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

 

Will There Be Another Deadly Assault on Fallujah?

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The Iraqi government has declared that Fallujah has fallen entirely into the hands of “Al Qaeda and Daash”. This follows over a month of US and Iraqi PR campaigning in the news media touting Al Qaeda’s ambitions to carve out an emirate in the region. It also comes just days after the revelation that the regime in Baghdad has received hellfire missiles and drones from the United States for the stated purpose of fighting Al Qaeda in the last month.

Behind the scenes, however, Shafaq News reports that some government sources admit that the claims are a deliberate deception. One source describes the government stance as: “Deliberate confusion in the information and attempts to create a dangerous atmosphere in the city to be dealt with in a militarily way in every way,” but in reality, “Fallujah and even other cities are still experiencing quieter days than before”. By citing Al Qaeda and linking it to the brutal terrorist mass-murder campaign as well as alleged ambitions to create an entire state, the Iraqi government may be working towards justifying unleashing high levels of military violence on Fallujah, but who really is controlling Fallujah?

Political revolutionaries affiliated with the protest movement in Iraq have been describing the anti-government forces in places such as Fallujah as “Tribal Rebels”. Many are from the “Awakening” who were originally opponents of the US occupation recruited and armed by the US to fight Al Qaeda. Clearly some in the protest movement are supportive of armed attacks against government forces, and that represents a large section of the Iraqi population. While Western media have been reporting the horrific and seemingly ever-increasing bombing campaign, they have neglected the massive peaceful protest movement that has been in action for a year. As The Common Ills reports, Iraqi reporters face death and serious government repression for reporting on such matters, but the Western media need only the will to write something that might contradict the official Western narrative on Iraq. Now it seems as if armed clashes between regime forces and militias are spreading and intensifying – perhaps enough to foreshadow bottom-up regime change in Iraq, but that too is not deemed newsworthy. Instead there is a deliberate and convenient conflation with the bombing campaign and the aforementioned supposed ambitions of Al Qaeda. One Washington blogger has already taken the opportunity provided by Baghdad’s claims about Fallujah: He rehabilitates George W. Bush and attacks Obama for letting Al Qaeda take over Fallujah again [sic] when Bush had done such a good job of eradicating them earlier.

However, far from being a threat such as presented by mass protests and armed insurgency, the principle Iraqi beneficiary of the terrorist bombing campaign is the regime of Nouri al-Maliki itself. It fuels and justifies government repression which includes disappearances, torture, unfair trials (in a court system created by the US) and many, many executions of “terrorists”. The regime’s political enemies are “terrorists” and rivals for power in place like Anbar province (where Fallujah is) are frequently assassinated or arrested. This too goes unreported in the Western media. The immediate trigger for this recent upsurge in armed militia violence was the arrest on December 28 of a Sunni member of parliament at his home ion Ramadi. The government claims that they were trying to arrest his brother for terrorism but were met with armed resistance (in which the brother was killed). The MP was thereafter arrested for attacking the security forces not as a terrorist as such

The principle overseas beneficiary of all of Iraq’s violence is the US. Unlike regional powers it is not threatened by the instability that it creates. In fact Middle Eastern instability maintains high oil prices which stabilise US global hegemony. (Admittedly this is at the expense of the “99%” in the US, but US foreign policy has never directed by concern for the US people and it is becoming ever less excusable to claim that it is.) Iraqis are ever more hostile to Iran, which a real rival/enemy of the US. The US officially supports the Maliki government and unofficially supports the Sunni Islamist militias who are part of the anti-government forces. Iran also supports the Maliki government, perhaps feeling they have no choice or perhaps not understanding how much this benefits the US. The repression they sponsor (in cooperation with the US) drives the extremism they fear. Iran would be better served by a democratic, tolerant and pluralistic Iraq (or, for that matter, a democratic tolerant and pluralistic Iran).

In Iraq the lines between “real” terrorism and “false flag” terrorism are blurred. Historically agents provocateurs have often blurred those lines, sometimes transforming revolutionaries into terrorists by their presence alone. In this instance we need no details of such infiltration to draw the same sort of conclusions. It is enough to know that the bombing helps maintain the power of the current government in Iraq and that their overseas backers are inevitably linked to the US which also backs their allies in Syria and simultaneously backs the Iraq government. Though it tries to maintain deniability (and apparently uses “a complex, shadowy system of weapons movement, with diverse, sometimes parallel, supply routes”) US involvement is too comprehensive to properly conceal. As with Syria, the US imperial interest is served by conflict and instability and the brutal truth is that US actions are crucial in creating and maintaining these conflicts.

Now, as it was in 2004, a whole city is being labelled “terrorist”, but it is first and foremost a city of resistance. In 1920, when it was only a small town, Fallujah was a centre of spreading resistance to British imperial rule and this seems to have been formative. In 2004, in response to the crimes of US personnel (including the murder of unarmed demonstrators) Fallujah rose in resistance to the US-led occupation. Any so-called “Al Qaeda” who entered the city thereafter were drawn by the strength of the resistance there, they were not the cause of the resistance nor were they the target of the US assaults. Now it seems that the current Iraqi government, a client of both the US and Iran, may be preparing to repeat the destruction and suffering wrought on the people of Fallujah in 2004.

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.

“Collateral Murder”: Evidence of Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

Genocide??

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

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

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

Mischling exemption application

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

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

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

Genocide is about Power not Hatred

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

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

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

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

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

1) Are the Victims Combatants? Are they Armed?
The footage we see is from one of two participating Apache helicopter gunships. The call-sign of the gunship, or rather its “Aerial Weapons Team”, is Crazy Horse One Eight. The voice of the gunner who shoots is distinguishable throughout. He is controlling the gun camera and we can see what he sees. Further, it is clear from the fact he refers to things indicated by his sights that someone else, presumably the pilot, is seeing the same video feed and using it to make judgements. This is very important because the viewer can tell that they did not make a positive identification of weapons when initially claimed as, even with the benefit of going through one frame at a time, it is not possible to make a positive identification of weapons. It is also possible to tell that they are lying frequently about what they can see.
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Our first view of the first group of victims (Pic 1) shows over a dozen men who are clearly acting in a casual manner. In general they are progressing but here is also milling and conversation going on amongst them. Two of them have visible shoulder straps. These are from cameras and they look like cameras considerably more than they look like weapons. They identify one other “weapon” which is inflated to the claim that there are “five to six” armed individuals. Pic 2 and the frame immediately preceding it show a long object that could easily be mistaken for an RPG (rocket propelled grenade launcher). However this is not what the gunner will later claim is an RPG and having viewed the entire footage it seems almost inconceivable that the object is in fact an RPG.
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In Pic 3 we can see the object that the gunner claims is an RPG. It is a camera. It looks a lot more like a camera than an RPG. The reader is invited to review the footage starting at about 00:02:30 and determine whether they think it is feasible that the gunner has made a “positive identification” as required by the ROE (rules of engagement). As for the long object that looked a little like an RPG we can see in Pic 4 that it is now being used like a crutch. In our next fleeting glimpse it looks fairly insubstantial, lending some credence to the speculation that it might actually have been a tripod. There is no visible RPG tube later. Mention is made by ground forces that they believe there might be an RPG round under a body, but bear in mind the only claim that there was an RPG was of something we know for certain was a camera. Further, if it had been an RPG it would pose no threat to the gunship which was far beyond its effective range and too fast to be effectively targeted by a weapon designed for use against armoured ground vehicles. One writer described it as like trying to hit a wasp with a slingshot. And then there is the unexplained statement by the gunner: “Yeah, we had a guy shooting – and now he’s behind the building.” Someone responds as if he was referring to something else (30 minutes earlier small arms fire was heard in the area but its source never identified – that is the only evidence of hostile activity in the area at this point) but the context seems to suggest that he is saying that the “guy shooting” was journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen who may well have been “shooting” his camera.

An hour after these events we do see armed individuals – after an unexplained 30 minute gap in the footage. Before I turn to that, however, I would like to turn to the elephant in the room which seems utterly absent from discussions of whether or not the group of victims carried weapons – that is the fact that so many are quite clearly unarmed.
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Pics 5 and 6 show armed men. The two men in pic 6 are not visible for very long, but one in particular is so obviously armed that it is quite unmistakeable. Likewise with the US personnel in pic 5. Uniforms aside, the fact that they carry long arms is very distinct. The demeanour and behaviour is clearly different also. The visibly armed men in both instances move in a purposeful manner, often briskly, and they pay attention to those in front. When Namir Noor-Eldeen was aiming his camera lens at the gunship his companions were just standing around having a chat. The gunships were clearly both seen and heard by the men. The gunner who will soon murder these men is quite able to see that they are in no way preparing for an engagement. Though two carry cameras and one a long object, it is clear that all others are plainly unarmed. Here is the ICRC’s (International Committee of the Red Cross) one sentence heading describing “Chapter 1, Rule 1” of customary International Humanitarian Law: Rule 1. The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”
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In the second attack the two armed men from pic 6 seem to have entered a building. After that this is heard from the gunner [G] and what is almost certainly the pilot [P] of Crazy Horse 18:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Targeting Rescuers

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

36:49 Firing.

