The message sent by America’s invisible victims

As two more Afghan children are liberated (from their lives) by NATO this weekend, a new film examines the effects of endless US aggression

guardian.co.uk,

Air strikes in Afghanistan killed 51 Afghan children in 2012, the UN report says

Air strikes in Afghanistan killed 51 Afghan children in 2012, the UN report says. Photograph: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Yesterday I had the privilege to watch Dirty Wars, an upcoming film directed by Richard Rowley that chronicles the investigations of journalist Jeremy Scahill into America’s global covert war under President Obama and specifically his ever-growing kill lists. I will write comprehensively about this film closer to the date when it and the book by the same namewill be released. For now, it will suffice to say that the film is one of the most important I’ve seen in years: gripping and emotionally affecting in the extreme, with remarkable, news-breaking revelations even for those of us who have intensely followed these issues. The film won awards at Sundance and rave reviews in unlikely places such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. But for now, I want to focus on just one small aspect of what makes the film so crucial.

The most propagandistic aspect of the US War on Terror has been, and remains, that its victims are rendered invisible and voiceless. They are almost never named by newspapers. They and their surviving family members are virtually never heard from on television. The Bush and Obama DOJs have collaborated with federal judges to ensure that even those who everyone admits are completely innocent have no access to American courts and thus no means of having their stories heard or their rights vindicated. Radical secrecy theories and escalating attacks on whistleblowers push these victims further into the dark.

It is the ultimate tactic of Othering: concealing their humanity, enabling their dehumanization, by simply relegating them to nonexistence. As Ashleigh Banfield put it her 2003 speech denouncing US media coverage of the Iraq war just months before she was demoted and then fired by MSNBC: US media reports systematically exclude both the perspectives of “the other side” and the victims of American violence. Media outlets in predominantly Muslim countries certainly report on their plight, but US media outlets simply do not, which is one major reason for the disparity in worldviews between the two populations. They know what the US does in their part of the world, but Americans are kept deliberately ignorant of it.

What makes Dirty Wars so important is that it viscerally conveys the effects of US militarism on these invisible victims: by letting them speak for themselves. Scahill and his crew travel to the places most US journalists are unwilling or unable to go: to remote and dangerous provinces in AfghanistanYemen and Somalia, all to give voice to the victims of US aggression. We hear from the Afghans whose family members (including two pregnant women) were slaughtered by US Special Forces in 2010 in the Paktia Province, despite being part of the Afghan Police, only for NATO to outright lie and claim the women were already dead from “honor killings” by the time they arrived (lies uncritically repeated, of course, by leading US media outlets).

Scahill interviews the still-traumatized survivors of the US cruise missile and cluster bomb attack in Southern Yemen that killed 35 women and children just weeks after Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. We see the widespread anger in Yemen over the fact that the Yemeni journalist who first exposed US responsibility for that attack, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was not only arrested by the US puppet regime but, as Scahill first reported, has been kept imprisoned to this very day at the direct insistence of President Obama. We hear from the grandfather of 16-year-old American teenager Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (he is also the father of US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki) – both before and after a CIA drone killed his son and then (two weeks later) his teenaged grandson who everyone acknowledges had nothing to do with terrorism. We hear boastful tales of summary executions from US-funded-and-directed Somali warlords.

There is an unmistakable and singular message sent by these disparate groups and events. It’s one particularly worth thinking about with news reports this morning that two more Afghan children have been killed by aNATO air attack.

The message is that the US is viewed as the greatest threat and that it is US aggression and violence far more than any other cause that motivates support for al-Qaida and anti-American sentiment. The son of the slain Afghan police commander (who is the husband of one of the killed pregnant woman and brother of the other) says that villagers refer to US Special Forces as the “American Taliban” and that he refrained from putting on a suicide belt and attacking US soldiers with it only because of the pleas of his grieving siblings. An influential Southern Yemeni cleric explains that he never heard of al-Qaida sympathizers in his country until that 2009 cruise missile attack and subsequent drone killings, including the one that ended the life of Abdulrahman (a claim supported by all sorts of data). The brutal Somali warlord explains that the Americans are the “masters of war” who taught him everything he knows and who fuel ongoing conflict. Anwar Awlaki’s transformation from moderate and peace-preaching American cleric to angry critic of the US is shown to have begun with the US attack on Iraq and then rapidly intensifying with Obama’s drone attacks and kill lists. Meanwhile, US military officials and officers interviewed by Scahill exhibit a sociopathic indifference to their victims, while Awlaki’s increasingly angry sermons in defense of jihad are juxtaposed with the very similar-sounding justifications of endless war from Obama.

The evidence has long been compelling that the primary fuel of what the US calls terrorism are the very policies of aggression justified in the name of stopping terrorism. The vast bulk of those who have been caught in recent years attempting attacks on the US have emphatically cited US militarism and drone killings in their part of the world as their motive. Evidence is overwhelming that what has radicalized huge numbers of previously peaceful and moderate Muslims is growing rage at seeing a continuous stream of innocent victims, including children, at the hands of the seemingly endless US commitment to violence.

The only way this clear truth is concealed is by preventing Americans from knowing about, let alone hearing from, the victims of US aggression. That concealment is what caused huge numbers of Americans to wander around in a daze after 9/11 innocently and bewilderingly wondering “why do they hate us”? – despite decades of continuous US interference, aggression, and violence-enabling in that part of the world. And it’s this concealment of these victims that causes Americans now to react to endless stories of the killing of innocent Muslims with the excuse that “we have to do something about the Terrorists” or “it’s better than a ground invasion” – without realizing that they’re affirming what Chris Hayes aptly describes as a false choice, and worse, without realizing that the very policies they’re cheering are not stopping the Terrorists at all but doing the opposite: helping the existing Terrorists and creating new ones.

To be fair, it’s not difficult to induce a population to avert its eyes from the victims of the violence they support: we all like to believe that we’re Good and peaceful people, and we particularly like to believe this about the leaders we elect, cheer and admire. Moreover, what the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole recently described as “the empathy gap” – thefailure to imagine how others will react to situations that would cause us (and have caused us) to be driven by rage and violence – means that the US government need not work all that hard to silence its victims: there is a pervasive desire to keep them out of sight.

Nonetheless, if Americans are going to support or even tolerate endless militarism, as they have been doing, then they should at least have to be confronted with their victims – if not on moral grounds then on pragmatic ones, to understand the effects of these policies. Based on the out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality, the US government and media have been incredibly successful in rendering those victims silent and invisible. Dirty Wars is a truly crucial tonic to that propaganda. At the very least, nobody who sees it and hears from the victims of US aggression will ever again wonder why there are so many people in the world who believe in the justifiability or even necessity of violence against the US.

Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder

A Pakistani protest in June 2012, after two recent US drone strikes killed 12 people. Photograph: SS Mirza/AFP/Getty
A Pakistani protest in June 2012, after two recent US drone strikes killed 12 people. Photograph: SS Mirza/AFP/Getty
In his first campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised to reverse the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism ? such as the use of torture, the rendition of terrorist suspects to CIA-run black sites around the globe, and the denial of basic legal rights to prisoners in Guant?namo ? and to develop a counterterrorism policy that was consistent with the legal and moral tradition of the United States.?In an address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in August 2007, Obama criticized the Bush administration for putting forward a “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand”, and swore to provide “our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our constitution and our freedom”.
As a candidate, Obama also promised to restore proper legislative and judicial oversight to counterterrorism operations. Rather than treat counterterrorism policy as an area of exception, operating without the normal safeguards that protect the rights of the accused, Obama promised that his approach “will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that?justice is not arbitrary.”
Four years later, it is clear that President Obama has delivered a very different counterterrorism policy from that which he promised on the campaign trail. (Full disclosure: I was an adviser on the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism expert group from July 2007-November 2008.) In fairness, he?has?delivered on a few of his promises, including closing the CIA-run “black site” prisons abroad and ordering that interrogations of all suspects be conducted according to the US army field manual, which proscribes?many of the tactics widely considered torture. And some failures were not wholly his own: Obama’s inability to close Guant?namo Bay was due more to congressional opposition and to an array of legal obstacles than to his own lack of initiative. Continue reading “Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder”

India in Afghanistan, Nation building or proxy war?

