Back in October, I reported that, "A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the U.S. Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). . . . Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, 'There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [U.S. military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed.'"
This week I have left an email message and a phone message for Mark Wright at the Pentagon. Here's what I emailed, after consulting with Wim Zwijnenburg of PaxForPeace.nl:
"Recent reports by CENTCOM have noted that 11% of the U.S. sorties have been flown by A-10s , and that a wide range of attacks on tanks and armored vehicles have taken place. Can you confirm that PGU-14 30mm munitions with depleted uranium in the A-10s (and any other DU weapons) have not been used during these attacks. And if not, why not? Thanks!"
I sent that email on January 28 and left a voice message January 30.
You'd think there'd be lots of reporters calling with the same question and reporting the answer. But then it's only Iraqis, I guess.
If you've followed the trials of James Risen and Jeffrey Sterling, or read Risen's book State of War, you are aware that the CIA gave Iran blueprints and a diagram and a parts list for the key component of a nuclear bomb.
The CIA then proposed to do exactly the same for Iraq, using the same former Russian scientist to make the delivery. How do I know this? Well, Marcy Wheeler has kindly put all the evidence from the Sterling trial online, including this cable. Read the following paragraph:
"M" is Merlin, code name for the former Russian used to give the nuclear plans to Iran. Here he's being asked, just following that piece of lunacy, whether he'd be willing to _______________. What? Something he agrees to without hesitation. The CIA paid him hundreds of thousands of our dollars and that money flow would continue to cover a more adventurous extension of the current operation. What could that mean? More dealings with Iran? No, because this extension is immediately distinguished from dealings with Iran.
"WE WILL WANT TO SEE HOW THE IRAN PART OF THE CASE PLAYS OUT BEFORE MAKING AN APPROACH...."
It seems that a national adjective belongs in that space. Most are too long to fit: Chinese, Zimbabwean, even Egyptian.
But notice the word "an," not "a." The word that follows has to start with a vowel. Search through the names of the world's countries. There is only one that fits and makes sense. And if you followed the Sterling trial, you know exactly how much sense it makes: Iraqi.
"MAKING AN IRAQI APPROACH."
And then further down: "THINKING ABOUT THE IRAQI OPTION."
Now, don't be thrown off by the place to meet being somewhere that M was unfamiliar with. He met the Iranians in Vienna (or rather avoided meeting them by dumping the nuke plans in their mailbox). He could be planning to meet the Iraqis anywhere on earth; that bit's not necessarily relevant to identifying the nation.
Then look at the last sentence. Again it distinguishes the Iranians from someone else. Here's what fits there:
"IF HE IS TO MEET THE IRANIANS OR APPROACH THE IRAQIS IN THE FUTURE."
North Koreans doesn't fit or make sense or start with a vowel (And Korean doesn't start with a vowel, and DPRK doesn't start with a vowel). Egyptians doesn't fit or make sense.
The closest words to fitting this document, other than IRAQI and IRAQIS, are INDIAN and INDIANS. But I've tried approximating the font and spacing as closely as possible, and I encourage typographical experts to give it a try. The latter pair of words ends up looking slightly crowded.
And then there's this: The United States knew that India had nukes and didn't mind and wasn't trying to start a war with India.
And this: the mad scheme to give slightly flawed nuke plans to Iran was admitted in court by the CIA to risk actually proliferating nukes by giving Iran help. That's not such a bad outcome if what you're really after is war with Iran.
And this: The Sterling trial, including testimony from Condoleezza "Mushroom Cloud" Rice herself, was bafflingly about defending the CIA's so-called reputation, very little about prosecuting Sterling. They doth protested too much.
What did blowing the whistle on Operation Merlin put at risk? Not the identity of Merlin or his wife. He was out there chatting with Iranians online and in-person. She was outed by the CIA itself during the trial, as Wheeler pointed out. What blowing the whistle on giving nukes to Iran put at risk was the potential for giving nukes to more countries -- and exposure of plans to do so (whether or not they were followed through on) to the nation that the United States had been attacking since the Gulf War, began to truly destroy in 2003, and is at war in still.
When Cheney swore Iraq had nuclear weapons, and at other times that it had a nuclear weapons program, and Condi and Bush warned of mushroom clouds, was there a bit more to Tenet's "slam dunk" than we knew? Was there an alley oop from the mad scientists at the CIA? There certainly would have been an attempt at one if left up to "Bob S," "Merlin," and gang.
Did Sterling and other possible whistleblowers have more reason to blow the whistle than we knew? Regardless, they upheld the law. Drop the Charges.