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

36:56 Patoosh!

37:03 Ah, sweet.

37:07 Need a little more room.

37:09 Nice missile.

37:11 Does it look good?

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

07:14 Where’s that van at?

07:15 Right down there by the bodies.

07:16 Okay, yeah.

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

07:25 Let me engage.

07:28 Can I shoot?

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

07:36 Picking up the wounded?

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

07:41 Come on, let us shoot!

07:44 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:49 They’re taking him.

07:51 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.

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

08:02 Fuck.

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

08:12 One-Eight, engage.

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

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

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

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

3) “Delightful Bloodlust”

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

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

06:33 Come on, buddy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Lies

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

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

And then there is this:

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

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

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

5) Killing Journalists

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Your Guard Up: Why the World Should Not Relax Over Syria

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Though apparently thwarted in its efforts to justify action against Syria, the US is likely to continue looking for cracks in the wall of opposition and will exploit any opportunity to act, relying on its well established impunity.

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Two Superpowers and Two Toadies

By early 2003, fear of the United States had reached remarkable heights throughout the world, along with distrust of and often loathing for the political leadership.”

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, 2003.

In 2003 Noam Chomsky was one of those who embraced the idea that there are two superpowers in the world – the United States and world public opinion (WPO). Clearly it was the US that won the fight in 2003, but there is a sense that things may be different at this time as the two superpowers end Round 1 of a rematch. Unfortunately a sense of difference is all that there is. In matters of substance, there is nothing which we should really take as comforting, and nothing that we can really point to that will ensure a different outcome. One of the most serious problems is the WPO can only block US moves and has no effective way of fighting back. Even if the US finds its fanciest and most energetic combination blocked and foiled it can just dance around jabbing, waiting for an opening to land a serious blow.

It only takes one blow for the US to be declared the winner, and it doesn’t need to be a great one. The killer punch of Colin Powell’s 2003 UN presentation was actually barely felt by WPO, but as WPO stood by helplessly, the US was declared the winner. The problem lies with the two referees of the fight. One is a weedy and unctuous streak of nothing, with the manner of a Peter Lorre character. This is the UN Secretariat (the primary bureaucracy of the UN). Sometimes it defiantly squeaks at the US, berating it for biting and hitting below the belt, but it can always be relied on to ratify victory like the compliant minion that it is. If this seems overly cynical, we should remember that much the same behaviour is displayed by completely dependent puppet leaders installed by the US (such as Thieu and Ky in Saigon; Karzai in Kabul; Rhee in Seoul; Lon Nol; Mobutu; Suharto; and any number of Latin American dictators who have not been averse to appropriating anti-imperialist rhetoric to further the imperial project). Shows of defiance help build the flimsy constituencies of puppet regimes, but also lend credence to US claims that they are independent actors. This is not a jaded view of the UN Secretariat but a realistic one. To illustrate, I need only point out that there is no obligation whatsoever to be amnesiac. The UN Secretariat does not need to pretend that there was no invasion of Iraq, no bombing of Serbia, no invasions of Granada or Panama, no bombings of Laos and Cambodia. Try as I might, I cannot find that part in the UN Charter that reads: “Never mind. What is done is done and there’s no use crying over spilt milk.” In fact, it seems rather hollow to forbid something if, when those warnings and protestations are ignored, you simply roll your eyes. This is not the way the UN Secretariat behaves towards rivals and enemies of the US such as Iran, North Korea and Sudan whose past sins are never forgotten.

Working closely with the UN Secretariat is a dim-witted giant – the UN itself. The United Nations is a collection of member states, and should not be confused with the UN Secretariat. In practice that means that the UN is the governments of those member states. Collectively they make up this lumbering moron that is quite resentful of the US but far more afraid of it. The confused ambivalence of the UN makes quite a contrast with the clarity of WPO. In theory, the UN should reflect the WPO and be in the WPO’s corner. It should untie the WPO’s hands, and then the US would never even dare step in the ring. If the UN had the clarity of the WPO then its fellow referee would be forced to concur on its decisions. But the UN is ensorcelled – rendered stupid by the glamour of meaningless baubles and flattery while genuinely fearful of the unpredictably psychopathic US. The question of the moment is whether the UN is starting to think that the WPO might also be dangerous, and perhaps rethinking its allegiance.

This is Serious Business

I am going to abandon the boxing analogy now, but I must ask why the US feels compelled to go up against WPO. It is not merely some whim, nor a clash of personalities, nor a money-making scheme for Raytheon. Morevover, Obama and Kerry are utterly incidental – as Tony Cartalucci details, specific plans to foment armed insurgency in Syria were set in motion in 2007. Before that Syria was on a “hit list” of 7 countries dating from 2002. There is also no truth in Washington’s claimed motive of humanitarian concern and a self-declared “red-line”. Many, including John Pilger, have pointed out the sheer breathtaking hypocrisy of citing humanitarian concerns by a power which remains, in MLK’s words, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. Others have been specifically enraged by the Obama repeatedly citing the “norms” against using chemical weapons when the US has caused such immense amounts of death and suffering with chemicals such as Agent Orange. For example, Wesley Messamore outlines 10 mass death causing chemical attacks conducted by the US, with US approval, or with US assistance.

In short, US pretensions of humanitarian concern and righteous outrage are a bald-faced and contemptuous deception. Equally, the evinced concern for US credibility is no more than a twisted joke. As I detailed in a recent article, Obama is using language very similar to that used by Richard Nixon in 1970. He explained that the US needed to invade Cambodia otherwise people would think it “a pitiful helpless giant”. Needless to say that any President modelling his words on those of Nixon is truly scraping the bottom of the propaganda barrel. These are rationalisations only liable to persuade the most credulous, the most craven, and the most pious believers in the infallible goodness of the authorities. As indicated in the previous section, this broadly excludes the peoples of the world, but mostly includes their governments.

The stated reasons for US intervention are clearly inaccurate. Here is another explanation given by Daniel Drezner in Foreign Policy:

“To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years. To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished…. at an appalling toll in lives lost.

This policy doesn’t require any course correction… so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources. A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict. In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.”

This implies that the concern is somehow with Iran and Hezbollah as military powers, but I think security, in that sense, is distinctly secondary. Neither of these parties pose a threat to the US. As to the threat they pose to Israel, US strikes against Syria actually increase that threat immensely. A more realistic realist concern is with Syria itself in petroleum related strategic terms. Nafeez Ahmed outlines the direct interest in gas and oil pipelines involving Syria as well as the wider regional project to control petrochemicals through military force and regime change. If this seems to contradict Drezner’s suggestion that the US is fomenting open-ended deadly conflict, we should remember that oil and gas are strategic resources, not mere commodities. Strategic denial is as important as acquisition of such resources. This means that preventing their exploitation increases the value of other exploitable sources. This was the approach to gold taken by the British Empire, and has been the US approach to oil since 1974 when US client states, Saudi Arabia and Iran, created a sudden 400% rise in oil prices. US destabilisation regionally is already pushing up oil prices which is a big bonus to the likes of Exxon-Mobil and other well connected energy companies. Not to mention the fact that the value of the US dollar and its reserve currency status rely on “interventions” which have become rolling acts of serial genocide. (Some see Syria as the “last line of defense for the US Dollar and the exalted position of OPEC”, but personally I have to think that if it had come to that the US would be seeking to wind down its empire not create an apocalyptic confrontation merely to delay the inevitable.)

To summarise, the plans are old and the stakes are high. I refer to US actions as a rolling serial genocide because it is a war against peoples not their governments or armies, that is the defining characteristic of genocide. The US is systematically fomenting the “bloody civil war”. David Malone, after a detailed 3-part analysis of material/strategic interests, writes of “a dark thought”:

“This is speculation but I think worth keeping in mind. I think certain parts of the US military and intelligence have learned a lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan; that imposing stability is not as easy as they once imagined it might be. Instead Iraq and Afghanistan showed them how a country riven with factions, some of them violent and fundamentalist, can, given enough arms and encouragement, keep a country in a state of barely contained anarchy and chaos for years on end. Just enough order to extract wealth but not enough to ever unify.”

It is a dark thought, but the assertion that the US tried and failed to create stability in Iraq and Afghanistan is simply untrue. The US never attempted to create stability. After more than 12 years of genocidal sanctions on Iraq, the US by direct means did to Iraq exactly what it is doing indirectly to Syria, and in even bloodier fashion. They destabilised, they killed, they destroyed, they poisoned, they unleashed death squads and they deliberately created a civil war. As the list of “failed states” left in the wake of US direct and indirect, overt and covert interventions continues to grow; as the numbers of victims mount and surpass those of past brutal regimes, perhaps it is time for us to shed our denial over the nature of the US empire.

