April 01, 2009

"Worse Than During The Taliban" Afghanistan

One of the talking points about the Afghan war has been that at least it's made things better for the women of Afghanistan. Not if they're Shiite. Telegraph:

President Hamid Karzai has signed a law the UN says legalises rape in marriage and prevents women from leaving the house without permission.

The law, which has not been publicly released, is believed to state women can only seek work, education or doctor's appointments with their husband's permission.

Only fathers and grandfathers are granted custody of children under the law, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

Opponents of the legislation governing the personal lives of Afghanistan's Shia minority have said it is "worse than during the Taliban".

Mr Karzai has been accused of electioneering at the expense of women's rights by signing the law to appeal to crucial Shia swing voters in this year's presidential poll.

While the Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women, it also allows the Shia community, thought to represent 10 per cent of the population, the right to settle family law cases according to Shia law.

The Shiite Personal Status Law contains provisions on marriage, divorce, inheritance, rights of movement and bankruptcy.

The bill passed both houses of the Afghan parliament, but was so contentious that the United Nations and women's rights campaigners have so far been unable to see a copy of the approved bill.

Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, a female MP, said the law had been rushed through with little debate.

She told the Guardian newspaper: "They wanted to pass it almost like a secret negotiation. There were lots of things that we wanted to change, but they didn't want to discuss it because Karzai wants to please the Shia before the election."

The Afghan justice ministry confirmed the law had been signed, but said it would not be published until technical difficulties had been overcome.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai would not comment.

"Would not be published until technical difficulties had been overcome." Please.

Selling out who knows how many thousands of women for the sake of an election. Beyond disgraceful.

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November 28, 2008

Afghan President Wishes He Could Shoot Down US Planes Afghanistan

How bad is it getting in Afghanistan? So bad that Hamid Karzai says he wishes he could shoot down US planes bombing Afghan villages. Calgary Herald:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday he would bring down U.S. planes bombing villages if he could, in a sign of growing tension between Afghanistan and its Western backers as the Taliban insurgency grows in strength.

As Western dissatisfaction with Karzai has grown over his failure to crack down on corruption and govern effectively, the Afghan president, facing elections next year, has hit back over the killing of dozens of civilians in foreign air strikes.

In recent weeks, Karzai has repeatedly blamed the West for the worsening security in Afghanistan, saying NATO failed to target Taliban and Al- Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan and calling for the war to be taken out of Afghan villages.

"We have no other choice, we have no power to stop the planes, if we could, if I could ... we would stop them and bring them down," Karzai told a news conference.

He said that if he had something like the rock attached to a piece of string, known as a chelak in Dari, used to bring down kites in Afghanistan, he would use it.

"If we had a chelak, we would throw it and stop the American aircraft. We have no radar to stop them in the sky, we have no planes," he said. "I wish I could intercept the planes that are going to bomb Afghan villages, but that's not in my hands."

Afghanistan has suffered its worst violence this year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, with at least 4,000 people killed, around a third of them civilians.

Despite the presence of 65,000 foreign troops backing 130,000 Afghan security forces, Taliban insurgents have grown increasingly confident in their traditional heartland in the south and east and have also extended their influence close to the capital, Kabul.

If that's what Karzai thinks, imagine what other Afghans must think.

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December 14, 2007

"Iraq Doesn't Exist Anymore" Afghanistan  Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

From an excellent interview with Nir Rosen:

Question: Is the "surge" working as Bush claims or is the sudden lull in the violence due to other factors like demographic changes in Baghdad?

Nir Rosen: I think that even calling it a surge is misleading. A surge is fast; this took months. It was more like an ooze. The US barely increased the troop numbers. It mostly just forced beleaguered American soldiers to stay longer. At the same time, the US doubled their enemies because, now, they're not just fighting the Sunni militias but the Shiite Mahdi army also.

No, I don't think the surge worked. Objectively speaking, the violence is down in Baghdad, but that's mainly due to the failure of the US to establish security. That's not success.

Sure, less people are being killed but that's because there are less people to kill.

The violence in Iraq was not senseless or crazy, it was logical and teleological. Shiite militias were trying to remove Sunnis from Baghdad and other parts of the country, while Sunni militias were trying to remove Shiites, Kurds and Christians from their areas. This has been a great success. So you have millions of refugees and millions more internally displaced, not to mention hundreds of thousands dead. There are just less people to kill.

Moreover, the militias have consolidated their control over some areas. The US never thought that Muqtada al Sadr would order his Mahdi Army to halt operations (against Sunnis, rival Shiites and Americans) so that he could put his house in order and remove unruly militiamen. And, the US never expected that Sunnis would see that they were losing the civil war so they might as well work with the Americans to prepare for the next battle.

More importantly, violence fluctuates during a civil war, so people try to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. It's the same in Sarajevo, Beirut or Baghdad — people marry, party, go to school when they can — and hide at home or fight when they must.

