Tag Archives: Abu Ghraib

On Torture Photos: The US Thinks You Can’t Handle the Truth

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

America: land of the free and brave. But that’s not how your federal government sees you. It thinks Americans are too prissy and delicate to “handle the truth,” as Jack Nicholson’s character famously calls it in “A Few Good Men,” an otherwise stupid film.

Officially, of course, US government lawyers are arguing that releasing hundreds of photos depicting abuse of kidnapped Muslim detainees at US torture facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan would inflame terrorists and hand radical insurgent groups propaganda that they would use in order to recruit new members.

But that’s a pretty thin argument, given the fact that anti-American organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda are doing quite well as it is minus the photos.

What’s the real concern?

The real concern is pretty obvious: that if the American people were to see visual documentation of the horrific abuse inflicted by America’s armed forces and intelligence agents upon low-level insurgents, political dissidents and people who have absolutely nothing to do with politics, they might become so disgusted that they would demand substantial changes in American foreign policy – like accountability for torture, and turning off the flow of billions of dollars in our taxes to the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and dozens of politically connected corporate contracting firms who own Congress and the White House.

The government has been sitting on thousands of photos that reportedly depict “sexual assault, soldiers posing with dead bodies, and other offenses” at US owned and run concentration camps in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq for over 10 years.

The Intercept reports:

Hellerstein first ordered the government to hand over a subset of the pictures in 2005 . President Obama decided to release them in 2009, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the top American general in Iraq implored him not to. Congress then passed a law amending the Freedom of Information Act to allow the Secretary of Defense to certify that publishing the pictures could put American lives at risk, which then-secretary Robert Gates did. The ACLU continued to fight the issue in court, and last August, Hellerstein ordered that the government needed to justify withholding each picture individually.”

The Pentagon claims that it took a look at all the pictures again, and decided – surprise surprise – that every single one of them should not be released.

In a hearing last week, Judge Hellerstein made clear that he was not satisfied by the government’s continued stonewalling. “It’s too easy and too meaningless,” he said about the government’s censor-it-all strategy.

torture-photos-abu-ghraibThe usual standard in such matters is public interest: is the material in question newsworthy? Clearly, in this case the answer is yes. National security is another consideration, but because the Obama administration has admitted that the United States is a torture nation, and the events in question have been widely reported in a number of news stories and books, it seems easily disposed of.

Even if and when the photos and videos of detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq are released, one wonders whether media outlets will publish or broadcast them. Many of the worst photographs from Abu Ghraib never showed up in print. If anything, the media is engaging in even more self-censorship than during the Bush years. Case in point: the only major media outlet to post last week’s propaganda video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria burning a captured Jordanian pilot to death was Fox News.

But instead of being praised for refusing to separate news consumers from the news, the network got slammed for aiding and abetting terrorism: ” are literally – literally – working for Al Qaeda and ISIS’ media arm,” Rick Nelson, a senior associate in homeland security and terrorism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Guardian. “They might as well start sending them royalty checks.”

(One wonders if Nelson’s supervisors at CSIS are aware of their employee’s ignorance about radical Islamism; Al Qaeda and ISIS do not work together, but are bitter rivals.)

In a separate case late last year, a federal district court rejected the Obama administration’s refusal to release 28 videotapes showing the brutal force-feeding of a Guantánamo hunger striker. Again, the government had argued that the videos risked inflaming anti-Americanism.

I am not insensitive to the concern that the United States, its armed forces and its civilian citizens are at greater risk of attack as the result of its torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Seems to me, however, that continuing to stonewall and cover up photographic evidence of these heinous crimes — even though, as a cartoonist, I understand that a picture really can be worth 1000 words — isn’t the solution.

Besides, those photos belong to you and me. They were taken by US government employees, on the clock, carrying out duties that they were ordered to do, in many cases using government-owned equipment.

If torture of Muslims is the problem, the United States government should commit itself to no longer torturing Muslims. To be taken seriously, such a change of policy would necessitate closing the torture camps, releasing all the detainees, investigating allegations of torture and prosecuting those responsible from the low-level prison guards to the lawyers and top government officials who were aware of and authorized their actions – and those investigations require the complete airing of all evidence, including the photos in question here.

Torture photos are not the biggest threat to national security; Being a country that tortures is. Or, to put it the same way that government defenders of the NSA’s intrusive surveillance of the private lives of the American people do, you don’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t doing anything wrong.

