Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Guns of August in the Middle East?

The Guns of August in the Middle East?

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan


Crazy talk about the Middle East seems to be escalating, backed up by some pretty ominous military deployments. First, the department of scary statements:

First up, Shabtai Shavit, former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, speaking June 21 at Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv on why Israel should launch a pre-emptive strike at Iran: “I am of the opinion that, since there is an ongoing war, since the threat is permanent, since the intention of the enemy in this case is to annihilate you, the right doctrine is one of presumption and not retaliation.”

Second up, Uzi Arad, Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor, speaking before the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem June 22 on his belief that the “international community” would support an Israeli strike at Iran” “I don’t see anyone who questions the legality of this or the legitimacy.”

Third up, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaking to reporters at the G-8 meeting in Toronto June 26: “Iran is not guaranteeing a peaceful production of nuclear power [so] the members of the G-8 are worried and believe absolutely that Israel will probably react preemptively.”

Fourth up, Central Intelligence Director Leon Panetta predicting on ABC’s “This Week” program June 27 that Iran could have two nuclear weapons by 2012: “We think they [Iran] have enough low-enriched uranium for two weapons…and while there is continuing debate [within Iran] right now about whether or not they ought to proceed with a bomb…they clearly are developing their nuclear capacity.” He went on to say that the U.S. is sharing intelligence with Israelis and that Tel Aviv is “willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically.”

A few points:

1)    Iran and Israel are not at war, a fact Shavit seems confused about.

2)    Since the recent rounds of sanctions aimed at Iran would have lost in the United Nations General Assembly, it unclear who Arad thinks is the “international community.”

3)    Berlusconi is a bit of a loose cannon, but he is tight with the Israelis.

4)    An Iran that is different “diplomatically and culturally and politically” sounds an awful lot like “regime change.” Is that the “room” Panetta is talking about?

And it isn’t all talk.

Following up the London Times report that Saudi Arabia had given Israel permission to fly through Saudi airspace to attack Iran, the Jerusalem Post, the Islam Times and the Iranian news agency Fars report that the Israeli air force has stockpiled equipment in the Saudi desert near Jordan.

According to the Post supplies were unloaded June 18 and 19 outside the Saudi city of Tabuk, and all civilian flights into the area were canceled during the two day period.  The Post said that an “anonymous American defense official” claimed that Mossad chief Meir Dagan was the contact man with Saudi Arabia and had briefed Netanyahu on the plans.

The Gulf Daily News reported June 26 that Israel has moved warplanes to Georgia and Azerbaijan, which would greatly shorten the distance Israeli planes would have to fly to attack targets in northern Iran.

The U.S currently has two aircraft carriers—the Truman and the Eisenhower—plus more than a dozen support vessels in the Gulf of Hormuz, the strategic choke point leading into the Gulf of Iran.

The Saudis have vigorously denied the reports they are aiding the Israelis, and Shafeeq Ghabra, president of the American University of Kuwait, says “It would be impossible for the Saudis to allow an Israeli attack on Iran.”

But Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel, argues that Saudi Arabia and Israel both fear a nuclear-armed Iran. “This bring us together on a strategic level in that we have common interests. Since the Arab world and Saudi Arabia understand that President Obama is a weak person, maybe they decided to facilitate this happening.” He also said the story might not be true because “I don’t think the Saudis want to burden themselves with this kind of cooperation with Israel.”

According to military historian Martin van Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,  “The real fear is that someone will get carried away by his own rhetoric and fear mongering” and start a war. He also thinks, however, that Israel should not take a preemptive strike “off the table.”

Trita Parsi of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington argues that the escalation of rhetoric is dangerous. “When you have that kind of political environment, you are leaving yourself no space to find another solution,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “You may very well end up in a situation where you are propelled to act, even though you understand it is an unwise action, but [do so] for political reasons.”

The rhetoric is getting steamy, the weapons are moving into position, and it is beginning to feel like “The Guns of August” in the Middle East.


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Stories From The Year That Was 2009

Stories From The Year That Was 2009


Berkeley Daily Planet

Feb. 4, 2010

News tends to vanish from our radar screens when the attention of the media moves elsewhere. But the stories go on. In the coming year Dispatches will revisit some subjects it has covered. Here are four.

“Shadow Wars” (6/4/09) examined an October 2008 incident when several U.S. helicopters crossed the Syrian border to attack a supposed al-Qaeda operative, Abu Ghadiya, near the town of al-Sukariya. The column concluded that the raid was a case of botched intelligence that resulted in the deaths of seven innocent civilians.

In October 2009, investigative reporter Reese Erlich and actor/writer Peter Coyote journeyed to Syria to report the story for Vanity Fair. They interviewed local witnesses and the doctor who treated the wounded survivors.

According to the reporters, U.S. officials claimed—anonymously—that the raid was a success, although they never produced proof the Ghadiya had been killed.

Bob Baer, a CIA field officer in the Middle East for more than two decades, told Erlich and Coyote that the U.S. claims were “total bullshit;” he suspects the raid was a result of bad intelligence. “Where’s the body? Where are the documents or the cell phone? If they brought back an al-Qaeda body, why don’t they have something? There’s no conceivable way they would have killed him and not shown it.”

Possibly because he was already dead. According to Erlich and Coyote, al-Qaeda in Iraq “announced the death of Ghadiya in 2006” from a rocket attack on the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. Apparently jihadist web sites published his obituary at the time.

So was it botched intelligence, or something more sinister?

According to the reporters, some Syrians are convinced the raid was a set-up by the Bush Administration to derail any attempt to improve U.S.-Syria relations.

“The neocons and their headmaster, Vice President [Dick] Cheney, wanted to create problems so that a rapprochement between the [Obama] administration and Syria will be made more difficult,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Fayssal Mekdad told the reporters.

The authors speculate that may be a reason Syria did not respond more forcefully to what was a clear act of war.

The story may have disappeared, were it not for the survivors. According to Dr. Ayers al-Fara—who autopsied the dead and treated the wounded—the woman survivor is still in very bad shape. When he saw her last Oct. 26, he said, “She was hallucinating. She kept saying, ‘’Go, go, go, go,’ these four words over and over in English.” The doctor speculated that they were what the soldiers were shouting in the 15-minute raid.

For a full read of this excellent story, go to:’al-sukariya-200910)

In “The U.S. Connection in Honduras,”(8/12/09) about the June 23 coup in that country, Dispatches reported on some seamy connections between the U.S. and Honduran business and political interests, and suggested that the Nov. 29 election that brought conservative Porfirio Lobo to power was deeply compromised.

The Obama administration bought the Honduran Electoral Tribunal’s figure of a 61 percent turnout, six points higher than the 2004 vote that elected Manuel Zelaya president.

In fact, turnout wasn’t close to that. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal the actual turnout was 50 percent, five points less than the 2004 election. Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy—who was in Tegucigalpa during the voting—said the 61 percent figure was a “bald-faced lie.” Based on registration and voter turnout, the actual figure was 49.2 percent.

And according to Amnesty International, the “crisis in Honduras did not end with the election.”

In the weeks following the vote, the Honduran police and military launched a wave of terror to silence the hundreds of thousands of people who protested the coup. In These Times reporter Jeremy Kryt says “More than 3000 people have been detained, and hundreds more have been beaten, with many requiring hospitalization for their wounds. At least 28 members of the resistance have been killed by the military, police, or political assassins during the last five months.”

According to Human Rights Watch, gay, lesbian and transgendered people have been especially targeted. Some seven have been murdered since the coup. Journalists sympathetic to Zelaya have also been singled out.

The coup-sponsored election has only been recognized by the U.S., Panama, Columbia, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and, oddly enough, Canada.

Canadian Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent praised the Nov. 29 vote and said, “We are encouraged by reports from civil society organizations that there was a strong turnout for the elections, that they appear to have been run freely and fairly and that there was no major violence.”

Canada was conspicuously silent about the coup government’s attacks on demonstrators.

Honduras is Canada’s top aid recipient in Central America, and the Ottawa government has a program to train Honduran soldiers and police. The Canadians also export $89 million worth of goods to Honduras, and import $151.5 million in return, mostly in bananas.

And gold. Canadian mining corporations, including Yamana Gold, Breakwater Resources, and Goldcorp invest in Honduras, and lobbied against a Zelaya-sponsored law that would have restricted mining and banned its widespread use of cyanide. Environmentalist Carlos Amador told Upsidedown World reporter Dawn Paley that he now expects the proposal to be defeated.

One activist compared the repression to the death squad days of the 1980s when Honduras served as the Reagan administration’s base for its war on the Sandinista government in Nicaragua

However, according to human rights activists, the coup has sparked a powerful opposition force. “Of course they [the military and the elites] didn’t mean to do it,” says resistance leader Juan Barahona, “But through their own greed, the putschists have awakened an even greater resistance.”

Japan’s New Course” (11/12/09) predicted that the victory by the Democratic Party (DP) in the last election could alter the traditional relationship between Japan and the U.S., and that a flash point would be a fight over the building of a new U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa. The DP won, and change is in the air.

First, the new government canceled a naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that supported U.S. ships bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. Then Tokyo announced that it was suspending any new monies for an anti-missile system it is building in conjunction with the U.S.

And when the residents of Nago, Okinawa elected a mayor who opposed the base, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced that his government would renegotiate the 2006 base agreement “from scratch.”

Nago residents were reacting in part to what Japanese media called “bullying” by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have insisted the 2006 pact is binding.

Japan currently hosts 50,000 U.S. troops, the vast majority of them on the island of Okinawa.

Okinawa is part of a U.S. strategy to challenge Chinese presence in the western Pacific. Besides the new base in Okinawa, the U.S. is turning the islands of Guam and Tinian into virtual Gibraltars, with numerous bases and ports. The buildup will cost some $12 billion, with Japan footing slightly more than half the bill.

This small island strategy became necessary when Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Singapore refused to allow any permanent U.S. bases.

Guam residents are unhappy about the new bases, fearing land confiscations and the destruction of forest areas. “They want to run over our land,” Henry Simpson, general manager of the Guam Racing Federation, told The Japan Times.

The Tokyo government says the U.S.-Japan Security Pact is still the “cornerstone” of Japanese foreign policy, but with upper house elections coming up this summer, the DP can’t afford to ignore the Okinawa vote. The island voted heavily for the DP in the general elections.

Now that China is Japan’s number one trading partner, Tokyo is also edging away from the more confrontational U.S. strategy. “From the Chinese side, the debate about Okinawa and what to do with bases in the framework of the security pact has been looked at very favorably, that Japan is not simply following old contracts,” Marin Schulz, a research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo told the Washington Post.

We Deeply Regret” (10/15/09) focused on a controversial Sept. 4 NATO air strike in Afghanistan that killed up to 142 people. A German army commander called for the attack.

Then German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung defended the attack by citing intelligence showing that German soldiers had been in danger. When it turned out he had no such evidence, he was forced to resign. German army Chief of Staff Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderman and a senior official at the Defense Ministry, Peter Wichert, also resigned.

But the story has not gone away.

On Nov. 6, new German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg called the attack “militarily appropriate,” based on what he said was his reading of a classified NATO investigation on the incident. On Dec. 3 he suddenly reversed course and said the attack was “militarily inappropriate.” Change of heart? Not exactly. Guttenberg just realized that the “classified” report was going public

After studying the report, Der Spiegel noted acidly, “Just how Guttenberg, after studying this report, could have arrived at the conclusion that the attack was ‘militarily appropriate’ will have to remain his secret.”

According to the newspaper, the attack on Sept. 4 “was the result of a combination of ineptness and deliberate misinformation, without which the air strike would never have occurred.”

Now the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party are asking uncomfortable questions of Guttenberg. Will the new defense minister get entangled in his own web of deception? Stay tuned.

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Annual Dispatches Awards 2009

Annual Dispatches Awards 2009

Daily Planet

Jan. 7, 2010

The Golden Poodle Award to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his decision to join in the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and lying about it. Blair told Parliament in July 2002 that prior to the November 2002 United Nations resolution to disarm Iraq, his government made no preparations for invading Iraq. But according to leaked government documents, plans to attack Baghdad had begun in February 2002.

“Tony Blair consistently denied to Parliament and the public that the U.K. government was preparing for war in Iraq, yet these documents show that planning began back as far as 2002,” said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party. The revelation, he said, shows that Blair took Britain into “an illegal and disastrous war on false pretenses.”

War critics have long charged that Blair had secretly reached an agreement with U.S. President George Bush to go along with the invasion, but the Prime Minster always denied it. The current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has formed a panel to investigate the run up to the war, but the panel has no powers, and Brown only reluctantly allowed it to have public hearings.

According to the documents, the planning was in the best traditions of the British Army: soldiers were issued five rounds of ammunition apiece, had the wrong armor, and radios that didn’t work in hot climates. The Army also sent along a container of snow skis.

On A Clear Day You Can’t See Anything Award to U.S. General John Craddock and Gretchen Peters, author of “Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

According to the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Gen. Craddock, NATO’s senior military commander, proposed that all drug traffickers in Afghanistan be shot, regardless of whether it could be proven they were involved with the Taliban, because drugs are a major source of funding for the insurgency.

Such a policy would violate international law, as well as alter NATO’s Afghan mission.

Peters says the U.S. should use air power to attack drug convoys and locations where drugs are processed or refined. The attacks would strangle “the Taliban’s opium profits, which the United Nations calculates to be worth $400 million a year.”

The “$400 million” figure, says Peters, comes from the “UN,” but according to a new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Taliban get about $125 million each year from the opium trade. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency say the figure is closer to $70 million.

The UN estimates that Afghan opium generates about $3.4 billion a year, of which 4 percent goes to the Taliban, and 21 percent to the farmers. So who gets the 75 percent that’s left over? Not Al-Qaeda, which the report states “does not appear to have a direct role in the Afghan opiates trade.”

The bulk, according to Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College, Dublin, “is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers,” including President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and General Nazri Mahmad, a northern warlord who provides protection for German troops.

The report admits that drugs have a “minimal impact on the insurgency’s strategic threat,” and most the Taliban’s funding comes from “private donors” all over the world.

To blame ‘corruption’ and ‘criminals’ for the state of affairs is to ignore the direct and predictable effects of U.S. policies, which have simply followed a historical pattern of toleration and empowerment of local drugs lords in pursuit of broader foreign policy goals,” Mercille writes.

The U.S. was tied to the heroin trade in Laos during the Southeast Asian war and to cocaine smuggling during the war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

But it is not just our guys who benefit from the trade, so does international banking. According to the UN report, 90 to 95 percent of opium sales over the past seven years—$400 to $500 billion—were laundered through western banks. In fact it appears that some of that money was essential in keeping those banks from going bankrupt during the recent credit melt down.

The report also identifies China, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Germany and France as the main suppliers of the precursor chemicals that turn opium into heroin. The UN says most of the heroin is shipped through Turkey to the rest of Europe, where the trade is valued at $20 billion a year.

So, were it to follow the logic of Gen, Craddock and Gretchen Peters, Dispatches would suggest a campaign of air strikes on Turkey, the seizure and execution of leading international banking officials, and a blockade of China, Russia, South Korea, France and Germany.

The Lion King Award to the consulting company CH2M Hill and the Department of Energy for zeroing in on one of the most dangerous threats to the environment: radioactive rabbit turds.

It appears the bunnies have been digging up the Hanford nuclear reservation in south-central Washington state and absorbing radioactive strontium and cesium left over from the production of plutonium. Using helicopters, CH2M Hill has been skimming the desert terrain to locate the droppings. Later, workers will scoop them up and seal them in barrels.

The nearby Colombia River has radioactive fish, and similar leaks are occurring at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory in California and the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina. The cleanup of nuclear production sites will cost over $260 billion and take decades to complete.

At the Savannah site, hunters are allowed to shoot deer, but then have to bring them to the site to be monitored. “If they find something that was above the limit they take out that part of the carcass and allow the guy to go on his merry way with the rest of it,” Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department official, told the New York Times.

A number of other animals besides rabbits are radioactive at Hanford. According to CH2M Hill spokeswoman Dee Millikin, mice and badgers are also involved, as are the coyotes that eat the smaller animals. “It’s basically a circle of life situation,” she says.

Golden Swine Award to the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the U.S. Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, makes the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

According to a lawsuit by engineer Darrol Olsen, the company secretly added extra coating—600 pounds of it—to the F-22 in order to pass the Air Force’s “stealth” test. Lockheed Martin found that the original stealth coating rubbed off when it was exposed to fuel, oil or water. Adding the extra coats allowed it to pass the “stealth” test, but the because the coating was brittle, it broke off, making the fighter a “bulls eye target.” The extra weight also compromised the aircraft’s speed and maneuverability.

The F-22 costs $140 million apiece, and, while the Obama Administration has cancelled the program, some 183 aircraft will still be produced.

Lockheed Martin’s $300 billion F-35 contract will be the most expensive weapons system ever built. But there is a little problem with the fighter’s Pratt & Whitney engine: it shoots out lots of sparks and no one seems to know why. Most aeronautical engineers will tell you that it is not a good idea for a jet engine to shoot out lots of sparks.

So Congress decided that General Electric and Rolls Royce should build a back up engine just in case the Pratt & Whitney one didn’t work and the country ended up with 2,500 really expensive lawn ornaments.

The Obama administration is trying to cancel the Pratt & Whitney engine because it will cost at least $3 billion just to finish developing the thing. But Congress wants the backup and added $560 million to next year’s budget to finish developing it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the U.S. Air Force in charge of awarding a $35 billion contract for a new generation of in-air refueling tankers. Given that the Air Force totally botched two previous air tanker contracts, it was a touching act of faith.

Previous efforts were derailed when the Boeing Corporation filed corruption charges against the Air Force, Northrop Douglass and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) for giving the latter two companies the inside track and rigging the bidding.

Boeing is rallying its congressional supporters from Washington State, while Alabama is lobbying for Northrop Grumman and EADS.

The air tanker contract will eventually rise to $100 billion or more.

So hit the add key on your calculator ; between all three weapons systems, the costs are likely to reach $500 billion or more. That would buy a lot of health care.

And, finally, DARPA, which is testing the relationship between roadside bombs and brain damage by blowing up pigs. Several hundred pigs have been dressed in body armor, strapped into armored personal carriers and Humvees, and subjected to explosions.

According to DARPA, the experiments show that the body armor protects the pigs’ lungs and doesn’t increase brain damage by diverting the explosive force toward the head. Pigs without body armor died within 24 to 48 hours, while those wearing it “survived significantly higher blasts” said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker. More than 200 pigs have been used.

While Walker said the pigs were treated “humanely at all times,” Martin Stephens of the Humane Society of America said the tests raised “red flags,” and said the “relevance of this is highly questionable. People are not pigs.”

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Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatches From The Edge

Who’s On First Award? to U.S. intelligence for its analysis of al-Qaeda. According to CIA Director Michael Hayden, the organization is growing stronger and preparing to launch attacks in Africa, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. He said there was a “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with al-Qaeda operatives spreading into North Africa, which they could use as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

A week later, Matthew Burrows, who heads up the long-range analysis section of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said “The appeal of terrorism is waning” and al-Qaeda is on the decline, having alienated supporters with indiscriminate killings. According to Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report by the ONI, “Al-Qaeda has not achieved broad support in the Islamic world. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appear only to a tiny minority of Muslims.”

Enabling Paranoia Award to the U.S. Congress for its resolute stand against terrorism. In 2003, Congress identified 160 sites in the country that might be potential targets for terrorist attacks. In 2004 that list had grown to 1,849. In 2005 the number was 28,360. In 2006 there were 77,769. By February 2008, the potential number of sites had grown to 300,000, including the Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Being a “designated site” entitles local authorities to apply for Home Land Security money for equipment and police.

Lapdog Award to Canada’s Conservative government for first listing the U.S. as a country which uses torture—along with Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria—and then reversing themselves and apologizing when Washington protested.

Shortly thereafter, a secret Canadian government report found that Canadian Omar Khadr, who is been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was 16-years old, had been tortured. The torture included extended periods of sleep deprivation. When the evidence was presented to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he dismissed it, saying, “Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr…will be treated humanely.”

One of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, said Harper’s comment “defies belief.” The detainee’s American military lawyer said that the report “shows the assurances the Canadian government has been offering all these years were false. It’s shameful that the Canadian government is continuing to allow this to go on.”

A Purple Heart Award to Jeff Black, director of Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy for coming up with a slogan for graduates: “Don’t suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], go out and cause it.” PTSD, along with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is the signature wound soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from. Estimates are that 40 percent of the veterans of both wars suffer from PTSD and MTBI.

The symptoms of both are very similar, and include anti-social behavior, aggression, sleeplessness, impotence, depression, and heightened incidences of suicide.

The U.S. military recently decided not to award Purple Hearts to PSTD and MTBI sufferers.

History Get Me A Rewrite Award to former President George W. Bush for his comment comparing the demand for a withdrawal from Iraq to similar demands to end the Vietnam War:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of American withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.”

During the war the U.S. dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than the allies had dropped in World War II, killed some three million people, maimed millions more, and added such words to our vocabulary as “free fire zone” and “strategic hamlet.” The “killing fields” were a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA engineered overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and his replacement with military dictator, Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge in turn overthrew Lon Nol and murdered of two million Cambodians. An intervention by the Vietnamese ended the genocide and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

Lt. William Calley Award to DynCorp, a mercenary organization hired by the U.S. to provide security in Iraq. A Dyn Corp soldier, who was a former U.S. Army vet and prison guard, told the New Yorker, “The real problem in this war on terror is you guys, the press. Ties our hands. The only way to fight this is to give them back the same medicine, like Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam. My Lai—what Calley did there was probably just orders.”

Operation Phoenix—which My Lai was part of—executed between 50,000 and 70,000 “Viet Cong supporters” in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre of Mar. 16, 1968 was led by Lt. William Calley. There is no agreement on the number who died at My Lai, but it was over 500, mainly women and children.

The “Beam Me Up Scotty” Award to the Pentagon for trying to create a hologram for the children of parents deployed in war zones. The kids will “boot” up their parents on a home computer and, according to the Pentagon, “The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, every day topics.” The child “may get a response from saying ‘I love you,’ or “I miss you,’ or “Good night.’”

According to Navy Commander Russell Shilling, the psychologist overseeing the program, “The children don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being deployed” and “That kind of interaction…is very important.”

The parent would record comments before they were deployed and then artificial intelligence software that runs the hologram would respond to a child’s question or comment.

So if Jimmy or Jane says “Mommy come home,” does the program answer “Be all you can be?” or maybe bust the kid for undermining morale?

Ass-Backward Award to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, for building the littoral combat ship “Freedom” before it completed all the designs. The ship—at $600 million plus—was first welded together and then designed, delaying construction and increasing costs. “It’s not good to be building while you’re designing,” said Vice. Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, who supervises ship building for the Navy.

Creative Accounting Award to the Pentagon, which is on track to spend $110 billion on missile defense by 2013 (the system has already cost $150 billion since it was launched in 1983) without any idea of what it will end up with. The accounting methodology is called “spiral development,” which, in the words of a Pentagon directive means, “end-state requirements are not known at program initiation.” In essence, “spiral development” means there are no set dates, no costs ceilings, no designated outcome and no way to determine if an outcome is achieved.

SNAFU Award to the U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, who headed the investigation of the Feb. 23 crash of the $1.5 billion B-2 Stealth bomber, “Spirit of Kansas,” on the island of Guam. According to the investigation, moisture in the plane’s sensors made the B-2’s computer cause the plane to climb too sharply, causing it to stall and crash.

Carpenter said, “The aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words all systems were functioning normally.”

Except, perhaps, the part about crashing.

Great Moments in Journalism Award to FOX News for its coverage of the massacre of 90 Afghan civilians—including 60 children and 15 women—at the village of Azizabad by U.S. fighter bombers. The U.S. military initially denied the story and said the dead were “insurgents.” A Pentagon spokesperson said an “independent journalist” embedded with the U.S. troops that called in the air strike “corroborated” their story.

The “independent journalist”: Oliver North, working for Fox News. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra Conspiracy to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and shredded files to keep them from government investigators.

Man’s Best Friend Award to the Blackwater security firm, which supplies mercenaries for the U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan. The company—several members of whom were recently indicted for killing up to 17 civilians in Iraq—is being investigated for shipping assault weapons and silencers hidden in large sacks of dog food into Iraq.

Certain weapons, including silencers, are banned for use by security firms because they are considered incompatible with the job of guarding diplomats.

The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told ABC.

The United Nations has accused the U.S. of running “death squads” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of assassinating people opposed to U.S. policies in both countries.

Unclear On The Concept Award to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, who attacked the Inspector General’s Office for its investigation of a Pentagon program to put retired military officers on TV and radio as “force multipliers” for the Bush Administration’s message on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and terrorism.

Hunter said the retired officers were a “great asset” for the country and completely independent. “The idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that you don’t believe in the independence of these generals. None of them are used to having people tell them what to do.”

The most common phrase heard in the military? “Yes, sir.”

Word Smithing Award to Navy Commander Pauline Storum who defended the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison and challenged the charge that the camp uses solitary confinement. Storum said the camp has “single-occupancy cells.”


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Dispatches Awards For The Year That Was 2007

Dispatches Awards For The Year That Was 2007

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

The following are Dispatches’ annual “I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This” Awards.

Psychic Insight Award goes to U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, former commander of the Second Marine Division in Iraq. Members of Kilo Company in his division went on a rampage Nov. 19, 2006, and killed 24 Iraqi civilians. Huck said he never looked into the massacre because it was not uncommon for civilians to be killed during a combat operation.

“In my mind’s eye I saw insurgent fire, I saw Kilo Company fire,” said Huck during a military hearing this past May, explaining that he could see how “neutrals in those circumstances could be killed.”

The general did not explain exactly how the eye in his mind works.

An Honorable Mention in this category went to the pilots of U.S. aircraft and helicopters for their Nov. 16 attack on a group of Iraqis in the town of Taji north of Baghdad. The Iraqis were members of a Sunni militia that had just captured five members of al-Qaeda. According to a military spokesperson, the U.S. pilots detected “hostile intent” from the group—a neat trick considering they were several hundred feet up in the air— and opened fire, killing 50 Sunni militia members and their five prisoners.

The Long Sorrow Award* goes to officials of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq who took members of the Iraqi government and military to visit Northern Ireland in order to demonstrate how building walls between the Catholic and Protestant communities greatly reduced the damage caused by sectarian violence. With Ireland as a template, the Iraqis can now look forward to more than four centuries of inter-communal warfare.

*The Irish call their 800 plus year struggle against the English, “the long sorrow.”

Great Moments in Objectivity Award goes to Jim Albaugh, chief of defense operations for the Boeing Corporation. Speaking during an air show in Paris this past June, Albaugh urged that U.S. military spending be kept at record levels in order to deal with terrorists and the threat of China.

The question is, what happens when we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the supplementals [additional payments used to fund the war] start to dry up?” he asked.

Boeing is worried about cuts in the $200 billion Future Combat System—lots of high tech whiz bangs, including robot tanks, helicopters, and planes—in which the company has a major stake. Boeing also may lose $400 million if congressional Democrats block the building of a third anti-ballistic missile site in Europe.

Lest one think that Albaugh’s view of the world and the need for enhanced military spending is self-serving, the Boeing official said that he was “pretty objective” about the whole thing.

The Entrepreneurship Award to Charlene Corley, owner of C&D Distributors in Lexington, S.C., for her creative approach to spending taxpayer’s money. C&D Distributors charged the U.S. Army $998,798 for two 19-cent washers. The firm has collected $20.5 million over a six-year period.

Great Moments in Irony Award to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Meeting with reporters at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Moscow, she accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of undermining the country’s courts, media and legislative bodies.

In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” she said.

The same day that Rice was chiding Putin for amassing too much executive power, a coalition of liberals from the American Freedom Campaign and conservatives from the American Freedom Agenda asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to roll back the enormous power President Bush has amassed.

The pledge reads: “We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and e-mails without court order, and above all, we do not give any president unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from attack by any president.”

Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who signed the pledge. Five of the eight Democrats also signed. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and John Edwards did not, but issued statements denouncing torture, wiretapping without warrants, and imprisonment without judicial review.

Rice’s statement in Moscow brings to mind Lily Tomlin remark about the Bush Administration: “No matter how cynical you get, you just can’t keep up with these people.”

Bunker Hill Award goes to Canadian Lt. Col. Jamie Robertson who denounced the Taliban in Afghanistan this past July for refusing “to fight fair,” relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks instead of “directly confronting Canadian troops in combat.”

After failing to achieve any success…in conventional warfare, the insurgents have resorted to IED (improvised explosive devices) and other terrorist tactics,” said Robertson, deputy director of public affairs operations for the Canadian armed forces.

Which is kind of the idea behind guerilla warfare, something the Canadian military apparently hasn’t worked out yet.

Back in 1776, Major General William Howe, who led the British assault at Bunker Hill, expressed similar complaints about the “rabble in arms,” which inflicted over 1,000 casualties on his men. The colonials, on the other hand, thought it was an excellent idea for the British to wear bright red uniforms and stand in long, straight lines out in the open while the rebels got to shoot at them from behind barricades.

The Grinch Award goes to Ronald R. Aument, deputy undersecretary for Veterans Affairs, who opposed giving full veteran benefits to Filipinos who fought with the U.S. Army during the WW II.

Aument said such benefits would cost $4 billion over the next decade (the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost will be only $1 billion), but the major reason the Bush Administration opposes the benefits is that it would allow Filipino veterans living in the Philippines to have a higher standard of living than most other Filipinos.

VA benefits paid to beneficiaries living in the United States, such as U.S. veterans, do not enable those beneficiaries to live higher than the general U.S. population,” Aument told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We do not support the bill because it would disproportionately favor Filipino veterans over U.S. veterans.”

More than 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Some were captured and imprisoned, while others led a successful guerilla war against the Japanese. The Filipinos were promised full veterans benefits, but the promise was arbitrarily canceled in 1946.

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the leading Republican on the Committee, said he too was concerned about paying the benefits. “The same benefit paid to veterans in the Philippines would provide income that is almost four times the average household income in that country,” he said.

The average household income in the Philippines is $4,133, compared to $48, 201 in the U.S. The benefits for low-income Filipinos over 65 would be just under $11,000 a year. There are about 20,000 Filipino vets still living, most in their 80s and 90s.

Merry Christmas from the Bush Administration.

The Totally Whacko Award to U.S. Lt. Col. Edward M. Bush III, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, who accused London lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of smuggling “contraband” to prisoners the Bush Administration is holding in the Cuban facility.

Contraband items are taken seriously, said Bush III, “They may be used in such a way to conduct harm or self-harm for which the Joint Task Force is liable.”

The “contraband”? Underpants and Speedo swim suits.

Smith denies the charge, saying his job “involves legal briefs, not the other sort.” The lawyer also said he was “baffled” by the Speedo charge. He said his client “is hardly in a position to go swimming, since the only available water is the toilet in his cell.”


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The Year That Was Awards 2006

The Year That Was Awards 2006

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

Each year Dispatches From the Edge gives its annual IDBIAART (I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This) Awards for the past year. The following are the Awards for 2006.

Marching Together with Our Allies Award goes to the Bush Administration for refusing to allow any U.S. military personnel to attend British inquests on the deaths of United Kingdom soldiers from “friendly-fire” in Iraq. In the latest incident, Lance Corporal Matthew Hull was killed when a U.S. pilot attacked a British convoy near Basra. The White House refused to allow the pilot to attend the inquest.

British Justice Minister Harriet Harman told the Daily Mail “The families want to know how their loved ones were killed. They have got that right.” Harman went on to say that the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain “demands honesty and openness. They are our allies in Iraq and should respect the grief of the families and not hide from the court. If any of our soldiers were involved in American friendly-fire deaths we would expect them to attend hearings.”

Harman dressed down the American Ambassador over the Bush Administration’s stonewalling of the inquest request. She apparently did so without clearing it with Prime Minister Tony Blair—“fresh evidence of the crumbling authority of the PM,” notes the Mail.

The Justice Ministry had guaranteed that there would be no legal or financial sanctions against the U.S. pilot, but the White House refused to release the name of the airman or allow him to attend the inquest.

Oxfordshire Coroner Andrew Walker, who conduced the inquiry, strongly supported Harman’s demand for an American presence. Walker also conducted the inquest on two Royal Air Force pilots shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he found that U.S. Marines had committed an “unlawful killing” when they gunned down British reporter Terry Lloyd during the invasion.

Hull’s widow, Susan Hull, said, “The people who are left behind want some answers.”

They are not likely to get them from this White House.

Lt. William Calley Award goes to Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Knesset member, leader of the right wing, racist Yiseral Beiteinu Party (Israel is our home) and newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs. Lieberman advocates the death penalty for Knesset members who talk with Hamas members, urges the destruction of all commercial centers, gas stations and banks in the occupied territories, and calls for expelling all Israeli-Arabs who do not take a loyalty oath to the state of Israel.

Lieberman’s party has 11 seats in the Knesset, and Hebrew University political scientist Ze’ev Sternhell says he “is perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel.”

Asked what he thought should be done with the 10,000 Palestinians presently held without charge by Israeli authorities, he said that all of them should be taken to the Red Sea and drowned—and he, Avigdor Lieberman, would provide the buses to transport them.

Honor Among Thieves Award goes to Ahmed Chabali, the shady Iraqi exile who fed now disgraced New York Times investigative reporter Judith Miller phony information about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and pressured the U.S. to dissolve the Iraqi army and dismiss all members of the Baath Party.

Asked by the New York Times Magazine why Iraq is now such a disaster, Chabali replied “The Americans sold us out” and “The real culprit in all this is [Paul] Wolfowitz,” the neo-conservative former assistant secretary of defense and now president of the World Bank.

What should the Americans have done? According to Chabali, turn Iraq over to him and cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Adam Smith Privatization Award goes to the U.S. Coast Guard for turning over its $17 billion modernization program—lock, stock and barrel—to Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company, and Northrop Grumman. The two companies turned out ships with hull cracks—a bad idea if you want to use them in the water—cutters whose engines don’t work, an Eagle Eye unmanned air vehicle that crashes, and radios that are not water proofed. The companies also produced a long-range High Altitude Endurance Unmanned Air Vehicle for use in Alaska. Unfortunately, the craft can’t operate in bad weather.

Who would have thought that would be a problem in Alaska?

While the Coast Guard easily won the award this year, word in the industry is that the Homeland Security Department will make a strong run at the crown next year. It has handed the Boeing Corporation $7 billion to plan, supervise and execute a strategy to tighten U.S. borders to stop illegal immigration.

There is a possibility, however, that through a little inter-service cooperation, both organizations might share the award next year. For instance, Coast Guard cutters could be transferred to the deserts of the South Texas border region, where they are unlikely to sink.

Historical Insight Award goes to George W. Bush for comments during his March visit to Pakistan. Asked by journalists if Pakistan would get the same nuclear technology deal that the White House had just signed with India, Bush replied, “I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories.”

Apparently the Pakistanis had no idea this was the case.

Bush’s award means that the President has won this laurel two years running. Last year he was the hands down winner when he told the Brazilian press: “Wow! Brazil is big.”

Great Moments in Literature Award goes to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) which gave its annual journalism award to Michael Crichton for State of Fear,” his novel debunking global warming.

The book has come under heavy fire from climate experts—Stanford climatologist Stephen H. Schneider called it “demonstrably garbage”—although it was praised by the former chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe, recently replaced as chair by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), calls global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people.”

Oklahoma is a long way from the coast.

AAGP Communications Director Larry Nation admitted that Crichton was not a journalist, and that “State of Fear” was fiction, but maintained the science fiction book “ has the absolute ring of truth.”

Rudyard Kipling Award to Brigadier General Edward Butler, commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Speaking about the recent upsurge in fighting, Butler said, “We knew it was going to be a tough fight. The Afghan has fighting in his blood.”

The commander was speaking from Helmand Province, which Britain has occupied, on and off, for just short of 200 years.

Hearts and Minds Award to the Third Battalion, Eighth U.S. Marine Regiment, in Ramadi, Iraq. A poster in the unit’s headquarters reads: “Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The runner up in this category was a slogan for a unit T-shirt in the same regiment: “Kilo Company: Killed more people than cancer.”

Real Historical Insight Award (posthumous) to T.E. Lawrence for his 1919 dispatch from Iraq:

“We have been led into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. We have been tricked into it by a withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse that we have been told. Our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. We are today not far from disaster.”

* * *

Lifetime Achievement Award to Stew Albert (Dec. 4, 1939-Jan. 30, 2006) for his courage and intelligence in the battle to end oppression. In the long fight ahead, he will be missed. Slan lan avic, Minstrel Stew. This harp shall praise thee. May we meet again in Tara’s hall.


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Annual Awards For The Year That Was 2005

Dispatches From The Edge

Annual Awards For The Year That Was


At the end of each year, Dispatches gives out its annual IDBIAART (I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This) Awards for special contributions to international relations during the past year.

The Historical Amnesia Award goes to former Nixon Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who in a recent Foreign Affairs article argued in favor of “Iraqification,” by using the Vietnam War as an example:

“The truth about Vietnam that the revisionist historians conveniently forget,” writes Laird, “is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.”

It is not clear whether the American Embassy in Baghdad has a helicopter-landing pad on its roof

The Speaking Power to Truth Award goes to David H. Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada who warned Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin that if he did not stop “attacking the U.S.” Americans might decide to retaliate by cutting trade with its northern neighbor.

Wilkins was responding to critical remarks that Martin made concerning U.S. tariff policy on Canadian lumber, smuggled American guns being used in Toronto gang wars, and the Bush Administration’s opposition to the Kyoto climate accords.

Canada took the tariff issue to court and won $5 billion, but Washington successfully appealed to the U.S.-dominated World Trade Organization and refuses to pay up. The guns that have contributed to making Toronto gangs a good deal deadlier are purchased in the U.S. because Canada has restrictive laws on handgun and assault rifle ownership. And the Administration is on record opposing Kyoto.

Following Wilkins’ comments, Martin’s poll numbers went up.

The “Stop Wallowing In The Past” Award goes to French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche that France should refrain from “an excess of repentance” over its colonial past.

The comments were in reference to a recent uproar over a law passed last February instructing teachers to acknowledge the “positive role” of the French colonial empire, particularly in North Africa.

The law ignited widespread outrage in the Caribbean, where protests forced Sarkozy to cancel plans to visit the French West Indies islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The Algerian government is particularly incensed. France carried out a long and bloody colonial war in Algeria that included the well-documented use of torture and the extra-judicial murders of insurgents and civilians by French police, paratroopers and the Foreign Legion.

French colonial behavior in West Africa and Indochina was little better, and a major reason for the present impoverishment of Haiti was that France forced the tiny island to pay enormous reparations to former slave owning sugar growers who lost their plantations when native Haitians liberated their country.

Sarkozy—presently the front runner in the 2007 French presidential elections—was recently criticized for calling young rioters in France “scum” and promising to “eradicate the gangrene” from more than 300 cities that erupted in violence two months ago. Widespread youth joblessness and racism by the police are generally accepted as the sparks that set off the conflagration.

France,” writes Sarkozy, “is a great country because it has a great history.”

The Three Card Monte in Economics Award goes to European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who recently proposed a “concession” to developing countries on trade: the EU would drop agricultural subsidies if developing countries would open their manufacturing and service sectors to the developed world.

But Mendelson knows that EU agricultural subsidies are not sustainable in the long run anyhow, hence he is “conceding” nothing that wouldn’t happen in the next few years in any event. And because developing countries’ service and industrial products cannot compete with the EU, the poor nations would essentially agree to deindustrialize their economies and return to their previous status as raw material baskets for their former colonial overseers.

If the developing nations accept the idea, Mandelson will be a hero to EU exporters. If the developing nations refuse, they will be tagged as anti-global obstructionists.

This round of world trade talks was supposed to be about “development.” Instead the big nations have turned it into a “now you see it, now you don’t” game.

The Sowing the Wind Award goes to conservative Australian Prime John Howard, who in the aftermath of mob attacks on “Muslims” at a beach resort south of Sidney, told the media, “I don’t believe Australia is a racist country.”

Gangs of up to 5,000 young white men, assaulted what they perceived as Lebanese men, women and children, chanting, “We grew up here, you flew here,” and wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Ethnic Cleansing Unit.”

Up until 1970, Australia officially had a “whites only” immigration policy, and Howard has used the “threat” of Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants to pass a draconian mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers. Asylum applicants have been locked up on an island prison, where conditions are crowed and grim. A number of asylum candidates sewed their lips together to protest their inability to speak with immigration authorities.

As part of his campaign to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria, Howard claimed that immigrant “boat people” were throwing their children into the sea. The charge was later proven false.

Howard has also refused to apologize to Australia’s Aborigines for the way they have been treated since the British first established a penal colony on the subcontinent. More than 90 percent of the native population was wiped out, many by disease, some by design. Entire bands of Aborigines were executed for stealing sheep. Aborigines were also exposed to nuclear tests during the 1950s. They are still seeking redress from both the Australian and the British government for radiation poisoning and elevated cancer rates.

At the time of the riots, Howard was attending a conference of Asian countries in Malaysia. He told the press, “People will not make judgments on Australia based on incidents that happen over a few days.”

The opposition Labor Party, however, said, “The key challenge for Mr. Howard is not to pretend that this doesn’t affect the way in which the world sees Australia. It does. Images of the riots are being beamed across the world.”

The Geographically Inappropriate Metaphor Award goes to an unnamed Special Operations officer for the U.S. military’s European Command who described the Bush Administration’s $500 million program to fight “terrorism” in the Sahara Desert as “draining the swamp.”

Poor Babies Award goes to 62 percent of 500 U.S. families with an average of $26 million in liquid net assets who feel they are “under assault” in the media. A study by the Worth-Taylor Harrison Survey also found that 69 percent of the families felt they were portrayed badly.

(What is this domestic item doing in Dispatches? Since most capital is international, this passes muster. But in any case, who could resist?)

Jim Taylor, a co-director of the survey, said “They [the families] perceive the media to be dominated by images of indulgent and criminal wealth—from Donald Trump to Paris Hilton to Bernie Ebbers,” adding, “They have really strong feelings about the extent to which they are under assault.”

Life is a vale of tears.

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