UPDATE: Multiple sources tell me that each letter in the font used above is given the same space, which is why they line up in vertical columns, so in fact IRAQI and IRAQIS use the right number of spaces.
In proposing that Congress Members boycott or walk out on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress, expected to push for sanctions if not war on Iran, activists are drawing on actions engaged in by college students in recent years, as they have boycotted or walked out on or disrupted speeches by Israeli soldiers and officials on U.S. campuses. Netanyahu's noodle-headed move -- oblivious, apparently, to the U.S. government's effective evolution into a term-limited monarchy -- may provide a boost to both the movement to free Palestine and the movement to prevent a war on Iran.
Peace activists sometimes marvel at how young people have taken up environmentalist activism (with very little emphasis on the environmental destruction caused by militarism). Why, antiwar activists ask, don't young people get active opposing wars?
Ah, but they do. They are increasingly active, organized, strategic, bold, courageous, and determined about opposing a particular war: the ongoing war that the government of Israel wages -- with U.S. funding and support -- on the people of Palestine.
Nora Barrows-Friedman's new book, In Our Power: U.S. Students Organize for Justice in Palestine, tells their stories, often in their own words: What motivates them? How did they get involved? How do they view themselves in their activism? How do they relate to the non-activist world? We should all pay attention.
Don't misunderstand the case. Most students, like most adults, do little or no activism. The movement to free Palestine is far from success and up against huge opposition. Movements against other wars exist, a movement against all war exists, and all of these movements overlap. But, relatively speaking, students are far more engaged, I think, in opposing the Israeli occupation than in halting drone strikes or the U.S. wars in Iraq or Afghanistan (if they're even aware that those wars haven't ended). Opposition to U.S. wars tends to come disproportionately from an older and whiter crowd -- a result of the Vietnam era, of a less informed view of Israel, and/or of dozens of other likely factors. In Our Power doesn't address this question, but it provides much food for thought.
It's not clear that most advocates of Palestinian freedom think of themselves as opposing war or demanding peace. Hoda Mitwally, a student at the City University of New York, is quoted by Barrows-Friedman as describing the movement for Palestine as "one that amazingly has sustained itself in ways that other movements have fizzled out. The antiwar movement fizzled out very quickly, for example." It seems that many demanding justice for Palestine think in terms of demanding human rights, even if prominent among those is the right not to have your home bombed. But human rights is how pro-war advocacy is framed in the U.S. media and politics. We must attack Syria because we care. We must destroy Libya to save the Libyans. Wrecking Yemen is a model of humanitarian warfare. Of course this is all a pack of lies, but it is a prominent pack of lies. Perhaps the movements for peace and for Palestinian justice, already intertwined, could still benefit from deeper exchanges of thinking, for war opposition must be a human rights demand, and unless a system of peace is created in Palestine/Israel, the human rights violations including those formerly known as war, will continue.
The peace movement has put an emphasis on the financial cost to the aggressor nation, the damage to U.S. troops, the trade offs in poor schools and parks, etc., assuming that people need a direct connection to a moral atrocity before they'll act. I don't believe that for a minute, not as an absolute law. But the stories of Palestine activists do bear it out. Many of them have a direct connection and even personal experience on the ground, witnessing the horrors of what they oppose. They are Palestinian Americans or Jewish Americans or other Americans who have visited Israel or Palestine or who have close friends who have done so. Many of them have been moved by the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon or Gaza ("Cast Lead" and "Protective Edge") or by the relentless construction of "settlements" and accompanying ethnic cleansing. Many have experienced bigotry in the United States following 9-11 and have sought out a comforting community. As Anwar al Awlaki came to favor anti-U.S. violence after experiencing such bigotry, many young people engage in constructive nonviolent activism instead. They gather as Palestinians or Arabs, and then they take up the Palestinian cause.
Beyond direct experience lies the factor of severity, or rather I think the combination is potent. Young people who become aware of mass murder and abuse and discrimination, especially after having been taught that it didn't exist, are likely to protest. Yet I suspect -- and this is pure speculation -- that another factor weighs heavily. That is the absence of the sort of U.S. government propaganda that promotes U.S. wars. The U.S. government does not market Israel's attacks on surrounding lands in the way that it markets a U.S. attack on Iraq or Libya. U.S. wars are marketed as patriotic duties, and as mad urgent crises that cannot wait for cool consideration. Once begun, they must be continued forever or one fails to "support the troops." Colleges notoriously turnover their student population every four years or so, and a movement that opposed a particular war as not a good civilized and acceptable war like the wars we really need has a half-life of about two years. Israel's war in contrast goes on and on and on, and while opposing it gets you accused of anti-Semitism, it does not get you accused of treason -- nor does it get you accused by remotely as many people. In fact opposing U.S. support for Israeli wars allows you to attack illegal and unacceptable foreign influence. So, while opposition to Israel's war may benefit from the war not being American, awareness of the U.S. government's role may actually help build the movement -- not just because people are reflexively patriotic but because they are rightly indignant about being forced to support a crime.