Time is on Their Side

The redoubtable Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report writes that Obama will “soon be back on the warpath, meaner and more aggressive than ever.” That may come to pass, but I am not sure that Obama needs to be more aggressive. The real danger now is that Obama successfully feigns a change of heart and in doing so finesses some form of “authorization” which may be exploited. Historically speaking when the US congress authorised the President to use force in 1964 and 2001, those authorisations were taken as carte blanche for multiple acts of aggression.

Already Obama and Kerry have stated that a credible threat of force is necessary for what they refer to in Orwellian fashion as “diplomacy”. Threats of force are, in fact, illegal under Article 2 of the UN Charter, and one would not normally describe coercing someone into compliance as being diplomatic. There is, however, a relevant precedent. As Noam Chomsky indicated on a recent appearance on Democracy Now! it was the efficacy of threats of force that secured the Sudetenland for Germany in 1938. That too was referred to as diplomacy, and the Germans justified their intervention on humanitarian grounds. But John Kerry has something that Hitler never had – the Munich analogy. He actually said, “this is our Munich moment.” John Kerry gets to justify acting like Hitler by implying that if he doesn’t then Assad will be the next Hitler. If Adolph were around, he’d be green with envy.

Perhaps even more sickening than the Munich analogy is the Obama’s use of the Rwanda analogy. Most people in the world know only the Hollywood version of what happened in Rwanda, as embodied in the film Hotel Rwanda. But the man whose life and actions inspired that film, has said the following about the Hollywood version in a recent interview: “When we hear about this from outside, we take it like something that came out of nowhere and disappeared. The victors, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, told us that it had disappeared, which is not true, because killing, massacres, crimes against humanity, war crimes, kept repeating themselves, not only in Rwanda but also in the Congo.”

Unfortunately Rwanda before 1994 does bear some resemblance to current Syria, for all the wrong reasons. The US backed and armed an unbelievably vicious insurgency which lacked popular support. The insurgent Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) was better armed than the actual Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR). The RPA inverted the normal practices of traditional insurgents who draw on the support of local populations. Instead they conducted a scorched earth, cleansing, refugee generation and mass destabilisation that centred around massacring civilians to create terror. The achieved the same thing through demonstrative atrocities that the US bombing campaign in Cambodia achieved, emptying the best farmland and creating a volatile tinderbox of frightened refugees. Genocide scholar Alan Kuperman studied the RPA and concluded that they deliberately provoked the genocide against their fellow Tutsi. (The RPA was made up of exiled Tutsi and did not scruple to massacre Tutsi themselves if they were in an area which was to be cleansed). After the RPA won, the massacres continued. The Rwandan regime became, according to the Economist “the most repressive regime in Africa”. Over 100,000 people were imprisoned awaiting trial in the year 2000. Speech crimes such such as “negationism” attract sentences of 10 to 50 years. 2 million fled when the RPA secured victory, of whom 500,000 died in neighbouring Zaire/DRC in what a UN team describes as genocide carried out by Rwanda.

So there is the Rwanda analogy for you. Unfortunately I believe it only too plausible that the US sees parallels between the two situations. The US uses Rwanda as an example of the dangers of inaction but it was the US that actually blocked a Belgian initiative that would have prevented the horrific genocide. In both instances the US level of calculation and degree of control make it morally culpable for every death and every injury.

The US is not omnipotent, but it is very powerful, sophisticated and subtle. It cultivates an image of blundering idiocy, just as the British Empire did before it, but it is in a controlling position. The Obama administration needs only one trigger to attack Syria. This could be an AUMF from US Congress, a “multilateral” agreement, or a UNSC authorisation. The administration will try to convince congress that it should authorise force simply to further “diplomacy”. A multilateral agreement need not be from NATO, but could be a defensive pretext involving a neighbour of Syria. The point is that any trigger could be seized upon. US aggression has not been prevented by widespread public anger, at least not directly, it has been stopped by the lack of such a trigger. If you want to know how important world public opinion is to the US empire, look at the 2003 quote from Chomsky at the top of this article. If “fear”, “distrust” and “loathing” were high in 2003 what exactly has the US done to assuage that feeling since? Fallujah? Abu Ghraib? Guantánamo? Libya? World financial crisis? The US acts with complete impunity and as per the boxing analogy, WPO has no way of fighting back. In fact it gets exhausted by the constant assaults – exhausted and distracted.

Any possible excuse for the use of force will be taken much further than stated which is exactly why no one this far has given the Obama administration the excuse it is seeking. The worst would be a UNSC resolution authorising force under Chapter VII. The US clearly misused the UNSC resolution authorising the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. More striking, however, was the resolution authorising force against Iraq passed in 1990 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It was this that was used to justify the genocidal sanctions campaign, the invasion and the occupation of Iraq. What people might not realise is that once a Chapter VII provision is in place, permanent UNSC members can veto its lifting. That means that once such a resolution is in place, the US, UK or France can ensure that it continues indefinitely. In the case of Iraq, Chapter VII authorisation was not lifted until this year – more than 22 years after Iraqi forces left Kuwait and 10 years after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Keep Fighting

The only answer for now is to keep opposing any US action without ever letting our guard down, but it is about time that the people of the world were given a chance to fight back. We need to create actual democracies. To start making our governments act according to the wishes of the people. The fight against this war, the fight against the TPPA, the fight against GMOs, against corporate and financial corruption, against government surveillance, against paramilitary policing, against the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), against austerity, and against privatisation – these are all fights against empire. Oddly our fight to democratise our governments and win them back from the imperial thrall (our fight for sovereignty) is exactly the same in the US itself. The people of the US are in exactly the same boat as the rest of us with only slight differences in detail. Fred Branfman has recently concluded that the executive branch of the US government is “the world’s most evil and lawless institution”. The fight in the US is a struggle to force the legislative branch to oppose the imperial executive on behalf of the people. I think, though, that we ought to view the executive branch as the visible tip of the US empire iceberg.

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.
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[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.

The Cambodia Precedent: Justifying New Crimes on the Basis of Past Crimes

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For John Kerry the incoming Secretary of State, the bombing of Cambodia by the US was illegal. But, even as Kerry reaffirms his condemnation of US actions in Cambodia, it comes to light that in June his colleagues in the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees were issued a white paper from the Department of Justice which claimed US intervention in Cambodia as being a legal precedent for the administrations use of targeted killings using drone strikes. In fact, “legal precedent” might be too strong a term, because what is actually cited is an address given by legal counsel to the State Department to a legal forum. Yes, they are using a speech rather than an adjudication as a claim of precedence, much as one might in some future time quote John Yoo as the legal precedent for a systematic programme of child torture by testicular crushing. On the other hand, the carpet bombing of Cambodia was one of the most brutal and notorious war crimes of the post-WWII era and not only has no one been prosecuted for the crime, but the principle perpetrator was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later – perhaps this is exactly the sort of precedent that the Obama administration looks towards.

With all of that in mind, it is worth revisiting exactly what the US did to the people of Cambodia. Then we can understand exactly what sort of moral precedent applies here – the sort that would make almost any organised crime boss, or terrorist, or psychopathic serial killer blanch with horrified disgust. If you think I’m exaggerating, read on.

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In 2007 Barack Obama said: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” In questioning John Kerry about Obama’s departure from that principle in Libya, Rand Paul elicited from Kerry, a reaffirmation that he, Kerry, still believed that the bombing of Cambodia was illegal. One might wonder, then, whether Obama’s new Secretary of State is going to oppose his famous “drone” assassination programme. I broach the subject because the Department of Justice rationalised the use of deadly force in other sovereign territories citing Cambodia as a precedent. This is an excerpt from their recently released White paper:

The Department has not found any authority for the proposition that when one of the parties to an armed conflict plans and executes operations from a base in a new nation, an operation to engage the enemy in that location cannot be part of the original armed conflict, and thus subject to the laws of war governing that conflict, unless the hostilities become sufficiently intense and protracted in the new location. That does not appear to be the rule of the historical practice, for instance, even in a traditional international conflict. See John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State, United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law, Address before the Hammarskjold Forum of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (May 28,1970)…, (arguing that in an international armed conflict, if a neutral state has been unable for any reason to prevent violations of its neutrality by the troops of one belligerent using its territory as a base of operations, the other belligerent has historically been justified in attacking those enemy forces in that state).

Now, let me start off by saying something absolutely clearly. The idea that the US can legally engage in a programme of assassinations using hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles is a patent falsehood – a complete joke – a non-starter – a parody – a stupid idea that no one should take seriously. A single ad hoc emergency strike might be justified as self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, but a programme cannot be as self-defence because, under the charter, it can only be applied to imminent threats. This aspect of law isn’t rocket science, nor hidden within some mystical realm of legalese. The standard legal textbook dealing with this subject is Yoram Dinstein’s, War, Aggression and Self-Defense, now in its 4th edition. It is a pretty straightforward book (and I’m no lawyer) and on this particular subject it is so unequivocal that it is impossible that any superior authority might find some crucial flaw which would invalidate Dinstein. The reason it is so unequivocal is that the US arguments have already been ruled against by no lesser body than the International Court of Justice. The reason for this is that the US has already deployed almost the exact same reasoning to justify its actions against Nicaragua.

On Nicaragua v. United States of America, the ICJ ruled “By twelve votes to three, Rejects the justification of collective self-defence maintained by the United States of America in connection with the military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua the subject of this case; …. By twelve votes to three, Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State….” And goes on to add other grounds of violation, including a similar finding against the US mining of Nicaragua’s main port. Dinstein explores the US self-defence claims and notes that although self-defence was ruled out on other grounds this did not prevent judges from further noting that the three requisite conditions of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality were also unsustainable.1

In the Nicaragua case, as now, the US argued that conditions of immediacy, necessity and proportionality were met, but then, as now, these are just empty words disproved by the simplest of geographical facts. Such claims are even further disproved by publicly available details of the US assassination programme, such as the use of “signature strikes” and the use of “double tap” follow up strikes. These practices demolish self-defence arguments even as they raise further questions about breaches of International Humanitarian Law (such as the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)) and International Human Rights Law (such as Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms “the right to life, liberty and security of person”).

So, how much does citing US actions in Cambodia strengthen the feeble claims of legal rationale for drone strikes? I would say somewhat less than not at all, partly because US military actions in Cambodia were clearly not legal and partly because they too failed the test of self-defence (hence arguably being crimes against the peace) but they were also gross breaches of International Humanitarian Law, and should be classified as genocide – which is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity

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When people think of genocide and Cambodia, they tend to think of the Khmer Rouge, and the “Killing Fields”; of their evidently insane Democratic Kampuchea regime which began its “Year Zero” in 1975. But a Finnish Inquiry Commission designated the years 1969 to 1975 in Cambodia (a time of massive aerial bombardment by the US and of bitter civil war wholly sustained by the US) as Phase 1 of the ‘Decade of Genocide’.2Estimates of Cambodian deaths resulting from the 1969-75 war range from Vickery’s 500,000 killed3 to a credible 1 million excess deaths estimated by Sorpong Peou.4 Given that the Cambodian population was an estimated 6 or 7 million in the period of the Second Indochina War, this gives us a figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 14 of all Cambodians killed.

US actions inside Cambodian borders began years before the devastating carpet bombing. The US ‘Studies and Operations Group’ conducted attacks with US Special Forces personnel in Cambodia throughout the 1960s. In 1967 these were institutionalised as “Salem House” (later known as “Daniel Boone”). This programme was kept secret from the US congress and conducted a total of 1,835 missions. Their primary activity appears to have been the laying of “sanitized self-destruct antipersonnel” mines anywhere up to 30 kilometres beyond the border. Their supposed mission was intelligence gathering, but throughout the whole programme they only captured 24 prisoners.5 The Special Forces troops usually disguised themselves as Vietnamese PLAF fighters and sometimes murdered civilians in false-flag operations.6

In 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol7 and Prince Sirik Matak with tacit support from Washington and probable assistance by the CIA. Washington recognised the new regime within hours.8 So fast was recognition of Lon Nol’s government that it must have precluded any possibility that the changes on the ground were being assessed, which strongly suggests that the US must have had detailed foreknowledge in order to have any confidence in its judgement. Sihanouk’s overthrow made civil war unavoidable.

In 1969, before the above events, the US began bombing Cambodia in what was known as “Operation Menu”. From Saigon, US General Creighton Abrams insisted that he had “hard evidence” that the Central Office for South Vietnam headquarters (COSVN HQ) had been located in the “Fish Hook” salient of Cambodia.9 The problem was that no such place ever existed, though for years the US had mounted operations to crush it when they claimed it was located in South Vietnam.10 Once under way, Operation Menu spread to other areas. Despite the carpet bombing of area supposed to contain COVSN HQ, in April 1970 Abrams claimed that the headquarters still existed as a fortified underground bunker with 5000 personnel.11 In May US and RVN forces invaded Cambodia, the action justified in part as an attempt, yet again, to wipe out the COVSN HQ “which had become the Holy Grail of the American war”.12 The US/RVN invasion simply, and predictably, drove communist forces deeper into Cambodia.13

It is a known and predictable effect that the killing of civilians drives people to take up arms, it is a “counterproductive” counter-insurgency tactic which actually strengthens the enemy.14 It is worth remembering that the famous maverick US Army officer John Paul Vann made the same observation in 1962.15One of the most striking examples of generating an enemy by killing civilians, is what occurred in Cambodia from 1969 onwards. Ben Kiernan repeatedly cites evidence in numerous consecutive instances that US/RVN aerial bombardment strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency, and, more specifically the anti-Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.16 In 1969, the Khmer Rouge consisted of perhaps 4000 – an ultimately unthreatening insurgency. By the end of 1972, they were able, with DRV logistical support, to “hold their own” against Lon Nol’s armed forces, which, at US instigation, had been enlarged to between 132,000 and 176,000 (not counting “ghost” soldiers, who existed only on the books of the corrupt officers who collected their pay) and had massive US/RVN air support.17 In William Shawcross’s words, “the new war was creating enemies where none previously existed”18 and by this stage, Lon Nol’s regime was already reduced to the control of shrinking and fragmenting enclaves.19

When the the US generated a war in Cambodia they had already had a great deal of experience in Vietnam and Laos, and what occurred in Cambodia is, in many ways, a naked exposure of the logic behind the genocidal war system, less obfuscated because, ironically, Cambodia was a “sideshow” where it was not the details but the whole war which was kept obscure from the public.

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup, as mentioned, the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”20 Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death.21

Going back in time to 1970, less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.22 This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of around half of the Cambodian population.23Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”24

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As has been detailed, US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.25 If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.26 Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.27 By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.28 The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million deaths occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him, “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”29 The point of the US bombing was not to win a military victory – it was to destroy Cambodia as part of an Indochina “exit strategy” – and that is a clear instance of genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”30

So that was the end of the US involvement in Cambodia, and their legal culpability. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, and the refugees were shocked to see that the black-clad cadres were mostly young teens, fanatical and brutalised by half a young lifetime of fighting and death. The US was not responsible for the fantasies of the Pol Pot clique, who believed that supernatural amounts of food could be produced without recourse to machine power, nor for their refusal to accept aid. But the US had deliberately brought the Cambodian population to the brink of starvation – destroying farmland and driving peasants off the land. Perhaps 500,000 or more died of starvation. Hundreds of thousands were executed for political or ideological reasons, murdered by the Khmer Rouge who the US had largely brought into existence. And when the Vietnamese put the regime to an end (and despite what you may read about this being justifiable as “humanitarian intervention” it was in fact legitimate self-defence – if you don’t believe me you can read about Khmer Rouge foreign policy, border attacks, and espoused official desire to exterminate all Vietnamese) when the Khmer Rouge were supplanted, the US insisted that they retain a seat at the UN and started giving aid to their guerilla forces.

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So, do I think that the Cambodia precedent is a good one to justify an assassination programme? No, I do not. But then again I am not from the US, and perhaps I am failing to grasp the subtle point that next to no “Americans” died in Cambodia (none that were officially acknowledged) therefore it did not happen. I don’t want to be offensive, but if they do not wish to be complicit with the crimes of the US regime, US anti-drone campaigners must avoid all trace of exceptionalism. I am sure they mean no harm, but why allow yourselves to be drawn into this ridiculous framework of seeing the drone programme as being primarily a question of “the targeting of Americans without due process.” There have been 5 US citizens killed with US drones whereas at least 4000 non-US citizens have been killed. Why would anyone, in those circumstances, give primacy to concern over “US citizens” and “due process”? This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?

1 Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (3rd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 184-5.

2 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage, 1994 (1988), p 260.

3 Ibid, p 263.

4 Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 54.

5 Ibid, pp 64-5.

6 Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 18.

7 The US had developed ties with Lon Nol in the 1950s and by 1970, according to CIA officer Frank Snepp, he was one of two candidates being groomed by the CIA to take Sihanouk’s place (William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), pp 114-5).

8 Ibid, pp 114-23; William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004, pp 137-8; Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, pp 125-6.

9 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

10 Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990, New York: Harper Perennial, 1991, pp 72, 186; Tucker, Vietnam, p 129; Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp 79-80.

11 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

12 Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 245.

13 Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

14 David Keen, Endless War? Hidden functions of the ‘War on Terror’. London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006, pp 58-61.

15 Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Vintage 1989 (1988), p pp 106-111.

16 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, pp 19-23. Also see Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 128.

17 Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 73, 180, 194-5, 261.

