Years ago, I wrote several pieces about the savage decimation of Fallujah by American forces in 2004. Some of those pieces [here and here, for example] pointed to the highly credible evidence that chemical weapons were used against the people of Fallujah -- most of them non-combatants locked into the city by an American ring of steel. I pointed to testimony by Iraqi doctors -- including doctors working for the American-imposed occupation government -- and by American soldiers themselves involved in the fighting.
These posts -- and the sources they were based on -- were roundly criticized by some high-profile antiwar voices. We were told that this kind of "wild" atrocity story would give war hawks a weapon for undermining the credibility of the antiwar movement: "Look, them anti-war hippies are all a bunch of kooks; now they're claiming the US is using chemical weapons! You can't believe anything they say." However, the only "debunking" of the story at that time came solely from American officials denying that any chemical weapons at all were used in Fallujah. I always found it odd that antiwar figures who had done so much to expose the continuing lies of the aggressors were now taking the denials of these well-proven liars at face value. But that's how it was -- for awhile.
Later on, of course, the Pentagon itself finally admitted using white phosphorus shells in Fallujah -- a chemical weapon that can inflict hideous injuries on its victims. And in subsequent years, the evidence of the chemical weapons attacks on Fallujah has been growing stronger and more extensive -- not just for the confessed use of WP, but for other weapons as well.
As we have noted here many times, the invasion of Iraq is a war crime that goes on and on. The legacy of this "extraordinary achievement" (as Peace Laureate Obama once called it) continues to produce atrocities in the lives -- and bodies -- of innocent victims, planting seeds of horrendous suffering that will last for generations.
The Independent has the latest medical evidence on the American use of chemical weapons against the Iraqi people. You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts:
It played unwilling host to one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. Fallujah's homes and businesses were left shattered; hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. Its residents changed the name of their "City of Mosques" to "the polluted city" after the United States launched two massive military campaigns eight years ago. Now, one month before the World Health Organisation reveals its view on the legacy of the two battles for the town, a new study reports a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.
High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
There is "compelling evidence" to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. Similar defects have been found among children born in Basra after British troops invaded, according to the new research.
US marines first bombarded Fallujah in April 2004 ... Seven months later, the marines stormed the city for a second time, using some of the heaviest US air strikes deployed in Iraq. American forces later admitted that they had used white phosphorus shells, although they never admitted to using depleted uranium, which has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.
...The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects.
.. Dr Savabieasfahani said that for the first time, there is a "footprint of metal in the population" and that there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities". She called the "epidemic" a "public health crisis".
Dr Savabieasfahani said she plans to analyse the children's samples for the presence of depleted uranium once funds have been raised. She added: "We need extensive environmental sampling, of food, water and air to find out where this is coming from. Then we can clean it up. Now we are seeing 50 per cent of children being born with malformations; in a few years it could be everyone."
Although the wary pundits who criticized the early chemical weapons stories were wrong about this particular case, they were right about the overarching truth of the situation: the invasion and occupation of Iraq was ian horrific war crime in itself, regardless of what weapons or tactics were or were not used. Even without the chemical weapons, the death squads, the tortures of Abu Ghraib, the rapes and rampages, the deliberate empowerment of violent extremists, the endless barrage of lies, and the world-historical levels of corruption and war-profiteering that characterized the reality of the war, this act of aggression would still be a work of the most vile, most putrid, most irredeemable evil.
The destruction of Fallujah was like a black hole, where all the evil of the war was sucked in and concentrated with unbreakable force. So I think it's worth reiterating, once more, the actual context of this atrocity that is now reverberating through the twisted, tormented bodies of children born long after the guns have fallen silent. This is from a piece I wrote in 2010, quoting from an early post written during the attack itself.
I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.
"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
I will not forget Artica Salim. I will not forget Fallujah. I will not "move on." I will not become part of the inferno.
The 2009 military coup in Honduras was one of the earliest stains on the foreign policy record of Barack Obama. Coming just six months into his term -- and a little more than four months before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- the coup, and the American reaction to it, gave the clearest indication possible that there would be no change in the Standard Operating Procedure of the Potomac Empire under his watch.
The coup has had a long, dismal and murderous aftermath, which we have often noted on these pages, such as here, here, here, here, and here. (Give them a gander, if you have the stomach for a quick acid bath of reality after all the sugared propaganda of the presidential campaign.)
Those posts were based largely on some of the excellent pieces of reportage and analysis on Honduras that have appeared over the years. All of them are easily available to anyone interested in the conduct of American foreign policy -- a set which would include, one presumes, the many self-identified "progressives" who write about American politics on a daily basis. Yet as we noted here just a few months ago, "the repression, death and corruption engendered in Honduras with Obama’s aid and complicity have been remarkable – [but] have gone completely unremarked by the legion of progressives who rightly strained at the slightest gnat of evil during George W. Bush’s lawless regime but now happily swallow whole camels of crime when Obama wears the purple. Blind guides indeed."
Yet even as our good progressives are plunging daggers into anyone who dares even suggest an alternative to the Doctrine of Lesser Evilism which has become the core of their partisan faith -- a doctrine that guarantees the perpetuation of the corrupt and brutal system they loudly abhor -- the American-approved carnage and terrorism in Honduras goes on. Nick Alexandrov has written yet another of those excellent pieces referenced above about this forgotten -- but continuing -- tragedy. From Counterpunch:
After the Honduran military staged a coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton backed the ensuing fraudulent elections the Organization of American States and European Union refused to observe. Porfirio Lobo won the phony contest, and now holds power. ...
