators because they are more dependant and pliable. Such creatures are at odds with the interests of their own people, which is why they are dependant on the US and easy to control. This is old school imperialism.

The British created the Saudi monarchy in just such an act of traditional imperial practice. This tailor-made client regime was then poached by the US in 1945. If you want to understand just how compliant SA is, you just need to calculate how much of its wealth ends up in the pockets of US arms manufacturers and how much is put into the US treasury. This is a payment of tribute which Michael Hudson described as being “super-imperialism”.5

Often the US deliberately casts Saudi Arabia as the villain in its actions. A case in point is the oil embargo with which the nasty Arabs attacked the US, but as even the article linked above admits, this was a crucial step in establishing the hegemony of the US dollar from then until now – nearly half a century of imperial domination. What is more, this was all according to a plan that had already been prepared

The dollar was established as the international reserve currency via the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944, when the US had the bulk of world gold reserves and, as mentioned, half of its manufacturing capacity.6 What followed was an era of global developmentalism referred to as a ‘golden age’ where global economic growth far outstripped population growth. Exports, outside of the Communist bloc, grew an average of 6% per annum from 1948 to 1960, rising to an average of 9% from 1960 to 1973.7 Western countries practised ’embedded liberalism’, wherein trade barriers were reduced under a stable system of exchange, but many non-aligned states practised economic nationalism. While it is obligatory to denounce the shoddy inefficiencies of import substitution industrialisation (ISI)8 and the nepotist corruption of Third World populist corporatism9 of the time, it should nevertheless be observed (but oddly isn’t) that these were part-and-parcel of a developmentalist approach which performed almost immeasurably better than the imposed neoliberalism which followed.

The problem with the US dollar being the reserve currency was that in order to provide liquidity to other states the US had to run a balance of payments deficit leading to indebtedness.10 The US dollar was backed by gold at a rate of $35 per ounce set in 1934.11 The Second Indochina War, however, depleted gold reserves: “In 1958, US dollar liabilities accounted for only 80 per cent of the country’s gold reserves. But by 1967, US gold reserves could cover only 30 per cent of liabilities. …[T]he deficit had spiralled out of control, dollar liabilities massively outweighed US gold reserves, and confidence in the system began to subside.”12 A similar problem had as much as spelled the end of the British empire after World War I, but this was not to be true of the US empire and its financial hegemony:

[J]ust as World Wars I and II had bankrupted Europe, so the Vietnam War threatened to bankrupt the United States.

….

[B]y March 1968, after a six-month run, America’s gold stock fell to the $10 billion floor beyond which the Treasury had let it be known that it would suspend further gold sales. The London Gold Pool was disbanded and informal agreement (i.e., diplomatic arm-twisting) was reached among the world’s central banks to stop converting their dollar inflows into gold.

This broke the link between the dollar and the market price of gold. Two prices for gold emerged, a rising open-market price and the lower “official” price of $35 an ounce at which the world’s central banks continued to value their monetary reserves.

Three years later, in August 1971, President Nixon made the gold embargo official. The key-currency standard based on the dollar’s convertibility into gold was dead. The U.S. Treasury-bill standard – that is, the dollar-debt standard based on dollar inconvertibility – was inaugurated. Instead of being able to use their dollars to buy American gold, foreign governments found themselves able only to purchase U.S. Treasury obligations (and, to a much lesser extent, U.S. corporate stocks and bonds).

As foreign central banks received dollars from their exporters and commercial banks that preferred domestic currency, they had little choice but to lend these dollars to the U.S. Government. Running a dollar surplus in their balance of payments became synonymous with lending this surplus to the U.S. Treasury. The world’s richest nation was enabled to borrow automatically from foreign central banks simply by running a payments deficit. The larger the U.S. payments deficit grew, the more dollars ended up in foreign central banks, which then lent them back to the U.S. Government by investing them in Treasury obligations of varying degrees of liquidity and marketability.13

One of the consequences of repudiating dollar convertibility was that US imperial strength became ever closer linked to US control of oil resources. As Engdahl explains it, after 1971 the US dollar fell precipitately, as might be expected, but while US financial hegemony seemed doomed policy insiders prepared a bold new monetarist design, a ‘paradigm shift’, as some preferred to term it.”14 In May 1973 a meeting of the Bilderberg Group15 was presented a “scenario” by oil economist Walter Levy wherein there would be a 400% rise in oil prices, and planned how to take advantage of such a circumstance by what Henry Kissinger was later to refer to as “recycling the petro-dollar flows”.16

Engdahl continues: “In 1973, the powerful men grouped around Bilderberg decided to launch a colossal assault against industrial growth in the world, in order to tilt the balance of power back to the advantage of Anglo-American financial interests. In order to do this, they determined to use their most prized weapon – control of the world’s oil flows. Bilderberg policy was to trigger a global oil embargo in order to force a dramatic increase in world oil prices. Since 1945, world oil trade had, by international custom, been priced in dollars. American oil companies dominated the postwar market. A sharp sudden increase in the world price of oil, therefore, meant an equally dramatic increase in world demand for U.S. dollars to pay for that necessary oil.”17

Engdahl’s phraseology, for example “Bilderberg policy”, is unfortunate in sometimes giving the impression that this was a plot hatched at the Bilderberg conference. This has caused a predictably enthusiastic response from conspiracy theorists interested in the Bilderberg Group. Engdahl’s source is the official proceedings for the discussion led by Levy and it would be most accurate to characterise it as a means of giving attendees timely information about future events which could be managed to the advantage of Western oligarchic interests. That is, after all, the nature of the plan, to take the otherwise unwelcome force of events driven by the oil producing countries and to turn that force, in Judo fashion, to one’s own advantage while greatly strengthening its impact. Levy had already publicly written on this theme in a 1971 Foreign Affairs article. The article makes interesting reading, with one of the key points being that he treats oil first and foremost as a strategic concern. Also of interest is his glowing praise of oil companies acting as a global cartel. In his rendition of events these companies are guarantors of security, while poor oil producing countries are treated with barely veiled hostility due to their ‘lingering heritage of emotional resentments against former colonial administrations and concessionary circumstances.’18

According to Engdahl, “the Yom Kippur war was not the result of simple miscalculation, a blunder, or an Arab decision to launch a military strike against the state of Israel. The entire constellation of events surrounding outbreak of the October war was secretly orchestrated from Washington and London….” This was achieved by feeding false intelligence to both sides, particularly by withholding evidence of a military buildup from Israel. The architect of the war and the resultant oil embargo, Henry Kissinger, was then able to adopt the pretence of being a peacemaker, through “shuttle diplomacy,” while the blame for the suffering caused by his scheme fell firmly on the Arab world.19 This may seem unlikely, and it some might think that Engdahl is stretching the evidence. Indeed, a journal review of the book he cites as his source mentions no such revelation.20 However, a writer may, intentionally or otherwise, reveal more than they claim, and this particular work was heavily censored (causing some controversy at the time).21 It should also be noted that the US used almost identical tactics in ensuring that war ensued between Iran and Iraq and, similarly, to guarantee their own war against Iraq in 1990. Both of these cases are well documented, but mention should also be made of the equally, if not more, duplicitous deceptions that were deployed to facilitate the major US commitment of troops to Indochina (namely the ‘Tonkin Gulf Incidents’) and the deceptions used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Then there is the question of cui bono – who benefits? The US was entering a phase of seemingly perpetual debt rollover (a phenomenon explored below) but it had, and still has, the unique privilege of paying its debt in its own currency.22 To reduce its liabilities all it had to do was induce a global surge in commodity prices, which it could achieve by creating a glut of dollars.23 At the same time, however, US financial and economic hegemony was widely considered to be on its last legs,24 a situation which should have been worsened by increased commodity prices and the damage thus done to the US and global economies. But the US Treasury and the New York and London banks were geared up for the massive increases in oil prices, and when the Nixon administration sent a senior official to the Treasury to explore ways of inducing OPEC to lower prices, he was ‘bluntly turned away’ and recorded, in a memo, that “It was the banking leaders who swept aside this advice and pressed for a ‘recycling’ program to accommodate to higher oil prices. This was the fatal decision…”25

By January 1974 oil prices had increased 400%, just as envisioned in the “scenario” outlined only 8 months earlier to the Bilderberg Group. Suddenly everyone needed US dollar reserves which had a very beneficial effect for New York banks and for London banks who traded the largest pool of “offshore” US dollars.26 Large oil companies made record profits, just as they would in later oil shocks including that created by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the previously risky North Sea venture became an instantly guaranteed moneymaker.27 Real economies suffered throughout the developed world and the degradation of US infrastructure accelerated.28 The impact on the “developing” world (as it might accurately have been called up until this point) was far more devastating. In India, for example, the balance of payments switched at from surplus to deficit at a stroke. “As a whole, over 1974 developing countries incurred a total trade deficit of $35 billion according to the IMF, a colossal sum in that day, and, not surprisingly, a deficit precisely 4 times as large as in 1973, or just in proportion to the oil price increase.”29 In the decade until 1974 developing counties saw economic growth of 5% per annum, about 2.5% above that of population growth.30 For the poorest quintile (20%) of countries, in per capita income, the period of 1980 to 200 saw an average 0.5% decline in economic activity, while the next two quintiles had lower economic growth than population growth.31

The poor states of the world plunged into ever more astronomical debt, growing from $60 billion in 1970 to $2 trillion in 1997,32 to $2.5 trillion in 2004.33 That is a 42 fold increase in 34 years. The trap is hideous. Private banks lend for high returns and when states default Western taxpayer money is given directly to these banks34 which is characterised as ‘aid’ to the stricken state, as mentioned. This is just an interventionist form of rollover, which must otherwise be arranged with the private banks, often at increased interest rates,35 because the debt is simply unpayable. In terms of ratio of external debt to exports, the figures are: 340% for sub-Saharan Africa; 202% for Latin America; and 121% for Asia.36 The situation mirrors that of many former belligerents after the First World War, debtors are forced to sell assets and commodities simply to service debt which, regardless, continues to grow. It is perpetually rolled over and ever increasing. The debtor countries are forced into antidevelopmental policies which further entrap them.37

While poor countries labour under this burden, the richest country in the world is also the largest debtor, but circumstances are very different for the US. As Hudson explains: ‘If the United States had followed the creditor-oriented rules to which European governments had adhered after World Wars I and II, it would have sacrificed its world position. Its gold would have flowed out and Americans would have been obliged to sell off their international investments to pay for military activities abroad. This was what U.S. officials had demanded of their allies in World Wars I and II, but the United States was unwilling to abide by such rules itself. Unlike earlier nations in a similar position, it continued to spend abroad, and at home as well, without regard for the balance-of-payments consequences.’38 Creditor nations were forced to buy low-yielding Treasury obligations.39 Oil producing countries, in particular, were forced to return their profits to the US and when Saudi Arabia and Iran considered by US companies they were told that this would be considered and act of war.40 OPEC was told that it could raise oil prices all it wanted, as long as it used the proceeds to buy U.S. Government bonds. That way, Americans could pay for oil in their own currency, not in gold or other “money of the world.” Oil exports to the United States, as well as German and Japanese autos and sales by other countries, were bought with paper dollars that could be created ad infinitum.’41

The US dollar predominance is reinforced by the proclivity of all US client states to spend large amounts of money on arms purchases from the US. As mentioned with regards to Iran, the figures for oil producing countries are very high, as Abbas Bakhtiar reveals: “From 1990 to 2004, Saudi Arabia, with a population of 21.4 million has spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on arms. …. One would have thought that with this kind of expenditure the Saudis would have felt safe by now. But apparently they don’t, or at least this is the view of U.S. and U.K., two major arms suppliers to these countries. But Saudi Arabia is not alone in this. Take the tiny country of United Arab Emirates. This country with a population of 2.6 million souls has spent $38.6 billion dollars for defence in 1990-2004 period.”42 /

The Saudi regime has obediently funnelled its wealth away from its own people, many of whom are desperately poor. Of course some Saudis are obscenely rich, just as client Maharajas and Nawabs were obscenely rich in the British Raj. The wealth distances them from their own people and makes them better puppets. Not only that, Saudi Arabia was completely essential in developing a global financial and economic hegemony which was used to dominate the entire globe. With help from Saudi Arabia the US was able to destroy the economic sovereignty of the entire Third World and to reverse the gains of independent nationalist post-colonial development which had occurred after WWII.

Now the Saudis are funding and arming Islamist terrorists like ISIS. But so is the US itself. In fact, both the US and the UK have very long histories of promoting Islamic extremism, not the least of which has been the incubation of the brutal Wahhabi régime in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a conduit for US destabilisation and genocide in the Middle East.

The real threat, from a US imperialist’s perspective, is that the Saudi royals would probably like to get off this death ride that is tearing apart the entire region. That is way the vilification has been stepped up several notches. The Saudis must know that the US public will back a war against them if any new terrorist attack in the US is linked to them once the US government, pretending to be forced against their own will, releases its report blaming Saudi Arabia for 9/11.

1John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 27-8.

2Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 63.

3Ibid, p 64; Frederick Logevall, “De Gaulle, Neutralization, and American Involvement in Vietnam, 1963-1964”, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 61, No. 1. (Feb., 1992), pp 84-7.

4Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 65.

5Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003

6F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 102.

7Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 92.