18 Ibid, p 249.

19 Ibid, p 254.

20 Ibid, p 220.

21 Ibid, p 317-9.

22 Ibid, p 149.

23 Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia , p 127.

24 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

25 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 24.

26 Ibid, p 19.

27 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

28 Ibid, pp 254-5.

29 Ibid, p 169.

30 Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213.

Bomber in Chief: 20,000 Airstrikes in the President’s First Term Cause Death and Destruction From Iraq to Somalia | Alternet by Nicolas J.S. Davies

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Bomber in Chief: 20,000 Airstrikes in the President’s First Term Cause Death and Destruction From Iraq to Somalia | Alternet.

Bomber in Chief: 20,000 Airstrikes in the President’s First Term Cause Death and Destruction From Iraq to Somalia

AlterNet / By Nicolas J.S. Davies

Day after day, U.S. air strikes have conclusively answered the familiar question of 9/11: “Why do they hate us?”

Photo Credit: AFP

Many people around the world are disturbed by U.S. drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. The illusion that American drones can strike without warning anywhere in the world without placing Americans in harm’s way makes drones dangerously attractive to U.S. officials, even as they fuel the cycle of violence that the “war on terror” falsely promised to end but has instead escalated and sought to normalize. But drone strikes are only the tip of an iceberg, making up less than 10 percent of at least 20,130 air strikes the U.S. has conducted in other countries since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

The U.S. dropped  17,500 bombs during its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It conducted  29,200 air strikes during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. air forces conducted at least another  3,900 air strikes in Iraq over the next eight years, before the Iraqi government finally negotiated the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces. But that pales next to at least 38,100 U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan since 2002, a country already occupied by U.S. and NATO forces, with a government pledged by its U.S. overlords to bring peace and justice to its people.
The Obama administration is responsible for  at least 18,274 air strikes in Afghanistan since 2009, including at least 1,160 by pilotless drones. The U.S. conducted at least 116 air strikes in Iraq in 2009 and about  1,460 of NATO’s 7,700 strikes in Libya in 2011. While the U.S. military does not publish figures on “secret” air and drone strikes in other countries, press reports detail a five-fold increase over Bush’s second term, with at least  303 strikes in Pakistan125 in Yemen and 16 in Somalia.
Aside from the initial bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 and the “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq in March and April 2003, the Obama administration has conducted more air strikes day-in day-out than the Bush administration. Bush’s roughly 24,000 air strikes in seven years from 2002 to 2008 amounted to an air strike about every 3 hours, while Obama’s 20,130 in four years add up to one every 1-3/4 hours.
The U.S. government does not advertise these figures, and journalists have largely ignored them. But the bombs and missiles used in these air strikes are powerful weapons designed to inflict damage, death and injury over a wide radius, up to hundreds of feet from their points of impact. The effect of such bombs and shells on actual battlefields, where the victims are military personnel, has always been deadly and gruesome. Many soldiers who lived through shelling and bombing in the First and Second World Wars never recovered from “shell-shock” or what we now call PTSD.
The use of such weapons in America’s current wars, where “the battlefield” is often a euphemism for houses, villages or even urban areas densely populated by civilians, frequently violates otherwise binding rules of international humanitarian law. These include the  Fourth Geneva Convention, signed in 1949 to protect civilians from the worst effects of war and military occupation.
Beginning in 2005, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued quarterly reports on human rights in Iraq. They included details of U.S. air strikes that killed civilians, and UNAMI called on U.S. authorities to fully investigate these incidents.  A UNAMI human rights report published in October 2007 demanded, “that all credible allegations of unlawful killings by MNF (multi-national force) forces be thoroughly, promptly and impartially investigated, and appropriate action taken against military personnel found to have used excessive or indiscriminate force.”
The UN human rights report included a reminder to U.S. military commanders that, “Customary international humanitarian law demands that, as much as possible, military objectives must not be located within areas densely populated by civilians. The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian nature of an area.”
But no Americans have been held criminally accountable for civilian casualties in air strikes, either in Iraq or in the more widespread bombing of occupied Afghanistan. U.S. officials dispute findings of fact and law in investigations by the UN and the Afghan government, but they accept no independent mechanism for resolving these disputes, effectively shielding themselves from accountability.
Besides simply not being informed of the extent of the U.S. bombing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. public has been subject to military propaganda about the accuracy and effectiveness of “precision” weapons. When military forces detonate tens of thousands of powerful bombs and missiles in a country, even highly accurate weapons are bound to kill many innocent people. When we are talking about 33,000 bombs and missiles exploding in Iraq, 55,000 in Afghanistan and 7,700 in Libya, it is critical to understand just how accurate or inaccurate these weapons really are. If only 10 percent missed their targets, that would mean nearly 10,000 bombs and missiles blowing up something or somewhere else, killing and maiming thousands of unintended victims.
But even the latest generation of “precision” weapons is not 90 percent accurate. One of the world’s leading experts on this subject, Rob Hewson, the editor of the military journal Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, estimated that  20 to 25 percent of the 19,948 precision weapons used in the “shock and awe” attack on Iraq in 2003 completely missed their targets. The other 9,251 bombs and missiles were not classified as “precision” weapons in the first place, so that only about 56 percent of the total 29,199 “shock and awe” weapons actually performed with “precision” by the military’s own standards. And  those standards define precision for most of these weapons only as striking within a 29 foot radius of the target.
To an expert like Rob Hewson who understood the real-world effects of these weapons, “shock and awe” presented an ethical and legal problem to which American military spokespeople and journalists seemed oblivious. As he told the Associated Press, “In a war that’s being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi people, you can’t afford to kill any of them. But you can’t drop bombs and not kill people. There’s a real dichotomy in all of this.”The actual results of U.S. air strikes were better documented in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Epidemiological studies in Iraq bore out Hewson’s assessment, finding that tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. air strikes.  The first major epidemiological study conducted in Iraq after 18 months of war and occupation concluded:

Violent deaths were widespread … and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children … Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths.

When the same team from Johns Hopkins and Baghdad’s Al Mustansariya University did  a more extensive study in Iraq in 2006 after three years of war and occupation, it found that, amidst the proliferation of all kinds of violence, U.S. air strikes by then accounted for a smaller share of total deaths, except in one crucial respect: they still accounted for half of all violent deaths of children in Iraq.
No such studies have been conducted in Afghanistan, but hundreds of thousands of Afghans now living in refugee camps tell of  homes and villages destroyed by U.S. air strikes and of family members killed in the bombing. There is no evidence that the pattern of bombing casualties in Afghanistan has been any kinder to children and other innocents than in Iraq. Impossibly low figures on civilian casualties published by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan are the result of small numbers of completed investigations, not comprehensive surveys. They therefore give a misleading impression, which is then amplified by wishful and uncritical Western news reports.
When the UN identified only 80 civilians killed in U.S. Special Forces night raids in 2010, Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who worked on the UN report, explained that  this was based on completed investigations of only 13 of the 73 incidents reported to the UN for the year. He estimated the number of civilians killed in all 73 incidents at 420. But most U.S. air strikes and special forces raids occur in resistance-held areas where people have no contact with the UN or the Human Rights Commission. So even thorough and complete UN investigations in the areas it has access to would only document a fraction of total Afghan civilian casualties. Western journalists who report UN civilian casualty figures from Afghanistan as if they were estimates of total casualties unwittingly contribute to a propaganda narrative that dramatically understates the scale of violence raining down from the skies on the people of Afghanistan.
President Obama and the politicians and media who keep the scale, destructiveness and indiscriminate nature of U.S. air strikes shrouded in silence understand only too well that the American public has in no way approved this shameful and endless tsunami of violence against people in other countries. Day after day for 11 years, U.S. air strikes have conclusively answered the familiar question of 9/11: “Why do they hate us?” As Congressmember Barbara Lee warned in 2001, we have “become the evil we deplore.” It is time to change course. Ending the daily routine of deadly U.S. air strikes, including but by no means limited to drone strikes, should be President Obama’s most urgent national security priority as he begins his second term in office.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is author of Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He wrote the chapter on “Obama At War” for the just released book, Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Amnesty International and Liberal Imperialism – Video, Audio, Illustrated Transcript.

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The following is a commentary, meaning that it is me editorialising a lot. Some listeners or readers may find some of what is said to be opaque. I am particularly aware that my use of the term “liberal” may be unfamiliar and problematic. I won’t go into what it is exactly that I mean by “liberal”, but it is broadly consonant with the usages in political science when describing regimes, policies or ideological formations. It is a definition of liberal that doesn’t fall apart when one tries to put it in a broader context.

In contrast, Chris Hedges has recently written of The Death of the Liberal Class. Everything Hedges writes makes perfect sense and everyone knows what he means when he uses the term ‘liberal’. What Hedges would be hard-pressed to do is to reconcile this usage of the term liberal with other unavoidable usages such as as a way of describing the inescapably (if not virulently) liberal policies of “conservatives” and “neo-conservatives”. I’m sure that Hedges is aware of this. What he is doing is referring to self-identified “liberals” which roughly corresponds to what US political scientists refer to as “welfare liberals”.

I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “welfare liberal”. It is very well understood in political science that most in the US who identify as “conservative” are actually liberals, and I would argue that anti-socialist sentiment has driven many to misidentify themselves as liberals. Most “welfare liberals” are very much at one with their fellow liberals in the “conservative” camp. The putative divide between them is much as the divide between Republican and Democrat – not really a divide at all.

If, at times, it seems that I am overstating matters out of some callow need to dramatise and you feel that my credibility is tarnished, I would urge consideration of the following. 1) It is not possible in this medium to demonstrate the evidence and reasoning behind every position I take; 2) conservatism is not neutral – it is a positive affirmation of an orthodox position; 3) in many cases the orthodox position is not even a reasoned position, but rather simply unexamined “commonsense” received ideology, in other cases it is specious; 4) thus by the avoidance of statements which cannot be demonstrated I would, of necessity, be promulgating fallacies; 5) if there really are things that you simply cannot allow to pass unremarked, please feel free to contact me with and questions and I will happily explain the basis of any such assertions on my part.

I hope that makes this talk a little clearer.

Here is a video version.

Or download audio from here:

Intro

Hello and welcome to this On Genocide audioblog commentary. Today I tackle the vexed question of whether Amnesty International are still the profoundly compassionate force for good which inspired millions like me in past times or have become a pack of mass-murdering sociopaths or are merely the pandering toadies of a pack of mass murdering sociopaths? I can reveal in advance that the answer is yes.

Part 1: The KONYism of Amnesty International

I received a phone call the other day from a telemarketer working for Amnesty International. He informed me that he was calling to raise awareness about events in Syria. He cited an urgent need for international action under the United Nations Security Council. Part of my response was to ask why Amnesty International felt a need to “raise awareness” over Syria, which is hardly absent from mainstream news reporting, while not having done so with their own reports of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in post-Gadaffi Libya.

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In a formal sense, Amnesty International remains politically neutral, however, Amnesty has an extremely problematic record. In October 1990 Amnesty gave crucial support to the fraudulent, and now infamous claim that Iraqi personnel had murdered premature babies by removing them from incubators. Image

They would later retract that support, but less than three weeks after the incubator lies Amnesty released a report on atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait. The report contained unconfirmed as well as independently verified reports of atrocities. Atrocities were definitely taking place, but why dramatise the report with unconfirmed allegations? Amnesty’s answer: to “raise awareness”? But, the entire world was already watching. Saddam Hussein was the most vilified person on the planet (except among some Arabs). George Bush had labelled him as worse than Hitler.

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And it was not as there were no atrocities taking place elsewhere such as Myanmar and Honduras, nor even that they were not occurring in military occupations such as those of Western Sahara, East Timor, Palestine and West Papua.

Amnesty produced this report as the US was trying to gain support for unleashing the greatest mass violence on the world since the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. Amnesty must have known that this was going to involve massive suffering. To be absolutely clear, bombs dropped by US warplanes (even smart bombs) do not build schools, they do not organise elections, and they do not emancipate women (except in giving the equality of the grave).

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I mention this because most news and entertainment media treatment of the subject would have you believe that they do these things. What bombs actually do is kill, maim and destroy bringing the suffering of physical pain, fear, grief and material loss.

Amnesty International played a crucial role in in unleashing Desert Storm and the repercussions dwarf by far any good that Amnesty has done in this world since its inception.

Part 2: What did Amnesty enable in Mesopotamia?

It is worth understanding just how much the scale of suffering brought about with Amnesty’s crucial support outweighs the suffering they prevent in their fights against political imprisonment, torture, and capital punishment. The numbers are simply beyond a level that Amnesty could realistically dream of helping. But these victims suffered too, and their suffering is equally tragic, equally unjustified and equally obsene.

Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Sabre can now be seen as the inauguration of a two decades long genocide which took hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives – probably in excess of 2 million.(1)

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The US was never interested in any human rights as their betrayal of anti-Baathist rebels revealed. Famously, General Norman Schwartzkopf gratuitously allowed the rather surprised Iraqi military to use helicopter gunships against the uprisings that President Bush had personally and explicitly encouraged to take up arms against the Iraqi regime. Also, while US forces had allowed Iraq’s Republican Guard to withdraw intact from Kuwait, on the so called “highway of death”, they massacred hapless conscripts who, by some accounts, were mutineers.

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In these accounts by exiles (who had fled Iraq after the Basra uprising was brutally crushed) those killed on Highway 80’s Mutla Ridge were conscripts headed to join the anti-Saddam uprising which had grown out of the antiwar movement in and around Basra.

There is some controversy over the numbers killed by US warplanes on the Mutla ridge. Initial military eyewitnesses and journalists such as Peter Turnley described and documented a large scale of mortality (perhaps thousands).

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Later arriving journalists, most notably Michael Kelly, saw less evidence of mortality but given the undenied disposal of bodies by US personnel this is hardly surprising.(2) The explanation given later was that vehicles were abandoned before being attacked. Photographs of the vehicles are widely available, although they are often from long after the event. It is clear that they were almost all attacked, whether it is conceivable that most were abandoned at this point, or indeed whether it is conceivable that they were not abandoned at this point, I leave to the reader’s judgement.

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Regardless of what exact portion of vehicles were occupied when attacked hundreds or maybe thousands of human beings died. Violent death is always obscene, but the photographs and descriptions of the victims here seem sometimes beyond obscenity. Helpless, fleeing, posing no conceivable threat to Allied forces, many victims were burnt alive while trapped in their vehicles.

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Schwarzkopf said: “This was a bunch of rapists, murderers and thugs who had raped and pillaged downtown Kuwait City and now were trying to get out of the country before they were caught.” It is exactly this sort of application of mass condemnation (in this case, given substance and verisimilitude by Amnesty itself) that often underlies massacres and other atrocities, but along with reports of a column of mutineers, there are also reports of Palestinian refugees and even Kuwaiti hostages who were among those fleeing along Highway 80.

In Desert Storm, (the bombing campaign conducted under a specious air power doctrine which, like “Shock and Awe”, invented a military significance for civilian infrastructure(3)) the US had attacked all sorts of civilian targets including power generation and water treatment and so forth. It is a war crime to attack such targets, of course, and it is difficult to see how the US could even claim some military advantage. It made no difference to the military outcome what civilians were killed and what civilian infrastructure was destroyed. The military “contest” was so uneven, the opposing forces so disparate, that even the killing of Iraqi military personnel was gratuitous as well as grotesque.

What followed thereafter was the “sanctions regime”, a cruel slow form of genocide inflicting the greatest suffering of all on children. As water-borne disease and malnutrition condemned tens of thousands of under-5’s to avoidable deaths, ironically it was Iraq’s premature infants that were forced to share incubators and were dying for lack of simple bottled oxygen.

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(In another irony, Madeleine Albright, who felt that 500,000 dead infants was “worth it” as a price for Iraqi containment, would in 2012 be the keynote speaker at an Amnesty International event, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) Maybe in 1990 Amnesty was doing nothing more that to report Iraqi atrocities in that same way as any other, but the context of impending war was unmistakeable and they helped bring about one of the greatest mass atrocities of the post-WWII era.

Part 3: Unrepentant

Did Amnesty, seeing this horrifying mistake, take steps to ensure that in future it would not simply become a source of atrocity propaganda for Western warmongers? Clearly not. Instead its formal neutrality and its original central purpose are being corrupted by expedience and by the corrosive permeation of the Western discourse of humanitarian intervention.

The context is this: Since World War II the state that has committed the most war crimes is the United States; the state that has caused the most deaths of innocents (notwithstanding China’s Great Leap Forward) is likewise the US. One might use different modes and criteria of calculus, but any consistent and defensible reckoning will return the same answer. When it comes to the use of mass violence, when it comes to the use of deadly ordnance, none can even be considered in the same league as the US. Horrible atrocities such as the Soviet bombing of Herat, the Russian bombing of Grozny or the Syrian shelling of Hama are as buckets next to the swimming pools of blood from North Korea, South Korea, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Further context: every large-scale mass atrocity and the majority of those on a smaller scale is preceded by atrocity propaganda wherein the future victim group is portrayed as perpetrators. Sometimes the atrocities are fictitious or massively exaggerated; sometimes one blames one’s own atrocities on an enemy; sometimes false-flag atrocities are actually staged; and sometimes the atrocities are real. The attribution and contextualisation, however, are fantastically important. The actual perpetrators (often impossible to distinguish in any event) become of no importance whatsoever, the perpetrators become defined instead by a group membership. They become, as Schwarzkopf put it “a bunch”.

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But, instead of learning the lesson of 1990, instead of taking steps to avoid becoming a source of atrocity propaganda which facilitates massive suffering and death, Amnesty has more often acted to embrace the very same US imperialist causes which facilitate atrocities. But Amnesty and others, including some alternative news outlets, actively jump at any opportunity to join with the US State Dept. and White House in condemnation of human rights abuses. It is as if they wish to ensure that everyone knows that they aren’t really anti-American, or anti-government, they do have haircuts, they do have jobs. It is as if the tension of having to oppose authority is suddenly released and they can get on with their job of righteous opposition to wrongdoing without fear of being criticised, misapprehended, scorned or argued with. Like the dissidents who, after years of hopeless opposition to Bush Jr’s crimes of aggression, so passionately embraced the slogan “Out of Iraq, into Darfur”, they themselves embrace the advocacy and support of war crimes.

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By not rejecting outright the discourse of humanitarian intervention and of “R2P” Amnesty may become a party to war crimes while its history of refusing to determine the legality of military actions as a whole (for example, the Iraq Invasion or Operation Cast Lead) means that only selected suffering and death is worthy of protest. This is an extremely dangerous mixture. It means that as long as the conduct of the war is in accordance with International Humanitarian Law they are not going to comment on “lawful” killings, even in cases of aggression wherein these “lawful” killings are actually unlawful murders. They deal with “human rights” and apparently there is no right not to be maimed or painfully killed, or to have your family killed, or your children killed by a foreign military power.

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In addition, Amnesty International has of late, like so many others, been embracing what might be described as KONYism. By this term I mean the enthusiastic and rigid insistence on criminal proceedings be taken against official villains who are generally not powerful (often spent forces and no longer a threat); are generally non-Caucasian and certainly not Westerners; and, ipso facto, are from the poorer countries in the world.

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This functions to put a black face in people’s minds when thinking of atrocities, the face of savagery – a twisted uncivilised creature of personal violence and sadism. But the greatest culpable mass-murderers sit in offices, no matter what their skin colour, and usually don’t personally torture maim and kill. Amnesty has become a keen proponent of prosecutions in the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda as well as the International Criminal Court.

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Both the ICTY and ICTR are seen by critics as overly politicised at the expense of justice. As ad hoctribunals they are unavoidably selective, while the ICC seems merely to be avoidably selective but selective nonetheless. Its indictments are, without exception, against the enemies and defiers of the US, a state which itself refuses to allow its own personnel to be subject to ICC prosecution. By analogy, it is as if the Mafia controlled a criminal court and used it against small-time rivals – sure those prosecuted may be guilty of heinous crimes, but there is still a massive injustice in that their very indictment advances the purposes of even greater criminals.

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Supporters of such courts claim that we cannot allow impunity. Indeed, there are many times when impunity is tantamount to incitement. Some claim that the culture of tit-for-tat atrocities in some civil conflicts stems in part from impunity. So Amnesty International, set up to oppose political imprisonment, is a big proponent of this system which arguably creates political prisoners and inarguably creates selective impunity along strict and consistent lines of privileging the most powerful state actors and their leaders, who, not coincidentally, are quantifiably the greatest abusers of human rights. But its actually even worse than that because the current ‘international justice’ regime has become a massive impediment to conflict resolution. Evincing at all times self-righteous condemnation for the irredeemable evil malefactors, it is made increasingly clear to the enemies of the West that they will not escape Western vengeance. What, for example, can Bashar al-Assad glean about Western intentions? Should he look to Saddam Hussein’s fate?

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Or maybe Gaddaffi’s? In the latter instance the ICC was so prompt in announcing an intent to prosecute and issuing an arrest warrant that Gaddaffi knew from very very early in the piece that his fate, at best, would be to end his days in prison. Not a great incentive to find a peaceful solution. What about Charles Taylor? His immunity under peace accords which had ended conflict and killingwas immediately undermined by the US Congress inducement of $2 million for his capture. The precedents all send a very clear message. Or how about Sudan’s OmarHassan al-Bashir, a man who now knows that his safety and freedom requires that he cling to power no matter what the cost?

Amnesty would claim, no doubt, that its stance stems from principles – they don’t change whether the perpetrator state is China or the US, Iran or Israel, Syria or Turkey. Is this true? In reality they exclude from their remit the most serious crimes committed by the US. Moreover, they clearly have decided, in the cases of Syria or Joseph Kony for example, to emphasise those instances where they are in accord with Western governments. Without shame they refer to this as “awareness raising” when it is clear that these are the instances of very heightened public awareness in the West. In these instances groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are massive force multipliers in propaganda wars waged by Western institutions and leaders who might otherwise have fragile credibility on the subject of human rights and be vulnerable to countercharges.

If Amnesty wanted to base itself on principle, it would base itself around opposition to the suffering caused by state violence. In conflict it can’t simply choose only to oppose jus in bello infringements (those relating to the conduct of war) as if jus ad bellum matters (the legality of the war itself) were of no relevance. Firstly, one cannot simply treat something as presumed legal because one does not wish to determine its legality. Secondly, Amnesty can’t ethically justify ignoring suffering simply because it may be legal – much of their energies are spent opposing the use of the death penalty which in most relevant jurisdictions is completely legal.

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Consider the implications of Amnesty’s stance. Amnesty strongly condemned Israel’s use of white phosphorous in Gaza on the ground that it was indiscriminate, hence illegal. But that immediately means that Amnesty’s area of concern is not whether Israel inflicted horrible suffering and death, but whether this was lawful. Consider a child – it could be in Fallujah, it could be in Gaza, it could be in the next place – a victim of white phosphorous (WP). WP wounds and fatalities are particularly horrific in all instances. Fragments of WP can burn right through flesh and bone – they may continue burning until surgically removed. The remnants may still cause problems through toxicity and the very nature of the burns may cause crippling and agonising complications that last a lifetime. More horrifying than that, however, is that fine partially oxidised particles of WP can form a cloud where in both oxygen and moisture are depleted, a cloud that is forced downwards by airbursts as practiced in Fallujah and Gaza.Image

We know that in Fallujah this property must have been deliberately exploited because “shake ‘n bake” fire missions were described in a US military journal as being used against positions immune to high explosive artillery. Such a cloud might penetrate, for example, into the shelter of a family. Imagine this hypothetical child, cowering fearfully in a shelter, whose eyes start to burn as the phosphorous particles ignite on the eyeball itself. The child draws breath to scream and the child is as good as dead, because now the particles are in the lungs themselves. Many square meters of surface area are burning, a child is actually dying from being burnt from the inside out. This is not completely speculative. There are photographs from Fallujah of children who seem to have died in this manner.

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Amnesty’s stance is to oppose the illegal use of white phosphorous, but this death could have resulted from the legal use of WP (except of course that it is not legal if the war isn’t legal, but that’s no concern of Amnesty’s). So you can see why I believe that the only possible stance of principle is to oppose the suffering caused by state violence. How can anyone say that its sometimes OK to inflict agonising death on a child as long as it is “lawful”? Yes, I do inevitably mean that Amnesty must oppose all war casualties, but remember that under international law (including the UN Charter) war is actually illegal. All casualties of war are crimes, and rightly so since these are actual human beings and there is no morally justifiable reason for saying its OK to kill some of them. Even if they are military personnel they still feel pain and fear, their passing still leaves grief. If a party is forced to take life out of a need for national self-defence, then the aggressor, under a precedent established at Nuremburg, is culpable for that loss of life.

So what should Amnesty do? Well, the fact is that there are more limits on doing good than there are on doing harm. On Syria they need to revert to marshaling intelligence and moral force and eschew alignment with state actors and advocacy of any form of “international action” based on a UNSC resolution. In general, advocacy of an international governmental response should be confined to cases of international aggression, Amnesty should harness citizen activism, not lobby states or international bodies. The whole world should, in addition, move away from the self-righteous demonisation of the ICC and strengthen the International Court of Justice or other mechanisms for holding states (not individuals) accountable and for putting an end to ongoing crimes such as occupations, blockades or aggressive sanctions regimes which inflict mass suffering.

Part 4: Or are Amnesty Really Evil Lizards Psychopaths After All?

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The vast majority of people are in one of two camps – either Amnesty is a bunch of misguided bleeding heart lefties unintentionally helping the terrorists of this world, or they are unimpeachable fighters for justice, human rights and dignity. If one reads the Global Research website, however, it is replete with admirable writers and thinkers, such as Francis Boyle and Felicity Arbuthnot, for whom Amnesty is more of less The Enemy, whether they like it or not. Of course such critics understand that Amnesty members and activists try to live up to Amnesty’s founding principles, but in practical terms they have to deal with an organisation that is far more effective in promoting injustice, indignity and human suffering. It is probably worth contemplating this vast disparity between the commonplace perceptions of of Amnesty and those of what, in the final analysis, are a small subset of radical dissidents. Nevertheless it is these few dissidents who tend to have fact and logic on their side. In the final analysis Amnesty might as well be run by the evil alien lizards, and I think the explanation for this state of affairs lies in the nature of liberalism.