The coup’s plotters, it should be emphasized, knew exactly what they were doing. Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, a military lawyer who advised them on legal issues, was very open about it, informing the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro, “We committed a crime, but we had to do it.” U.S. officials seem to have taken slightly longer to recognize the obvious, but Wikileaks documents indicate that, by late July, they understood that what had transpired was “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Obama’s legal training, cosmopolitan background and cabinet stuffed with intellectuals were all irrelevant in this situation, like so many others. A different set of factors drives U.S. foreign policy...
And what kind of people -- what kind of system -- have Obama and his Secretary of State (and possible future successor) embraced and supported so eagerly? Alexandrov tells us:
Returning to Honduras, we see that conditions there are beginning to call to mind those of, say, El Salvador in the ’80s—good news, perhaps, for aspiring financial executives eager to launch the next Bain Capital. But as the business climate improves, everyday life for Hondurans working to secure basic rights has become nightmarish. Dina Meza’s case is just one example.
A journalist and founder of the Committee of Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Meza received two text messages from the Comando Álvarez Martinez (CAM) last February: “We are going to burn your ‘pipa’ (vagina) with caustic lime until you scream and then the whole squad will have fun.” The follow-up warning told her she would “end up dead like the Aguán people,” referring to the poor campesinos that are being slaughtered on land owned mainly by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest Hondurans.
The most recent government-led assault on Honduran farmworker rights can be traced back to the 1992 Law of Agricultural Modernization. International finance lobbied aggressively for that decision, which reversed the limited land reform implemented in the preceding decades, and drove the desperately poor into city slums or out of the country, inspiring those who remained to form self-defense organizations. The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is one of these groups. With the help of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a human rights lawyer, the campesinos recently won back legal rights to several plantations.
Well, that sounds good, right? A grass-roots organization working peacefully within the system to secure its legal rights under the national constitution. Isn't that the kind of thing that American foreign policy professes to encourage throughout the world? Unfortunately, the denouement of this good news story shows what our bipartisan elites really support:
On September 23, Trejo took some time off to celebrate a friend’s wedding at a church in Tegucigalpa. During the event he received a call, and stepped outside to take it. The gunmen were waiting for him. They shot him several times, and he died soon after arriving at the hospital. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts,” Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguán’s peasants, explained, “they killed him.” They killed Eduardo Diaz Madariaga, a human rights lawyer, the following day, presumably for similar reasons.
It is in these conditions that Honduras has been opened for business.
And of course, this is only the beginning. American elites have big plans for Honduras: they are looking to build whole cities under corporate control.
The American economist Paul Romer proposed recently that several neoliberal “charter cities”—complete with their own police, laws, and government—be built there, and an NPR reporter recently reviewed this idea enthusiastically in a piece for the New York Times.
This plan is being pushed relentlessly by the elites in Washington and Tegucigalpa. And as always, everywhere, these gilded, coddled, respectable figures play the most adamantine hardball. The Associate Press has more on the wider context of Trejo's murder:
Trejo had also helped prepare motions declaring unconstitutional a proposal to build three privately run cities with their own police, laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds ...
Trejo “had denounced those responsible for his future death on many occasions,” said Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguan’s peasants. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts, they killed him.”
AP then adds the hardly necessary coda:
No arrests have been made in Trejo’s killing.
At least part the Honduran Supreme Court seems to to have realized -- belatedly -- the true nature of the plan that so enthused the good centrist serious liberals at NPR, as Alexandrov reports:
Voting 4-to-1 that the charter cities are unconstitutional, [a committee of the Supreme Court] concluded that Romer’s plan “implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution;” worth recalling is that Zelaya was thrown out for allegedly violating the same document.
But again, this epiphany may come too late. As Greg Grandin, Yale history professor and author of an earlier attempt by American corporatist extremists to build a bosses' paradise in Latin America, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, notes (via Corey Robin), this committee ruling could well be overturned by the full court -- especially with all the aforesaid corporate baksheesh floating around.
In any case, this same Supreme Court has accepted the installation of the self-confessed illegal government of elitist coup-plotters; their protestations now at threats to "national sovereignty" ring hollow. In any case, what can they do about it? If the elites decide they want their 'charter cities,' what's to stop them from ignoring the constituational legalities as they did in overthrowing the inconvenient Zelaya? No doubt they will find eager backers in Washington if they find law and democracy an impediment to their agenda. As Gradin also notes:
Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall ... and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
"Freedom" here means the freedom of rapacious elites to enrich themselves -- and impoverish, repress and kill others -- without the slightest restraint. A commenter on the Corey Robin thread in which Grandin's quote appears puts it succinctly:
I first heard about the Honduras project from a Reason.com article that starts with the line: “A roadblock on a very interesting plan to create experimental, freedom-friendly governing structures down in Honduras…” I absolutely love the fact that Reason.com describes a plan to use eminent domain to seize land from poor indigenous communities and hand it over to multi-national corporations “freedom-friendly.” Not to mention the absolute denial of freedoms the workers of this for-profit city can come to expect if it’s ever built.
It really encapsulates the concept of property right’s “original sin” quite beautifully- - in order to create landed private property, you have to steal it, at the point of a gun, from the people who were using it, and then use the power of government to enforce your ownership.
And as Alexandrov notes in the conclusion to his Counterpunch piece, this brutal, murderous system will continue, unabated, unrestrained, no matter which of the "original sinners" in the current imperial court squabble come out on top in November.
