Gentrification Rears Its Racist Head: Ethnic Cleansing in San Francisco
By DON SANTINA
"They want to kick you out so they can build housing they know you can't afford and allow rich San Franciscans to enjoy it. They don't feel that poor Blacks or other people of color deserve to have a view like that." -- Appolonia Jordan, San Francisco Bayview
Alan Goodspeed was my next door neighbor in the Ingleside District on the south side of Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. He was a Black man from Marshall, Texas, who had moved to San Francisco during WWII and worked as a machinist for twenty five years in the shipyards of Hunters Point. Within that time, he bought a home and raised a family.
When Alan passed away a few years ago, working class Black people had already become an endangered species in San Francisco. According to a 2005 demographic study, there are probably less than 40,000 Black people left in the city. Back in the day when Alan and I changed the oil in our cars in adjoining driveways and jawed about whether Muhammad Ali would regain the title, there were almost 100,000 black people in San Francisco.
So, here in 2007, ethnic cleansing of the Black population in the city "where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars" is more than halfway to completion.
The Jobs at the Hunter's Point Ship Yards
By 1974, most the 8,500 jobs at the shipyards created during World War II were gone, and a decade later a petulant Navy scotched plans to homeport the nuclear-armed USS Missouri when City officials objected to footing the bill with no job guarantees for locals. The shipyards were closed, and the Navy pulled out, leaving forty years of highly toxic contaminants behind them, and a commitment to clean up their mess some time in the future.
Even as jobs at the shipyards were drying up, the Hunter's Point-Bayview neighborhood was a majority Black neighborhood, a vibrant community in southwestern San Francisco which was affordable and had spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. The slaughterhouses of "Butchertown" were gone, along with most of the auto wreckers, and although it was underserved and largely ignored by City officialdom (except for heavy-handed police presence), the neighborhood was hearth and home for thousands of Black Americans.
Gentrification Rears its Ugly Head
Fast forward twenty years from the Navy's retreat. San Francisco's housing dynamic has changed drastically. Home prices and rents have skyrocketed. A studio rents for $1,800 and a small condo fetches $650,000 to $800,000. The City's light industry has disappeared, and, while most of the dot commers dot come and dot gone, they were replaced by a new urban class of middle managers, hedge fund hustlers, fashion designers, bio-meds, money changers, paper brokers, and techies of all persuasions. Gentrification has metastasized throughout the City, spilling out of the central Victorian neighborhoods into the outlying frontiers, like Hunter's Point/Bayview.
Consequently, the public lands on which the shipyards once stood provided both lucrative opportunities for developers and desirable potential properties for the new yuppie class.
On the part of the shipyard now known as Parcel A, the bulldozers, scrapers and graders of the Lennar Corporation are hard at work, flattening a former hillside for new homes and condos. The original plan approved by the City included affordable rental units in the mix. However, those units have now been scrapped. Lennar reneged on the affordable housing part of the plan, claiming a lack of profitability.
Very few, if any, of the local residents will be able to afford the new residences and they will be forced out of this last corner of the City, as the prices go up around them. And, to add injury to insult, the asbestos dust being raised during construction is making the neighbors sick.
Dress Rehearsal in the Fillmore
To understand what's happening today at Hunter's Point, it is necessary to understand what happened in San Francisco's Fillmore District in the 1960's and 1970's. The Fillmore, often called the "Harlem of the West," was a center of Black culture in the decades following World War II. Like Tulsa in the early 1920's, the Fillmore was a flourishing home for thousands of Black people and hundreds of Black-owned markets, auto repair garages, barber shops, salons, restaurants, shoe repair shops, Laundromats, night clubs, and apparel stores. Among those businesses was the legendary Jimbo's Bop City, which featured performances by jazz immortals like Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane.
And then came something called Urban Renewal in the guise of a heavily-cloaked urban real estate operation called the Redevelopment Agency. When the RA was finished, the Fillmore was gone. The bulldozers had smashed and leveled block after block after block. The fabulous Fillmore looked like a bombed-out city in an old newsreel. And that's exactly what it was, displaced residents and all. The people who lived in the Fillmore were dispersed to the East Bay cities of Oakland, Richmond, and to Hunter's Point/Bayview. As the Redevelopment Agency smashed homes and businesses, it issued thousands of certificates of preference to the people of the Fillmore. These certificates were documents which gave the displaced businesses and families a promise of preference for renting or buying other redevelopment property within the City and the right to return to the neighborhood from which they'd been evicted.
Of the 883 certificates given to Black-owned businesses, only 39 resulted in other business locations. Of the 4,719 certificates given to families, only 1,099 certificates put families in other homes. Somehow, the Redevelopment Agency lost contact with 3,055 families and 590 businesses which held certificates of preference.
Today, the Fillmore is almost completely gentrified. Much of the neighborhood has been condo-ized and yuppified, replete with foo-foo restaurants and ersatz jazz festivals. However, a pocket of Black families remain in the neighborhood with enough young Black men to be targeted for a gang injunction from the City Attorney.
The Gangs of San Francisco
Most observers of Urban America agree that there appears to be a national program to target, arrest and warehouse young Black men into the "criminal justice"-- that is, prison industrial complex--system across the United States. Aside from the near genocidal effect of the proactive criminalization of an entire generation, this program also serves as a convenient method for clearing out the soon-to-be-lucrative neighborhoods of the former "inner cities," neighborhoods which will provide potential profit for hungry real estate and investment industries.
The City of Saint Francis is no exception to the rule. A recent study found that San Francisco police arrest African-Americans at a higher rate than any other city in California, even as the number of Black people living in the city diminishes. However, it seems that the simple policy of arresting young Black men is not efficient enough to move them out of town. They must also be kept from gathering in their own neighborhoods. Accordingly--in keeping with the continuing national dismemberment of the Constitution--the City Attorney of San Francisco has sought gang injunctions against a list of African American gangs in the Fillmore known as Eddy Rock, Chopper City, and Knockout Posse, along with some "gangs" in the Mission. Last year, the first injunction was granted against the alleged "Oakdale Mob" in Hunter's Point/Bayview.
Under these injunctions, alleged members of the alleged gangs are prohibited from meeting with each other in designated geographic locations, like, uh, their own neighborhoods. Aside from the questionable constitutionality of these injunctions, the fact remains that these injunctions literally drive non-white residents out of their own neighborhoods.
For the local folks who have some idea of what's going on, the irony of these court-ordered gang injunctions is that the most powerful, ruthless, and rapacious gang in San Francisco is glaringly absent from the City Attorney's list.
The Downtown Gang (AWDG)
Not surprisingly, the City Attorney's injunction list did not include the Downtown Gang, also known as the AWDG (All White Downtown Gang). These gang members virtually control all public policy in San Francisco, including who will live in the City and who will not.
How does one identify members of the Downtown Gang? Well, for starters, like members of all gangs, the AWDG hang out together: at museum galas, society do's, first nighters at the opera and the symphony, parties in Pacific Heights, winter in Tahoe, and so forth. But the best way to ID them is to use the old-fashioned follow-the-money method. Pick a politician, check out the big buck contributors, and then see whether the politician's policies benefit private sector profit or the public good. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to find a political spear carrier for the AWDG and then the AWDG member who owns and supplies the spears.
A textbook example is the current mayor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom, the extremely personable shill for all things rich and white in San Francisco, pulls all the levers and pushes all the buttons that put the policies of the AWDG into motion, which include sweeping out homeless people, lowering business taxes and continuing the privatization of public housing.
As a San Francisco supervisor, Newsome made his bones for the AWDG in 2002 by placing his "Care Not Cash" proposition on the ballot which would solve the problem of homeless people by slashing monthly welfare payments from $395 to $59 in return for a proposed system of "care." "Care Not Cash" would have flopped without the big buck effort behind it.
The campaign for the "Care Not Cash" proposition, known to homeless advocates as "Neither Care Nor Cash," was funded by a shadowy group called [SFSOS] who are they? use whole name not initials], which was founded by Warren Hellman, heir to the Wells Fargo fortune, Donald Fisher, the sweatshop king of the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy clothing empire, and Senator Diane Feinstein. Other original supporters included financial heavy hitters like Charles Schwab, William Hume, Feinstein's husband--the war profiteer, Richard Blum--and socialites like Dede Wilsey. In addition to its outright attack on the homeless, SFSOS also opposed the living wage campaign, affordable housing and tenant protection and supported re-segregation of the public schools system through charterization.
SFSOS and the AWDG won big in the ensuing election.
Read all of it here.
30 September 2007
Gentrification Rears Its Racist Head: Ethnic Cleansing in San Francisco
These three references following represent the state of the art in thinking on peak oil so far as I am concerned.
We now know that oil will peak within about five years (2012), partly because of a convergence of opinion among experts like Chris Skrebowski skilled at estimating the time needed to bring new finds to market. When the previously more optimistic international advisory body like the IEA agrees, the matter is pretty well proven to me. See Exhibit A. The problems are that the price peak is likely to hit sooner and the solutions prove slower and more difficult than most environmentalists anticipate.
ASPO conference confirms a peak in global oil production by 2012
by Douglas Low
A conference held in Cork, Ireland by the Association for the Study of Peak oil and Gas (ASPO) last week  heard representatives from industry forecast that the best data available data pointed to reserves of 250 billion barrels of yet-to-find global conventional oil, and as a result oil production would plateau at less than 100 million barrels per day before 2020.
This was followed up by a range of speakers who stated that current trends in bringing new projects onstream indicate that global oil production would peak on or before 2012, a forecast that coincides with the latest announcement from International Energy Agency that an oil crunch will occur by 2012 ...
Read all of it here.
This being the case, we could possibly imagine that we could have as much as five years to 2012 to ignore the fact that we are fossil fuel addicts in denial, and before the price goes up higher than average folks can easily afford. But if we believe this, we ignore the fact that newly prosperous producing nations like Saudi Arabia are using more of their oil themselves and exporting less, so that the actual real downturn for the rest of the world will happen sooner. Timing of the oil supply problem, reflecting the best thinking by retired federal energy analyst Tom Whipple, reflecting recent analysis on "The Oil Drum", etc. Exhibit B.
The peak oil crisis: Has the media become the message?
by Tom Whipple
With every passing month, evidence peak world oil production has either passed or is getting very close becomes stronger. Last week, the world peak oil conference in Ireland, heard that the best available data now suggests there may only be about 250 billion barrels of oil left to find rather than the generally accepted figure of 700 billion barrels put forth by the USCGS in 2000. Keep in mind that 250 billion barrels is only about eight years worth at our current 31 billion barrel per year rate of consumptions and that, should these billions of barrels actually be found, they will be extremely difficult to find and exploit.
Optimists at the peak oil conference believe world oil production can keep growing for perhaps another 15 years, but those who are calculating the likely balance between depletion from existing oil fields, and production from new fields believe that declines will set in within three.
Add to this the phenomenon of falling exports from the major oil producer countries, and we have a situation where problems may be only months away. Last week the CEO of the U.S. Shell Oil Company told an audience in New Orleans the U.S. may be only one hurricane away from an energy crisis.
Unfortunately, public and congressional recognition of this situation remains virtually zero. Progress on energy legislation currently is stalled as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile un-reconcilable bills. From the perspective of appreciating the danger we face, there are probably not more than dozen members of the current Congress who understand the urgency of the situation...
Read all of it here.
This finally brings us to the timing and economic constraints of responding to this oil supply crunch, and in terms of the problem of transfer of the economy to energy alternatives. Since the US imports and burns so much oil for transportation, the following reflects the best thinking focusing on transportation by federal consultant Robert Hirsch. Whereas the oil supply crisis is within a few years, transitions to alternatives on a wide scale have typically taken much longer than that, more like 1-2 decades. See Exhibit C.
PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION: IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT
Robert L. Hirsch, SAIC, Project Leader
Roger Bezdek, MISI
Robert Wendling, MISI
The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.
Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.
In 2003, the world consumed just under 80 million barrels per day (MM bpd) of oil. U.S. consumption was almost 20 MM bpd, two-thirds of which was in the transportation sector. The U.S. has a fleet of about 210 million automobiles and light trucks (vans, pick-ups, and SUVs). The average age of U.S. automobiles is nine years. Under normal conditions, replacement of only half the automobile fleet will require 10-15 years. The average age of light trucks is seven years. Under normal conditions, replacement of one-half of the stock of light trucks will require 9-14 years. While significant improvements in fuel efficiency are possible in automobiles and light trucks, any affordable approach to upgrading will be inherently time-consuming, requiring more than a decade to achieve significant overall fuel efficiency improvement...
Read all of it here. Full report available here (PDF format).
Alfonso Cuarón, director of "Children of Men", and Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo", present a short film from Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." For more, click here.
Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change." Milton Friedman
The Shock Doctrine by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein
If you thought you had reason to be paranoid in the '60s, you ain't seen nothing yet. And what's even more insulting is that it's really just more big corporate Amerikkka, with a little globalization thrown in (meaning that a lot of the technology of spying can be more cheaply acquired in overseas markets).
Tomgram: Turse, The Mean Streets of the Homeland Security State-let
Sometime during the demonstrations against the Republican National Convention, which renominated George W. Bush in August 2004, I went on a media protest march down the Valley of the Imperial Media, Sixth Avenue, in the Big Apple. I had certainly been on enough marches in my life, but I was amazed. Back in the Vietnam era, when the police photographed peaceful demonstrators, they tended to do it surreptitiously and out of uniform. Here, police in uniform with video cameras were proudly out in the open shooting what looked like continuous footage of us all. And that was the least of it. We demonstrators were surrounded by a veritable army of police, on horseback, on motorbike, on foot. As I wrote at the time:
"The 'march,' which you might want to imagine as a serpentine creature heading south on New York's Sixth Avenue, had actually been chopped into a series of one-block long segments by the New York Police Department. Each small segment was penned on its sides by moveable wooden barricades and on either end by the wheel-to-wheel bikes of a seemingly endless supply of mounted policemen backed up by all manner of police vehicles… To 'march,' that is, actually meant to step from pen to pen, hemmed in everywhere, your protest at the mercy of the timing, tactics, and desires of the police."
As a light would turn red, your group on your block would be cut off from the group behind and in front of you. There was never a moment when we weren't, quite literally, penned in. If this was the "freedom" to demonstrate, it managed to feel a lot like being jailed right out on the street.
And that was a modest experience indeed. Jennifer Flynn lived through something far more intense. As a recent Newsday piece put it: "Jennifer Flynn is not a rabble-rouser. She's not an aspiring suicide bomber. She doesn't advocate the overthrow of the government. Instead, she pushes for funding and better treatment for people with HIV and AIDS. Better keep an eye on her. Wait! Somebody already did."
The organization Flynn co-founded was organizing a rally near the Republican convention. The day before it was to be held, while visiting her family in New Jersey, she found her parents' house staked out and then herself followed by no less than three unmarked cars. She wrote down the license plate of one which, according to Newsday reporter Rocco Parascandola, was traced "back to a company -- Pequot Inc. -- and a post office box at an address far from the five boroughs [of New York City]. Registering unmarked cars to post office boxes outside the city or to shell companies is a common practice of law enforcement agencies to shield undercover investigators."
The New York Police Department has denied involvement, but as Nick Turse writes below, in the year before the convention, its undercover teams had traveled the country, Canada, and Europe, conducting covert surveillance of quite peaceful activists. In practice, this is part of what the Global War on Terror has meant here -- the granting of an endless license for the draconian to become part of normal life, of what passes for "safety."
"All we want are the facts, Ma'am," Sgt. Friday of Dragnet used to say on the TV screen of my childhood. Well, the facts now are that surveillance and "homeland security" add up to a massive, booming business (and not just in Iraq). Already our second defense department, the Department of Homeland Security, has sprouted a second, mini-military-industrial complex -- and it's not just a domestic matter either. When it comes to the profits associated with surveillance and the crackdown, Chinese surveillance companies, already raising money from U.S. institutional investors, are reportedly about to get their first foothold on the New York Stock Exchange.
Today, a world of "safety" that involves techniques and technology once associated with Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 is fast becoming life as we know (and accept) it. And there's more to come. Tom
NYC, the NYPD, the RNC, and Me: Fortress Big Apple, 2007
By Nick Turse
One day in August, I walked into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Nearly three years before I had been locked up, about two blocks away, in "the Tombs" -- the infamous jail then named the Bernard B. Kerik Complex for the now-disgraced New York City Police Commissioner. You see, I am one of the demonstrators who was illegally arrested by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) during the protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). My crime had been -- in an effort to call attention to the human toll of America's wars -- to ride the subway, dressed in black with the pallor of death about me (thanks to cornstarch and cold cream), and an expression to match, sporting a placard around my neck that read: WAR DEAD.
I was with a small group and our plan was to travel from Union Square to Harlem, change trains, and ride all the way back down to Astor Place. But when my small group exited the train at the 125th Street station in Harlem, we were arrested by a swarm of police, marched to a waiting paddy wagon and driven to a filthy detention center. There, we were locked away for hours in a series of razor-wire-topped pens, before being bussed to the Tombs.
Now, I was back to resolve the matter of my illegal arrest. As I walked through the metal detector of the Federal building, a security official searched my bag. He didn't like what he found. "You could be shot for carrying that in here," he told me. "You could be shot."
For the moment, however, the identification of that dangerous object I attempted to slip into the federal facility will have to wait. Let me instead back up to July 2004, when, with the RNC fast-approaching, I authored an article on the militarization of Manhattan -- "the transformation of the island into a 'homeland-security state'" -- and followed it up that September with a street-level recap of the convention protests, including news of the deployment of an experimental sound weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device, by the NYPD, and the department's use of an on-loan Fuji blimp as a "spy-in-the-sky." Back then, I suggested that the RNC gave New York's "finest," a perfect opportunity to "refine, perfect, and implement new tactics (someday, perhaps, to be known as the 'New York model') for use penning in or squelching dissent. It offered them the chance to write up a playbook on how citizens' legal rights and civil liberties may be abridged, constrained, and violated at their discretion."
Little did I know how much worse it could get.
Since then, the city's security forces have eagerly embraced an Escape From New York-aesthetic -- an urge to turn Manhattan into a walled-in fortress island under high-tech government surveillance, guarded by heavily armed security forces, with helicopters perpetually overhead. Beginning in Harlem in 2006, near the site of two new luxury condos, the NYPD set up a moveable "two-story booth tower, called Sky Watch," that gave an "officer sitting inside a better vantage point from which to monitor the area." The Panopticon-like structure -- originally used by hunters to shoot quarry from overhead and now also utilized by the Department of Homeland Security along the Mexican border -- was outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight, sensors, and four to five cameras. Now, five Sky Watch towers are in service, rotating in and out of various neighborhoods.