 

Fact Terrorist

We gave up our privacy to corporations. But that was voluntary. And it wasn’t to the government – the organization that runs concentration camps.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: If We Learn Geography, the Terrorists Have Won

When You Ask “Why?,” Mean It.

Why?

Why would anybody want to kill innocent people?

That’s what Americans — led by the media reporters and pundits who set the agenda for discussion — ask after every terrorist attack, particularly those carried out by foreigners.

Our mystified national cluelessness begs the question. Why do people blow up our embassies, bomb our ships, fly planes into our buildings, (try to) blow up their shoes and their underwear? They do it (partly) because we can’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing.

Studies, particularly the ones the media trots out at times like these, point to a number of factors. Some of these may help trigger the kind of violent “self-radicalization” that initial reports indicate may have led Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Kyrgyzstani brothers of Chechen descent, to detonate a pair of bombs at the Boston Marathon last week.

Was it psychological alienation? “I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan, 26, supposedly the instigator of the attack, said. A traumatic event, like a job loss or the break-up of a romantic relationship? Some studies find that some self-radicalized (as opposed to those who are recruited into an organization) terrorists are made after they suffer a disappointment that sets them off, causing a person with political rage to graduate to violent direct action. After the Fort Hood shooting, the Pentagon concluded that substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome or brain injuries sustained in an IED blast could be triggers. Some even blame the involvement of Dzhokhar, 19 and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, on reports that he was a pothead.

But hey, one could just as easily ask what drove state terrorist Barack Obama to murder thousands of innocent people with killer drones. Was the president sad after failing to win a second Nobel Prize? Did Michelle stop putting out? Did cocaine and/or marijuana scramble his right temporo-parietal junction, the part of the brain that controls the moral judgments of human beings? It’s pretty safe to say we’ll never be able to point to one, or two, or 17 discrete factors as the “causes” for the conscious choice to kill another person.

Like the drone war, the Boston Marathon bombings were a political act.

At this point, my best guess is that this was an attempt to strike back at the U.S. in its post-9/11 “great war of civilizations,” or Christian “crusade,” as George W. Bush called it. Authorities who questioned Dzhokhar in his hospital bed say that he and Tamerlan wanted to defend Islam from attack.

You can argue that the Tsarnaev brothers’ politics were wrong. That their tactics were counterproductive. That they were just “losers,” as their uncle called them. But we can’t understand why unless we dig into those politics.

Which is something that, 12 years after 9/11, the American media still refuses to do. Which increases the odds of future attacks.

Terrorism is not prima facie the act of a nut. Serial killers don’t detonate bombs. Terrorists don’t terrorize for fun.

“Terrorism [as opposed to state terrorism, like the drone wars] is the tool of the weak, used by disaffected groups or minorities to oppose the rule and (as they see it) the oppression of an established and militarily superior power,” Mark Nicholson wrote. “Because it is resistance on the cheap, terrorism often emerges out of civil society rather than state sponsorship, because oppressed civilian groups, lacking control over governmental machinery, can summon little or no regular military force able to confront their ‘oppressor’ in conventional military terms.”

We like terrorists. Some of them, anyway. During World War II German occupation forces characterized the leaders of the Warsaw ghetto uprising as “terrorists.” We view these doomed Jews, who fought to the death, as noble. The Afghan mujahedeen who struggled against the Soviets during the 1980s were terrorists to the USSR, “freedom fighters” to Ronald Reagan. The French Resistance assassinated public officials and robbed banks and bombed trains, and we love ’em for it. In movies like “Red Dawn,” we cheer the patriotic American “terrorists” who wage guerilla warfare against the invaders.

This, of course, is how radical Islamists see themselves: as heroic fighters in a resistance movement against a rapacious, cruel oppressor. (And if they prevail, that’s how history will read.) They’re not psychotic. They’re principled, willing to sacrifice everything for their cause.

Since 9/11 our leaders have repeatedly told us that “they” “hate our freedoms,” but of course this is nonsense. As Osama bin Laden remarked, if the Islamists resented liberal societies, if they wanted the world’s women all under burqas, Amsterdam would have been blown to bits. “We only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq,” bin Laden wrote in 2004.

To ask why Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did what they did (if indeed they did it), to research their political motivations with an open mind, without dismissing them as random (friendless, stoned, loser) crazies, does not legitimize their tactics.

Self-styled Islamist resistance organizations like Al Qaeda haven’t garnered widespread support because terrorism against civilians is counterproductive. As Ché Guevara wrote, “terrorism [is] a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its results, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution.”