In addition, Israel's war and occupation involve elements quite familiar to African Americans and other abused groups in this country -- including Latinos along the border wall -- to the extent that Freedom Rides on buses are created in Israel, and mock border walls are created in Arizona. Mock eviction notices are all too frightening in college dorms. The echoes of South African Apartheid inform the movement with technical details and inspire it with the idea of success. And the U.S. movement for Palestine is supported by a global network better organized than those against U.S. wars -- so far -- not to mention the strength of global public opinion.
The movement for Palestine has somehow avoided the plague of frustration that has peace activists announcing that they will not attend a protest because they've attended them before and we don't have peace yet. Instead, the history of Palestinian activism going back nearly a century provides inspiration, lessons, and structures to bolster a movement driven by temporarily engaged young people, further inspired by their established understanding that the "peace process" has been a fraud. Meanwhile the antiwar movement seems cursed to believe every new wild justification for every new war until it is debunked some weeks or months later.
None of this is to say that the movement for Palestine has it easy. When we passed a resolution in my town against a war on Iran, and then asked people to do the same in other towns, they came back empty-handed informing me that they'd been rejected as anti-Semites. If opposing bombing Iran is anti-Semitic, you can imagine what interrupting Israeli VIPs to denounce their crimes counts as. But BDS (boycotts, divestments, and sanctions) against the Israeli government are easier to advance than those against the U.S. government -- although some are beginning to talk about the latter idea and many weapons companies that sell to Israel sell to everywhere else as well.
In the end, I can't claim to know why activism for justice in Palestine is showing relative promise, but I can advocate giving it all the help we possibly can, respectful of the young people who are leading the way. Read their stories in In Our Power. If they succeed, it will help millions of people. It will also help the movement to end all war. Because the myth of ancient hatred between two parties will have been replaced by the reality of war as the political choice of a misguided government. Ancient hatreds can be sold as inevitable. Choices made by misguided governments cannot.
Taher Herzallah, a young activist, explains where the confidence comes from: "[Y]ou have all these organizations pouring millions of dollars into doing work to combat the work we do for free. . . . [T]he work that we're doing doesn't need people that are paid millions of dollars. . . . When a freshman comes out and yells, 'Free Palestine!' and that threatens the existence of the state of Israel, that shows you how shallow that narrative is."
Adds student activist Rahim Kurwa, "The [divestment] process enforces a debate on campus. It forces people to have to look at what's going on and what they're directly investing in. Every time you have that debate, you come out ahead."
We're gonna close down the prison
And give you back your tierra
We're gonna close down the prison
And give you back your tierra
No more men kept in cages
Howling at your sierra
We're gonna lift the embargo
And pay full compensation
We're gonna lift the embargo
And pay full compensation
We'll let trust between friends grow
We'll stop hurting your nation
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace mas que el mar
Shock and Awe is having a troubled adolescence. The U.S. government is killing children with flying robot death planes, keeping troops in 175 countries, actively using "special" forces in 150 countries, asking us to ignore what it's done to Libya so that we'll support more wars, going silent on Yemen as the supposed model of a country that U.S. warmaking improved rather than ruined, turning down an offer from North Korea to halt nuclear tests, continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight and no longer any pretense of Congressional or United Nations approval, oscillating on the question of starting a war on Iran (and inviting a foreign leader to give Congress its marching orders), actively antagonizing Russia and sending troops to Ukraine, building new nukes, proposing to enlarge the world's largest military budget next year, and avoiding all accountability for such horrors as human experimentation at Guantanamo.
Nasty vicious celebrations of murder and torture are dominating U.S. entertainment. The militarized thinking and weaponry are reaching local police departments. A jury just convicted a whistleblower on zero evidence for allegedly revealing that the CIA had given nuclear weapons plans (with flaws added) to Iran. The earth's climate is going crazy, and the single biggest thing we do to worsen that crisis (war) is also the single greatest diversion of resources away from addressing it.