8ISI is a set of policies adopted by many developing countries in the 1950s, including most Latin American states. ISI failed to lift the Latin American countries out of dependency and it was felt that a more radical change was needed (Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, pp 109-10). On the other hand, states which have successfully industrialised have all initially followed an ISI strategy which clearly plays an important role in creating capacities which can only be oriented towards exporting once they are able to compete. For example see Stephan Haggard, Byung-kook Kim, Chung-in Moon, “The Transition to Export-led Growth in South Korea: 1954-1966,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 50:4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 850-873 (the authors do not draw this conclusion themselves, having a different focus, but in my judgement it is implicit).

9For example that in Egypt, the ill-fated United Arab Republic (UAR), Iraq and Syria . As Nazih Ayubi reveals these Arab states are less notable for their cronyism than for their statist authoritarianism with government domination of economic activity and nepotism found in appointments rather than in ownership and profits (Nazih N. Ayubi, “Withered socialism or whether socialism? the radical Arab states as populist-corporatist regimes,” Third World Quarterly, 13:1, 1992, pp 89-105).

10Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 25.

11F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 128.

12Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 78.

13Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, pp 26-7.

14F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 148.

15Present at Saltsjoebaden [where the meeting took place] were Robert O. Anderson of Atlantic Richfield Oil Co.; Lord Greenhill, chairman of British Petroleum; Sir Eric Roll of S.G. Warburg, creator of the Eurobonds; George Ball of Lehman Brothers investment bank the man who some ten years earlier, as Assistant Secretary of State, told his banker friend Siegmund Warburg to develop London’s Eurodollar market; David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank; Zbigniew Brzezinski; the man soon to be President Carter’s National Security Adviser; Italy’s Gianni Agnelli, and Germany’s Otto Wolff von Amerongen, among others. Henry Kissinger was a regular participant at the Bilderberg gatherings.’ Ibid, p 149.

16Ibid.

17Ibid, pp 149-50.

18Walter J. Levy, “Oil Power,” Foreign Affairs, 49:4, July 1971, pp 652-668.

19Ibid, p 150.

20C. A. Joiner, “MATTI GOLAN. The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger: Step-by-Step Diplomacy in the Middle East,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.1976, 428, pp 137-138.

21Ibid, p 137.

22Philippe Martin, “The Privilege of American Debt,’ Liberation, 6 February 2006. Retrieved 11 February 2006 from http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=357019.

23Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 299.

24Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 79.

25F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 152.

26Ibid, p 138.

27Ibid, p 151.

28Ibid, p 154.

29Ibid, p 155.

30Henry Kissinger, National Security Strategy Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth For U.S. Security and Overseas Interests, p 54.

31Ray Kiely, The Clash of Globalisations : Neo-liberalism, the Third Way, and Antiglobalisation, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005, pp 147-8

32Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, New York, Ballantine, 1997, p 5.

33John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004, p xviii.

34Robert M. Dunn and John H. Mutti, International Economics (6th ed.), London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p 481.

35Ibid, p 465.

36Fantu Cheru, “Debt, adjustment and the politics of effective response to HIV/AIDS in Africa,” Third World Quarterly, 23:2, 2002, p 302.

37See above.

38Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 26.

39Ibid, p 28.

40Ibid, p 8.

41Ibid.

42Abbas Bakhtiar, “When will the House of Saud feel safe?: Saudi Arabia and Military Expenditure,” Information Clearing House, 6 May 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2006 from http://informationclearinghouse.info/article13509.htm.

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The decadence of American Sniper

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“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” – Bertolt Brecht.

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The US had Audie Murphy for a hero once, but they never made the same frenetic screeching that they now do about Chris “American Sniper” Kyle. In Murphy’s time enough people were touched by the horrors of war to know that deep down the notion of a “war hero” is irreducibly oxymoronic. Our notion of a “hero” is stripped of complexity and it is cartoonish; applying it to war makes as much sense as having a heroic cancer.

Manufactured heroes like Kyle are symptomatic of deep social cultural and political decay. Delusional myths are becoming ever more central to the functioning of the US state. Those who are not blinded by ideological fervour are systematically excluded from positions of power and influence in the private and state sectors. Sane people may remain in office, but sane actions are blocked, twisted, co-opted, reversed and/or simply drowned in the wider context of decadent insanity.

In the Bush era some of history’s worst mass-murdering war criminals effectively disguised themselves as fanatical ideologues, but ironically they left an empire stripped of its ability to function rationally. At best they bought their empire 15 to 20 years more life at the cost of more than 1 million Iraqi lives. But this is far from over, and the whole world, including the US people, will suffer greatly because of their actions.

Systemic dysfunction has become a global norm in the Western world and in its enslaved neocolonies. We have to face the challenges of global warming and the end of the petrochemical underpinnings of our economies with a bunch of deluded freaks running the show. Those who try to maintain reasoned professional conduct are also living in a type of delusion. Where evil giants ravage the land, they see only benign windmills. Active dissent, active rejection existing power, and active resistance are the only sane options left.

Will the US Succumb To Another Bout of Usanity?

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A white male in a uniform brandishes an assault rifle, pointing it directly at peaceful protesters and journalists: “I will fucking kill you!” When asked his name, he responds “Go fuck yourself” earning himself the hashtag #OfficerGoFuckYourself

No one threatens the policeman, but his stance and his wide eyes betray his hyper-alert state. People stroll behind him without offering any sign of confrontation, but his adrenaline is pumping. He is in the grips of Usanity, and for him the world is suddenly full of threats and offenses.

http://youtu.be/8zbR824FKpU

Usanity is like a weaponized version of aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome. #OfficerGoFuckYourself has clear symptoms of both conditions. But Usanity is broader and more profound. Usanity is that syndrome which grips an entire diverse nation, the most heavily armed on the planet, and turns it into that cop with his rolling eyes and gun pointed: “I will fucking kill you!”

Lots of people are writing about the militarization of the US police, but the focus has often been on hardware. The police in the US, and many other countries, have also been induced to feel that violence is the appropriate response to an ever growing number of situations. Any challenge to authority, including questioning orders, is treated as grounds for physical coercion.

This actually follows a similar transformation in US military personnel. Some former military are pointing to the ways in which the police in Missouri and elsewhere are far less disciplined than they. But their own record of killing civilians in in similar encounters is astounding and shocking – yet it is almost entirely ignored and unknown.

Like the police and the military, the wider US population has been subjected to the forces that breed Usanity. It is a powerful mix of a sense of fear, a sense of being besieged, and a special sense of grievance. The grievance is that of a giant attacked by vicious, irrational, fanatical imps, but also that of a father facing defiance that cannot be ignored. Bill Maher exactly embodied the attititude with a special misogynistic twist when he tweeted: “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”

A Nation of Cowards?

In the book Mainstreaming Torture Rebecca Gordon asks if if the US has become a “nation of cowards”. Allowing that the US is too diverse “in all its multicultural, polyglot glory” to be categorized so unitarily, Gordon goes on to discuss the growing tendency to accept and approve of torture, assassination and surveillance as ways of combating the threat of terrorism. Those who thought that waterboarding suspected terrorists was wrong dropped from 82 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2012. Those who thought that assassinating suspected terrorists was wrong dropped from 33 percent in 2005 to a mere 12 percent in 2012.

Fear of terrorists is only one aspect of this. People who visit the US are often struck by how fearful people are of many things – strangers, criminals, germs, and their own government to name but a few. More than other Western countries, people in the US have been bombarded with a sense of peril. This sense of endangerment is good for selling drama and it is good for selling newspapers, but it is even better for selling domestic and foreign policy.

The extravagant fears of the Cold War sold both authoritarianism at home and intervention abroad, and so it has remained to this day. People were told that the US was fighting in Viet Nam so that they wouldn’t have to fight in San Francisco. Then people were told that Cuban tanks would roll across the Rio Grande and, finally, that the smoking gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

In a way, these ridiculous hyperboles are really a way of convincing people that the act of exaggeration implies that there is a real threat. As Robert Fisk points out this is why there is now such silly talk about ISIS: “Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”

At the same time that fear was becoming such a crucial political tool for supporting repression at home and oppression abroad, fear was also becoming entrenched in the US military. In World War II US military authorities had taken the unusual decision to be permissive of fear, rather than to try to encourage fearlessness. Over the coming decades, though, this attitude would be exploited and twisted. US personnel were deliberately made fearful and that fear was weaponized. The fear became a major tool to break that barrier which stops ordinary people from becoming killers.

Circle the Wagons!

In both Viet Nam and in Iraq US personnel were made to feel that they were surrounded by a hostile and dangerous population. They built massive military bases that were like self-contained towns or cities. They were made to feel that there was a constant risk of attack outside of these zones of safety.

In Viet Nam, some areas were bad enough to be considered “Injun country”, but even in places like Saigon there was a sense that any Vietnamese could potentially be a source of sudden violent death. From reading dozens of personal accounts, most GIs seem to have heard and believed stories of young children killing US soldiers. They were constantly told that you couldn’t tell who was an enemy and who was a civilian. Most still believe to this day that the “Viet Cong” didn’t have uniforms. They thought that the guys in uniforms were all North Vietnamese “invaders” and that the VC wore the “black pajamas” which all of the rural population wore.

As it happens, local militias on both sides did wear the normal black farmers clothes. Sometimes local allies were killed when US personnel who were new to the country mistook them for the enemy. More often, however, this led to the deaths of rural civilians. Admittedly, most US personnel in Viet Nam never saw, let alone partook in, a lethal atrocity or even the accidental killing of civilians. The bulk of civilian deaths in Viet Nam were caused by US shelling and bombing. However, there were also many thousands killed by US small arms. Nick Turse’s book Kill Anything that Moves establishes without any doubt that massacres by US personnel were appallingly common. Many more will have died when GIs reacted out of panic – reacted out of that sense that everyone was the enemy.

The sense of vulnerability among US infantry must have been horribly exacerbated by the common tactic of sending patrols out in the deliberate hope that they would be ambushed which would then allow the enemy to be attacked by artillery. There are claims that this practice saved US lives, but it made the men on patrols feel like live bait and ultimately meant that the enemy always chose when and where to engage. It meant that booby traps became one of the leading causes of casualties, which caused huge anger because GIs knew that locals must often have known the location of the traps – once again increasing the sense that they were at war with an entire people and the sense that they must always be on guard. GIs were being trained in what was called “reactive firing”, where they were conditioned to pull the trigger in certain circumstances as an automatic process – without cognition.

In Iraq, there were less massacres than there were in Viet Nam. Fewer people would have been killed by bombing and shelling. And there is no doubt that many civilians lost their lives to the actions of enemies of the Coalition forces. But indications are that an absolutely extraordinary number of Iraqis were killed by US small arms fire. The numbers are so high that they demand consideration.

In 2006 a mortality study was published in the Lancet estimated excess deaths in Iraq based on cluster sampling. The furor over the estimation of total excess deaths through violence has prevented us from coming to grips with what the study indicated. The most common cause of violent death (56%) was gunfire. Where known, the cause of violent death originated from Coalition forces 57% of the time. Given that hundreds of thousands died of violent causes, this means that at the very least tens of thousands of Iraqis were shot dead by Coalition troops.

Many accounts from Iraq, both from US personnel and from Iraqis, highlight the risk to civilians of being killed due to the paranoia, confusion and insecurity of US personnel. This has become normalized in the sense that people tend to think of this as being in the nature of military occupations. That is not the case. When the Germans occupied France they were very ruthless and brutal, but they didn’t kill ordinary people going about their daily business. Children could go to school and adults could go to work. Workers would not be shot for failing to stop at an unmarked “traffic control point” that had been set up without their foreknowledge. Farmers wouldn’t be killed for carrying shovels.

By official doctrine the US (openly flouting international humanitarian law) deliberately displaced the risks of violence onto the civilian population of Iraq. Under the doctrine of “Force Protection” personnel were encouraged to ensure their own safety at any cost. Even the Rules of Engagement (which were uncertain, contingent and subject to frequent change up until 2007) were undermined by the final proviso that the ROE did not in any way prevent a GI from taking lethal action if they felt threatened. Even though it fomented hostility and, in the long-term, greater overall danger to US forces, personnel early on the the occupation were all but officially told to shoot first and ask questions later. Many people commented at the time that US forces making a very dubious short-term gain in security were killing innocent people, committing war crimes, and ultimately ensuring that more, not less, US personnel would die.

Moreover, in Iraq, even more so than in Viet Nam, there was often no real attempt to create secure areas. Instead of pacifying and securing areas, the US was in both cases obsessed with finding, fixing and killing enemies. This effective made both countries into giant battlefields with no frontline. Then they would send their own people out into this environment, having assured them that the populace hated them and that half of them were actively trying to kill them.

When Iraqis were killed because they did not know that they were supposed to stop some arbitrary point or in some other way violate unknown rules supposedly designed to protect US personnel, those who killed them would, quite naturally, place the onus of responsibility on the victims themselves for having undertaken the acts which forced the GIs to shoot them. Logically, they should really have been blaming the military and political leaders who had just used them as a weapon with which to murder civilians, but what would you expect people to tell themselves and each other when they have just killed innocent people? Of course they are going to remind themselves that they had no choice but to shoot, that it was the victims’ actions which forced their hand. But then, there were those who were callous about such things, such as the officer who proclaimed after the a family was killed for approaching a checkpoint too quickly: “If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen”; or the helicopter gunner on the infamous Collateral Murder footage who, having shot two children, said: “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

The situation for the broader US population is also one of feeling besieged. Successive governments in the US have gone beyond the cartoonish vilification of Soviet Communism and the Global Communist Conspiracy. Now they like to suggest that everyone hates or potentially hates the US, and they try to make it come true by their actions. Under the Bush administration, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US citizens all throughout the world were met with hostility.

