Sunday, March 18, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

In a slow, measured voice, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada urged people at an anti-war rally in downtown Eugene on Saturday to choose what is right, even when faced with negative consequences.
Watada, stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., faces a court-martial and up to six years in prison for refusing to fight in Iraq. He was the main speaker at Eugene's annual protest against the war, held each year at the Federal Building to mark the March 20, 2003, anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"They may imprison or torture or take away our lives, but they can never take away our freedom to choose what is right and just," Watada said, to loud cheers from the crowd that packed the Federal Building plaza.

The above is from Edward Russo's "Watada defends refusal before anti-war crowd" (The Register-Guard) and Portland noted it. Protests took place all weekend and are continuing to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the illegal war. Ehren Watada stood up in Eugene, Oregon and, in Canada, Vic notes, Kyle Snyder was standing up in Edmonton. From Cary
Castagana's "U.S. deserter joins city demo" (Edmonton Sun):

U.S. soldier Kyle Snyder says 4 1/2 months in Iraq was all he needed to make up his mind about his country's Middle East efforts.
"It was enough for me to make an educated decision on whether it was right or wrong," Snyder told Sun Media yesterday.
The 23-year-old war resister said he deserted his platoon during a two-week leave in the spring of 2005 and came to Canada.
He calls the war illegal and is still haunted by the sight of a fellow squad member shooting an innocent Iraqi civilian in the leg. Snyder said there was no reason why the 20-something civilian was wounded.
"He was no threat to me, the convoy or the major we were escorting," Snyder said, adding the U.S. army never investigated the senseless shooting. "I don't think the United States's involvement in Iraq was ever about peacekeeping."

With more on protests in Canada, Vince notes "Rallies in Canada and U.S. protest Iraq war, Afghan mission" (CBC):

Thousands of demonstrators across Canada and the United States held rallies on Saturday to protest the fourth anniversary next week of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The Canadian marches also took aim at the country's mission in Afghanistan.

[. . .]
Former U.S. marine Dean Walcott, 25, who served in Iraq, spoke to the Halifax crowd. Walcott, a U.S. war resister, is trying to claim refugee status in Canada.
"I believe individual nations have the right to establish themselves as they see fit, and I believe they can do that without interference from the West," Walcott said.
"There's got to be a better way for nations to be free rather than us putting a gun in their face and demanding it of them."

And CT notes Bill Cleverly's "Anti-war protest on Victoria streets" (Victoria's Times Colonist):

About 150 people took to the streets of downtown Victoria in the pouring rain Saturday to protest the American occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
The protesters gathered at city hall at noon and listened to a world beat band, songs from the Raging Grannies and speeches before marching down Douglas Street to the Armed Forces recruiting office on Fort Street and the federal building at Yates and Government.
All the while, they were under the watchful eye of about a half dozen police officers on bicycles. They kept marchers to a single lane to minimize traffic disruption.

Organized by the Canada Out of Afghanistan Campaign (COAC), the rally and march was planned to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq.
"We're also calling attention to the Canadian military role in Afghanistan and also calling on the Canadian government to let American war resisters stay in Canada," said Valerie Lannon, COAC member.
"It's important to educate people. It's also important to show solidarity with ordinary people in Afghanistan who want no kind of terrorism, whether it's their own or from NATO.

Those are some of the actions in Canada. (I covered US actions in columns in Polly's Brew and Francisco, Miguel and Maria's newsletter. Check your inboxes if you haven't already read those.)

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 3190. Now? CORRECTION (3-19-07): THE NUMBERS THAT FOLLOW ARE INVERTED. AP'S COUNT IS 3217, ICCC'S IS 3218. AP's count is 2317 and ICCC's is 2318. (ICCC notes that's 54 for the month of March thus far.) That's 27 since last Sunday, 27 deaths and if you're thinking it feels like the media coverage didn't reflect that, you're feelings are correct. When the 2300 mark was passed mid-week, that didn't go noted either. You have to wonder, 20 years from now, when Americans look back on this, what will they think of the media coverage -- big and small? The 4th annivesary of the start of the illegal war is almost here, so we can count on a few who otherwise ignore it year round weighing in (more on that in a moment) but by April, chances are they'll be back to penning mash notes for Congress.

Peter Hart, on CounterSpin, awhile back noted that the scolding of the American people for not knowing the number of Iraqis who've died in Iraq really went to media coverage. That is correct. And though the US military has kept figures since at least the summer of 2005 (longer, but that's what they admitted to last summer), there doesn't appear to be any effort by big media to get the military to release those figures. Nor do any of the press outlets keep their own numbers. (The AP, Reuters and AFP keep a count of US service members who have died in Iraq.) When the Lancet study came out with over 655,000 Iraqis dead, big media played dumb and presented it as a he-said/she-said. So exactly how are most people supposed to know the number? They may remember the right-wing taking to the chat & chews (and being covered by the mainstream) hollering about the Lancet study. That reaction, in fact, may make some of them, if polled, enter a lower number than what they actually think.

The media's failed. It continues to. That's big and small. With the first gulf war, you could count on Nightline (though why anyone would . . .), Flashpoints and other programs. With Iraq? There's not a single program, four years later, whose focus is the Iraq war. How is the public supposed to know how many Iraqis have died? From scattered reporting that's squeezed in between fluff and other news?

Four years later and Iraq is still an aside, a topic to be picked up when others are stale, a topic to be picked up if a mass bombing kills close to a hundred or more. Otherwise, it's buried inside the daily papers, ignored by many left periodicals and programs.

You have better luck with books (see "2 Books, 10 Minutes"). Kyle notes John Freeman's "Page Turners Book Reviews" (Mineapolis Star Tribune) which includes a review of Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale:

All that changed for Joshua Key in 2002 when -- in his early 20s when his wife was pregnant with their third child -- he decided to enlist with the Army in what he was promised would be a noncombat unit.
But Key was really slated for combat, and his training started right away. Key describes without judging -- so the reader experiences along with him his journey toward rejecting the military.
Key and his battalion were stationed in Ramadi, where on patrol they searched up to four houses a night. When nothing incriminating is found, they simply destroy. When there's nothing to destroy, they steal: gold, money, weapons, a TV. He describes other, more malignant scenarios: He and others take their frustration out at checkpoints on civilians, who are beaten or killed, their bodies left to rot.
Key went AWOL while on home leave in December 2003 after being in Iraq for about a half-year. As an account of what that life is like, "The Deserter's Tale" is not full of many surprises. But as a chronicle of the experiences that led one soldier to this irrevocable step, Key's is a grim and necessary book.

Key's book is receiving strong reviews. We don't link to Newsweek and a visitor has twice noted their review. The John Birch Society also gave Key's book a strong review and we won't be linking to that either. On a similar note, we're not linking to The Nation's editorial at that site. (You can read it at Truthout by clicking here.) That's due to a number of reasons. 1) They did an editorial at the end of 2005 that was championed everywhere (including here) but they really didn't follow their own words. (Supporting candidates against the war means covering them.) 2) Like finger nails down a chalkboard, they think they can distort John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The song "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is not, as they pretend to hope, about Congress. That's an abuse of art. It's ignorant and it's abusive. (And John Lennon wrote "Power to the People," not "Power to the Congress.") 3) "John Lennon declared"? Not "sang"? "Declared" could mean "wrote." The song was written by Lennon and Ono -- though this is the second time in recent months a left publication has gone out of its way to strip Ono of her rightful credit. Possibly, they strip Ono of her credit because she is alive and could dash off a strongly worded letter that the song's meaning is obvious from the lyrics but if The Nation is in such dumbass mode that they can't decipher lyrics, they can put it into the context of other songs Lennon was writing at the time. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were distorted (by the same magazine) not all that long ago (and Richards, like Ono, was stripped of his writing credit) so I'm just not in the mood to clap my hands and say, "Yea! Nation! You're taking a step! That's it, first the right, then the left! You can do it! You can do it!"

We've been down this road before. We (and that includes me as much as anyone) applauded that 2005 editorial and waited and waited and waited to see any evidence that it was being followed. It wasn't. They had a powerful essay that I highlighted in the snapshot two Fridays ago. But we've been down this road before with their editorials. This one comes as the illegal war hits its 4th anniversary. It also contradicts/rebukes some of Feathers (though I doubt anyone got that). If they follow up on the editorial, good and we'll note it. But the earlier one ran at the end of 2005 and 2006 went by with little to no coverage of Iraq. (We're referring to the print edition, what people for.) The war resisters that were the story of 2006? None of them were mentioned in 2006. In the first month of 2007, Ehren Watada finally got mentioned -- he was called a coward in a cover story and apparently, realizing they'd never mentioned him before and needing to explain whom was being spoken of, they offered a sidebar on him. That doesn't cut it.

Darrell Anderson? Never a printed word. Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Kyle Snyder, Ivan Brobeck . . . getting the picture? A delegation of peace activists went to Jordan in the summer of 2006 to meet with Iraqi parliamentarians and activists and never a word in print. Abeer was gang raped and murdered, her five-year-old sister and her parents were murdered, by US soldiers (two of whom, James P. Barker and Paul Cortez) have confessed in court and they didn't write a word about it, they still haven't. It's not cutting it.

They did offer an article that gave a lukewarm endorsement to the James Baker Circle Jerk just like they recently offered a lukewarm endorsement of a law to privatize Iraqi oil. That's not cutting it. The magazine that rightly wants to call out privatization and neoliberalism doesn't need to take a pass when it's privatization in another country, when it's privatization that's happening over the objection of the people. It's not cutting it.

So others can link to it and praise them and back pat them, but we've been down this road before. A brave editorial followed by . . . nothing. Hopefully, that won't be the case this time but we'll need to some real action before we say, "Okay! Now they're getting focused!"

The artistic abuse of Lennon and Ono's work is frightening when you think about it, artistically criminal. But it's perfectly in keeping with telling people, as they did for all of 2006, that they have no power. In fact, let's quote from the parody The Elector (The Third Estate Sunday Review):

Congratulations! We did it! You did it! We rocked Congress. Now we have to focus on the next step: the 2008 elections. Always remember that you have no more power than the average fan in a football stadium. Your sole role in the public sphere is to cheer or boo.That is all you can do, all you can ever do. Be good soldiers and fall in line. We have.

You can read that same thinking (which we were making fun of) in the new editorial. (By the way, in terms of AIPAC, Matthew Rothschild hits harder than the weak editorial that we're all supposed to be applauding.)

On Suzanne Swift, Erika notes this from Sara Corbett's "The Women's War" (New York Times Magazine via Truthout):

What still remained to be determined was whether Swift would be held accountable for going AWOL or whether the Army would accept the idea that her failure to report was, as she saw it, an instinctive act of psychological self-preservation. Whatever the case, Swift was quickly becoming a symbol - though of what it was hard to say. Among the antiwar crowd, thanks in part to the fiery speeches Swift's mother was delivering at local rallies and antiwar gatherings, she was being painted as a martyr, a rebel and a victim all at once. Meanwhile, others deemed her a traitor, a fraud or simply a whiny female soldier who'd been too lazy or too selfish to return to war.
Swift herself seemed stunned by the attention. "Look at me, a poster child," she told me wryly, making it clear that she was not enjoying it. She did not make the kind of grandiose anti-military statements her mother did but rather seemed to be trying to shrug off what happened to her. She told me she was having nightmares and was sometimes waylaid by fits of hysterical crying. But she described these flatly, seeming almost unwilling or unable to express anger or hurt. Overall, she seemed strikingly detached.
I had read enough about PTSD to know that "emotional numbing" is one of the disorder's primary symptoms, but it made understanding Swift and what she'd been through a more difficult task. "Avoidance" is another commonly recognized symptom in people with PTSD, especially avoidance of those things that bring reminders of the original trauma. If the Iraq war and the men she encountered there and afterward traumatized Swift, then perhaps going AWOL could be seen as a sort of meta-avoidance of all that plagued her.
That night after dinner, Swift lay on her hotel bed with her shoes kicked off, staring blankly at the ceiling. She was thoughtful and willing to answer questions. A few times, describing her deployment, she hovered close to tears but then seemed promptly to swallow them. She told me that she came home from Iraq feeling demoralized and depressed. She resumed her stateside duties with the Army for the 11 months between deployments and in general "just tried to deal."
She was not, however, formally given a diagnosis of PTSD until after she went AWOL - first by a civilian psychiatrist within days of her failure to report for deployment and later, Swift says, through the Army's mental-health division at Fort Lewis. (The Army could not confirm this, citing privacy issues.) The timing raised a serious question: Was the PTSD a legitimate disability or a hastily crafted excuse for skipping out on the war? Nobody, perhaps not even Swift, could say for sure.

Erika wishes "it was harder hitting" and notes the piece at The Third Estate Sunday Reivew.
Remember that Sara Rich (Swift's mother) continues to fight for an honorable discharge for her daughter (a honorable discharge Swift has more than earned) and that you can find out more about that and other issues by going to Suzanne Swift's website.

Giving a rundown of some of the reported violence in Iraq on Sunday . . . . AP reports that, in Baghdad, eight people died in a car bombing and 28 were wounded ("people grilling meat along the street to offer as charity on a Shiite Muslim holiday"), 16 corpses were discovered in Baghdad. Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, in Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed an Iraq police officer and left two other police officers and two other civilians wounded, a person was shot dead, a roadside bomb "damaged one [US] Humvee; in Diyala Province, seven were shot dead in an attack on a mini-buss and one corpses was found in Baquba.

Ibon Villelabeitia (Reuters) reports the corpses of nine police officers were discovered in al Anbar Province. Reuters notes three police officers wounded by a roadside bomb in Kirkuk and a roadside bomb that injured one man in Hilla. The US miliary announced on Sunday: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died March17 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province." And they announced: "A Task Force Lightning Soldier died Saturday in a non-combat related incident, which is currently under investigation." And they announced: "Iraqi security forces and Soldiers from Multi-National Division – Baghdad conducted patrols Friday, as part of Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon to help set the conditions for a stable Iraq. While conducting a dismounted area reconnaissance patrol south of Baghdad, an improvised explosive device detonated killing one Soldier and wounding three others." And they announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died March17 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province." One more, and they announced: "A Task Force Lightning Soldier died Saturday as a result of injuriessustained from an explosion while conducting combat operations in Diyala Province." Those were all announced on Sunday.