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At a time when Bangladesh is being asked (against the wishes of its citizens) to send troops to Afghanistan, an interesting article on the complex forces that are at play in the region.
related article: Sitting on a man’s back
By MATTHIEU AIKINS
Published1 October 2010
CARAVAN
Matthieu Aikins is a journalist whose feature writing and photography have appeared in such US, Canadian, British and Indian publications as Harper’s Magazine, the Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Coast, the Toronto Sun, The Caravan, Progress Magazine, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the Kingston Whig-Standard, Bad Idea Magazine, SAIL Magazine, and on CBC’s ‘The National’ and Global TV’s ‘National News’.
THEY WERE BOTH YOUNG. One had just the first wisps of hair on his cheeks, like an adolescent. The other was not much older, his short-trimmed beard caked with dried blood. There were gaping exit wounds in his shoulder, and in the pale skin of his belly, where his undershirt had been pulled up to reveal the damage. The two boys were lying dead amongst scattered bricks, at the feet of a crowd of gaping onlookers and journalists, in an abandoned construction site in Kabul.
?Where do you think they?re from?? a reporter asked the policeman who was taking a picture of the bodies with his cell phone, his assault rifle dangling from his other hand. The glaze of adrenaline still shone on the cop?s cheeks and eyes. ?Pakistan,? he said. ?Definitely not Afghans.? They always say that here, as if you could tell. They looked like Pashtuns, at least.
It was just one of several attacks in Kabul this summer, unremarkable in its execution and impact, but as a result, a series of extraordinary events had been triggered that would serve as a bellwether of India?s waning influence in Afghanistan. It was 29 May, the first day of the National Consultative Peace Jirga, and the two militants had managed to set up in the empty site and fire rockets at the Polytechnic University, the site of the peace jirga?a carefully stage-managed event that had brought handpicked tribal elders and civil society figures to endorse President Hamid Karzai?s plan to reconcile with the Taliban.
Karzai was furious that the jirga had been disrupted, in the middle of his inaugural speech, no less. One of the rockets had severed the leg of one of his personal bodyguards, and the two attackers had held out for several hours in a gun battle with police before finally being shot to death.
The following week, Karzai called a meeting with Hanif Atmar, the Minister of the Interior, and Amrullah Saleh, the chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS)? the Afghan intelligence service?where he accused them of deliberately failing to provide adequate security in order to undermine the jirga. In a heated exchange, both offered their resignations. It wasn?t the first time that either of them had offered their resignations in response to an angry outburst by Karzai, but this time the president accepted.
Continue reading “India in Afghanistan, Nation building or proxy war?”

IMPERIAL COWARDICE: Remote control killing in Pakistan

by?Rahnuma Ahmed

  • WAR is, said Major General Smedley Butler, twice-recipient of the Medal of Honour (1914, 1915), ?a racket?. He had seen it from close(st) quarters and had turned into an outspoken critic of the US military-industrial complex. Describing what his life?s efforts had been devoted to, he wrote:??I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents? (War is a Racket, 1935).
  •  Piloting a drone requires much less talent or experience than piloting a real plane. It is more like doing well in ?a video game?

    Piloting a drone requires much less talent or experience than piloting a real plane. It is more like doing well in ?a video game?

    If Smedley Butler was living, he?d probably have agreed with Peter Ustinov the playwright, who said recently, ?Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.?

  • If passions do not rage to transform hostilities into outright war, ?false flag? operations may be staged. The Japanese did not ?sneakily? attack Pearl Harbour. Their encryption codes had been broken and Washington knew what was going to happen. But the US president decided to withhold the information from his commanders at Pearl Harbour. One hundred and sixty-three American soldiers were killed, 396 wounded, 6 tank landing ships sank. Why? Roosevelt, so the story goes, wanted a piece of the war pie.
  • More recently, Iraq?s WMD myth was manufactured, packaged and presented. Aided by the Clinton administration?s deliberate sabotaging of UN weapons inspection in Iraq, it created the predictable western outrage needed to justify George Bush?s invasion of Iraq.The September 11 Twin Tower attacks have been dubbed the ?New? Pearl Harbour by the leader of the 9/11 Truth Movement, David Ray Griffin. The questions raised by the movement which remain unanswered in the government appointed committee report, speak of, at its best, the criminal negligence of the Bush administration; at its worst, complicity.
  • Obama?s expansion of push button execution
    IN HIS recent West Point speech, US president Barack Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, to fight al-Qaeda which had attacked the US on September 11th (in the words of Bush, it was a ?faceless? and ?cowardly? act), and is now operating in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Even though al-Qaeda?s members are now, according to James Jones, his national security adviser, as few as 100).
    What Obama did not mention was another decision that was taken to ?parallel? the troop surge in Afghanistan: an expansion in the CIA-led killer drone campaign in Pakistan. An act which will lead to more drone strikes against militants. More US spies in Pakistan. An increased CIA budget for its operations. And thereby, more of what critics term, ?push-button? executions. A state of affairs where the US administration is, Guantanamo-style, judge, jury, executioner ? all in one. These executions, or targeted assassinations, or extrajudicial killings are not executions, or targeted assassinations, or extrajudicial killings. The war on terror has changed all that. Terrorists are no longer criminals. They are combatants. Killing them is part of warfare. And the globe is the battlefield.
    In a recent New Yorker magazine article and in several interviews, Jane Mayer who has extensively researched on Predator drones informs us, there are two drone programmes, one is part of the US military-run programme, the other, is run by the CIA. The former, she says, is carried out transparently. There are after-action reports, there is a chain of command. But the CIA?s drone campaign is a ?secret targeted-killing program?, one that is executed in places where the US is not at war. ?It?s a whole new frontier in the use of force.? We don?t know, she says, who is on the target list? How do you get on the list? Can you get off the list? Who makes the list? And, eerily, Where is the battlefield? Where does the battlefield end?
    President Obama had promised ?change?, and there has been change in the drone attacks. In its first ten months his administration carried out as many drone attacks as did the Bush administration in its last three years. Drone strikes are a new hot favourite in US ruling circles for not ?risking a single American soldier on the ground? (Reuters), and less collateral damage than from an F-16. CIA director Leon E Panetta has called them ?the only game in town.? But reliable information on casualties is difficult to assess since the Zardari government does not allow anyone, neither journalists, nor aid groups into the area. According to a recently released New America study, ?Since 2006, our analysis indicates, 82 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have killed between 750 and 1,000 people. Among them were about 20 leaders of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied groups, all of whom have been killed since January 2008.? The rest of those killed? Footsoldiers in the militant organisations, or civilians.
    Piloting a drone requires much less talent or experience than piloting a real plane. It is more like doing well in ?a video game?, and is work that has been outsourced by the CIA to civilians, to those who are not even US government employees. While sitting at CIA headquarters in Langley (Virginia), a drone pilot can view and hone in on a target tens of thousands of miles away. Someone like, for instance, Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in Pakistan, who was killed in a drone assassination on August 5th this year. Live video feed captured by the infrared camera of an undetected Predator drone hovering two miles away had relayed close-up footage of Mehsud reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law?s house, in Zanghara (South Waziristan), on a hot summer night. The CIA remotely launched two Hellfire missiles from the Predator. ?After the dust cloud dissipated, all that remained of Mehsud was a detached torso. Eleven others died: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards.?
    But Mehsud ? targeted and assassinated to elicit the Zardari government?s support for these incursions into Pakistan?s sovereignty ? had not been an easy shoot. Mayer tells us, success came only after 16 strikes had been carried out over a period of 14 months, killing a total of 538 persons, of whom 200-300 were bystanders.
    But who cares for native deaths? The less the (American) body bags, the less the (American) blood spilled, the more likely the public acceptance of war. As for the drone pilots, as former congressperson for New York, James Walsh (R) had said ecstatically, it allows them to be ?literally fighting a war in Iraq and at the end of their shift be playing with their kids in Camillus.?
    And, why not? Who says ?gangster capitalism? contradicts with Western family values?
    ?Everything is permitted?

    HONOUR and war are said to be inseparable.
    I think, no longer. Virtual war is cowardly. For, as John Berger reminds us, there has never been a war in which disparity?the inequality of firepower?has been greater. On the one hand, satellite surveillance night and day, B52s, Tomahawk missiles, cluster bombs, shells with depleted uranium, computerised weapons. And increasingly, one sees the American dream materialise, a ?no-contact war?. On the other, sandbags, elderly men brandishing the pistols of their youth, wearing torn shirts and sneakers, armed with a few Kalashnikovs.
    What courage does the American warrior show through pushing his joystick while sitting in Langley? Should not the Medal of Honour be disbanded? Or better still, re-named Medal of Cowardice? For remote-control killings? Killings best-described in George Bush?s words, as ?faceless? acts?
  • And what about those who decide? Those who push the bigger joystick? In Shakespeare?s plays, says Stephen Greenblatt, the ruler serves as a model and a test case. ?If his actions go unpunished, then, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, everything is permitted.?
    Has everything already become permitted? For, as Macbeth had said, ?I am in blood; stepp?d insofar that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o?er.?
    First published in New Age on 7th December 2009