Saturday, June 03, 2006

Troops cleared in Ishaqi.

A military investigation of the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians in Ishaqi last March has cleared US forces involved in the incident. According to the WaPo, "Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, issued a statement last night saying that investigators had found no wrongdoing in the Ishaqi raid and that the ground force commander 'properly followed the rules of engagement as he necessarily escalated the use of force until the threat was eliminated.'

What I find interesting is that they were able to come up with a final report on this so quickly. The killings in Haditha happened six months ago and they're still not done investigating. It just seems odd to me that the Iraqi police on the scene were so adamant that US troops had killed those people; the medical examiner insisted that all 11 had died of gunshot wounds and video footage and photos seemed to contradict the military version of events.

Not that I want there to be evidence that our troops massacred even more innocent civilians beside those in Haditha and the one Iraqi male in the west of Baghdad, but there was a cover-up in the other two other cases, so I'm just slightly skeptical.

In any case, regardless of the whether US troops deliberately murdered anyone or not, new information about the incident shows that an AC-130 gunship was called in to provide air support. That's a whole lot of overkill to capture one al-Qaeda suspect. I really question the judgment that was used in this case. If you're going to go in with that kind of fire-power you'd better make sure there aren't noncombatants anywhere near where you're shooting, I would think. (Obviously, all the destruction inside and around the house that was attacked wasn't all the work of one al-Qaeda suspect.)

Especially, if you're attempting to win hearts and minds, like we keep being told we're trying to do over there. In Afghanistan, we've seen over the past two weeks or so that calling in air strikes, however militarily necessary can have a negative effect on the overall mission if civilians are killed, like has happened in two incidents recently. Riots erupted in Kabul this past Monday after a US truck lost its breaks and crashing into rush hour traffic killing five people, possibly an indication that we've been wearing out our welcome there. President Hamid Karzai complained that US forces fired on the rioters. The US maintains that troops only fired over people's heads, but Karzai said, "The coalition opened fire, and we strongly condemn that."

This isn't first time that he's complained about the US killing civilians, either. Now, our good democratic Iraqi friend Nouri al-Maliki has come out and blamed the US for killing Iraqis. He said yesterday, "this has become a daily phenomenon among many of the multinational forces that they do not respect the Iraqi people. They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion. This is unacceptable."

Despite the silver lining to all this that David Brooks sees, saying that this gives al-Maliki a chance to show he's not a puppet of the US, I'd say that these allegations of massacres are pretty much of a major disaster for our military and our reputation around the world. I don't know, call me crazy, but I don't see how we dig ourselves out of this mess any time soon.

Friday, June 02, 2006

More on Haditha and Ishaqi:

Looks like the media is finally getting around to taking the alleged massacre of 11 Iraqis in the village of Ishaqi seriously again. I wrote about this last March at LTAD.

Knight/Ridder reported in March in this other case that:

"The villagers were killed after American troops herded them into a single room of the house, according to a police document obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers. The soldiers also burned three vehicles, killed the villagers' animals and blew up the house, the document said."

U.S. military spokesman, Major Tim Keefe, said at the time that, "We're concerned to hear accusations like that, but it's also highly unlikely that they're true." I'm sure he'll probably be singing a different tune now, since the BBC has showed a video, which it says shows, "A number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds. It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine."

This is what I wrote about the issue of our Marines killing civilians back then:

"If this is true, what was going on in these two units? The Marines Corp. isn't exactly an organization that is known for its trigger happy killers. The Marines are the crème de la crème of military, their discipline and professionalism is legendary. If these Marine units just went off on their own and decided to kill civilians in revenge for the death of one of their own and then tried to make it look like it was the Iraqis who did it, with the bullet in the back of the head thing --the Interior Ministry's trademark ---we've got a much bigger problem in the military and the strain its under than just endless rotations and equipment fatigue.

For a while now I've been noticing the large number of NCOs we're losing in Iraq every week and I've been wondering how long we can sustain the loss of so many experienced members of the military and not start to suffer from it. The NCOs are the backbone of the military; they train the recruits and the officers. The hallmark of the volunteer army and its high level of competence is the NCO. All that experience and skill that's lost every time another Staff Sergeant or Lance Corporal is killed, starts to add up after a while. Just look at the pathetic state of the Russian army, which uses "grandfathers," or soldiers with two years in the army, to enforce discipline on the new recruits by beating and hazing them. We can't get to the point where the ones training new recruits are just slightly less trained than they are.

Discipline and unit cohesion is what makes an army an army. When young soldiers are going off on their own without orders and killing civilians, especially in an insurgency war like Iraq, where such atrocities can be used by the insurgents to gain support from the local population, it's a sign something is going terribly wrong. Of course, it doesn't help that the Commander-in-Chief, who managed to avoid military service when his country needed him, regularly rewards incompetence and condones the punishment of the lowers ranks while those in command get off scott-free. As long as Rummy, the man most responsible for this mess in Iraq, gets to keep his job and continues to run the military, I don't see things getting any better over there.

I feel really sorry for those poor bastards in Iraq that somehow have to manage to fight day in and day out in the middle of the impossible situation they've been put into by the likes of Rummy and his compliant generals. The most solemn duty a general has is to ensure the safety of those he commands. This batch of lackeys, Tommy Franks chief among them, who remained silent while Rummy violated every hard learned lesson of the Vietnam war, should be prosecuted, not rewarded. Every rule guiding the uses of a post-Vietnam volunteer army was broken by Rummy and Co.:

If you're going to go to war, make sure you have the support of the public, make sure you have overwhelming force to achieve your goals and make sure you have an exit strategy. None of these rules was applied in this situation. The public has bailed, we never had enough troops and W. is hoping a future president can figure a way out, once he's safely out of office building his presidential library..."

There's more is you can stumach it at the link above.

Hate not Heritage: Fear and loathing on the Cape Fear River.

Yesterday the WaPo reported:

"North Carolina should provide economic and social compensation to victims of Wilmington's 1898 racial violence, said a panel that also concluded the attack was not a riot but rather this country's only recorded coup d'etat."

On November 9th 1898 whites in Wilmington, (populated by 9,000 whites and 11,000 blacks at the time) rampaged through the black sections of town buring, looting and lynching. The next morning the 1898 Foundation reports:

"Literally at gunpoint, Mayor Wright and all of the members of the city council who were presented were forced to resign, and a new city government was formed. Captain John Melton of the city police had also been arrested and he and all of the other members of the city police department were also forced to resign, and Edgar Parmele was made chief of police. There was no resistance. Wright, Melton, and the others were happy to escape with their lives. In addition to the white Fusionist leadership in the city, many African American leaders were also arrested and/or driven into exile."

The race riot in Wilmington was unique from other race riots in the South "...precisely because it was carried out as the overthrow of what was perceived as the "black" government, [it] marked the beginning of the Era of Segregation in North Carolina. The Wilmington "white supremacist revolution" had declared war against African American political and economic equality, and had taken up arms to put blacks back in the status of quasi-slaves. They were successful."

The WaPo reports:

"Wilmington likely became a "catalyst" for the violent white-supremacist movement around the country, with other states taking note, lead researcher Lerae Umfleet said. Later violence -- in Atlanta in 1906; Tulsa, Okla., in 1921; and Rosewood, Fla., in 1923 -- mimicked that in Wilmington, and some white leaders called on the North Carolina violence as an example to incite fear in blacks. "Jim Crow had passed in a few other states," Umfleet said. "But the whole white-supremacy campaign in North Carolina was watched around the country. People built on what happened in Wilmington."

How proud the defenders of Wilmington's civil war legacy must feel! I lived down in Wilmington for about four months back in 2004 and many folks down there still felt like Wilmington was a shinning example of Southern resistance. After all, during the "war of Northern aggression" Wilmington was the only port on the US coast that was never entirely blockaded by the US navy because of the Cape Fear River's daunting physicality of estuaries and swamps which favored the blockade runners. (Fort Fisher was the last Confederate stronghold on the east coast to fall in January of 1865.) Southern cotton went out to European markets to feed their hungry factories and guns for the Confederate army came in. The city experienced an economic boom that attracted such a large number of ruffians, scoundrels and prostitutes that most of pre-war population who could moved elsewhere to wait-out the war. A yellow fever outbreak towards the end of the war put an end to the boom and filled up the local graveyards with Confederate and Yankee soldiers, which can still be seen today down on Seventh Street, between Wooster & Queen.

The city never fully recovered its ante-bellum glory, which was based on the cotton economy of the Southern Planter aristocracy, but it's a veritable museum of mansions built on the backs of the ancestors of the city's black population. (For a graphic illustration of this, go to the Post Office down on Front and check out the huge mural inside, it's pretty amazing.) You don't hear too much about that from the people down there, though. What you do hear is the myth recounted of the depredations exacted on the people of the South by the radicals, carpetbaggers and scalawags of the reconstruction era.

I went into a used book store down on Front street and bought a copy of "the Era of Reconstruction" by Kenneth M. Stampp and got an unsolicited lecture on the subject by the old 'Southron' gent who owned the store. 'Things were pretty bad here then,' he said. He made sure to let me know that the South was unfairly punished by the North after the war. It was ironic that Stampp's book that the old guy sold me was a refutation and debunking of the myth that reconstruction was what Southern writers years after the fact called "The Tragic Era," the Dreadful Decade" or the "Age of Hate."

The fairytale created by those that had lost their plantations and slaves ---and therefore their fortunes and positions of undemocratic power --- was that the North came down and put ignorant blacks into position of power which bankrupted the South through corruption and incompetence. Stammp writes that there were a number of historical reconstructionists who disseminated the false picture of the reconstruction era, foremost among them one Claude Bowers whose book "the Tragic Era" was the most read title on the subject when it came out in 1929.

Stammp writes: "For Bowers reconstruction was a time of almost unrelieved sordidness in public and private life; whole regiments of villains march through his pages: the corrupt politicians who dominated the administration of Ulysses S. Grant; the crafty, scheming northern carpetbaggers who invaded the South after the war for political and economic plunder; the degraded and depraved southern scalawags who betrayed their own people and collaborated with the enemy; and the ignorant, barbarous, sensual Negroes who threatened to Africanize the South and destroy the Caucasian civilization."

In reality, he writes that the so-called "radical" constitutional conventions that were formed to write new constitutions for the defeated Southern states, between 1867 and 1877, were hardly radical documents at all, they were quite conservative in fact.

"In states of the Southeast, many offices that have previously been appointive were now made elective, the country government was taken out of the hands of the local oligarchies. The rights of women were enlarged, tax systems were made more equitable, penal codes were reformed and the number of crimes punishable by death was reduced. Most of the constitutions provided for improvements in the state systems of public education and the facilities for the care of the physically and mentally handicapped and of the poor." (Obviously, things have been going in the other direction ever since.)

Imagine putting into law the notion that government had an obligation to educate all its citizens! Stampp writes that before the war Southern planters weren't too much interesting in educating poor whites, and blacks got no education at all. He points out that, "In Florida between 1868 and 1876 the number of children enrolled in public schools trebled: in South Carolina between 1868 and 1876 the number increased from 30,000 to 123,000." And new universities were opened, where before the war there were only three in the entire South! Pretty radical stuff there, I can see why the people of Wilmington back then had to resort to such drastic measures to regain their freedom. Of course, mandating that the state pay for public education for black and whites costs money, which the landed gentry weren't about to put up with.

After 1877 reconstruction ended and the conservative takeover began, which led to the Jim Crow era, notably helped along by the white riot in Wilmington. Yes, it's all about heritage not hate, isn't it; and what a heritage! Kudozs Wilmington!

[Note: I really appreciate the much talked about "Southern hospitality" that was shown to me by the one-armed librarian at the New Hanover County main branch. On the last day I was in Wilmington, before I went back to civilization in DC, he banned me from the library for using my girl friend’s library card to use the internet. Clearly, such a serious violation of library rules had to be handled with Nazi-like efficiency. He hauled me out very loudly of the computer room and demanded my ID and then told me I was banned for two weeks. With great satisfaction I was able to tell him I didn't need his stinkin' library card any more...And you know where you can stick that hook, jackass!]

[Note: Thanks also to the Post Office for regularly losing our mail and the good people at the unemployment office who did exactly nothing for me. And a special 'thank you' goes out the Christian bitch at the social services office who decided we were ineligible for any emergency assistance ---even though we had just been both laid off from our jobs and had no income---because the "economy was in such great shape," and we had no jobs. If we had jobs, she said, we could get aid, but since we didn't, we were SOL. We tried to explain to her that if we had jobs we wouldn't be asking for help, but we got nowhere with that line of reasoning. She suggested that we go get some handouts from Grace Church, which gives out stables on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is George Bush's faith based initiative in action, I guess: the state has the money to help the poor but doesn't spend it, they send the poor to be saved instead. What really pissed her off, I think, was that we were living in sin, which obviously is illegal in North Carolina. (No sense in giving taxpayer money to people going to hell.) So enjoy your new notoriety Wilmington, it's well deserved!]

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fallujah is worse than Haditha.

I find it interesting that the media is now, all of a sudden, all over this story about a unit of Marines massacring 24 Iraqi civilians last November in Haditha. People are shocked, shocked, that our soldiers would murder 24 unarmed men, women and children. Investigations must be held, we have to get to the bottom of this! Many commentators are likening this to the Abu Ghraib scandal and predicting another anti-American backlash in the Iraq and in the Muslim world.

So far, it hasn't happened and I don't think it will. This is small potatos compared to the daily killings of hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqi civilians since the war began by trigger happy soldiers at check points trying to keep themselves from getting blown up. Just today, American soldiers killed two woman who were rushing to the hospital because one of the woman was about to have a baby. It's pretty much old news to the Iraqis.

What has had, and will have, a far more lasting impact in the eyes of Iraqis and Muslims is the attack on Fallujah in November of 2004. The ruins of that city, the destruction of the mosques there, will serve as a monument to our occupation of Iraq for decades to come. To this day there still isn't much recognition of what we did there. Fallujah used to be a city of 300,000 people, now it's a wrecked shadow of it former self.

And to this day no one still knows how many civilians died at our hands --- and apparently, nor does the media or anyone else particularly care to know. We do know that the city was subjected to a full spectrum bombardment that saw the use of pretty much every piece of ordinance (except nuclear) at our disposal including White Phosphorus, which has the same effect as napalm on human beings.

Back then, the media was pretty much on board with the raising of Fallujah, because the military said our new bogyman Abu al-Zarqawi might have been there; which, I guess, was justification enough to destroy an entire city the likes of which no one had seen since Groznyy. The memory of those four Blackwater contractors hanging from the bridge was still in everyone's minds, so revenge played a part too.

But, of course, the problem with this whole scenario was that al-Zarqawi wasn't there and neither were most of the insurgents we supposedly went in to clear out. Remember, they had already redeployed, what the media called "fled," to Mosul, which came under insurgent attack almost the minute the Marines were "mopping up" Fallujah. And back then, as well, there was some momentary outrage over a video showing a Marine in Fallujah shooting an injured Iraqi to death after he had surrendered, but that passed pretty quickly, as I'm sure all this hubbub will soon enough, because all this outrage isn't directed at the root cause of why things like Haditha keep happening.

To me, it seems like until we stop dropping 2000 lbs bombs on "insurgent hideouts" that kill civilians and call it "collateral damage," keep sending the same finite group of people back into that slaughter house again and again, we're going to keep seeing stories about young 18-year olds losing their shit and going medieval on innocent people. It's horrible to say, but it’s completely understandable. People can only take so much killing, especially people so young.

Obviously, those that pulled the trigger should be charged with murder, but the people who really have blood on their hands are W. and Rummy. They put these kids in the awful position they’re in and they should be held ultimately responsible.

Save us Taylor!

As I watched Taylor Hicks become the new American Idol last Wednesday night, the thought suddenly occurred that the Democrats winning back the Congress might be a sure thing after all. It was the weirdest thing; I don't know whether it was Prince unexpectedly swooping in out of nowhere just before Ryan Seacrest announced the winner, or the fact that a gray haired, 29-year old --- who'd actually heard of Buddy Holly before he did one of his songs on Idol ---had actually gotten some 45 million votes from a bunch of Bush babies.

I really got the impression, though, that this is some sort of bellwether, some kind of sea change. I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who has been wondering when the tipping point was finally going to come, and it's really seemed that it would never come, but the moment Hicks won I thought this might actually be it. People are sick and tired of the fear mongering, the lies, the rampant corruption and the seemingly enless blunders this administration is responsible for. 'Enough is enough,' is what a vote for Taylor Hicks says!

The news the next morning that 'Kenny boy' Lay and Jeffery Skilling were convicted for their part in the collapse of Enron has reinforced my opinion that the world is about to be turned upside down. Imagine a jury deciding that the "I didn't know what was gong on" defense didn't wash. It seems to me folks have finally had enough of corporate big shots and the president and his henchmen taking "full responsibility" for blunders and debacles that they really don't have any intention of taking responsibility for.

Just last week, yet another Bush appointee, this time Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson ---just in time for Memorial Day ---- was telling Congress he took "full responsibility" for managing to lose the personal records of 26.5 million veterans. Last I checked he was still on the job making sure his underlings paid for his mistakes. This is no surprise as most of those in this administration that’ve screwed up royally get a presidential 'you're doing a heck of a job Brownie' and in some cases they get medals! The vice-president shot somebody and the guy he shot apologized to him!

What planet are we living on here?

Al Gore mentioned on Fresh Air the other day that his skit on SNL took place in an alternant universe, but he said some people had joked to him that what's actually happening now is really the alternate universe. I think he's about got it right. Who would have thought six years ago that the government would be hemorrhaging money, spying on Americans without warrants, locking American up without charges or trial, running secret prisons around the world, torturing people with the official sanction of the president himself and we'd be short one American city to boot?

I'd say we're Al Gore's frog slowly boiling to death, not just from climate change but from the total disintegration of our American democracy. One day, if we don't do something soon, we're going to wake up and find things have gone so far towards dictatorship that there's no turning back. I'd say right now about done. Someone teach Al Gore how to blow the harp, quick!
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