Mile after mile, the Maine countryside floated by, on a bright Saturday morning in the dying summer. Town after town, closed-up storefronts and makeshift shops hawking "antiques" and used books, over and over, trailing like kudzu along the speeding highway. It was like everybody in the whole country was doing nothing but selling their junk back and forth to each other. It was beautiful land -- magnificent land, green and fertile, seeded with abundance, easy on the eyes -- now reduced to tawdry struggle against final desperation. Degradation had already been accepted, long ago, been surrendered to without a fight; they didn't even notice it anymore, how crabbed and threadbare, how harsh and mean life had become. All they were doing now was dredging up the refuse of a forgotten time, and swapping it for coins to buy one more month with their nostrils just above the waterline.
Flying out of Atlanta on a midweek, mid-day plane, taking the quick jump to Nashville. A soldier gets on, in olive-gray camo; he's in his forties, dark-haired, managerial. A soft plump office guy leaps up to help him with his overhead bag, then leans across the aisle to strike up a conversation. "Flying in for R&R, eh?" he says to the soldier. There's a giddy, groupie excitement in his manner. "It's tough out there, ain't it? Where you stationed?" Visions of hot deserts and exotic enemies are dancing in his head. "Lexington, Kentucky," the soldier says.
A few minutes later, a motherly stewardess bustles back and tells the soldier, "There's a seat up front in business class. We want you to have it." The soldier demurs, says he's fine where he is, don't worry about it, but the stewardess insists, others urge him on, and finally, well, a better seat -- why the hell not? He takes it. The office guy says breathlessly, "Don't worry about your bag. I'll bring it up for you when we land!" So off they go. A minute later, an announcement blares: "We are proud to have one of our fighting men on board with us today. We want to honor him for everything he's done for our country." A storm of applause all around. Another soft, frattish young man in the seat behind me calls out: "You can see there's no liberals on this plane!"
Suddenly I flash to the scene in Doctor Zhivago, when the doctor and his family are fleeing war-torn Moscow on a cattle train. A commissar comes in to announce the sanitation regulations, then adds: "The first carriage of this train is occupied by sailors of the heroic Kronstadt Sailors' Soviet!" He looks up sternly, expecting applause -- and the passengers comply. I also think of a book I'd read recently about the onset of World War I, and the hyperinflated worship of the military that marked Prussian-dominated Imperial Germany. There was an anecdote in the book about an American academic visiting Berlin before the war. He was strolling with a German colleague when they met a starched young officer walking toward them on the sidewalk. The American passed him without notice, but the German professor went into a panic, sternly upbraiding the American for failing to show due respect: he should have acknowledged the officer -- and stepped off the sidewalk in deference. He hastened after the officer to apologize for the ignorant foreigner.
I don't applaud the camo-clad manager based in Lexington, Kentucky. Not out of some kind of puritanical pique or knee-jerk scorn, but simply because I have no idea what he has "done for our country." Maybe he's a drone pilot, murdering civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. Maybe he'd been a member of a "surge" death squad during our war crime in Iraq. Maybe he sits in an office and pushes paper, or totes bags for a general, or requisitions toilets. How can I know what he might have done -- or not done -- that would merit applause? The mere fact that he is employed by the military and wears olive-gray camo does not alone seem sufficient to warrant a display of public honor.
Yet I confess I feel a moment of apprehension: will I be sternly upbraided for not joining in, for not "supporting our troops"? It seems an odd situation for an American citizen to find himself in: commanded to pay homage to a military man, and wary of the reaction of his fellow citizens for not doing so. It seems yet another degradation that has come upon us -- unresisted, unexamined, meekly, blindly surrendered to.
In Tennessee, my father's grave -- with its military marker -- was covered over with dead grass and dirt blown across it by a recent mowing. My brother's grave -- with its military marker -- was a few steps away, dusty, but a little less obscured. The sun was blazing hot in the shadeless field. Unbidden, my children knelt down on the harsh, burnt grass, and cleared away the markers with their small hands.
Here's a reworked sketch about a soldier I would gladly applaud, whether he is in uniform, in mufti ... or prison stripes: Bradley Manning, the Peace Laureate's prize captive -- tortured, isolated, mocked into scorn for the crime of "speaking hard truth to the state." His ordeal is one more degradation, one more surrender in a spirit-broken land.
I understand there is some kind of event scheduled for this evening that will feature two known and proven liars mouthing pious rhetoric, brazen falsehoods and scripted zingers in a process carefully crafted by their paid handlers to exclude any substantive examination of genuine issues of vital concern to the citizens whom the two known liars purportedly wish to "serve." I understand this will be followed by an outpouring of fetid gas emitted by a series of third-rate intellects and clueless goobers in various media who will examine the body language and facial expressions of the two proven liars to determine which of the liars might have gained the most political benefit from their lying and zinging and pious posing.The end result of this process will be that one of the two known and proven liars will become the temporary manager of a world-spanning, treasury-bleeding war machine which they will use to kill many innocent people over the next four years while continuing to degrade the lives and liberties of their own citizens on behalf of a brutal, stupid and rapacious elite.
This, we are told, is a very serious event to which very serious people should pay very serious attention. Fortunately, I am an entirely frivolous person, so I will be free to ignore this very serious business. Instead I think I might go out back and throw a few sticks on the fire. Like so:
In the category of "the sky is blue," "fire is hot" and "the sun rises in the east," the Guardian reports on a new study showing that Washington's murderous drone killing campaign in Pakistan is "counterproductive."