With their 20-25 neighborhood-scanning cameras, the towers are only a tiny fraction of the Big Apple surveillance story. Back in 1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that there were "2,397 cameras used by a wide variety of private businesses and government agencies throughout Manhattan" -- and that was just one borough. About a year after the RNC, the group reported that a survey of just a quarter of that borough yielded a count of more than 4,000 surveillance cameras of every kind. At about the same time, military-corporate giant Lockheed Martin was awarded a $212 million contract to build a "counter-terrorist surveillance and security system for New York's subways and commuter railroads as well as bridges and tunnels" that would increase the camera total by more than 1,000. A year later, as seems to regularly be the case with contracts involving the military-corporate complex, that contract had already ballooned to $280 million, although the system was not to be operational until at least 2008.
In 2006, according to a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) spokesman, the MTA already had a "3,000-camera-strong surveillance system," while the NYPD was operating "an additional 3,000 cameras" around the city. That same year, Bill Brown, a member of the Surveillance Camera Players -- a group that leads surveillance-camera tours and maps their use around the city, estimated, according to a Newsweek article, that the total number of surveillance cameras in New York exceeded 15,000 -- "a figure city officials say they have no way to verify because they lack a system of registry." Recently, Brown told me that 15,000 was an estimate for the number of cameras in Manhattan, alone. For the city as a whole, he suspects the count has now reached about 40,000.
This July, NYPD officials announced plans to up the ante. By the end of 2007, according to the New York Times, they pledged to install "more than 100 cameras" to monitor "cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States." This "Ring of Steel" scheme, which has already received $10 million in funding from the Department of Homeland Security (in addition to $15 million in city funds), aims to exponentially decrease privacy because, if "fully financed, it will include.... 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers" to monitor all those electronic eyes.
Spies in the Sky
At the time of the RNC, the NYPD was already mounted on police horses, bicycles, and scooters, as well as an untold number of marked and unmarked cars, vans, trucks, and armored vehicles, not to mention various types of water-craft. In 2007, the two-wheeled Segway joined its list of land vehicles.
Overhead, the NYPD aviation unit, utilizing seven helicopters, proudly claims to be "in operation 24/7, 365," according to Deputy Inspector Joseph Gallucci, its commanding officer. Not only are all the choppers outfitted with "state of the art cameras and heat-sensing devices," as well as "the latest mapping, tracking and surveillance technology," but one is a "$10 million 'stealth bird,' which has no police markings -- [so] that those on the ground have no idea they are being watched."
Asked about concerns over intrusive spying by members of the aviation unit -- characterized by Gallucci as "a bunch of big boys who like big expensive toys" -- Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly scoffed. "We're not able to, even if we wanted, to look into private spaces," he told the New York Times. "We're looking at public areas." However, in 2005, it was revealed that, on the eve of the RNC protests, members of the aviation unit took a break and used their night-vision cameras to record "an intimate moment" shared by a "couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse."
Despite this incident, which only came to light because the same tape included images that had to be turned over to a defendant in an unrelated trial, Kelly has called for more aerial surveillance. The commissioner apparently also got used to having the Fuji blimp at his disposal, though he noted that "it's not easy to send blimps into the airspace over New York." He then "challenged the aerospace industry to find a solution" that would, no doubt, bring the city closer to life under total surveillance.
Read the rest here.
BACK IN IRAQ: THE 'WHORES OF WAR'
America’s hired guns in Iraq have been called ‘the coalition of the billing’, but Blackwater mercenaries are accused of more than just taking the money. Investigations Editor Neil Mackay examines the links between the security firm and the US political elite
EVEN FOR Blackwater, it was an atrocity too far. If an Iraqi government report is to be believed, Blackwater, a US mercenary company which is unofficially the world's largest "for hire" private army, indiscriminately and without provocation opened fire earlier this month on civilians in a Baghdad street, killing at least 20 people.
Iraq immediately revoked the firm's licence to operate in the country and moved to expel its staff and prosecute those responsible for the shootings, but Blackwater's activities have since resumed.
This coincides with the release of a US Embassy report on the September 16 shooting, obtained by the Washington Post and described by a State Department official as a "first blush" account. It details the events, as given by Blackwater guards, and has stirred controversy in Iraq and Washington and prompted an inquiry into the role of Blackwater and other private security firms in Iraq.
According to Blackwater, its mercenaries, known as mercs, were guarding a diplomatic convoy when it came under fire. The Iraqi government, however, insists there was no ambush and that Blackwater troops fired at a car when it failed to stop.
"There was no shooting against the convoy," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman. "There was no fire from anyone." Dabbagh said that after opening fire on a couple and a child in a car the guards "started shooting randomly". The family were incinerated in the car.
It is not the first time Blackwater has been at the centre of controversy. But what is Blackwater? Who owns it? And why would the former soldiers working for it think they could get away with murder in broad daylight?
Despite being implicated in several controversial killings, the company is the Pentagon's most favoured contractor and has effective diplomatic immunity in Iraq. Referred to as "the most powerful mercenary army in the world", both the US ambassador to Iraq and the army's top generals hold it in regard.
On Christmas Eve last year, a Blackwater employee allegedly shot dead the bodyguard of one of Iraq's vice-presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi. The Blackwater employee had been drinking heavily in the Green Zone and tried to enter an area where Iraqi officials lived. After the killing, he left Iraq without facing prosecution. In May this year, a Blackwater employee shot dead an Iraqi civilian who was said to be driving too close to a security convoy. The company insisted the guard acted lawfully.
The company, based near the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina, was co-founded by Erik Prince, a billionaire right-wing fundamentalist. At its HQ, Blackwater has trained more than 20,000 mercenaries to operate as freelancers in wars around the world. Prince is a big bankroller of the Republican Party - giving a total of around $275,550 - and was a young intern in the White House of George Bush Sr. Under George Bush Jr, Blackwater received lucrative no-bid contracts for work in Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. His firm has pulled down contracts worth at least $320 million in Iraq alone.
Jeremy Scahill, who wrote the book Blackwater: The Rise Of The World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, says when Bush was re-elected in 2004, one company boss sent this email to staff: "Bush Wins, Four More Years!! Hooyah!!"
One Blackwater employment policy is to hire ex-administration big-hitters into key positions. It hired Cofer Black, a former State Department co-ordinator for counter-terrorism and former head of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre, as vice-chairman. Robert Richer, a former CIA divisional head, joined Blackwater as vice-president of intelligence in 2005.
Scahill says the firm is "the front line in what the Bush administration views as the necessary revolution in military affairs" - privatisation of as many roles as possible. Senator John Warner, former head of the Senate armed services committee, once called Blackwater the "silent partner in the global war on terror".
Scahill went on to call Prince a "neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts this is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world. He refers to Blackwater as the FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves."
Although the company was set up in 1996, it wasn't until 2004 that the world really took notice of it. On March 31 that year, four Blackwater mercs foolishly drove through Fallujah - an insurgent stronghold. They were shot, hauled from their cars, burned, mutilated, dragged through the streets and bits of their bodies were hung from a bridge (dubbed the Blackwater Bridge).
At least 22 Blackwater mercs have died in Iraq. To date more than 428 contractors working for more than two dozen firms have died there.
In January this year, five Blackwater mercs died when one of the firm's helicopters (Blackwater has a private fleet of 20 planes and helicopter gunships) was shot down in Baghdad. It later emerged that four of the five crew were found with execution-style bullet wounds to the head. On April 21, 2005, seven Blackwater mercs died in two separate attacks in Baghdad and Ramadi.
The Fallujah murders turned Blackwater into a kind of patriotic poster boy, with the war lobby portraying its mercs as heroes fighting for America in the face of bloodthirsty killers. By the end of 2004, Blackwater had grown by 600%.
PRESIDENT Bush said the killings, which helped pave the way for the bloody siege and capture of Fallujah by US marines in late 2004, were "a challenge to America's resolve". That admiration for Blackwater doesn't quite tally, however, with the feelings of the families of the four dead mercenaries.
Katy Helvenston, whose 38-year-old son Scott was killed, said: "Blackwater sent my son and the other three into Fallujah knowing there was a very good possibility this could happen. Iraqis did it, and it doesn't get any more horrible than what they did to my son. But I hold Blackwater responsible 1000%."
Her lawyer, Daniel Callahan, who is suing the firm on behalf of the families, said: "What we have is something worse than the wild, wild west going on in Iraq. Blackwater is able to operate over there free from any oversight that would typically exist in a civilised society."
Blackwater is accused of "doing things on the cheap". Rather than three men to a vehicle - a driver, a navigator and a rear gunner - there were only two in the Fallujah incident; the cars were "soft-skinned", not armoured. "They were sitting ducks," said Callahan.
The four men didn't have a detailed map, so they drove through the centre of Fallujah, and there had been no adequate risk assessment before the journey. Helvenston wasn't even supposed to be on that mission - he was meant to be guarding top-level US diplomats.
Lawyers say the four "would be alive today" had they not gone unprepared into the mission. After the deaths, the families asked for paperwork about what happened. They were told if they wanted the documents, they'd have to sue. Katy Helvenston said: "Blackwater seems to understand money. That's the only thing they understand. They have no values, they have no morals. They're the whores of war."