However, as Ché continued, terrorism directed against government or military officials can be legitimate: “Terrorism should be considered a valuable tactic when it is used to put to death some noted leader of the oppressing forces well known for his cruelty, his efficiency in repression, or other quality that makes his elimination useful.” After 9/11, for example, even some Americans viewed the Pentagon as a legitimate military target. Conversely, arguments that the World Trade Center, as a hub of a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire,” was an acceptable target, were rejected. The WTC victims enjoy an exalted sainthood in popular culture; grief over the Pentagon victims has always been relatively muted.

No would-be revolutionary who knows history would have targeted a civilian target like the Boston Marathon.

So, let’s agree that the brothers’ tactics sucked. That what they did was evil. But what of their political motivations?

One would have to be blind not to understand why Muslims are enraged at the U.S.: Gitmo, drones, propping up dictators, Palestine, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Iraq, the list goes on and on…and yes, Chechnya — where the Russians slaughtered thousands of innocents while their American allies silently cheered them on.

But few of us know about that. Because our media didn’t report it.

Which gets us back to:

Why’d the Boston bombers do it?

To get us to pay attention.

So we’ll force “our” government to stop what they’re doing in Muslim countries.

But that’ll never happen until we know “we’re” doing.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Truth About Truthers

Why Does the US Government Create Paranoia?

“Truthers expect something from you,” an interviewer told me last week.

Indeed they do. I rarely get through a public appearance or talk-radio interview without being asked about 9/11 by a “Truther”—a person who believes that the attacks were planned and/or carried out by the U.S. government.

The 9/11 Truth movement is diverse. Some adherents think the Twin Towers and especially the Pentagon were struck by remote-controlled missiles or drone planes, not hijacked jets. Others accept the involvement of four commercial airliners in the official account but think the Twin Towers, and especially 7 World Trade Center, an office building across the street from the Twin Towers that collapsed hours later, were brought down in a staged, controlled demolition. Then there’s the “stand down” theory, which posits that the Bushies knew what was coming and ordered the military not to respond.

Theories about the execution of the 9/11 conspiracy vary. Its purpose is broadly believed to have been to cow the public into relinquishing long-cherished freedoms and liberties, opening the door to a post-9/11 police state.

As a critic of U.S. government policy, I get a lot of email from Truthers. They ask me to support their cause.

Truthers are passionate and energetic. They send links to websites, books and DVDs questioning the series of events laid out in the 9/11 Commission Report and mainstream media accounts. They remind me that the Bush and Obama Administrations have gotten caught lying about the post-9/11 war on terror. Why, then, am I not open to the possibility that 9/11 was an inside job? Am I lazy? Or some government shill? (If so I wish they’d pay me.)

I am open-minded. And I don’t trust our political leaders. So I read everything that people send me. I watched films like “Loose Change” and “In Plane Sight,” a professionally edited documentary that relies on insinuation to argue that nefarious government somebodies fired something other than hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Example: “How can a Boeing 757, which is over 44 feet in height and 124 feet in width, simply disappear without a trace into a hole that is only 16 feet in diameter? Also, why is there no external damage to the Pentagon where the wings and the tail section would have impacted with the outer wall?”

Answer: The plane hit the lawn, not the building. The Pentagon is made of reinforced WPA-era concrete. The plane’s wings were thin, light and full of jet fuel. They disintegrated upon impact.

Everything I’ve read and watched on Truther sites is like that: easily dismissed by anyone with a basic knowledge of physics and architecture. (I spent three years in engineering school.) Therefore, with one exception, I believe the official story.

The exception is United Flight 93, which crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I think there’s a possibility it was shot down by a USAF fighter jet. According to the 9/11 Commission Report a shootdown order was issued to the Air Force, which had at least one jet close enough to intercept the airliner before the crash. In addition, local media reported that the plane’s engine was found miles away from the crash site. Engines don’t bounce that far.

There was almost certainly a revolt aboard the flight. But the 9/11 Commission Report never confirms that the passengers gained access to the cockpit: “The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door…The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down…”

Sounds strange to me. As far as we know, the cockpit door remained locked. The hijackers knew they were going to die. Why would they give up their mission before they were forced to do so?

Of course, I don’t know what happened aboard Flight 93. I’m no expert.

I do know that most 9/11 Truther narratives don’t make sense. For example, how could workers rig up the World Trade Center for a controlled demolition—a months-long project that would require miles of cable, tens of thousands of pounds of explosives, hundreds of workers—without being noticed by the 50,000 people who worked there?