The euphoria we see in the American media reminds me of the other so-called milestones that came and went while the overall trend in Iraq stayed the same. Now Iraq doesn't exist anymore. Thats the most important thing to remember. There is no Iraq. There is no Iraqi government and none of the underlying causes for the violence have been addressed, such as the mutually exclusive aspirations of the rival factions and communities in Iraq. [...]

Question: The media rarely mentions the 4 million refugees created by the Iraq war. What do you think the long-term effects of this humanitarian crisis will be?

Nir Rosen: Well, the smartest Iraqis — the best educated, the professionals, the middle and upper classes — have all left or been killed. So the society is destroyed. So there is no hope for a non-sectarian Iraq now.

The refugees are getting poorer and more embittered. Their children cannot get an education and their resources are limited. Look at the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948 you had about 800,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and driven into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Over time, they were politicized, mobilized and militarized. The militias they formed to liberate their homeland were manipulated by the governments in the region and they became embroiled in regional conflicts, internal conflicts and, tragically, conflicts with each other. They were massacred in Lebanon and Jordan. And, contributed to instability in those countries.

Now you have camps in Lebanon producing jihadists who go to fight in Iraq or who fight the Lebanese Army. And this is all from a population of just 800,000 mostly rural, religiously-homogeneous (Sunni) refugees.

Now, you have 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, a million in Jordan and many more in other parts of the Middle East. The Sunnis and Shiites already have ties to the militias. They are often better educated, urban, and have accumulated some material wealth. These refugees are increasingly sectarian and are presently living in countries with a delicate sectarian balance and very fragile regimes. Many of the refugees will probably link up with Islamic groups and threaten the regimes of Syria and Jordan. They're also likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

They're also bound to face greater persecution as they "wear out their welcome" and put a strain on the country's resources.

They'll probably form into militias and either try go home or attempt to overthrow the regimes in the region. Borders will change and governments will fall. A new generation of fighters will emerge and there'll be more attacks on Americans.

Question: You have compared Iraq to Mogadishu. Could you elaborate?

Nir Rosen: Somalia hasn't had a government since 1991. I've been to Mogadishu twice. Its ruled by warlords who control their own fiefdoms. Those who have money can live reasonably well. That's what it's like in Iraq now — a bunch of independent city-states ruled by various militias — including the American militia and British militias.

Of course, Somalia is not very important beyond the Horn of Africa. It's bordered by the sea, Kenya and Ethiopia. There's no chance of the fighting in Somalia spreading into a regional war. Iraq is much more dangerous in that respect.

Question: Is the immediate withdrawal of all US troops really the best option for Iraq?

Nir Rosen: It really doesn't matter whether the Americans stay or leave. There are no good options for Iraq; no solutions. The best we can hope for is that the conflict won't spread....The civil war has already been fought and won in many places, mainly by the Shiite militias.

The Americans are still the occupying force, which means that they must continue to repress people that didn't want them there in the first place. But, then, if you were to ask a Sunni in Baghdad today what would happen if the Americans picked up and left, he'd probably tell you that the remaining Sunnis would be massacred. So, there's no "right answer" to your question about immediate withdrawal. [...]

Question: The US-led war in Afghanistan is not going well. The countryside is controlled by the warlords, the drug trade is flourishing, and America's man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has little power beyond the capital. The Taliban has regrouped and is methodically capturing city after city in the south. Their base of support, among disenchanted Pashtuns, continues to grow. How important is it for the US to succeed in Afghanistan? Would failure threaten the future of NATO or the Transatlantic Alliance?

Nir Rosen: Although the US has lost in Afghanistan; what really matters is Pakistan. That's where the Taliban and al Qaeda are actually located. No, I'm NOT saying that the US should take the war into Pakistan. The US has already done enough damage. But as long as America oppresses and alienates Muslims; they will continue to fight back. [...]

Question: The US military is seriously over-stretched. Still, many political analysts believe that Bush will order an aerial assault on Iran. Do you think the US will carry out a "Lebanon-type" attack on Iran; bombing roads, bridges, factories, government buildings, oil depots, Army bases, munitions dumps, airports and nuclear sites? Will Iran retaliate or simply lend their support to resistance fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Nir Rosen: I think it's quite likely that Bush will attack Iran; not because he has a good reason to, but because Jesus or God told him to and because Iran is part of the front-line resistance (along with Hizballah, Syria and Hamas) to American hegemony in the region. Bush believes nobody will have the balls to go after the Iranians after him. He believes that history will vindicate him and he'll be looked up to as a hero, like Reagan.

There is also a racist element in this. Bush thinks that Iran is a culture based on honor and shame. He believes that if you humiliate the Iranian regime, then the people will rise up and overthrow it. Of course, in reality, when you bomb a country the people end up hating you and rally around the regime. Just look at the reaction of the Serbs after the bombing by NATO, or the Americans after September 11. [...]