Blackwater counter-sued the families, saying they breached contract by blaming the company for the deaths of their loved ones. Blackwater wants $10m. The company also hired lawyer Fred F Fielding, currently counsel to the US president, to represent it. It then took on Joseph E Schmitz, former inspector general at the Pentagon, as its in-house counsel. Later, Ken Starr came on board - the prosecutor of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Blackwater has exploited the Bush presidency's desire to out-source government functions. Dan Guttman, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University and a consultant on private security firms for the Centre for Public Integrity, says firms like Blackwater are now "part and parcel of Pentagon operations ... performing what citizens consider the stuff of government: planning, policy writing, budgeting, intelligence gathering, nation building". How taxpayers' money is being spent, however, seems to have been overlooked.
Blackwater has also hired at least 60 Chilean commandos trained under the Pinochet regime. The irony for the US army is that many of its best soldiers leave to join organisations like Blackwater where the pay is as high as $1000 a day. This then puts more pressure on the government to use private contractors due to military staff shortages.
Blackwater - like other military contractors - currently has the same immunity from prosecution in Iraq as America's conventional armed forces and diplomats. However, the Iraqi authorities are now set to repeal the immunity laws. Blackwater's "troops" can shoot to kill and there are plenty of allegations of wrongful killings against merc firms in Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also ordered a review board to visit Iraq this week to assess US diplomatic security practices there following the Baghdad shooting. It is expected to present an interim report by Friday.
But the firm's standing in the eyes of the US administration remains high because of incidents such as the attack on a US government compound in Najaf which saw eight Blackwater staff fight off a heavy assault by insurgents without the support of conventional forces.
Blackwater's government contracts were awarded under the State Department's Worldwide Personal Protective Service programme. An audit found the company tried to inflate its profits. The government has so far paid $100m more to Blackwater than was budgeted for. Former assistant defence secretary Philip Coyle says the privatisation of security is "insidious", but the State Department says there is a need for such services as the government is "unable to provide protective services on a long-term basis".
Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute, an expert on mercenary firms, describes the use of Blackwater and other private military companies as "the coalition of the billing". Sometimes, though, it seems the rank-and-file mercs might be shortchanged. There have been allegations by Colombian counter-insurgency troops that Blackwater promised them $4000 a month but they only earned $1000 a month.
Colonel Thomas X Hammes, a senior fellow at the National Defence University, says Blackwater "made enemies everywhere", and a congressional committee is looking at whether Blackwater "illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq".
During the recent temporary suspension of Blackwater's operations in Iraq, America cancelled all diplomatic movement outside the Green Zone - evidence of how integral the firm is to American operations, and how serious a suspension of its licence would be for the US. The travel cancellation came despite claims by America that attacks in Iraq have declined due to this year's troop surge. Blackwater insists its men "did their job to defend human life".
US officials went into overdrive in a bid to persuade the Iraqis not to throw Blackwater out. With 30,000 mercs working for 28 firms contracted by the US government in Iraq, the Blackwater incident could have wide-reaching ramifications.
Iraq is now moving towards scrapping Order 17, established by the US under Iraq administrator Paul Bremer, which exempts foreign contractors from Iraqi law. But Abdul Sattar Ghafour Bairaqdar, of Iraq's Supreme Judiciary Council, said the guards could stand trial, regardless.
Brigadier General Abdul Kareen Khalaf, of the interior ministry, said: "Blackwater committed a crime. They carried out a flagrant assault." Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said the shootings were a "golden opportunity" for the government to "radically review" the laws surrounding foreign mercenaries.
Big Coffers and a Rising Voice Lift a New Conservative Group
By DON VAN NATTA Jr.
Published: September 30, 2007
Freedom’s Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq.
Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.
Next month, Freedom’s Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group.
Although the group declined to identify the experts, several were invited from the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research group with close ties to the White House. Some institute scholars have advocated a more confrontational policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, including keeping military action as an option.
Last week, a Freedom’s Watch newspaper advertisement called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran “a terrorist.” The group is considering a national advertising campaign focused on Iran, a senior benefactor said, though Matt S. David, a spokesman for the group, declined to comment on those plans.
“If Hitler’s warnings were heeded when he wrote ‘Mein Kampf,’ he could have been stopped,” said Bradley Blakeman, 49, the president of Freedom’s Watch and a former deputy assistant to Mr. Bush. “Ahmadinejad is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us, and the region — he wants the destruction of the United States and the destruction of Israel.”
With a forceful message and a roster of wealthy benefactors, Freedom’s Watch has quickly emerged from the crowded field of nonprofit advocacy groups as a conservative answer to the nine-year-old liberal MoveOn.org, which vehemently opposes the Iraq war.
The idea for Freedom’s Watch was hatched in March at the winter meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Manalapan, Fla., where Vice President Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker, according to participants. Next week, the group is moving into a 10,000-square-foot office in the Chinatown section of Washington, with plans to employ as many as 50 people by early next year.
One benefactor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was hoping to raise as much as $200 million by November 2008. Raising big money “will be easy,” the benefactor said, adding that several of the founders each wrote a check for $1 million. Mr. Blakeman would not confirm or deny whether any donor gave $1 million, or more, to the organization.
Since the group is organized as a tax-exempt organization, it does not have to reveal its donors and it can not engage in certain types of partisan activities that directly support political candidates. It denies coordinating its activities with the White House, although many of its donors and organizers are well connected to the administration, including Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary.
“Ideologically, we are inspired by much of Ronald Reagan’s thinking — peace through strength, protect and defend America, and prosperity through free enterprise,” Mr. Fleischer said.
Among the group’s founders are Sheldon G. Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who ranks sixth on the Forbes Magazine list of the world’s billionaires; Mel Sembler, a shopping center magnate based in St. Petersburg, Fla., who served as the ambassador to Italy and Australia; John M. Templeton Jr., the conservative philanthropist from Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and Anthony H. Gioia, a former ambassador to Malta who heads an investment group based in Buffalo, N.Y. All four men are long-time prolific donors who have raised money on behalf of Republican and conservative causes.
For years, the group’s founders lamented MoveOn’s growing influence, derived in large part from its grass-roots efforts, especially on the debate about the Iraq war. “A bunch of us activists kept watching MoveOn and its attacks on the war, and it just got to be obnoxious,” said Mr. Sembler, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. “We decided we needed to do something about this, because the conservative side was not responding.”
Mr. Sembler, who is on the board of directors of the American Enterprise Institute, said the impetus for Freedom’s Watch “came out of A.E.I.” last winter. He said that at an institute event in December 2006 he listened to retired Gen. Jack Keane and Frederick W. Kagan, an A.E.I. scholar, talk about the need for a troop increase in Iraq, a plan adopted by Mr. Bush in January. “I realized it was not only what we needed to do,” Mr. Sembler said, “but we needed to articulate this message across the country.”
Mr. Sembler also said he was frustrated that he heard reports at institute events earlier this year that the increase was working, but that the news media was not reflecting the progress.
Read the rest here.
From Army of Dude. Many thanks to Juan Cole for pointing out this post in his blog.
The Real Deal
Blue Girl directed me to a very interesting story about Rush Limbaugh, who called veterans opposed to the war phony soldiers. Of course, this is the same Rush Limbaugh who threw a fit about the Moveon.org Petraeus ad, calling it "contemptible" and "indecent." Apparently anyone in the military is above criticism as long as they agree with Rush's brave belief that we should be in Iraq "as long as it takes." And I use the term 'we' loosely, as I believe the closest Rush has ever gotten to combat was watching We Were Soldiers with surround sound.
When I was a kid I watched Rush with my dad every morning when he was still on TV and always found him pretty funny and clever. Over the years I didn't have a very concrete opinion about him, I just knew him as the kooky conservative radio host who defended Bush at every turn (and hey, so did I). What did Rush and I have to lose when the war in Iraq started in 2003? I didn't have any family in the military, and all my friends were too young to even enlist. Why not go kick the shit out of a country, as long as someone else was doing it?
This was the last time Rush and I would agree on the war, so here's my opinion of you, Rush: you're as smart, selfless and courageous as I was as a 17 year old high school senior.
You make a good point that people who joined the military during the war knew they were going and shouldn't be against it. As I've seen since I joined in 2004, everyone in the military is gung ho to a certain extent, at least in the beginning of their career. I was part of a large group of new guys who got to a unit that just got back from a year long deployment. After our hazing sessions became less and less frequent in the following months, we listened to the stories all of them were telling, of vicious firefights and rescue missions. We all wanted to do our part, we all wanted to get some too. We were going to see what it was like to take a life. Too bad Rush missed his chance to do so, or maybe he'd be singing a different tune. In 1992, ABC newsman Jeff Greenfield posed a question to Rush, asking if he had ever served in the military during the Vietnam War. Here is what Rush had to say:
I had student deferments in college, and upon taking a physical, was discovered to have a physical- uh, by virtue of what the military says, I didn't even know it existed- a physical deferment and then the lottery system came along, where they chose your lost by birth date, and mine was high. And I did not want to go, just as Governor Clinton didn't.
