War: May 2004 Archives

Mars, God of War Velázquez

Over the last 200 years the United States has "used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes" 241 times, according to research done at the Library of Congress. I have added the number of conflicts since 1993, when the data was collected by the Department of the Navy. The report cautions:

The instances differ greatly in number of forces, purpose, extent of hostilities, and legal authorization. Five of the instances are declared wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican War of 1846, the Spanish American War of 1898, World War I declared in 1917, and World War II declared in 1941.
The fact that only five of these actions were legally-authorized wars is hardly reassuring.

Even if we choose to deny our warlike character, the rest of the world cannot. This nation, which even now numbers less than 5% of the world's population, feels it necessary and justified to regularly attack people around the world in the name of its own security. Even when we are not at war or in attack mode, we're right out there. The United States "owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories."

On Memorial Day just ended, our de facto Commander in Chief declared, apparently with a straight face, "Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly because we have known the costs of war."

Gone to war reluctantly? We go to war at the drop of a hat. Known the costs of war? Unlike the war experience of virtually every other nation on earth, that of these United States has only been in other peoples' backyards.

Ours is the most warlike nation on earth, and perhaps in all of history.

[image from Art Renewal Center]

I heard part of a broadcast on public radio yesterday, reporting that a small American town was memorializing, for the first time since the Viet Nam War, a combat death of one of its young citizens. As earlier wars fade from our memory, these are the ones which remain - to haunt us.

On a day when we are remembering the casualties of so many American wars, the loss of hundreds of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice for the values we believe our society represents, it is beyond tragic to think about these last two major conflicts. They were both huge follies. The Iraq War is increasingly recognized as perhaps more crime than folly. But our leaders say it must still continue.

If we were wrong in putting them out there in the first place, how can we tell them to stay there now?

Twenty-three years after he first asked it, Senator Kerry's question is still not being answered. How do you ask someone to be the last to die for a mistake? Unfortunately Kerry himself is no more forthcoming than the administration whose wars he voted for, and his position sounds something like this: Keep going, but crank it up harder, and get everyone in the world to just go along with it.

While we can talk about the failings of those who sent Americans to Viet Nam or Iraq, nothing can diminish the nobility of those who fell there. And nothing must compromise the support we owe to those currently in danger in the Middle East. Cheer them, give them what they need to survive, but bring them home. Finally, we must ensure that they are honored.

We have failed them. We must not compound the error, regardless of our excuses.

Like all great hearts, they are more dear to us all when they aren't dead.

Let's just bring the heroes home upright this time.


This is one of a group of works by Brian Belott [who shows at Canada] lining the gallery's entrance ramp of the White Box show, "Majority Whip," which closed yesterday. Closed, but not to be forgotten, since we can expect to see its children throughout this New York summer, and far beyond.

On Wednesday night, a clutch of Billionaires for Bush managed to crash an enthusiastic gathering of somewhat less-monied and decidedly un-Bush artists and activists in the gallery:


Is the NYTimes about to admit it's largely responsible for sending the country into an immoral and disastrous war?

See this story which arrived via Cursor tonight.

Sources inside and close to the New York Times say that the newspaper is preparing an "Editors' Note" that will reassess its pre-Iraq War coverage, particularly its coverage of weapons of mass destruction. The note is said to address the reporting failures of Times staffers, including Judith Miller, and could be published as early as tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26).
So how will they propose to make the world whole now? As Barry pointed out, and with no little acerbity, remembering the last Times "Editors' Note," this ain't just another Jayson Blair!

Will the Washington Post be next? See this Washingtonian article, also sighted on Cursor.

Chalabi has been a political activist in exile for most of his 59 years, and for many of those years the Post has trumpeted and championed his causes. In some ways, Chalabi is a creation of the Post and to a lesser extent the Times, where Judith Miller relied on him as a source in reporting on weapons of mass destruction.
Ah, those sneaky notoriously-Leftwing, Eastern-Establishment media giants have been at it again, pushing their pinko internationalist agenda onto peace-loving Americans across the land, through the halls of the Capitol and into the White House itself.

UPDATE: The "Editors' Note" now [11:30 pm Tuesday] appears on the Times site and will appear in all editions on Wednesday. It doesn't begin to describe the scale of the newspaper's failures, and while it barely touches the subject of moral guilt the geopolitical consequences of those failures is missing altogether.


