Jul 31, 2006

Heavenly Bon Bons

Barbarism seems an obvious enough category. Ordinarily in our world, the barbarians are them. They act in ways that seem unimaginably primitive and brutal to us. For instance, they kidnap or capture someone, American or Iraqi, and cut off his head. Now, isn't that the definition of barbaric? Who does that anymore? The eighth century, or maybe the word "medieval" -– anyway, some brutal past time -- comes to mind immediately, and to the mass mind of our media even faster.

Similarly, to jump a little closer to modernity, they strap grenades, plastic explosives, bombs of various ingenious sorts fashioned in home labs, with nails or other bits of sharp metal added in to create instant shrapnel meant to rend human flesh, to maim and kill. Then they approach a target -- an Israeli bus filled with civilians and perhaps some soldiers, a pizza parlor in Jerusalem, a gathering of Shiite or Sunni worshippers at or near a mosque in Iraq or Pakistan, or of unemployed potential police or army recruits in Ramadi or Baghdad, or of shoppers in an Iraqi market somewhere in that country, or perhaps a foreigner on the streets of Kabul and they blow themselves up. Or they arm backpacks or bags and step onto trains in London, Madrid, Mumbai, and set them off.

Or, to up the technology and modernity a bit, they wire a car to explode, put a jihadist in the driver's seat, and drive it into -- well, this is now common enough that you can pick your target. Or perhaps they audaciously hijack four just-fuelled jets filled with passengers and run two of them into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and another into a field in Pennsylvania. This is, of course, the very definition of barbaric.

Now, let's jump a step further into our age of technological destruction, becoming less face-to-face, more impersonal, without, in the end, changing things that much. They send rockets from southern Lebanon (or even cruder ones from the Gaza Strip) against Israeli towns and cities. These rockets can only vaguely be aimed. Some can be brought into the general vicinity of an inhabited area; others, more advanced, into specific urban neighborhoods many tens of miles away -- and then they detonate, killing whoever is in the vicinity, which normally means civilians just living their lives, even, in one recent Hezbollah volley aimed at Nazareth, two Israeli Arab children. In this process, thousands of Israelis have been temporarily driven from their homes.

In the case of rockets by the hundreds lofted into Israel by an armed, organized militia, meant to terrorize and harm civilian populations, these are undoubtedly war crimes. Above all, they represent a kind of barbarism that -- with the possible exception of some of those advanced Hezbollah rockets -- feels primitive to us. Despite the explosives, cars, planes, all so basic to our modern way of life, such acts still seem redolent of ancient, less civilized times when people did especially cruel things to each other face to face.

The Religion of Air Power

That's them. But what about us? On our we/they planet, most groups don't consider themselves barbarians. Nonetheless, we have largely achieved non-barbaric status in an interesting way -- by removing the most essential aspect of the American (and, right now, Israeli) way of war from the category of the barbaric. I'm talking, of course, about air power, about raining destruction down on the earth from the skies, and about the belief -- so common, so long-lasting, so deep-seated -- that bombing others, including civilian populations, is a "strategic" thing to do; that air power can, in relatively swift measure, break the "will" not just of the enemy, but of that enemy's society; and that such a way of war is the royal path to victory.

This set of beliefs was common to air-power advocates even before modern air war had been tested, and repeated unsuccessful attempts to put these convictions into practice have never really shaken -- not for long anyway – what is essentially a war-making religion. The result has been the development of the most barbaric style of warfare imaginable, one that has seldom succeeded in breaking any societal will, though it has destroyed innumerable bodies, lives, stretches of countryside, villages, towns, and cities.

Even today, we find Israeli military strategists saying things that could have been put in the mouths of their air-power-loving predecessors endless decades ago. The New York Times' Steven Erlanger, for instance, recently quoted an unnamed "senior Israeli commander" this way: "He predicted that Israel would stick largely to air power for now… ‘A ground maneuver won't solve the problem of the long-range missiles,' he said. ‘The problem is the will to launch. We have to break the will of Hezbollah…'" Don't hold your breath is the first lesson history teaches on this particular assessment of the powers of air war; the second is that, a decade from now, some other "senior commander" in some other country will be saying the same thing, word for word.

When it comes to brutality, the fact is that ancient times have gotten a bad rap. Nothing in history was more brutal than the last century's style of war-making -- than those two world wars with their air armadas, backed by the most advanced industrial systems on the planet. Powerful countries then bent every elbow, every brain, to support the destruction of other human beings en masse, not to speak of the Holocaust (which was assembly-line warfare in another form), and the various colonial and Cold War campaigns that went on in the Third World from the 1940s on; which, in places like Korea and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, substituted the devastation of air power locally for a war between the two superpowers which might have employed the mightiest air weaponry of all to scour the Earth.

It may be that the human capacity for brutality, for barbarism, hasn't changed much since the eighth century, but the industrial revolution -- and in particular the rise of the airplane -- opened up new landscapes to brutality; while the view from behind the gun-sight, then the bomb-sight, and finally the missile-sight slowly widened until all of humanity was taken in. From the lofty, godlike vantage point of the strategic as well as the literal heavens, the military and the civilian began to blur on the ground. Soldiers and citizens, conscripts and refugees alike, became nothing but tiny, indistinguishable hordes of ants, or nothing at all but the structures that housed them, or even just concepts, indistinguishable one from the other.

One Plane, One Bomb

As far as anyone knows, the first bomb was dropped by hand over the Italian colony of Libya. According to Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing, one Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti "leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb -- a Danish Haasen hand grenade -- on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several moments later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first air attack."

That was 1911 and the damage was minimal. Only thirty-four years later, vast armadas of B-17s and B-29s were taking off, up to a thousand planes at a time, to bomb Germany and Japan. In the case of Tokyo -- then constructed almost totally out of highly flammable materials -- a single raid carrying incendiary bombs and napalm that began just after midnight on March 10, 1945 proved capable of incinerating or killing at least 90,000 people, possibly many more, from such a height that the dead could not be seen (though the stench of burning flesh carried up to the planes). The first American planes to arrive over the city, wrote historian Michael Sherry in his book, The Rise of American Air Power, "carved out an X of flames across one of the world's most densely packed residential districts; followers fed and broadened it for some three hours thereafter."

What descended from the skies, as James Carroll puts it in his new book, House of War, was "1,665 tons of pure fire… the most efficient and deliberate act of arson in history. The consequent firestorm obliterated fifteen square miles, which included both residential and industrial areas. Fires raged for four days." It was the bonfire of bonfires and not a single American plane was shot down.

On August 6, 1945, all the power of that vast air armada was again reduced to a single plane, the Enola Gay, and a single bomb, "Little Boy," dropped near a single bridge in a single city, Hiroshima, which in a single moment of a sort never before experienced on the planet did what it had taken 300 B-29s and many hours to do to Tokyo. In those two cities -- as well as Dresden and other German and Japanese cities subjected to "strategic bombing" -- the dead (perhaps 900,000 in Japan and 600,000 in Germany) were invariably preponderantly civilian, and far too distant to be seen by plane crews often dropping their bomb loads in the dark of night, giving the scene below the look of Hell on Earth.

So 1911: one plane, one bomb. 1945: one plane, one bomb -- but this time at least 120,000 dead, possibly many more. Two bookmarks less than four decades apart on the first chapter of a history of the invention of a new kind of warfare, a new kind of barbarism that, by now, is the way we expect war to be made, a way that no longer strikes us as barbaric at all. This wasn't always the case.