As a phony civilian hoping to be a phony soldier, I tried to enlist in the military after I graduated high school in 2003. In 2002 I had a Nissen fundoplication operation to repair a hiatal hernia caused by severe acid reflux, preventing esophageal cancer later in life. I was immediately flagged on my attempt to enlist because of this surgery, as there was a chance that a physically stressful job such as Army infantry would complicate it. I had to be cleared by the surgeon general before entering the service. As the war kept on, so did I. I waited for a little over a year to get my results back: I would finally be able to join despite the surgery I had two years prior. As Rush found after dropping out of his first year of college at Southeast Missouri State University in 1969-1970, he found himself on draft status. Nothing that a claim of an old football injury or a boil on the ass can take care of, though! The medical deferment he was referring to was a pilonidal cyst, which apparently is a clump of severely ingrown hairs. That barred him from enlistment, and I'm sure he was ecstatic. After all, there was a war on. Here's a first hand account of the surgery that was done to correct it. She claims that in eight weeks, it was perfectly healed. Rush is willing to sacrifice the lives of Americans in Iraq but not his own ass (literally) in a simple surgery. I waited a year to get in, and he didn't try. Boy, do I really give an effort at being a phony soldier!
Read the rest and see Alex's pictures here.
29 September 2007
State Dept. intercedes in Blackwater probe
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 26, 2007
A House panel reveals a letter telling the firm not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without the administration's OK.
WASHINGTON -- The State Department has interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater USA, the private security firm accused of killing Iraqi civilians last week, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration, according to documents revealed Tuesday.
In a letter sent to a senior Blackwater executive Thursday, a State Department contracting official ordered the company "to make no disclosure of the documents or information" about its work in Iraq without permission.
The letter and other documents were released Tuesday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), whose House committee has launched wide-ranging investigations into contractor abuses and corruption in Iraq.
The State Department order and other steps it has taken to limit congressional access to information have set up a confrontation between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Waxman, who has repeatedly accused the State Department of impeding his inquiries.
In his own letter to Rice on Tuesday, Waxman called her department's latest efforts to withhold information from the committee "extraordinary" and "unusual."
"Congress has the constitutional prerogative to examine the impacts of corruption within the Iraqi ministries and the activities of Blackwater," Waxman wrote. "You are wrong to interfere with the committee's inquiry."
In response to Waxman's letter, Kiazan Moneypenny, a senior contracting officer in the State Department's office of acquisition management, appeared to soften the department's stand, saying later Tuesday that it would allow Blackwater to hand over unclassified documents.
Classified documents still would be subject to State Department review. The committee has accused the administration of using secrecy designations to keep bad news about Iraq out of the hands of Congress.
The firm's contract
The State Department's order to Blackwater last week cited a provision in the North Carolina security firm's contract that makes all records produced by the company in Iraq property of the U.S. government, and prohibits the company from releasing documents without State Department approval.
Waxman had sought information about Blackwater's contract with the State Department, under which it provides nearly 1,000 armed guards to protect U.S. diplomats when they travel outside Baghdad's Green Zone.
The request was part of a probe into a Sept. 16 incident in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed after Blackwater employees protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy opened fire.
The incident enraged the Iraqi government, which accused the firm of routinely shooting civilians with impunity.
L. Paul Bremer III, the former U.S. administrator for Iraq, granted contractors immunity from prosecution in an order he signed the day before handing over sovereignty in June 2004.
A preliminary Iraqi investigation said the shootings occurred without provocation; Blackwater and the State Department said the convoy was ambushed and the guards opened fire after being attacked.
Waxman has scheduled a Blackwater hearing for next Tuesday, but Blackwater's attorneys warned the committee that the State Department's letter may complicate company executives' testimony.
"In the fluid setting of a congressional hearing it may become difficult, if not impossible, for Blackwater personnel to meet the terms of" the State Department finding, wrote Stephen M. Ryan, an attorney advising Blackwater in the congressional investigation.
"This contractual direction from the [State Department] is unambiguous."
A company spokeswoman said Tuesday that Blackwater interpreted the State Department's apparent shift Tuesday as permission to release documents sought by Waxman.
The State Department has repeatedly defended Blackwater in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 incident. After a brief ban on diplomatic travel outside the Green Zone, department officials have resumed trips under Blackwater guard and have said that the company's status has not changed.
In his letter to Rice, Waxman also objected to a move by the department to bar its officials from speaking with committee investigators about corruption inside the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
An e-mail received by the committee Monday night indicated that the State Department was treating information about corruption as classified, suggesting it might undermine bilateral relations.
"The scope of this prohibition is breathtaking," Waxman wrote. "On its face, it means that unless the committee agrees to keep the information secret from the public . . . the committee cannot obtain information about whether Mr. Maliki himself has been involved in corruption or has intervened to block corruption investigations."
Waxman said that previous official reports of corruption within Iraqi ministries were treated as "sensitive but unclassified." The State Department retroactively classified the reports after his committee requested them, Waxman said.
“Caging” Operations Suppress Minority Vote in Florida and Nationwide
by Charles Jackson and Laura Goodhue‚ Sep. 28‚ 2007
Leaders of ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots community organization, reacted with deep concern to the findings in a report released by Project Vote on Sept. 27th titled, Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters. “The report details a systematic effort by a number of state and national Republican officials to employ the practice of ‘voter caging’ to stifle minority participation in elections,” said Florida ACORN Board Chairwoman Tamecka Pierce. “Disenfranchising or intimidating legitimate voters is wrong and un-American.”
In vote caging schemes, political operatives obtain a list of registered voters and send them a piece of non-forwardable direct mail. The vote cagers then compile a list of names associated with pieces of returned mail onto “caging lists,” which are used to challenge voters’ eligibility to cast ballots. These mailings overwhelmingly target voters of color, residents of cities and likely Democratic voters.
In the lead-up to the 2004 election, Florida Republicans with the support of the national party compiled caging lists that included the names of military personnel deployed in Iraq and sent poll watchers to challenge voters in disproportionately minority, urban communities. Fifty-nine percent of precincts in predominantly African-American districts in Miami-Dade County, for example, were scheduled to have at least one Republican poll watcher armed with caging lists, compared with only 37 percent in predominantly white precincts.
“A single returned letter from a political party does not serve as evidence upon which to challenge a citizen’s right to vote,” said Pierce. “Those who use voter caging to discourage and suppress minority voters would obviously rather disenfranchise these people than campaign for their support. States must protect all voters from frivolous challenges and partisan intimidation.”
Partisan operatives use the lists they generate to demand that boards of elections remove voters from the rolls, to intimidate voters in person, and to generate media stories that give the false impression that a large number of people are attempting to commit “voter fraud,” the Project Vote report says.
ACORN’s voter registration drives have submitted over 1.6 million new voter registration applications from low-income and minority Americans since 2004. ACORN has been repeatedly attacked in the press by partisan officials eager to counteract this success.
Permissive state voter challenge statutes allow partisan individuals to challenge and disqualify voters, frequently without providing clear grounds on which such challenges are allowed. The Project Vote report chronicles how many of these state laws originated in Post-Civil War effort by Southern Democrats to disenfranchise newly emancipated blacks.
Challenging a voter’s right to cast a ballot on the basis of racial or ethnic profiling violates the First, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. It also violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or language. The Project Vote report recommends that states provide better training for poll workers, that states appoint elections observers representing all political parties, that no voter challenge be permitted within 30 days of an election and that grounds for challenges be narrowed to age, residence and citizenship.
ACORN is calling on partisan leaders to renounce the practice of voter caging and on state Legislatures and the United States Congress to enact laws prohibiting political parties from compiling caging lists based on returned, non-forwardable mail.
To obtain a copy of the complete report, visit www.projectvote.org or contact Laura Goodhue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iraq Will Have to Wait
By Scott Ritter
09/28/07 "Truthdig" -- -- - The long-awaited “progress report” of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the status of the occupation of Iraq has been made, providing Americans, via the compliant media, with the spectacle of loyal Bush yes men offering faith-based analysis in lieu of fact-based assessment. In the days and weeks that have since passed, two things have become clear: Neither Congress nor the American people (including the antiwar movement) have a plan or the gumption to confront President Bush in anything more than cosmetic fashion over the war in Iraq, and while those charged with oversight mill about looking to score cheap political points and/or save face, the administration continues its march toward conflict with Iran unimpeded.
Bush responded to the Petraeus report by indicating that he would be inclined to start reducing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq sometime soon (maybe December, maybe the spring of 2008). But the bottom line is that the troop levels in Iraq keep expanding, as does the infrastructure of perpetual occupation. The Democrats in Congress are focused on winning the White House in 2008, not stopping a failed war, and as such they not only refuse to decisively confront the president on Iraq, they are trying to out-posture him over who would be the tougher opponent of an expansionist Iran.
Here’s the danger: While the antiwar movement focuses its limited resources on trying to leverage real congressional opposition to the war in Iraq, which simply will not happen before the 2008 election, the Bush administration and its Democratic opponents will outflank the antiwar movement on the issue of Iran, pushing forward an aggressive agenda in the face of light or nonexistent opposition.
Of the two problems (the reality of Iraq, the potential of Iran), Iran is by far the more important. The war in Iraq isn’t going to expand tenfold overnight. By simply doing nothing, the Democrats can rest assured that Bush’s bad policy will simply keep failing. War with Iran, on the other hand, can still be prevented. We are talking about the potential for conflict at this time, not the reality of war. But time is not on the side of peace.
Three story lines unfolded earlier this month which underscore just how easily manipulated the American people, via the media, are when it comes to the issues of Iran and weapons of mass destruction. In the first, Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a spokesperson for the U.S. military in Iraq, let it be known that U.S. forces had captured a “known operative” of the “Ramazan Corps,” the ostensible branch of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command responsible for all Iranian operations inside Iraq. This “operative,” one Mahmudi Farhadi, was, according to Fox, the “linchpin” behind the smuggling of “sophisticated weapons” into Iraq by the Quds Force.