The sarcasm above is not meant to cast aspersions on the report itself -- which is detailed, devastating, and very productive -- but on the prevailing mindset in the ruling circles of the West (the self-proclaimed "defenders of civilization") that makes such a study even necessary, much less 'controversial.'
For of course even the denizens of the many secret services and black-op armies and intelligence agencies that make up America's world-straddling security apparat have said, repeatedly, that Washington's policy of murdering, torturing, renditioning and indefinitely detaining innocent people all over the world -- day after day, week after week, year after year -- is in fact creating the very extremism and anti-Americanism the policy purports to combat.
Thus the new report, by the law schools of New York University and Stanford (a famously if not notoriously conservative institution) should be, in a sane and rational world, a case of carrying coals to Newscastle or selling ice to the Inuit: an exercise in redunancy.
But instead, sadly, the report, "Living Under Drones," is a very, very rare instance of speaking truth to the power that is waging a hideous campaign of terror -- there is no other word for it -- against innocent people all over the world.
The personal testimonies gathered by the researchers -- on the ground, in Pakistan -- are shattering ... at least for those who actually believe that these swarthy foreigner are actually human beings, with "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions .. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is." You can be sure -- you can be damned sure -- that the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has never and will never read these stories of the ones he is terrorizing, night and day. These testimonies will never appear beside the scraps of rumor, conjecture and brutal prejudice that constitute the "reports" he sees each Tuesday -- "Terror Tuesday" -- when he meets in the Oval Office with his death squad team to decide who will be assassinated that week.
The Guardian gives a good overview of the report:
The CIA's programme of "targeted" drone killings in Pakistan's tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics. The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis.
Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
"The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling 'targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the report, entitled Living Under Drones, states. ...
The "best available information", they say, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period. ...
"US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning," the American law schools report says. "Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.
"These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims."
The study goes on to say: "Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of 'high-level' militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy."
A powerful story, setting out the lineaments of the report with admirable concision. But then the Guardian correspondent, Owen Bowcott [or his inserting editors], betray heartbreaking naivete:
Coming from American lawyers rather than overseas human rights groups, the criticisms are likely to be more influential in US domestic debates over the legality of drone warfare.
The truth, of course, is that regardless of its "Homeland" provenance, this report will have no influence whatsoever on the non-existent "debate over the legality of drone warfare" in the United States. For beyond the rare, isolated op-ed, there is no "debate" on drone warfare in American political or media circles. The bipartisan political establishment is united in its support of the practice; indeed, both parties plan to expand the use of drones on a large scale in the future. This murderous record -- and this shameful complicity -- will be one of the Peace Laureate lasting legacies, whether he wins re-election or not.
As the story notes:
Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. George Bush wanted to create a global 'war on terror' without borders, but it has taken Obama's drone war to achieve his dream."
However, there can be no sensible disagreement over certain salient facts: first, the US now has more than 10,000 weaponised drones in its arsenal; second, as many as six Predator drones circle over one location at any given time, often for 24 hours a day, with high-resolution cameras snooping on the movements of everyone below; third, the Predators emit an eerie sound, earning them the name bangana (buzzing wasp) in Pashtu; fourth, everyone in the area can see them, 5,000ft up, all day – and hear them all night long; fifth, nobody knows when the missile will come, and turn each member of the family into what the CIA calls a "bugsplat". The Predator operator, thousands of miles away in Nevada, often pushes the button over a cup of coffee in the darkest hours of the Waziristan night, between midnight and 5am. So a parent putting children to bed cannot be sure they will wake up safely.
Stafford Smith also speaks of his mother, who lived through the attacks by Adolf Hitler's drones -- the V1 and V2 rockets -- toward the end of World War II, and he notes:
So little changes. Current RAF doctrine tells us, euphemistically, how "the psychological impact of air power, from the presence of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to the noise generated by an approaching attack helicopter, has often proved to be extremely effective in exerting influence …" Perhaps they mean "terror", as described by David Rohde, a former New York Times journalist kidnapped and held by the Taliban for months in Waziristan. Rohde, quoted in Living Under Drones, describes the fear the drones inspired in ordinary civilians: "The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death."
Again -- and we've said here over and over, for months, even years: when you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc -- Democrat or Republican -- this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.
The anguished Othello -- fatally fouled in the puppeteer's strings -- pointed to his death-dealing work on behalf of empire in the Syrian city of Aleppo as one of the crowning achievements of his life. Indeed, he re-enacted this bloody imperial service -- against Muslim infidels -- in taking his own life: "And say besides, that in Aleppo once,/Where a malignant and turban'd Turk/Beat a Venetian and traduced the state/I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus."
One hears a great deal of talk about the civil war in Syria, most of it thickly greased with hot globs of propaganda from interested parties on all sides. But there are very few unfiltered reports from the ground by writers with the knowledge and experience to move among the fighters and actually understand what they are seeing and hearing.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is one of those rarities. Many of us recall his remarkable reportage in Iraq, where he ranged back and forth between insurgents and invaders at the height of the carnage, giving us some the clearest pictures of what was really happening behind the smoke of the "surge."
In Monday's Guardian, Abdul-Ahad explores the tense relations on the rebel side between the Free Syria Army troops backed by the West, and the foreign 'jihadis' now flooding into the country. As one of the fighters -- a veteran Iraqi insurgent -- notes, the United States is once more on the same side with its old jihadi allies. And once more, we are seeing the old template playing out once more, as the Washington-led West empowers radical extremists to achieve short-term geopolitical ends -- oblivious, as always, to the long-term effects of unleashing violent forces you cannot possibly control.