The Shock of the New

When military air power was in its infancy and silent films still ruled the movie theaters, the first air-war films presented pilots as knights of the heavens, engaging in courageous, chivalric, one-on-one combat in the skies. As that image reflects, in the wake of the meat-grinder of trench warfare in World War I, the medieval actually seemed far less brutal, a time much preferable to those years in which young men had died by their hundreds of thousands, anonymously, from machine guns, artillery, poison gas, all the lovely inventions of industrial civilization, ground into the mud of no-man's-land, often without managing to move their lines or the enemy's more than a few hundred yards.

The image of chivalric knights in planes jousting in the skies slowly disappeared from American screens, as after the 1950s would, by and large, air power itself even as the war film went on (and on and on). It can last be found perhaps in the film Top Gun; in old Peanuts comics in which Snoopy remains forever the Red Baron; and, of course, post-Star Wars, in the fantasy realm of outer space where Jedi Knights took up lethal sky-jousting in the late 1970s, X-wing fighter to X-wing fighter, and in zillions of video games to follow. In the meantime, the one-way air slaughter in South Vietnam would be largely left out of the burst of Vietnam films that would start hitting the screen from the late 1970s on.

In the real, off-screen world, that courtly medieval image of air power disappeared fast indeed. As World War II came ever closer and it became more apparent what air power was best at -- what would now be called "collateral damage" -- the shock set in. When civilians were first purposely targeted and bombed in the industrializing world rather than in colonies like Iraq, the act was initially widely condemned as inhuman by a startled world.

People were horrified when, during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Hitler's Condor Legion and planes from fascist Italy repeatedly bombed the Basque town of Guernica, engulfing most of its buildings in a firestorm that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. If you want to get a sense of the power of that act to shock then, view Picasso's famous painting of protest done almost immediately in response. (When Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the UN in February 2003 to deliver his now infamous speech explaining what we supposedly knew about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, UN officials -- possibly at the request of the Bush administration -- covered over a tapestry of the painting that happened to be positioned where Powell would have to pass on his way to deliver his speech and where press comments would be offered afterwards.)

Later in 1937, as the Japanese began their campaign to conquer China, they bombed a number of Chinese cities. A single shot of a Chinese baby wailing amid the ruins, published in Life magazine, was enough to horrify Americans (even though the actual photo may have been doctored). Air power was then seen as nothing but a new kind of barbarism. According to historian Sherry, "In 1937 and 1938, [President Roosevelt] had the State Department condemn Japanese bombing of civilians in China as ‘barbarous' violations of the ‘elementary principles' of modern morality." Meanwhile, observers checking out what effect the bombing of civilians had on the "will" of society offered nothing but bad news to the strategists of air power. As Sherry writes:

"In the Saturday Evening Post, an American army officer observed that bombing had proven ‘disappointing to the theorists of peacetime.' When Franco's rebels bombed Madrid, ‘Did the Madrilenos sue for peace? No, they shook futile fists at the murderers in the sky and muttered, ‘Swine.' His conclusion: ‘Terrorism from the air has been tried and found wanting. Bombing, far from softening the civil will, hardens it.'"

Already similar things are being written about the Lebanese, though, in our media, terms like "barbarism" and "terrorism" are unlikely to be applied to Israel's war from the heavens. New York Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise, for instance, reported the following from the site of a destroyed apartment building in the bomb-shocked southern Lebanese port of Tyre:

"Whatever the target, the result was an emotional outpouring in support of Hezbollah. Standing near a cluster of dangling electrical wires, a group of men began to chant. ‘By our blood and our soul, we'll fight for you, Nasrallah!' they said, referring to Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. In a foggy double image, another small group chanted the same thing, as if answering, on the other side of the smoke."

World War II began with the German bombing of Warsaw. On September 9, 1939, according to Carroll, President Roosevelt "beseeched the war leaders on both sides to ‘under no circumstances undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations of unfortified cities.'" Then came, the terror-bombing of Rotterdam and Hitler's Blitz against England in which tens of thousands of British civilians died and many more were displaced, each event proving but another systemic shock to what was left of global opinion, another unimaginable act by the planet's reigning barbarians.

British civilians, of course, still retain a deserved reputation for the stiff-upper-lip-style bravery with which they comported themselves in the face of a merciless German air offensive against their cities that knew no bounds. No wills were broken there, nor would they be in Russia (where, in 1942, perhaps 40,000 were killed in German air attacks on the city of Stalingrad alone) -- any more than they would be in Germany by the far more massive Allied air offensive against the German population.

All of this, of course, came before it was clear that the United States could design and churn out planes faster, in greater numbers, and with more fire power than any country on the planet and then wield air power far more massively and brutally than anyone had previously been capable of doing. That was before the U.S. and Britain decided to fight fire with fire by blitz- and terror-bombing Germany and Japan. (The U.S. moved more slowly and awkwardly than the British from "precision bombing" against targets like factories producing military equipment or oil-storage depots -- campaigns that largely failed -- to "area bombing" that was simply meant to annihilate vast numbers of civilians and destroy cities. But move American strategists did.) That was before Dresden and Hiroshima; before Pyongyang, along with much of the Korean peninsula, was reduced to rubble from the air in the Korean War; before the Plaine des Jarres was bombed back to the Stone Age in Laos in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the B-52s were sent against the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong in the terror-bombing of Christmas 1972 to wring concessions out of the North Vietnamese at the peace table in Paris; before the first President Bush ended the first Gulf War with a "turkey shoot" on the "highway of death" as Saddam Hussein's largely conscript military fled Kuwait City in whatever vehicles were at hand; before we bombed the rubble in Afghanistan into further rubble in 2001, and before we shock-and awed Baghdad in 2003.

Taking the Sting Out of Air War

Somewhere in this process, a new language to describe air war began to develop -- after, in the Vietnam era, the first "smart bombs" and "precision-guided weapons" came on line. From then on, air attacks would, for instance, be termed "surgical" and civilian casualties dismissed as but "collateral damage." All of this helped removed the sting of barbarity from the form of war we had chosen to make our own (unless, of course, you happened to be one of those "collateral" people under those "surgical" strikes). Just consider, for a moment, that, with the advent of the first Gulf War, air power -- as it was being applied -- essentially became entertainment, a Disney-style, son-et-lumière spectacular over Baghdad to be watched in real time on television by a population of non-combatants from thousands of miles away.

With that same war, the Pentagon started calling press briefings and screening nose-cone photography, essentially little Iraqi snuff films, in which you actually looked through the precision-guided bomb or missile-sights yourself, found your target, and followed that missile or smart bomb right down to its explosive impact. If you were lucky, the Pentagon even let you check out the after-mission damage assessments. These films were so nifty, so like the high-tech video-game experience just then coming into being, that they were used by the Pentagon as reputation enhancers. From then on, Pentagon officials not only described their air weaponry as "surgical" in its abilities, but showed you the "surgery" (just as the Israelis have been doing with their footage of "precision" attacks in Lebanon). What you didn't see, of course, was the "collateral damage" which, when the Iraqis put it on-screen, was promptly dismissed as so much propaganda.

And yet this new form of air war had managed to move far indeed from the image of the knightly joust, from the sense, in fact, of battle at all. In those years, except over the far north of Korea during the Korean War or over North Vietnam and some parts of South Vietnam, American pilots, unless in helicopters, went into action (as Israeli ones do today) knowing that the dangers to them were usually minimal -- or, as over that Iraqi highway of death nonexistent. War from the air was in the process of becoming a one-way street of destruction.

At an extreme, with the arrival of fleets of Hellfire-missile-armed unmanned Predator drones over Iraq, the "warrior" would suddenly find himself seven thousand miles away at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, delivering "precision" strikes that almost always, somehow, managed to kill collaterally. In such cases, war and screen war have indeed merged.