We’ve heard this story before. In January of this year a similar raid by U.S. forces in Irbil netted six Iranians, five of whom are still in U.S. custody. Senior American officials let it be known that these Iranians were likewise members of the Quds Force, and included that organization’s operations director. All were tied to the (unspecified) transfer of arms and munitions into Iraq from Iran. The Iranian government claimed, and the Iraqi government confirmed, that the detained Iranians were all attached to a trade mission in Irbil, where they oversaw legitimate commerce between Iran and Iraq along the Kurdish frontier.
The United States continues to hold the Iranians prisoner, undoubtedly subjecting them to “special treatment” in order to elicit some sort of confession, if our handling of other Iranian diplomats previously captured in Iraq is any guide. Their release any time soon is unlikely, given the impact a de facto admission that the Bush administration got it wrong would have on the overall case against Iran it is trying to build. The fate of Farhadi is likewise up in the air. None other than Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, a staunch pro-American, condemned the detention of Farhadi by U.S. military forces, noting that the Iranian was a well-known businessman who was in Iraq as part of an official trade delegation. The Iranians have threatened to close down cross-border trade in Talabani’s sector of Iraqi Kurdistan, shutting down a key income stream for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi Kurdish faction Talabani heads. Such is the reality of modern Iraq.
But this reality is nowhere to be found in the White House. The president himself has led the charge, as recently as this past August, when in a speech to the American Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev., Bush threw down the gauntlet against Iran, declaring, “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities ... the Iranian regime must halt these actions.” His remarks were built on assertions he first set forth in February 2007 when he highlighted his assessment of Iranian involvement inside Iraq. At that time the president declared, “I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that have harmed our troops.” Bush avoided direct implication of the Iranian regime, stating, “ ... I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of the government. But my point is, what’s worse—them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?” I might suggest that the American president putting the weight of the United States behind unsubstantiated speculation in order to build a case for war might, in fact, be worse, but since he got away with it regarding Iraqi WMD, why stop now?
In March 2007 the U.S. military paraded yet another general-cum-spokesperson before the assembled media, where it was announced that the United States had captured Qais Khazali, the head of the mysteriously named “Khazali network,” together with one Ali Musa Daqduq, an alleged Lebanese Hizbollah mastermind who helped plan and facilitate the actions of the Khazali network, including, it seems, an attack on U.S. forces in Karbala in January 2007 which left five American soldiers dead. This attack, in which insurgents dressed in U.S. military uniforms, drove vehicles similar to those used by the U.S. military and sported U.S. identification documents and weapons, has been linked to Iran by many in the U.S., citing nothing more than the level of sophistication involved as proof.
The golden nugget in this story was Ali Musa Daqduq. According to the U.S. military, he was a 24-year member of the Lebanese Hizbollah Party possessing extensive contacts with the Iranian Quds Force. The U.S. military referred to Daqduq as a proxy or surrogate of the Quds Force in Iraq. An alleged “special forces commander” and bodyguard to none other than Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbollah in Lebanon, Daqduq was alleged to have been ordered to Iraq in 2005 for the purpose of coordinating training and operations on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command. Daqduq supposedly helped the Iranians by training, together with the Quds Force and the Lebanese Hizbollah operatives, teams of 20 to 60 Iraqi insurgents at secret bases just outside Tehran.
With this plethora of specificity, however, comes only one item sourced directly from Ali Musa Daqduq himself—that the Iraqi insurgents responsible for the January attack on American forces in Karbala could not have conducted such a complex operation without the support and direction of the Iranian Quds Force. Daqduq wasn’t quoted as saying the Iranian Quds Force was in fact involved, but simply that, in his opinion, such an operation could not have been conducted without the knowledge of the Quds Force. This, of course, brings us back full circle to the immediate period after the attack in Karbala, when U.S. military sources speculated that such an attack had to have been planned by Iran given its complexity. Nothing else is directly attributed to Daqduq, leaving open the question of sourcing and authenticity of the information being cited by the U.S. military.
From speculation to speculation, the case against the Quds Force by the Bush administration continues to lack anything in the way of substance. And yet the mythological Daqduq has become a launching platform for even graver speculation, fed by the media themselves, that the highest levels of leadership in Iran were aware of the activities of Daqduq and the Quds Force, and are thus somehow complicit in the violence. Not one shred of evidence was produced to sustain such serious accusations, and yet national media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post both ran stories repeating these accusations. Politicians are formulating policy based upon such baseless accusations, and the American public continues to be manipulated into a predisposition for war with Iran largely because of such speculation. No one seems to pay attention to the fact that the U.S. military itself has subsequently contradicted its own briefings, noting in July 2007 that no persons had been captured by the United States that can provide a direct link between insurgents in Iraq and Iran. Again, in August of 2007, the U.S. military stated that it had yet to catch anyone smuggling weapons into Iraq from Iran.
And what of Daqduq himself? It seems that his Iraqi sponsor, Qais Khazali, had fallen out of favor with Muqtada al-Sadr over the strategic direction being taken, and sometime in 2006 split away from Sadr’s Mehdi Army, taking some 3,000 fighters with him. In the lawless wild-West environment which dominates Iraq in the post-Saddam era, the formation of splinter militias of this sort is an everyday occurrence. Radical adventurers have historically been drawn to places of conflict, which would explain the presence of Daqduq. And it would not surprise me to find that Qais Khazali had secured funding from extremist elements inside Iran which operate outside the mandate of government, including some from within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard itself. But the notion of Iran and Hizbollah aligning themselves directly with a splinter element like the “Khazali network” is highly unlikely, to say the least.
But fiction often mirrors reality, and in the case of Iran’s Quds Force, the model drawn upon by the U.S. military seems to be none other than America’s own support of anti-Iranian forces, namely the Mujahedin el-Khalk (MEK) operating out of U.S.-controlled bases inside Iraq, and Jundallah, a Baluchi separatist group operating out of Pakistan that the CIA openly acknowledges supporting. Unlike the lack of evidence brought to bear by the U.S. to sustain its claims of Iranian involvement inside Iraq, the Iranian government has captured scores of MEK and Jundallah operatives, along with supporting documents, which substantiate that which the U.S. openly admits: The United States is waging a proxy war against Iran, inside Iran. This mirror imaging of its own terror campaign against Iran to manufacture the perception of a similar effort being waged by Iran inside Iraq against the U.S. has been very effective at negating any Iranian effort to draw attention to the escalation of war-like activities inside its borders. After all, who would believe the Iranians? They are only trying to divert attention away from their own actions inside Iraq, or so the story goes.
The second story line demonstrates, apparently, that Iranian perfidy knows no bounds. Just this month, the Iranian government tried to organize a visit to Ground Zero in Manhattan by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wanted to present a wreath of condolence over the tragedy that occurred there on Sept. 11, 2001. The Iranian president’s proposed actions were consistent with the overall approach the Islamic Republic of Iran has taken concerning the 9/11 attack on America. Iran was one of the first Muslim nations to openly condemn the attack, expressing its condolences to those who lost their lives and calling for a worldwide mobilization against terrorism. But why let facts get in the way of fiction. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, set the standard for intellectual discourse on the matter when he told the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization that a visit by President Ahmadinejad to Ground Zero would be “similar to a visit by a resurrected Hitler to Auschwitz." Sen. John McCain continued in this vein, stating that allowing Ahmadinejad to visit the site “would be an affront not only to America but to the families of our loved ones who perished there in an unprecedented act of terror.” Both remarks clearly attempted to link the Iranian president, and by extension Iran, to events that they had nothing whatsoever to do with, and which they openly condemned.
9/11 linkage strategies have worked in the past, regardless of factual merit. One only need recall Saddam Hussein and Iraq to understand how easily the American public, courtesy of war-minded politicians and their co-conspirators in the mainstream media, can be so easily led down the path of holding one party accountable for the actions of another. Saddam had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, and we now occupy Iraq. Similarly, Iran had nothing to do with 9/11, and yet due in part to the distortion of fact taking place concerning allegations of Iranian “terror” activity inside Iraq, the link is clear, at least in the minds of many Americans. President Bush calls Iran a “state sponsor of terror." The military claims Iran is carrying out terror attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. The Iranian president wanted to visit Ground Zero and was widely condemned by those who plot regime change in Iran. The Americans, bombarded with these false connections, then conclude Iran was part of the 9/11 plot. The logic is so simple, so flawed and yet so dangerously accessible to the minds of an American people fundamentally ignorant of the true situation in Iran and the Middle East today.
Which leads us to the third, and final, story line of the month: Don’t believe the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran does have a nuclear weapons program! For weeks now, the cornerstone for the justification of American military intervention in Iran has been crumbling away, the layers and layers of fear-based fiction crafted by the Bush administration meticulously peeled away by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and his team of inspectors from the IAEA. After treading water for years in a sea of political intrigue, ElBaradei and his experts have finally assembled enough data to enable them to close the books on the Iranian nuclear program, noting that all substantive questions have been answered and that contrary to the speculative assessments put forward by the Bush administration it appears that Iran’s nuclear program is, in fact, dedicated to permitted energy-related activities.
