Thursday, August 31, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

When my nephew Chase called his grandparents from Iraq, he would ask my mother, "Gigi, what kind of car do you think I should buy when I come home?" She believes that he was trying to assuage her fears-the worst of which arrived August 7, 2005, when my sister Laura delivered the news from our brother Mark who simply couldn't tell our parents. The Marines had come to him in the middle of the night with the message that no family should have to bear.
George Bush has said during a recent press conference that our troops will remain in Iraq as long as he is president, a statement denying the mounting sentiment against the war. Soon after, an announcement was made that thousands of Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve have been ordered back to active duty.
If Chase had returned home in October, uninjured from his first tour, he could be there now. Some in his battalion are.
"Maybe we didn't try hard enough to talk him out of enlisting," my mother says over and over.
"What if" is something else we ponder.
And, of course, there's the abyss of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Would the experience of war have changed Chase? How could it not?
I am half way through the powerful book
Home Front: Viet Nam and Families at War sent by its author, Willard Gray, who began corresponding after reading some of my articles. Gray's work is a tour of duty and dedication to the truth of military combat. He tells the stories of 12 families forever changed by the experience of Viet Nam, families who either lost a loved one to death or to a war that has never left their lives. If a son, husband, father, daughter, wife, mother (It is estimated that about 7,500 women served in Viet Nam) returned alive, he or she brought the horrors of warfare home, suffering and portioning out pain to those desperate to recover what was there before war. Some committed suicide after years of self-medicating; others were diagnosed with illnesses that resulted from Agent Orange exposure. Regardless of the symptoms, physical, psychological, or a combination of the two, war was the genesis.
Take Frank Hayes. His family watched and participated in the battles he fought after returning from Viet Nam. Gray, writing about Frank's son Joe, says, 'He talks about alcohol and rage, abuse and defiance. He talks about no ground beneath him. About spiritual free-fall. He talks about chaos.'

The above is from Missy Comley Beattie's "Circle in a Spiral: Families at War" (CounterPunch).
Sunny days are rainy days Comley Beattie covers Iraq. It doesn't fall off her radar.

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 Thursday, the American troop fatality stood at 2619. Tonight? 2641. Let's look at that again. Seven days ago, the count was 2619. Tonight it's 2641. That's 22 in seven days. 64 for the month of August right now. Right now? The military is prone to noting fatalities a day or two (or three) after the mainstream media's run with the count. So it's entirely possibly that one, two, three or four more may be added to the count after the press isn't looking at the monthly total for August because all the stories have been filed and printed.

64. At a time when the spinmeisters stand before the mikes and talk about the 'success.' The 'success' led to 77 Iraqis being reported dead on Wednesday alone. That's just reported. The bloodshed continues, the violence continues. And, yes, the spin continues. If August is remembered for anything different, possibly it will be remembered as the month that all things media big and small abandoned Iraq?

Because that is what happened. Maybe it was summer vacations, maybe it was just not giving a damn. But Iraq fell of the radar. The dying didn't stop. You know the war didn't stop. But the coverage did. And those in independent media who let it stop need to ask some serious questions about how that happened and how to prevent it from happening again? (This is addressed in a roundtable done tonight and Rebecca's got it posted already so I'm linking to her -- LANGUAGE WARNING -- click here.) [The following participated: The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ava; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ils); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix;and Mike of Mikey Likes It!.]

August is ending and September means rallies and demonstrations. International Peace Day is the 21st. Imagine the interest these activities would already have if they'd been covered. Imagine what good a day before only coverage does to people who would like to take part from different areas of the country but found out too late to make travel plans in less than 24 hours?

CODEPINK's Troops Home Fast started in July and continues but for all the coverage it got (from indymedia) you might think it ended, or that it never happened. Iraqis met with Medea Benjamin, Cindy Sheehan, Tom Hayden, Ann Wright, Diane Wilson and others in Jordan to discuss what was needed and you may not have heard or seen anything on that. Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey III opened as soon as she got back from Jordan. You might not know about that. Independent media wasn't largely interested in anything Iraq related. (There were exceptions. We linked to those here.) In fact, for August (as for July), if you wanted Iraq coverage, other than the rare exceptions, you had to turn to mainstream media.

