Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kill Teams

Meet Jame Burmeister. Not this community, we've covered him. But the media, can they introduce themselves to him? He's a war resister who went to Canada. We'll get back to him shortly.

Martha and Lloyd each note Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson's "Charges Against Snipers Stir Debate on 'Baiting'" (Washington Post):

Officers described the program, in unclassified statements obtained by The Post, as involving the placement of the items in insurgent areas and killing those who picked them up.
The Asymmetric Warfare Group is modeled after the Army's secretive Delta Force and grew out of a decision by Army leaders in 2003 to seek new ways to counter insurgents' use of roadside bombs, snipers and suicide bombs. The group is classified by the Army as a Special Mission Unit and was formally established in January 2006.
The teams, similar to the small, Special Forces A-teams, circulate among military battalions in Iraq, where they teach new counterinsurgency tactics. A more overarching goal of the Asymmetric Warfare Group is to act as a catalyst "to change the way the Army thinks," said one Special Forces officer familiar with the group. It also analyzes new threats, generates new tactics, and identifies gaps in capabilities and equipment, according to the Army.
Retired Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, a former judge advocate general for the Army, said the group's baiting program, as described publicly, opens up the possibility for indiscriminate shootings -- based on little information -- that could lead to the death of scavengers or curious passersby. He said that when troops kill civilians by mistake, it can harm the war effort.

Meanwhile, Gareth's ticked off by Kim Sengupta's "Weapons left by US troops 'used as bait to kill Iraqis'" (Independent of London):

A US military spokes-man said: "We don't discuss specific methods of targeting enemy combatants. The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programmes that authorise the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."
A US military source said "baits" had been left by a number of units. "The guys picking them up are sometimes bad guys. But how do you know each time?"
Robert Emerson, a British security analyst, said: "This seems a highly arbitrary and suspect way of carrying out counter-insurgency operations."

Members are ticked off and they are ticked off for a reason. We're not learning about this program this week. We learned about in June. Where was (and where is) All Things Media Big and Small? This is a huge failure on all of their parts.

Let's do little media first and note that The Nation is not only a weekly (so more issues than most in independent media) but it also wanted praise (and some idiots were happy to provide it) for a July article in which they refused to run photos of the abuse of Iraqis (apparently they were protecting those 'young & impressionable minds' that read The Nation) but they also refused to address war resistance (they couldn't even note Camilo Mejia was a war resister) and avoided speaking to anyone who self-checked out and went to Canada. The ridiculous praise for that weak article had one organization (we're being kind and not noting them again on this) claiming that the story of Iraqis was being told. Without interviewing a single Iraqi? But such was the hype and such was the incestuous nature of independent media that no one could point out that leaving everything aside except journalistic standards (all other complaints), no article that refers to 'dozens' of photos given to the magazine of abuse which does not run any is not a 'journalistic accomplishment.' It is a journalistic embarrassment.

Now had they just kept their mouths shut about the photos, probably only a few would know the magazine had them. But they thought they were rounding out their weak article by including the fact that they had 'dozens' of photos. No, they weren't, they were demonstrating that they practice the same 'taste' standard that prevents TV news from showing the true costs of war, the same 'taste' standard that allowed the Congress to prevent their bosses (US citizens) from seeing all the photos (in fact, the worst photos) of abuse at Abu Ghraib.

There was nothing worth praising in that weak article. And that's not a slam on the authors but on the way The Nation is run. They can't cover war resisters. They can (and have) included Carl Webb and Camilo Mejia in two different print articles without ever noting that either was a war resister. (Carl Webb was just a concerned citizen bothered by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to read the article.) By refusing to cover war resisters, they deny themselves powerful stories that their readers should know about.

Case in point, James Burmeister. War resister who went to Canada with his family in May of this year. Went public in June.

The community laughs at (or worse) the coverage of the "kill teams" currently because it's not new, Burmeister discussed in June when he went public.

NOW with David Brancaccio has unaired video of him discussing it with them. Is that footage going to air? Or are we all supposed to play dumb and pretend this wasn't already out there, available to the public, long before this week?

Now some mainstream outlets (and certainly The Peace Resister run The Nation) might say, "Well he checked out, he left, he deserted, why should we trust him!" That's a stupid thing to say but there are a lot of stupid people in the world. So let's pretend that's the argument. That they don't find Burmeister credible because he self-checked out. To continue to ignore at this point is to assume that he's psychic. There's no other explanation because in June he was able to discuss the big story this week. In June, he was able to talk about the "kill teams."

So to claim he's not credible on the topic requires accepting that he's either psychic or the world's best damn guesser. Now here's where the damage is beyond ignoring war resisters (whose stories need to be told): This story is being shaped right now.

The way it's being shaped is that it was weapons left lying around and things that could be used as weapons. That allows some people to argue, "Well they did pick up. Maybe they were just curious about what was on the ground or maybe they were afraid that someone 'evil' might grab it, but most people picking that stuff up had to be 'insurgents'!"

Weapons and things that could be used as weapons were not the only things left out to provide targets for the 'kill teams.' Burmeister made that very clear. Ignoring that reality throws the entire narrative off and that's why community members feel what they're reading this week isn't just a governmental white wash but a refusal by reporters to ask the hard questions or to go with much more than what they are being fed.

Burmeister discussed this program in June. It is much more involved than the current press accounts are portraying.

In a July snapshot, this appeared: "Mark Larabee (The Oregonian) reports on Burmeister and notes the 'traps' were an issue -- setting out the fake carmera or other equipment so that someone would go for it and then shooting them for touching US property -- with James Burmeister declaring, 'As soon as anyone would mess with it, you were supposed to lay waste to them. I completely disagreed with that tactic. I can't see how that's helping anyone whatsoever'; and on Iraq, 'I though people needed to be free there. But when I went there it was all about captures and kills and it felt like we messed things up over there'." Credit to Larabee for covering it. You've got the CBC interview. So what's the deal here? Is Burmeister supposed to be a psychic? And what's the point of going to Human Rights Watch when if you want stories about what US forces are doing on the ground Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War are the ones to go to. Had reporters gone to Courage to Resist, for instance, instead of Human Rights Watch, they could have a real quote not a "If this happened and I don't know that it did but if it did blah blah blah" nonsense. In fact, just visiting the Courage to Resist website would have provided them with a repost of Larabee's article. When the public is so far ahead of the press on an issue or story, it doesn't built trust.

Online you can find Maria Hinojosa PBS' NOW with David Brancaccio report from the August 24th broadcast ( click here for transcript and here for a/v) which includes Burmeister and Agustin Aguayo sharing their experiences. What you can't get online (thus far) is Burmeister discussing the "kill team" -- but that footage does exist. They'd be doing a huge service if they'd air it or even just post it online.

In northern Iraq, Reuters reports, at least 15 people are already dead today from "a series of bombings."

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