Not so fast. In recent days, Israeli military aircraft, in coordination with special operations forces on the ground, launched a preemptive raid on a suspected “nuclear” target in northeast Syria. According to Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources, this site was jointly developed by Syria and North Korea for the purposes of transferring North Korea’s proscribed nuclear weapons program to Syrian control. Worse, we are told by none other than former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton that this Syrian-North Korean project was being done at the behest of none other than Iran. The Syrian site, an established agriculture research center, was linked to a shipment from North Korea invoiced as cement. Israel apparently believed different. Israel has been monitoring any activity taking place inside Syria which could be linked to nuclear activity. Syria had, in the past, conducted exploratory investigation into whether phosphate deposits in Syria were viable for the manufacture of uranium for use in a nuclear energy program. Whether this activity, which has been suspended since the 1980s, was being resurrected, and whether the target bombed by Israel had anything to do with such a resurrection, is unknown at this time. What is obvious to anyone with any understanding of nuclear activities is that Syria was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program and North Korea was not supplying Syria with the components of such a program, either for Syrian use or as a proxy for Iran.
But this sort of fact-based reasoning is irrelevant, especially in the secretive circles of power that make the life-or-death decisions regarding war. The Syrian raid by Israel seems to represent a sort of “proof of capability” drill, instilling a sense of confidence in an Israeli military badly shaken from its debacle in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. The planning for the Syrian raid was a closely held secret, limited to a small cabal of right-leaning politicians in Israel and, surprisingly, the United States. The American end of the deal centered on the office of the vice president, Dick Cheney, who gave final approval to attack the Syrian target only after being rebuffed in his effort to get the Israelis to bomb the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. Cheney, it seems, is desperate for any action that might trigger an expanded conflict with Iran. Even though the Syrian adventure did not succeed in producing such a trigger, it did wipe off the front pages of American newspapers uncomfortable story lines from the IAEA, contending as they did that Iran had no nuclear weapons program. Now, thanks to the Israeli action against Syria, which had no nuclear weapons program, the American public is in the process of being fooled into speculating that one does in fact exist not only in Syria but in Iran.
Continued war in Iraq is a tragedy. Having the conflict spread to Iran would be a disaster. No one can claim to possess a crystal ball showing the future. There are many who, when confronted with the potential for conflict with Iran, choose to brush these warnings aside, noting that such a conflict would be madness, and that the United States currently lacks the resources to fight a war with Iran. Such wishful thinking borders on irresponsible foolishness. If the headlines from this month tell us anything, it is that war with Iran is very much a possibility. The Bush administration has been actively planning war with Iran since the fall of 2004. Since that time, several windows of opportunity have presented themselves (most recently in spring 2007), but the Bush administration found itself unable to pull the trigger for one reason or another (the Navy’s rejection of the presence of a third carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf scuttled the spring 2007 plans).
The administration always heeded the justifications for aborting an attack, primarily because there was time still left on the clock, so to speak. But time is running out. Israel has drawn a red line across the calendar, indicating that if Iran has not pulled back from its nuclear ambitions by the end of 2007, military action in early spring 2008 will be inevitable. The attack on Syria by Israel sent a clear message that attacks are feasible. The continued emphasis by the Bush administration on Iran as a terror state, combined with the fact that the administration seems inclined to blame its continuing problems in Iraq on Iran, and not failed policy, means that there is no shortage of fuel to stoke the fire of public opinion regarding war with Iran. Add in the “reality” of weapons of mass destruction, and war becomes inevitable, regardless of the veracity of the “reality” being presented.
The antiwar movement in America must make a strategic decision, and soon: Contain the war in Iraq, and stop a war from breaking out in Iran. The war in Iraq can be contained simply by letting war be war. There is no genuine good news coming out of Iraq. There won’t be as long as the United States is there. As callous as it sounds, let the war establish the news cycle, and let the reality of war serve to contain it. The surge has failed. Congress may not act decisively to bring the troops home, but it is highly unlikely that Congress will idly approve any massive expansion of an unpopular war that continues to fail so publicly.
Iran, however, is a different matter. Congress has already provided legal authority for the president to wage war in Iran through its existing war powers authority (one resolution passed in 2001, the other in 2002). Likewise, Congress has allowed the Bush administration to forward deploy the infrastructure of war deep into the Middle East and neighboring regions, all in the name of the “global war on terror." The startup costs for a military strike against Iran would therefore be greatly diminished. Sustaining such a conflict is a different matter, but given current congressional reticence to stand up to a war-time president, it is highly unlikely any meaningful action would be taken to stop an Iranian war once the bombs start falling. And we should never forget that Iran has a vote in how this would end; once it is attacked, Iran will respond in ways that are unpredictable, and as such set in motion a string of cause-effect military actions with the United States and others that spins any future conflict out of control.
The highest priority for the antiwar movement in America today must be the prevention of a war with Iran. The strategic objectives should include getting Congress to repeal the war-powers authorities currently on the books, thereby forcing the president to seek new congressional approval for any new war. Likewise, a concerted effort must be undertaken to counter the disinformation being spread by the Bush administration and others about the nature of the Iranian threat. Every action undertaken by the antiwar movement must be connected to one or both of these strategic objectives. This is not the time for one-off sophomoric newspaper advertisements, but rather for sustained action focused on generating congressional hearings and public debate across the entire spectrum of American society. From the colleges and universities to the churches and on to the public square of small-town America, public information talks, presentations and panels must be held. Communities should flood local media outlets with requests for coverage and appeal to regional media to run stories. Mainstream media will follow. Demonstrations, if useful at all, must be focused events linked to an overall campaign designed to facilitate a strategic objective.
We all should remember the fall of 2002. Many felt that there was no chance for a war with Iraq, especially once U.N. inspectors made their return. In March 2003, everyone who thought so was proved wrong. The fall of 2007 is no different. There is a sense of complacency when one speaks of the potential for a war with Iran. But time is not on the side of those who oppose conflict. If nothing is done to change the political situation inside America regarding Iran, there is an all too real possibility for a war to break out in the spring of 2008.
Sadly, there really is no alternative for the antiwar movement: Put opposition to the war in Iraq on the back burner and make preventing a war with Iran the No. 1 priority, at least until the national election cycle kicks in during the summer of 2008. If a war with Iran hasn’t happened by then, it probably won’t. And the national debate on Iraq won’t be engaged until that time, anyway. A war with Iran would make the current conflict in Iraq pale by comparison, and would detrimentally impact the whole of America, not just certain demographics. As such, it is critical that we all put aside our ideological and political differences and focus on the one issue which, if left unheeded, will have devastating consequences for the immediate future of us all: Prevent a future war with Iran.
A former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served under Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Scott Ritter worked as a chief inspector for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq from 1991 until 1998, helping lead the effort to disarm Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He is the author of several books, including “Iraq Confidential” (2005, Nation Books), “Target Iran” (2006, Nation Books) and “Waging Peace” (2007, Nation Books). “Target Iran,” with a new afterword by the author, has just been released in paperback by Nation Books.
Pro-Democracy Means Anti-Fascism
By Cindy Sheehan
“The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals,” - George W. Bush
09/28/07 "ICH" -- -- Watching the pro-democracy marches in Burma both inspires and sickens me. I am inspired by seeing thousands of red-robed monks leading the demonstrations and sickened by the violence they are being met with by the military.
Seeing the images of the monks and others being beaten reminds me of the Democratic Convention in 1968 where Chicago police beat the living daylights out of demonstrators who were there to try and force the party to come closer to the budding anti-war movement. It didn’t work. Instead of wonderful pro-peace candidate, Eugene McCarthy, the party nominated Johnson’s VP, Hubert Humphrey. We know what happened next: Nixon. After last night’s Democratic “debate” I am terrified and assured that the Democrats will have another pro-war nominee.
The other event in my memory that the pro-democracy movement in Burma reminds me of is Kent State, Ohio in May, 1970. Four students were killed and nine were wounded marching against escalation of the Vietnam debacle.. I have heard from many people who were of age to protest the Vietnam war at that time that the killings had the affect of frightening them into not protesting, or scaling their protests back.
Of course the present state of our nation is not as overtly oppressive as the government of Myanmar (Burma), presently where a Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi has been under house arrest there for years, but we who have been paying attention to events can see that America is on the precipice of serious fascism and only the brave actions of Americans committed to freedom, democracy and peace will help stem the tide of this rising neo-fascism that doesn’t march through our streets in goose-step and swastikas, but is creeping into our lives like cat’s paws.
According to Chris Rowthorn, in his brilliant article, When America Went Fascist, we went fascist on December 11, 2000 when the Supreme Court appointed George as our unelected, un-democratic and illegal President. Although it is easy and tempting to blame everything on BushCo, this is about the only assertion that I disagree with in his article.
What about during the Clinton regime? Does anyone remember Elian Gonzales or The Branch Davidians in Waco? Let’s go back further. What about when Truman dropped two WMD on hundreds of thousands of innocent victims in Japan? What about Korea? Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex? What about the Gulf of Tonkin? What about Watergate? What about Panama? Kosovo? Nicaragua? Free trade agreements that hurt workers in all countries that are involved in them and what about the abuse of language in this country: Patriot Act; Homeland Security; Clear Water and Clean Skies—and the No Child Left Behind Act that leaves every child behind and is just a funnel to the recruiter’s office?
There are just a few measures that we can use to stop this slide and Rowthorn articulates what has become an important part of my platform. Only vote for candidates that promise the following things…for president, or any other federal elective offices:
* Repeal the Patriot Act
* Repeal No Child Left Behind
* Scale down the Department of Homeland Security and rename it so it loses its Nazi
tone and is brought under civilian control.
* Restore habeas corpus and close all torture camps by repealing the Military Commissions’ Act.
* Repeal all contracts with paid mercenary killer companies.
* Restore the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.
* Repeal all BushCo-Presidential directives (especially Directive 51) and review all laws that contain signing statements.
* Restore the 4th Amendment by enforcing warrants for spying on Americans.
* Impeach Bush and Cheney-post presidency so they can’t receive federal benefits.
* Bring all troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and review military needs for other bases around the world.
* Repeal all free trade agreements.
* Kick AIPAC and other lobbyists out of the halls of Congress where they have no business.
One of the most profound ways we can stop this descent into fascism is by impeaching, removing from office and incarcerating George Bush and Dick Cheney, et al. I am very skeptical of a complicit Congress, Inc doing anything about them in this term. I am also very skeptical of a “professional” and fascist military leadership taking their oath of service seriously and above their corporate-military allegiance to the Executive Branch recently and so tellingly revealed by General Betray-Us, so a military coup is out of the question and has the tricky element of becoming a military dictatorship.
I was supposed to be in court today in Washington, DC for my last arrest. I didn’t go because I am not under allegiance and repudiate the fascists that run our government and the enforcers who are doing their best Nazi-job of “following orders” in oppressing our rights as Americans.
Why are they beating up a Reverend who served in the Air Force, and honorably left after the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, for wanting to attend a hearing in Congress?
Why are they arresting a Gold Star Mother for exercising the very freedoms for which George Bush freakishly says her son died?
Why are my daughter and assistant under indictment for Contempt of Congress when BushCo have steadily refused to testify before committees under oath, or any other way? As a matter of fact, Betray-Us wasn’t even put under oath that day in the House.
Why are college students being tasered for asking the same questions that we all want answered from John Kerry who threw our Representative Republic in the garbage along with the 2004 election?
Why are nooses being hung in the South?
Why do any of us pay our Federal Taxes to a government that we abhor and which we adamantly disagree with? Why do we allow our hard earned money to be used for murder and oppression?
Why is Congress giving BushCo more authority to begin a New World War?
Where are religious leaders to lead us in pro-democracy demonstrations? Most of our mainstream religions suffer from the same neo-fascism that our governmental leaders suffer from.
Why do we march in DC on Saturdays and get arrested just to get arrested? It’s time to descend on DC on a weekday and make commitments to our world and our posterity to over throw this fascism right now?
When can we have a country-wide massive general strike?
Recent reports show that Saddam made overtures to America through the UAE and Spain to go into exile weeks before the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq. Of course, the overtures were rejected because George’s small mind was already made up to invade Iraq before he became president in some sick way to either show up or gain approval from a dysfunctional family. What if Spain’s former President Aznar had spoken up then? What if Colin Powell, George Tenet, or any of the criminal neocons had spoken up to prevent this horrible loss of life and pain before it even started?
I wouldn’t be under a bench warrant right now. Rev wouldn’t be recovering from a badly sprained ankle. Casey would be alive and hundreds of thousands of others would be alive.
We can’t count on anyone but ourselves. It’s now up to we the people to follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Burma to courageously confront the anti-democracy/pro-fascist elements of our society.
Contact Cindy at: Cindy@CindyforCongress.org
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan who was KIA in Iraq on 04/04/04. She is a co-founder and President of Gold Star Families for Peace.
Washington's Wars and Occupations
by Max Elbaum, September 29, 2007, War Times
URGENT MOMENT IN A LONG HAUL
It's not easy to maintain a sense of urgency and outrage at the same time as a long-haul strategic view. Still, that's what's demanded of antiwar activists right now.
Regarding reasons to be outraged, even George Bush's spin machine can't hide the blood-soaked list:
• The Iraq war is already lost, but still the President promises permanent occupation and endless war: "It is clear that Mr. Bush refuses to recognize the truth of his failure in Iraq and envisions a military commitment that has no end," the New York Times editorialized Sept. 14.
• This policy is bound up with imperial ambitions to control the oil-rich Middle East: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil," wrote former head of the Federal Reserve Board and conservative Republican Alan Greenspan in his just-released memoir.
• The result is a human disaster. The U.S. war and occupation has already led to a million or more Iraqi deaths, and 3,000-plus deaths among U.S. troops. Over two million Iraqis have been driven from their homes. The latest horror is an outbreak of cholera as Iraq's water purification system has all but totally broken down. Even if a best-case scenario of peace, independence, and reconstruction miraculously started tomorrow, the destruction wrought would leave scars for generations.
MILITARISM AND RACISM, MERCENARIES AND TORTURE
• Iraq is the centerpiece of a much broader U.S. posture of militarism and occupation. Every day the U.S. stays in Iraq heightens the danger of attacking Iran or otherwise engulfing the entire region in armed conflict. The "war on terror" serves as cover for Washington's blank-check support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
• The Iraq/"war on terror" mantra has normalized practices that previously were suppressed or at least had to be hidden. The U.S. government now brazenly practices torture. It employs mercenaries accountable to no law whatsoever. It has relegated 800 years of habeas corpus rights to the dustbin.
• Reinforcement of racism is integral to the whole enterprise. Demonization of Arabs and Muslims along with institutionalization of a racially coded "us" vs. "them" framework are the battering rams. And this is a county where racism hardly needs further reinforcement to entrench inequality: witness many pundits and politicians thinking it's acceptable (even a potential vote-getter!) to excuse the hanging of a noose on a "white tree" in Jena Louisiana as simply a "teen-age prank."
• The war/racism/fear-mongering package is used as a wedge against all social movements at home: "illegal immigrants bring crime and terrorism!... we need more prisons to keep us safe!... blah blah blah!"
ELITE NOT READY TO BITE THE BULLET
Other than Bush's die-hard supporters, almost the entire U.S. policy-making elite recognizes "there can be no military solution" to the disaster they are facing in Iraq. Still, no substantial sector is yet willing to bite the bullet and commit to complete withdrawal. They are too scared of the negative impact such a retreat would have on U.S. power generally, and of the domestic political consequences of being blamed for "losing Iraq." So no serious Republican presidential candidate, and none of the three top-tier Democratic contenders, promises to end the war in the only way it is possible to do so: getting out.
The majority of U.S. people now think the war was a mistake and has lost confidence in a U.S. "victory." But many have been intimidated or confused by misinformation and fear-mongering. Millions are vulnerable to Bush's demagogic argument that dire consequences for both Iraq and the U.S. would flow from immediate and total withdrawal. So the antiwar movement has an uphill struggle to translate broad antiwar sentiment into sustained, large-scale and militant protest.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE THIS MONTH
With a whole country being destroyed, and Washington's Iraq policy at the pivot of threats to the entire world, a groundswell of outrage and urgency is more than warranted. So is reminding ourselves that a great lesson of the Vietnam War era is that every act of protest actually DOES make a difference - no matter how much the powers-that-be work to convince us otherwise.
Yet a hard-nosed assessment simultaneously tells us that: (1) it will take another level of crisis and resistance - in Iraq and/or here - before Washington's power-brokers are forced to admit defeat; (2) it will take time for that to happen, indeed, the likelihood is for quite a long haul; and (3) constant protest along the way is necessary even to prevent the diehard neocon faction centered in Dick Cheney's office from expanding the Iraq war to Iran and the entire Middle East.
In combining our urgent outrage and long-haul vision, the month right ahead of us offers some special opportunities.
September's All-Hail-General-Petraeus-Show on Capitol Hill bought Bush some time with wavering members of his own party. But it didn't make a dent in public opinion. Since the war-makers' best shot fizzled this way, the time is ripe for counter-attack: for the antiwar movement to show that our determination and capacity to protest in the streets and via the net and everywhere in between is undeterred.
And there is a clear target, in that the congressional vote on Bush's "supplemental request" for funding the Iraq war has been postponed from its original September date. A bloc of Congress members has pledged to vote no funds for anything but organizing a U.S. military withdrawal. Popular pressure can expand their ranks and remind every member of Congress that there will be consequences for allowing this war to continue.
Vehicles for mass actions along these lines are already planned for October. The Iraq Moratorium – www.iraqmoratorium.org – which kicked off September 21 will continue with Moratorium Day No. 2 on October 26. Regional mobilizations October 27 are planned for 11 cities sponsored by United for Peace and Justice - go to www.unitedforpeace.org for information. A range of other actions by veterans, in support of military resisters, on campuses, and elsewhere – many confronting the war-makers with civil disobedience – are also in motion.
What happens this month sets the stage for the long stretch from New Year's Day through the 2008 election. The challenge during that period will be to launch and sustain a level of independent antiwar activism that - in its breadth, creativity and tactics – insists to all candidates and the public at large that as long as the occupation continues there will be No Campaigning As Usual and No New Administration As Usual.
This is also a moment when antiwar activists can "make the connections" on the ground as well as in literature and educational work. Across the country local immigrant rights groups are mobilizing against the new wave of government intimidation raids. The struggle to support the Jena 6 is galvanizing a new wave of anti-racist activism anchored in the African American community. Swinging its muscle behind these vital battles would mark an important step toward constructing a durable and more deeply rooted antiwar movement. Likewise, the "No War, No Warming" offensive - see www.nowarnowarming.org for information about October 21-23 actions in particular - makes the vital links between oil, global warming and U.S. militarism, and taps into the concern that many polls say is number one among the country's youth.
War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing.
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