[Barry spotted this image of Jake Gyllenhaal, which is courtesy of the ACLU and arrives via uffish and black sheep]

UPDATE: See below for the announcement that the sentencing has been stayed.


"Can they imprison us for political protest?" We're about to find out, right here in Gotham.

Yesterday New York City closed down 5th Avenue for the benefit of a group of people wishing to demonstrate American support for Israel. On Wednesday the same city will be sentencing, quite possibly to prison terms, another group of people who briefly closed down the same Avenue last year. Their wish? They hoped to demonstrate oppositon to what America is doing in the Middle East, including its support for the Israeli government's murderous policy.

Four defendants have already been convicted of "blocking traffic," but they will hear their sentences read Wednesday morning. The prosecution team is calling for jail time, based on several protest cases previously dismissed and sealed by the courts. All current charges, as well as the past charges which were supposed to have remained hidden, involve non-violent protest. The District Attorney has cited the four advocates' history of advocacy with AIDS/Queer/Abortion/Police Brutality activism as reason for harsh sentencing, thus officially criminalizing political protest.

It has been decades since New York courts have even tried to argue that such defendants should serve time. If the move is successful this week, the long-term implications for political dissent will be horrendous. But the short-term consequences are surely the agenda of this district attorney, this police commissioner, this born-again-Republican mayor and the administration in Washington he hopes to impress. This is an election year, we are in the midst of a costly and increasingly unpopular war, and we are just now entering an anxious, hot summer which will climax in a massive political rally conducted by a failed, deceptive, radical regime which was imposed upon a world it has horribly wounded. The stakes are very, very high.

Our support of a better way, a better world, is needed this week. Our presence inside and outside of the courtroom will help these four courageous activists and of course it will help us all, including countless people who will never hear about their sacrifice or our modest witness. Please come to the Manhattan Criminal Court Building just east and a few blocks north of City Hall on Wednesday morning, May 26, at 9 am for the 9:30 am sentencing. The address is 100 Centre Street, Room 533.

For photographs and more information, including that on the fate of the 12 defendents sentenced earlier, see the M26 site.

UPDATE (Monday, May 24, 6:35 pm)


Late today it was announced that the sentencing, originally scheduled for May 26, has been stayed, pending an appeal for review of a petition by the four against Supreme Court Justice Cataldo and the District Attorney of Manhattan (on the issue of the unsealing of dismissed cases). This means that they will appear again in court at a date in July at the earliest.

Do not show up this Wednesday; there will be nothing happening there on this case at that time.

Friends of the convicted activists are asking instead for help in finding lawyers who would want to file a brief on this case. The case is expected to be very important in establishing both political and legal precedent for all kinds of defendants.

Those who know lawyers who might be interested in this important case are asked to contact Jonathan Kirshbaum at [phone number deleted].

Even those who are not close to lawyers can help with the legal fees and fines associated with the case. Contributions of all sizes can be made through paypal on the M26 site.

[image, of the March 26 protest, by Fred Askew on the M26 site]


The Nation has just published an editorial [unfortunately available on their website only to subscribers] which would be devastating in its implications if we were part of a healthy democracy. In this excerpt the editors write that the evidence of our chief executive's crimes which is now available to the public is unambiguous.

The President has known for more than two years that his Administration has been pursuing policies that could qualify as war crimes under federal and international law. In a January 25, 2002, memo, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President of "the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act," a federal statute. He advised Bush to invent a legal technicality--declaring detainees in the "war on terror" to be outside the Geneva Conventions--which, he said, "substantially reduces" the chance of prosecution. Gonzales went further, telling the President that the war on terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners"; he pooh-poohed concerns that abandoning the Geneva standards might endanger US troops.

Let's be clear about what this means: Gonzales was urging--and the President adopted as policy--an end run around federal laws. The War Crimes Act, passed by Congress in 1996, allows criminal prosecution of Americans for actions that violate the rights granted prisoners and civilians by the Geneva Conventions and for "outrages upon personal dignity." It is backed by the full range of federal penalties, up to and including the death penalty. And all treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and the Torture Convention, are likewise the binding law of the land.