That shouldn't have happened. It should never happen again. But it probably will because no one owned their mistakes. When Israel 'calmed down' (as calm as that government can be) and a supposed cease-fire (never for the occupied territories) took place, that region continued to dominate the coverage. Just today, a two hour radio program devoted one hour to covering that region. They also covered Venezuela. Iraq? No segment. Things didn't get better.

One show probably wants snaps for covering a war resister near the start of the month and then another one at the end of the month. They never noted Ehren Watada the entire month except in one headline that they got so wrong. For those who missed it, Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing took place in August. There was little coverage. And you can't talk August without talking Abeer. She was raped and murdered. Fourteen-years-old. Her parents were murdered. Her five-year-old sister was murdered. US troops stand accused. She was gang raped, according to the statements of one of the accused (given to the military investigator). Fourteen-years-old. She would have turned fifteen in August. One more victim of the occupation. And independent media was where?

They weren't covering the Article 32 hearing. They weren't discussing it. They weren't noting that the New York Times covered the hearing daily and Abeer was just "a fourteen-year-old girl" -- one without a name or a face to read the New York Times.

Independent media is supposed to cover the stories the mainstream won't. We had wall-to-wall on Israel's actions. (The government of Israel.) But there was no time for a fourteen-year-old girl gang raped and murdered.

The Times rendered her invisble and independent media wasn't there to show you her face or tell you her story. The Times was there to offer the defense the soldiers' attorneys would use -- offer it before even the attorneys could. That goes to who gets recognized and who doesn't. Fourteen-year-old Abeer was allegedly raped and murdered by American soldiers. She was treated as nothing by the New York Times, not even worthy of a name. Because when the victim doesn't have a name, it makes them faceless. When they don't have a name and they don't have a story, they really don't exist and they don't cause the reader to reflect on just what was lost.

Like Abeer, Iraq was rendered invisble. Independent media did that. The mainstream offered some bad reporting, some good reporting. The Times often got by on only one story from Iraq a day. That was too often one more story than independent media provided in hours of broadcast time.

How did that happen? Today on Flashpoints, Dennis Bernstein spoke with Ann Wright and Mark Wilkerson. (They also played a lengthy excerpt of a speech Ehren Watada gave in Seattle, one that would later be used in his Article 32 hearing, earlier in the month.) Wilkerson has been AWOL for a year and a half. He's turned himself in. Did he regret going AWOL, Bernstein asked him? He responded, "I completely stand by my decision. For me this was a time in my life when I decided I had to make a stand regardless of whether [it meant] prison or death . . ." Desertion, as Wilerson noted, has meant death before. He spoke of his awakening to the realities of the war and noted, what so many fail to grasp, how difficult that was to do while he was serving in Iraq. The Stars & Stripes was basically it. That was all the news.

People wonder, "Why don't the people serving know about ___ or ___?" How would they? Not everyone has their own internet access, not everyone's in the Green Zone. Wilkerson talked about returning and seeking out news. (Luckily for him, he returned at a time when the media actually cared about Iraq. Or at least covered it.) He cited Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States as a book that meant something to him. Zinn may need to write another real quick, just focusing on 2006, when media coverage sunk. When Iraq disappeared. All the stories that independent media didn't tell -- including, the fact that the US government is keeping a body count of Iraqi civilians who die.

You expect the mainstream media to create hidden history. You don't expect the independent media to let it stay hidden due to neglect on their part.

