30 June 2008

Sy Hersh : Preparing the Battlefield

Drawing courtesy of The New Yorker

The Bush Administration steps up
its secret moves against Iran.
by Seymour M. Hersh
This blockbuster article by Seymour Hersh about U.S. covert operations in Iran appears in the July 7 and 14 issue of The New Yorker. Hirsch, who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking the story of the My Lai Massacre in 1970 is the most important American independent journalist since I.F. Stone.

On June 29 we published a Reuters report on this article.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / June 31, 2008
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

Read all of this article here. / The New Yorker

Thanks to Sarito Neiman / The Rag Blog

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Kim Phuc : Then and Now

Kim Phuc now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

In one of the most famous images of the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese forces follow terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center) as they run down Road No. 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. President Richard Nixon once doubted the authenticity of the photo, which earned a Pulitzer Prize for photographer Nick Ut.
The Long Road To Forgiveness
by Kim Phuc / June 30, 2008

On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.

I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.

Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.

It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.

If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?

[This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. NPR's This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.]

Source. / All Things Considered / NPR

Thanks to Duncan Echelson / The Rag Blog

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Just Trying to Understand What This Means

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Corn Dog's Coat -- and Big Bad Jew

The video above from the Daily Show includes excerpts from John (Corn Dog) Cornyn's video, "Big Bad John," -- already a thing of legend -- previously posted and discussed on The Rag Blog.

But the best part is a faux spot for Cornyn's alleged opponent, a tea-sipping Semite. (He's a big city boy from an Ivy League school... / He's running for Senate / He's an elitist Jew... Big Bad Jew.)

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog
Cornyn's Coat Calamity

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, is hot under the collar because Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, mocked a coat he wore in his latest TV ad. Not fair, said Cornyn: that was a traditional Tamaulipeca jacket, and Schumer's a racist for saying anything and he needs to apologize to the entire Hispanic community (including, we can only presume, Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who is running to kick Cornyn out of Senate). So, nothing to do with the fact that he got completely destroyed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this week?

For anyone humming along, the song in Cornyn's ad spoofs Jimmy Dean's mining disaster classic 'Big Bad John'. What may make music historians ponder is the way that Cornyn's press people have turned a song about a "quiet and shy" blue-collar worker into self-aggrandizing bluff and bluster ego fluff about how a professional pol "Fought heathens and hellions" and "Kept Texas in power, made lesser states squirm."

Funny, there's quite a few Texans squirming at Cornyn's cornball cowboy antics. Not least the strained rhyming of "more" and "foe". For the full cringe-worthy experience, try the original Cornyn version.

Richard Whittaker / June 27, 2008

Source. / Chronic / Austin Chronicle online

See the full "Big John" video on The Rag Blog.

And go to Ride 'em, Corn Dog! / The Rag Blog / June 17, 2008

The Rag Blog

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Jim Hightower : Surprise! It's About the Oil

Bush's Iraq Oil Grab
By Jim Hightower / June 30, 2008

Out of the question. Don’t be silly. Never was a factor.

Such are the absolutes that George W, Cheney, Rummy and other Bushites have employed whenever anyone has suggested that their real reason for invading and occupying Iraq was a crude item spelled o-i-l. But now that Bush & Company’s oil-soaked regime has only a few months to go, a new honesty and an urgency is creeping out about their true intentions.

First came the news that the Iraqi government will give no-bid contracts to Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and a handful of other Western oil giants, allowing them to enter the rich oil fields of Iraq. They are to develop the productive capacity of the fields, which will give them a favored position for winning lucrative longterm licenses to privatize Iraq’s massive oil reserves. It’s a process that shuts out China, Russia… and even oil ventures that would be Iraqi-owned. This is Big Oil‘s fantasy come true.

But wait, the Iraqi people themselves hate the very idea of Western control of their oil wealth. How are the oil barons going to get away with this invasion of Iraq's sovereignty? Enter honest revelation number two.

For years Bush himself has been vociferously denying that his regime wants to build permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq – bases with thousands of ground troops. But – hello – there is now a rush by the White House to cut a far-reaching deal with the Iraqi government to station U.S. soldiers on dozens of military bases there indefinitely. As part of the deal, Bush is insisting that our soldiers be immune from Iraqi law, be free to fight battles without Iraqi permission, and be allowed to detain anyone in Iraq who might threaten our “interests.”

Bush has called Iraq a war for “freedom.” And now we see it – he’s using our soldiers to free Big Oil to grab all it can. What a disgrace.

“Iraq Oil Rush,” The New York Times, June 22, 2008.

“Iraq oil contracts confirm earlier suspicions,” Wisconsin State Journal, June 22, 2008.

“The battle for bases,” Wisconsin State Journal, June 22, 2008.

“Deals With Iraq Are Set To Bring Oil Giants Back,” The New York Times, June 19, 2008

Source. / JimHightower.com

The Rag Blog

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Arctic Ice: Going, Going...

This satellite image shows a portion of Canada's Northwest Passage largely free of ice, as seen by NASA's Terra satellite on Sept. 15, 2007. Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, raising the possibility that the North Pole will soon experience the first ice-free summer in recorded history. Photo by NASA / AP.

North Pole Meltdown?
By Seth Borenstein / June 30, 2008

There's a 50-50 chance that the North Pole will be ice-free this summer, which would be a first in recorded history, a leading ice scientist says.

The weather and ocean conditions in the next couple of weeks will determine how much of the sea ice will melt, and early signs are not good, said Mark Serreze. He's a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

The chances for a total meltdown at the pole are higher than ever because the layer of ice coating the sea is thinner than ever, he said.

"A large area at the North Pole and surrounding the North Pole is first-year ice," Serreze said. "That's the stuff that tends to melt out in the summer because it's thin."

Preliminary February and March data from a NASA satellite shows that the circle of ice surrounding the North Pole is "considerably thinner" than scientists have seen during the five years the satellite has been taking pictures, NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally said Friday. He thinks there is slightly less than a 50-50 chance the North Pole will be ice-free.

Last year was a record year for ice melt all over the Arctic and the ice band surrounding the North Pole is even thinner now.

There is nothing scientifically significant about the North Pole, Serreze said. But there is a cultural and symbolic importance. It's home to Santa Claus, after all. Last August, the Northwest Passage was open to navigation for the first time in memory.

A more conservative ice scientist, Cecilia Bitz at the University of Washington, put the odds of a North Pole without ice closer to 1 in 4. Even that is far worse than climate models had predicted, which was 1 in 70 sometime in the next decade, she said.

But both she and Serreze agree it's just a matter of time.

But both she and Serreze agree it's just a matter of time.

"I would guess within the next 10 year it would happen at least once," Bitz said.

Already, figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show sea ice in the Arctic as a whole at about the same level now as it was at its low point last year in late June and early July.

The explanation is a warming climate and a weather phenomenon, scientists said.

For the last couple of decades, there has been a steady melt of Arctic sea ice -- which covers only the ocean and which thins during summer and refreezes in winter. In recent years, it has gradually become thinner because more of it has been melting as the Earth's temperature rises.

Then, this past winter, there was a natural weather shift called the Arctic Oscillation, sort of a cold weather cousin to El Nino. That oscillation caused a change in winds and ocean that accelerated a normal flushing of sea ice in the Arctic. That pushed the older thicker sea ice that had been over the North Pole south toward Greenland and eventually out of the Arctic, Serreze said. That left just a thin one-year layer of ice that previously covered part of Siberia.

Source. / AP / Discovery News

The Rag Blog

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History : How the Republicans Perfected Their Propaganda System

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North at Iran-Contra hearings, 1987.

Iran-Contra's 'Lost Chapter'
By Robert Parry / June 30, 2008

As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.

To understand this extraordinary development, historians might want to look back at the 1980s and examine the Iran-Contra scandal’s “lost chapter,” a narrative describing how Ronald Reagan’s administration brought CIA tactics to bear domestically to reshape the way Americans perceived the world.

That chapter – which we are publishing here for the first time – was “lost” because Republicans on the congressional Iran-Contra investigation waged a rear-guard fight that traded elimination of the chapter’s key findings for the votes of three moderate GOP senators, giving the final report a patina of bipartisanship.

Under that compromise, a few segments of the draft chapter were inserted in the final report’s Executive Summary and in another section on White House private fundraising, but the chapter’s conclusions and its detailed account of how the “perception management” operation worked ended up on the editing room floor.

The American people thus were spared the chapter’s troubling finding: that the Reagan administration had built a domestic covert propaganda apparatus managed by a CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist working out of the National Security Council.

“One of the CIA’s most senior covert action operators was sent to the NSC in 1983 by CIA Director [William] Casey where he participated in the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists,” the chapter’s conclusion stated.

“This public/private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt – to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.”

However, with the chapter’s key findings deleted, the right-wing domestic propaganda operation not only survived the Iran-Contra fallout but thrived.

So did some of the administration’s collaborators, such as South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon and Australian press mogul Rupert Murdoch, two far-right media barons who poured billions of dollars into pro-Republican news outlets that continue to influence Washington’s political debates to this day.

Before every presidential election, Moon’s Washington Times plants derogatory – and often false – stories about Democratic contenders, discrediting them and damaging their chances of winning the White House.

For instance, in 1988, the Times published a bogus account suggesting that the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had undergone psychiatric treatment. In 2000, Moon’s newspaper pushed the theme that Al Gore suffered from clinical delusions. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

As for Murdoch, his giant News Corp. expanded into American cable TV with the founding of Fox News in 1996. Since then, the right-wing network has proved highly effective in promoting attack lines against Democrats or anyone else who challenges the Republican power structure.

As President George W. Bush herded the nation toward war with Iraq in 2002-03, Fox News acted like his sheep dogs making sure public opinion didn’t stray too far off. The “Fox effect” was so powerful that it convinced other networks to load up with pro-war military analysts and to silence voices that questioned the invasion. [See Neck Deep.]

Seeds of Propaganda

The seeds of this private/public collaboration can be found in the 84-page draft Iran-Contra chapter, entitled “Launching the Private Network.” [There appear to have been several versions of this “lost chapter.” This one I found in congressional files.]

The chapter traces the origins of the propaganda network to President Reagan’s “National Security Decision Directive 77” in January 1983 as his administration sought to promote its foreign policy, especially its desire to oust Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

In a Jan. 13, 1983, memo, then-National Security Advisor William Clark foresaw the need for non-governmental money to advance this cause. “We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” Clark wrote.

As administration officials began reaching out to wealthy supporters, lines against domestic propaganda soon were crossed as the operation took aim at not only at foreign audiences but at U.S. public opinion, the press and congressional Democrats who opposed funding Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras.

At the time, the contras were earning a gruesome reputation as human rights violators and terrorists. To change this negative perception of the contras, the Reagan administration created a full-blown, clandestine propaganda operation.

“An elaborate system of inter-agency committees was eventually formed and charged with the task of working closely with private groups and individuals involved in fundraising, lobbying campaigns and propagandistic activities aimed at influencing public opinion and governmental action,” the draft chapter said.

Heading this operation was a veteran CIA officer named Walter Raymond Jr., who was recruited by another CIA officer, Donald Gregg, before Gregg shifted from his job as chief of the NSC’s Intelligence Directorate to become national security adviser to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

[The draft chapter doesn’t use Raymond’s name in its opening pages, apparently because some of the information came from classified depositions. However, Raymond’s name is used later in the chapter and the earlier citations match Raymond’s role.]

According to the draft report, the CIA officer recruited for the NSC job had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a “specialist in propaganda and disinformation.”

“The CIA official [Raymond] discussed the transfer with [CIA Director William] Casey and NSC Advisor William Clark that he be assigned to the NSC as Gregg’s successor [in June 1982] and received approval for his involvement in setting up the public diplomacy program along with his intelligence responsibilities,” the chapter said.

“In the early part of 1983, documents obtained by the Select [Iran-Contra] Committees indicate that the Director of the Intelligence Staff of the NSC [Raymond] successfully recommended the establishment of an inter-governmental network to promote and manage a public diplomacy plan designed to create support for Reagan Administration policies at home and abroad.”

Raymond “helped to set up an elaborate system of inter-agency committees,” the draft chapter said, adding:

“In the Spring of 1983, the network began to turn its attention toward beefing up the Administration’s capacity to promote American support for the Democratic Resistance in Nicaragua [the contras] and the fledgling democracy in El Salvador.

“This effort resulted in the creation of the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Department of State (S/LPD), headed by Otto Reich,” a right-wing Cuban exile from Miami.

Though Secretary of State George Shultz wanted the office under his control, President Reagan insisted that Reich “report directly to the NSC,” where Raymond oversaw the operations as a special assistant to the President and the NSC’s director of international communications, the chapter said.

“At least for several months after he assumed this position, Raymond also worked on intelligence matters at the NSC, including drafting a Presidential Finding for Covert Action in Nicaragua in mid-September” 1983, the chapter said.

In other words, although Raymond was shifted to the NSC staff in part to evade prohibitions on the CIA influencing U.S. public opinion, his intelligence and propaganda duties overlapped for a time as he was retiring from the spy agency.

Key Player

Despite Raymond’s formal separation from the CIA, he acted toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country. He was the go-to guy to keep the operation on track.

“Reich relied heavily on Raymond to secure personnel transfers from other government agencies to beef up the limited resources made available to S/LPD by the Department of State,” the chapter said.

“Personnel made available to the new office included intelligence specialists from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. On one occasion, five intelligence experts from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were assigned to work with Reich’s fast-growing operation. …

“White House documents also indicate that CIA Director Casey had more than a passing interest in the Central American public diplomacy campaign.”

The chapter cited an Aug. 9, 1983, memo written by Raymond describing Casey’s participation in a meeting with public relations specialists to brainstorm how “to sell a ‘new product’ – Central America – by generating interest across-the-spectrum.”

In an Aug. 29, 1983, memo, Raymond recounted a call from Casey pushing his P.R. ideas. Alarmed at a CIA director participating so brazenly in domestic propaganda, Raymond wrote that “I philosophized a bit with Bill Casey (in an effort to get him out of the loop)” but with little success.

The chapter added: “Casey’s involvement in the public diplomacy effort apparently continued throughout the period under investigation by the Committees,” including a 1985 role in pressuring Congress to renew contra aid and a 1986 hand in further shielding S/LPD from the oversight of Secretary Shultz.

A Raymond-authored memo to Casey in August 1986 described the shift of S/LPD – then run by neoconservative theorist Bob Kagan who had replaced Reich – to the control of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, which was headed by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, another prominent neoconservative.

Another important figure in the pro-contra propaganda was NSC staffer Oliver North, who spent a great deal of his time on the Nicaraguan public diplomacy operation even though he is better known for arranging secret arms shipments to the contras and to Iran’s radical Islamic government, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal.

The draft chapter cited a March 10, 1985, memo from North describing his assistance to CIA Director Casey in timing disclosures of pro-contra news “aimed at securing Congressional approval for renewed support to the Nicaraguan Resistance Forces.”

North’s Operatives

The Iran-Contra “lost” chapter depicts a sometimes Byzantine network of contract and private operatives who handled details of the domestic propaganda while concealing the hand of the White House and the CIA.

“Richard R. Miller, former head of public affairs at AID, and Francis D. Gomez, former public affairs specialist at the State Department and USIA, were hired by S/LPD through sole-source, no-bid contracts to carry out a variety of activities on behalf of the Reagan administration policies in Central America,” the chapter said.

“Supported by the State Department and White House, Miller and Gomez became the outside managers of [North operative] Spitz Channel’s fundraising and lobbying activities.

“They also served as the managers of Central American political figures, defectors, Nicaraguan opposition leaders and Sandinista atrocity victims who were made available to the press, the Congress and private groups, to tell the story of the Contra cause.”

Miller and Gomez facilitated transfers of money to Swiss and offshore banks at North’s direction, as they “became the key link between the State Department and the Reagan White House with the private groups and individuals engaged in a myriad of endeavors aimed at influencing the Congress, the media and public opinion,” the chapter said.

In its conclusion, the draft chapter read:
“The State Department was used to run a prohibited, domestic, covert propaganda operation. Established despite resistance from the Secretary of State, and reporting directly to the NSC, the [S/LPD] attempted to mask many of its activities from the Congress and the American people.”
However, the American people never got to read a detailed explanation of this finding nor see the evidence. In October 1987, as the congressional Iran-Contra committees wrote their final report, Republicans protested the inclusion of this explosive information.

Though the Democrats held the majority, the GOP had leverage because Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, the House chairman, wanted some bipartisanship in the final report, especially since senior Republicans, including Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, were preparing a strongly worded minority report.

Hamilton and the Democrats hoped that three moderate Republicans – William Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Paul Trible of Virginia – would break ranks and sign the majority report. However, the Republicans objected to the draft chapter about Ronald Reagan’s covert propaganda campaign.

As part of a compromise, some elements of the draft chapter were included in the Executive Summary but without much detail and shorn of the tough conclusions. Nevertheless, Cohen protested even that.

“I question the inordinate attention devoted in the Executive Summary to the Office of Public Diplomacy and its activities in support of the Administration’s polices,” Cohen wrote in his additional views. “The prominence given to it in the Executive Summary is far more generous than just.”

Long-Term Consequences

However, the failure of the Iran-Contra report to fully explain the danger of CIA-style propaganda intruding into the U.S. political process would have profound future consequences. Indeed, the evidence suggests that today’s powerful right-wing media gained momentum as part of the Casey-Raymond operations of the early 1980s.

According to one Raymond-authored memo dated Aug. 9, 1983, then-U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick “via Murdock [sic] may be able to draw down added funds” to support pro-Reagan initiatives.

Raymond’s reference to Rupert Murdoch possibly drawing down “added funds” suggests that the right-wing media mogul was already part of the covert propaganda operation.

In line with its clandestine nature, Raymond also suggested routing the “funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political center.”

Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, publisher of the Washington Times, also showed up in the Iran-Contra operations, using his newspaper to raise contra funds and assigning his CAUSA political group to organize support for the contras.

In the two decades since the Iran-Contra scandal, both Murdoch and Moon have continued to pour billions of dollars into media outlets that have influenced the course of U.S. history, often through the planting of propaganda and disinformation much like a CIA covert action might do in a hostile foreign country.

Further, to soften up the Washington press corps, Reich’s S/LPD targeted U.S. journalists who reported information that undermined the pro-contra propaganda. Reich sent his teams out to lobby news executives to remove or punish out-of-step reporters – with a disturbing degree of success. [For more, see Parry’s Lost History.]

Some U.S. officials implicated in the Iran-Contra propaganda operations are still around, bringing the lessons of the 1980s into the new century.

For instance, Elliott Abrams. Though convicted of misleading Congress in the Iran-Contra Affair and later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush – Abrams is now deputy adviser to George W. Bush’s NSC, where he directs U.S.-Middle East policy.

Bob Kagan remains another prominent neocon theorist in Washington, writing op-eds for the Washington Post. Oliver North was given a news show on Fox.

Otto Reich now is advising Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Latin American affairs. Lee Hamilton is a senior national security adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Enduring Skills

Beyond these individuals, the manipulative techniques that were refined in the 1980s – especially the skill of exaggerating foreign threats – have proved durable, bringing large segments of the American population into line behind the Iraq War in 2002-03.

Only now – with more than 4,100 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead – are many of these Americans realizing that were manipulated by clever propaganda, that their perceptions had been managed.

For instance, the New York Times recently pried loose some 8,000 pages of Pentagon documents revealing how the Bush administration had manipulated the public debate on the Iraq War by planting friendly retired military officers on TV news shows.

Retired Green Beret Robert S. Bevelacqua, a former analyst on Murdoch’s Fox News, said the Pentagon treated the retired military officers as puppets: “It was them saying, ‘we need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” [NYT, April 20, 2008, or see Consortiumnews.com’s “US News Media’s Latest Disgrace.”]

Bush’s former White House press secretary Scott McClellan described similar use of propaganda tactics to justify the Iraq War in his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.

From his insider vantage point, McClellan cited the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” – and he called the Washington press corps “complicit enablers.”

None of this would have been so surprising – indeed Americans might have been forewarned and forearmed – if Lee Hamilton and other Democrats on the Iran-Contra committees had held firm and published the scandal’s “lost chapter” two decades ago.

[Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.]

Source. / consortiumnews

Thanks to Jim Baldauf / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

AT&T Whistleblower on Congress and FISA

Mark Klein in the offices of his lawyers in San Francisco. Photo by Ryan Singel / Wired.com.

Says Spy Bill Creates 'Infrastructure
for a Police State'

By Ryan Singel / June 27, 2008

Mark Klein, the retired AT&T engineer who stepped forward with the technical documents at the heart of the anti-wiretapping case against AT&T, is furious at the Senate's vote on Wednesday night to hold a vote on a bill intended to put an end to that lawsuit and more than 30 others.
[Wednesday]'s vote by Congress effectively gives retroactive immunity to the telecom companies and endorses an all-powerful president. It’s a Congressional coup against the Constitution.

The Democratic leadership is touting the deal as a "compromise," but in fact they have endorsed the infamous Nuremberg defense: "Just following orders." The judge can only check their paperwork. This cynical deal is a Democratic exercise in deceit and cowardice.
Klein saw a network monitoring room being built in AT&T's internet switching center that only NSA-approved techs had access to. He squirreled away documents and then presented them to the press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation after news of the government's warrantless wiretapping program broke.

Wired.com independently acquired a copy of the documents (.pdf) -- which were under court seal -- and published the wiring documents in May 2006 so that they could be evaluated.

The lawsuit that resulted from his documents is now waiting on the 9th U.S. Appeals Court to rule on whether it can proceed despite the government saying the whole matter is a state secret. A lower court judge ruled that it could, because the government admitted the program existed and that the courts could handle evidence safely and in secret.

But the appeals court ruling will likely never see the light of day, since the Senate is set to vote on July 8 on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which also largely legalizes Bush's warrantless wiretapping program by expanding how the government can wiretap from inside the United States without getting individualized court orders.

Klein continues:
Congress has made the FISA law a dead letter--such a law is useless if the president can break it with impunity. Thus the Democrats have surreptitiously repudiated the main reform of the post-Watergate era and adopted Nixon’s line: "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal." This is the judicial logic of a dictatorship.

The surveillance system now approved by Congress provides the physical apparatus for the government to collect and store a huge database on virtually the entire population, available for data mining whenever the government wants to target its political opponents at any given moment—all in the hands of an unrestrained executive power. It is the infrastructure for a police state.
Neither the House nor the Senate has had Klein testify, nor have telecom executives testified in open session about their participation.

The bill forces the district court judge handling the consolidated cases against telecoms to dismiss the suits if the Attorney General certifies that a government official sent a written request to a phone or internet provider, saying that the President approved the program and his lawyers deemed it legal. Judge Vaughn Walker of the California Northern District can ask to see the paperwork, but would not be given leeway to decide if the program was legal.

Source. / Wired.com

Thanks to Dennis Thompson / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

29 June 2008

New Yorker Report : Covert Operations Against Iran

President Bush shown arriving at the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives National Conference in Washington, June 26, 2008. U.S. congressional leaders agreed late last year to President George W. Bush's funding request for a major escalation of covert operations against Iran. Photo by Jonathan Ernst / Reuters.

Aimed at nukes, regime change
June 29, 2008

WASHINGTON -- U.S. congressional leaders agreed late last year to President George W. Bush's funding request for a major escalation of covert operations against Iran aimed at destabilizing its leadership, according to a report in The New Yorker magazine published online on Sunday.

The article by reporter Seymour Hersh, from the magazine's July 7 and 14 issue, centers on a highly classified Presidential Finding signed by Bush which by U.S. law must be made known to Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders and ranking members of the intelligence committees.

"The Finding was focused on undermining Iran's nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change," the article cited a person familiar with its contents as saying, and involved "working with opposition groups and passing money."

Hersh has written previously about possible administration plans to go to war to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including an April 2006 article in the New Yorker that suggested regime change in Iran, whether by diplomatic or military means, was Bush's ultimate goal.

Funding for the covert escalation, for which Bush requested up to $400 million, was approved by congressional leaders, according to the article, citing current and former military, intelligence and congressional sources.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. U.S. Special Operations Forces have been conducting crossborder operations from southern Iraq since last year, the article said.

These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of "high-value targets" in Bush's war on terrorism, who may be captured or killed, according to the article.

The U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, told CNN's "Late Edition" he had not read the article, but denied the allegations of cross-border operations.

"I'll tell you flatly that U.S. forces are not operating across the Iraqi border into Iran, in the south or anywhere else," he said in an interview from Baghdad on Sunday.

The scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which include the Central Intelligence Agency, have now been significantly expanded, the New Yorker article said, citing current and former officials.

Many of these activities are not specified in the new finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature, it said.

Among groups inside Iran benefiting from U.S. support is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People's Resistance Movement, according to former CIA officer Robert Baer. Council on Foreign Relations analyst Vali Nasr described it to Hersh as a vicious organization suspected of links to al Qaeda.

The article said U.S. support for the dissident groups could prompt a violent crackdown by Iran, which could give the Bush administration a reason to intervene.

None of the Democratic leaders in Congress would comment on the finding, the article said. The White House, which has repeatedly denied preparing for military action against Iran, and the CIA also declined comment.

The United States is leading international efforts to rein in Iran's suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, although Washington concedes Iran has the right to develop nuclear power for civilian uses.

[Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington; writing by Chris Michaud; editing by Eric Beech and David Wiessler.]

Source. / Reuters

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Gender Bias in the Media

Sexism Sells -- But We're Not Buying It

The Women's Media Center, along with its partners at Media Matters, launched on May 20 "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It," a new video and online petition campaign illustrating the pervasive nature of sexism in the media's coverage.

According to the Women's Media Center,

"While Hillary Clinton's campaign cast a spotlight on the issue of sexism, this isn't a partisan issue: it's about making sure that women's voices are present and powerful in our national dialogue. If you haven't already, please... watch the video. You can also read a statement. about the video from WMC president Carol Jenkins. Then sign on... to join our petition campaign.

Let's send a message to the media:

Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It!"
Source. / Women's Media Center

Thanks to Frances Morey / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

What's In a Name?

Obama volunteers from Columbus, Ohio, who have adopted the middle name Hussein include J. T. Marcum, left, Aaron Barclay, Alex Enderle, Norm Shoemaker and Chelsey McCune. They use the name on the Internet and in greeting one another. Photo by Kirk Irwin / The New York Times.

Obama Supporters Take His Name as Their Own
By Jodi Kantor / June 29, 2008

Emily Nordling has never met a Muslim, at least not to her knowledge. But this spring, Ms. Nordling, a 19-year-old student from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave herself a new middle name on Facebook.com, mimicking her boyfriend and shocking her father.

“Emily Hussein Nordling,” her entry now reads.

With her decision, she joined a growing band of supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who are expressing solidarity with him by informally adopting his middle name.

The result is a group of unlikely-sounding Husseins: Jewish and Catholic, Hispanic and Asian and Italian-American, from Jaime Hussein Alvarez of Washington, D.C., to Kelly Hussein Crowley of Norman, Okla., to Sarah Beth Hussein Frumkin of Chicago.

Jeff Strabone of Brooklyn now signs credit card receipts with his newly assumed middle name, while Dan O’Maley of Washington, D.C., jiggered his e-mail account so his name would appear as “D. Hussein O’Maley.” Alex Enderle made the switch online along with several other Obama volunteers from Columbus, Ohio, and now friends greet him that way in person, too.

Mr. Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim. Hussein is a family name inherited from a Kenyan father he barely knew, who was born a Muslim and died an atheist. But the name has become a political liability. Some critics on cable television talk shows dwell on it, while others, on blogs or in e-mail messages, use it to falsely assert that Mr. Obama is a Muslim or, more fantastically, a terrorist.

“I am sick of Republicans pronouncing Barack Obama’s name like it was some sort of cuss word,” Mr. Strabone wrote in a manifesto titled “We Are All Hussein” that he posted on his own blog and on dailykos.com.

So like the residents of Billings, Mont., who reacted to a series of anti-Semitic incidents in 1993 with a townwide display of menorahs in their front windows, these supporters are brandishing the name themselves.

“My name is such a vanilla, white-girl American name,” said Ashley Holmes of Indianapolis, who changed her name online “to show how little meaning ‘Hussein’ really has.”

The movement is hardly a mass one, and it has taken place mostly online, the digital equivalent of wearing a button with a clever, attention-getting message. A search revealed hundreds of participants across the country, along with a YouTube video and bumper stickers promoting the idea. Legally changing names is too much hassle, participants say, so they use “Hussein” on Facebook and in blog posts and comments on sites like nytimes.com, dailykos.com and mybarackobama.com, the campaign’s networking site.

New Husseins began to crop up online as far back as last fall. But more joined up in February after a conservative radio host, Bill Cunningham, used Mr. Obama’s middle name three times and disparaged him while introducing Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, at a campaign rally. (Mr. McCain repudiated Mr. Cunningham’s comments).

The practice has been proliferating ever since. In interviews, several Obama supporters said they dreamed up the idea on their own, with no input from the campaign and little knowledge that others shared their thought.

Some said they were inspired by movies, including “Spartacus,” the 1960 epic about a Roman slave whose peers protect him by calling out “I am Spartacus!” to Roman soldiers, and “In and Out,” a 1997 comedy about a gay high school teacher whose students protest his firing by proclaiming that they are all gay as well.

“It’s one of those things that just takes off, because everybody got it right away,” said Stephanie Miller, a left-leaning comedian who blurted out the idea one day during a broadcast of her syndicated radio talk show and repeated it on CNN.

Ms. Miller and her fellow new Husseins are embracing the traditionally Muslim name even as the Obama campaign shies away from Muslim associations. Campaign workers ushered two women in head scarves out of a camera’s range at a rally this month in Detroit. (The campaign has apologized.) Aides canceled a December appearance on behalf of Mr. Obama by Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim congressman.

Mr. Obama may be more enthusiastic, judging from his response at a Chicago fund-raiser two weeks ago. When he saw that Richard Fizdale, a longtime contributor, wore “Hussein” on his name tag, Mr. Obama broke into a huge grin, Mr. Fizdale said.

“The theory was, we’re all Hussein,” Mr. Obama said to the crowd later, explaining Mr. Fizdale’s gesture.

Some Obama supporters say they were moved to action because of what their own friends, neighbors and relatives were saying about their candidate. Mark Elrod, a political science professor at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., is organizing students and friends to declare their Husseinhood on Facebook on Aug. 4, Mr. Obama’s birthday.

Ms. Nordling changed her name after volunteering for Mr. Obama before the Kentucky primary.

“People would not listen to what you were saying on the phone or on their doorstep because they thought he was Muslim,” she said.

Ms. Nordling’s uncle liked the idea so much that he joined the same Facebook group that she had. But when her father saw her new online moniker, he was incredulous.

“He actually thought I was going to convert to Islam,” Ms. Nordling said.

Source. / New York Times

Thanks to Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Quote of the Day - the American Dream

“The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

George Carlin, 1937 - 2008.

[+/-]

Only Exceptional People Resist Atrocity

Welcome Home, Soldier: Now Shut Up
By Paul Rockwell

There are two kinds of courage in war - physical courage and moral courage. Physical courage is very common on the battlefield. Men and women on both sides risk their lives, place their own bodies in harm’s way. Moral courage, however, is quite rare. According to Chris Hedges, the brilliant New York Times war correspondent who survived wars in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, “I rarely saw moral courage. Moral courage is harder. It requires the bearer to walk away from the warm embrace of comradeship and denounce the myth of war as a fraud, to name it as an enterprise of death and immorality, to condemn himself, and those around him, as killers. It requires the bearer to become an outcast. There are times when taking a moral stance, perhaps the highest form of patriotism, means facing down the community, even the nation.”

More and more U.S. soldiers and Marines, at great cost to their own careers and reputations, are speaking publicly about U.S. atrocities in Iraq, even about the cowardice of their own commanders, who send youth into atrocity-producing situations only to hide from the consequences of their own orders. In 2007, two brilliant war memoirs - ROAD FROM AR RAMADI by Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, and THE SUTRAS OF ABU GHRAIB by Army Reservist Aidan Delgado - appeared in print. In March 2008, at the Winter Soldier investigation just outside Washington D.C., hard-core U.S. Iraqi veterans, some shaking at the podium, some in tears, unburdened their souls. Jon Michael Turner described the horrific incident in which, on April 28, 2008, he shot an Iraqi boy in front of his father. His commanding officer congratulated him for “the kill.” To a stunned audience, Turner presented a photo of the boy’s skull, and said: “I am sorry for the hate and destruction I have inflicted on innocent people.”

The Winter Soldier investigation was followed by the publication of COLLATERAL DAMAGE: AMERICA’S WAR AGAINST IRAQI CIVILIANS, by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian. Based on hundreds of hours of taped interviews with Iraqi combat veterans, this pioneering work on the catastrophe in Iraq includes the largest number of eyewitness accounts from U.S. military personnel on record.

The Courage to Resist

We cannot understand the psychological and moral significance of military resistance unless we recognize the social forces that stifle conscience and human individuality in military life. Gwen Dyer, historian of war, writes that ordinarily, “Men will kill under compulsion. Men will do almost anything if they know it is expected of them and they are under strong social pressure to comply.” “Only exceptional people resist atrocity,” writes psychiatrist Robert Lifton.

How much easier it is to surrender to the will of superiors, to merge into the anonymity of the group. It takes uncommon courage to resist military powers of intimidation, peer pressure, and the atmosphere of racism and hate that drives all imperial wars.

Silencing the Witnesses to War

War crimes are collective in nature. Especially in wars based on fraud, soldiers are expected to lie - to their country, to their community, even to themselves. The silencing process begins on the battlefield in the presence of officers, power-holders who seek to nullify the perceptions and personal experience of troops under their command.

In his war memoir, Aidan Delgado describes attempts of his commanders to suppress the truth about Abu Ghraib. First his captain says the Army has nothing to hide, Abu Ghraib is just a rumor. But then the captain continues: “We don’t need to air our dirty laundry in public. If you have photos that you’re not supposed to have, get rid of them. Don’t talk about this to anyone, don’t write about it to anyone back home.” In the U.S. military, the truth is seditious.
Two years ago, Marine Sergeant Jimmy Massey published his riveting autobiography (written with Natasha Saulnier) in France and Spain. How the Marine Corps - through indoctrination and intimidation - transforms a homeboy from the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina into a professional killer who murders “innocent people for his government” is the subject of Massey’s unsettling, impassioned, Jar-head raunchy, and ultimately uplifting memoir, COWBOYS FROM HELL. (No U.S. publisher has picked up the book. A Marine who speaks truth to power is not without honor save in his own country.) In Chapter 18, Jimmy describes a seemingly minor encounter with his captain. Here Massey gives us a look into the process of human denial in its early phase.

Massey has just participated in a checkpoint massacre of civilians. His sense of decency, his sanity, is still in tact. Like any normal human being, he is distraught. The carnage of the war, the imbalance of power between the biggest war machine in history and a suffering people devoid of tanks and air power - the sheer injustice of it all - begins to take its toll on Massey’s conscience.

In the wake of the horrific events of the day, his captain is cool. He walks up to Massey and asks; “Are you doing all right, Staff Sergeant?” Massey responds: “No, sir. I am not doing O.K. Today was a bad day. We killed a lot of innocent civilians.”

Fully of aware of the civilian carnage, his captain asserts: “No, today was a good day.”

Relatives wailing, cars destroyed, blood all over the ground, Marines celebrating, civilians dead, and “it was good day”!

The Massey incident goes beyond the mendacity of military life. It concerns the control, the dehumanization of the psyches of our troops.

As one Vietnam veteran put it years ago: “They kept fucking with my mind.”

In 1994 Jonathan Shay, staff psychiatrist in the Department of Veterans Affairs, published a pioneering work on post traumatic stress – Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. According to Shay, who recorded volumes of testimony from Vietnam veterans, commanders routinely try to efface the perceptions and the normal feelings of compassion among American troops. Military necessity, including the ever-present need for political propaganda, determines what is perceived, and how it is perceived, in war.

It was an extremely common experience in Vietnam, Shay writes, to be told by military superiors dealing with crime and trauma: “You didn’t experience it, it never happened, and you don’t know what you know.” And it was fairly common for traumatized soldiers to say to reporters: “It didn’t happen. And besides, they had it coming.” Shay recorded the testimony of one veteran who, in great anger, describes the pressures to alter his perceptions of collective murder.

“Daylight came, and we found out we killed a lot of fishermen and kids...You said to the team, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fucking fine.’ Because that’s what we were getting from upstairs. The fucking colonel says, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it. We got body count.’ They’d be handing out fucking medals for killing civilians. So in your mind you’re saying, ‘Ah, fuck it, they’re just gooks.’ I was sick over it, after this happened. I actually puked my guts out...But see, it’s all explained to you by captains and colonels and majors. ‘Fuck it, they was suspects anyways. You guys did a great job. Erase it. It’s yesterday’s fucking news.’”
Willful Ignorance at Home

The collective process of denial on the battlefield eventually extends to the homeland. Returning soldiers, to be sure, are often honored, but only so long as they remain silent about the realities, the pathos, the absurd evils of war. Willful public ignorance is a source of pain for veterans.

Ernest Hemingway’s brilliant short story, Soldier’s Home, published in 1925 after World War I, gives us insight into the reluctance of civilians to address the psychic needs of soldiers back from war.

The simply told story is about a young man named Krebs who returns to his home in Oklahoma. At first Krebs does not want to talk about the war. But soon he feels the need to speak - to his family, his neighbors and friends. But as Hemingway tells us, “Nobody wanted to hear about it.” His town did not want to learn about atrocities, and “Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie.”

There’s the rub. His ability to assimilate into civilian life depended on his willingness to fabricate stories about the war. Soldiers are not only expected to lie on behalf of the military during the course of war, they are also expected to participate in homecoming rituals that preserve the civilian fantasy of war’s nobility.

In Hemingway’s story, the pressure to lie is so powerful, Krebs begins to manufacture stories about his experiences in battle - just to get along, just be able to lead a normal life.

Repression, however, is a major cause of mental illness and loneliness. Krebs morale deteriorates. He sleeps late in bed. He loses interest in work. He withdraws into himself.

That’s all Hemingway tells us. It’s a quietly told story, all the more powerful for its understatement.

There is a connection between Hemingway’s war-informed fiction and real life. As Shay notes, there is a tension between a soldier’s need to communalize shame and grief and the unwillingness of civilians to listen to troops whom they sent into battle. One Vietnam veteran told the following story:

“I had just come back from Vietnam and my first wife’s parents gave a dinner for me and my parents and her brothers and their wives. And after dinner we were all sitting in the living room and her father said: ‘So, tell us what it was like.’ And I started to tell them, and I told them. And do you know that within five minutes the room was empty. They were all gone, except my wife. After that I didn’t tell anybody what I had seen in Vietnam.”
Welcome home, soldier. Now shut up.

Notwithstanding clichés and pieties about support for troops, those who promote war are often the least likely to share the burdens and memories of war when soldiers return. When Ron Kovic, who was paralyzed from the chest down during the war in Vietnam, steered his wheelchair down the aisle of the Republican National Convention in 1972, the delegates spat on him and cheered for Nixon - “Four more years.”

W.D. Erhart, Vietnam veteran and author of Passing Time, never forgot the horrific episodes of his tour in Vietnam. In his first autobiography, he tells a friend about his speech at a Rotary Club. “I even put on a coat and tie and went to the Rotary Club. The Rotary Club, for chrissake. I laid it all out for ‘em. I told ‘em about search and destroy missions, harassment and interdiction fire, winning hearts and minds, all that stuff...Was I ever sharp that day.
“Now listen. You won’t believe this. I got done and nobody said a word. No applause. Nothing. Then this skinny old fart shaped like a cold chisel gets up and says he’s a retired colonel, and he thinks we should keep on pounding those little yellow bastards until they do what we say or we kill ‘em all, and he tells me I can’t be a real veteran because a real veteran wouldn’t go around badmouthing the good old U.S. of A., and the whole place erupts in thunderous applause.”
Welcome home, soldier. Now shut up.

Today Georgia Stillwell is a mother of a 21-year-old Iraqi war veteran. Her son is now homeless, unemployed, and despondent. Early one morning he drove his car over an embankment. She says that her son is a mere physical shell of himself. “My son’s spirit and soul must still be wandering the streets of Iraq.” It is not simply what happened in Iraq, but how veterans are treated at home when they seek to unburden their souls, that reinforces post-traumatic stress. On the night he drove the car off the road, he was crying, talking about the war. “His friends tell me he talks about the war. They describe it as ‘crazy talk.’ He wants the blood of the Iraqis he killed off his hands.”

“Each generation,” writes Chris Hedges, “discovers its own disillusionment, often at a terrible price. And the war in Iraq has begun to produce legions of the lost and the damned.” For our morally courageous veterans - for all of us, really, who seek forgiveness - only the truth can heal.

BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Paul Rockwell, is a writer living in the Bay Area. He is also a columnist for In Motion Magazine. Click here to reach Mr. Rockwell.

Source / Black Commentator

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Sex Slavery Crackdown in Houston

Jose Benitez, a Houston labor organizer, talks with two women who were victims of sex trafficking outside El Corralon del Chele Paco, a Houston bar targeted in the past for such trafficking. Photo by Sharon Steinmann / Houston Chronicle.

120 women rescued from grim conditions
By Lise Olsen / June 29, 2008

The farewell party was in full swing at midnight when police came for Maximino "El Chimino" Mondragon, his accomplices and his victims — scantily dressed women and girls he forced to sell beers and sexual favors under the flashing lights of a revolving crystalline disco ball inside his strip mall bar off Hempstead Highway.

Mondragon was celebrating his retirement at El Potrero de Chimino bar, also known as the Wagon Wheel. He had a one-way ticket back to his native El Salvador and blueprints in the bar for a brand-new hotel back home.

Then uninvited guests arrived.

Pickups packed the parking lots at five related bars and restaurants in northwest Houston, as more than 100 officers from federal, state and local agencies rushed in the night of Nov. 13, 2005.

Interviews with the arresting agents and documents recently obtained by the Houston Chronicle provide the first detailed account on how one of the nation's largest sex trafficking rings was dismantled in Houston — considered both a center of operations and transit point for international sex and labor traffickers.

Task force members — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — had expected to find 50 or 60 women. Eventually, they rescued about 120 victims.

In interviews, victims told agents they had been forced to work six or seven nights a week and to allow men to buy them overpriced drinks in exchange for their company or for sexual favors.

The main targets were the lead cantina owner, Mondragon; head smuggler, Walter Corea; as well as their relatives and wives. Corea was sentenced in May to 15 years; Mondragon's sentencing, the last, is set for Sept. 22. Faced with reams of evidence, seven have pleaded guilty.

To the members of the then-nearly new Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, the mass arrests and rescues represented a significant enforcement victory.

The size of the Mondragon ring, as well as others dismantled elsewhere, convinced law enforcement authorities that the problem of forced labor in the U.S. is likely much larger than anyone anticipated and continues to proliferate in Houston.

For years, the ring preyed on women and girls from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, illegally bringing them to Houston with false promises of legitimate work and then forcing them to work in cantinas to pay off smuggling fees from $8,000 to $15,000 — as well as all living expenses, according to court records and interviews with investigators.

The FBI named the case for them: "Bar Belles."

Mondragon had run businesses in Houston for at least a decade, according to records and interviews with police and a labor activist who helped rescue cantina workers.

In his bars, agents from the TABC found detailed ledgers and notebooks showing how victims had been billed for everything they ate and drank, for their rent, for their clothes, for their transport to the U.S. and for shipping money back home.

'Thought he was the devil'

To control them, Mondragon kept "intelligence" on each one — the names of their mothers, brothers and children and locations of their homes and schools. Records show victims said he threatened to kill relatives or burn down family homes if they did not cooperate.

"They were scared to death of him. ... They thought he was the devil," said Sgt. Michael Barnett of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's enforcement division in Houston.

In that strictly monitored world, male traffickers and their female "handlers" controlled victims' clothing, their bodies, their money and nearly their every move, according to interviews and court records.

"I had to do everything that they said — they had a camera outside my apartment that recorded everything," one victim told the Chronicle.

Another former bar belle, working when the raid began at Mondragon's party, fled through a back door, only to be illuminated by a helicopter spotlight and grabbed by a federal agent. She felt terrified yet relieved to have escaped.

"I said, 'Thank you God!' "

Over the years, Mondragon ran at least three seemingly normal looking bars and restaurants in northwest Houston. Mondragon and two of his brothers, both convicted as co-conspirators, lived legally in the U.S. Mondragon and his brother Oscar were both legal permanent residents. Their half brother, Victor Omar Lopez, was a naturalized U.S. citizen.

But Mondragon worked closely with lead smuggler Corea, a convicted felon and illegal immigrant who conspired to bring women to Houston from Central America and then used them as slaves.

Both Corea and Mondragon were self-made Salvadoran ricos, rich guys, who owned hotels and restaurants back home in San Miguel, the nation's third-largest city, federal investigators said.

Corea used his Salvadoran businesses as recruiting sites for victims, agents and victims said. He also oversaw an unusually large network of smugglers and safe houses in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, according to an interview with Tom Annello, an ICE unit chief and smuggling expert whose work was key to the case.

Patrons often saw Mondragon dance with the girls he kept as virtual prisoners in his clubs, according to Jose Benitez, a Houston labor organizer who tried to help the women after he met them and realized that they were being abused.

Beatings, forced abortions and prostitution took place behind closed doors or in adjacent buildings, houses and apartments, court records show. Aborted fetuses were buried or thrown down a drainage hole into the city sewer system, women told police.

Victims got little money

Several of the ring's cantinas had long been under suspicion by agents from the FBI and the TABC. TABC investigators repeatedly had investigated the businesses for allegations of prostitution, underage drinking and phony ownership, records show. TABC and other investigators believed the group used presta nombres — borrowed names from others — to run their places and to hide their assets or launder money.

In one undercover operation, agents used a snitch to buy two female victims that they wanted to rescue. They paid $11,000, according to a police report. Victor Omar Lopez, Mondragon's half-brother who is now in federal prison, even offered a guarantee: He promised that if the girls escaped, he would have one of his associates hunt them down — or give them new girls.

Unbeknownst to the other agencies, ICE had simultaneously been investigating the smuggling ring run by Corea.

"Once we determined we were investigating the same targets, we proceeded working a joint investigation," Annello said. After that, it took about a year to collect the evidence needed for mass arrests.

The operation was set for early 2006.

Then on Nov. 12, 2005, the lead ICE agent learned that Mondragon and his brother Oscar had obtained one-way tickets to San Salvador, a police report shows. The raid had to happen within hours or the targets would be gone. She called Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez and other task force agents, most of whom were off duty or out of town.

That weekend, they got the necessary arrest and search warrants for the raids on three cantinas, two restaurants and two houses.

On Sunday near midnight, the traffickers were taken down. Corea, a convicted felon and illegal immigrant, was thrown down to the floor, handcuffed and taken away, a witness said. Watching was his 19-year-old son — a U.S. citizen — who was later convicted for his part in the smuggling operation.

A special ICE tactical team went in after Mondragon. His brothers, sister-in-law and girlfriend were arrested, too.

Inside their bars, agents found more than $29,000 in cash and 98 women, some as young as 16, who had been forced to repeatedly sell their time — and allow men to touch them inside the bar — for about $15 per drink, records show.

Some victims were forced to consume as many as 20 so-called "pony beers" a night to fulfill the traffickers' quotas, according to case documents and interviews. Traffickers also sold a few women for prostitution that took place at nearby houses and apartments, court documents said. The women got almost none of the money.

Later, agents found an additional 20 victims.

Rounded up with them was the ring's abortionist, Lorenza Nunez-Reyes, known as "La Comadre." One of her "patients" had dressed and taken photos of a nearly fully developed 5-month-old fetus apparently delivered dead during one of her illicit operations. Nunez-Reyes eventually pleaded to lesser charges and was deported to Honduras.

Corea's son has been released on probation.

The rest of the ring members, however, got jail time.

The night's results, as well as arrests of other exploitive employers and pimps before and since, catapulted members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance — formed in August 2004 — into minor celebrities.

In a few hours, competitive agents working together for the first time as an experimental anti-human trafficking task force took down a powerful multinational ring that labored to dominate its victims and leave a scant paper trail.

Propelled by federal grants and pushed by President Bush, other task forces have sprung up in 29 places nationwide.

Still trying to recover

Houston's task force is considered a national leader, in large part because of the partnerships forged between victim advocates and investigators.

"What's unique ... is the bridge we have built," said Edward F. Gallagher, the senior assistant U.S. attorney in Houston who serves as task force coordinator.

Today, most of the women rescued in the Mondragon case apparently still live in Houston, though only a few dozen appear to have obtained special visas that were created for victims under new federal anti-trafficking laws.

Three interviewed for this story said they feel safer but still struggle to recover. None remains eligible for federal assistance initially available to trafficking victims. Some depend on support from boyfriends or husbands; others eke out a living cleaning houses or doing other odd jobs.

"We don't know even where to go," one said.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Source. / Houston Chronicle

The Rag Blog

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Frank Rich : Scaring Up the Vote

Illustration by Barry Blitt / The New York Times.

If Terrorists Rock the Vote in 2008
By Frank Rich / June 29, 2008

Don't fault Charles Black, the John McCain adviser, for publicly stating his honest belief that a domestic terrorist attack would be 'a big advantage' for their campaign and that Benazir Bhutto's assassination had 'helped' Mr. McCain win the New Hampshire primary. His real sin is that he didn't come completely clean on his strategic thinking.

In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign's perspective, for this terrorist attack - before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it 'help' if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?

Unlike Hillary Clinton's rumination about the Bobby Kennedy assassination or Barack Obama's soliloquy about voters clinging to guns and faith, Mr. Black's remarks were not an improvisational mishap. He gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine. He did so without thinking twice because he was merely saying what much of Washington believes. Terrorism is the one major issue where Mr. McCain soundly vanquishes his Democratic opponent in the polls. Since 2002, it's been a Beltway axiom akin to E=mc2 that Bomb in American City=G.O.P. Landslide.

That equation was the creation of Karl Rove. Among the only durable legacies of the Bush presidency are the twin fears that Mr. Rove relentlessly pushed on his client's behalf: fear of terrorism and fear of gays. But these pillars are disintegrating too. They're propped up mainly by political operatives like Mr. Black and their journalistic camp followers - the last Washington insiders who are still in Mr. Rove's sway and are still refighting the last political war.

That the old Rove mojo still commands any respect is rather amazing given how blindsided he was by 2006. Two weeks before that year's midterms, he condescendingly lectured an NPR interviewer about how he devoured '68 polls a week' - not a mere 67, mind you - and predicted unequivocally that Election Day would yield 'a Republican Senate and a Republican House.' These nights you can still find Mr. Rove hawking his numbers as he peddles similar G.O.P. happy talk to credulous bloviators at Fox News.

But let's put ourselves in Mr. Black's shoes and try out the Rove playbook at home - though not in front of the children - by thinking the unthinkable. If a terrorist bomb did detonate in an American city before Election Day, would that automatically be to the Republican ticket's benefit?

Not necessarily. Some might instead ask why the Bush White House didn't replace Michael Chertoff as secretary of homeland security after a House report condemned his bungling of Katrina. The man didn't know what was happening in the New Orleans Convention Center even when it was broadcast on national television.

Next, voters might take a hard look at the antiterrorism warriors of the McCain campaign (and of a potential McCain administration). This is the band of advisers and surrogates that surfaced to attack Mr. Obama two weeks ago for being 'naïve' and 'delusional' and guilty of a 'Sept. 10th mind-set' after he had the gall to agree with the Supreme Court decision on Gitmo detainees. The McCain team's track record is hardly sterling. It might make America more vulnerable to terrorist attack, not less, were it in power.

Take - please! - the McCain foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. He was the executive director of the so-called Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, formed in 2002 (with Mr. McCain on board) to gin up the war that diverted American resources from fighting those who attacked us on 9/11 to invading a nation that did not. Thanks to that strategic blunder, a 2008 Qaeda attack could well originate from Pakistan or Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's progeny, liberated by our liberation of Iraq, have been regrouping ever since. On Friday the Pentagon declared that the Taliban has once more 'coalesced into a resilient insurgency.' Attacks in eastern Afghanistan are up 40 percent from this time last year, according to the American commander of NATO forces in the region.

Another dubious McCain terror expert is the former C.I.A. director James Woolsey. He (like Charles Black) was a cheerleader for Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi leader who helped promote phony Iraqi W.M.D. intelligence in 2002 and who is persona non grata to American officials in Iraq today because of his ties to Iran. Mr. Woolsey, who accuses Mr. Obama of harboring 'extremely dangerous' views on terrorism, has demonstrated his own expertise by supporting crackpot theories linking Iraq to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On 9/11 and 9/12 he circulated on the three major networks to float the idea that Saddam rather than bin Laden might have ordered the attacks.

Then there is the McCain camp's star fearmonger, Rudy Giuliani, who has lately taken to railing about Mr. Obama's supposed failure to learn the lessons of the first twin towers bombing. The lesson America's Mayor took away from that 1993 attack was to insist that New York City's emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center. No less an authority than John Lehman, a 9/11 commission member who also serves on the McCain team, has mocked New York's pre-9/11 emergency plans as 'not worthy of the Boy Scouts.'

If there's another 9/11, it's hard to argue that this gang could have prevented it. At least Mr. Obama, however limited his experience, has called for America to act on actionable terrorist intelligence in Pakistan if Pervez Musharraf won't. Mr. McCain angrily disagreed with that idea. The relatively passive Pakistan policy he offers instead could well come back to haunt him if a new 9/11 is launched from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Should there be no new terrorist attack, the McCain camp's efforts to play the old Rove 9/11 fear card may quickly become as laughable as the Giuliani presidential campaign. These days Americans are more frightened of losing their jobs, homes and savings.

But you can't blame the McCain campaign for clinging to terrorism as a political crutch. The other Rove fear card is even more tattered. In the wake of Larry Craig and Mark Foley, it's a double-edged sword for the G.O.P. to trot out gay blades cavorting in pride parades in homosexual-panic ads.

Some on the right still hold out hope otherwise. After the California Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, The Weekly Standard suggested that a brewing backlash could put that state's 'electoral votes in play.' But few others believe so, including the state's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has vowed to enforce the law and opposes a ballot initiative to overturn it. Even Bill O'Reilly recently chastised a family-values advocate for mounting politically ineffectual arguments against same-sex marriage.

Mr. McCain is trying to swing both ways. While he no longer refers to the aging old-guard cranks of the religious right as 'agents of intolerance,' his actions, starting with his tardy disowning of the endorsement he sought from the intolerant Rev. John Hagee, sometimes speak as loudly as his past words.

The Ohio operative behind that state's 2004 anti-same-sex marriage campaign was so alienated by Mr. McCain's emissaries this year that he told The Los Angeles Times, 'He doesn't want to associate with us, and we don't want to associate with him.' Mr. McCain instead associated himself with Ellen DeGeneres. He visited her talk show to extend his good wishes for her forthcoming California nuptials while seeming almost chagrined to admit his opposition to same-sex marriage, a stand he shares with Mr. Obama. Since then, Mr. McCain has met with the gay Log Cabin Republicans.

He and Mr. Obama also share the antipathy of James Dobson, the Focus on the Family fulminator so avidly courted by the Bush White House. Perhaps best remembered for linking the cartoon character SquareBob SpongePants to a 'pro-homosexual video,' Mr. Dobson last week used the word 'fruitcake' in a rant against Mr. Obama. He has been nearly as dyspeptic, if not quite as 'fruit'-fixated, about Mr. McCain.

Mr. Dobson's embarrassing lashing out is the last gasp of an era. His dying breed of family-values scold is giving way to a new and independent generation of evangelical leaders (and voters) who don't march to the partisan beat of Mr. Rove or his one-time ally, the disgraced Ralph Reed. Perhaps in belated recognition of this reality, Mr. Rove has been busy lately developing a new fear card for 2008 - fear of the Obamas.

Its racial undertones are naked enough. Earlier this year, Mr. Rove wrote that Mr. Obama was 'often lazy,' and that his 'trash talking' during a debate was 'an unattractive carry-over from his days playing pickup basketball at Harvard.' Last week Mr. Rove caricatured him as the elitist 'guy at the country club with the beautiful date.' Provocative as it is to inject Mr. Obama into a setting historically associated with white Republicans, the invocation of that 'beautiful date' is even more so. Where's his beautiful wife? Mr. Rove's suggestion that Mr. Obama might be a sexual freelancer, as an astute post at the Web site Talking Points Memo noted, could conjure up for a certain audience the image of 'a white woman on his arm.'

But here, too, Mr. Rove reeks of the past. Should Mr. Black and Mr. McCain follow this ugly lead, I bet it will help them even less than the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Source. / New York Times / truthout

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