Question: Bush's war on terror now extends from the southern border of Somalia to the northern tip of Afghanistan — from Africa, through the Middle East into Central Asia. The US has not yet proven — in any of these conflicts — that it can enforce its will through military means alone. In fact, in every case, the military appears to be losing ground. And it's not just the military that's bogged down either. Back in the United States, the economy is rapidly deteriorating. The dollar is falling, the housing market is collapsing, consumer spending is shrinking, and the country's largest investment banks are bogged down with over $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt. Given the current state of the military and the economy, do you see any way that the Bush administration can prevail in the war on terror or is US power in a state of irreversible decline?

Nir Rosen: Terror is a tactic; so you can't go to war with it in the first place. You can only go to war with people or nations. To many people it seems like the US is at war with Muslims. This is just radicalizing more people and eroding America's power and influence in the world. But, then, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

There's a lot more in the original interview. It's worth reading in full.

One thinks of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed...

And one thinks of Humpty Dumpty. This particular Humpty Dumpty won't be put back together again any time soon.

None of this was necessary.

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March 12, 2007

Canadian Report: War In Afghanistan To Last For "Generations" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan

Afghanistan was supposed to be the easy one. A done deal. So how's that working out? ConsortiumNews:

Canadian lawmakers have written an Afghanistan version of the Iraq Study Group report, reaching a conclusion that the conditions on that original battlefront in the "war on terror" are grave and deteriorating.

The 16-page Canadian Senate report, entitled "Taking a Hard Look at a Hard Mission," foresees a conflict that could drag on for generations and might well fail unless NATO significantly increases its commitment of money and troops.

"It is in our view doubtful that this mission can be accomplished given the limited resources that NATO is currently investing in Afghanistan," said the report by the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. "The current NATO contingent doesn't have enough troops to go toe-to-toe with the Taliban."

Former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander told the committee that it would take five generations to "make a difference in Afghanistan," while Land Forces Commander Andrew Leslie estimated that it would take at least two decades to complete the mission. [Emphasis added]

Mission Accomplished. Bring 'em on. Last throes.

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May 27, 2006

Making Us Safer Afghanistan  Iran  Iraq  War and Peace

The International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual global security assessment says Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea threaten a "perfect storm" of simultaneous crises. Guardian:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the west's growing confrontation with Iran, and efforts to divest North Korea of its nuclear weapons are all approaching crucial turning points that could combine to create a perfect storm of simultaneous international crises, independent defence experts said yesterday.

Launching the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) annual assessment of global security threats, John Chipman, its director general, said: "Many parts of the world are engaged in brutal combat ... Overall, the dangerous triptych of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran continues to dominate the security agenda as do the wider, iconic problems of terrorism and proliferation." [...]

Dr Chipman said the new Iraqi government faced "fundamental challenges" that could quickly overwhelm its attempts to hold the country together and invite regional intervention. "It is doubtful that a collective sense of Iraqi nationalism can survive in a context of increasing sectarian violence and the continuing security vacuum. Democracy has exacerbated Iraq's ethnic and religious tensions, with voters largely dividing along Sunni, Shia and Kurdish lines." [...]

Presenting the report, entitled The Military Balance, Dr Chipman warned of a rising Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan aimed at British and Nato troops who are replacing some US forces. "This year will be crucial for Afghanistan as well as for Nato as it expands its mission into the south," he said. "The Taliban are likely to increase their operational tempo - not least because they know that casualties among European Nato states may mobilise domestic opinion against the war." [...]

The IISS said North Korea had obtained enough plutonium to build between five and 11 nuclear weapons and long-running talks to induce Pyongyang to disarm were at an impasse.

In an implicit criticism of Washington's policy of ostracism and financial sanctions, Dr Chipman said North Korea had concluded that "the Bush administration is not serious about negotiations and [has] hostile intent". [...]

The report also highlighted growing US concerns about China's military build-up and intentions, quoting the findings of the recent US Quadrennial Defence Review. It said China was "a power at a strategic crossroads that is still pointing largely in the wrong direction and which has the greatest potential to emerge as a military rival to the US". [Emphasis added]

Everything they're doing is making us less safe, not safer. Swat hornets' nests with baseball bats and then wonder why all the stinging: not exactly a sign of intelligence.

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March 02, 2006

Capturing Bin Laden 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Politics

In Afghanistan yesterday, Bush vowed that Osama bin Laden will be "captured and brought to justice." The FreewayBlogger replies:

Well put.

(See also this.)

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November 04, 2005

Dicked Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff when Powell was Secretary of State, recently caused a flap by saying that US foreign policy had been hijacked by a "cabal" centered on Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Yesterday, Wilkerson went further, saying Cheney's office was the source of directives that led to torture abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Cheney ran his own shadow NSC that spied on the official NSC. IHT:

Vice President Dick Cheney's office was responsible for directives that led to U.S. soldiers' abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a former top State Department official said Thursday.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.