Dennis Bernstein also spoke with Carl Webb this month. Look, Bernstein and Nora Barrows Friedman, they're main topic for the show is Israel. It's not the only topic, but that is the main topic. It's their scope. There's nothing wrong with that. And I don't know of any member who would fault them for not covering Iraq because, although they do cover it, they largely cover the occupied territories. So it's a real surprise that the radio program that devoted the most time to Iraq was their show. That's not intended as an insult to them. They did a wonderful job on many topics. But it is surprising that if you pull out their show, you're left with very little coverage of Iraq.

On the subject of Carl Webb, Tori notes Cydney Gillis "A Just Desertion, Absent soldier hidden aboveground" (Indybay IMC):

Carl Webb's days of looking over his shoulder for military police have come to an end. Two years ago, a unit that Webb was assigned to in the Texas Army National Guard shipped out to Iraq. But the 40-year-old practical nurse from Austin says the war is wrong, so he let the unit go without him, expecting a warrant to be issued for his arrest.
Instead, on July 28, the Guard sent Webb a letter telling him that he'll get a dishonorable discharge Tuesday for serious misconduct, in particular, the letter states, "for your failure to report to active duty as required coupled with your deliberate avoidance of numerous Texas Army National Guard representatives who have made repeated attempts to contact you." If the Army National Guard was looking for him, Webb says with a giggle, they were't looking too hard: After months of lying low in Tennessee in 2004 and 2005, Webb went public with his desertion, talking to newspapers, giving speeches, and being interviewed on Democracy Now!and National Public Radio. Webb, who came to Seattle last week for the national Veterans for Peace Convention, doesn't think he's alone. The Army has already acknowledged it has more than 6,000 deserters. Webb believes it could be as many as 15,000 something he says the Army would like to keep a lid on. So, except for a few high-profile cases, Webb says most deserters aren't reported, much less prosecuted. Whether by oversight or design, that's what happened in Webb's case. Just weeks before his discharge date in 2004, he was "stop-lossed," or extended, and ordered to ship out to Iraq with a different unit. After failing to deploy, Webb says he called the National Lawyers Guild about his options. He says he was advised to wait a month or so until his name had dropped off the active-duty roll. At that point, he was told, he could turn himself in as a deserter and ask for a dishonorable discharge in lieu of a court-martial -- a strategy that could be available to Sgt. Ricky Clousing, the 24-year-old Army interrogator from Sumner who left his Fort Bragg, N.C., base a year ago rather than be redeployed to Iraq. Clousing surrendered himself at Fort Lewis on Aug. 12.

On the subject of Ehren Watada, Ned notes Eli Sanders' "Criminalizing the war" (The Provincetown Phoenix):

Watada, sitting slightly slouched, was all but silent during the proceedings, speaking only to tell the military investigator that he didn't wish to make a statement. Prosecutors, however, played a number of clips of Watada speaking in public about his reasons for not deploying. In one clip, shot at a recent Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle, Watada is seen explaining what he hopes to accomplish. "Today I speak with you about a radical idea," he says. "The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers and service members can choose to stop fighting it." The prosecutors' use of this clip seemed intended to hammer home how dangerous it might be to military morale and discipline if Watada’s example were followed.
It doesn't seem, however, that a huge mass of soldiers is yet following Watada's lead. In fact, Watada is believed to be the only officer so far to have refused duty in Iraq, and while prosecutors worried during the hearing that his example would hurt army morale and discipline, after the hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Williams, spokesman for Fort Lewis, told reporters that Watada's actions were doing no such thing. "My morale is just as high as it was yesterday," Williams said. "This is an anomaly."
The military speaks out of both sides of its mouth on this score -- arguing during the hearing that Watada is a threat to order and discipline and arguing to the media that he is not -- but the fact remains that Watada has not inspired a large number of soldiers to throw their weapons down. His impact, at this point, appears to be mainly as another piece of the steady legal assault that is taking apart the grand narrative by which the Iraq war was sold and conducted.
A war of words There are signs that the administration is increasingly worried about the unraveling of its war narrative -- especially with the midterm congressional elections just 60 days away -- and recently, the nation's courts have given the administration even more cause for concern. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the administration's attempt to ignore the Geneva Conventions for prisoners in the war on terror was illegal. On August 17, a federal judge in Detroit ruled that the administration's domestic spying program was unconstitutional, with the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, using her ruling to remind Bush that he is not allowed "unfettered control," particularly when his actions "disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights" (that ruling is now being appealed). And a
CNN poll released on August 21 showed opposition to the Iraq war now at its highest level ever, 61 percent.
The tide seems to be shifting, and in a sign of the concern this is generating within the administration, officials representing Bush are currently circulating proposed amendments to the federal war-crimes law, apparently hoping to give themselves a way out should they someday be charged under that statute. That's not the tactic of a group of people who feel they are on the right side of the law, or public-opinion trends.
In this context, it seems impossible that the army will be allowed to go easy on Watada. In all likelihood, he will go to jail for refusing to deploy. He has said he is at peace with his decision, and with his possible punishment. As one of his own witnesses at the hearing, retired army colonel Ann Wright, put it: "If you challenge an order, you do it at your own jeopardy."
Still, Wright added, army commanders, and their civilian leaders, suffer from being unable to convincingly explain, to Watada or anyone else, why the Iraq war shouldn’t be seen as illegal under international law. This failure probably shouldn’t be surprising, given how often the rationale for the war has shifted -- from WMDs to spreading democracy to the self-justifying notion that we can’t leave because we’re now there. But the absence of such an explanation, Wright said, hurts military order and discipline more than anything else.
"Good order and discipline," she told the army investigator, "is based on the fact that good leaders can explain things to their soldiers."

Cindy Sheehan gave her all this month. Mainstream was more likely to note her than independent media. She ended up in two emergency rooms in the process and, last week, having surgery. Recovering from that prevented her from appearing in Salt Lake City Wednesday. Thankfully, the protests did go on and we'll close with Brady's highlight, Ross C. Anderson (Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson)'s "Challenging the Culture of Obedience" (The Nation):

We are here today as truth-tellers.
And we are here to demand: "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"
We are here today to insist that those who were elected to be our leaders must tell us the truth.
We are here today to insist that our news media live up to its sacred responsibility to ascertain and report the truth--rather than acting like nothing more than a bulletin board for the lies and propaganda of a manipulative, dishonest federal government.
We have been getting just about everything but the truth on matters of life and death...on matters upon which our nation's reputation hinges...on matters that directly relate to our nation's fundamental values...and on matters relating to the survival of our planet.
In the process, our nation has engaged in an unnecessary war, based upon false justifications. More than a hundred thousand people have been killed--and many more have been seriously maimed, brain-damaged, or rendered mentally ill.
Our nation's reputation throughout much of the world has been destroyed. We have many more enemies bent on our destruction than before our invasion of Iraq.
And the hatred toward us has grown to the point that it will take many years, perhaps generations, to overcome the loathing created by our invasion and occupation of a Muslim country.
What incredible ineptitude and callousness for our President to talk about a Crusade while lying to us to make a case for the invasion and occupation of a Muslim country!
Our children and later generations will pay the price of the lies, the violence, the cruelty, the incompetence, and the inhumanity of the Bush Administration and the lackey Congress that has so cowardly abrogated its responsibility and authority under our checks-and-balances system of government.
We are here to say, "We will not stand for it any more. No more lies. No more pre-emptive, illegal war, based on false information. No more God-is-on-our- side religious nonsense to justify this immoral, illegal war. No more inhumanity."
Let's raise our voices, and demand, "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"
Let's consider some of the most monstrous lies--lies that have led us, like a nation of sheep, to this tragic war.

Sheehan gave all she had in August. She'll continue to give this month. But if you're thinking, "I wish I could go to a rally" or "I wish I could speak about . . ." Whatever it is, if you think you can't do it or you think it's not important, think about Sheehan and others like her who do their part -- then try your best to do your part.

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