Sunday, March 11, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

THE PENTAGON now places the number of deserters since the year 2000 at an astonishing 40,000. In this context comes Peter Laufer's very moving and inspiring Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq.
Rather than presenting a distilled analysis of the war, Mission Rejected focuses on the individual stories of war resisters and antiwar soldiers, told through a series of interviews with soldiers, their families, the activists helping them to build new lives, and (in one case) the military recruiter who signed them up. The strength of this approach is that it allows these dissident soldiers to emerge as real people, with their own experiences and ideas.
Taken together, the soldiers are a diverse group. They have a range of politics: Some have become anti-imperialists due to their experiences in the military; some have become pacifists; still others continue to support the U.S. military in general while rejecting the war in Iraq. Some were always against the Iraq war; others are former Republicans. While some easily articulate their views, others, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, express their thoughts in jumbled and distorted ways. It is a testament to Laufer's skill as an interviewer (he is a former NBC News correspondent) that he is able to capture these differences while conveying the essence of each person's story.
Still, themes emerge. One is the myth of the "volunteer" army, as many soldiers explain their reasons for signing up as poverty, recruiter lies, or both. Many of the soldiers also tell similar stories about turning against the war after experiencing its brutality. The book opens with a stomach-turning description by Joshua Key of watching fellow soldiers play soccer with the head of an Iraqi they had killed and beheaded; near the end it presents a detailed description of the house raids resister Steven Casey took part in.
Strikingly many of the stories involve violence at U.S.-run checkpoints. Some resisters fired on people at checkpoints, ultimately turning against the war through their horror at what they had done. Darrell Anderson was threatened with punishment because he didn’t fire on an unarmed family that stopped too slowly.

The above, noted by Brad, is from Elizabeth Wrigley-Field's "The voices of war resisters" (International Socialist Review). Brad's just started reading the book and wondered if we were doing a book discussion anytime soon at The Third Estate Sunday Review? The book above and Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale should be the basis for a book discussion next Sunday (ideally) or the one after. And if Wrigley-Field's point about innocents shot seems familiar, that's because it was back in the news today -- see Kirk Semple's "On Holy Day, Iraqi Soldiers Stop Bomber; 7 of Them Die." (Thank you to Micah for pointing out that the title was wrong -- missing letters and who knows what else -- in this morning's entry. It's fixed now.)

This is a talking entry that's partly dictated. (All excerpts and links were done and the entry saved. Now a friend's adding my comments.) There's a Rolling Stone article that a number of visitors have noted and we're not highlighting it. It's a roundtable. There are nine people. There's an ex-general, there's no peace activist, no war resister. It's insider baseball and, since it's that, no surprise, it's all men. Not interested. If Rolling Stone doesn't have the common sense to invite a woman to the table they don't have the sense to discuss the war. Not in any way that matters.

But Laufer's book is a strong one and you'd learn more from a page in it (any page) than in the entire babble-fest Rolling Stone's provided. It's actually a cowardly article, the thing that could have been published about two years ago. And, as someone who remembers when Rolling Stone offered strong coverage, their political coverage these days is embarrassing. You don't have to fall back to Vietnam (when Rolling Stone did strong coverage) to find a point of view without shame, you can look to the Reagan era when William Greider regularly provided in depth analysis. The biggest shame they'll look back on is the article of Falluja but there's been very little during the entire Bully Boy reign that they can point to with pride and you talk to anyone who worked at RS in its glory days, in its semi-glory days and they'll tell you how cowardly and shameful they find the coverage which reads like second-rate Saturday Evening Post during Vietnam. When did the cowardice really set in? On 9-11. That's when the big points (there were two) was (a) to get coverage of 9-11 pulled together quickly and (b) to get the current issue off the stands immediately because the cover story was about an actress (and her then boyfriend) who weren't Bully Boy supporters and included comments on the Bully Boy and jokes about the drunken twins. Those two points were equal and people in the office were disgusted by that 'equality.' It was a long road back for RS to get to the point where they could even offer their miniscule critiques that they currently trot out. The roundtable was dead (and "safe") the minute the participants were selected. We don't highlight baby steps. (Especially not from what was once a leading magazine.) (But as one friend still stuck at the magazine points out, "At least we're rid of the Anne Robinson look-alike." That would be Ed Needham.)

So Rolling Stone is still, like an old Jefferson Starship hit, attempting to find their way back. If the one time bible of the counter-culture is that lost, how bad is it for the mainstream? Still pretty bad. And, point, if you've forgotten how awful it was, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, Danny Schechter's documentary about how the media skewed reality, avoided questioning and happily marched in lock step with the administration they're supposed to be the watchdogs of. With the 4th annivesary of the start of the illegal war coming up, if you're planning a house party, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception is a film that will remind you there wasn't just Judith Miller at the New York Times, there was an entire pack of War Cheerleaders running wild through the media landscape. It's a point that's largely forgotten but it's reality. Judith Miller didn't order CNN to create news feeds for the US and then news feeds for the rest of the world. If you have seen Danny's film, you know it's worth sharing.

We made a list of documentaries to select from and there are many wonderful ones. Sir! No Sir! is a wonderful one, for example. Our feelings when we were wondering which one to recommend [in "Empower yourself with WMD (the documentary) "] was that most people who were doing actions like house parties had utilized Sir! No Sir! in January. With WMD, you've got a chance to see the reality that seems to have been obscured with Bash the Bitch -- the reality that Judith Miller was far from alone and that a number of people and organizations still have a great deal to answer for.

The illegal war is about to hit the four-year-mark. And what we've seen is a (very) slow peeling back of the lies -- of some of the lies. In Colorado last month, I was speaking with a group of high school students and one of them, who enjoyed The Ground Truth -- another strong documentary, knew Miller's name but didn't know about how the war was sold and couldn't understand (because it's a laughable lie) how one reporter for a newspaper could control every media outlet? That was one of the factors we kept coming back to while picking a recommendation. There are other documentaries on this subject but WMD has the widest scope, the strongest critique and it is very visual. This isn't just talking heads the way too many of the left documentaries have been in the last few years. It's a very visual film, it's a very involving film and it's a very powerful film. And on the fourth anniversary, it's important to grasp reality which seems to have been fogged in the rush to pin all the blame on Miller and due to the fact that many (though not Gordo) had the good sense to keep their heads low and not call attention to themselves.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq stood at 3173. Now? Reuters reports 3190. That was before the following announcements. Today the US military announced: "One Task Force Lightning Soldier died as a result of injuries sustained from an explosion. One other Soldier was wounded and taken to a Coalition medical facility for treatment." And they announced: "A MND-B unit in support of an on-going air assault mission southwest of the Iraqi capital was struck by a roadside bomb, killing one Soldier and wounding two others on March 11. In the last two weeks, this particular unit has been directly involved in the discovery of several caches." And they announced: "A Task Force Lightning Soldier died Sunday in a non-combated relatedincident, which is currently under investigation." Those were all made today and not covered in the 3190 figure so the number is 3193. So that's 20 more deaths of US service members since last Sunday.

As the death toll continues to rise, so does Bully Boy's escalation. Let's note that the public rejected the escalation, the American people said "no" in poll after after poll -- in large numbers. Congress isn't quite sure what to do (no surprise) but Bully Boy knows what he wants to do. In the face of the American people opposing his announced escalation of 21,500 US service members, CBS and AP report that Bully Boy announced today that he wants to increase that number by 4,600. If it all seems so familiar, you've probably got a long memory and are remembering another illegal war which had no chance of a 'win' but kept pouring US bodies into a country they never should have been in. This is Bully Boy's second announcement of an increase in his original numbers. (The second increase of slightly over 2,000 is folded into the 4,600 number.) The way this works, if the illegal war is not ended, is that the number will continue to jump. The only alternative is to try to rely more and more on air strikes and that's probably not going to have the effects in Iraq that it did in Vietnam. (That's not an endorsement of air strikes in either illegal war. That's noting that in Vietnam, a 'decrease' was actually just an increase with a greater reliance on air strikes.)

The ongoing crackdown (three months shy of a year)? How's that going? Mariam Karouny (Reuters) reports 29 deaths in Baghdad on Sunday due to bombings with at least 33 wounded. Brian Murphy (AP) notes that the number of people killed from the bombings has risen to 32 and observes of the bombings: "It also displayed the limitations of the U.S.-led crackdown seeking to restore order in the capital, where bombers still strike with deadly efficiency against mostly Shiite targets in an apparent bid to ignite an full-scale civil war."
In addition, Reuters notes that "a local tribal leader," Amar al-Zigam, was shot dead in Baghdad, another person was shot dead in Diwniya, three police officers were killed by a bombing in Mussayab (seven more wounded), three guards killed in a bombing at "the reception lobby of the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters in . . . Mosul," two men shot dead in Mussayab (attackers wore "army uniforms") and 2 corpses discovered in Daqua. CBS and AP note two women were killed by a bombing in Mahmoudiyah.

Obviously, the illegal war continues to play out as it always has but, if you're the Bully Boy, you can close your eyes and cover your ears to reality. Spoofing him and that approach, Nora Ephron writes (as Bully Boy) "The Secret: A Testimonial" (The Huffington Post):

The Secret made me realize a whole bunch of things, including why Laura was so good on Larry King last week when she said, "Many parts of Iraq are stable. But of course what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everyone." She's so right. If only we didn't know about the bombings in Iraq, life would be so much better for everyone. It's just like that theory, which needless to say the media doesn't understand at all, about a tree falling in the forest, and if nobody hears it, it didn't even fall.

Brenda noted the Ephron highlight. Seth notes Tina Richards' "How Will You End This War?" (Democracy Rising)

I've received emails thanking me for speaking out on behalf of my son and other troops serving in Iraq. In addition, I’ve received questions about my exchange with Rep. David Obey that was videotaped by a citizens news group, Kathleen Gabel and Tyler H. Westbrook, that is documenting the peace movement in the halls of Congress. They've covered my visits with other members of Congress as well as the work of other citizens working to end the war.
I've come to Washington, DC because my son Cloy, who has been honorably discharged from the Marines with the presidential unit citation, is now facing a possible third deployment. Cloy is suffering from undiagnosed traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. As Cloy says in one of his poems "every time I look in the mirror I see a casualty of the war." (You can see on the impact the war has had on him through his poetry.)
Like other soldiers, my son has suffered neglect. Therefore, I've also been lobbying Congress on the inadequate treatment our troops receive in the VA system -- my son is not an isolated case. He should not be going back. Indeed it is time to bring all our sons and daughters home from Iraq.
Although my senators have offered to help Cloy individually, he has refused special treatment unless they are also actively working to bring home all his brothers and sisters. He is a Marine and will not leave his fellow soldiers behind.
My chance meeting with Rep. David Obey in the hallway was an opportunity to ask the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the committee that will write the budget for the Iraq War and occupation, how he will use the 'power of the purse' to bring the war to an end. The frustration he showed in his response to my questions was understandable. Many in Congress who know the war is wrong feel unable to do all they can to end it.
On November 7th, Nancy Pelosi was given a mandate by the American people to bring our troops home. It time for Speaker Pelosi to spend her political capital.
As a citizen, I am confused why the Democrats are working from President Bush’s appropriation when his party lost the 2006 election because of the war. The new majority should write their own supplemental budget bill based on the views of the vast majority of Americans, majority of troops in Iraq, and majority of Iraqis -- one that ends the war, brings the troops home safely and takes care of them when they return.

David Obey's public freak-out has been covered by Mike and it's also a topic in the roundtable. Also, when Monday morning's entries go up, Ruth's Report won't show, so if you're looking for that, click here. The last highlight goes to Pru, "Bush's regime: lynch law in Iraq" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Three women to hang for 'backing resistance' l More jails now than under Saddam Hussein
Liqa Omar Muhammad is waiting to die. The 26 year old Iraqi mother shares her Baghdad prison cell with her child, who was born in captivity.
On 2 March she discovered that her execution by hanging was postponed following an international outcry. Her fate is unknown.
Her crime? Her husband and brother were accused of organising an attack on a US-Iraqi patrol in 2005.
This is George Bush's Iraq, the country we were told had to be liberated from Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime.
Liqa is set to hang with two other women, Wassan Talib, 31, and Zainab Fadhil, 25. The women were convicted of "acts of terrorism" in trials widely denounced as unfair. They had no right to a lawyer.
All three women deny being members of the resistance. They will be killed as a lesson to others -- any Iraqi accused of being part of the resistance will be executed, along with their wives and sisters.
The women are being held in the Kadhamiah prison in the capital Baghdad. The prison has gained notoriety for the widespread use of torture and rape.
According to Mohammed Khorshid, head of Human Rights Organisations in Iraq, there are over 2,000 women "security detainees" in 450 prisons, camps and detention centres across the country -- more than under Saddam's regime.
The majority were seized in the regular sweeps by US troops and their Iraqi allies.
The US military runs a network of secret facilities. It is believed they hold over 13,000 detainees without trial.
Wassan was convicted of killing five police officers during a resistance operation. She has a three year old daughter.
Zainab, her husband and her cousin were found guilty of attacking an Iraqi patrol in Baghdad last September.
According to Amnesty International at least 68 men and women have been executed in Iraq since the US reinstated the death penalty in August 2004.
The human rights group says 27 people were hanged in Baghdad on 6 September 2006 and a further 11 were hanged in Irbil on 21 September 2006. The executions are surrounded by secrecy.
The women are waiting for the result of an appeal as Socialist Worker went to press following the postponement of their execution.
The Iraqi Lawyers Union are calling for urgent international protests.
Send your letters of protest to the Iraqi justice minister Hashim al-Shilbi at [update 8 March: All emails to this address are being bounced back]
For updates go to
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