"The secretary of defense under cover of the vice president's office," Wilkerson said, "regardless of the president having put out this memo" - "they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we've seen."

He said the directives contradicted a 2002 order by President George W. Bush for the U.S. military to abide by the Geneva conventions against torture.

"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said.

The directives were "in carefully couched terms," Wilkerson conceded, but said they had the effect of loosening the reins on U.S. troops, leading to many cases of prisoner abuse, including at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, that were contrary to the Geneva Conventions.

"If you are a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things," Wilkerson said, because troops will take advantage, or feel so pressured to obtain information that "they have to do what they have to do to get it."

He said that Powell had assigned him to investigate the matter after reports emerged in the media about U.S. troops abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both men had formerly served in the U.S. military [unlike Cheney].

Wilkerson also called David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, "a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions."

On Monday, Cheney promoted Addington to his chief of staff to replace I. Lewis Libby, who has been indicted over the unmasking of a CIA agent.

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending e-mails when they found out Cheney's staff members were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the United States needed many more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Billmon likes to refer to the White House as "the Cheney Administration". Looks like that's a whole lot more than just a figure of speech. And now Cheney has replaced Scooter Libby with a man who thinks the Geneva Conventions don't apply to President Bush. What is happening to this country?

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October 08, 2005

Friendly Fire 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

Football star Pat Tillman quit the NFL to enlist in the elite Army Rangers after 9/11, served in the Iraq invasion, and was ultimately killed fighting in Afghanistan. The Army said he died a hero's death, awarding him a Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion. In fact, he was killed by friendly fire — and the Army knew it at the time — and yet the medal citations included "a detailed account of the alleged battle (which the Army knew had never taken place)."

Tillman's death came when the Bush administration needed a hero: the Abu Ghraib torture scandal was about to break. Tillman's funeral was nationally televised, and the Pentagon PR machine built him up as the ultimate American hero, a man who walked away from the pinnacle of professional sports to fight and heroically die in the War on Terror. Ann Coulter, mimicking Nazi rhetoric as only she can do, gushed that Tillman was "an American original — virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be."

A recent San Francisco Chronicle story, however, reveals that in life Tillman was a much more complicated man:

Interviews...show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author. [...]

...Tillman’s unique character...was more complex than the public image of a gung-ho patriotic warrior. He started keeping a journal at 16 and continued the practice on the battlefield, writing in it regularly. (His journal was lost immediately after his death.) Mary Tillman [Pat's mother] said a friend of Pat's even arranged a private meeting with Chomsky, the antiwar author, to take place after his return from Afghanistan — a meeting prevented by his death. She said that although he supported the Afghan war, believing it justified by the Sept. 11 attacks, "Pat was very critical of the whole Iraq war."

[Spc. Russell] Baer, who served with Tillman for more than a year in Iraq and Afghanistan, told one anecdote that took place during the March 2003 invasion as the Rangers moved up through southern Iraq.

"I can see it like a movie screen," Baer said. "We were outside of (a city in southern Iraq) watching as bombs were dropping on the town. We were at an old air base, me, [Pat's brother] Kevin and Pat, we weren't in the fight right then. We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f**king illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush."

Another soldier in the platoon, who asked not to be identified, said Pat urged him to vote for Bush's Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry. [My emphasis]

At least three investigations have purportedly looked at Tillman's death, but the results are full of contradictions, omissions, and constantly changing testimony. See the SFC article for details. One excerpt:

One soldier dismissed by the Rangers for his actions in the incident submitted a statement in the third investigation that suggests the probe was incomplete: "The investigation does not truly set to rest the events of the evening of 22 April 2004. There is critical information not included or misinterpreted in it that could shed some light on who is really at fault for this," he wrote.

Noam Chomsky confirms that he was to meet with Tillman upon Tillman's return. Imagine the PR disaster for the White House and the Pentagon if their hero had returned and publicly stood with Chomsky in outspoken criticism of Bush and Bush's war in Iraq.

All we know for sure is that Tillman was killed by "friendly fire", but as The Chronicle notes:

...[T]he medical examiner's report said Tillman was killed by three bullets closely spaced in his forehead...

Whatever the true facts of his death may have been beyond that, this much is clear: Tillman wasn't the White House's hero or the Pentagon's hero. As Dave Zirin writes in The Nation, Pat Tillman was, if anything, our hero. The real Pat Tillman, however, was erased, transformed into a cartoon image that is the complete opposite of the real man.

The very definition of Orwellian.

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August 31, 2005

"War On Terror" Costs Top World War I 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq

Despite the relatively small number of soldiers involved, the Iraq-Afghanistan war has already cost the US more, in constant dollars, than World War I.