We’re Number One!

Without a doubt the ugliest side of US culture is their collective sense of superiority. But it also the most pitiable in some respects. The US is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of humanity. Its contributions to literature, music, arts and the sciences cannot be denied. There must barely be any people on the planet who have not derived pleasure from US films. Yet there is a sense of insecurity about their strident pride, as if they have something to prove. They fear that they might be, in Richard Nixon’s words, a “helpless giant”, and feel that those who are defy them are deserving of violent correction. But the real trap of Usanity is not just that sense of righteous fury, it is the sense that you cannot just walk away – you can’t let go of the crazy woman’s wrists or she will attack.

Once again, there is a direct parallel between the indoctrination and situational emplacement of the police, the military, and the entire country. In the military, once upon a time when an army captured enemies they might march them in columns with a guard for every ten prisoners or more. To secure them they might simply take their weapons and make them walk with their hands on their heads. I sometimes wonder if young people seeing seeing such scenes in a World War II film would think that they are inauthentic and somehow anticlimactic.

Of course imperialist wars are a little different and far less humane. In Korea, US troops felt that for security reasons captured guerrillas had to be stripped naked (or nearly naked if they were women) and marched though town. In Viet Nam it became imperative that the diminutive and unarmed captives have their hands tied and be blindfolded. In Iraq zip-ties and hoods were considered utterly indispensable. It is as if you need to be sure that your trained and heavily armed men aren’t attacked by unarmed prisoners because, as we all know, life is so cheap to these people that they will sacrifice their own lives to attack even if there is only a minute chance of inflicting damage on their captors.

Partly these processes of stripping, blindfolding or hooding were designed to dehumanize the captives. One of the most important ways of maintaining psychological distance is to prevent eye contact. When you are committing unjust acts, it is quite important that your victims be dehumanized. If US personnel in Iraq were constantly confronted with the fear, confusion and grief of their captives it would have broken down barriers and caused much larger numbers to question the rightness of their actions in Iraq.

More importantly these procedures are part of a system of exerting control. In Iraq prisoners were actually referred to as “persons under control” or “PUCs”. The emphasis on control was to make the GIs feel that everything that they did not control was a hazard. They were sometimes ordered to effect very close control over the movements of PUCs even down to such things as which way their heads were facing.

Sometimes the procedures used on PUCs as supposed security measures were simply ways of instituting positional torture, forcing the captives into positions that can often quickly become agonising and beating them for moving out of those positions. Even if this were not the case, the very situation is almost guaranteed to cause abusive treatment. If a GI who does not speak Arabic is to force a captive to take comply to close control, they must almost certainly use physical coercion – especially if gestures are unavailable because the captive is hooded. Repeated deviations from the requirements will be met with increasing levels of violence. Even though the GI might rationally understand that the PUC might not comply for perfectly innocent reasons, they have been so situated that in emotional terms every deviation feels like an act of deliberate defiance that requires, as well as justifies, violent correction.

Of course, how could the US authorities have foreseen that referring to people as PUCs, hooding them, and sending them along chains of custody like anonymous punching bags would lead to incidents of abuse referred to as “PUC-fucking”? I mean, who would guess? All I can say is that if you wanted to design a system which would encourage the maximum level of abuse, torture and murder without actually having to order personnel to commit those acts – this is exactly what it would look like.

Increasingly the US police are subject to similar pressures. They already have a common indoctrinated sense of being rightful and righteous authorities who, by nature of their very vocation, must restrict the actions of the citizenry. They are trained to feel apart from others, and to view them with suspicion. When they too are filled with the paranoid fear and the sense of being besieged then their need to control can become manic and violent.

Cops have always struck out at those who defy them, but now things are becoming far more lethal due to new ways in which they are trained and deployed. The ever growing number number of armed raids in the US are now mostly (70%) conducted to serve search warrants for suspected drug offenses. In these “SWAT” raids there is very little discrimination in the way the police treat people – be they suspects, victims, bystanders young, elderly, ill, or disabled. They must be made compliant and controlled. Just as with the Iraqi PUCs, any deviance is treated as dangerous. This attitude has spread to daily policing activities when officers feel confronted.

It is true that like military personnel, the police are often endangered. But once again these procedures are not specifically discriminating, so they are not aimed at those who pose a danger, but at those who are not compliant. The police often think highly of themselves, they are the authorities, and they are armed and dangerous – people must comply. People must comply without delay and without question. To do otherwise is to invite violence.

http://youtu.be/j-P54MZVxMU

Only 4 miles from where Michael Brown was killed Kajieme Powell was also killed. He was shot dead 15 seconds after police encountered him as he paced agitatedly near them with his hands at his sides telling the police to shoot him. To the shock of onlookers, they handcuffed him after he was dead. They kept guns trained on him after he was dead and in handcuffs. The man who filmed everything with his phone didn’t feel threatened by Powell at all, but the police by their acts are suggesting that even dead and in handcuffs Powell is some form of peril – a supernatural unrealistic threat.

The entire US is subject to the same horrified fantasy. The “war on terror” has made them into the self-appointed world police. They are not being allowed to turn and walk away from Iraq.

People generally don’t want the US to send troops, but they seem to think that dropping bombs on people is almost the equivalent of doing nothing. It is funny, because when one bomb went off at the Boston marathon it was quite a big deal to people in the US, but dropping hundreds on other people is apparently nothing of particular note. In the US media discourse it is almost as if bombing is a minor and reluctant act of charity: “We are not saying we’re responsible for the rise of ISIS, but we feel bad for the Iraqi people and so we are prepared to drop bombs on people in order to help them out at this difficult time.”

But ISIS has shown themselves only too willing to play the role of the crazed violent woman that needs slapping. Just when it seemed that nothing could get people in the US to back another major action in the Middle East, ISIS decides to stiffen US resolve by releasing a video showing the beheading of a US journalist and threatening to bathe the US in blood.

Now the people in the US are suddenly in that #OfficerGoFuckYourself headspace. They are angry that someone defies and mocks their beloved country, but also offended and belittled by the failure of ISIS to recognise their ability to unleash a fury of violence. Suddenly the “liberals” are writing and liking comments about how they need to finally kick that al-Baghdadi’s ass once and for all. And when they say “kick al-Baghdadi’s ass” they must know that that will mean killing lots and lots of people who are not al-Baghdadi.

The US people have their gun raised, will they shoot? I would not be the first to say that once again US violence can only give the illusion of greater security, but it will visit suffering and death and only increase the insecurity in the long term. Yes, they are armed, and yes, they are being defied, but pulling the trigger will not help. Sometimes you just have to accept doing nothing.

