American gulag

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Nostalgic quote of the day for anyone who thinks Iraq is Vietnam:Northern Babil province is what the Marines call, in their typically politically incorrect way, ‘Indian country.’” (Pamela Hess, Raid in Iraq’s ‘Indian Country,’ UPI)

Happy day before N-Day or “the dawn of a new era”: Julian Borger of the Guardian reports (‘Dr Strangeloves’ meet to plan new nuclear era) on a meeting convened by the Bush administration at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The visitors, he tells us, arrived on the anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and are scheduled to leave on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. Offutt is as well the place where the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the two planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, were built. The meeting, already mentioned in these dispatches, was called to plan for a) peace in our time or b) our time in pieces? c) none of the above. It’s your guess or let Borger tell you:

“US government scientists and Pentagon officials will gather today behind tight security at a Nebraska air force base to discuss the development of a modernised arsenal of small, specialised nuclear weapons which critics believe could mark the dawn of a new era in proliferation.

“The Pentagon has not released a list of the 150 people at the secret meeting, but according to leaks, they will include scientists and administrators from the three main nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore, senior officers from the air force and strategic command, weapons contractors and civilian defence officials.

“Requests by Congress to send observers were rejected, and an oversight committee which included academic nuclear experts was disbanded only a few weeks earlier.

“‘This is a confab of Dr Strangeloves,’ said Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, a national non-partisan membership organisation dedicated to working for arms control.”

We’re talking here quite literally about the meeting from (or do I mean “for”) Hell, convened by an administration with a carefully fitted tin ear for anyone else’s sensibilities and hey, who cares about those pesky missing Congressional observers; after all, the contractors who’ll build the weapons are invited. I mean, what more oversight could you need?

“The Pentagon has not released a list of the 150 people at the secret meeting, but according to leaks, they will include scientists and administrators from the three main nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore, senior officers from the air force and strategic command, weapons contractors and civilian defence officials.

“Requests by Congress to send observers were rejected, and an oversight committee which included academic nuclear experts was disbanded only a few weeks earlier.

“‘This is a confab of Dr Strangeloves,’ said Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, a national non-partisan membership organisation dedicated to working for arms control.”

We’re talking here quite literally about the meeting from (or do I mean “for”) Hell, convened by an administration with a carefully fitted tin ear for anyone else’s sensibilities and hey, who cares about those pesky missing Congressional observers; after all, the contractors who’ll build the weapons are invited. I mean, what more oversight could you need?

Calling Audibles:

Two days after a suicide bombing in Indonesia that took out part of a Marriott Hotel and the day after the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, both causing many deaths and injuries, both monstrous acts of mass carnage and indiscriminant terror, the day after two Americans were killed and a number injured for the first time in several days, Iraq (and al Qaeda-associated terror groups) are back in the news, linked by front-page proximity if nothing else. In fact, nothing else is more than accurate as (in the “now-he-tells-us” file box) Paul Wolfowitz evidently indicated just the other day. Jason Leopold at the www.antiwar.com website reports (Wolfowitz: Iraq Not Involved in 9-11, No Ties to al-Qaeda):

“Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects for the war in Iraq, admitted for the first time that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks, contradicting public statements made by senior White House and Pentagon officials whose attempt to link Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization al-Qaeda was cited by the Bush administration as one of the main reasons for launching a preemptive strike in March against Iraq.

“In an interview with conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham, Wolfowitz was asked when he first came to believe that Iraq was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

“‘I’m not sure even now that I would say Iraq had something to do with it,’ Wolfowitz said in the interview aired Friday.”

As with so much else about this administration, by the time they’re done, as the Baghdad bombing yesterday may indicate, they could easily have recreate in reality what they previously only concocted as a kind of useful political fiction.

Just yesterday, the American command in Iraq, despite much upbeat recent reportage on the various corners we were turning, had what we might now start calling a “Wolfowitz moment.” They suddenly “realized” the obvious — our “ops” in the Sunni areas of Iraq were making more enemies than we were apprehending (or killing) — and so Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, chief commander of allied forces in Iraq announced that we were going to pull back and soften our approach. (This is the same approach that Pamela Hess in her piece on Marine ops, quoted above, referred to as “their peculiar blend of high spirits and blood thirst.”)

According to Michael Gordon of the New York Times (To Mollify Iraqis, U.S. Plans to Ease Scope of Its Raids), the general said: “It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of op was beginning [sic] to alienate Iraqis. I started to get those sensings from multiple sources, all the way from the Governing Council down to average people.”

“When a raid is conducted,” Gordon adds, “American troops will be encouraged to carry out a ‘cordon and knock’ procedure in which a home is surrounded and the troops seek permission to enter accompanied by an Iraqi representative, instead of breaking down the door.” This policy, sure to be popular with exposed troops on the ground, is being instituted in part because, according to General Sanchez, “[W]hen you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family.” It only took a few months to figure this one out (and I’ve been wondering about those head-bags ever since the war — why haven’t any articles been written about them?). At the very least, this should encourage a wave of knock-knock jokes in Iraq.

So less aggressiveness, more make nice-nice. Secretary of State Colin Powell compared this change to “calling audibles” at the line of scrimmage in football. To understand why we’re calling audibles, you need to read the most recent piece by the ever-reliable Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid, Iraqi Town’s Anger Explodes Into Chaotic Revolt. It starts this way:

“The troubles that swept through this rough-and-tumble farm town along the Euphrates River began with a grenade attack Monday on a U.S. convoy parked outside the mayor’s office.

“A few hours later — after a staccato series of escalations compounded by confusion, misperceptions and anger — a mob had ransacked the mayor’s office. Its newly painted white walls were scorched from fires still smoldering today. At least two teenage boys were shot and wounded, and the mayor and police chief in charge of restoring order were nowhere to be seen.

“In the aftermath, the U.S. military was left pondering what it would take to bring calm from chaos and resurrect its effort to rehabilitate Khaldiyah’s municipal government, while some residents of the town of 15,000 were vowing that they would never allow American forces to return. U.S. troops had withdrawn from the town earlier.”

But here’s the problem, calling different “signals” isn’t likely to do the trick either. Not given the mess that’s Iraq today. Not given who’s in charge. Not given that American unilateralism actually means the Pentagon’s running the show. The American military has been well-trained to cause unbelievable levels of damage from great distances, not make nice-nice up close. It’s good at blasting down doors or, if necessary, as yesterday in a “fire fight” in central Baghdad after an attack on a humvee that wounded at least two Americans, blowing away buildings. It’s not set up to coordinate “humanitarian aid” in Iraq. And yet that’s what it, not the UN, not even the State Department, is now doing.

Here’s one example, of what happens when you change the audibles but leave the same players on the field — a Hartford Courant piece (Janice D’Arcy, GIs, Aid Workers Clash) spotted by an alert reader, begins:

“The two GIs strode into the Karbala orphanage all smiles last month, their thick arms bulky with free food. Parentless Iraqi children swarmed, and the American soldiers doled out plastic-packeted rations. Unlike the perilous streets outside, this was easy and straightforward. It was a mission of goodwill. Or so it seemed.

“As soon as the adults in the orphanage arrived, the photo-op moment fell apart. The orphanage director angrily told the GIs to leave. He was furious that armed troops had breached what he considered a peaceful refuge. And he already had plenty of food stored neatly in the basement, his supplies better suited to children than the adult-proportioned American giveaways.

“A civilian humanitarian aid worker unleashed her own fury on the GIs. To herit was a dangerous blurring of the lines between the military and humanitarian organizations – just the kind of blurring that aid workers say is making their jobs treacherous.”

And though I tend to doubt any piece of reporting that quotes a taxi driver — taxi drivers, for obvious reasons, have often stood in journalistically for whole populaces — at the www.occupationwatch.org website Medea Benjamin has quite an interesting piece about a former soldier in Saddam’s army who actually answered American pleas for the Iraqi military to lay down its arms and go home. The result was a demobilization that left him with nothing. He now drives a cab a few hours a day, his patience is “wearing thin,” and he has this to say (The Reluctant Warrior):

“His daily life, and the life of his friends, has become far more difficult than it was under Saddam Hussein. And he sees no relief in sight. He feels betrayed by George Bush’s unfulfilled promises and humiliated by the young American soldiers who bark orders at him in English. He has contempt for Paul Bremer and the new governing council hand-selected by the Americans-many of whom are exiles who know nothing about the reality of present-day Iraq.

“Mohamad is no Baathist, but if things don’t get better quickly, the open arms with which he initially welcomed the Americans might well turn to fire arms. ‘I’m trained to fight. That’s what I’ve spent my life doing,’ he said quietly. ‘Believe me, I’m not anxious to fight again. I’ll give the Americans another few months to turn things around-to provide basic services, to put people back to work, to bring about some order. But if things around here don’t get better soon, what choice do I have?'”

And as for that future, whether the military approach is hard or soft, it seems our troops in Iraq won’t be going anywhere fast. Tom Squitieri of USA Today reports (US Secures Only Half Foreign Troops Sought):

“New foreign peacekeeping troops are set to begin arriving in Iraq in mid-August, but months of U.S. arm-twisting have produced only about half the soldiers the Pentagon was counting on. As of now, there won’t be enough foreign troops to permit the replacement and withdrawal of some U.S. forces planned for early next year.29 countries have committed only about 15,500 troops.

“About a third of those are either unqualified for combat or deliberately barred from combat operations by their governments, the foreign officials say. That could limit their usefulness in the violent, guerrilla-style war coalition forces are now waging in Iraq.

“Of more concern to military planners are future multinational units, including one that is scheduled to replace the Army’s 101st Airborne Division next February or March. No country has emerged to lead that division, and no forces have been identified to replace the 101st, now in northern Iraq.”

Among those foreign troops, according to an accompanying chart are: 43 from Estonia, 70 from Mongolia, and 100-200 from Albania.

American Gulag:

Just before the war began, I published an original piece at this site by Adam Hochschild who suggested that the Bush administration’s missile-tipped global policies in the defense of “freedom” might actually be ending the age of human rights. I think we can now see not only that this may be the case, but that something even more ominous is happening. The president declared us at war and perhaps more important, declared us to be in “wartime.” The claim of wartime then became the basis for taking Jose Padilla, an American citizen picked up on American soil, sticking him uncharged and without prospect of a trial in a Navy brig in the U.S and refusing to allow his lawyer (or anyone else) to see him.

This has just been challenged in court by 9 significant “friend of the court” briefs, reports Newsday (Legal Scholars Call U.S. Detention Policy Grave Threat):

“The precedent the executive asks this court to set, represents one of the gravest threats to the rule of law, and to the liberty our Constitution enshrines, that the nation has ever faced,” said one brief by 14 retired federal appellate judges and former government officials, including Abner Mikva, Harold Tyler and Philip Allen Lacovara.

“But Joseph Onek, a former State Department official and consultant on three of the briefs, said the government is seeking to extrapolate the powers of the president in a way that is not only without congressional authorization but in defiance of a law enacted by Congress to prohibit citizens from being detained without hearings or lawyers.”

“Among those filing briefs is a collaboration of libertarian groups, including the Cato Institute and Rutherford Institute on the right, the Constitution Project in the middle and People for the American Way and Center for National Security Studies on the left.”

So Padilla is in the brig, while off in Guantanamo, in what I’ve called the Bermuda Triangle of American justice, there are hundreds of non-citizen Padillas beyond the reach of American justice, or any justice. Beyond the reach of anyone but the Pentagon and the president. We also know something of the smaller Bermuda Triangles of American Justice at places like Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, beyond the reach of time itself, and of the subcontracting of new forms of American justice to places like Jordan, where “suspects” have been transferred and information assumedly extracted for American intelligence without any of the niceties at all. But, of course, Bagram and Guantanamo are coming to look a good deal more like Saudi or Jordanian justice at work.

Now we learn from Alex Rodriguez of the Chicago Tribune that Iraq has joined the spreading “triangle” (and I’m not talking about the Sunni Triangle here). He reports (U.S. holding Iraqis at notorious prison):

“Once one of Iraq’s notorious prisons where Saddam Hussein had political prisoners tortured and hanged, Abu Ghraib has become a makeshift jail at the heart of the U.S. military’s struggle to give Iraqis a new sense of justice. About 500 Iraqis are detained here and, like detainees in U.S. prison camps across Iraq, none has been allowed family visits. Only one out of 10 has been allowed to see a lawyer.”

But it was so convenient. The prison was already there — such an inviting proving ground for American justice behind razor wire in temperatures up to 130 degrees — and with the same tell-tale signs: no visits, no lawyers. Rodriguez offers one little history of the new American version of Iraqi justice involving a case of no significance:

“After spending 29 days at Abu Ghraib and at the military’s detention camp near Baghdad’s airport, Kaith Moussa Kadhem, who was being held on a weapons possession charge, had his bail set at $62 by an Iraqi judge.

“U.S. officials ignored the ruling, and Kadhem spent 27 more days at Abu Ghraib. He was released July 23 without any finding of guilty or not guilty. He and three friends had been arrested by U.S. soldiers May 28. Kadhem said guns found in their car belonged to his friends.”

Guns in Iraq? For that you’d have to put the whole population behind bars.

Another little example of American justice, new style? Jonathan Marshall of talkingpointsmemo reports that Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi is, it turns out,

“being held against his will in Kuwait apparently because he won’t ‘come clean’ about the aluminum tubes, an on-going Iraqi nuclear weapons program and significant chemical and biological weapons stocks. Obeidi is not in prison. He’s in a residential setting with his family, under US government supervision, well-fed and so forth. But he can’t leave. He can’t go back to Iraq — for obvious reasons. He’s only in Kuwait through a US agreement with the Kuwaiti government. He can’t go anywhere else since he doesn’t have a passport. American friends provided him with a satellite phone. But his CIA handlers have frowned on his using it.”

Evidently, he made a deal to turn state’s evidence, cough up to the Americans everything he knew, and get resettled here. (He’s already got a job and, Marshall reports, a book project! There’s an enterprising publishing house for you.) But right now he’s going nowhere. “For two months they’ve been holding out on him, apparently because the answers he’s giving them aren’t the ones they want to hear.” What a perfect meshing of intelligence-gathering and justice-dispensing, Bush-style.

It turns out that our president really meant it when he declared global war. It’s one-suit fits all justice, applied everywhere with abandon. Here’s what’s frightening, you can see the bare bones of a global American gulag in formation. It’s still relatively small scale, but its geography is fittingly planetary in reach, which means you will soon be able to disappear or be disappeared all over this earth, thanks to us.

Crony Capitalism in Iraq and around an oily world:

I note that in his Moveon speech yesterday Al Gore finally said the obvious:

“Ironically, the principal cause of global warming is our civilization’s addiction to burning massive quantities carbon-based fuels, including principally oil — the most important source of which is the Persian Gulf, where our soldiers have been sent for the second war in a dozen years — at least partly to ensure our continued access to oil.”

He may, however, be the first major mainstream politician to do so. Could this point finally be penetrating a few American elite consciousnesses? After all, the other side of the new “wartime” version of American justice is impunity for friends.

I just checked the newly released Bush Administration Official Dictionary for the New Millennium (it’s being put beside every cot in Guantanamo along with the Koran) and I find under “Friend,” “See Oil,” and vice versa. A recent executive order giving oil companies (but no other companies) doing business with Iraq impunity of every conceivable sort (mentioned here in a previous dispatch), is now getting some attention in the mainstream press. Ruth Rosen of the San Francisco Chronicle, sums up the situation well in her most recent column (see below).

Back to that dictionary, I looked and looked but I couldn’t find “crony capitalism.” It was on the lips of Washington officials all through the 1990s when, of course, they were talking about Asian capitalism. But this administration is giving crony capitalism new meaning in Iraq and yet the phrase is gone. My guess is it was taken into custody as it was boarding a flight at New York’s Kennedy airport heading for Kuwait and is now receiving justice somewhere or other (visitors unwanted).

Neela Banerjee of the New York Times writes on the first business page today (Rivals Say Halliburton Dominates Iraq Oil Work):

“The Bechtel Group, one of the world’s biggest engineering and construction companies, has dropped out of the running for a contract to rebuild the Iraqi oil industry, as other competitors have begun to conclude that the bidding process favors the one company already working in Iraq, Halliburton.

“Halliburton’s role in the rebuilding has been under political scrutiny because the company was formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. But the Bush administration and the Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the Iraqi oil reconstruction effort, have repeatedly said that Halliburton has no inside track.”

Ho-hum. Even the cronies are losing out to The Crony. Isn’t there a front-page “crony capitalism” piece somewhere in the shameful “reconstruction” of Iraq — which so far has only reconstructed Halliburton, a company that, as previously reported here, has had a remarkable turn-around in profits based on its Iraq contracts.

I include below a piece by Isabel Hilton of the Guardian, who reminds us that we really should expect no less than all of this from the “masters of deceit” who first brought wholesale state terror to Central America in the 1980s in the name of freedom, and another by Anatol Lieven, who in the Financial Times takes up the question of defining American “freedom” (with a bow to Historian Eric Foner’s book on the subject). Lieven says in part, “The authoritarian rigidity with which American conservatives demand adherence to moral laws, and indeed seek to extend them beyond America’s frontiers, is far in excess of anything to be found in Britain or Europe today – except for fundamentalist Muslim circles. They also clash radically with the version of freedom believed in by progressive liberals in the US itself.” I just checked the dictionary under “Freedom” it says, “See wartime.” Tom

As ordered, it’s about oil
By Ruth Rosen
The San Francisco Chronicle
August 8, 2003

An executive order can be a surreptitious way of making policy. It often makes an end-run around Congress and frequently escapes the media’s attention as well. It is, in short, a way of making policy by fiat.

President Bush has signed a slew of executive orders that have gone unreported for weeks or months — most notably, changes to environmental regulations and restricted access to former presidential papers and Freedom of Information Act information.

Now, a potentially explosive executive order has just been discovered by SEEN, the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. Signed on May 22, it appears to give U.S. oil companies in Iraq blanket immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

To read more Rosen click here

Masters of deceit
Convicted felons responsible for thousands of deaths are calling the shots at the White House

By Isabel Hilton
The Guardian
August 7, 2003

The announcement that Admiral John Poindexter’s latest brainwave – to encourage betting on the likelihood of a terrorist attack – had been terminated was characteristically bland. It began: “The Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced today that DARPA’s participation in the Futures Markets Applied to Prediction (FutureMAP) program has been withdrawn”

The language does not betray the repugnant nature of the project, but then Poindexter is expert at disguising repugnant projects in bland language. He came to prominence in the Reagan administration, where the word “freedom” was used to justify renewed support for Latin American military dictatorships guilty of some of the most egregious human rights abuses on the planet. President Jimmy Carter had frozen them out, but Ronald Reagan’s election meant a renewed round of invitations to Pentagon cocktail parties for Latin American torturers.

To read more Hilton click here

American freedom is a divisive concept
By Anatol Lieven
Financial Times
Aug 06, 2003

Educated Americans often say rather mournfully that Tony Blair expresses American values and goals better than the current US president. Whether this is what a British prime minister is elected for is, however, questionable. For while many US values may be virtuous in themselves, they can also be terrifying in their naivete.

This is above all true of “freedom”. Mr Blair stressed this theme in his speech to the US Congress last month: “Ours are not western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship.”

* Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, W.W.Norton, New York, 1998 The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

To read more Lieven click here