Admit it, if your 11-year-old boy or girl caused a fraction of this sort of trouble, you'd be worried. But you'd also see through to the better tendencies. The U.S. public said no to a war on Syria in 2013. And while it said OK to a war in 2014 it imagined a short, cheap, harmless, beneficial war. It doesn't want a war on Iran or Russia. It doesn't want this level of military spending. It favors non-military solutions whenever they are possible, as of course they always are, regardless of what Barbara Boxer might say.
Shock and Awe needs an initiation into a healthier adulthood. Luckily there is a peace movement planning an intervention for Shock and Awe's 12th birthday, coming up March 18-21 in Washington, D.C.
Spring Rising: An Antiwar Intervention in DC
Coming out of a meeting held in Washington, DC, on January 10, plans are coming together for an antiwar intervention in the U.S. capital. A series of events will be held just as the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq -- recently restarted in a new form -- passes the 12-year mark since the March 2003 invasion.
Here's the schedule so far:
Wednesday, March 18: Peace gathering and fellowship.
Thursday, March 19th: Lobbying on Capitol Hill, followed by a tour of the war machine: homes and offices of war criminals.
Friday, March 20th: Afternoon and evening teach-in: Ending Current Wars, Ending the Institution of War. (This event will examine ISIS and U.S. warmaking in Western Asia and elsewhere; the damage militarism does to the natural environment, economies, and civil rights; and how the war system can be replaced with a peace system.)
Saturday, March 21st: Protest at the White House, followed by march.
This nonviolent intervention was originally proposed by Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox and the Soapbox People's Network. It has been endorsed and will be supported by (thus far, the list is rapidly growing): Amnesty International Charlottesville, the ANSWER Coalition, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, CND CYMRU, CODEPINK, the Granny Peace Brigade of New York City, KnowDrones.com, Maryland United for Peace and Justice, Military Families Speak Out, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, the Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare, The No Fear Coalition, United National Antiwar Coalition, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, WarIsACrime.org, Washington Peace Center, Witness Against Torture, World Beyond War, and World Can't Wait.
This series of events is just coming together with many decisions yet to be made, and I wouldn't dream of speaking for everyone involved, but I can say why I'll be going and why I think you should too.
It's Urgently Needed
We've reached a level of war normalization in which we accept and even celebrate limited war as the best possible policy, while the corporate media often proposes to us that only (1) war and (2) nothing exist as possible courses of action. We need a major public initiative that creates other alternatives, that answers the relentless question "Well if you wouldn't bomb them, what would you do?"
It's New and Creative
This is not just a protest. It's an intervention and a reenactment (of past peace movements). It's teach-ins that are being developed to address the many ways in which war destroys: war makes us less safe, damages the environment, erodes civil rights, drains economies, etc. It's lobbying and truth telling, nonviolent resistance and rallying, solidarity and outreach. It's opposing particular wars, but also the much larger and more expensive preparation for wars that has come to seem ordinary.
It's a United Movement
Second only to "End the wars" among peace activists has always been the demand "Unite the organizations." Check out that list of organizations a few paragraphs above. It may be twice as long very soon. Your organization can get involved too. This just might be that long-sought holy grail of unity. Let's not miss it! In fact, let's expand on it by inviting and including environmental organizations, economic justice organizations, student groups, civil liberties and human rights groups, and opponents of racism and every other injustice that serves the cause of war.
It's Pro-Peace and Antiwar
I've already had peace activists tell me they refuse to go to these events on principle because the word "antiwar" has been used. Had the word "pro-peace" been used, others would have said the same. But here's the deal, we're pro-peace AND antiwar. The elimination of war is a beautiful, ennobling, gloriously positive event. The establishment of peace requires the elimination of war. We can't fail to point out that we're antiwar because even the Pentagon claims to be pro-peace. We must distinguish ourselves as in favor of peace through means other than war. We also can't fail to state that we are pro-peace, because war will not be eliminated unless all the systems that support it are replaced by the construction of peaceful ones. We need legal, governmental, economic, and cultural structures that facilitate peace. But we won't build them if the wars rage on unopposed, and peace in our hearts won't prevent a single death unless it achieves some external expression.
It Meets the Standard of the Simplistiphiles
As we've all been told -- very slowly -- Thomas Jefferson had way too many complaints in the Declaration of Independence for it to have any sort of impact. We British subjects must have one simple demand if we are to be heard at all.
