Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More Serious Than Abu Ghraib?

First there was Abu Ghraib. Then the reports of the abuses being committed at Guantanamo. The allegations surrounding the Fallujah offensive.

And now, from Afghanistan, comes another chilling example of how when it comes to war, Americans are as capable as our enemies of sinking to levels of barbarity. The Sydney Morning Herald published this story in Thursday's edition:

US soldiers in Afghanistan burnt the bodies of dead Taliban and taunted their opponents about the corpses, in an act deeply offensive to Muslims and in breach of the Geneva conventions.

An investigation by SBS's Dateline program, to be aired tonight, filmed the burning of the bodies.

It also filmed a US Army psychological operations unit broadcasting a message boasting of the burnt corpses into a village believed to be harbouring Taliban.

According to an SBS translation of the message, delivered in the local language, the soldiers accused Taliban fighters near Kandahar of being "cowardly dogs". "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be," the message reportedly said. (Read the entire article.)

The story names names. The Pentagon doesn't deny it.

The story moved in Australia on their Wednesday morning news cycle, late Tuesday in this part of the world. On Wednesday, the New York Times picked it up on its website, leading with the Pentagon's reaction:
The Pentagon announced Wednesday night that the Army had started a criminal investigation into allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and then used the charred and smoking corpses in a propaganda campaign against the insurgents. (Read the entire article.)
The Associated Press picked it up the following morning and distributed it all across the country, where numerous newspaper websites picked it up. Thursday, the Washington Post ran Bradley Graham's piece (that shed no additional light on the incident) inside the A section. Richard Serrano's piece in the Los Angeles Times was similarly unenlightening.

Afghanistan "president" Hamid Karzai condemned the incident, which was picked up by the wire services as well. (That was the first we've seen of this story in The Des Moines Register, which buried it in the A section this morning. Apologies to those of you who can rely on other sources for your news instead of "the newspaper that Iowa depends upon.")

Here in the wilderness, we would prefer to believe that America and Americans are always in the right. War has proven us wrong. War changes us, changes the people who fight in it. The brutalization that is necessary to instill in the troops to transform them from caring people into unthinking, efficient terminators removes from them the sense of humanity.

So the next time you hear someone righteously declare that Americans always fight just wars and always fight them fairly, just respond that there is no such war.

Polls Say It's Time for the Next War

If you're beset by bad press and falling poll ratings, what do you do if you're George W. Bush? You go to war, silly.

What most of us don't remember is that in the days preceding September 11, the press had just gotten wise to the fact that the administration's entire strategy for governing seemed to be tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. Bush's ratings were steadily dropping. Then came the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and Bush has been living off the collateral spike of a wartime president ever since.

So now that his ratings are the worst they've ever been -- among the worst of any president, for that matter -- his people are facing possible indictments and his presidency is in worse shape than the Chicago Cubs, what is he planning to do?

Yes, children. Attack Iran? Why not. Reports Dan Plesch in the London Guardian:
The conventional wisdom is that for both military and political reasons it would be impossible for Israel and the UK/US to attack and that, in any event, after the politically damaging Iraq war, neither Tony Blair nor George Bush would be able to gather political support for another attack.

But in Washington, Tel Aviv and Downing Street, if not the Foreign Office, Iran is regarded as a critical threat. The regime in Tehran continues to demand the destruction of the state of Israel and to support anti-Israeli forces. In what appeared to be coordinated releases of intelligence assessments, Israeli and US intelligence briefed earlier this year that, while Iran was years from a nuclear weapons capability, the technological point of no return was now imminent.

Shortly after the US elections, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, warned that Israel might attack Iran. Israel has the capability to attack Iranian targets with aircraft and long-range cruise missiles launched from submarines, while Iranian air defences are still mostly based on 25-year-old equipment purchased in the time of the Shah. A US attack might be portrayed as a more reasonable option than a renewed Israeli-Islamic confrontation. (Read the entire article.)
As unbelievable as this may seem -- the Army can't meet its recruitment quota, the Guard and Reserves are stretched inordinately thin, there are still ample forces to wage such a war, Plesch argues:
Donald Rumsfeld has been reorganising the army to increase front-line forces by a third. More importantly, naval and air force firepower has barely been used in Iraq. Just 120 B52 and stealth bombers could target 5,000 points in Iran with satellite-guided bombs in just one mission. It is for this reason that John Pike of globalsecurity.org thinks that a US attack could come with no warning at all. US action is often portrayed as impossible, not only because of the alleged lack of firepower, but because Iranian facilities are too hard to target. In a strategic logic not lost on Washington, the conclusion then is that if you cannot guarantee to destroy all the alleged weapons, then it must be necessary to remove the regime that wants them, and regime change has been the official policy in Washington for many years.
Would the Democrats oppose such a war? Hardly, Plesch asserts:
A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe. Scott Ritter, the whistleblowing former UN weapons inspector, points out that few in the Democratic party will stand in the way of the destruction of those who conducted the infamous Tehran embassy siege that ended Jimmy Carter's presidency. Mr Ritter is one of the US analysts, along with Seymour Hersh, who have led the allegations that Washington is going to war with Iran.For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year's congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president.
Ominously, U.S. "chief diplomat" Condoleezza Rice has told Congress that all options are on the table. Reports UPI:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday would not rule out military action as an option for dealing with Iran's and Syria's meddling in Iraq.

She also made no promises to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the White House would seek congressional approval before directing a military attack on either of those countries.

"I'm not going to get into what the president's options might be. But the course on which we are now launched is a diplomatic course vis-a-vis Syria," Rice said.

Under further questioning, she went even further to suggest military action -- without congressional authorization -- is a possibility. (Read the entire article.)

Rice also told the panel it's possible that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for the next 10 years. And Tehran? And Damascus?

Troop morale falling?

An article in Tuesday's London Independent throws some disturbing news about the morale of British troops in Iraq. Among other things, the article compares the experience of the soldiers there to that of UK forces serving in Northern Ireland when IRA bombers were assassinating them.

Writes the paper's Ian Herbert:
The incidents are symptomatic of a general malaise. One corporal said: " This has been a hard, hard tour. I would be glad not to be back in Iraq for a while." Another NCO added: "Mr Blair keeps on saying that everything is getting better here. Perhaps he would care to come and see for himself. He is pretty good at sending other peoples' sons to Iraq." (Read the entire article.)
The article goes on:
Paul Beaver, a defence analyst with close links to senior staff, said: "There's obviously a disappointment that things have not gone better. But the main difference between army morale now and 12 months ago is that there is a resignation among the soldiers that they are in it for the long haul. There is also recognition that some of the elements [the Iraqi police] that they trusted can no longer be trusted and that they must fall back on their own resources."
Perhaps this is why George W. Bush had to stage an upbeat-sounding teleconference with U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Most smaller newspapers didn't report that story here, but what happened was: The soldiers were handpicked, the questions were fed to them, and the entire affair was choreographed like a (post-Janet Jackson) Super Bowl halftime show.

Writes Cox News Service's Bob Dean:

Just before the event began, a Pentagon spokeswoman conferred from Washington with military officials at the site in Tikrit, over how to choreograph the event.

"Who are we going to give that [question] to?" asked Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication. (Read the entire article; free subscription required.)

Dean reported that at times, the Q&A process seemed almost amateurish:

In some cases — as in many of the president's own press conferences — the answers seemed only obliquely related to the questions, suggesting a scripted quality.

"Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they encounter?" Bush asked at one point.

"Sir, in North Central Iraq, voter registration is up 17 percent," came the ready reply from Capt. David Williams of Los Angeles. "That's 400,000 new voters in North Central Iraq and 100,000 new voters in the Al Salahuddin province. The Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum."

Editor & Publisher, the trade journal of the media industry, weighed in with this analysis:

Contrary to early accounts, President Bush's question-and-answer session with U.S. troops in Iraq tied to Saturday's vote on the new constitution now seems far from spontaneous. Subsequent reports from journalists on the scene revealed quite a bit of choreography in Thursday's teleconference with the president in Washington.

The official pool report, in fact, painted this scene: "The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly-scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, 'Who are we going to give that [question] to?' " (Read the entire article.)
The article goes on to say that Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, went out of his way to tie
into knots one reporter's questions about the staged nature of the conference.

For a more complete narration of how the conference was staged, read Deb Riechmann's thorough report for AP here.

How is the morale of U.S. troops in Iraq? Here in the wilderness we don't have the slightest idea. But thanks to the blogoverse, dissident opinions such as this one have begun to be revealed. A very complete spectrum can be found at Operation Truth; not all the bloggers are antiwar.

Or better yet: If you know someone who's recently served in Iraq, ask him or her. Obviously, we can't depend on what's being said in public.