After this many repetitions of the same pattern, how can people continue falling for the same tricks? What good came from killing Ghadaffi, or Saddam Hussein, or arresting Milosevic? But we have been here before. The US media picks a Hitler-of-the-month and whips up the fury of anger over their defiance. The country staggers and swaggers in wide-eyed mania: “We will fucking KILL YOU!”. And eventually they get their guy. Months or years later. After how many deaths? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

And then, mission accomplished, they all chant “U S A! U S A!” And the world waits for the next bout of Usanity.

An Open Letter to an IDF Apologist at the BBC

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Ironic pic of Orwell at Big Brother Corp

After 10 years as a business reporter, Anthony Reuben is now the BBC News inaugural “Head of Statistics”. True to the spirit of 1984 he seems to take his role as being to remind people of such numerical truths as “2 + 2 = 5 fanatical Islamist terrorist Hamas militants”. In a report on what the statistics tell us about the recent fatalities in Gaza, he highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of young men are being killed. Another BBC report on Gaza casualties is quite shocking, but its impact is diminished by a link to Reuben’s article with the words “If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”

Someone else has already written an email to Reuben which is posted at the Media Lens message board. It covers some of the territory that I have, but I felt that I needed to add a few things in a missive of my own. I got a little bit carried away, but the result is heartfelt…

To Anthony Reuben,

I have to ask, just what sort of statistician are you? Surely one of the fundamental tenets in statistical thought is that correlation does not imply causation, yet without the implicit unsupported claim that a gender imbalance in fatalities indicates IDF discrimination, your article has no purpose.

When I write “no purpose” I really mean “no legitimate purpose”. It is a great propaganda point for Israel to use the deaths of “military aged males” to imply military legitimacy in their violence. Your work certainly goes a long way to helping the IDF promote its narrative. This means that you are helping them, and I hope you realise that you are therefore complicit in their actions.

Need I remind you that Srebrenica was primarily a massacre of “military-aged males” and that those who committed that genocidal act used the same excuse as the IDF? By itself that destroys the tacit premise of your article unless you also consider Srebrenica to be a legitimate military action. The fact is that it is normal that adult male civilians are targeted and murdered at far higher rates than women and children. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, including the psychology of those committing the murders. Military personnel find it easier to kill adult male civilians than others. Additionally, apologists such as yourself find it easier to muddy the waters over war crimes.

You breezily dismiss the issue of gender disparity in war casualties from other conflicts: “There has been some research suggesting that men in general are more likely to die in conflict than women, although no typical ratio is given.” With a flourish of misdirection, which seems to come naturally to the hack and the junk-merchant, you induce the reader to think that nothing of relevance is contained in the paper which you link to. You let people know that you have read it, but it really has nothing to illuminate the issue. However, the paper does establish that although there is a great deal of variation between conflicts, there is undeniable precedent for far greater numbers of male than female civilians being killed directly in conflicts. In other words, if you were half the statistician you claim, you would recognise that a disproportionate death rate amongst Gazan men is no evidence that more armed militants have been killed than Hamas claims, is not evidence that the IDF is practicing discrimination, and is not evidence that the IDF does not target civilians.

Moreover, the paper you cite is in itself too narrow in scope for the purposes of your article. There is relevant historical evidence which is denied by no one. Not one person who knows anything about the subject denies that there is a long standing practice of killing adult male civilians. It seems to be as old as human mass violence, and it is certainly as old as the phenomena we understand as war and genocide. It is a practice which falls under the category now given as “gendercide”. Like mass rape, the tactic of the mass killing of men is not merely aimed at the immediate victims, but is a genocidal tactic aimed at social cohesion. In a patriarchal society and/or one with high numbers of dependent children, the impact of killing a “military age male” – which is to say a “working age male” – is multiplied.

But perhaps the most important propaganda role you are playing is to access that moral and emotional numbness with which we have all been induced to view violence against young men. I have read many accounts of violence, and I will admit that the images that haunt me are those of violence against children. Yet I can also say that those who are close to the violent deaths of men do not view it with the equanimity that our public discourse accords the subject. These are human beings who love and are loved. They feel as much fear, pain, grief and guilt as anyone other human being in their last moments, whether they carry a gun or not. We project on to these dying men a sense that they are agents in their own deaths, as if war were some sort of shoot-out at high noon where every male carries a sixgun. The emphasis on “women and children” is an impulse of armchair humanitarianism by the insipid and the self-righteous.

Perhaps, to understand my point, you could watch and rewatch the video posted here of a young man being murdered by an Israeli sniper. Watch it and ask yourself, “what does my article say about this man’s death”? This is the death of a 20-29 year-old male, so if your article isn’t about this, then what on Earth is it about? I mean that seriously. Your holier-than-thou detached statistical conceits actually say nothing at all about the horrible death of this man except to suggest that somehow it doesn’t really count.

You are also making a big straw man out of the UN accusation of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. The real question is the systematic targeting of non-combatants. To date, Israel has targeted 7 UN schools being used as shelters. Fleeing civilians have also been targeted, as have rescue workers and UN personnel. This is based on 3rd party evidence and, quite frankly, only an idiot would give any credence to the IDF’s response to these accusations unless they were subject to cross-examination or were able to provide substantive evidence to back their claims.

But not only do you give unwarranted credence to IDF distortions, you are too lazy, stupid or evil to even check on the veracity of blatant lies. You quote an IDF spokesperson on the subject of Operation Cast Lead: “Hamas and Gaza-based organisations claimed that only 50 combatants were killed, admitting years later the number was between 600-700, a figure nearly identical to the figure claimed by the IDF.” This is a double lie. Firstly, I wouldn’t think it would be too much to expect a BBC reporter to look up what the BBC itself reported about claimed casualties after OCL: “Hamas has said 48 of its fighters were killed. The Popular Resistance Committee says 34 died and Islamic Jihad said it lost 38 men.” Hamas not claiming only 50 combatants killed, it is claiming that only 50 of its combatants were killed. Lie number two, just as easy to sort out by an internet search, is that Hamas or “Gaza-based organisations” have “admitted” to a figure of 600-700. No they haven’t. You are either wilfully being played for a fool, or you are deliberately deceiving your readers.

You also repeat that Israeli claim given exposure by your colleague back in 2009 – that “when militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations”. I love this one because you have to be a moron to believe it, but also at least a bit of a racist. There are really two options here, one is that when combat breaks out Gazan militants change into civvies on the rather Pythonesque logic that they will make the evil Zionists pay by seeking matyrdom in mufti [sic]. The other possibility is that these hate-filled fanatic terrorists are so rabid, so irrationally rational, so innately cunning and conniving, that when their comrades are wounded or killed their first response is to give them a change of clothing – presumably remembering to tear, incise and or burn the clothing so that it matches the flesh beneath. Hamas probably has special units of crack combat-tailors giving makeovers to the dead and dying. While they are working I imagine that the legions of Pallywood specialists are digitally altering stock footage and stills so that every rabid mass-murdering terrorist arrives at the morgue with pictures and video of their tender family life of caring for young children and sickly elders.