What I really don’t understand is the movement’s motivations. What do Truthers want?

For the sake of argument let’s assume that the four 9/11 planes were found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, confirming that they never hit their targets. Like in the TV show “Lost.” Are Truthers naïve enough to think there would be a revolution?

“Our government has lied to us about the events of 9/11,” Truther Frank Agamemnon said last year on Russia Today TV. “And if the truth came out about it, maybe the wars would stop.”

I don’t think so. Americans didn’t rise up when Bush stole the 2000 election. They didn’t care when WMDs failed to turn up in Iraq. We did nothing about Abu Ghraib or legalized torture or a president who says he has the right to assassinate each and every one of us, even if we’re innocent of any crime. Even if 9/11 did prove to be an inside job, I predict the national reaction would be:

“Huh.”

Truthers aren’t crazy. Not most of them, anyway. They’ve glommed on to the simple (crazy) fact that there has never been a real investigation of the September 11th attacks—a query led not by a politician like former New Jersey governor Tom Kean but by incorruptible scholars and respected experts independent of the world of politics, including those from other nations. And even Kean reported that the Bush Administration dragged their feet and failed to cooperate.

Since 9/11 the media has ignored Truthers or dismissed them as wild-eyed lunatics. As we saw with the Obama birth certificate issue, however, brushing people off merely raises more questions and prolongs the discussion.

On a number of pressing issues in recent years, the federal government has refused transparency, much less a real investigation that would have enabled people to move past 9/11. After Obama took office, for instance, he announced that there would be no prosecutions or investigations of torture in Iraq or at Guantánamo under Bush.

The evolving accounts of Osama bin Laden’s death seemed ideally tailored to create the suspicion that big secrets were being covered up. First we heard that Osama came out guns blazing, then he merely had a gun, then he was unarmed, finally he was executed after he had been handcuffed. As for disposing of the body at sea, well, a certain amount of skepticism naturally follows the lack of a corpse.

The Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch narratives followed similar trajectories.

Why does the federal government feed the conspiracy theorists? Maybe it’s unintentional, but probably not. I think the U.S. has become like a Third World dictatorship: the more they keep us guessing, the smarter they seem, and the more we’ll fear them.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: American Dogs Count More Than Afghan People

Helicopter Shootdown Story Unmasks Bigoted Media

New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins couldn’t help liking the young American soldiers with whom he was embedded in U.S.-occupied Iraq. Recognizing that, Filkins tried to maintain some professional distance. “There wasn’t any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at five hundred yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people,” he wrote in his book of war vignettes, “The Forever War.”

Alas, he was all but alone.

All wars demand contempt for The Other. But the leaders of a country waging a war of naked, unprovoked aggression are forced to rely on an even higher level of enemy dehumanization than average in order to maintain political support for the sacrifices they require. Your nation’s dead soldiers are glorious heroes fallen to protect hearth and home. Their dead soldiers are criminals and monsters. Their civilians are insects, unworthy of notice. So it is. So it always shall be in the endless battle over hearts and minds.

Even by these grotesque, inhuman rhetorical standards, the ten-year occupation of Afghanistan has been notable for the hyperbole relied upon by America’s compliant media as well as its brazen inconsistency.

U.S. and NATO officials overseeing the occupation of Afghanistan liken their mission to those of peacekeepers—they’re there to help. “Protecting the people is the mission,” reads the first line of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander’s Counterinsurgency Guidance statement. “The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy. ISAF will succeed when the [Karzai government] earns the support of the people.”

Of course, actions speak louder than words. Since 2001 ISAF has been doing precious little protecting of anything other than America’s geopolitical interests, using Afghanistan as a staging ground for thousands of drone attacks across the border in Pakistan. Protecting Afghanistan civilians has actually been a low ISAF priority, to say the least. They’ve been bombing civilians indiscriminately, then lying about it, sometimes paying off bereaved family members with token sums of blood money.

The verbiage deployed by American officials, dutifully transcribed by journo-stenographers at official press briefings, sends nearly as loud a message as a laser-guided Hellfire missile slamming into a wedding party: Afghan lives mean nothing.

The life of an American dog—literally, as we’ll see below—counts more than that of an Afghan man or woman.

In the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters shot down a Chinook CH-47 transport helicopter in eastern Wardak province with a rocket-propelled grenade on August 6th.

(I lifted that “worst single-day loss of life” phrase from numerous press accounts. The implication is obvious—the U.S. isn’t accustomed to taking losses. But tens of thousands of Afghans, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been killed in the war that began in 2001.)

Western media’s attitude toward the Afghans they are supposedly trying to “assist” was as plain as the headlines. “U.S. Troops, SEALs Killed in Afghanistan Copter Crash,” reported Time magazine. (SEALS are U.S. Navy commandos.) “31 Killed in Afghanistan Chopper Crash,” said the ABC television network. “31 Dead in Afghanistan Helicopter Crash,” shouted Canada’s National Post. (The number was later revised to 30.)

Eight Afghan government commandos died too. But dead Afghans don’t rate a headline—even when they’re working for your country’s puppet regime. As far as the American press is concerned, only 30 people—i.e., Americans—died.

An initial Associated Press wire service report noted that the dead included “22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, seven Afghan Army troops, a dog and his handler, and a civilian interpreter, plus the helicopter crew.”

The dog. They mentioned the dog.

And the dog’s handler.

After 9/11 American pundits debated the question: Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us [Americans] so much? This is why. It is official Pentagon policy not to count Afghan or Iraqi or Pakistani or Libyan or Yemeni or Somali dead, civilian or “enemy.” But “our” guys are sacred. We even count our dogs.

Lest you think that I’m exaggerating, that this was merely another example of a reporters larding his account with excessive detail, consider this maudlin missive by Michael Daly of the New York Daily News, one of the biggest newspapers in the United States:

“Among the SEALs were a dog handler and a dog that would remind outsiders of Cujo [a rabies-infected beast in one of Stephen King’s horror novels], but held a special place in the hearts of the squadron,” wrote Daly. “SEALs have a soft spot for their dogs, perhaps partly because a canine’s keen senses can alert them to danger and give them a critical edge. A dog also allows resolutely reticent warriors to express a little affection; you can pet a pooch, if not another SEAL.”

Get a grip, Mike. Lots of people like dogs.

“Many of the SEALs have a dog stateside,” continueth Daly. “To take one on a mission may be like bringing along something of home.”

Or maybe they just come in handy for Abu Ghraib-style interrogations.

Daly tortures and twists his cheesy prose into the kind of savage propaganda that prolongs a war the U.S. can’t win, that is killing Afghans and Americans for no reason, that most Americans prefer not to think about. Soon a group of elite commandos—members of Team Six, the same outfit that assassinated Osama bin Laden—become helpless victims of the all-seeing, all-powerful Taliban of Death. In Daly’s bizarre world, it is the Afghan resistance forces and their 1980s-vintage weapons that have all the advantages.

Note the infantile use of the phrase “bad guys.”

“The bad guys knew when the Chinook helicopter swooped down into an Afghan valley that it would have to rise once those aboard were done. All the Taliban needed to do was wait on a mountainside. The Chinook rose with a SEAL contingent that likely could have held off thousands of the enemy on the ground. The SEALs could do nothing in the air against an insurgent with a rocket.”

Helpless! One could almost forget whose country these Americans were in.

Or what they were in Wardak to do.

Early reports had the dead Navy SEALs on a noble “rescue mission” to “assist” beleaguered Army Rangers trapped under “insurgent” fire. Actually, Team Six was on an assassination assignment.

“The American commandos who died when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan were targeting a Taliban commander directly responsible for attacks on U.S. troops,” CNN television reported on August 7th. “Targeting” is mediaspeak for “killing.” According to some accounts they had just shot eight Talibs in a house in the village of Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen in the Tangi Valley. Hard to imagine, but U.S. soldiers used to try to capture enemy soldiers before killing them.

Within hours newspaper websites, radio and television outlets were choked with profiles of the dead assassins—er, heroes.

The AP described a dead SEAL from North Carolina as “physically slight but ever ready to take on a challenge.”

NBC News informed viewers that a SEAL from Connecticut had been “an accomplished mountaineer, skier, pilot and triathlete and wanted to return to graduate school and become an astronaut.”

What of the Afghans killed by those SEALs? What of their hopes and dreams? Americans will never know.

Two words kept coming up:

Poignant.

Tragedy (and tragic).

The usage was strange, outside of normal context, and revealing.

“Of the 30 Americans killed, 22 were members of an elite Navy SEAL team, something particularly poignant given it was Navy SEALS who succeeded so dramatically in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden,” said Renee Montaigne of National Public Radio, a center-right outlet that frequently draws fire from the far right for being too liberal.