Abdul-Ahad's extensive report, from the frontlines in Aleppo, should be read in full, but here are few extracts:
Abu Omar gave an order in Arabic, which was translated into a babble of different languages – Chechen, Tajik, Turkish, French, Saudi dialect, Urdu – and the men retreated in orderly single file, picking their way between piles of smouldering rubbish and twisted plastic bottles toward a house behind the front line where other fighters had gathered.
…Hundreds of international fighters have flocked to Syria to join the war against Bashar al-Assad's government. Some are fresh-faced idealists driven by a romantic notion of revolution or a hatred for the Assads. Others are jihadi veterans of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. … The Syrians refer to the internationals collectively as the "Turkish brothers".
…The men were also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. When the Syrians asked them where they were from, a blond French-speaker said they were Moroccans, the Chechens said they were Turks and the Tajiks said they were Afghans.
..Abu Salam, a rugged Iraqi with a black keffiyeh wrapped around his head, said he had fought the Americans in Falluja when he was a young man. Later he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and spent many years fighting in different cities before moving to Syria to evade arrest. These days he was a commander of the one of the muhajiroun [foreign fighter] units. I found him watching a heated debate between the Syrian commanders about how to defend the buckling frontline.
…One Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn't go off. "Don't say it didn't go off," Abu Salam admonished him. "Say you don't know how to fire it. We used to shoot these same RPGs at the Americans and destroy Abrams tanks. What's a T72 to an Abrams?"
…He seemed nonchalant about the prospect of defeat. "It is obvious the Syrian army is winning this battle, but we don't tell [the rebels] this. We don't want to destroy their morale. We say we should hold here for as long as Allah will give us strength and maybe he will make one of these foreign powers come to help Syrians."
The irony was not lost on Abu Salam how the jihadis and the Americans – bitter enemies of the past decade – had found themselves fighting on the same side again.
A few days later, in Bab al Hawa, Abdul-Ahad gets a hint of what is likely in store if the shaky rebel alliance of secularists and sectarians (the latter often sharply at odds with each other) overthrows the Damascus regime: more war.
At the border post of Bab al Hawa some days later, a confrontation was brewing between the jihadis and Syrian rebels.
Fighters from the Farouq brigade – one of the best-equipped and most disciplined units in the FSA – were sleeping on the grass in the shadow of a big concrete arch. The fighters wore military uniforms and green T-shirts emblazoned with insignia of the brigade – an achievement in the disarray of the revolution. They had many tanks and armoured vehicles captured from the Syrian army parked around the border post, under cover.
Nearby, a group of 20 jihadis had gathered in a circle around a burly Egyptian with a chest-long silver beard. "You are in confrontation with two apostate armies," the Egyptian told the men, referring to the Syrian army and Free Syrian Army. "When you have finished with one army you will start with the next."
The standoff between the two groups came to a grisly conclusion, Abdul-Ahad reports:
I spoke to the regional commander of the Farouq brigade, a muscular young lieutenant from the southern province of Dara'a called Abdulah Abu Zaid. "I will not allow the spread of Takfiri [the act of accusing other Muslims of apostasy] ideology," he told me in his military compound a few kilometres from the border post. "Not now, not later. The Islam we had during the regime was disfigured Islam and what they are bringing us is also disfigured. The Islam we need is a civil Islam and not the takfiri Islam."
The jihadis, he said, had looted and stolen from the local people and demanded protection money from local businesses in order not to steal their merchandise. "I managed to stop them," he said, "and I won't let them spread here." Later that day he issued an ultimatum to their commander, a Syrian called Abu Mohamad al Abssi, to leave the area with his foreign jihadis or he would be killed.
I met Abu Mohamad, a monosyllabic doctor, the next day. He emphasized that he had been struggling against the regime since 1992 while the Free Syria Army were defected officers who until recently served the regime. The Arab spring was, he said, a result of Islamic fervor. "We will never leave our positions here," he said in a quiet voice. "God willing, we will win."
A few days later, Abu Mohamad's body was found in a ditch. He had been kidnapped and killed.
As always, while our well-wadded Western interventionists sit safely in glitzy TV studios or cozy Congressional offices and cry havoc, it is others who are devoured by the dogs of war. A hydra-headed, multisided conflict has been unleashed in Syria, and our warmongers are seeking frenziedly at every turn to worsen it.
Their concern for the "Syrian people" -- whose plight they have happily ignored for decades -- is only skin deep; it never surfaced until a chance arose to, in their minds, give a hot-foot to their grand enemy du jour, Iran. (Just as Jimmy Carter midwifed the global jihadi movement more than 30 years ago in order to hobble the Soviets in Afghanistan.) Unfortunately for the Syrians, it is their skin, and that of their children, which will be seared as these cycles of violence, exacerbated at every turn by war profiteers and the cozy imperial cowards -- who, unlike Othello, never fight in the front lines or take responsibility for their crimes -- go on and on.
NOTE: Another excellent source for direct reports and cogent insights on the Syrian war is, of course, As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," who wields a double-edged analytical sword on the depredations of all parties involved in the worsening, widening conflict.
Rob Urie looks behind the giddy "gotcha" reaction to Mitt Romney's comments on the "47 percent" of shiftless plebians he wants to abandon. Obama partisans have seized on the leaked remarks as glaring evidence of the "real choice" in this election: between a callous, clueless tool of the brutal financial elite and a genuine man of the people, fighting the good fight for all the people.
But as Urie points out, despite this exciting new narrative in the campaign, there is actually more than one tool in the elite's election toolbox:
It was Spring of 2010, less than a year after the official end of the last recession but still deep in the throes of the Great Recession, that Barack Obama’s ‘deficit commission’ met for the first time. With close to twenty-five million people unemployed or underemployed and the number living in extreme poverty rising quickly, Mr. Obama’s central economic concern was cutting government spending. ‘Entitlements,’ rather than bankers, militarists and tax cheats, were bankrupting the country. And the co-Chairs of the commission he appointed had the solution: cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and corporate taxes and reduce government regulation of business.
With the faux surprise and opportunistic rants that met Mitt Romney’s 47% ‘dependent / victims’ comments, who noticed that none in his audience challenged them? And who among those who have read similar statements from Barack Obama’s ‘deficit’ commission believes that Mr. Obama’s big-money supporters are of different mindsets than Mr. Romney’s?
...The self-satisfied declamations against Mr. Romney’s comments by Democrats and their supporters depend on near complete ignorance of Mr. Obama’s actual policies while in office. Who in Mr. Romney’s audience, including Mr. Romney, benefited from the unconditional bank bailouts that Obama Generals Geithner, Summers and Bernanke orchestrated? Who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement that seals the power of international capital over labor and environmental regulations? And who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s build-out of the domestic infrastructure of surveillance, policing and the legal framework needed to crush rebellion? As Mitt Romney is in the process of demonstrating, it is clearly Barack Obama who is the more effective tool for promoting ruling class interests. ...
Mitt Romney’s public persona is exactly as he is—a deeply clueless aristocrat born to wealth and power whose political interests lie exclusively with those of his class (and race). And his views, as with those of his class, are based on his experience of the world. That many of the rest of us, including Barack Obama, have lived experience quite different from Mr. Romney’s provides us with perspectives different from his. And therein lies the rub—who can better sell the agenda of the ruling class: a conspicuously clueless aristocrat who wears his self-interest on his sleeve or a skilled technocrat who can speak the language of ‘the people’ while serving these same interests?
...Democrats and their supporters seem to want to continue their role of recent decades as constructive functionaries in a system designed to facilitate and perpetuate the fortunes of an economic elite, a ruling class, which has found ever more effective ways of siphoning off the wealth created by working people and nature while increasing their domination and control over our lives. The results are the largest and most oppressive prison system in the world, the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in human history, the largest and most deadly military in human history, used to promote the fortunes of the ruling class, and environmental catastrophe.
...Mitt Romney’s views, and those of his class, are emblematic of the extreme class division that comes with extreme income and wealth division. ... But his actual policies would look as much like Barack Obama’s as Barack Obama’s do like George W. Bush’s. Defenders of Mr. Obama’s signature achievement, his scheme to force people to buy health insurance from private insurers that have no intention of willfully paying claims, have Mitt Romney to thank for it—it was his plan. And how would Barack Obama’s unconditional and ongoing bailouts of corrupt bankers have gone over if Wall Street McMoneybags Romney had engineered them? The real choice isn’t what either party is claiming it is. The real choice is between the existing political economy and one that at least stands a chance of working. And neither party is offering that choice.
No: what they are offering is yet another draught from the poisoned chalice, filled with the rancid bipartisan brew of war, ruin, injustice and fear.
Sparked by a deliberate provocation put together by Christian extremists, riots by groups of Islamic extremists are spreading across the world -- a convenient symbiosis for both groups, as they use each other's actions to "justify" their hysterically constricted worldviews.
There is an added layer to the reaction in the Muslim countries, as the extremists there can draw on the seething resentments built up by the depredations and atrocities inflicted indiscriminately on Muslims by the Western powers in recent decades, particularly since the launch of Terror War.
But of course these depredations and atrocities are the work of yet another group of sectarian extremists gripped by a hysterically constricted worldview: the Western power elites, who are maniacal adherents to the Dominationist cult. This bizarre but very powerful sect holds that American domination of the world, militarily and economically, is part of the divinely ordained structure of the universe. Those who adhere to Dominationist dogma and obey the dictates of the sect's high priests in Washington are rewarded; but unbelievers, heretics and apostates are to be cast out, cursed, attacked and, when possible, destroyed.
In the last 11 years alone, state-backed Dominationist terrorists have killed far more innocent people than their counterparts among the scattered clumps of Islamic extremists around the world. More than a million people have been killed as a result of the Dominationist terrorist attack on Iraq, for example. Hundreds of innocent people in Pakistan have been murdered by the drones fired by Dominationist terrorists. Dozens are dying monthly in violent Dominationist attacks in Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere.
The senseless violence of the Dominationist sect is well-attested. The sect's leaders brag openly about their use of violence; indeed, in the constant factional jockeying for power within the sect (a characteristic of all religious and ideological cults, of course), would-be leaders vie to paint themselves as the one most willing to inflict massive death and destruction on all those who dare challenge the Dominationist faith. All would-be leaders trumpet their willingness -- their eagerness -- to eschew mere man-made laws as they do "whatever it takes" to defend the faith and advance Dominationist supremacy over the earth. Torture, kidnapping, assassination and mass destruction are all considered divinely justified by the Dominationist extremists -- and by the millions of people who actively support the factions within the sect.
In fact, the Dominationist extremists have far more support in their native lands than the riot-provoking Islamic extremists have in theirs. Muslims overwhelmingly reject violence, even in response to the relentless, murderous provocations of the Dominationists -- as anyone who actually lives among large numbers of Muslims (as I do) knows perfectly well. Nor are the vast majority of Muslims taken by cheap tricks like the video posted by extremist Christians. As Ghaith Abdul-Ahad notes in an excellent analysis in the Guardian, "only a few thousand" Muslims -- out of 1.6 billion -- have taken part in the protests, which, he points out, are being exploited by fundamentalist Salafi sects that have been marginalized by the Arab Spring revolutions and are now trying to claw into positions of power.
We might also note that the Dominationists have made common cause with violent Salafis time and time again over years -- e.g., in Afghanistan during the Soviet period, in Iraq during the "surge," and today in Syria. The symbiosis of violent extremists -- Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Dominationist and others -- is also a well-attested fact of history -- and of human nature. Because at bottom, all of them share one fundamental, overriding principle, the common core of their faith (whatever its outward flourishes might be): the holiness of violence, the enforced assertion and/or imposition of their worldview by the repression or destruction of others.
As I said, it is very rare to find a Muslim who actually holds such a view, or who supports any group that does. But you will find millions and millions of people in the West who believe that the Dominationist extremists are completely justified -- even divinely justified -- in their terrorist actions. In fact, we will soon see more than 100 million Americans go to the polls to vote for one of these state-terrorist factions who openly support torture, war and murder in the name of their primitive faith ... and have history's biggest war machine to back them up.
That's a bit more scary to me than a few thousand marginalized, powerless people taking the bait of foreign provocateurs and local manipulators in a spate of riots. These outbursts are reprehensible, of course -- another deadly ratcheting up in the endless, symbiotic cycle of Terror War violence that will do no one any good (except for the extremist elites, on all sides, who feast on blood and ruin). But set against the massively supported, millions-killing terrorism of the Dominationists, the riots are like a whisper in the howling of a storm.
As protests against the Mohammed-bashing film now spread to Yemen -- where the Peace Laureate is drone-bombing the hell out of the populace on a regular basis -- Simon Tisdall has more on the bitter blowback of the Laureate's much-lauded regime change in Libya. First, Tisdall notes that despite the effusion of shock and horror emanating from Washington over the attack on its diplomats, the American government had in fact anticipated the possibility of such an incident:
The assassination in Benghazi of the American ambassador to Libya is an appalling act – and one foreseen by his employers. On 27 August, the state department warned US citizens against all but essential travel to Libya, painting a picture of a country beset by increasing instability and fraught with danger.
"The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem… Political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country," the state department said. This is in marked contrast to the vague and gauzy notion of a plucky young democracy that was the general image of the new Libya advanced by our political and media classes. As always, those on the inside -- such as the late ambassador -- were given the real picture, while the rabble are palmed off with soundbites and fairy tales.
Tisdall goes on:
Any number of other Libyan armed groups might have had a hand in the killings. But in truth, responsibility may also be traced back, directly or indirectly, to those in London, Paris, Brussels and Washington who launched last year's Nato intervention in Libya with insouciant disregard for the consequences. It was clear then, or should have been, that toppling Muammar Gaddafi was the easy bit. Preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy, would be much harder.
Yet this is exactly what Stevens's death may presage. Once again, the western powers have started a fire they cannot extinguish. A year after David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy jointly travelled to Libya to lay claim to a liberator's bogus laurels, the Libyan revolution they fanned and fuelled is in danger of degenerating into a chaotic, violent free-for-all.
Do not be misled by the fig leaf of this summer's national assembly polls. Post-Gaddafi Libya lacks viable national political leadership, a constitution, functioning institutions, and most importantly, security. Nationwide parliamentary elections are still a year away. The east-west divide is as problematic as ever. Political factions fight over the bones of the former regime, symbolised by the forthcoming trials of Gaddafi's son, Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.
Effective central control, meanwhile, is largely absent. And into this vacuum have stepped armed groups – whether politically, religiously or financially inspired matters little – all claiming sectional suzerainty over the multitude of fractured fiefdoms that was, until Nato barged in, a unified state.
Research published in June by the Small Arms Survey suggested that the emergence and influence of armed groups challenging national government and army was accelerating rapidly. The survey identified four distinct types including experienced revolutionary brigades accounting for up to 85% of all weapons not controlled by the state and myriad militias – loosely defined as armed gangs, criminal networks and religious extremists bent on exploiting post-revolution weakness.
…In Misrata, for example, in addition to about 30,000 small arms, revolutionary brigades "control more than 820 tanks, dozens of heavy artillery pieces, and more than 2,300 vehicles equipped with machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons." Misrata, scene of some of the worst fighting last year, has become a state within a state.
And as always, one finds the hand of America's great ally, Saudi Arabia, stirring the rancid stew of sectarian strife:
In its weakened condition, politically and economically, Libya appears especially vulnerable to extremist ideology and foreign influence. In an echo of Taliban depredations, the Salafists who besieged the Benghazi consulate have also been involved in a wave of attacks on historic Sufi mosques and libraries and attempts to intimidate female university students who eschew the hijab.
In this they are reportedly encouraged by a Saudi-based scholar, Sheik Mohamed Al-Madkhalee, who issued a fatwa praising the desecration of Sufi graves and urging Libyan Salafists to do more to clear the country of the taint of Sufi worship.
No group in the world has done more to spread violent, retrograde extremism than the Saudi royals (whose regime is far more repressive than that of the Persian devils in Tehran or the Hitler du jour in Damascus) -- yet at every turn they are courted, coddled, and lavished with billions of dollars in military hardware from the ostensible defenders of freedom in Washington.
The Saudis have had plenty of help in fomenting fundamentalism, of course. Empowering extremists has long been a favorite tactic of our freedom-loving Western elites. These wise leaders have spent spent 50 years destroying every vestige of secular civic space in the Middle East, every vestige of secular opposition to their favoured dictators, puppets and feudal lords in the region.
In most countries, such as Iran and Palestine, they actively, assiduously promoted extremist fundamentalist groups and parties, to ensure that no secular forces would emerge to challenge their clients and cronies. It was in Iran that this strategy first bit them firmly in the ass: the obscurant fundamentalists whom the CIA had used to help overthrow the secular democratic government in 1953 and install the Shah, a Washington toady, in time grew into a powerful opposition force in its own right. For decades, Western intelligence helped the Shah brutally repress all secular opposition; thus when the revolution finally came and the Shah was gone, these secular forces were too weak to stand against the fundamentalists, who hijacked the revolt and proclaimed their Islamic Republic.
At the same time, the secular government in Afghanistan -- irredeemably evil, of course, because it was associated with dirty commies -- was overthrown by a gaggle of violent religious extremists armed and bankrolled by the West, the Saudis and the Pakistanis. We all know what the result of that gambit -- we just observed one of its most notorious fruits on September 11.
The same process has played out again and again. In Iraq, a secular government opposed by the West has given way to a sectarian regime riven with religious war. In Egypt, where, again, secular opposition was throttled to help keep Washington's favoured dictators in power, religious extremists thrived, as secular "civic society" became increasingly identified in the public mind with the corruption and brutality of the ruling clique. (I saw a similar process first hand in Russia during the 1990s, when the concept of "democracy" became identified with the mass suffering, brutal poverty, ruin, chaos, corruption and violence inflicted in its name by the new post-Soviet elites.) In Libya, the West's desire to overthrow their unreliable ally Gadafy -- and grab better oil deals than he was willing to give -- has empowered the range of violent, well-armed religious fanatics described by Tisdall.
In Syria, the process is playing out once more, as violent religious extremists -- including al Qaeda -- are being armed and aided by Western elites and their Saudi allies to destroy yet another secular government. If this new regime change campaign is successful, we will be seeing many more incidents like the attack in Libya -- and, yet again, a far more unstable, violent world.
But I noted in a piece written in early 2010, this horrific outcome is a goal not a glitch; it is the necessary grease for the wheels of the Terror War system:
Let me say -- or rather, reiterate -- up front that it is my personal view that the form of vigorous activism known as non-violence is the only way, or the best way, that we can hope to even begin to address the inherent and intractable conflicts of human existence in a genuinely effective profound, sustainable and humane manner. That is the ideal I strive toward.
Of course, I also recognize that being what I am -- a white man of Christian heritage living safely and comfortably under the penumbra of empire -- it is easy for me to espouse this ideal. No drone fired in the distant black sky is going to kill my children tonight as they sleep warmly in their beds. No raiding party of assassins is going to tear down the door of my parents' house tonight and shoot them at the dinner table. No one with a grudge against me -- or simply in need of quick cash -- is going to sell me into the captivity of a worldwide gulag. I'm not going to be caught in the crossfire of marauding mercenaries on my way to work. I'm not going to wake tomorrow in a refugee camp, my home and livelihood abandoned in the wake of a ravaging "counterterrorism" operation. No foreign soldier is going to shoot me, or abuse me, or humiliate me, or simply refuse to let me pass down the street in my own city. I'm not going to be stopped, "profiled," or regarded with suspicion or hatred simply because of my skin color or the cultural or religious etymology of my name.
If I lived under the boot heel of such forces, I don't how I would react, how firmly I could hold to my ideal. I don't know if I would have the strength of mind and will, or the fortitude and wisdom it would take to resist our primal pull to violence -- especially if I grew up in a culture that exalted certain forms of violence as cardinal virtues. (Of course, as an American, I did grow up in such a culture -- and so has almost every other human being in history. To take the non-violent way is to appear -- and yes, often feel -- unnatural, deracinated, alien.)
Nonetheless, despite all these caveats and complexities, the ideal abides. I decry, denounce and mourn for the use of violence. Each act of violence -- however understandable it might be in context -- is a vast, ruinous defeat for our common humanity.
And of course many acts of violence are not "understandable" in any context, save that of our bestial desire to dominate others in one form or another. Here the defeat is even greater, its reverberations deeper, wider, longer-lasting: a degradation and degeneration that further brutalizes both the dispenser and victim of violence -- especially the former, and especially when the dispensing culture comes to countenance an ever-widening array of violent acts as worthy, necessary, laudable, even honorable.
Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called "War on Terror," which I think has been designed -- more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils -- to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis -- POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.
The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate "terrorism" (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end -- as we can plainly see today -- any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are "unserious." They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.
And as we noted here yesterday, there's lots more of this coming our way -- whatever the outcome of the presidential race.
Reading about the deadly attacks in Libya by religious extremists armed and empowered by the United States in the recent regime change operation there, I was reminded of something from a piece I wrote long ago, the day after 9/11:
"Murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs."
One thing for certain: no matter which of the candidates now exploiting the latest incident for partisan gain wins in November (and oh what bitter comedy there is in watching the progressosphere sternly denounce Mitt Romney for "politicizing national security" by attacking President "I Killed Bin Laden So Vote for Me" Obama), this hideous dynamic -- continually refueled by Washington's Terror War system -- will keep breeding its horrors.