Your fatuous hypothesis is that the disproportionate fatalities of young males suggests that Israel is only accidentally killing civilians in the legitimate pursuit of “terrorists”, and that the IDF, in fact, is practicing discrimination. This is based on four things – ignorance, stupidity, self-satisfied arrogance and the blatant lies of an IDF spokesperson. By privileging statistical evidence as being of a higher order than mere anecdote you manage to suggest that the evidence of our eyes themselves is somehow suspect. This is vulgar scientism. The fact is that a single anecdote can sometimes destroy a statistical hypothesis. The different sorts of evidence provide different sorts of information, one is not inherently better at revealing an objective truth. Statistical methods are frequently abused to create distorted pictures. Statistics provided by belligerents about their own actions are more or less worthless anyway, but sometimes it is perfectly valid to dismiss a statistical account on the basis that it diverges far too much from the collected reliable anecdotes. For example, US figures on civilian deaths in the second assault on Fallujah are risible. Anyone who actually followed the eyewitness accounts of what was occurring at the time knows that these “statistics” are worthless. We know from accounts of US personnel that dead civilians were simply labelled “insurgents”. It is an old practice, perhaps best known from Indochina where it was referred to as the “mere gook rule”.

The “mere gook rule” was elucidated as being “if it’s Vietnamese and dead, then its VC”. The reasons for this were many and varied. People often cleave to the cliché vision of ambitious officers trying to outdo each other by claiming everything conceivable as a kill. Behind that, however, were far more important systemic causes. We do not talk about such things in polite society, but the fact is that the US war machine systematically targeted civilians on the basis that being in a certain location made you a legitimate target deserving of death. They overtly wanted to attack the civilian population in NLF controlled areas on the basis that they were VC “infrastructure”. But to do so they actually redefined them as being combatants. Hence William Westmoreland, that charming man, was able to confidently proclaim that no civilian had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because he had defined free-fire zones as places where no people were civilians. So when William Calley described his reason for killing women as being because they had “about a thousand little VC” in them, he was actually just expressing official US doctrine.

I feel that I must point out here, in case there is any confusion, that contrary to what seems to be broadly taken as true at the BBC, powerful officials do not actually define reality. I know that this is hard for you to understand, but just because a US General says that the victims of bombing and shelling were all combatants, including the children, it does not make it true. There is a legal definition of “combatant” and international humanitarian law doesn’t actually rely on an honour system where the perpetrator owns up for any acts of naughtiness (and that includes Israel’s activities in Gaza). The Nuremburg Trials, for example, did not consist of a series of cleverly posed questions designed to trap German leaders into admitting that they had started a war and killed civilians. But while we are on that subject, it is always important to remember that every act of mass violence by the Germans was defined by them as an act of war against the “enemy” who were sometimes defined as being a “terrorist population”.

If a normal conscientious human being wrote an article about the gender and age characteristics of fatalities in Gaza, they might at least mention the very prominent fact that the US is now applying a gender and age specific version of the “mere gook rule”. Perhaps you have been sequestered under a rock for the last few years, but there has been significant mention in the news that the US automatically defines anyone killed in their targeted killings who is a military age male as being a “militant” until proven otherwise. “Militant” is such a great word as well because it gives people the impression of legitimacy, but it does not actually specify that the targets were combatants. A study of Israeli targeted killings some years ago found not only that they killed four times as many bystanders as targets, but also that 50% of the “militants” they targeted weren’t actually part of any armed activities. These militants were community organisers, political organisers and union organisers – you know, “infrastructure”.

To recap, then: a military aged male is not necessarily a combatant, but they are frequently targeted as such. This is known as gendercide. Targeting civilians in this way is often accompanied with official semantic approaches which seek to legitimate the targeting of civilians, but by nature any repudiation of legal definitions is in itself a war crime constituted necessarily of the systematic targeting of civilians.

Given everything we see of IDF personnel murdering helpless civilians, what seem to be targeted attacks on medical and aid workers – including UN personnel – and what seem to be deliberate attacks on UN facilities being used as shelters by displaced people, only an Orwellian freak could possibly go along with the idea that the UNHRC’s accusation of indiscriminate use of force is the real issue. Nor is the systematic targeting of civilians even the worst crime on evidence here. Israel is quite blatantly committing genocide as it is defined in law in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG), and under the UN Charter it is guilty of criminal aggression. Genocide is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity” which parties to the UNCG are obliged to act to end, whilst aggression was defined at Nuremburg as the “supreme crime”.

I bet you think you know what the word “genocide” means. I bet that deep down in your guts you know that it was never meant to describe the way Israel treats Palestinians. You probably can’t exactly say what genocide means, but you understand its essence and you know that it is offensive and obscene to cheapen the memory of the dead by debasing the coinage with such politicised accusations. Save your indignant spluttering. The legal definition of genocide is quite clear and taking actions aimed at destroying “in whole or in part” the Palestinian people is genocide by definition. The expectation that genocide should always be manifested as a discreet orgy of violence is a vulgar misapprehension. Genocide is frequently a long process of sporadic, chronic violence in the midst of ongoing persecution. In fact, the slow nature of the Israeli genocide is what makes it so much less ambiguous or uncertain than most other genocides. The rhetoric, the strategic imperatives, the tactic, the doctrines and the policies in this case all align to make this an open-and-shut case with none of the usual difficult issues of intentionality. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal not only found Israel guilty of the crime of genocide, but also found several named living Israeli officials guilty of genocide.

I know what you are thinking – you are thinking that the KLWCT is “political” and is motivated by “politics”. Let’s deconstruct that, shall we? In your twisted little world there is nothing “political” about the ICC which is an official body that just happens to spend almost all of its time prosecuting sub-Saharan African leaders who have angered the the US. Are these the worst war criminals in the world? No. Are they the worst war criminals in sub-Saharan Africa? No, not that either, certainly not on the basis of the numbers of victims killed. Apart from one token M-23 guy thrown to the dogs for the sake of appearances, the real crime of these people was that of defying Washington. The ICC, however, is “official”. In your grubby little corner of Oceania this means that it is not “political”. In the same idiom the US is an “honest broker” and John Kerry is a “credible authority”. In the real world, however, despite the involvement of Malaysian political figures, the KLWCT is constituted of independent scholarly and legal experts whose collective interest in the matter of Palestine is purely that of human beings who seek an end to injustice and suffering.

(Have you ever wondered about that? The way in which the pompous organs of the media reverse reality to say that the people who don’t have a vested interest are the suspect “political” voices, but the people who have immense power and money riding on the outcomes of events are considered at least respectable if not authoritative?)