O.K. You want one simple demand? I've got your one simple demand :-)
/ / / / / \ \ \ \ \
END ALL THE WARS
\ \ \ \ \ / / / / /
It's Weekday and Weekend in Every Sense
This series of events has got lobbying Congress and protesting Congress. It's got weekday disruption and weekend crowd maximization. And if there's something it's lacking, you can add it.
Obama's Has Just About Settled In -- Finally
When President Obama was first elected there was still a sort of structure -- albeit defunded -- of a significant peace movement that turned out to have actually been a movement against Republican wars. This structure was simply crawling with people who had arrived at the considered opinion that it was too early to protest Obama. We needed to let him settle in first. After a while it was still too early. A bit later it was still too early. By the time the White House was trumpeting to the New York Times that Obama picked men, women, and children to murder each Tuesday, the movement was pretty well gone.
Well, here's a good moment in which to bring it back. I dare say Obama has pretty well settled in. The Occupy movement that took off after the last midterm elections is primed for a new start. And the next 18-month election "season" hasn't really kicked in yet. Once it does, all useful action will have two arms and a leg tied behind its back.
The moment is now.
There is, as a great one said, such a thing as being too late.
I'll see you in Washington.
Dr. Brian A. Salvatore is a Professor of Chemistry at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he has been on the faculty since 2003. Dr. Salvatore has twice served as Chairman of the Northwest Louisiana Section of the American Chemical Society, and he currently represents this section on the National Council of the American Chemical Society. He is also a member of the ACS’s national committee for Project SEED (Scientific Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged).
Dr. Salvatore discusses the work he's doing to prevent the largest ever open-air burning of explosives by the U.S. military, proposed for Northern Louisiana. Read this New York Times op-ed, this Truthout report, this open letter, and this report from the Shreveport Times.
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Lee Camp in Cville
Popular comic Lee Camp is coming to town.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, February 21
WHERE: Main Street Annex at 219 Water Street, Charlottesville, VA
BUY TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door, buy tickets now.
Show is for 18 and up only.
LEE CAMP's stand-up comedy has been featured on Comedy Central, ABC’s Good Morning America, Showtime’s The Green Room with Paul Provenza, Al-Jazeera America’s election night coverage, Current, the BCC’s Newsnight, E!, MTV, and Spike TV, and headlined over 500 college shows.
Lee has written for The Onion, Comedy Central, Comedy Central and the Huffington Post, and wrote the acclaimed essay collections Moment of Clarity: The Rantings Of A Stark Raving Sane Man, and Neither Sophisticated Nor Intelligent.
He hosts Redacted Tonight, on RT America, every Friday night at 8pm ET. His podcast and YouTube webseries, Moment Of Clarity, frequently breaks 100,000 online views each week.
BUY TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door, buy tickets now.
Murder at Camp Delta is a new book by Joseph Hickman, a former guard at Guantanamo. It's neither fiction nor speculation. When President Obama says "We tortured some folks," Hickman provides at least three cases -- in addition to many others we know about from secret sites around the world -- in which the statement needs to be modified to "We murdered some folks." Of course, murder is supposed to be acceptable in war (and in whatever you call what Obama does with drones) while torture is supposed to be, or used to be, a scandal. But what about tortures to death? What about deadly human experimentation? Does that have a Nazi enough ring to disturb anyone?
We should be able to answer that question soon, at least for that segment of the population that searches aggressively for news or actually -- I'm not making this up -- reads books. Murder at Camp Delta is a book of, by, and for true believers in patriotism and militarism. You can start out viewing Dick Cheney as a leftist and never be offended by this book, unless documented facts that the author himself was deeply disturbed to discover offend you. The first line of the book is "I am a patriotic American." The author never retracts it. Following a riot at Guantanamo, which he led the suppression of, he observes:
"As much as I blamed the inmates for the riot, I respected how hard they'd fought. They were ready to fight nearly to the death. If we had been running a good detention facility, I would have thought they were motivated by strong religious or political ideals. The sad truth was that they probably fought so hard because our poor facilities and shabby treatment had pushed them beyond normal human limits. Their motivation might not have been radical Islam at all but the simple fact that they had nothing to live for and nothing left to lose."
As far as I know, Hickman has not yet applied the same logic to debunking the absurd pretense that people fight back in Afghanistan or Iraq because their religion is murderous or because they hate us for our freedoms. Hickman will be a guest on Talk Nation Radio soon, so perhaps I'll ask him. But first I'll thank him. And not for his "service." For his book.
He describes a hideous death camp in which guards were trained to view the prisoners as sub-human and much greater care was taken to protect the well-being of iguanas than homo sapiens. Chaos was the norm, and physical abuse of the prisoners was standard. Col. Mike Bumgarner made it a top priority that everyone stand in formation when he entered his office in the morning to the sounds of Beethoven's Fifth or "Bad Boys." Hickman relates that certain vans were permitted to drive in and out of the camp uninspected, making a mockery of elaborate attempts at security. He didn't know the reasoning behind this until he happened to discover a secret camp not included on any maps, a place he called Camp No but the CIA called Penny Lane.
To make things worse at Guantanamo would require a particular sort of idiocy that apparently Admiral Harry Harris possessed. He began blasting the Star Spangled Banner into the prisoners' cages, which predictably resulted in the guards abusing prisoners who did not stand and pretend to worship the U.S. flag. Tensions and violence rose. When Hickman was called on to lead an assault on prisoners who would not allow their Korans to be searched, he proposed that a Muslim interpreter do the searching. Bumgarner and gang had never thought of that, and it worked like a charm. But the aforementioned riot took place in another part of the prison where Harris rejected the interpreter idea; and the lies that the military told the media about the riot had an impact on Hickman's view of things. So did the media's willingness to lap up absurd and unsubstantiated lies: "Half the reporters covering the military should have just enlisted; they seemed even more eager to believe the things our commanders said than we did."
After the riot, some of the prisoners went on hunger strike. On June 9, 2006, during the hunger strike, Hickman was in charge of guards on watch from towers, etc., overseeing the camp that night. He and every other guard observed that, just as the Navy Criminal Investigative Service report on the matter would later say, some prisoners were taken out of their cells. In fact, the van that took prisoners to Penny Lane took three prisoners, on three trips, out of their camp. Hickman watched each prisoner being loaded into the van, and the third time he followed the van far enough to see that it was headed to Penny Lane. He later observed the van return and back up to the medical facilities, where a friend of his informed him that three bodies were brought in with socks or rags stuffed down their throats.
Bumgarner gathered staff together and told them three prisoners had committed suicide by stuffing rags down their own throats in their cells, but that the media would report it a different way. Everyone was strictly forbidden to say a word. The next morning the media reported, as instructed, that the three men had hung themselves in their cells. The military called these "suicides" a "coordinated protest" and an act of "asymmetrical warfare." Even James Risen, in his role as New York Times stenographer, conveyed this nonsense to the public. No reporter or editor apparently thought it useful to ask how prisoners could have possibly hung themselves in open cages in which they are always visible; how they could have acquired enough sheets and other materials to supposedly create dummies of themselves; how they could have gone unnoticed for at least two hours; how in fact they had supposedly bound their own ankles and wrists, gagged themselves, put on face masks, and then all hanged themselves simultaneously; why there were no videos or photos; why no guards were disciplined or even questioned for ensuing reports; why supposedly radically lax and preferential treatment had been given to three prisoners who were on hunger strike; how the corpses had supposedly suffered rigor mortis faster than is physically possible, etc.
Three months after Hickman returned to the U.S. he heard on the news of another very similar "suicide" at Guantanamo. Who could Hickman turn to with what he knew? He found a law professor named Mark Denbeaux at the Seton Hall University Law School's Center for Policy and Research. With his, and his colleagues', help Hickman tried reporting the matter through proper channels. Obama's Justice Department, NBC, ABC, and 60 Minutes all expressed interest, were told the facts, and refused to do a thing about it. But Scott Horton wrote it up in Harpers, which Keith Olbermann reported on but the rest of the corporate media ignored.
Hickman and Seton Hall researchers found out that the CIA had been administering huge doses of a drug called mefloquine to prisoners, including the three killed, which an army doctor told Hickman would induce terror and amounted to "psychological waterboarding." Over at Truthout.org Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye reported that every new arrival at Guantanamo was given mefloquine, supposedly for malaria, but it was only given to every prisoner, never to a single guard or to any third-country staff people from countries with high risk of malaria, and never to the Haitian refugees housed at Guantanamo in 1991 and 1992. Hickman had begun his "service" at Guantanamo believing the prisoners were "the worst of the worst," but had since learned that at least most of them were nothing of the sort, having been picked up for bounties with little knowledge of what they'd done. Why, he wondered,
"were men of little or no value kept under these conditions, and even repeatedly interrogated, months or years after they'd been taken into custody? Even if they'd had any intelligence when they came in, what relevance would it have years later? . . . One answer seemed to lie in the description that Major Generals [Michael] Dunlavey and [Geoffrey] Miller both applied to Gitmo. They called it 'America's battle lab.'"
What the U.S. government does openly is many times worse than anything it can be doing secretly, and yet the secrets fascinate us.
If you compare polling on majority views on most political topics with actual U.S. policy, there's little overlap. Scholars now produce reports finding that the United States is an oligarchy. Most people don't vote. Those who try to engage with U.S. politics get excited when the Democrats fall back into the minority and start pretending to favor popular policies again. People hope to find reflected bits of decency in official rhetoric during a two-year-long period of pretended governance that amounts to a public sales pitch and a private wink to the campaign funding overlords.
Our government openly subsidizes the destruction of our planet's climate, openly allows corporations to pay negative taxes, openly redistributes wealth upward, openly funds a military as costly as the rest of the globe's nations' combined, openly serves as the marketing firm for the U.S. weapons that make up much of that other half of the globe's armed forces, openly enacts corporate trade policies that ruin economies and the environment, openly denies us basic human services, openly prosecutes whistleblowers, openly restricts our civil liberties, openly murders large numbers of people with drone strikes. We can watch a police officer in New York choke a man to death on video and walk away without being prosecuted for any crime. We can watch the U.S. Congress take direction in promoting a new war from a foreign leader (tune in February 11 for the latest), and yet what goes on in secret obsesses us.
I don't mean the lies that have been exposed, the false excuses for wars, the miscalculations, the "misplacement" of billions of dollars. I mean the human drama. It's not enough to know that Obamacare is a grotesque and deadly monstrosity; we want to know about the insurance executives' roles in writing it. It's not enough to know that Iraq has been destroyed. We want to hear about the oil barons drawing up the plans with Dick Cheney. It's not enough to know that a tragic crime was used to launch catastrophic wars, we want to know whether the crime was staged. We want to know who was behind every assassination, and every powerful bit of propaganda. We want to know whether each CIA operation can be explained by evil or incompetence. We're like Mark Twain, who
said didn't really say, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
This is what I wonder in looking at Operation Merlin, over which Jeffrey Sterling is now on trial as a whistleblower. Whether giving nuclear weapons plans to Iran can be explained by incompetence that surpasses my understanding or must be explained by evil, the U.S. government is openly trying to incarcerate a whistleblower who did his legal duty. I just happen to have read a book by Donald Jeffries called Hidden History: An Expose of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups in American Politics. I've been thinking over dozens of alleged conspiracies from the killing of President Kennedy to the supposed forging of Obama's birth certificate. Some I think are real, others nonsense. The point is that I think there may be a hybrid solution. I may not have to choose incompetence or evil to explain the CIA giving nukes to Iran. I can choose incompetence combined with bureaucratic dysfunction combined with evil priorities.
If the CIA's top priority was nuclear disarmament, it wouldn't have tried, as it claims to have tried, to slow down an Iranian nuclear weapons program (if one existed, it didn't know) by giving Iran nuclear plans. The CIA officers involved testified in court that they knew their action risked proliferating nuclear weapons technology. That also means that if their top priority had been obeying the law, they wouldn't have created Operation Merlin. But if their top priority was being involved, appearing to be doing something important, and if they were risking an outcome that didn't much worry them, Operation Merlin is exactly what they would have done -- assuming gargantuan levels of incompetence. That is, if they didn't much care if Iran got nukes, if they in fact thought it would be a pretty cool excuse to start a war if Iran could be shown to be working on nukes, well then, why the heck not find the most outlandishly stupid and illegal way in which to try to slow Iran down -- a way that could very well speed Iran up?
This same hybrid explanation applies to other mysteries as well, of course. If the U.S. government's top priority had been preventing a crime like 911, it would have stopped bombing and occupying Muslim nations, adopted an approach of cooperation and generosity with the world, and invested at least a wee bit of effort into preventing the crime, especially when the president was handed a memo warning about it and when his top advisor was shouting about the need. But if the people running the U.S. government didn't really give much of a damn about preventing such a crime, and if they in fact thought it would be just about the only way to get new wars started, well then, they would have done at least what we know them to have done and perhaps more that we could learn from a proper investigation. Part incompetent, part evil -- how evil, we don't know. But we don't need to conclude that the hijackers didn't exist or a missile hit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center was blown up from within to achieve a satisfactory explanation. All such things could coexist with this theory, but they're not needed.
What argues against such explanations of unknown government misdeeds is not the degree of evilness. Remember, we're talking about a government that has used 911 as an excuse to destroy whole countries and kill upwards of a million human beings. Blowing up a couple of buildings is perfectly acceptable to most people who would launch wars. The exception is anyone whose sincere nationalism actually makes them value U.S. lives while considering non-U.S. lives to be worthless. But, remember, we're talking about the U.S. government. They send U.S. troops off to kill and die in the process of slaughtering the foreigners. They allow millions in the U.S. to die for lack of basic services while they dump funding into war preparations. Dick Cheney contemplated a proposal to stage a shooting of U.S. troops disguised as Iranians. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods, which would have murdered Americans to frame Cuba. At question is not level of evil, but particular level of competent engagement in particular acts of evil.
Jeffries' book mixes a half century of well-documented crimes with pure speculation. I don't think the inclusion in a book of dubious conspiracies should hurt the inclusion of likely ones. If we aren't open to questioning everything, we'll miss lots of things. But it's simply not possible that every unusual plane crash over a period of decades has been an assassination. At least one or two of them must have been accidents. That Jeffries throws in completely random silliness, such as that Janet Reno was rumored to be gay (so what?) or that a couple killed on 911 had been married at the Vatican (gasp!), or that he thinks the Institute for Policy Studies is part of the elite establishment, doesn't mean that Lee Harvey Oswald actually killed Kennedy. I think we have to look at every case seriously and go where the evidence leads. I think that our approach should be: Distrust but verify. Begin with the assumption that the government is lying, and see if it can prove itself honest.
When I read that Karl Rove views religion as a useful tool for manipulating the gullible or that Bill Clinton had a seat on a jet known for providing sex with underage girls, I don't think such gossip is as significant as trade, energy, and war policies that will result in millions of deaths. But I don't think the public interest in such stories is completely beside the point either. "Whether important policy decisions are made at Bohemian Grove or not," writes Jeffries, "it is at the very least disturbing to know that our leaders are gathering together to worship a massive owl, dress in robes, and recite occult incantations." Is it? We just had a president who openly said God had told him to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. Who cares if he worships an owl, unless it was the owl who told him that? But it is disturbing because of the secrecy. Politicians who will pretend they want to end wars or tax billionaires whenever they're in the minority and in no danger of actually doing it are politicians with contempt for you and me; they are people who believe they are above us and can, like Henry V, make their own laws. Of course Michael Hastings' death could have been an accident, but to assume so, and to suggest that investigating it as a murder would be loony is to demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of history. Recently, with each new FBI terror plot foiled and celebrated, I've assumed it would be shown to have been a case of entrapment in which the FBI encouraged the crime before preventing it. In each case, I've been right. That doesn't mean that tomorrow the FBI won't capture a terrorist it had nothing to do with creating; it just means: Distrust but verify.
Distrusting may have started with Kennedy's assassination, even if the need for distrusting today can be advanced further through an honest retelling of Pearl Harbor, and myths of losing innocence ought by all rights to go back to the genocide of the Native Americans if not to the agricultural revolution. Hidden History is not where I think people should start reading about Kennedy (James Douglass's book might be better). But I learned new things about Kennedy from Hidden History and think we should all consider Jeffries' remark: "[O]nce I realized that the president of the United States could be killed in broad daylight, without a single high-ranking public official questioning what really happened, and without any supposed journalist having the slightest curiosity about the subject, I understood that anything was possible."
Jeffries' book roams chronologically through a long list of scandals. He briefly mentions numerous outrages that are not really in dispute: Northwoods, Tonkin, Mongoose, Mockingbird, MK-Ultra, Cointelpro, Fred Hampton, etc., etc. He focuses at greater length on a smaller number of possible conspiracies, providing good summaries of what's known about the killing of JFK and RFK in particular. On Chappaquiddick he's less convincing, on the October Surprise he's vague and truly bizarre (but could have been completely convincing as I think the evidence is well established). He strays into economics and politics and general corruption, speculates on AIDS, Vince Foster, Oklahoma City, etc. His sections on JFK Jr. and on the Anthrax scare are of interest, I think.
Do the surveillance state and the proliferation of private cameras end these mysteries? Imagine Kennedy shot in Dallas today. The video footage would be voluminous, and it would be around the world on the internet before the blood dried. But imagine Abdulrahman al Awlaki's killing today. Much of the world doesn't have the same technology one could expect in Dallas. And imagine Eric Garner's killing today. We have the video, but we're told not to believe our lying eyes. What could end bad government -- as well as misplaced suspicions of bad government -- would be open government, including the elimination of secret agencies. And what could accomplish that would be if the public, including Jeffrey Sterling's jury, assumed that anything the CIA said was more than likely a lie.