This kind of war has the allure, from a military point of view, of ever less casualties on one end in return for ever more on the other. It must also instill a feeling of bloodless, godlike control over those enemy "ants" (until, of course, things begin to go wrong, as they always do) as well as a sense that the world can truly be "remade" from the air, by remote control, and at a great remove. This has to be a powerful, even a transporting fantasy for strategists, however regularly it may be denied by history.

Despite the cleansed language of air war, and no matter how good the targeting intelligence or smart the bomb (neither of which can be counted on), civilians who make the mistake of simply being alive and going about their daily business die in profusion whenever war descends from the heavens. This is the deepest reality of war today.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon… [Fill in the Blank]

In fact, the process of removing air power from the ranks of the barbaric, of making it, if not glorious (as in those visually startling moments when Baghdad was shock-and-awed), then completely humdrum, and so of no note whatsoever, has been remarkably successful in our world. In fact, we have loosed our air power regularly on the countryside of Afghanistan, and especially on rebellious urban areas of Iraq in "targeted" and "precise" attacks on insurgent concentrations and "al-Qaeda safe houses" (as well as in more wholesale assaults on the old city of Najaf and on the city of Fallujah) largely without comment or criticism. In the process, significant parts of two cities in a country we occupied and supposedly "liberated," were reduced to rubble and everywhere, civilians, not to speak of whole wedding parties, were blown away without our media paying much attention at all.

Our various air campaigns -- our signature way of war -- have hardly been noticed, and almost never focused on, by the large numbers of journalists embedded with U.S. forces or in one way or another on-the-ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember, we're talking here about the dropping of up to 2,000 pound bombs regularly, over years, often in urban areas. Just imagine, if you live in a reasonably densely populated area, what it might mean collaterally to have such bombs or missiles hit your block or neighborhood, no matter how "accurate" their aim.

Until Seymour Hersh wrote a piece from Washington last November for the New Yorker, entitled "Up in the Air," our reporters had, with rare exceptions, simply refused to look up; and despite a flurry of attention then, to this day, our continuing air campaigns are largely ignored. Yet here is an Air Force summary of just a single, nondescript day of operations in Iraq, one of hundreds and hundreds of such days, some far more intense, since we invaded that country: "In total, coalition aircraft flew 46 close-air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."

And here's the summary of the same day in Afghanistan: "In total, coalition aircraft flew 32 close-air support missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. These missions included support to coalition and Afghan troops, reconstruction activities and route patrols." Note that, in Afghanistan, as the situation has worsened militarily and politically, the old Vietnam-era B-52s, the carpet-bombers of that war, have been called back into action, again without significant attention here.

Now, with the fervent backing of the Bush administration, another country is being "remade" from the air -- in this case, Lebanon. With the highest-tech American precision-guided and bunker-busting bombs, the Israelis have been launching air strike after strike, thousands of them, in that country. They have hit an international airport, the nation's largest milk factories; a major food factory; aid convoys; Red Cross ambulances; a UN observer post; a power plant; apartment complexes; villages because they house or support the enemy; branches of banks because they might facilitate Hezbollah finances; the telecommunications system because of the messages that might pass along it; highways because they might transport weapons to the enemy; bridges because they might be crossed by those transporting weapons; a lighthouse in Beirut harbor for reasons unknown; trucks because they might be transporting those weapons (though they might also be transporting vegetables); families who just happen to be jammed into cars or minivans fleeing at the urging of the attackers who have turned at least 20% of all Lebanese (and probably many more) into refugees, while creating a "landscape of death" (in the phrase of the superb Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid) in the southern part of the country. In this process, civilian casualties have mounted steadily -- assumedly far beyond the figure of just over 400 now regularly being cited in our press, because Lebanon has no way to search the rubble of its bombed buildings for the dead; nor, right now, the time and ability to do an accurate count of those who died more or less in the open.

And yet, of course, the "will" of the enemy is not broken and, among Israel's leaders and its citizens, frustration mounts; so threats of more and worse are made and worse weapons are brought into play; and wider targeting fields are opened up; and what might faintly pass for "precision bombing" is increasingly abandoned for the equivalent of "area bombing." And the full support system -- which is simply society -- for the movement in question becomes the "will" that must be broken; and in this process, what we call "collateral damage" is moved, by the essential barbaric logic of air power, front and center, directly into the crosshairs.

Already Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is "vowing" to use the "most severe measures" to end Hezbollah rocket attacks -- and in the context of the present air assault that is a frightening threat. All this because, as in Iraq, as elsewhere, air power has once again run up against another kind of power, a fierce people power (quite capable of its own barbarities) that, over the decades, the bomb and missile has proved frustratingly incapable of dismantling or wiping out. Already, as the Guardian's Ian Black points out, "The original objective of ‘breaking Hizbullah' has been quietly watered down to ‘weakening Hizbullah.'"

In such a war, with such an enemy, the normal statistics of military victory may add up only to defeat, a further frustration that only tends to ratchet the destruction higher over time. Adam Shatz put this well recently in the Nation when he wrote:

"[Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah is under no illusions that his small guerrilla movement can defeat the Israeli Army. But he can lose militarily and still score a political victory, particularly if the Israelis continue visiting suffering on Lebanon, whose government, as they well know, is powerless to control Hezbollah. Nasrallah, whom the Israelis attempted to assassinate on July 19 with a twenty-three-ton bomb attack on an alleged Hezbollah bunker, is doubtless aware that he may share the fate of his predecessor, Abbas Musawi, who was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in 1992. But Hezbollah outlived Musawi and grew exponentially, thanks in part to its followers' passion for martyrdom. To some, Nasrallah's raid may look like a death wish. But it is almost impossible to defeat someone who has no fear of death."

As the Israelis are rediscovering -- though, by now, you'd think that military planners with half a brain wouldn't have to destroy a country to do so -- that it is impossible to "surgically" separate a movement and its supporters from the air. When you try, you invariably do the opposite; fusing them ever more closely, while creating an even larger, ever angrier base for the movement whose essence is, in any case, never literal geography, never simply a set of villages or bunkers or military supplies to be taken and destroyed.

Degrading Behavior

Someday someone will take up the grim study of the cleansing language of air power. Every air war, it seems, now has its new words meant to take the sting out of its essential barbarism. In the case of the Israeli air assault on Lebanon, the term -- old in the military world but never before so widely adopted in such a commonplace way -- is "degrading," not as at Abu Ghraib, but as in "to impair in physical structure or function." It was once a technical military term; in this round of air war, however, it is being used to cover a range of sins.

Try Googling the term. It turns out to be almost literally everywhere. It can be found in just about any article on Israel's air war, used in this fashion: "CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that around the world the U.S.' opposition to a cease-fire is viewed as the U.S. giving Israel a ‘green-light' to degrade the military capability of Hezbollah." Or in a lead in a New York Times piece this way: "The outlines of an American-Israeli consensus began to emerge Tuesday in which Israel would continue to bombard Lebanon for about another week to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities, officials of the two countries said." Or more generally, as in a Washington Post piece, in this fashion: "In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq." Or as Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, wielded it: "It's not just about the missiles and launchers… [I]t's about the roads and transport, the ability to command and control. All that is being degraded. But it's going to take a long time. I don't believe this is going to be over in the next couple of days." Or as an Israeli general at a Washington think tank told the Washington Times: "Israel has taken it upon itself to degrade Hezbollah's military capabilities." Sometimes degradation of this sort can be quantified: "A senior Israeli official said Friday that the attacks to date had degraded Hezbollah's military strength by roughly half, but that the campaign could go on for two more weeks or longer." More often, it's a useful term exactly because it's wonderfully vague, quite resistant to quantification, the very opposite of "precision" in its ambiguity, and capable of taking some of the sting out of what is actually happening. It turns the barbarity of air war into something close to a natural process -- of, perhaps, erosion, of wearing down over time.