John Pilger recently described liberalism as the world’s most powerful and violent ‘ism’” in an article linking liberal ideology to imperial state policies. At a later date I will doubtless be detailing all of the evils which can be ascribed to liberalism (always a fun topic) but here I will confine myself to saying that any ideology which claims to have tenets which are “good” in moral terms and by extension whose adherents are “good” as adherents (and inescapably better morally than non-adherents) is prone to violent hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. A liberal can enthusiastically endorse condemnations of liberal atrocities, because those atrocities aren’t really liberal because liberal means good. You could ascribe the same behaviour to a Communist, a Muslim, or a Christian. The more predominant and self-satisfied an ideology is, the more violent and schizophrenic it becomes. There are two differences between liberalism and and other such ideologies. The first is that liberalism has made a quantum leap in its ability to subsume and subvert its own critics and their condemnations. The second is that liberal schizophrenia is being deliberately harnessed by the most massive imperial military in human history.

Imagine liberal interventionismn as being a call to enforce liberal political and economic governance within which is a “bundle”. The liberal “bundle” includes humanitarian aspects, or at least it seems to. Take women’s rights, liberals believe that imposing liberal governance and norms improves women’s rights. If women actually suffer under the imposition of liberalism, then things aren’t liberal enough. Either that or the liberal will trot out racist or cryptoracist rationalisations which either blame the victim directly or blame their, often equally suffering, male compatriots. In the final analysis, the imposition of liberal governance has not been a great boon for women and girls in places such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. In fact, compared with advances for women’s rights under socialist regimes of various types, liberal feminism has been beyond pathetic. Even in the West the women’s rights for which liberals claim credit have mostly come through grassroots left-wing agitation, like many other progressive changes.

So the liberal “bundle” is really kind of agnostic when it comes to humanitarian matters. Their ideology says that they have the cure, but they don’t care if the cure actually works. Likewise the economic aspects of the bundle are supposed to do all sorts of wonderful things, but they don’t and when liberals bother to concern themselves with that inconvenient fact, they tend to say that more drastic liberalisation is the answer.

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Liberal interventionism is now often expressed as humanitarian interventionism. This is one of several Newspeak terms which attend the liberal interventionist discourse. “Intervention” being understood to be military in nature, it means that causing destruction and death is “humanitarian”. Here is where the creepy post-Orwellian brilliance of it comes, through: out of two sets of strident fanatics for explicitly liberal intervention in the US, one bunch deliberately positions itself as being right-wing and calls itself neoconservative and another lot characterises itself as being left-wing and calls itself liberal. They use exactly the same tropes, evince exactly the same motives and call for exactly the same interventions. There is only one significant difference, and I’ll get to that shortly. Perhaps the epitome of the latter variety, the liberals, is Samantha Power, the very image of a bleeding heart who wants to drop humanitarian bombs.

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Journalist David Reiff tells of her response to his suggestion that “her reasoning on foreign policy was similar to that of neoconservatives who supported the Iraq War. “She said, jokingly, ‘I am not Paul Wolfowitz,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, actually, I think you are,’”

Power, along with Clinton and Obama, thrives by taking the moral high ground and harnessing opposition to the liberal imperialism of neocons and others who identify themselves as more right-wing (and may or may not take more socially and culturally conservative positions). The take the very energy of outrage at US imperialism and channel into support for… US imperialism. Pretty nifty, huh?

There is another of that ilk named Susanne Nossel – a former State Department employee who “would have worked for and with Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and undoubtedly helped them successfully implement their “Right to Protect (R2P)” – otherwise known as “humanitarian intervention” – as well as the newly created “Atrocities Prevention Board.”

ImageShe credits herself with having come up with the term “Smart Power” which is so often now on Clinton’s lips.(4) I won’t go into the complicated process of paring away the meaningless rhetoric around the term “smart power”. What it means, put simply, is exactly the same liberal imperialism pursued by Bush and his neocon allies, dressed up a bit differently. One can already detect that a key differentiation is in the way these costumes are gendered – smart power is sly and feminine whereas Bush era cowboy style is masculine and muscular. Thus, one could summarise the Obama vs. Romney foreign policy debate in two short lines (saving us a great deal of time). Romney calls Obama a wimp. Obama calls Romney an idiot. Then we all go home.

It is all just making a virtue of necessity. Bush era unilateralism isn’t practicable, nor realistically desirable for current imperial geostrategic wants. If, for example, they wished to repeat their actions against Iraq on Iran they would be looking at a decade or so of genocidal sanctions that isolate the Iranian people and increase an inescapable dependency on their increasingly oppressive regime. Only then, when international public revulsion and regional disobedience among client states threaten to destroy the genocide regime – would it be desirable to unleash the gung ho bulldozer of a Bush/neocon style war machine.

So that’s what Nossel is about, and guess what her job is now? That’s right, she’s the CEO of Amnesty International USA. That’s why people are referring to Amnesty as a “shill” or the “propaganda arm” of NATO or as an “imperialist tool”. Consternation has particularly been fueled by Amnesty USA’s crucial support for NATO’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. In an excellent article Ann Wright and Colleen Rowley write of “announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling ‘NATO: Keep the Progress Going!‘” these “beckoned us to find out more on Sunday, May 20, 2012, the day thousands of activists marched in Chicago in protest of NATO’s wars.” Image

Another article is worth quoting at length where it takes up the same story of what Amnesty was doing on the very day that people were mobilising to oppose war:

…Amnesty USA put on a “shadow summit” of its own during the NATO meeting, featuring Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s notorious secretary of state, who will be forever remembered for her chilling response to a question on 60 Minutes about sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. Correspondent Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

With a veritable war criminal as one of its star speakers, Amnesty USA’s shadow summit launched a campaign that, for all intents and purposes, called for the extension of NATO’s “good works” in Afghanistan. Its speakers and promotional materials recycled George Bush’s “feminist” justification of the invasion and occupation–that NATO would liberate women from Taliban rule.

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The article then examines the realities of womens lives in occupied Afghanistan, finding claims of progress “laughable” – “As Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and Mariam Rawi, of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, wrote:

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children. Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.”

Part 5: Conclusions

  1. Yes to mass-murdering sociopaths. People like Nossels are mass murderers. OK she may not be a sociopath, but then again she might be. We don’t know, and why would we care. Some mass murders believe deeply that they will make the world a better place; others are driven by hatred, fear or insanity; and others still are monstrously callous and simply don’t care for the suffering they cause. In this I agree with the biblical sentiments – know people from their actions, but leave the judging to some hypothesised supernatural omniscient being because we aren’t in a position to judge.
  2. Yes to toadies enabling mass-murder. Amnesty members want to do good, but self-satisfaction is unreflexive and causes complacency. Amnesty members need to discriminate more in terms of what they support and what they don’t. It might sound complicated, but it isn’t. When Amnesty is calling for petition writing and pressure to be put on a government which is commiting abuses it’s all good. When they are calling for petitions and pressure to be put on a government to “intervene” in another state, it is not good at all, it is the opposite of good, which some of us like to refer to as “bad”.
  3. Yes to compassionate voice for good. Of course most Amnesty members, volunteers and staff are fundamentally committed to alleviating human suffering. Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that there is a movement to reform Amnesty International from within. Staff and members have expressed disquiet and there is also a Code Pink petition campaign.

I would argue that reform of Amnesty is worth pursuing. It might be too much to expect deep principled reform, but even at worst a curtailing of pro-imperialist efforts in order to regain lost credibility and avoid critical scrutiny deprives the empire of a very significant tool, albeit temporarily. A more confrontational approach, aiming to publicise Amnesty’s “true nature” and reveal it for what it effectively is might seem attractive and understandable, but most people are never really going to understand the premise that this renowned humanitarian organisation is engaged in warmongering with postmodern jingoism. That makes Amnesty and suchlike a bit of a tarbaby, which is also quite handy for the US empire as a form of distraction. If you want to attack something just attack the policies and the false justifications behind them. People will work out for themselves that Amnesty is behaving inappropriately from that context.

I would like to thank you for listening to this commentary. A transcript, complete with photographs, hyperlinks and even a few good old fashioned endnote citations is available at the On Genocide blog, which is at ongenocide.wordpress.com. There is also a facebook page called – you guessed it – On Genocide. If you like the facebook page I promise to post no more than 3 or 4 items a day, including, of course, updates to the blog.

(1) Kieran Kelly, Context of the Iraq Genocide (https://ongenocide.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/context-of-iraq-genocide.pdf), pp 176-9.

(2) Michael Kelly, Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War, New York: Random House, 1993.

(3) Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Generals’ War, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995, p 80.

(4) Wright and Rowley, op cit.

Other links:

Great article on Suzanne Nossel

RAWA – Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan