Alan Greenspan, oil, megadeaths in Iraq - and those dastardly Chinese

16 September 2007.

  • In a review of Alan Greenspan's new book In the age of turbulence: Adventures in a new world, Guardian correspondents Peter Beaumont and Joanna Walters cite the former head of the USA's Federal Reserve Corporation : «I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.» At the same time, they refer to a new survey by the British polling organisation ORB that suggests that some 1.2 million Iraqis have died as the result of the US/UK war of aggression :

      More than one million deaths were already being suggested by anti-war campaigners, but such high counts have consistently been rejected by US and UK officials. The estimates, extrapolated from a sample of 1,461 adults around the country, were collected by a British polling agency, ORB, which asked a random selection of Iraqis how many people living in their household had died as a result of the violence rather than from natural causes.

      Previous estimates gave a range between 390,000 and 940,000, the most prominent of which - collected by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and reported in the Lancet in October 2006 - suggested 654,965 deaths. [Beaumont and Walters - or their editors in London - have here misunderstood the reports : the figures 390000 and 940000 represent the outer limits of 95 % confidence interval arrived at in the same Johns Hopkins survey published by the Lancet in October 2006, which estimated the number of excess deaths due to the war during the first three years of that conflict (which now is entering its fifth year, with no end in sight) at 655000. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has consistently reporteded ludicrously low figures when reporting any at all, claiming, e g, 30000 civilian dead «more or less» in December 2005, and dismissing the John Hopkins survey («I don't consider it a credible report») when it appeared nearly a year ago.]

      Although the household survey was carried out by a polling organisation, rather than researchers, it has again raised the spectre that the 2003 invasion has caused a far more substantial death toll than officially acknowledged.

    The article raises, to my mind, certain questions which go far beyond the boundaries of a tortured Iraq ;below, my brief response as posted to StumbleUpon :

The Chinese government allows Chinese oil companies to purchase oil from the Sudan and other Chinese companies to sell small arms to the Sudanese government, at the same time that a war among several so-called «rebel groups» and other forces backed by the national government, in which as many as 2.5 million persons have been displaced and as many as 200000 killed, continues to rage. As Mr Greenspan now publically admits, the US and the UK have invaded Iraq to ensure control over Southwest Asian oil supplies ; in the course of that conflict, at least four million persons have been displaced, and over one million killed. Some enthusiasts have therefore characterised the Olympic Games to be held in China next year as the «genocide Olympics», a characterisation which resonates strongly in the mainstream media, while those who dare to suggest that something resembling genocide - at the very least, mass murder on a scale not seen since the end of the US adventure in Indochina some 30 years ago - in these same media are disparaged as «conspiracy theorists» and «anti-American» (here «American» does not refer to all habitants of the twin continents of North and South America, but merely to that small proportion who happen to reside in the USA). Go figure !...


Bringing «democracy» to Iraq - General Taguba's report and its aftermatch

17 June 2007.
  • Once again, Seymour Hersh has lifted the veil intended to disguise the nature of the «democracy» that the United States has been bringing to various fortunate countries around the world during the four decades he has been covering its vagaries, from his account of the massacre at My Lai to his articles on US plans to bomb Iran and now in the latest issue of the New Yorker, The general's report, an account of the fate of the report prepared by Major General Antonio Taguba on the torture of Iraqi prisoners carried out at Abu Ghraib, the consequences of the report for General Taguba's career, and - which is our theme here although Mr Hersh never addresses it directly - the nature of the «democracy» bestowed not only upon Iraq, but also upon the armed forces of the United States and, I submit, the United States as a whole.

      I learned from Taguba that the first wave of materials included descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees. Several of these images, including one of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts, have since surfaced; others have not. (Taguba’s report noted that photographs and videos were being held by the C.I.D. because of ongoing criminal investigations and their “extremely sensitive nature.”) Taguba said that he saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” The video was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it. Such images would have added an even more inflammatory element to the outcry over Abu Ghraib. “It’s bad enough that there were photographs of Arab men wearing women’s panties,” Taguba said.

    (Here, I can't help recalling a conversation with another participant on a web forum I used to frequent, who felt that the treatment accorded prisoners at Abu Ghraib could by no means be considered torture, and forcing people to wear women's panties wasn't so bad....)

      In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.”

      Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”

      Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, “it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge.” As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, “I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them”; at the House hearing, he said, “I didn’t see them until last night at 7:30.” Asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs, Rumsfeld said:

        There were rumors of photographs in a criminal prosecution chain back sometime after January 13th . . . I don’t remember precisely when, but sometime in that period of January, February, March. . . . The legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn’t proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn’t know, and you didn’t know, and I didn’t know.

      “And, as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are,” Rumsfeld said.

      Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said. Rumsfeld’s lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S.—Can’t Remember Shit. He’s trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves.” It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.


      Taguba learned that in August, 2003, as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was gaining force, the Pentagon had ordered Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantánamo, to Iraq. His mission was to survey the prison system there and to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence. The core of Miller’s recommendations, as summarized in the Taguba report, was that the military police at Abu Ghraib should become part of the interrogation process: they should work closely with interrogators and intelligence officers in “setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.”

      Taguba concluded that Miller’s approach was not consistent with Army doctrine, which gave military police the overriding mission of making sure that the prisons were secure and orderly. His report cited testimony that interrogators and other intelligence personnel were encouraging the abuse of detainees. “Loosen this guy up for us,” one M.P. said he was told by a member of military intelligence. “Make sure he has a bad night.”

      The M.P.s, Taguba said, “were being literally exploited by the military interrogators. My view is that those kids”—even the soldiers in the photographs—“were poorly led, not trained, and had not been given any standard operating procedures on how they should guard the detainees.”


      Despite the subsequent public furor over Abu Ghraib, neither the House nor the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings led to a serious effort to determine whether the scandal was a result of a high-level interrogation policy that encouraged abuse. At the House Committee hearing on May 7, 2004, a freshman Democratic congressman, Kendrick Meek, of Florida, asked Rumsfeld if it was time for him to resign. Rumsfeld replied, “I would resign in a minute if I thought that I couldn’t be effective. . . . I have to wrestle with that.” But, he added, “I’m certainly not going to resign because some people are trying to make a political issue out of it.” (Rumsfeld stayed in office for the next two and a half years, until the day after the 2006 congressional elections.) When I spoke to Meek recently, he said, “There was no way Rumsfeld didn’t know what was going on. He’s a guy who wants to know everything, and what he was giving us was hard to believe.”


      Later that month, Rumsfeld appeared before a closed hearing of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which votes on the funds for all secret operations in the military. Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat at the hearing, told me that he had been angry when a fellow subcommittee member “made the comment that ‘Abu Ghraib was the price of defending democracy.’ I said that wasn’t the way I saw it, and that I didn’t want to see some corporal made into a scapegoat. This could not have happened without people in the upper echelon of the Administration giving signals. I just didn’t see how this was not systemic.”

      Obey asked Rumsfeld a series of pointed questions. Taguba attended the closed hearing with Rumsfeld and recalled him bristling at Obey’s inquiries. “I don’t know what happened!” Rumsfeld told Obey. “Maybe you want to ask General Taguba.”

      Taguba got a chance to answer questions on May 11th, when he was summoned to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under-Secretary Stephen Cambone sat beside him. (Cambone was Rumsfeld’s point man on interrogation policy.) Cambone, too, told the committee that he hadn’t known about the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib until he saw Taguba’s report, “when I was exposed to some of those photographs.”

      Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, tried to focus on whether Abu Ghraib was the consequence of a larger detainee policy. “These acts of abuse were not the spontaneous actions of lower-ranking enlisted personnel,” Levin said. “These attempts to extract information from prisoners by abusive and degrading methods were clearly planned and suggested by others.” The senators repeatedly asked about General Miller’s trip to Iraq in 2003. Did the “Gitmo-izing” of Abu Ghraib—especially the model of using the M.P.s in “setting the conditions” for interrogations—lead to the abuses?

      Cambone confirmed that Miller had been sent to Iraq with his approval, but insisted that the senators were “misreading General Miller’s intent.” Questioned on that point by Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, Cambone said, “I don’t know that I was being told, and I don’t know that General Miller said that there should be that kind of activity that you are ascribing to his recommendation.”

      Reed then asked Taguba, “Was it clear from your reading of the [Miller] report that one of the major recommendations was to use guards to condition these prisoners?” Taguba replied, “Yes, sir. That was recommended on the report.”


      The Army also protected General Miller. Since 2002, F.B.I. agents at Guantánamo had been telling their superiors that their military counterparts were abusing detainees. The F.B.I. complaints were ignored until after Abu Ghraib. When an investigation was opened, in December, 2004, General Craddock, Rumsfeld’s former military aide, was in charge of the Army’s Southern Command, with jurisdiction over Guantánamo—he had been promoted a few months after Taguba’s visit to Rumsfeld’s office. Craddock appointed Air Force Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, a straight-talking fighter pilot, to investigate the charges, which included alleged abuses during Miller’s tenure.

      “I followed the bread-crumb trail,” Schmidt, who retired last year, told me. “I found some things that didn’t seem right. For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantánamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib.”

      Schmidt found that Miller, with the encouragement of Rumsfeld, had focussed great attention on the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was believed to be the so-called “twentieth hijacker.” Qahtani was interrogated “for twenty hours a day for at least fifty-four days,” Schmidt told investigators from the Army Inspector General’s office, who were reviewing his findings. “I mean, here’s this guy manacled, chained down, dogs brought in, put in his face, told to growl, show teeth, and that kind of stuff. And you can imagine the fear.”

      At Guantánamo, Schmidt told the investigators, Miller “was responsible for the conduct of interrogations that I found to be abusive and degrading. The intent of those might have been to be abusive and degrading to get the information they needed. . . . Did the means justify the ends? That’s fine. . . . He was responsible.”

      At another point, after Taguba confirmed that military intelligence had taken control of the M.P.s following Miller’s visit, Levin questioned Cambone:

        LEVIN: Do you disagree with what the general just said?
        CAMBONE: Yes, sir.
        LEVIN: Pardon?
        CAMBONE: I do.

      Taguba, looking back on his testimony, said, “That’s the reason I wasn’t in their camp—because I kept on contradicting them. I wasn’t about to lie to the committee. I knew I was already in a losing proposition. If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose.”

    What the consequences were for the prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere) of the policies put into effect at the highest levels of the US government we know : torture, degradation, and in some cases, death. What then, were the consequences of his report for General Takuba ?

      In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.” (A spokesperson for Cody said, “Conversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.”)

      “They always shoot the messenger,” Taguba told me. “To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.”

      Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff”—the explicit images—“was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.” He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

      “From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

    The conclusions to be drawn from all this are, as always, up to the reader ; as Mr Hersh's story makes abundantly clear, the dictates of conscience vary from individual to individual. My own conclusions are made plain in my posting to StumbleUpon, below :

I am surprised by and full of admiration for the courage, honesty, and sense of duty exhibited by General Taguba. Alas, his fate shows that he is hardly representative of those who man (all those mentioned in Seymour Hersh's report are men) the higher echelons of the US Armed Forces and the US Government, whose performance has been distincly less than impressive. But who among us is surprised at this fact ? It is General Taguba who is the anomaly, not those who ordered or who performed the torture at Abu Ghraib - or Guantánamo or the secret prisons maintained by the CIA in Eastern Europe, Mauritius, etc, etc. A fish rots from the head, as the saying goes, and this one has been stinking for a long, long time....


Chalmers Johnson on ending the Empire - the time is now !

15 May 2007.
  • As humans, we exhibit a propensity to compare and order more or less disparate entities into categories and, within each category, to make choices as to the excellence of the elements found therein. We see this in everything from the Nobel prizes awarded annually to persons judged to have, in their respective fields, «during the preceding year, ... conferred the greatest benefit on mankind», to Miss XX contests, and judgements as to the «100 best books of the last 1000 years». That such rankings, despite more or less serious attempts to lend them some sort of universal validity and objectivity, are deeply subjective is obvious upon even the most cursory consideration. But if I were to dare to take upon myself the parlous enterprise of selecting candidates for the «best» political article of 2007 after scarcely more than four and a half months of that year have passed, I should place my bets on Professor Chalmers Johnsons's Ending the Empire, published today on Tom Engelhardt's invaluable TomDispatch. Below, slightly edited, the letter of appreciation that I sent to Tom :
Dear Tom,
Just as I thought you would, you - and Tom Dispatch - have come up with the goods - and in so brilliant and timely a fashion ! But then again, you could hardly have had better help : Professor Johnson seems to be one of the few (several other names, among them those of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, come also to mind) in the United States able to grasp the uncomfortable truth - that the current problem cannot be reduced to one of the persons of Messrs Bush and Cheney, as many would have it, nor can it be adequately addressed by a simple change in the political party in power, even if that must be a part of any solution. The issue, rather, is the much larger one of Republic or Empire, Democracy at home or Tyranny both at home and abroad. As Professor Johnson puts it :
    ... the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. Even now, the Democratic majority remains reluctant to use its power of the purse to cut off funding for the war, thereby ending the American occupation of Iraq and starting to curtail the ever-growing power of the military-industrial complex. ...

It is you, the residents of the United States who must make this fearful choice ; we in the rest of the world have little say in the matter, as our ability to resist the military power exercised in your name is limited, and attempts to do so risk setting off the very conflagration we wish to avoid. Or, in Professor Johnson's words :
    The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.
    For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
    The American approach to diplomatic relations with the rest of the world would also require a major overhaul. We would have to end our belligerent unilateralism toward other countries as well as our scofflaw behavior regarding international law.
    In terms of the organization of the executive branch, we need to rewrite the National Security Act of 1947, taking away from the CIA all functions that involve sabotage, torture, subversion, overseas election rigging, rendition, and other forms of clandestine activity. The president should be deprived of his power to order these types of operations except with the explicit advice and consent of the Senate. The CIA should basically devote itself to the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence. We should eliminate as much secrecy as possible so that neither the CIA, nor any other comparable organization ever again becomes the president's private army.
    Normally, a proposed list of reforms like this would simply be rejected as utopian. I understand this reaction. I do want to stress, however, that failure to undertake such reforms would mean condemning the United States to the fate that befell the Roman Republic and all other empires since then. That is why I gave my book Nemesis the subtitle "The Last Days of the American Republic."

    When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "evil empire," he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will "win" or -- even more improbably -- "follow us home." I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

To those who ask «What is to be done ?», Professor Johnson has spelled out the alternatives clearly. Will it be done ? I am not optimistic. But thank you once again for publishing Professor Johnson's clear-sighted and moving analysis....



The repository of political virtue

  • Professor Ira Chernus' article, originally published the day before yesterday under the title Will we suffer from the Iraq syndrome? Beware of the boomerang on Tom Dispatch and a day later under the truncated title Beware the Iraqi boomerang on the Asia Times website, provides us with a brief, but thought provoking analysis of the what may be the future development of a polymorphic «Vietnam syndrome», one in which the so-called «backlash» is far more powerful than the «syndrome» itself. Professor Chernus writes :

      The very idea of such a «syndrome» implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war. It also suggested that there was something pathological in a post-war fear of taking our arms and aims abroad, that America had indeed become (in Richard Nixon's famous phrase) a «pitiful, helpless giant», a basket case.


      Iraq -- both the war and the «syndrome» to come -- could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach us. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might -- after a pause -- again push our politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking «security».

    What put an end to the US war on Indochina was not a sudden revulsion on the part of the citizens and residents of the United States for the death and destruction wreaked in their name on the peoples of Indochina, but a gradually increasing unwillingness to accept the growing costs of the war upon themselves, and the realisation on the part of their leaders that the war, which by that time had long since attained its primary objective - that of making excruciating clear to all the costs of pursuing a course of development opposed by the economic and political of the United States - was now destroying the country's army and indeed, the elite's ability to manipulate public opinion. «Cutting and running» - after placing the responsibility for maintaining an illusory balance of power on an equally illusory Government of the Republic of Vietnam, etc, and dropping extra plane-loads of bombs and napalm on the Indochinese peoples to give further expression to US displeasure - became the better part of valour, and we saw those shots of helicopters departing in unseemly haste from the symbolic places of US power in Vietnam. But as in Germany after WWI, the elite could not accept the fact that their reach had, however slightly, exceeded their grasp - and a new, US version of the old stab-in-the-back theory was launched, the more easily believed by a people who have been carefully taught to believe that the US exercise of power, in particular military power, in foreign lands is always an act of virtue, and that virtue - the good guys - always wins in the end, unless its purpose is subverted by traitors - the bad guys - at home. And so, as Professor Chernus writes, «[t]he desire to 'cure' the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the nation's life»....

    If all this sounds distressingly familiar, it should, and it tends to demonstrate the validity of the aphorism that the only thing we learn from history is the fact that we learn nothing from history. Is it our primate genes that make us constitutionally incapable of controlling our greed and our lust for power, our self-serving gullibility, and our propensity for violence on a scale unknown to other species ? I do not know, but here below the letter I sent to the Asia Times (with a copy, as usual, to StumbleUpon) regarding Professor Chernus' article :

The residents and citizens of the USA and the rest of the world are doomed to repeat the events of recent history, until either the former learn to accept that the United States is not the unique repository of global political virtue or until a general conflagration puts and end to human life on the planet - whichever happens first. You pays your money and you takes your choice....


The dirty deed is done ?

23 february 2007.

  • Even so sycophantic a journal as the Washington Post has been forced to admit - and not merely in an article by a so-called «liberal» commentator (cf Dan Froomkin's A Ludicrous Attempt at Spin), but in a news article, appropriately entitled Ally's Timing Is Awkward for Bush, that things are not going quite as well for the imperial alliance as certain of its strategists might wish :

      As the British announced the beginning of their departure from Iraq yesterday, President Bush's top foreign policy aide proclaimed it "basically a good-news story." Yet for an already besieged White House, the decision was doing a good job masquerading as a bad-news story.

    But for a deeper analysis of what is going on, from a British point of view, Patrick Cockburn's Independent is a must read. What Mr Cockburn doesn't treat, however, is why the Bush-Cheney regime, like that of the egregious Mr Blair, doesn't finally bow to the public will (which admittedly means little to this particular regime) and get out. My analysis, for what it is worth, is to be found in the brief response I posted to StumbleUpon :

As usual, Mr Cockburn dispels the vapours produced by the spinmeisters regarding the British retreat from the Hell that they, as minor partners in the Empire, have managed to make of Iraq. The Danes, smelling with their sensitive hound noses, have drawn the same same conclusions, and are also moving to get out before the final collapse. But Messers Cheney and Bush, who tout the British retreat of proof of how well things are going in that lacerated land, will remain, for at least three reasons : 1) the money being made by contractors for arms and mercenaries, 2) to be able to blame the (limp) opposition (the Democratic Party) for the debacle, and 3)to make sure that Iraq does not, through some major miracle, avoid the descent into a bellum omnium contra omnes, i e, that the Iraqis themselves, the US, UK, Polish, Danish, etc invasion and interference brought to an end, might just be able to save their country from total destruction. But that destruction - the removal of Iraq as a threat to the regional hegemony of the appointed satrap, the state of Israel - was the major strategic goal of the invasion, and the US will not leave until the strategist are absolutely certain that Iraq has gone beyond the tipping point....