As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but "collateral," never truly "surgical," and never in its overall effect "precise." Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the "will," invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.

For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be "barbaric destruction"; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it's not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.
-By Tom Engelhardt

Jul 30, 2006

Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto CATCH ALL

Already sensitive and integrity breaching data is being covertly collected en masse (or prepared for such collection) by certain EU member states about their citizens and is under active integration with CATCH ALL, and this at the driving behest of the U.S.,represented first and foremost by the NSA as lead manager of the ambitious and super secret CATCH ALL program - a Manhattan Project type program initiated and designed in the mid to late 1990's to create an unassailable strategic information gap between particular interests within the U.S. sphere of influence and all and any potential commercial and political adversaries, be they of foreign or domestic origin.

CATCH ALL is perceived by its architects and proponents as critical to ensure the continuity of certain interests faced with quite reasonable projections of major commercial clashes and crisis of global proportions and consequence.

The raw resource for CATCH ALL is the transactional data of individuals - that is to say, your emanations of digital transactional trace evidence generated through transactions with people, corporations, and institutions. Your transactional garbage is being secretly expropriated for the strategic commercial gain for a few without anyone offering to enter into any sort of renumerative contract with you for the raw resources you are unwittingly providing them with.

Your transactional garbage is now worth gold with modern data harvesting and mining technology and it's value is being confiscated from you in a manner that leaves Stalin's collectivization campaign looking like a minor shoplifting infraction. However, if even a small fraction of harvestees were to opt out of voluntarily selling or handing over their transactional junk to CATCH ALL, then the value of all other collected transactionals would sharply depreciate just as the cost of acquiring it would soar. As well, the program is designed to establish an unassailable head start against real and perceived future competitors, ergo it must be carried out in extreme secret until a critical mass is achieved that makes it impossible for any others to catch up and thereby undermine the anticipated competitive advantage CATCH ALL is intended to furnish.

CATCH ALL has to therefor be conducted in secret, per theft or threat, and en masse. CATCH ALL isn't a Bush, Blair, Democrat, or Republican invasion of privacy infraction (though for certain reasons you wouldn't be dead wrong if you called it Clintonesque). It is not a partisan defined attack on your privacy and ownership rights. CATCH ALL is an all or nothing gambit perceived to be of grave national interest and thus is hitherto supported by all elected officials that have been granted a fleeting glimpse at its breathtaking audacity.

Those few elected officials that have been made privy to CATCH ALL will not squeal for fear of being accused of undermining such a levithian project which has been presented and pitched as pivotal to securing America's future welfare in a threateningly encroaching world (and by threateningly encroaching we do not mean a few petty 15 year old Al Qaeda thugs singing Kumbaya in far flung caves under a rain of covertly deployed mini nukes - though they are obviously employed as a ubiquitous threat to ram through various CATCH ALL supporting measures and smoke screens)

CATCH ALL even frames children, as it does all digital trace evidence generating people, as both substrate for resource exploitation per way of their data generating activities and as possible future enemies to interests intent on becoming once and for all impervious to disrupting opposition, ie the achievement of Total Interest Privacy (TIP).

Whatever excuse it takes to access, confiscate, and harvest your reasonably perceived proprietary private information, you will hear it. But you will most likely not be told what is actually up for grabs until you have been pick pocketed clean and your objections can no longer threaten to make a difference. I figure the security scare & rationale package will continue to work quite nicely as it has done so far. It would appear that others figure so too.

British children, possibly as young as six, will be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting under European Union rules being drawn up in secret. The prints will be stored on a database which could be shared with countries around the world.

According to secret documents obtained by Statewatch, the committee will make it compulsory for all children from the age of 12 to be fingerprinted. However, several of the committee's member states are lobbying to bring the compulsory age limit down. Sweden tells the committee it 'could agree with a minimum age of six years for passports'.

The prospect has alarmed civil liberties groups who fear it represents a 'sea change' in the state's relationship with children and one that may lead to juveniles being erroneously accused of crimes. Under laws being drawn up behind closed doors by the European Commission's 'Article Six' committee, which is composed of representatives of the European Union's 25 member states, all children will have to attend a finger-printing centre to obtain an EU passport by June 2009 at the latest.

The use of fingerprints and other biometric data is designed to prevent passport fraud and allow European member states to meet US entry visa requirements, but the decision to fingerprint children has disturbed human rights groups.

The civil liberties group Statewatch last night accused EU governments of taking decisions in which 'people and parliaments have no say'. It said the committee's decisions were simply based on 'technological possibilities - not on the moral and political questions of whether it is right or desirable.'

'This is a sea change,' said Ben Hayes, spokesman for Statewatch. 'We are going from fingerprinting criminals to universal fingerprinting without any real debate. In the long term everyone's fingerprints will be stored on a central database. You have to ask what will be the costs to a person's privacy.'

Fingerprinting young children is considered difficult because their fingers have yet to fully develop. The European Commission notes: 'Scientific tests have confirmed that the paillary ridges on the fingers are not sufficiently developed to allow biometric capture and analysis until the age of six.'

A commission spokesman said initially only member states would have access to their citizens' fingerprint data. However, after the Madrid bombings the commission signalled its intention for all fingerprints to be stored on one database that could one day be accessed by each EU state. 'Whether access for third countries will be allowed has to be decided by the EC at a later stage,' the spokesman said. 'Nevertheless, full interoperability is ensured, should the EU decide to give access to third countries.'

Such a move opens up the possibility that the fingerprints of British children could one day be accessed by foreign intelligence services. 'Secure passports make a lot more sense than ID cards,' said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty. 'But only as long as the information that is kept is no more than necessary and is not shared with other countries.'
An Excerpt From The Guardian - July 30, 2006

Jul 28, 2006

Lebensraum Pipe Dream

Is there a relationship between the bombing of Lebanon and the inauguration of the World's largest strategic pipeline, which will channel more than a million barrels of oil a day to Western markets?

Virtually unnoticed, the inauguration of the Ceyhan-Tblisi-Baku (BTC) oil pipeline, which links the Caspian sea to the Eastern Mediterranean, took place on the 13th of July, at the very outset of the Israeli sponsored bombings of Lebanon.

One day before the Israeli air strikes, the main partners and shareholders of the BTC pipeline project, including several heads of State and oil company executives were in attendance at the port of Ceyhan. They were then rushed off for an inauguration reception in Istanbul, hosted by Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in the plush surroundings of the Çýraðan Palace.

Also in attendance was British Petroleum's (BP) CEO, Lord Browne together with senior government officials from Britain, the US and Israel. BP leads the BTC pipeline consortium. Other major Western shareholders include Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, France's Total and Italy's ENI. (see Annex)

Israel's Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was present at the venue together with a delegation of top Israeli oil officials.

The BTC pipeline totally bypasses the territory of the Russian Federation. It transits through the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which have become US "protectorates", firmly integrated into a military alliance with the US and NATO. Moreover, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have longstanding military cooperation agreements with Israel. In 2005, Georgian companies received some $24 million in military contracts funded out of U.S. military assistance to Israel under the so-called "Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program".

Israel has a stake in the Azeri oil fields, from which it imports some twenty percent of its oil. The opening of the pipeline will substantially enhance Israeli oil imports from the Caspian sea basin.

But there is another dimension which directly relates to the war on Lebanon. Whereas Russia has been weakened, Israel is slated to play a major strategic role in "protecting" the Eastern Mediterranean transport and pipeline corridors out of Ceyhan.

Militarization of the Eastern Mediterranean

The bombing of Lebanon is part of a carefully planned and coordinated military road map. The extension of the war into Syria and Iran has already been contemplated by US and Israeli military planners. This broader military agenda is intimately related to strategic oil and oil pipelines. It is supported by the Western oil giants which control the pipeline corridors. In the context of the war on Lebanon, it seeks Israeli territorial control over the East Mediterranean coastline.

In this context, the BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the Caspian sea basin:

"[The BTC pipeline] considerably changes the status of the region's countries and cements a new pro-West alliance. Having taken the pipeline to the Mediterranean, Washington has practically set up a new bloc with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Israel, " (Komerzant, Moscow, 14 July 2006)

Israel is now part of the Anglo-American military axis, which serves the interests of the Western oil giants in the Middle East and Central Asia.

While the official reports state that the BTC pipeline will "channel oil to Western markets", what is rarely acknowledged is that part of the oil from the Caspian sea would be directly channeled towards Israel. In this regard, an underwater Israeli-Turkish pipeline project has been envisaged which would link Ceyhan to the Israeli port of Ashkelon and from there through Israel's main pipeline system, to the Red Sea.

The objective of Israel is not only to acquire Caspian sea oil for its own consumption needs but also to play a key role in re-exporting Caspian sea oil back to the Asian markets through the Red Sea port of Eilat. The strategic implications of this re-routing of Caspian sea oil are farreaching.

In April 2006, Israel and Turkey announced plans for four underwater pipelines, which would bypass Syrian and Lebanese territory.

"Turkey and Israel are negotiating the construction of a multi-million-dollar energy and water project that will transport water, electricity, natural gas and oil by pipelines to Israel, with the oil to be sent onward from Israel to the Far East,

The new Turkish-Israeli proposal under discussion would see the transfer of water, electricity, natural gas and oil to Israel via four underwater pipelines.

“Baku oil can be transported to Ashkelon via this new pipeline and to India and the Far East.[via the Red sea]"

"Ceyhan and the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon are situated only 400 km apart. Oil can be transported to the city in tankers or via specially constructed under-water pipeline. From Ashkelon the oil can be pumped through already existing pipeline to the port of Eilat at the Red Sea; and from there it can be transported to India and other Asian countries in tankers. (REGNUM)

Water for Israel

Also involved in this project is a pipeline to bring water to Israel, pumping water from upstream resources of the Tigris and Euphrates river system in Anatolia. This has been a long-run strategic objective of Israel to the detriment of Syria and Iraq. Israel's agenda with regard to water is supported by the military cooperation agreement between Tel Aviv and Ankara.

The Re-routing of Central Asian Oil

Diverting Central Asian oil and gas to the Eastern Mediterranean (under Israeli military protection), for re-export to Asia, serves to undermine the inter-Asian energy market, which is based on the development of direct pipeline corridors linking Central Asia and Russia to South Asia, China and the Far East.

Ultimately, this design is intended to weaken Russia's role in Central Asia and cut off China from Central Asian oil resources. It is also intended to isolate Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel has emerged as a new powerful player in the global energy market.

War and Oil Pipelines

Prior to the bombing of Lebanon, Israel and Turkey had announced the underwater pipeline routes, which bypassed Syria and Lebanon. These underwater pipeline routes did not overtly encroach on the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon and Syria.

On the other hand, the development of alternative land based corridors (for oil and water) through Lebanon and Syria would require Israeli-Turkish territorial control over the Eastern Mediterranean coastline through Lebanon and Syria.

The implementation of this project requires the militarisation of the East Mediterranean coastline, sea ways and land routes, extending from the port of Ceyhan across Syria and Lebanon to the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Is this not one of the hidden objectives of the war on Lebanon? Open up a space which enables Israel to control a vast territory extending from the Lebanese border through Syria to Turkey.

"The Long War"

Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert has stated that the Israeli offensive against Lebanon would "last a very long time". Meanwhile, the US has speeded up weapons shipments to Israel.

There are strategic objectives underlying the "Long War" which are tied to oil and oil pipelines.

The air campaign against Lebanon is inextricably related to US-Israeli strategic objectives in the broader Middle East including Syria and Iran. In recent developments, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated that the main purpose of her mission to the Middle East was not to push for a ceasefire in Lebanon, but rather to isolate Syria and Iran. (Daily Telegraph, 22 July 2006)

At this particular juncture, the replenishing of Israeli stockpiles of US produced WMDs points to an escalation of the war both within and beyond the borders of Lebanon.
-Article By Professor Michel Chossudovsky, University Of Ottawa

Jul 27, 2006

Rogue's Regiment

Intelligence expert James Bamford takes a timely look at machinations involving the neo-con desire to expand the Lebanon war to Syria and especially--Iran.

For years, the National Security Agency had possessed the codes used by Iran to encrypt its diplomatic messages, enabling the U.S. government to eavesdrop on virtually every communication between Tehran and its embassies. After the U.S. invaded Baghdad, the NSA used the codes to listen in on details of Iran's covert operations inside Iraq. But in 2004, the agency intercepted a series of urgent messages from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Intelligence officials at the embassy had discovered the massive security breach -- tipped off by someone familiar with the U.S. code-breaking operation.

The blow to intelligence-gathering could not have come at a worse time. The Bush administration suspected that the Shiite government in Iran was aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq, who were killing U.S. soldiers. The administration was also worried that Tehran was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Now, crucial intelligence that might have shed light on those operations had been cut off, potentially endangering American lives.

On May 20th, shortly after the discovery of the leak, Iraqi police backed by American soldiers raided (ally of American neo-cons, Ahmed) Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad. The FBI suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran and was close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for the Shiite government of Iran. Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was apparently part of a plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, with Chalabi in charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's intelligence chief had furnished Iran with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the provisional government and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq. On the night of the raid, The CBS Evening News carried an exclusive report by correspondent Lesley Stahl that the U.S. government had "rock-solid" evidence that Chalabi had been passing extremely sensitive intelligence to Iran -- evidence so sensitive that it could "get Americans killed."

The revelation shocked (convicted leaker of classified U.S. documents to the Israel lobby, Lawrence) Franklin and other members of (Rumsfeld aide, Douglas) Feith's office. If true, the allegations meant that they had just launched a war to put into power an agent of their mortal enemy, Iran. Their man -- the dissident leader who sat behind the first lady in the president's box during the State of the Union address in which Bush prepared the country for war -- appeared to have been working for Iran all along.

Franklin needed to control the damage, and fast. He was one of the very few in the government who knew that it was the NSA code-breaking information that Chalabi was suspected of passing to Iran, and that there was absolute proof that Chalabi had met with a covert Iranian agent involved in operations against the U.S. To protect those in the Pentagon working for regime change in Tehran, Franklin needed to get out a simple message: We didn't know about Chalabi's secret dealings with Iran.

Franklin decided to leak the information to a friendly contact in the media: Adam Ciralsky, a CBS producer who had been fired from the CIA, allegedly for his close ties to Israel. On May 21st, the day after CBS broadcast its exclusive report on Chalabi, Franklin phoned Ciralsky and fed him the information. As the two men talked, eavesdroppers at the FBI's Washington field office recorded the conversation.

That night, Stahl followed up her original report with "new details" -- the information leaked earlier that day by Franklin. She began, however, by making clear that she would not divulge the most explosive detail of all: the fact that Chalabi had wrecked the NSA's ability to eavesdrop on Iran. "Senior intelligence officials were stressing today that the information Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is so seriously sensitive that the result of full disclosure would be highly damaging to U.S. security," Stahl said. "Because of that, we are not reporting the details of what exactly Chalabi is said to have compromised, at the request of U.S. officials at the highest levels. The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior intelligence officials." Thanks to the pressure from the administration, the public was prevented from learning the most damaging aspect of Chalabi's treachery.