Pru gets the last highlight, this is "Four years after invading Iraq, Bush's Middle East strategy lies in tatters" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Four years ago, when George Bush and Tony Blair embarked on the conquest of Iraq, the US loomed supreme over the world.
After the apparently swift overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, barely two months after 11 September 2001, few doubted America's global dominance.
That indeed was one of the main reasons why the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party advocated invading Iraq -- to perpetuate what one of them, Charles Krauthammer, called the "unipolar moment".
Seizing Iraq would freeze the historical situation after the Cold War when the US dominated the world without any serious challengers.
It would do so because controlling Iraq would entrench the US position as the dominant power in the Middle East.
This would have implications beyond the region. The US could then, as the radical geographer David Harvey put it, decide to turn off the "oil spigot" -- deny access to Middle Eastern oil to potential rivals such as the European Union, Japan and China.
Four years on, what has happened to those plans? The Pentagon's high speed, hi-tech warfare overwhelmed the Iraqi army in a few weeks -- but it has been impotent in the face of the opposition of most Iraqis to the US-led occupation.
The fundamental law of counter-insurgency has defeated the US -- guerrillas can only be defeated if they can be isolated from the bulk of the population.
The occupiers of Iraq have never come remotely near achieving this objective. The armed resistance has been based chiefly among the predominantly Sunni Muslim areas in the centre of the country.
But, from the first few months of the occupation, most Iraqis, including the Shia Muslim majority in the south, have wanted to see the US and its allies out of the country.
The US tried to regain the initiative by practising divide and rule. A political alliance with the Shia establishment at the top was matched at the bottom with support for sectarian death squads based, for example, in the Iraqi interior ministry.
But the sectarian tit-for-tat killings have now escalated out of control, especially in the Greater Baghdad region.
Meanwhile, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has tilted the regional balance of power in favour of Iran. "Today, the only army capable of containing Iran" -- the old Iraqi army -- "has been destroyed by the US," says Vali Nasr, a US security expert.
To this geopolitical reality must be added the political, cultural and economic influence of Iran's Shia Islamist regime over the Shia of southern Iraq.
This comprehensive failure has radically changed the world's view of US power. Commentators now portray a declining US experiencing a "crisis of overstretch", particularly because the Iraqi catastrophe has coincided with China's rapid economic ascent.
Lame duck
Disaster in Iraq, together with the exposure of the lies told to justify the war in the first place, has destroyed Blair's premiership and, since the Democratic Party's victory in the mid-term US Congressional elections last November, turned Bush into a lame duck president.
Bush has responded to this by backing the neocons within his administration even more strongly. A new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is implementing an aggressive "surge" in US troop numbers.
Since the new policy was implemented on 14 February, the US military has been claiming a falloff in the number of violent incidents. But many US military experts are pessimistic.
Retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson, who has advised top US officials on insurgencies, predicted that Sunni insurgents and Shia militias will "wait out the surge, falling upon the Iraq security forces when the Americans start leaving".
Certainly the Mahdi Army -- the Shia militia most consistently opposed to the occupation -- seems to have been instructed by its leader Moqtada al-Sadr not to attack US troops entering its Baghdad stronghold.
But the Sunni resistance has been mounting aggressive attacks on US forces, shooting down at least six US helicopters since late January.
Some members of the Sunni militias may also have been involved in a wave of sectarian killings of Shia Muslims travelling to the sacred site of Kerbala over the past week.
It's hard to judge how serious the Bush administration is in its threats to spread this chaos and slaughter to Iran.
On the one hand, the veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has documented detailed plans, directed by US vice president Dick Cheney, to prepare for an attack on Iran.
These involve working with Saudi Arabia to orchestrate an alliance of Sunni regimes and movements, including radicals sympathetic to Al Qaida, against Iran, Syria, and Hizbollah.
On the other hand, the Financial Times claims to have detected a shift to a more "pragmatic" US foreign policy.
But no one should hold their breath while waiting for the victory of the "pragmatists".
As Noam Chomsky pointed out in the Guardian last week, "A predator becomes even more dangerous and less predictable when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters."
The 'second superpower' that shakes the mighty
The threats against Iran are just one reason why the anti-war movement must remain vigilant -- and continue to campaign for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The high point of that movement remains 15 February 2003, the day of giant global anti-war protest that prompted the New York Times to hail the emergence of a "second superpower".
It would be nice to imagine that the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq will be greeted by global protests on a similar scale. But this is, alas, unlikely to happen.
The marches in Washington in January and in London a few weeks ago were large scale protests by any standards.
However, after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April 2003, many national anti-war coalitions simply gave up.
This reflected the fact that many of these coalitions, especially in continental Europe, traced their origins to campaigns against nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
They were ill-equipped ideologically to deal with a rampant Western imperialism claiming to be fighting "Islamofascism".
Political alliances sometimes also played a negative role. US anti-war activists were hugely disoriented by their misguided support for the pro-war Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential elections.
The Italian movement was undermined by its support for Romano Prodi’s government, which backs Italy's participation in the occupation of Afghanistan.
But none of these failures were inevitable. In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition was built on the understanding that we were facing a long term imperialist offensive.
This understanding has helped to sustain one of the most important mass movements in British history.
But we also recognised that the offensive could be defeated. For all the horror they inflicted on Iraq, Bush and Blair have failed. This is reason enough to rededicate ourselves to building that "second superpower".
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If I missed something in the e-mails to the private account, I'm sorry. If it was a US event and had been noted (all had) in one of the two columns I did that ran today, it wasn't noted here. Canada had received little attention (by me, at any outlet) and there were war resisters present so we focused on that. (The Oregon item noted by Portland was included due to Watada.) If you're a member or a visitor that e-mailed the public account, I only read the top 60 e-mails.
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joshua key