Friday, May 28, 2004


America deserves better # 14

Dear friends,
Also you might want to read another column from a conservative at home page today. In fact there are a load of opinion pieces at Counterpunch that are well worth reading. Several of these denigrate Kerry also with references like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On Iraq, so far, the characterization seems unfortunately apt. On most other issues like ethics, the environment, the economy, foreign relations, etc., Kerry is still a much better choice. There may be another choice soon. If conservatives in growing numbers come to see this administration as spinning out of control, I can see a "dump Bush" movement growing for the Republican Convention this summer. Now there's a happy thought. Murray

Dear friends,

When I first heard about our abuses of Iraqi prisoners, my first reaction was "How could these damn Military Police be so dumb and brutal? Why wouldn't they know that this would make America look worse, and would make the job in Iraq more difficult?" My secong reaction was that these guys should be severely punished. I also wondered how a group of "bad apples" came to be concentrated at one location.
Then last night I saw Larry King interviewing Colin Powell and I was surprised when Colin Powell raised the My Lai massacre as another example of a few bad apples bringing disrepute on the entire American army. I hadn't made that connection. The result was that I did some googling, and I found the following abbreviated version of a letter. That led me to google on "The Stanford Prison Experimsnt" Wow! What an eye-opener.
What we have done is create a group of "bad apples" from normal ordinary citizens. Yes we have people like the one that ended the My Lai massacre, and the ones that blew the whistle, that resist this degradation, but it is very likely that those who choose to be Military Police are predisposed to such a "conversion". What we have done in Iraq is feed their predisposition, and now that they have succumbed we are going to scapegoat them and punish them, and the higher-ups that engineered this situation (even if unwittingly), will make pious protests and get off free. Worse, like Colin Powell, they will probably fail to learn the lesson of My Lai, and Stanford and now Abu Ghraib.
What, you may fairly ask, has this got to do with "America deserves better"? Wouldn't any administration fall victim to the same problem under similar circumstances? Fair questions, and the answer to the second one is probably "yes". However any other administration wouldn't have gotten us blithely into this contradictory situation in the first place. Here we are trying to rescue the Iraquis and lead them to democracy, and we are doing it with soldiers who are taught to dehumanize their "enemies" so that it will be easier to kill them, - - or to torture them. But these enemies are the people we are befriending. Well uh!?
This is one more way in which this administration failed to appreciate the gravity of what they were getting into, failed utterly to realize the seriousness and risks and unintended consequences of war.
I read this weekend that we have had about 7 of our soldiers wounded for every one killed, an unprecedentedly high ratio, resulting mainly from the use of body armor. Of the wounded, we have also had an unprecedentedly high number of lost limbs, eyes etc., resulting largely from bombs and RPGs instead of bullets, and from body armor. So in addition to 750+ dead, we have about 5000 wounded, an unusually high number of whom are severely maimed. And now we have added another huge black eye for America, and a much smaller number of poor buggers who have been psychologically bent and will now be punished. And all of this because of the paradoxical, but inevitable and predictable fact that the only way we can befriend the poor Iraqi victims of repression is by making enemies of them.
Do you remember the addage about the "road to Hell being paved with good intentions"? The good intentions that Powell so sincerely protests are surely proving to be Hellish. We have no businees being in Iraq, and the longer we stay, the worse it is likely to get. But Colin Powell demonstrated clearly last night that this administration can't see the paradox, can't understand that our soldiers are trained to see and will create enemies, can't admit that this is another (but less justifiable) mistake like Viet Nam. America deserves better. Let's send these people home.
Sincerely and sadly, Murray
The Role

Another Open Letter to the Troops in Iraq

In 1994, I was running an A-Detachment in 3rd Special Forces.
I had a communications sergeant on my team named Ali Tehrani. His
father was an expatriate Iranian who'd married a German, and Ali spoke English, German, Spanish, and French. A year before we were sent to Haiti with the 1994 invasion, Ali had been sent to the camps constructed by the United States military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the purpose of detaining tens of thousands of Haitians. Ali had spent six months "working the camps" at Guantanamo in 1993.

When we received word of our mission to invade Haiti in 1994, he
reacted violently. His revulsion toward Haitians was visceral and
white-hot. When we talked, we fairly quickly concluded together that his aversion to Haitians had something to do with the role he had been
thrown into against the Haitians at the camps, the role of jail-boss.

The point I'm getting to is this. The antagonism that Ali
experienced as an individual toward Haitians was structured by the
institutional antagonism built into the jailer-and-jailed
relationship. Ali had internalized the external reality that he was a
prison guard and they were the prisoners. His job was to dominate, to
bend Haitians to his will, and every exercise of human agency by the
Haitians threatened that. Their very humanity--that combination of
independent consciousness and will--was structured by the prison-camp
phenomenon to be an enemy force in relation to Ali and the other

In 1971, Stanford University Professor of Psychology Phillip Zimbardo
designed an experiment that would come to be known as the Stanford
Prison Experiment. Subjects were recruited and paid a modest stipend,
whereupon they were separated into "prisoners" and "guards," and
placed in a mock prison built in a Stanford basement. The prisoners
were stripped, deloused, shackled, and placed in prison clothes,
while the guards were given authoritative uniforms, sunglasses, and
batons. Long story short--within two days there was a near prison
riot, psychosomatic illness began to break out, white middle-class
kids in the role of guards became rapidly and progressively more
sadistic and arbitrary, and the two-week experiment had to be
abandoned after only six days... before someone was badly hurt or

Wikipedia says:
“Although the intent of the experiment was to examine captivity, its result has been used to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support.”

The experiment seemed to support the truism that "absolute power
corrupts absolutely." But that conclusion serves as a description,
not an explanation. It describes what happens to the individual, but
it fails to account for the role of rationalization that legitimates
the domination, and it completely fails to account for institutional
support of that domination.

When one uses the term "systemic," she is saying that the source of
this abuse is not individual moral failure, but a predictable
expression of the system and its structures.

The abuses of detainees, by US troops, by CACI International and
Titan Corporation mercenaries, and by the CIA in Iraq, is "systemic."

But in the same way that the system found an expression in the
thoughts and emotions of Ali Tehrani, in the same way that the
structure of domination and subjection pushed him to rationalize away
his shared humanity with his Haitian captives, we can now see in the
leering grins of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, who are regular people-
-like the experimental subjects in the Stanford Prison Experiment--
who quickly learned to behave as sadistic torturers. The military has
admitted that 60% of these detainees are neither combatants nor

As this is written, the US military is about to release hundreds of
detainees who fall in that category, and there will be more horror
stories coming, because it was systemic.

People were not only humiliated and forced to pose in degrading
positions with each other naked. Some were sodomized with foreign objects. It appears that some were also beaten to death during interrogation.

Now the cover stories are being spun out like webs.

We are being asked to believe that:

(1) The only abuse that occurred against anyone detained by American
forces in Iraq was photographed and reported.

(2) No abuses occurred anywhere that were not photographed or

(3) The one percent of US troops who are the "bad apples" all happen
to serve together in the same unit... the unit that is the only one
guilty, and that happened to get caught because of the photographs.

(4) The aggressive investigation now being proclaimed by everyone
from George W. Bush to CENTCOM, about abuses that were already on
record in the military (an internal investigation had already been
launched in February by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, but was kept
from the public), would have happened had the photographs and story
not been aired on national television.

(5) The military was not attempting to cover up their own
investigation, and that they would have informed the public of these
abuses even had Seymour Hersh not put the whole miserable episode
into print.

(6) The military did not cover anything up in the two weeks between
the time CBS warned them that they were going to air an expose and
when they actually did air it.

(7) No one in the chain of command above Brigadier General Janis
Karpinski is responsible for the failure to halt these abuses, even
though Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez was informed of the
investigation of these abuses, complete with sworn statements and
photographs, by General Taguba last February.

There has never been a Stanford Military Occupation Experiment to
complement the Stanford Prison Experiment, unless we just count the
military occupations themselves. There is a structured, systemic
antagonism between an occupying military and the people whose land
they occupy. And there will be no investigations of any of it,
because there never are, unless and until the American public is
confronted with them.

The National Command Authority and its cheerleaders cannot say out
loud... this is what we are doing, and it can't get done unless we
dehumanize the occupied. This reality, this system, will express
itself in the thoughts and emotions of you, the troops who carry it
out, because this military occupation is in a sense making a prison
of Iraq and making you, the troops, its turnkeys.

It will only be those exceptional individuals among you in the
military who refuse to surrender their humanity--no matter how little
you may understand the big picture--and who will witness. You who do
break with the system and witness are very important people,
important to history, because your refusal to surrender your own
moral integrity to the system may lead to our collective salvation by
ending this felonious occupation. The troops who filed reports about
the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were such exceptions.

What these images of the Abu Ghraib humiliation and torture have done
in the United States is collide with the "exalted image and the
pseudo-event" of the Bush propaganda apparatus. That collision between the reality and the real image of war startles civilians here in the La-La Land of wide screen TV and suburban SUV's, and it shakes them out of their opiated shopper dream-state.

My Lai is what General Colin Powell was remembering when he
implemented "the Powell Doctrine" for the military, which includes a
co-opted press and a vigorous attempt to keep things like flag-draped
coffins off of those wide screen TVs.

Most of you don't remember My Lai.

On March 16, 1968, units of the Americal Division, to which Powell
was assigned as a staff officer in Chu Lai, entered a Vietnamese
village called My Lai and spent four hours raping women, burning
houses, then finally massacring men, women, and children--including
infants who dying women tried to shield with their own bullet-riddled
bodies. The massacre was stopped by a Georgia-born helicopter pilot
named Hugh Clowers Thompson who landed his chopper between the few
surviving Vietnamese and the blood-intoxicated soldiers, and ordered
his door gunners to open fire on the Americans if they failed to
stand down.

A few weeks later, General Creighton Abrams, then commanding general
in Vietnam, received a letter from a young Specialist-4 in the
Americal Division named Tom Glen. Glen's letter was forwarded from Abrams' office to the Americal Division and ended up with Major Colin Powell in Chu Lai.

Powell himself admitted war crimes in his memoir, My American
Journey, where he wrote, "I recall a phrase we used in the field,
MAM, for military-age male... If a helo spotted a peasant in black
pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot
would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was
judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in
front, but at him." Powell would also come to the defense of
Brigadier General John Donaldson who had the door gunners on his own
helicopter shoot Vietnamese for sport. Donaldson was exonerated,
naturally, in a military investigation.

Powell not only developed as a skilled cover-up artist, he would
eventually incorporate this ability to manage public perception about
war as a key element in the "Powell Doctrine," which he imposed on
the military and the press. He never forgot My Lai, and he has always
believed that exposure of My Lai and other atrocities were
responsible for the US defeat in Vietnam.

Donald Rumsfeld shares these beliefs with Colin Powell. They are both
wrong. The two phenomena that collide with this Powell-Rumsfeld
orientation were and are (1) the decision of their 'enemy' never to
quit, and (2) the inevitability that someone who is part of the
occupation force will be confronted with these contradictions
between "the exalted image and the pseudo-event" and the real
character of war--and that this someone will expose it in an attempt
to rescue his or her own humanity.

The war in Vietnam was lost by the French then the Americans because
they didn't belong there, and the resistance endeavored to do
whatever was necessary to make that point. This is also the situation
in Iraq.

So I'll leave to others the analysis of whether the troops facing
courts martial are scapegoats (they are, and they are also probably
guilty as hell), and whether or not the military is letting the
officers off with reprimands and walking papers to prevent the fire
spreading (which it is). I'll just emphasize that the war in Iraq
cannot be won. Not because of the inability of US troops to fight,
but because we don't belong there. And since that's the case (which I
firmly believe it is) every life--Iraqi, American, or otherwise--that
is lost or ruined... is wasted.

All this talk of whether Military Intelligence or the mercenaries
working for CACI International or the CIA or the MP commanders were
responsible is diversionary bullshit so we won't see how Iraq itself
has become the Stanford Military Occupation Experiment. Because if we conclude that the problem is systemic, then the only thing to do to stop this is to walk away.

Every troop that comes forward with accounts of the inhumanity of
this war--while jeopardizing his or her career--is serving to hasten
an end to this criminal enterprise. These troop/witnesses will serve to hasten an end to the suffering of Iraqi families and the suffering of the families of the occupying orces. They will serve to prevent more torture, more humiliation, more suspicion and hatred, and more lives being thrown away on this imperial folly.

Let me also add an excerpt from
Even Kimmitt admitted, "I'd like to sit here and say these are the only prisoner abuse cases we're aware of, but we know there have been other ones since we have been here in Iraq." I just don't believe soldiers do any of this on their own. But let me go beyond this and discuss what I have heard and read about part of the training our government provides our young people. The word is: DEHUMANIZATION. It happened in Vietnam. It's still happening. For a soldier to call an Iraqi a human--unacceptable. Can you even train a person to kill other humans rather haphazardly? I don't think so. But if you turn those people into gooks or ragheads, or whatever non-human assignment you can think of, the soldier is no longer murdering human beings. No, they are killing things, bugs, irrelevant living creatures. Isn't this the attitude reflected in these photos?

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