Soon after the broadcast, David Szady's team at the FBI decided to wrap up its investigation before Franklin leaked any more information. Agents quietly confronted Franklin with the taped phone call and pressured him to cooperate in a sting operation directed at AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- America's Pro-Israel Lobby) and members of Feith's team in the Pentagon. Franklin, facing a long prison sentence, agreed. On August 4th, 2005, Rosen and Weissman were indicted, and on January 20th, 2006, Franklin, who had earlier pleaded guilty, was sentenced to twelve years and seven months in prison. In an attempt to reduce his sentence, he agreed to testify against the former AIPAC officials. The case is set to go to trial this fall. (...)

The administration's National Security Strategy -- the official policy document that sets out U.S. strategic priorities -- now calls Iran the "single country" that most threatens U.S. interests.

The shift in official policy has thrilled former members of the (neo-con) cabal. To them, the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn Iran into the next Iraq. (Michael) Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 13th, could hardly restrain himself. "Faster, please," he urged the White House, arguing that the war should now be taken over by the U.S. military and expanded across the entire region. "The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it," he concluded. "There is no other way."

Jul 26, 2006

British Government May Have To Explain Decision To Go To War In Iraq, Court says

This could prove to be a bit of a sticky wicket:

The families of four British soldiers killed in Iraq won the right today to challenge the government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into why Britain joined the war, a ruling their lawyers described as a "stunning victory".

The decision by the court of appeal overturned an earlier high court ruling denying the relatives the right to apply for judicial review of the government's decision.

The panel of appeal court judges rejected arguments from lawyers representing the prime minister, the secretary of state for defence and the attorney general that it would be an "unwarranted shift of power" for the courts to make pronouncements on the government's right to go to war. (...)

"This is a stunning victory," said Phil Shiner, the families' solicitor.

"The government now have to produce evidence to a full hearing in the court of appeal. That evidence needs to establish once and for all whether the decision to invade was lawful.

"In particular, the government must finally explain how the 13-page equivocal advice from the attorney general of March 7 2003 was changed within 10 days to a one-page, completely unequivocal advice that an invasion would be legal.

"My clients believe he impermissibly changed his advice because he was sat on by the prime minister and others in government. In changing his advice he sent these soldiers to their deaths."

Jul 24, 2006

Teflon Repairs

I'm in the midst, and have been so for the past 2 months, of a semi-scheduled Teflon maintenance regimen. It includes plenty of cocktails in exotic locations where people aren't being killed, maimed, and terrorized with my plethora of ante'd up tax bucks.

The downside of these surface overhauls is that they entail a rather truant attentiveness to my self-imposed SMC duties. However, God confided with me during happy hour that his wife appeared ripe to forgive me. I pray that you can at least afford me your indifference.

In the meatballian meantime, and during all other times, seek your guidance over at Effwit's. He's not much for gratuitous nudity but that too can be forgiven according to certain esoteric strains of Buddhist thought.

Jul 22, 2006

Iraq To Syria WMD Transfer Shown To Be Mythical

The hard core denialists who continue to support the administration's WMD rationale for going to war with Iraq have lost another talking point.

After the specter of Iraq's active WMD programs was proved to be illusory, warmongering apologists have been making the claim that Saddam transferred his WMD to Syria. This was a claim that was impossible for observers to refute at the time due to the frosty relationship between Syria and the United States.

One country, however, would have made it their business to get to the truth of the matter.

This country is considered to have the best intelligence of anyone on the capabilities and intentions of its enemies in the Middle East.

The country, of course, is Israel.

The Baskervillian hound that is not barking in this case is the complete lack of reports of Israeli civilians donning their ubiquitous gas masks when they have sought refuge in bomb shelters from the rocket attacks of Hezbollah.

Syria and Iran are being touted as being behind the actions of Hezbollah.

Unlike in the opening days of both the 1991 and 2003 U.S. attacks on Iraq, the Israeli government has not instructed their citizens to make use of their protections (safe rooms, gas masks, etc.) against WMD.

This means that Israel does not believe that Iraq transferred its WMD to Syria.


Jul 19, 2006

Pretext Plugin - Hit Iran To Relieve Israel: A Fortnight Or Two To Go

Last year we put the hit on Iran down for this June. Looks like July/August was the wiser call. Last spring we purported that Israel would launch a major military against the occupied territories in conjunction with the hit on Iran. The long-term pretext for hitting Iran was the threat of Iran's development of nuclear weaponry. The short-term pretext has hurriedly crystalized as one of defending a currently embattled Israel.

U.S. propaganda dissemination resources Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe have already furnished a link between Iran and Hizbollah, a deceitfully exaggerated link that has seeped back into the homeland as facts, all thanks to Fox News and other American mainstream media outlets. The following is yet another cut 'n paste post related to these Meatballian prophesies of old.

[W]ho is really winning the war? Not Lebanon, you may say, with its more than 90 civilian dead and its infrastructure steadily destroyed in hundreds of Israeli air raids. But is Israel winning? Friday night's missile attack on an Israeli warship off the coast of Lebanon suggests otherwise. Four Israeli sailors were killed, two of them hurled into the sea when a tele-guided Iranian-made missile smashed into their Hetz-class gunboat just off Beirut at dusk. Those Lebanese who had endured the fire of Israeli gunboats on the coastal highway over many years were elated. They may not have liked Hizbollah - but they hated the Israelis.

Only now, however, is a truer picture emerging of the battle for southern Lebanon and it is a fascinating, frightening tale. The original border crossing, the capture of the two soldiers and the killing of three others was planned, according to Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader who escaped assassination by the Israelis on Friday evening, more than five months ago. And Friday's missile attack on the Israeli gunboat was not the last-minute inspiration of a Hizbollah member who just happened to see the warship.

It now appears clear that the Hizbollah leadership - Nasrallah used to be the organisation's military commander in southern Lebanon - thought carefully through the effects of their border crossing, relying on the cruelty of Israel's response to quell any criticism of their action within Lebanon. They were right in their planning. The Israeli retaliation was even crueller than some Hizbollah leaders imagined, and the Lebanese quickly silenced all criticism of the guerrilla movement.

Hizbollah had presumed the Israelis would cross into Lebanon after the capture of the two soldiers and they blew up the first Israeli Merkava tank when it was only 35 feet inside the country. All four Israeli crewmen were killed and the Israeli army moved no further forward. The long-range Iranian-made missiles which later exploded on Haifa had been preceded only a few weeks ago by a pilotless Hizbollah drone aircraft which surveyed northern Israel and then returned to land in eastern Lebanon after taking photographs during its flight. These pictures not only suggested a flight path for Hizbollah's rockets to Haifa; they also identified Israel's top-secret military air traffic control centre in Miron.

The next attack - concealed by Israel's censors - was directed at this facility. Codenamed "Apollo", Israeli military scientists work deep inside mountain caves and bunkers at Miron, guarded by watchtowers, guard-dogs and barbed wire, watching all air traffic moving in and out of Beirut, Damascus, Amman and other Arab cities. The mountain is surmounted by clusters of antennae which Hizbollah quickly identified as a military tracking centre. Before they fired rockets at Haifa, they therefore sent a cluster of missiles towards Miron. The caves are untouchable but the targeting of such a secret location by Hizbollah deeply shocked Israel's military planners. The "centre of world terror" - or whatever they imagine Lebanon to be - could not only breach their frontier and capture their soldiers but attack the nerve-centre of the Israeli northern military command.

Then came the Haifa missiles and the attack on the gunboat. It is now clear that this successful military operation - so contemptuous of their enemy were the Israelis that although their warship was equipped with cannon and a Vulcan machine gun, they didn't even provide the vessel with an anti-missile capability - was also planned months ago. Once the Hetz-class boats appeared, Hizbollah positioned a missile crew on the coast of west Beirut not far from Jnah, a crew trained over many weeks for just such an attack. It took less than 30 seconds for the Iranian-made missile to leave Beirut and hit the vessel square amidships, setting it on fire and killing the sailors.

Ironically, the Israelis themselves had invited journalists on an "embedded" trip with their navy only hours earlier - they were allowed to film the ships' guns firing on Lebanon - and the moment Hizbollah hit the warship on Friday, Hizbollah's television station, Al-Manar, began showing the "embedded" film. It was a slick piece of propaganda.

The Israelis were yesterday trumpeting the fact that the missile was made in Iran as proof of Iran's involvement in the Lebanon war. This was odd reasoning. Since almost all the missiles used to kill the civilians of Lebanon over the past four days were made in Seattle, Duluth and Miami in the United States, their use already suggests to millions of Lebanese that America is behind the bombardment of their country.
-Excerpt From An Article By R. Fisk In The Independent, July 16

Psy-Op Contracting Shakeup

The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, including one District-based company that ran into controversy last year for planting pro-U.S. articles in Iraqi newspapers.

The firms, plus a third company that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television spots intended for use in Iraq and in other nations where the United States is combating terrorism. Unlike the reports that the District-based Lincoln Group distributed to the Iraqi press -- which looked to be written by independent Iraqi journalists -- the commander in charge of the new spots said yesterday that he wants their origins made clear.

"Certainly we would intend to accept attribution for the spots," said Col. Jack Summe, commander of the Tampa-based Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. "We will not place things under someone else's name, trying to fool people into thinking it's a true news item." (...)

The contract for the TV and radio spots is separate from the deal under which the Lincoln Group distributed articles from the U.S. military to Iraqi newspapers. The newspaper contract was unaffected by the change to the TV and radio contract.

The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp.

But officials with the military's Special Operations Command decided this spring that they would be better off with just one contractor. They exercised their option to continue SYColeman's contract but not the other two. (...)

(Lincoln Group spokesman Bill) Dixon said the company believes the military's Special Operations Command needs more money "and clearer policy guidance in order to fight the 'War of Ideas,' a key component of the global War on Terrorism."

Jul 18, 2006

Soldiers of Tonkin

As Israeli firepower rained down on Lebanon last week, pundits here in the West wasted no time pinning the blame on — Iran.

"Iran and its radical allies are pushing toward war," wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Washington defence commentator Edward Luttwak weighed in: "Iran's leaders have apparently decided to reject the Western offer to peacefully settle the dispute over its weapons-grade uranium-enrichment program."

In fact, Iran's leaders haven't rejected the "Western offer;" they've said publicly they will respond to it by Aug. 22. This isn't fast enough however to satisfy Washington, which considers the "offer" more of an ultimatum.

Is it really Iran that is pushing for war? Think about it. Why would Iran want to provoke a war with Israel and the U.S. — both heavily armed nuclear powers — when it has no nuclear weapons itself?

The U.S. and Israel, on the other hand, are very keen to attack Iran. In a recent series of articles in New Yorker magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has detailed Washington's plans to attack Iran. Israel has called Iran a "major threat" that "must be stopped" from developing nuclear weapons.

But the U.S. and Israel don't want to look like aggressors. They insist their intentions are purely defensive. Recall that Washington also claimed its invasion of Iraq was purely defensive — to protect itself from Iraq's arsenal of deadly weapons, which, it turned out, didn't exist.

So when Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon seized two Israeli soldiers last week, a perfect opportunity arose. Since Hezbollah has links to Iran, presto, here was a prima facie case that Iran was gunning for confrontation.

Did the Western pundits who quickly embraced this theory ever consider that the Hezbollah militants, as well as the Palestinian militants in Gaza who captured a single Israeli soldier last month, might have had their own motives for striking Israel?

Certainly the Palestinians have endless grievances against Israel. In addition to four decades of Israeli military occupation of their land, Israel has attempted to destroy the Hamas government, which was democratically elected by Palestinians last January.

Hezbollah's seizure of the two Israeli soldiers was probably an act of support for the Palestinians in Gaza, who have been under Israeli military siege since the capture of the first soldier. Hezbollah also said it seized the soldiers because it wanted to trade them for Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. A similar Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner exchange took place in 2004.

If Israel is simply trying to "defend" itself, its actions are wildly disproportionate.

On the other hand, if Israel and the U.S. are looking for an excuse to attack Iran, the capture of the Israeli soldiers is as good as any.

Excerpt of an article by Linda McQuaig, The Toronto Star

Jul 17, 2006

Look Up In The Sky! It's A Mobile Bio Lab. No, It's Niger Yellow Cake. Oh Wait, It's Zuper Izzy To The Rescue!

When EFFWIT doesn't donate a particular piece d'excellence to SMC then we simply have to appropriate it. Here's one such nationalized post.

There is some dispute in the American media over who is to blame for the escalation of events on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Some would say that the American people are being propagandized.

Two op-ed pieces in today's Washington Post perfectly lay out the battle lines in this skirmish in the information war.

Here is Sebastian Mallaby's take on what happened:

Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists shower rockets on Northern Israel and carry out a raid that inflicts eight deaths and two abductions. Israel justifiably responds by bombing the headquarters of the Hezbollah leader, but it also rains fire on Beirut's airport, roads and apartment towers, destroying the props of a new and hopeful Lebanon.

Mallaby indicates here that Israel acted militarily only after Hezbollah rained missiles down on Israel and attacked on the ground.

It didn't happen that way.

Fawaz A. Gerges describes the events in a more accurate order:

The latest round of fighting erupted when Hezbollah, or Party of God, a Shiite resistance group (the United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization), infiltrated the Lebanese-Israeli border and attacked an Israeli military post. Hezbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two.

Israel retaliated by attacking Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, including airports, bridges, seaports, electrical and water plants, communications centers, highways and other targets. It also imposed a full blockade on Lebanon by air, land and sea and sealed it from the rest of the world. More than 100 Lebanese civilians have died, and the numbers are increasing by the hour. Hezbollah struck back by firing rockets deep into northern Israel, hitting the port of Haifa and killing and wounding dozens of civilians and soldiers.

These two op-ed pieces adjoined each other on the same page. The Post here encourages the reader to select the version of the facts that best suits one's outlook.

Strict adherence to the truth is optional these days. Israel's disproportional response to the capture of the two soldiers has to be portrayed as justified.

Otherwise, the American people will not as readily support taking the war to Syria and Iran.

Jul 15, 2006

Haruspicy - Gut Gougers

Here's an excerpt of an SMC post from last April. Perhaps it's of some relevance now. Perhaps not. After all, what do we know.

We do however project the initiation of major Israeli combat operations that will coincide with the commencement of the open war on Iran. We even think we now know that Israel is in vigorous preparation for what is meant to be a final and decisive attack into the territories it has illegally occupied for 40 years so as to once and for all render them obliterated as a viable locus for any plausible expressions for their independence. They are to be Anschlussed once and for all.

The attack on the territories will be Israel's version of the Final Solution. A succesful field trial of this pending grand putsch can be studied by examining how Israel systematically moved forward it's positions against the occupied territories in the shadows of the start of the second Gulf war. This time Israel will attempt to accomplish once and for all what worked smoothly then, albeit on a smaller scale.

The dream of lebensraum doesn't die easily. But even more people soon will.

Jul 14, 2006

Et Tu, CFR?

The Bush administration's "revolutionary" foreign policy rhetoric has not changed, but its actual policies have: after squandering U.S. legitimacy, breaking the domestic bank, and getting the United States bogged down in an unsuccessful war, the Bush doctrine has run up against reality and become unsustainable.

-Phillip Gordon, Foreign Affairs, Council On Foreign Relations

Deadline Today For Subpoenaed DOD Documents On Kidnappings

Following up on our July 6 post Congress Demands DOD Documents On Abu Ghraib Whistleblower, it turns out that some of these documents relate to a program in which families of detained Iraqi prisoners were kidnapped to exert pressure during interrogations of their relatives.

The deadline for the Defense Department to provide these documents is 5:00 pm today.

Congress has demanded that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hand over a raft of documents to Congress that could substantiate allegations that U.S. forces have tried to break terror suspects by kidnapping and mistreating their family members. Rumsfeld has until 5 p.m. Friday to comply.

It now appears that kidnapping, scarcely covered by the media, and absent in the major military investigations of detainee abuse, may have been systematically employed by U.S. troops. Salon has obtained Army documents that show several cases where U.S. forces abducted terror suspects' families. After he was thrown in prison, Cpl. Charles Graner, the alleged ringleader at Abu Ghraib, told investigators the military routinely kidnapped family members to force suspects to turn themselves in.

A House subcommittee led by Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays took the unusual step last month of issuing Rumsfeld a subpoena for the documents after months of stonewalling by the Pentagon. Shays had requested the documents in a March 7 letter. "There was no response" to the letter, a frustrated Shays told Salon. "We are not going to back off this."

The subpoena demands that the Pentagon turn over documents about apparent retribution by the military against Army Spc. Samuel Provance, a whistle-blower, who sought to expose abuse at the infamous prison by talking to military investigators and the press. Following his revelations, the Army demoted Provance from sergeant and revoked his security clearance.

The subpoena also includes a separate demand, at the behest of Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., for any documents that might show that U.S. forces were systematically detaining family members of suspects at Abu Ghraib, and mistreating them to force suspects to talk.

In a hearing before Shays' Government Reform subcommittee last February, Provance testified that the Army had retaliated against him. Provance also made the disturbing allegation that interrogators broke an Iraqi general, Hamid Zabar, by imprisoning and abusing his frail 16-year-old son. Waxman was shocked. "Do you think this practice was repeated with other children?" he asked Provance. "I don't see why it would not have been, sir," Provance replied....

Provance's account does not appear to be an isolated allegation. It echoes similar accusations at Abu Ghraib and across Iraq. In an interview with military investigators conducted after he was imprisoned, Graner called kidnapping, in addition to detainee abuse, "the other big Geneva Convention violation" going on at the prison. "They were picking up, you know, Joe Snuffy's wife to get Joe Snuffy," Graner explained to military investigators. "So, more or less, we're holding this female with no charges, which happened a lot."

Graner did not say in the interview who was doing the kidnapping. There were a broad range of forces operating at Abu Ghraib, including military Special Operations troops and CIA operatives.

Similar allegations have shown that kidnapping may have been a systematic practice. Special Operations troops, working with an elite unit called Task Force 6-26, allegedly abducted the 28-year-old wife of a suspected Iraqi terrorist during a raid on a house in Tarmiya, Iraq, in May 2004, the month after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. That is according to a memorandum buried in thousands of pages of documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act. The memorandum, a formal complaint titled "Report of Violations of the Geneva Conventions," was filed in June 2004 by a 14-year veteran intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Department of Defense blacked out the officer's name.

Jul 11, 2006

Pentagon To Now Treat All Detainees In Accordance With Geneva Conventions

Any normal country would have been doing this all along.

In a sweeping change of policy, the Pentagon has decided that it will treat all detainees in compliance with the minimum standards spelled out in the Geneva conventions, a senior defense official said today.

The new policy comes on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling last month invalidating a system of military tribunals the Pentagon had created to try suspected terrorists, and just before Congress takes up the question of a replacement system in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.

As part of its decision, the court found that a key provision of the Geneva conventions, known as Common Article 3, did apply to terror suspects, contradicting the position taken by the Bush administration.

The White House has now made it official:

The decision, announced by White House spokesman Tony Snow this morning, according to wire service reports, comes in the wake of a landmark June Supreme Court ruling rejecting the administration's persistent argument that the Geneva Conventions did not apply....

Prior to the Supreme Court's 5-3 decision in the case of Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, the government had argued that while it was observing the principles of the Geneva Conventions, they did not apply as a matter of law to those it terms "enemy combatants" because they are not under the command of a government signatory to the Conventions.

The court rejected that position, saying Common Article 3 applied to those seized as part of a conflict within the borders of any signatory nation, such as Afghanistan, whether or not they are under the command of a government.

Jul 10, 2006

Cheney and Rumsfeld Helped Cover Up Vietnam War Crimes

David R. Irvine, a lawyer and a retired Army Reserve brigadier general, points out that the Bush administration practice of refusing to hold senior officers accountable for violations of the laws of war is notable for the involvement of several men who also covered up Vietnam war crimes.

A recent book (May 2006) speaks to the issue of leader accountability with stunning eloquence. Tiger Force is a documented account of 120 U.S. soldiers who, between May and November of 1967, rotated through an Army special operations platoon. This platoon, Tiger Force, wreaked its vengeance in the vicinity of Duc Pho and Chu Lai in South Vietnam.

Operating largely on their own and only passingly accountable to a chain of command that rarely ventured into the jungles and paddies, these soldiers ruthlessly murdered hundreds of unarmed men, women and children. One soldier cut off a baby's head with a knife. Victims' ears were regularly sliced off, collected and fashioned into necklaces which some soldiers proudly wore. Other victims were scalped. Some were tortured. Teeth were kicked out to retrieve the gold from fillings. Virtually all of the civilian deaths were reported as "Viet Cong," even though, oddly, no weapons were ever found and none were ever reported. No officer in command ever questioned this glaring disparity.

That part of Tiger Force is grim enough. What the Army then did with the evidence is shocking, and what was covered up in 1974-75 may have sowed the headlines we are reaping in 2006. One of the most thorough Criminal Investigation Division (CID, the Army's internal FBI) investigations ever conducted, meticulously gathered the facts surrounding the war crimes committed by Tiger Force. The evidence was voluminous, certain and had been obtained at the risk of a few investigators' lives.

In 1974-75, Richard Cheney was a special assistant to President Ford. Ford's chief of staff was Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of defense from 1973-75 was James Schlesinger. The case was made to disappear by these men who served presidents Nixon and Ford - probably out of considerations of politics. There were never any charges filed against the soldiers or the officers who ordered and participated in the routine killing of civilians.

The only reason the case file ever became public was that the CID officer who directed the investigation, and who later commanded the Criminal Investigation Division, kept a copy of the investigation file, and prior to his death in 2002 made provision for the file to be delivered to a reporter with the Toledo Blade.

Thirty years later, Mr. Rumsfeld refuses to discuss the Tiger Force case. Mr. Cheney declines to discuss much of anything. Mr. Schlesinger conducted one of the see-no-evil investigations at Abu Ghraib. The senior leadership of the Army and the nation prefers to characterize war crimes as the work of a few "bad apples." My Lai was pinned to Lt. William Calley, who suited the bad apple role.

Tiger Force was far larger, killed three times as many people, but involved too many "bad apples" and too much gore to maintain the right story line.

The common thread which runs from Tiger Force through My Lai, to Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib, to a hundred episodes of sadistic brutality inflicted by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, is the remarkable fact that the official responsibility for all these tragedies never runs higher than the lowest-level trigger-pullers or body-stackers.