Ironic, perhaps. But hardly poignant. Soldiers die by the sword. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

Even men of the cloth wallowed in the bloodthirsty militarism that has obsessed Americans since the September 11th attacks. Catholic News Service quoted Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who called the Chinook downing a “reminder of the terrible tragedy of war and its toll on all people.”

“No person of good will is left unmoved by this loss,” said the archbishop.

The Taliban, their supporters, and not a few random Afghans, may perhaps disagree.

This is a war, after all. Is it too much to ask the media to acknowledge the simple fact that some citizens of a nation under military occupation often choose to resist? That Americans might take up arms if things were the other way around, with Afghan occupation forces bombing and killing and torturing willy-nilly? That one side’s “insurgents” and “guerillas” are another’s patriots and freedom fighters?

Don’t news consumers have the right to hear from the “other” side of the story? Or must we continue the childish pretense that the Taliban are all women-hating fanatics incapable of rational thought while the men (and dog) who died on that Chinook in Wardak were all benevolent and pure of heart?

During America’s war in Vietnam reporters derided the “five o’clock follies,” daily press briefings that increasingly focused on body counts. Evening news broadcasts featured business-report-style graphics of the North and South Vietnamese flags; indeed, they immediately followed the stock market summary. “The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 16 points in light trading,” Walter Cronkite would intone. “And in Vietnam today, 8 Americans were killed, 18 South Vietnamese, 43 Vietcong.”

Like the color-coded “threat assessment levels” issued by the Department of Homeland Security after 2001, the body counts became a national joke.

In many ways America’s next major conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, was a political reaction to the Vietnam experience. Conscription had been replaced by a professional army composed of de facto mercenaries recruited from the underclass. Overkill supplanted the war for hearts and minds that defined the late-Vietnam counterinsurgency strategy. And reporters who had enjoyed near total freedom in the 1960s were frozen out. Only a few trusted journos were allowed to travel with American forces in Kuwait and Iraq. They relied on the Pentagon to transmit their stories back home; one wire service reporter got back home to find that the military had blocked every single account he had filed.

Citing the five o’clock follies of Vietnam and declaring themselves incapable of counting civilian or enemy casualties, U.S. military officials said they would no longer bother to try. (Covertly, the bureaucracy continued to try to gather such data for internal use.)

Meanwhile, media organizations made excuses for not doing their jobs.

The UK Guardian, actually one of the better (i.e. not as bad) Western media outlets, summarized the mainstream view in August 2010: “While we are pretty good at providing detailed statistical breakdowns of coalition military casualties (and by we, I mean the media as a whole), we’ve not so good at providing any kind of breakdown of Afghan civilian casualties…Obviously, collecting accurate statistics in one of the most dangerous countries in the world is difficult. But the paucity of reliable data on this means that one of the key measures of the war has been missing from almost all reporting. You’ve noticed it too—asking us why we publish military deaths but not civilian casualties.”

No doubt, war zones are dangerous. According to Freedom Forum, 63 reporters lost their lives in Vietnam between 1955 and 1973—yet they strived to bring the war home to homes in the United States and other countries. And they didn’t just report military deaths.

There’s something more than a little twisted about media accounts that portray a helicopter shootdown as a “tragedy.”

A baby dies in a fire—that’s a tragedy. A young person struck down by some disease—that’s also a tragedy. Soldiers killed in war? Depending on your point of view, it can be sad. It can be unfortunate. It can suck. But it’s not tragic.

Alternately: If the United States’ losses in Afghanistan are “tragedies,” so are the Taliban’s. They can’t have it both ways.

“Tragedy Devastates Special Warfare Community,” blared a headline in USA Today. You’d almost have to laugh at the over-the-top cheesiness, the self-evident schmaltz, the crass appeal to vacuous emotionalism, in such ridiculous linguistic contortions. That is, if it didn’t describe something truly tragic—the death and mayhem that accompanies a pointless and illegal war.

On August 10th the U.S. military reported that they had killed the exact Talib who fired the RPG that brought down the Chinook. “Military officials said they tracked the insurgents after the attack, but wouldn’t clarify how they knew they had killed the man who had fired the fatal shot,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

“The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy.” But destroying the enemy is more fun.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Reforming the Torture Industry

This is a riff on Obama’s decision to push out the chairman of GM. Obviously he’s fine with the way his torture operation is going, which is why it’s being expanded and moved from Gitmo to Bagram.

Change We Need

Obama and the Democrats have achieved a sweeping victory. Now it’s time for them to dismantle Bush’s gulag archipelago of torture. Not after forming a committee to look into it. Not after we’ve found the best way to do it. Immediately.