Why is it so hard for Obama to deliver on his repeated promises to leave Afghanistan? Because the situation keeps getting worse. Which is exactly why we already should have left.
Libya agreed to give up its nuclear program and had its government overthrown. Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t have one and got invaded. If the Iranians, with their long experience of American interference, agree not to build nuclear weapons, they would be idiots.
A declining American military empire relies on increasingly flimsy legal justifications to attack foreign countries without provocation. Last year, Obama asserted that the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force authorized him to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, even though the AUMF related to Al Qaeda, an enemy of ISIS. Now Obama wants Congress to give him retroactive authorization, even while claiming he was right last year. Why not go even further to stretch logic?
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.
The 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.
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies.
After World War II, Germany abandoned its old values of obedience, conformity, militarism and most recently, Nazism. When veterans of the SS were asked about their military service in the form of that most famous question “what did you do during the war, daddy?” they lied about it. They either claimed that they hadn’t served at all, or that they had served in the regular army, or if there was no way to deny having been in the SS, said they had been nowhere near any atrocities or death camps.
Postwar Germany’s liars projected positive values: anti-militarism, anti-fascism, pacifism, principled opposition to violence.
Here in the United States, our liars lie about the exact opposite things — and their lies reveal an awful set of societal values.
To his credit, NBC News anchor Brian Williams never enlisted in the US military, and thus never shot at a Libyan or a Panamanian or a Grenadian or an Iraqi or an Afghan, or dropped a bomb on one in an undeclared illegal war of imperialist aggression. He should be proud of that. Any American who does not join the military ought to consider it a point of honor to refuse to participate in an institution that has not been called upon to actually defend American territory since at least 1945.
Unfortunately, Williams lives in a country whose media and political class constantly yammer on and on about how “the troops” are the best of the best (although few enlistees are turning down Harvard scholarships), the bravest of the brave (but not as brave as the poorly equipped soldiers they are assigned to kill), and how we owe them our lives and for our precious freedoms (even though the wars they fight do nothing to defend our borders but piss off generations of future terrorists).
So rather than brag about his nonmilitary service as a journalist, talking head and all-around studmuffin, Williams made up at least one story that he thought made him sound like more of a macho man, the next best thing to a real-life actual US soldier. After having been embedded with US soldiers in US-occupied Iraq (see the 2003 US Navy picture above), Williams falsely claimed that he survived the crash of his helicopter after it came under fire in 2003.
I don’t really care whether Williams keeps his job reading the news. That’s not real journalism; no one thinks it is. But it would be nice if this episode were to prompt news organizations to reconsider their participation in the military embedding program.
Since 2002 print and broadcast media companies have almost exclusively assigned their reporters to accompany American troops into war against Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Embedding has become so standardized that when a journalist suggests going into a war zone independently – the way it was often done before 9/11 – his or her editors or producers either refuse to let them do so, or strongly discourage them. It’s a sad state of affairs, one that has led to a complete failure to get the story about what is marketed as a war for hearts and minds in the Muslim world from, you know, the actual Muslims who live there. Locals who watch American journalists travel with hated occupation troops naturally conclude that they are merely propagandists – unfortunately, they’re usually right. It just isn’t possible to think independently when you spend all of your time with soldiers you know may be called upon to shoot people who are shooting at you.
Like other journalist types who got too close to the troops – hey Brian, when’s the last time you spent the night in a private home in Afghanistan or Iraq? – Williams has clearly become a victim of a militaristic variety of Stockholm syndrome.
“People who have worked with Williams say he does not regularly embellish personal stories but does project a kind of confident swagger that can be off-putting. One former colleague said he enjoys throwing around military slang, such as using ‘bird’ for helicopter, despite never having served in the armed forces,” reports the Washington Post.
You can’t report war without covering U.S. troops. But you can’t cover war only covering U.S. troops. Which has been the problem since 9/11.
The cult of militarism is clearly in the Kool-Aid at the NBC break room. Williams’ predecessor at the network, former anchor Tom Brokaw, authored and constantly flogged paeans to our sainted armed forces with books like “The Greatest Generation,” about America’s victory in World War II. If a leader of a US “enemy,” like a member of the Taliban, has ever been interviewed by NBC, I’ve missed it.
In a sense, Williams is a victim: he has fallen prey to a rancid set of national values that places aggressive militarism ahead of the humanism that ought to set the standard for behavior.
What Williams ought to be lying about is having had anything to do with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which will go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes the United States has ever made in foreign policy, which is saying something.
The soldiers Williams was traveling with were all volunteers, which makes them guilty and complicit with a crime of monumental proportions, which ultimately led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people. The fact that he felt motivated to increase, rather than downplay, his purported role in propagandizing the Iraq War to the American people is terribly revealing.
Reports about Brian Williams’ phony Iraq war story have referenced Hillary Clinton’s tall tale about taking fire on the tarmac at the airport in Bosnia, and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s false claims of having served in the US military during the Vietnam War.
They weren’t alone. So many Americans pretended to have received Congressional Medals of Honor, or having served as Navy SEALs or members of the Army Special Forces, that Congress passed and President Bush signed a law, the “Stolen Valor Act of 2005,” to punish the fakers. (The Supreme Court later overturned it as a violation of the First Amendment.)
Most of the world, and many Americans – not least to those who were actually there – view America’s intervention in Vietnam during the 1960s as a mistake at best, an atrocity at worst. Two million Vietnamese lost their lives. Contrary to what pro-war politicians told the public, North Vietnam did not threaten the U.S.; they won, yet over there they stayed.
Yet Sen. Blumenthal obviously believed that his prospects as an American politician would be bolstered by pretending to have participated in that mistake/atrocity.
He was actually ashamed of not having blood on his hands.
Then there were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both of whom avoided service during the Vietnam War, and were repeatedly attacked – from the left! – for having not participated in the killing of people who had never threatened the United States.
I long to live in a country whose values are more like – this is quite a thing to say – Germany after 1945. If you are going to lie to make yourself better, the thing that makes you look better ought to be something that is objectively good. Voluntarily participating in, and using the media to promote illegal wars for fun and profit is something that we should never do.
But if and when we do succumb to militarism, at least we should lie about it.
President Obama told troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq that they are like “Santa in fatigues.” Coming one week after the Senate torture report, and in the middle of a ferocious drone war that kills scores more civilians than the targets of assassination, it’s doubtful that they are viewed as benignly overseas.