The law may not be perfect, but often the fact that it is a codified standard which can be applied equally to each party is highly illuminating. Admittedly, by the time it reaches a court, international law is generally a selective disproportionate application of what amounts to victor’s justice. But we can independently examine issues in a legal light to get a good view of ethical dimensions of a situation. The question is this, in this instance who is the aggressor and who has the right of self-defence?

Israel claims the right of self-defence but what does Article 51 of the UN Charter actually authorise? “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Well, the UNSC has indeed been apprised of this situation and has passed resolutions to restore international peace and security, but Israel will not comply with those resolutions. In order to claim the right of self-defence Israel would first have to relinquish all occupied territories, among other things. And that is a normal established understanding. An occupying force does not have a right to self-defence. Nor is it permissible to blockade a country and then “defend” against their armed resistance to that blockade. If these things were not true then you would have a situation where both sides can claim self-defence with each supposedly defending against the other’s defence.

I know that it is heretical to even think such thoughts, but what if we spent as much time talking about Palestinian rights to self-defence as we do about the non-existent Israeli right to self-defence? When you actually apply international law, Palestinians have every right to use the arms that are available to them in resistance. They are the ones subject to occupation. Israel and its allies have used the statelessness of Palestinians to obfuscate their right to self-defence, but in law you cannot deny rights to individuals on the basis of statelessness which means that they have “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” until such time as the UNSC restores peace.

That brings me to something that I find almost as upsetting as seeing the bodies of children killed by “the most moral army in the world”. Those who take up arms against Israel are not legally or morally deserving of death. Most of them will have lost loved ones to Israeli violence. Every one of them suffers under the illegal oppression of the occupation. Deciding to fight back with arms is not some irrational fanatical decision. Yet in our media these men are treated as violent irrational ciphers in a way which both draws on and perpetuates a racist conception of Arab men. Nobody ever puts a human face on these fighters. They are tarred with the brush of Islamism, with its heavy freight of misogynistic savagery, but many of them aren’t even Islamists and those that are have not committed the sort of atrocities which Westerners claim come naturally to Islamists. We should at least remember who is and who isn’t killing babies here – that is not too much to ask is it? It is the IDF who are committing atrocities, and those who take up arms against them have the legal right to do so. They also have the right to life. They don’t enjoy dying, as the British used to claim about Arab tribesmen. They don’t eagerly seek martyrdom. Like isn’t “cheap” to them, as Westmoreland said of “Asiatics”. Those tropes are the worst kind of vicious racism. These fighters are human beings, and their deaths are legally and morally acts of murder.

Surely this doesn’t mean that Hamas can just fire thousands of rockets into Israel killing civilians, does it? Well, actually it does. Killing civilians is illegal, but the responsibility and culpability belongs with Israel’s leadership under the current circumstances. At Nuremburg it was adjudicated that Russian partisans could not be criminally responsible for atrocities carried out because they were in turn responding to the war crimes of the aggressor. Some argue that this Nuremburg precedent seems to give carte blanche to members of any attacked group. Perhaps jus in bello law must be equally applied to all parties no matter what, as a principle of equality under the law. But even if you take that position, was Kenneth Roth of HRW right to assiduously condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket fire when he recently discussed war crimes in Gaza? No. Roth is just being a scumbag. He is either acting as a propaganda agent to deliberately build a false equivalence, or he cares more about pandering and sounding “credible” than he cares for truth and justice.

Let me put this into some sort of perspective. It is, quite frankly ridiculous and wildly disproportionate to even suggest that we need to take steps over the supposed illegality of using insufficiently discriminating arms by factions in a besieged population when the harm to civilians is so much less that that caused to the civilians of the besieged population. Gaza’s rockets and mortars have killed 28 civilians in the last 13 years. [And don’t give me any crap about the wondrous “Iron Dome” – it didn’t even exist for most of that time and Theodor Postol has calculated that it does not work. It is a horrendously expensive PR ploy to maintain the deception that there is some sort of parity between Israeli and Palestinian violence.] Not only would it be a de facto abrogation of the Palestinian right to self-defence to restrict the weapons allowed to those that can only reach the enemy when the enemy chooses to come within range. Moreover, it is another point of law that you cannot accuse someone of a crime when you are also guilty of that crime. If Palestinian rockets and mortars are illegal then so are Israeli rockets and mortars – which kill more people. They share exactly the same properties of being inherently indiscriminate, as do air and ground artillery munitions. There is no qualitative difference between these inaccurate primitive rockets and any other explosives used around civilian populations except that they are a lot less deadly than most. This twisted and sick idea shared between Israel an the US that they can effectively exculpate themselves by saying – “yes, we kill more civilians, but we do it more accurately” is appalling.

The point is, though, not to say that Israel can’t accuse militants in Gaza of war crimes, but to say that none of us can. How can we, in countries that have shelled and bombed and killed so many, accuse Palestinian militants of anything? How could anyone from the US claim that Palestinian munitions are insufficiently precise and discriminating when their own government uses depleted uranium, cluster munitions, napalm, fuel-air bombs, white phosphorous, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. The very idea that any Westerner can level war crimes accusations at an desperately poor and ill-armed besieged people for using the only primitive weapons with which they can reach their attacker is sickening and obscene.

I don’t like the rocket attacks. I don’t think Israeli civilians deserve death. But as Osama Hamdan pointed out, when they stop firing rockets, it doesn’t stop Israel from killing and blockading their people. How long do you sit doing nothing while people are killed and while the land, the little strip of a prison, gets ever closer to becoming irreversibly uninhabitable. (There is the Zionist genocidal intent – a realist’s Eretz Israel with a non-citizen Palestinian helots living in controlled West Bank enclaves, while Gaza is a post-apocalyptic pile of polluted rubble.)

If you have actually read this far, you might be marshalling answers with your little weasel brain. Please don’t bother. To put it politely, this letter is in the spirit of a condemnatory open letter. To put it more honestly, I don’t care what a toxic freak like you has to say in his defence. For forty years the dissident voices of our society have taken on this crippling notion that we should “engage” people in “dialogue”, as if our goal is to show people like you the error of your ways. But even engaging someone like you is to give validity to your insane world-view. What sort of callous freak actually goes out of their way to throw condemnations of IDF actions in Gaza into question? Do you wake up in the morning and think, “I know what the world needs, it needs more geeky smug reasons for not having to feel compassion and the desire to end suffering”?

So, frankly, I don’t care what you have to say for yourself. I just want you to know that you are hated. A person half a world away, who is very well educated about the issues involved, hates you for the simple reason that you are the enemy of humanity and your work promotes the suffering of innocents.

All the best for you and your hack friends in your future self-congratulatory endeavours,

Kieran Kelly

 

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

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[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.

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

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

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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.

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[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.”

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[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.

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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”

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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?