. . . .

The evidence emerging from Abu Ghraib reveals high crimes and misdemeanors in the precise sense of the Constitution's impeachment clause.

But, since it's not about a blow job, and since this kind of charge is just far too embarassing to address, both parties will probably just ignore the whole thing.

[image from liftingthefog.com]


Some day this entire wretched adventure may be known as the "War of Chalabi's Chutzpah," rivalling the stupidity of another disastrous imperial obscenity which began with a fake casus belli, the "War of Jenkin's Ear."

Newsday seems to have something of a scoop today [has anybody heard from the NYTimes these days, except to hear it mouth Washington's pieties?], reporting that our own Defense Intelligence Agency has decided that Chalabi, the man the Administration had expected to install as Sadaam Hussein's successor, had duped his Pentagon paymasters in order to get the U.S. to attack and occupy Iraq.

But the report gets still more incredible. Chalabi was working in the interests of Iran all along, meaning that Bush has been working hard for a prominent member of the "Axis of Evil." Could the theocrats in that unfortunate land be any more grateful to the Republican Party? Remember Iran-Contra as this latest treason unfolds.

WASHINGTON - The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

The Information Collection Program also "kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing" by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The program has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.

An administration official confirmed that "highly classified information had been provided [to the Iranians] through that channel."

The Defense Department this week halted payment of $340,000 a month to Chalabi's program. Chalabi had long been the favorite of the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Intelligence sources say Chalabi himself has passed on sensitive U.S. intelligence to the Iranians.

Patrick Lang, former director of the intelligence agency's Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi's U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation. "They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to," he said.

'Sophisticated' operation

He described it as "one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history."

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work," he said.

I can appreciate good work too. Those of us who oppose this Administartion with every fiber of our being could hardly have imagined that such a damning scenario might unfold in the media, triggered and abetted by top civilian and military officials in the U.S. government, some of them certainly Republican. I already knew it would be a very interesting year, but I thought we'd probably have to do all of the work ourselves.

[image by Michael Shaw, from BAGnews]

(not that he's going to notice)

SLACKTAVIST was there first, months ago.

"Reagan's Bind" describes the conundrum in which one is unable to explain or defend one's actions except by ascribing them to either: A) malicious intent; or B) glaring stupidity and/or incompetence.
Today Mark Morford brings us up to date:
It is [also] the eternal Bush conundrum. How to appear sort of blank faced and ignorant of the true atrocities your administration commits so as to avoid any sort of direct accountability, and yet still pretend to be a savvy, aware, tough-guy leader who gets things done and takes no bull and launches unprovoked wars on anything that stands in the way of his dad's portfolio.

After all, it has always been far too easy to smack BushCo around as being an aww-shucks dumb-guy AWOL simpleton daddy's boy with a low-C average and a painfully inarticulate approach to the world, coupled with an astounding, world-famous ability to mangle both the English language and every foreign policy ever implemented.

It's always felt like a bit of a grand ruse, Bush's Forrest Gump-style dunderheadedness, a clever (if entirely plausible) way to deflect much of the responsibility for his regimes's carnage, all designed to make the nation believe that this guy simply couldn't be all that bad because, well, he just ain't all that bright.

But, ironically enough, as far as the Abu Ghraib mega-scandal is concerned, Bush has dug his own hole. It is his very own bull-headed, infantile, stay-the-course, admit-no-mistakes, bomb-first-ask-questions-never approach that has caged him in and makes any move toward getting the U.S. out of the Iraq quagmire nearly impossible. It's not the sign of a dimwit. It's the sign of a dimwit with delusions of shrewdness. Which is, of course, far more dangerous.

. . . .

Maybe Bush is stupid in a way that is far worse, and far more dangerous for the health of this planet, than mere inarticulate, nonintellectual, semiliterate Texas cow-pie bumbling.

It is, in short, the stupidity of the indignant and the self-righteous, of the morally arrogant, of someone whose power base is threatened and yet who is still blindly forcing America down this nightmare path, even when all signs and all leaders and all U.N. councils and all weapons investigators and all flagrant U.S.-sanctioned rapes and tortures are veritably screaming in his face that it is a mistake of increasingly epic, treacherous proportions.