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August 08, 2005

CIA Commander: US Let Bin Laden "Slip Away" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq

This Past Peak post from over a year ago presented evidence that the US intentionally allowed Osama bin Laden to escape capture in Afghanistan.

Newsweek's August 15 issue contains new evidence. It reports that the CIA field commander at Tora Bora says that Bin Laden was within the US's grasp there and was allowed to "slip away", in Newsweek's words. Excerpt:

[I]n a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders [knew] that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora — intelligence operatives had tracked him — and could have been caught. "He was there," Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was."

In his book—titled Jawbreakerthe decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen's lawyer, Roy Krieger. (Berntsen would not divulge the book's specifics, saying he's awaiting CIA clearance.) That backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a "strategic disaster" because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members. Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora "was not necessarily just the number of troops." [My emphasis]

Why would the White House and Pentagon want to allow bin Laden to escape? If bin Laden had been captured in December, 2001, the administration never could have sold the Iraq war to Congress and the American public. As we know from a number of sources, the administration was determined to invade Iraq even before 9/11. But as an American official said back in November, 2001, "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured." It's all been a treasonous charade.

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July 06, 2005

Afghanistan Violence Increasing 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan

Despite a more than doubling of the number of US troops in Afghanistan, the security situation there is deteriorating. More US troops were killed there in the first six months of this year than were killed in all of last year. Boston Globe:

This year has been the deadliest for US troops in Afghanistan since war began in late 2001, as more American soldiers have died than in each of the previous three years, according to military figures.

The statistics signal that well-armed Taliban and Al Qaeda militants holed up in caves, tribal villages, and craggy peaks along the border with Pakistan will remain a threat to the new Afghan government for years and require US troops, now numbering 18,000, to remain indefinitely, according to regional specialists.

In the first half of this year, at least 54 Americans lost their lives, compared with 52 in all of last year, according to official statistics reviewed by the Globe. [...]

Many of the recent US deaths have been caused by more deadly improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that also have been the weapon of choice for insurgents targeting American troops in Iraq, according to US commanders. Six Americans were killed by such bombs last month alone. [...]

"The upsurge is disturbing," said James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the government-funded Rand Corp. and President Bush's former special envoy to Afghanistan. "It is surprising. People thought the trends were more favorable. It suggests that the US is not going to be able to phase out any time soon or significantly reduce its troop presence."

Indeed, with national elections planned for September, senior Pentagon officials say they are considering a temporary increase in US forces to respond to recent attacks on the new Afghan government and a series of brazen assaults on US military forces. [...]

Also, in a three-day assault that ended Friday, 25 people were killed when Taliban fighters attacked two police stations and a nearby village in southeastern Afghanistan, the spiritual heartland of the former ruling Taliban regime, including nine tribal elders, the provincial governor in Uruzgan province told the Associated Press.

In the first year of the US occupation, the United States maintained a military presence of only about 8,000 troops; it now has 18,000 troops and has expanded the number of patrols and community reconstruction teams to more remote areas where the Taliban is believed to operate. [...]

Still, military officers, aid workers, and Afghan officials agree that "the fact is that there is more violence," said Robert M. Perito, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, who returned from Afghanistan last week.

"The overriding story I heard is that the security is worse this spring than it was a year ago," Perito said. "There are more attacks and they are better organized, more lethal, and widespread."

The use of more deadly methods of attack have US commanders worried. "There is one that we see a little bit troubling," Lieutenant General James T. Conway, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Unit, told reporters in Washington on Thursday. "And that is the increased presence of IEDs. I think if you charted it over time, you would see more attacks tied into IEDs than perhaps we had over the last six to 10 months." [...]

This year is already the deadliest for US troops. Before 52 troops died last year, 47 soldiers were killed in 2003 and 43 in 2002. From October to December 2001, 12 US military personnel were killed. [My emphasis]

The article doesn't say so, but one suspects that the increased effectiveness of IEDs in Afghanistan results from the adoption of tactics and methods perfected in the "laboratory" of Iraq. Further proof that the Iraq war is making us less safe, not more.

How many Americans know that the number of US fatalities in Afghanistan has increased every year since the US invasion in 2001?

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June 22, 2005

Oh Fer Two Afghanistan

Stan Goff, formerly of the US Army Special Forces, and author of Hideous Dream and Full Spectrum Disorder, writing for FTW (subscription required):

Though you'd never know it from the American press, for the last three months, the per capita rate of American military casualties in Afghanistan has exceeded that in Iraq, making Afghanistan stand out as the other victory-turns-to-defeat story in the region. [My emphasis]


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May 20, 2005

NYT: Widespread Prisoner Abuse At Bagram Afghanistan

The New York Times today reports on a confidential 2000-page Army file detailing prisoner abuse by US soldiers in Afghanistan. Excerpt:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. [...]

Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated. And many of the officers and soldiers interviewed in the Dilawar investigation said the large majority of detainees at Bagram were compliant and reasonably well treated.

Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.

Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show. [My emphasis]

It's a long article. Read the rest here, if you have the stomach for it.

Remember when being an American was something to be proud of?

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January 23, 2005

Holes In History Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

The Bush administration lies about so many things, it's hard for them to shock one anymore. We have, for example, their recent announcement that they're calling off the search for WMD after having found exactly zero weapons, despite the fact that Bush himself said, before the war:

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. [My emphasis]

But reading Peter Singer's The President of Good and Evil, I came across a couple of real whoppers: two important episodes that have been deleted from history, with the result that our ideas of the events leading up to the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq are significantly distorted.

First, Afghanistan. On September 20, 2001, Bush used the occasion of his post-9/11 speech to a joint session of the Congress to issue an ultimatum to the Taliban. He ordered them to hand over Bin Laden and al Qaeda. He said that if they didn't, "We'll attack them with missiles, bombers and boots on the ground."

If you're like me, you have the general impression that the Taliban stubbornly — and foolishly — refused. Not so, says Singer:

The reader of [Bob Woodward's] Bush at War might assume that the Taliban never responded at all. But in reality Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, asked the US government to provide evidence of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the events of 9/11, and indicated that if this was done, he would be willing to hand bin Laden over to an Islamic court in another Muslim country. (This proposal was later softened to a requirement that the court have at least one Muslim judge.) There was also a suggestion that the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of more than fifty Muslim countries, should be consulted. Finally, there was an offer to meet with US officials. The request for evidence of bin Laden's involvement...was surely a reasonable one, in accord with normal requests for extradition. The US would itself insist on evidence before handing someone within its borders over to another nation wishing to put him on trial for a capital offense. Yet the request, and the proposal for a meeting, appear to have been totally ignored...[which] indicates that the intention behind the ultimatum was...to provide an excuse for going to war.

Before he even gave his ultimatum speech, Bush told Tony Blair that he intended to attack Afghanistan with the "full force of the US military" with "bombers coming from all directions." The ultimatum was merely a fig leaf.

The second, similar episode concerns Iraq. Prior to the US invasion, Bush once again issued an ultimatum, this time to Saddam Hussein. Bush demanded that Saddam disarm and destroy his reputed WMD and prove to the world that he had done so. "History" shows that Saddam stubbornly refused and the US attacked.

Again, however, says Singer, a significant episode has been deleted from the historical record. Singer:

After the war was over, it became known that as the American buildup for war was reaching its peak, the Bush administration was informed by a Lebanese-American businessman that Saddam was willing to give the Americans much of what they wanted. The businessman had been told by the Iraqi chief of intelligence that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, and was willing to allow American troops to conduct a search. The Iraqis were also reportedly offering to hand over to the Americans a man wanted as a suspect in the 1993 attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. Most remarkable of all, they were pledging to hold elections. As a result of these overtures, Richard Perle, an adviser to the Department of Defense, flew to London to meet with the businessman. The businessman pressed for a direct meeting between Iraqi officials and Perle or another representative of the United States. Perle conveyed this message to officials in the Bush administration, but they rebuffed the Iraqi overture. According to Perle, "The message was, 'Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.'"

What is disturbing and exasperating — putting it mildly — is not just Bush's duplicity, it's the fact that no one in the major media sees fit to set the record straight. To this day, administration voices are able to claim, with no fear of contradiction, that Saddam refused to cooperate with inspections and violated UN resolutions, leaving the US with no choice but to act, when the reality is that in both cases, Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush was determined to go to war and wouldn't take yes for an answer. It was naked aggression, pure and simple.

Everything else is just fog.

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October 22, 2004

100 Damning Facts 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics  Rights, Law

As a kind of follow-up to the previous post (below), here's a list of 100 damning facts about the Bush administration, as compiled by The Nation.

This is what's been happening down here in the real world.

[Thanks, Mom]

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October 13, 2004

Postcard From Kabul Afghanistan

The Nation's Christian Parenti on the Afghan election:

Despite a large voter turnout in Kabul and other major cities, the presidential election in Afghanistan has been a farce. Instead of Taliban violence, the balloting was besieged by a wave of fraud and technical errors. [...]

[T]rouble began...when voters found that the indelible ink used to mark their thumbs and prevent repeat voting was washing off. This, combined with the proliferation of fake voting cards, meant that many people were able to cast votes multiple times.

"I voted three times," said an Afghan solider guarding the presidential palace. "But I can't tell you who I voted for, it's a secret," he added with a straight face.

"I saw a man vote six times, I swear," said a female election observer at a poll across town. A few Western journalists watched as their drivers voted three and four times. [...]

