Saturday, October 28, 2006

Election Season


What an October surprise
With Neocons caught in their lies
It’s even more funny
To follow the money
Of payoff to Power
From Florida’s flower
And Abramoff ‘s fling
To buy the West Wing
While a Puppet cuts his string
And the angels sing

The past week or two has seen severe unraveling of the Right Wing propaganda blanket. Despite some ludicrous attempts to blame the unacceptable behavior of Mark Foley on Democrats including Bill Clinton, the facts are clear that Foley used his position to thumb through pages to the point of instant messaging when he should have been voting. Susan Ralston, Rove’s aide, resigned when it became obvious that she and Abramoff had good seats for the best events. Even the venerable “Stay the Course” mantra was sharply demoted when Bush and crew suggested that it doesn’t mean what you think it means. Introduction of “benchmarks” seems to be a prelude to “stride and hide” if not “cut and run.” Al Malaki, the puppet, objected and threatened to cut his strings. Cocaine Brain personally went on the stump for Don Sherwood, who paid a settlement to a former mistress for choking her, saying that he was not trying to kill her. I guess that he is not a killer, but likes rough sex and deserves Bush support for his family values. I had to look twice to believe that Rep. Gibbons (R) of Nevada was caught choking a woman outside a bar in Las Vegas. The woman made 3 calls to 911 and then dropped charges. Maybe Gibbons was testing the emergency system for Homeland Security.

All this has a serious side, however, because it causes us to take our eyes off the tragedy that is Iraq and the fact that we are today organizing a naval exercise in the Persian Gulf that has the obvious potential to draw Iran into a fight instead of talking with our enemies there and elsewhere. Meanwhile, our national reputation for torture is promoted by Cheney’s remarks on dunking detainees as a “no-brainer.” We have a lot of work to do whether these losers lose at the polls or not. No laurels. No gloating. Win at the polls and then roll up your sleeves to put our nation on a road to positive change. Redeploy and rededicate our military to national defense. End the waste, fraud and abuse of outsourcing our logistics in Iraq. Destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Return our right of habeas corpus at home.
George Giacoppe
28 October 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Scott Ritter on Democracy Now’s Oct. 16, 2006 radio broadcast made what should be considered a critical observation. He pointed out that in the runup to the war with Iraq, and now in what he sees as a similar runup to war with Iran, the Bush administration has publicly accused a Middle East nation of having secret programs to build, store and deliver Weapons of Mass Destruction. No certifiable evidence is offered of either nation’s possession of such weapons or the programs to build them. Iraq and Iran are simply accused, with the U.S. President, Vice-President and Secretary of State repeatedly asserting that U.S. intelligence has "proof" of the violations in question. Ultimatums follow: unless the accused can provide satisfactory "proof" to the contrary, they will suffer dire consequences. In Iran’s case, for example, no amount of protestations that their acknowledged nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes will suffice. United States officials repeat the accusations at every opportunity, insisting that Iran prove its innocence.

This pattern is notable for two reasons. First, the target nation is expected to prove a negative. In Iraq’s case, this was virtually impossible. No amount of evidence by IAEA weapons inspectors (who were, in fact, allowed to inspect Iraqi facilities) and former inspectors like Ritter was able to counter the "proof" the Bush administration claimed to have of hidden weapons. In its view, Iraq had the opportunity to build such weapons, American intelligence agencies were unanimous about its activities, and therefore Saddam Hussein and his henchmen were guilty—which, of course, they proved not to be.

Second, United States policy with regard to "suspect" entities is alarmingly consistent, even as far back as World War II. That is, the above procedure for attacking suspect nations is mirrored by what happens to suspect individuals. Individuals, singly or in whole groups, are targeted because of their affiliation with nations and/or ideologies with which the United States is in conflict. Individuals in the group are then arrested and accused of being, or potentially being "dangerous." The fortunate among them are given the opportunity, or more precisely, the requirement to "prove their innocence." If they cannot, they are incarcerated in some form of internment facility for the duration of the alleged crisis.

During World War II, for example, 600,000 Italian immigrants not yet U.S. citizens were designated as "enemy aliens" by Presidential Proclamation on December 8, 1941. This made them all suspect. Enemy aliens could be arrested for violating a series of restrictions, including movement beyond a 5-mile limit, possession of "contraband" such as short-wave radios, cameras, flashlights or weapons of any kind, and not carrying the required pink booklet identifying them as alien enemies. Their homes could be searched and they could be deported without further authority. But this was only the beginning. Those among them who had been targeted as "potentially dangerous" by the FBI in the years preceding the war were summarily arrested in the days following Pearl Harbor. The Department of Justice offered them hearings before special three-person hearing boards, at which they were expected to "prove their innocence" or face internment for the duration of the war. But these hearings were not conducted according to normal rules of American jurisprudence. The detainee was not told the charges against him or allowed to see any evidence. He or she was not allowed to face any accuser or have a lawyer examine witnesses (no witnesses came forth in any case; accusations were made in secret). The arrestee was allowed to "prove" his innocence only by asserting it, and by offering affidavits of loyalty from employers, friends and relatives. If the evidence did not convince the hearing board, the person’s danger to the public safety was assumed, and the Attorney General issued a formal order of internment. More than 3000 enemy aliens of Italian descent were arrested in this way, and between 300 and 400 interned for the duration.

Ezio Pinza, at that time the first bass at the Metropolitan Opera, was one of those who endured this ordeal. Arrested on March 13, 1942 at his home in Larchmont NY, he was booked at the courthouse in Foley Square, and then detained at Ellis Island. So distraught was he by this humiliation that at his first hearing, and completely in the dark about why he stood accused, he was unable to mount a cogent defense. In spite of letters from the likes of Nobel-prize-winning novelist Thomas Mann and Carlo Tresca, the most prominent anti-fascist of his time, Pinza was ordered to be interned. Pinza’s wife, Doris, however, refused to accept what she knew to be a gross injustice. She mounted a campaign to get her husband a second hearing, and, after five days in the Attorney General’s office, succeeded. With Pinza’s lawyer now able to determine, on the basis of questions at the first hearing, what some of the charges amounted to (the most egregious was the allegation that, in the Met’s Saturday morning radio broadcasts, Pinza had been subtly altering the tempo of his singing to send secret messages to Mussolini), the singer this time mounted a well-reasoned defense, and was paroled.

Years later in his autobiography (Ezio Pinza: An Autobiography, New York: 1958), Pinza wrote pointedly about the plight of the person deprived of his rights:
To understand the full gravity of my situation, you must bear in mind that the Bill of Rights, not always applicable to U.S. citizens in time of war, is nonexistent so far as an enemy alien is concerned. In being summoned to a hearing, he is presumed guilty until he can prove his innocence and he is expected to answer charges of which he is kept in ignorance. It is up to him to refute detractors whose identity and allegations are withheld from him, and to show that his release is not inimical to the best interests of the United States. This at a time when he has no way of knowing whether the evidence he offers is to the point or is utterly irrelevant. (p. 211)

Presumed guilty until he can prove his innocence. As every American schoolchild knows, this completely reverses the fundamental basis of American law—that every accused person must be presumed innocent unless and until he is proven guilty. With regard to individuals whose birth makes them members of suspect groups, however, this cardinal assumption does not apply.

Neither does it apply to American citizens caught in the same net. Yet another program imposed on those of Italian birth during World War II was the one targeting naturalized citizens. Immune from the internment program applicable only to non-citizens, these Italian Americans were targeted by an Army-run program which exiled these "potentially dangerous" individuals from vast coastal areas where it was feared they might commit sabotage or espionage. Several dozen of Italian descent were forced to leave their homes and move inland. Fortunately, Attorney General Francis Biddle disagreed with this program and commissioned the Department of Justice to do a study of its effects and value. Its conclusions, made in a 1943 DOJ report, were stunning. For the most part, the study found, American citizens were targeted for pre-war ethnic affection for their countries of origin. Further, most were removed from areas where opportunities to spy and commit sabotage were minimal, to areas where such opportunities were far greater. The report concluded with a damning indictment of the constitutional violations inherent in the exclusion orders, especially focusing on the term "potentially dangerous:"

Practically, the use of phrases such as this suggests that those who use them hold the view that a subject of an exclusion case must be excluded unless it is clear that there is no reason to exclude him. This is analogous to saying that the burden of proof is on the excludee, although the excludee, of course, cannot meet the burden, since he is not advised of the charges against him. (Preliminary Report on Study of Individual Exclusion Cases, Dept. of Justice, Alien Enemy Control Unit, August 16, 1943, p. 28)

This is the office of the Attorney General of the United States condemning the very procedure at issue here: prove that you are innocent. Innocent not just of action, but of intention; indeed, of being who you are. Though one would like to think that such a condemnation, sixty years ago during a fierce global conflict, would have offered an indelible lesson never to be forgotten by those in government, it did not.

Thus, in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, we saw the same negative assumptions being made about Americans of Middle Eastern and/or Muslim origin. Thousands were visited by the FBI, arrested, detained and eventually deported. According to a recent article by Martha Mendoza ("One Man Still Locked Up From 9/11 Sweeps," AP, 10/14/06, reprinted on, over 1200 Arab and Muslim men were rounded up, with hundreds of individuals who were not terrorists, nor associated with terrorists… temporarily taken into city, county and federal custody. They were caught in their bedrooms while they slept, pulled from the restaurant kitchens where they worked, stopped at the border, even federal offices where they had gone to seek help.

Even now, one is still being detained. Ali Partovi, a man who "is not charged with a crime, not suspected of a crime, not considered a danger to society," sits in a detention center in Arizona, unwilling to be deported to his home nation of Iran, seeking asylum which the United States apparently refuses to give, and trying to get justice by suing the U.S. Government over beatings and other tortures he claims to have suffered during his detention. Like most of those arrested in those dark days after 9/11, Partovi was arrested not for terrorism or anything like it; he and most others were jailed, and then deported for immigration violations. As Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch puts it in the Mendoza article:

"Those 1,200 were taken in on pseudo-immigration charges. It really is a black mark on the U.S. and it undermines our intelligence gathering because it creates distrust between law enforcement officials and communities where those officials should be building rapport and trust."

In the end, that undermining of trust may prove to be the bottom line. Even aside from the Constitutional violations suffered by those who are arrested and held on the flimsiest of pretexts, and then forced to prove the negative of those pretexts, there is the question of effectiveness. This is especially true when such methods are applied to nation states. If the United States comes to be seen as a nation that simply acts on the basis of wild presumptions, in the absence of definitive evidence, refusing all information to the contrary in order to "justify" its pre-emptive detentions and invasions, the distrust that Daskal mentions will continue to grow and poison every international forum. Protestations by U.S. leaders about our commitment to democracy and liberty will come to be seen, justifiably, as simply cover stories to hide the true, and truly nefarious ambitions of empire—to subjugate, control and exploit as many of the planet’s people and resources as possible.
Copyright 2006
Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nukes, North Korea, and Nausea

The news has elicited protests from leaders worldwide, from the UnitedNations Security Council, and of course from our President: North Korea,that charter member of the "Axis of Evil," on Sunday October 8 defied allthe world and tested a nuclear weapon. Predictably, President Bushre-asserted his longstanding threat: North Korea cannot be allowed to becomea member of our nuclear club.
Despite the fact that no one in his right mind would welcome a NorthKorea (or any other nation) armed with weapons of mass destruction, thecontext of this latest gambit in nuclear gamesmanship, historical, politicaland hypocritical, must be given its due. To begin with the massive hypocrisyinvolved, it is necessary to remember that several U.S. "allies" in the explosive Near and Far East also possess nukes‹with our blessing. Pakistan,India, and little Israel‹none of whom signed the nuclear non-proliferationagreeement which North Korea is accused of violating‹all have nucleararsenals. So the lesson here is a grim one: signing the nuclearnon-proliferation agreement puts a nation at a disadvantage relative tothose nations which simply thumb their noses at the international community.This lesson cannot have been lost on North Korea, or on Iran. Neither canthe lesson that developing nuclear weapons works wonderfully to discouragepre-emptive strikes by the United States‹witness the example of a now-brokenIraq. The historical hypocrisy is even more extreme. Americans would do wellto remember what happened during World War II, when the first atomic bombswere developed. Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's recent biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, American Prometheus, provides stunning details of this history. First of all, nuclear scientists like Oppenheimer, Fermi and others were persuaded to work on developing this ultimate weapon because of the fear that Hitler's scientists would invent it first, and use it to enslave the world. This rationale for the bomb evaporated even before Nazi Germany surrendered in 1945: intelligence proved that German scientists were noteven close to developing a deliverable weapon. Instead, however, theAmerican military pushed development even harder so they could use the bomb on Japan.
Here is where American Prometheus disabuses us of the commonnotion that the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima to Ĺ’saveAmerican lives that would have been lost in a huge American invasion ofJapan.¹ Rather, we learn that Ĺ’Magic¹ intercepts of Japanese communications indicated that Japan's leaders knew the war was lost, and were desperately searching for a way to surrender. Moreover, even finding a target for the ultimate weapon was proving difficult. This is because Japan's major cities and military targets had virtually all been destroyed by firebombing: "On the evening of Mar 9-10, 1945, 334 B-29 aircraft dropped tons ofjellied gasoline--napalm--and high explosives on Tokyo. The resultingfirestorm killed an estimated 100,000 people and completely burned out 15.8square miles of the city. The fire-bombing raids continued and by July 1945,all but five of Japan's major cities had been razed and hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians had been killed." "The fire bombings were no secret." ("The Logic of Mass Destruction," inKai Bird and Lifschultz, eds., Hiroshima¹s Shadow, pp. 55-57, as quoted inAmerican Prometheus, p. 291. ) Necessity or no, the American military selected targets and pushed forward with plans to use the Bomb. Horrified by such irrationality, several scientists, including Leo Szilard and Oppenheimer himself, kept trying to persuade the Truman administration to refrain from using the bomb, thus proving that the United States was truly interested in keeping a lid on such a cataclysmic weapon. Under the guidance of Nobelist James Franck, scientists prepared a report for the President concluding that a surprise attack on Japan was inadvisable from any point of view, especially because: "It may be very difficult to persuade the world that a nation which was capable of secretly preparing and suddenly releasing a weapon as indiscriminate as the [German]rocket bomb and a million times more destructive, is to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having suchweapons abolished by international agreement." (p. 297)The report recommended instead a demonstration of the bomb's power before the UN, and was sent to the President. It never got to him. The WarDepartment secretly seized the report, and had it classified. The dismayed scientists were then told that an invasion of the Japanese mainland was necessary and inevitable. What they were not told was the real reason for using the bomb was the imminent entry of Russia into the Pacific war. President Truman knew this, knew of Japan's desperation to surrrender, knew that the Russians would be entering the war on August 15 and that anAmerican invasion couldn't take place until at least November 1, and knewthat even General Eisenhower felt the use of the bomb unnecessary because the Japanese were done for. But Truman and his Secretary of State, JamesByrnes, were determined to use the bomb and end the war before Russia entered. As Byrnes later explained, " was ever present in my mind thatit was important that we should have an end to the war before the Russians came in." On July 18, 1945, Truman wrote the same thing in his diary:"Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in." (Truman, Off the Record, pp. 53-54.). And on August 3, Walter Brown, a special assistant to SecretaryByrnes, wrote in his diary, "President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes] agreed Japs looking for peace. Presidentafraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country likeSweden." (all cited in American Prometheus, p. 301).
All the world knows what happened next. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and another on Nagasaki two days later. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were vaporized. And what we now know is that this first and only use of nuclear weapons amounted to nothing short of a terror bombing of innocent civilians designed to, first, impel Japan to surrender immediately, second, keep the Russians from entering the war and sharing in the victory, and third, leave the Russian leaders in nodoubt as to who was now top dog on the planet.
Given all this, no sane person can observe the belligerent U.S. threats continually aimed at North Korea and Iran and not be sickened by a) the growing danger of nuclear proliferation and annihilation now facing the world, and b) the bottomless hypocrisy of the United States in condemning smaller nations for daring to develop weapons that it alone has everused‹weapons that we now know were not needed to save lives in a putativeinvasion of Japan, but rather to impress a rival with our new-foundstrength. More chilling still, that weapon was dropped not on a military target, but rather on a prostrate and already terrorized civilianpopulation. Most nauseating of all, while our President prattles on about the danger to Americans of North Korea's test, he is at the same time makingit far more likely that it will be the United States which, with its new nuclear posture review, will once again be the first to employ new, nicely-miniaturized nuclear weapons on other humans.
Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Alternate to Cut and Run

What’s your Plan, man?
You seem so upset
Do you think you can
With our blood and sweat
Take Iraq to the top
With your photo-op?

There has been considerable talk of redeployment of our forces in Iraq. I hope that this essay drafts a concept that demonstrates that there are options other than “stay the course.” While I agree with critics that we are between Iraq and a hard place, we need to develop alternatives while there is still enough of our military and financial resources to create workable options. Time is critical because we are wearing our military thin through revolving assignments into a meat grinder. I will focus on future actions that can be exercised rather than the mistakes of the past three years, but in doing so, I will offer reasons for changing course rather than blindly hoping for new outcomes on old ideas.
First, we need to acknowledge that things in Iraq are not going well and we need to fire the Lincoln Group that we recently rehired to produce and distribute optimistic propaganda in Iraq for Iraqis. Iraqis are on the ground and see what is happening. Contrary propaganda by Lincoln merely annoys Iraqis and makes them think that either we are liars or that we are so stupid that we do not see the chaos around us in Iraq. That is not trivial. We essentially have a civil war in progress and doing chin-ups on defining the exact level of civil war is not productive. In fact, it slows the process for changing our strategy and tactics.
Next, we need to isolate the battlefield. Given this civil war, the entire country is the battlefield, with the possible exception of Kurdistan. Most of Iraq is mired in violence and ineffective security, energy, water, schools, courts and economic viability. Isolating this battlefield is no small order. We need to screen the long borders with Saudi Arabia from where the majority of the 9/11 aircrews came. We need to meter the flow of the ancient trade routes from Syria and Jordan to staunch the flow of foreign fighters. We need to stop the traffic with Iran, even if there are Iraqis (like Ahmed Chalabi) that want the traffic. Once we effectively isolate the battlefield and use advanced surveillance techniques to detect and respond to violations, we can call upon Iraqis to help patrol their own borders. This provides real military missions for them that do not compromise tribal or religious loyalties with the possible exception of co-opted Shiite militia that cannot be expected to control their eastern border with Iran. The longer term solution of promoting nationalism instead of sectarian or tribal loyalty requires training Iraqis out of country where they can learn to work with one another in a way similar to the way we train new soldiers away from home in federal enclaves (like Ft. Benning) where facilities are secure and no ambient wars are competing for student attention. I propose that we establish training systems in Kuwait to achieve the neutrality that is not available in Iraq. All these actions require State Department involvement in the process of negotiating with powers within and bordering Iraq. Even the concept of “hot pursuit” needs State Department work rather than arbitrary action.
Next, we establish a major strike force and regional reserve in Kuwait. This requires a base to serve as a secure home for training and maintenance. Our military equipment is beat up and needs overhaul. Since we will be in the region for some time to come, it makes sense to conduct depot maintenance there instead of a complete retrograde to the Continental United States (CONUS). We need Special Forces and Special Operations capabilities throughout the region to lead the training and the initial contact teams for medicine and simple civil engineering tasks in areas away from Baghdad. This will establish an image of helping Iraqis to help themselves and may provide a start to the flow of intelligence that we need to separate insurgents from citizens. The strike force must be airmobile with heavier capabilities such as armor to sustain operations in the event that open warfare with armed militia or external forces occurs. This is the type of operation that we do well and yet the strike force must be kept razor sharp through training and rehearsals in Kuwait. This may mean that the strike force needs frequent rotation to avoid either complacency or over-training.
Next we must systematically eliminate corporate civilian support such as Halliburton/KBR as we build up military forces that have the dual capability of combat mission work and civil engineering, etc. KBR has provided contaminated water to our troops from 63 of its 67 water treatment facilities. That is not a combat multiplier but a combat divider that provided substandard water for above standard prices and still demands security forces. We have similar issues from the Bechtel Bridge that was over budget and never completed and the recent Parsons Company debacle where it was paid to rebuild barracks that now have to be destroyed because they are so unsafe and unsanitary with urine and feces flowing through ceilings onto soldiers. Outsourcing has been a source of waste, fraud and abuse that needs to go.
Next, we need to move significant forces from inner city Baghdad to protect commercial and military airfields in order to preserve flexibility in movement. Plush appearances do not help us to identify with Iraqis who may feel that if we occupy Hussein’s palaces, that we are more like him than ourselves. Troops rotate home as troops with the new skills move into the country. In a year’s time, we should have bases established; Special Forces reconnecting the Iraqis with Americans on a lower profile basis. As they succeed, we can expand the feel-good, do-good projects by completing schools and hospitals that were promised and never delivered. We need to use Iraqi labor and military troops directly in the construction. This will provide economic help for Iraqis and may begin some trust of the American military. The troop numbers can decline significantly as Iraqis take responsibility for security, civil and economic projects. The only way to change the image of occupation is to remove troops as rapidly as possible while maintaining a strike force that will serve as an emergency combat force. There is an irony that the combat skills that gave us a rapid battlefield victory are unable to win the peace. Get over it and play by the new rules.
As I wrote this brief outline, I inhaled a little and recognized that it was long ago and far away in Vietnam that I last wrote an Administrative Order in combat. Detailed planning must be done and we have people in our military that excel at planning. They are good at what they do and even better when we assign them wisely and lead them well. Kuwait can be a staging area for both support and rotation home, but there are myriad other solutions if we start now before we destroy our forces and merely dig deeper trenches around Baghdad and run out of time.
I also thought that it might be the epitome of poetic justice, assuming that Saddam Hussein is found guilty, that he be given a life sentence to serve as President of Iraq without possibility of parole.
We could then leave and know that we provided adequate punishment for him.
George Giacoppe
1 October 2006