And so maybe, ultimately, it all comes back to us. Maybe it is the majority of people in this flag-wavin', happily deluded, fear-drenched country who can't believe it could happen, who simply, you know, "misunderestimated" just how poisonous Bush's savage brand of stupidity really is.

[image from leafpile]

holy turf: 250,000 attend a papal mass in Central Park in 1995

The title above the image is a direct quote from the editors of the New York Post, supporting the application of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) for a permit to rally in Central Park on the eve of the Republican Convention.

I can't remember ever getting excited (in a good way) by an editorial in the sad sheet which I no longer think of as a newspaper but rather a political and economic screed for its owner, Rupert Murdoch. Maybe it's an aberration, but today the old thing published a real editorial again. Could it be that the son, Lachlan, isn't just a pretty face?

The editorial appeared April 30 and while it is no longer available on their site, this is the complete text:


A gaggle of lefty agitators wants to convene in Central Park this summer to
give President Bush a little grief. But the Parks Department says no,
because they might bend the grass.

Well, too bad about that. "Keep Off The Grass" appears nowhere in the First

United for Peace and Justice applied for a rally permit for the park's Great
Lawn for Aug. 29, the opening day of the Republican National Convention.

The Parks folks said no on Wednesday, citing possible damage to the lawn.

And, sure - it is a great lawn.

But it happens to belong to the people of New York City.

If it were in Boston, it would be called the Common - a space set aside by
law and tradition for the vigorous expression of political opinion.

And if the lawn is harshly used, the solution seems clear enough: Plant a
new lawn. Grass seed is cheap.

We hold no brief for the views of United for Peace and Justice; indeed, the
War on Terror is meant precisely to secure peace and justice for Iraqis - as
well as guarantee for Americans the right to demonstrate peacefully in

No matter what some groundskeeper-cum-bureaucrat in City Hall thinks.

In lead editorials today both the NYTimes and El Diario joined the Post in coming out strongly in support of the Central Park permit, and the Times cautions the Mayor about any attempt "to declare Manhattan to be a no-free-speech zone during convention week."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg lobbied hard to attract the Republican convention to New York this summer. Now it's coming, and with it swarms of protesters. The city is obliged to offer hospitality to both the conventioneers and the demonstrators.

. . . .

In this era of highly scripted conventions, the protests outside the convention hall may offer the most authentic political discourse of the week. When the nation watches what happens in New York during the convention, we want everyone to fully appreciate the glories of the city, and the way it has come back from the disaster of 9/11. But viewers also need to see a New York that is and always has been a place in which political expression is valued and protected.

The march and rally organizers themselves are broadcasting the widest possible invitation for what will be a massive, extraordinarily important expression of dissent. Part of an email from UFPJ's Bill Dobbs, where I first learned about the Post editorial:
August 29! Mark your calendars and come on down to NYC, say NO to George W.
Bush's empire-building and war-making. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)
is organizing a not-to-be-missed protest for Sunday, August 29th, a
curtainraiser for the Republican National Convention which begins the
following day. There will be lots more protest during the convention, from
Monday, August 30 through Thursday, September 2.
New York needs your bodies, your voices and your creativity that week, but it's for the sake of the entire world.

[image from CNN]

"race" trumps all once again

Luc Sante writes in the NYTimes today that he had trouble recalling any American precedent for the prison photos we have seen come out of Iraq this month, until he remembered similar triumphal faces and gestures in photographs taken in the first half of the last century.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib are trophy shots. The American soldiers included in them look exactly as if they were standing next to a gutted buck or a 10-foot marlin. That incongruity is not the least striking aspect of the pictures. The first shot I saw, of Specialist Charles A. Graner and Pfc. Lynndie R. England flashing thumbs up behind a pile of their naked victims, was so jarring that for a few seconds I took it for a montage. When I registered what I was seeing, I was reminded of something. There was something familiar about that jaunty insouciance, that unabashed triumph at having inflicted misery upon other humans. And then I remembered: the last time I had seen that conjunction of elements was in photographs of lynchings.

Note: Up to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested "by mistake," according to coalition intelligence officers cited in a Red Cross report.

[late 1930's Indiana image from Do or Die]

as in "dead as a ____"

In a real parliamentary democracy the fact that at this moment the first five headlines* of the normally comfortably-establishment news service, Reuters, are about the "abuse" scandal and the plumeting public support for both the war and for Bush would be a signal that the collapse of the government is imminent.

But here it's not so exciting. Here we are apparently all just helpless spectators.


1.) U.S., Britain, Seek to Contain Iraq Abuse Scandal
2.) Poll: Bush Job Rating Dips, Support for War Down
3.) Bush's Backing of Rumsfeld Shocks and Angers Arabs
4.) Bush Shown Iraq Abuse Photos, Again Backs Rumsfeld
5.) Red Cross Was Told Iraq Abuse 'Part of the Process'

[image from Global Change 2]

Of course he's not accepting personal responsibility, but he's also not even apologizing for his occupying army, the country (or anything or anyone else); he's merely saying vaguely, he's sorry about it. But wait, read the full context of the word "sorry," which he uses twice in his own report of what he told King Abdullah:

"I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," the Republican president said during a Rose Garden appearance with the Jordanian monarch.

"I told him I was equally sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."

If Bush is "apologizing" for American misdeeds here, he's also "apologizing" for the ignorance of all who aren't Americans. The latter is both an insult and an impossibility, and it makes the first statement meaningless.

He's too stupid too realize it, but he's just effectively shouted out once again, and this time not just to Iraqis, but to everyone in the world who is already unhappy with what our monstrous political, military and economic establishment has come to represent for them, "Bring them on!" We have no defenses for what will follow.

Ashraf Abu-elhaje, shown here in the childrens' theatre of the Jenin refugee camp in 1996, was its most impressive student. At the time he dreamed of a future as the “Palestinian Romeo.” Six years later Ashraf led a large group of fighters in the battle of Jenin. He was killed by a rocket fired from a helicopter.

We went to see "Arna's Children" at the Tribeca Film Festival yesterday afternoon. It is the only TFF program we expect to see, so it's clear we had already thought it was important before we knew a great deal about it. We had heard of it through an email sent by the generous Israeli artist, filmmaker and activist Udi Aloni, who had extended an invitation to gather with others for a reception in his studio after the screening.

ARNA'S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna comes from a Zionist family and in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis. On the West Bank, she opened an alternative education system for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. The theatre group that she started engaged children from Jenin, helping them to express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear. Arna's son Juliano, director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin's theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. Now, he goes back to see what happened to them. Yussef committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin, Alla leads a resistance group. Juliano, who today is one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years ago, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

We stayed in the theatre for the generous Q&A which immediately followed the film. Only when the lights went up did we notice that Jeffrey Wright and Glenn Close were also in the audience. We were impressed with their commitment, whether professional or human, but not more than we were with the fact that the festival director was there. Peter Scarlet is responsible for this very large operation showing a number of films simultaneously in widely-spread venues, but he was there to announce the picture and stayed with the filmmakers throughout the discussion after, eventually participating in it.

Even for people who think of themselves as pretty familiar with the issues and the reality of the subject of this magnificent documentary, the film was shattering, and the emotional experience was only made more distressing by a number of things we heard from the director and producers after. One of the revelations was that of all the little boys who had grown up working with Arna in her theatre group, only one survives today.

We were both made physically sick by the emotions tapped that afternoon, and we agreed together that we were unable to imagine going anywhere at that moment, even to be among people who would understand what we were feeling.

There is almost certainly no reason to think that the insanity and horror being visited upon "the other" in the Middle East will end in our time. Films like this may occasionally awaken hope that, were enough people able to see it, the revelation of the humanity and misery of our victims would be sufficient to make us all intelligent peacemakers. This film could change the world, but, except for the incredibly small number already pretty much aware of what's going on, people will not see it. If we survive our times, "Arna's Children" may some day be seen in the same way we see the evidence of other monstrosities, like "The Diary of Anne Frank" - after the fact, but with great reverence.

I'm very sorry, but I see no reason to be optimistic about the possibility that the people of this country or of its client Israel will regain consciousness and reason in time to avoid even the destruction of their own societies, to say nothing of the mortal damage being done to those of others.

Ok, maybe I'm just depressed today. Ask me how I feel about it tomorrow.

[image from the Arna site]

This page is an archive of entries in the War category from May 2004.

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