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.

Washington?s Hypocrisies

By Paul Craig Roberts

May 27, 2012 “Information Clearing House” –The US government is the second worst human rights abuser on the planet and the sole enabler of the worst?Israel. But this doesn?t hamper Washington from pointing the finger elsewhere.
The US State Department?s ?human rights report? focuses its ire on Iran and Syria, two countries whose real sin is their independence from Washington, and on the bogyman- in-the-making?China, the country selected for the role of Washington?s new Cold War enemy.
Hillary Clinton, another in a long line of unqualified Secretaries of State, informed ?governments around the world: we are watching, and we are holding you accountable,? only we are not holding ourselves accountable or Washington?s allies like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the NATO puppets. Continue reading “Washington?s Hypocrisies”

RUSSIA, CHINA VETO. NATO/GCC plans to 'roll back' Syria thwarted

By rahnuma ahmed

The last two months plus flashed by as I burned the midnight oil, working on three manuscripts, intended for Boi Mela 2012. While it is true that I’ve accomplished a lot, there are still chunks left that need to be done, which means they will not make it to the book fair. But hey, no regrets. Viewing the book fair as a goal post helped spur my work, but the Mela is not a train one needs to catch, not at the cost of the quality of the product. Printing mistakes, atrocious ones in the case of Oitijjo’s publication of Rabindranath’s works this year, have created a heightened sense of awareness about the quality of the ?books published. I watched Shamsuzzaman Khan, director-general of Bangla Academy, and Sanjida Khatun, torch-bearer of Tagore, caution publishers on TV news to not reduce the national book fair into a mindless race of touching the February goal post.
No regrets about not making it to the book fair, true, but I missed writing my columns. Sorely. Out of touch with the world, one where western leaders and their Gulf monarchical collaborators attempt to implement their plans of a ‘New Middle-East’ map, instead of the older, ‘Greater Middle East’? (The Unfolding Crisis in Pakistan-III. “New Imperial Cartographies. Destroying and Re-creating National Boundaries,” New Age, May 18, 2009).
The term was introduced by the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in a Tel Aviv press conference in July 2006, ?[w]hat we?re seeing here [in regards to the destruction of Lebanon and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon], in a sense, is the growing?the ?birth pangs??of a ?New Middle East? and whatever we do we [meaning the United States] have to be certain that we?re pushing forward to the New Middle East [and] not going back to the old one.” (full citation, with the additions in square brackets, from Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a ?New Middle East?, Global Research, November 18, 2006).
“Creative destruction”, in the words of neo-conservative philosopher and Bush adviser Michael Ledeen, is “an awesome revolutionary force.” And, as Nazemroaya elaborates, it “generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region” — extending from “Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the borders of NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan,” and, might I add, drone-attacked Pakistan — so that the United States, Britain and Israel can redraw the map of the Middle East, to further their “geo-strategic needs and objectives.”

Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution on Syria calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. February 4, 2012.

Continue reading “RUSSIA, CHINA VETO. NATO/GCC plans to 'roll back' Syria thwarted”

?Get Out, Black Animals?: what happened in Tawergha, Libya

Media Lens, London, 18 January 2012
One might think that a corporate media system would act independently of the state ? there is no formal mechanism of control. But as the ingrained bias sampled above indicates, this often turns out not to be the case. With regard to human rights, for example, corporate media typically do not simply pick a subject and lavish it with attention. Rather, political power selects an issue, frames the coverage, and media corporations jump on the bandwagon.
Type a household name like ?Halabja? into the UK media database search engine Lexis-Nexis, for example, and it produces more than 1,800 references to Saddam Hussein?s 1988 gassing of Kurds. Similarly, the words ?Srebrenica? and ?massacre? generate nearly 3,000 hits. Both issues have been afforded vast, impassioned coverage.
In truth, for Western commentators, the importance of these horrors is most often rooted, not in the scale of suffering inflicted, but in their utility for justifying the West?s military interventions. Thus an editorial in the Independent observed of Libya:
?Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.? (Leading article, ?The mission that crept,? Independent, July 29, 2011) Continue reading “?Get Out, Black Animals?: what happened in Tawergha, Libya”