On top of that, there were numerous allegations of intimidation. One presidential candidate claimed that his observers saw the police in Kabul telling people to vote for Karzai.

"This is very disappointing," said a woman named Naseema. "We all wanted a fair election and good government."

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Parenti had this to say:

For example in the province of Khost, the local commanders told village elders that they had to vote Karzai or their houses would be burned down and what not. And in a province in the central highlands where I was, a local commander told the village elders that they should vote Karzai or they should not expect any protection from him. Human Rights Watch documented these things.

So when I confronted Karzai with these things, he grew visibly irritated, and got extremely angry. He's actually quite unprofessional. And you know, rarely gets out of the palace. And it was a depressing spectacle to see him in action in a moment of stress. He didn't even, he, he's not, he presented a statesman-like in the U.S. press. But in action he's kind of like unhinged and inappropriate and he can't — he wasn't even admitting that there were technical errors with the voting.

Hardly ever gets out to face hostile questions, grows angry and unhinged when he does, cannot admit mistakes — sound kind of familiar?

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September 27, 2004

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught Afghanistan

According to a mind-boggling Washington Post article from March 2002, the violent Islamic extremism of Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and on into the Taliban years was reinforced by US-supplied schoolbooks for young children. Excerpts, with emphasis added:

In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.

The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

[The US is] wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence. [...]

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have repeatedly spotlighted [new] Afghan textbooks in recent weeks [in March 2002]. ...Bush announced during his weekly radio address that... 10 million [new] U.S.-supplied books being trucked to Afghan schools would teach "respect for human dignity, instead of indoctrinating students with fanaticism and bigotry." [No mention, however, that it was the US who supplied those books that indoctrinated students with fanaticism and bigotry.] [...]

Children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land mines, agency officials said. They acknowledged that at the time it ... suited U.S. interests to stoke hatred of foreign invaders. [...]

"The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the texts are even much worse," said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator who is a program coordinator for Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a Pakistan-based nonprofit.

An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages.

The military content was included to "stimulate resistance against invasion," explained Yaquib Roshan of Nebraska's Afghanistan center. "Even in January [2002], the books were absolutely the same ... pictures of bullets and Kalashnikovs and you name it."

The US has so much to answer for.

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September 08, 2004

Malaria Drug May Trigger Aggression In Elite Soldiers Afghanistan  Iraq  War and Peace

From UPI, a chilling article looks at the possibility that Lariam, an anti-malaria drug dispensed to US soldiers, may be causing “a startling pattern of violence and suicide by America's most elite soldiers.”

At least six Special Forces soldiers have killed themselves after taking the drug. Three of those soldiers first murdered their wives.

The DOD says Lariam is safe, and attributes the suicides and murders to other factors — stress, marital problems, etc. However, according to the article:

The psychotic behavior and suicides are particularly jarring because Special Forces soldiers are highly trained and psychologically vetted. An Army study in 2000 showed Special Forces soldiers produce more of a chemical in the brain that helps them cope with and recover from extreme duress.

"It's just antithetical to their whole practice of their craft to suddenly lose control, become depressed, paranoid, hallucinate and become suicidal," said Dr. Paul Ragan, associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former military psychiatrist. "You have to look for some exogenous factor, some outside factor, something new in the mix that will change how they've otherwise been able to operate."

Those deaths then raise concerns about the tens of thousands of soldiers who have taken Lariam during the war on terrorism — and about dozens of suicides and a handful of murders among troops while overseas or after returning home.

The article contains some chilling anecdotes.

I found the following to be especially disturbing:

This summer, a Navy doctor at a Pentagon treatment facility in San Diego has begun to diagnose service members with permanent brain-stem damage and fingered Lariam as the apparent culprit. One Special Forces soldier diagnosed with that permanent damage said Lariam has given him homicidal and suicidal urges.

"I can tell you from my own personal experience that it goes from zero to 100 very quickly," said this active-duty soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "You're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly. It's just a sudden thought it's the right thing to do. You'll get a mental picture, and it's in full color." [My emphasis]

He said that after taking the drug he attacked his wife and considered suicide for the first time.

This is pure speculation on my part, but it's hard not to wonder if there isn’t more to the story — if it’s possible that elite soldiers are, without their knowledge, being administered a designer drug tailored to supercharge their capacity to instantly mobilize aggression.

"It goes from zero to 100 very quickly. You're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly. It's just a sudden thought it's the right thing to do. You'll get a mental picture, and it's in full color."

Haunting words, in any case.

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September 05, 2004

Bob Graham Blasts Bush, CIA, FBI 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

The Miami Herald reports on a soon-to-be-released book by Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) [via Atrios]. Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee from June 2001 through the run-up to war in Iraq, and who's therefore in a position to know a few things, has extremely harsh words for Bush, the administration, the FBI, and the CIA.

For one thing, Graham says the Bush administration covered up direct ties between the 9/11 hijackers and agents of the Saudi Arabian government [my emphasis thoughout]:

Two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had a support network in the United States that included agents of the Saudi government, and the Bush administration and FBI blocked a congressional investigation into that relationship, Sen. Bob Graham wrote in a book to be released Tuesday.

The discovery of the financial backing of the two hijackers "would draw a direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia, and trigger an attempted cover-up by the Bush administration," the Florida Democrat wrote.

[Graham] makes clear that some details of that financial support from Saudi Arabia were in the 27 pages of the congressional inquiry's final report that were blocked from release by the administration, despite the pleas of leaders of both parties on the House and Senate intelligence committees. [...]

[Graham] oversaw the Sept. 11 investigation on Capitol Hill with Rep. Porter Goss, nominated last month to be the next CIA director. According to Graham, the FBI and the White House blocked efforts to investigate the extent of official Saudi connections to two hijackers.

Graham wrote that the staff of the congressional inquiry concluded that two Saudis in the San Diego area, ... who gave significant financial support to two hijackers, were working for the Saudi government. [...]

When the staff tried to conduct interviews in that investigation, and with an FBI informant ... who also helped the eventual hijackers, they were blocked by the FBI and the administration, Graham wrote. [It's one thing to block certain information from coming out in the committee's public report. It's another to prevent the committee from conducting interviews in the first place. Evidently there are things the administration does not want even the Senate Intelligence Committee to know.]

The administration and CIA also insisted that the details about the Saudi support network that benefited two hijackers be left out of the final congressional report, Graham complained.

Bush had concluded that "a nation-state that had aided the terrorists should not be held publicly to account,"' Graham wrote. "It was as if the president's loyalty lay more with Saudi Arabia than with America's safety."

Graham also says that the problem with pre-war intelligence on Iraqi WMD wasn't that the intelligence was wrong. The problem was that the story the administration and CIA were telling in public was a series of lies that contradicted their own classified internal assessments. I.e., they knowingly lied the country into war:

On Iraq, Graham said the administration and CIA consistently overplayed its estimates of Saddam Hussein's threat in its public statements and declassified reports, while its secret reports contained warnings that the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was not conclusive.

In October 2002, Tenet told Graham that "there were 550 sites where weapons of mass destruction were either produced or stored" in Iraq.

"It was, in short, a vivid and terrifying case for war. The problem was it did not accurately represent the classified estimate we had received just days earlier," Graham wrote. "It was two different messages, directed at two different audiences. I was outraged."

Graham says that the Bush administration pulled the plug on the Afghanistan war just four months after invading so they could shift resources to prepare for a war in Iraq. This was, of course, long before Congress had approved of such action:

Graham also revealed that Gen. Tommy Franks told him on Feb. 19, 2002, just four months after the invasion of Afghanistan, that many important resources — including the Predator drone aircraft crucial to the search for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders — were being shifted to prepare for a war against Iraq.

Graham recalled this conversation at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa with Franks, then head of Central Command, who was "looking troubled":

"Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq," he continued.

On George Bush:

He reserves his harshest criticism for Bush.

Graham found the president had "an unforgivable level of intellectual — and even common sense — indifference" toward analyzing the comparative threats posed by Iraq and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

When the weapons were not found, one year after the invasion of Iraq, Bush attended a black-tie dinner in Washington, Graham recalled. Bush gave a humorous speech with slides, showing him looking under White House furniture and joking, "Nope, no WMDs there."

Graham wrote: "It was one of the most offensive things I have witnessed. Having recently attended the funeral of an American soldier killed in Iraq, who left behind a young wife and two preschool-age children, I found nothing funny about a deceitful justification for war."

Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Sounds like a bunch of high Crimes and Misdemeanors to me.

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July 04, 2004

Afghanistan Before We Got Our Hands On It Afghanistan

This passage from Slavoj Zizek's Welcome to the Desert of the Real came as a surprise:

[U]ntil the 1970s — that is, prior to the time when the country got directly caught up in the superpower struggle — [Afghanistan] was one of the most tolerant Muslim societies, with a long secular tradition: Kabul was known as a city with a vibrant cultural and political life. [My emphasis] The paradox is that the rise of the Taliban, this apparent 'regression' into ultra-fundamentalism, far from expressing some deep 'traditionalist' tendency, was the result of the country being caught up in the whirlpool of international politics — it was not only a defensive reaction to it, it emerged directly as a result of the support of foreign powers (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA itself).

A Frankenstein of our own creation.

The "clash of civilizations" (Jihad vs. McWorld) schema is evidently an over-simplification. More accurately, there is a clash within each civilization, and these intra-civilization clashes do not play out in a vacuum. In particular, the US is more than willing to create and support the most extreme fundamentalist regimes to serve its other (primarily economic) interests.

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