Dead men tell no tales

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By Vijay Prashad

21 October 2011 ??The Greanville Post ? Qaddafi, From Beginning to End
NATO?s Agenda for?Libya
gaddafi.jpgOn the dusty reaches out of Sirte, a convoy flees a battlefield. A NATO aircraft fires and strikes the cars. The wounded struggle to escape. Armed trucks, with armed fighters, rush to the scene. They find the injured, and among them is the most significant prize: a bloodied Muammar Qaddafi stumbles, is captured, and then is thrown amongst the fighters. One can imagine their exhilaration. A cell-phone traces the events of the next few minutes. A badly injured Qaddafi is pushed around, thrown on a car, and then the video gets blurry. The next images are of a dead Qaddafi. He has a bullet hole on the side of his head.
These images go onto youtube almost instantly. They are on television, and in the newspapers. It will be impossible not to see them.
The Third Geneva Convention (article 13): ?Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.?
The Fourth Geneva Convention (article 27): ?Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.?
One of the important ideological elements during the early days of the war in Libya was the framing of the arrest warrant for Qaddafi and his clique by the International Criminal Court?s selectively zealous chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. It was enough to have press reports of excessive violence for Moreno Ocampo and Ban Ki-Moon to use the language of genocide; no independent, forensic evaluation of the evidence was necessary. [Actually, independent evaluation was soon forthcoming from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, decisively debunking Ocampo?s charges. AC/JSC.]
NATO sanctimoniously said that it would help the ICC prosecute the warrant (this despite the fact that the United States, NATO?s powerhouse, is not a member of the ICC). This remark was echoed by the National Transitional Council, NATO?s? political instrument in Benghazi.
Humanitarian intervention was justified on the basis of potential or alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions. The intervention?s finale is? a violation of those very Conventions.
It would? have been inconvenient to see Qaddafi in open court. He had long abandoned his revolutionary heritage (1969-1988), and had given himself over to the U. S.-led War on Terror at least since 2003 (but in fact since the late 1990s). Qaddafi?s prisons had been an important torture center in the archipelago of black sites utilized by the CIA, European intelligence and the Egyptian security state. What stories Qaddafi might have told if he were allowed to speak in open court? What stories Saddam Hussein might have told had he too been allowed to speak in an open court? As it happens, Hussein at least entered a courtroom, even as it was more kangaroo than judicial.
No such courtroom for Qaddafi. As Naeem Mohaiemen put it, ?Dead men tell no tales. They cannot stand trial. They cannot name the people who helped them stay in power. All secrets die with them.
Qaddafi is dead. As the euphoria dies down, it might be important to recall that we are dealing with at least two Qaddafis. The first Qaddafi overthrew a lazy and corrupt monarchy in 1969, and proceeded to transform Libya along a fairly straightforward national development path. There were idiosyncrasies, such as Qaddafi?s ideas about democracy that never really produced institutions of any value. Qaddafi had the unique ability to centralize power in the name of de-centralization. Nevertheless, in the national liberation Qaddafi certainly turned over large sections of the national surplus to improve the well-being of the Libyan people. It is because of two decades of such policies that the Libyan people entered the 21st century with high human development indicators. Oil helped, but there are oil nations (such as Nigeria) where the people languish in terms of their access to social goods and to social development.
By 1988, the first Qaddafi morphed into the second Qaddafi, who set aside his anti-imperialism for collaboration with imperialism, and who dismissed the national development path for neo-liberal privatization (I tell this story in Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, which will be published by AK Press in the Spring of 2012). This second Qaddafi squandered the pursuit of well-being, and so took away the one aspect of his governance that the people supported. From the 1990s onward, Qaddafi?s regime offered the masses the illusion of social wealth and the illusion of democracy. They wanted more, and that is the reason for the long process of unrest that begins in the early 1990s (alongside the Algerian Civil War), comes to a head in 1995-96 and then again in 2006. It has been a long slog for the various rebellious elements to find themselves.
The new leadership of Tripoli was incubated inside the Qaddafi regime. His son, Saif al-Islam was the chief neoliberal reformer, and he surrounded himself with people who wanted to turn Libya into a larger Dubai. They went to work around 2006, but were disillusioned by the rate of progress, and many (including Mahmud Jibril, the current Prime Minister) had threatened to resign on several occasions. When an insurengy began in Benghazi, this clique hastened to join them, and by March had taken hold of the leadership of the rebellion. It remains in their hands.
What is being celebrated on the streets of Benghazi, Tripoli and the other cities? Certainly there is jubilation at the removal from power of the Qaddafi of 1988-2011. It is in the interests of NATO and Jibril?s clique to ensure that in this auto-da-f? the national liberation anti-imperialist of 1969-1988 is liquidated, and that the neoliberal era is forgotten, to be reborn anew as if not tried before. That is going to be the trick: to navigate between the joy of large sections of the population who want to have a say in their society (which Qaddafi blocked, and Jibril would like to canalize) and a small section that wants to pursue the neoliberal agenda (which Qaddafi tried to facilitate but could not do so over the objections of his ?men of the tent?). The new Libya will be born in the gap between the two interpretations.
The manner of Qaddafi?s death is a synecdoche for the entire war. NATO?s bombs stopped the convoy, and without them Qaddafi would probably have fled to his next redoubt. The rebellion might have succeeded without NATO. But with NATO, certain political options had to be foreclosed; NATO?s member states are in line now to claim their reward. However, they are too polite in a liberal European way to actually state their claim publically in a quid-pro-quo fashion. Hence, they say things like: this is a Libyan war, and that Libya must decide what it must do. This is properly the space into which those sections in the new Libyan power structure that still value sovereignty must assert themselves. The window for that assertion is going to close soon, as the deals get inked that lock Libya?s resources and autonomy into the agenda of the NATO states.
VIJAY PRASHAD?is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book,?The Darker Nations: A People?s History of the Third World,?won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at:?vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu