Nicolas J S Davies

A collection of published articles and letters to policymakers regarding the crisis in United States foreign policy by Nicolas J S Davies.

Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Suspected war criminal leads U.S. forces in Afghanistan

Published by Online Journal and in the July/August edition of Z Magazine.

On July 22 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report called "No blood, no foul" about American torture practices at three facilities in Iraq. ( One of them was Camp Nama, which was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), under the direction of then Major General Stanley McChrystal. He was officially based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but he was a frequent visitor to Camp Nama and other special forces bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where forces under his command were based.

An interrogator at Camp Nama described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic dousing in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings. When he and other interrogators went to the Colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military's Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Colonel told them he "had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the international body charged under international law with monitoring compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and it therefore has the right to inspect all facilities where people are detained in a country that is at war or under military occupation. To hide prisoners or facilities from the ICRC or to deny it access to them is a serious war crime. But many U.S. prisons in Iraq have held "ghost" prisoners whose imprisonment has not been reported to the ICRC, and these "ghosts" have usually been precisely the ones subjected to the worst torture. Camp Nama, run by McChrystal's JSOC, was an entire "ghost" facility.

When the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq challenged U.S. authorities over military operations that were killing civilians in 2007, U.S. State Department officials informed them that "the U.S. government continues to regard the conflict in Iraq as an international armed conflict, with procedures currently in force consistent with provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention." The U.S. government can't have it both ways. If the U.S. is at war in Iraq, the Geneva Conventions apply. If the war is over and Iraq is a sovereign, independent country, then Iraqis have even greater legal protections under human rights laws like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq and the U.S. have both signed and ratified.

In fact, the Geneva Conventions are the minimum standards to which U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan must conform, and violations of the Geneva Conventions are war crimes punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the War Crimes Act in U.S. Federal Law. The War Crimes Act even provides for the death penalty if somebody dies as a result of a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Human Rights First's Command's Responsibility report documented 98 such deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the most serious punishment meted out for any of these crimes was a five month prison sentence, and no officer above the rank of Major was charged in relation to any of them in spite of the documented role of more senior officers and civilian officials in authorizing and then preventing the investigation of these crimes. (

Unfortunately, the potential charges against Lieutenant General McChrystal do not begin and end with torture. Under his command, the Joint Special Operations Command has been at the leading edge of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on "special forces", which operate opportunistically somewhere between regular military operations and the "covert" operations that the CIA's Clandestine Service has conducted since 1947. Many of JSOC's operations, like those of the CIA, involve criminal acts, including murder.

Regular military forces are clearly governed and protected by the laws of war, while clandestine CIA officers understand that their actions violate the laws of the countries where they operate and that they will be treated as criminals if they are exposed and arrested unless American diplomats can come to their rescue. But now the United States has about 40,000 "special forces", many of whom are being trained to conduct otherwise criminal operations against civilian targets, including assassinations, while enjoying the full support, equipment and training of the U.S. military.

An added attraction of "covert" operations to American policy-makers has always been that, by the very nature of these operations, the American press could be silenced with a quiet word to editors to prevent them betraying "national security" secrets. The media could then report only the official cover story, turning them into powerful co-conspirators in the propaganda component of these operations. Moving large numbers of nominally military operations into this shadowy world that is not just beyond public scrutiny but is deliberately misrepresented to the public raises disturbing questions that deserve serious investigation.

Military support for these operations does not make it legal to go into other countries and sneak around and kill people who may or may not be a danger to U.S. interests. U.S. military intelligence officers told the ICRC in 2004 that "between 70% and 90% of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake", but the secrecy surrounding "special operations" means that there is no similar estimate available on the proportion of innocent people killed in JSOC operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This entire development in American strategy has no legal basis, and killing people under these conditions is simply murder under the laws of most countries. As with other war crimes, the heaviest criminal responsibility lies with those who design and order these operations rather than with their subordinates who carry them out.

Which brings us back to Lieutenant General McChrystal and Afghanistan, but also back to Iraq. Seymour Hersh described in December 2003 how JSOC's teams in Iraq were trained in the arts of disguise and assassination by Israeli Mist'aravim assassins, who developed their expertise conducting similar operations in Palestine. ( President Bush publicly credited JSOC's assassination teams in Iraq with an instrumental role in the success he claimed for his escalation of the war in 2007 and 2008.

But there were plenty of other unacknowledged reasons for the reduction in violence in Iraq in 2008, most notably that the United States and its Iraqi allies were the perpetrators or instigators of most of the violence to begin with. The land-mines or "IED"s that inflicted so many U.S. casualties are by definition a defensive weapon. After an escalation of air-strikes - 640 in three months in the summer of 2007, and 110 per month through the first half of 2008 - U.S. forces finally pulled back to their bases and left the Iraqis to lick their wounds in the ruins of their country.

Once they got their time line straight and figured out that the Iraqi Resistance couldn't have been responsible for September 11th, many U.S. troops in Iraq quietly switched from "search and destroy" missions to "search and avoid", parking their Humvees in a safe place and trying to stay out of trouble. As Phil Aliff, who was with the 10th Mountain Division in Anbar province, told Dahr Jamail of Inter Press Service, "We decided the only way we wouldn't be blown up was to avoid driving around all the time." (

A bit higher in the chain of command, U.S. officers found bribery to be more effective than house raids and air-strikes in persuading the Iraqis to leave them alone. And Iraqi politicians finally gained the first glimmer of legitimacy by standing up to their American occupiers over the Petroleum Law and the Status of Forces Agreement. Tragically, now that Obama is back-loading troop withdrawals and wobbling on his commitment to end the occupation, the Iraqi Resistance is renewing its operations.

The decision to put Lieutenant General McChrystal in charge of the war in Afghanistan must be seen as an endorsement of "special forces" tactics like those that form part of the "surge" mythology on Iraq. You don't hire a hit-man to oversee a humanitarian relief project. But U.S. special forces have been conducting operations in Afghanistan for years, like the Specter gun-ship attack that killed 90 civilians in Azizabad last August according to U.N. and local officials, and these operations have only fueled resistance. It isn't difficult to imagine how the Afghans will respond to an expansion of JSOC raids killing local tribal leaders in Pashtun villages. They will unite as they did against the Russians to throw the invaders out of their country. The Northern Alliance, which the United States rescued from defeat in 2001, can't run the country and most of them don't even want to. They're quite happy selling or taxing opium from their new mansions in Kabul, and their soldiers are no more eager to go and fight in the Hindukush than they are to try and govern it.

Pashtun territory also includes a big slice of modern Pakistan, and American policy has undermined the historically fragile accommodation between the Pashtuns and the Pakistani government and army. The international border through the heart of Pashtunistan is a line drawn on the map by an Englishman, Sir Mortimer Durand, in 1893, and it is worth remembering why he drew that line in the first place. After two failed Afghan Wars, the British understood that the key to the security of that part of British India (now Pakistan) was to leave the Pashtun in peace and to maintain live-and-let-live relations with them. Those beyond the Durand Line and the Khyber Pass became part of officially independent Afghanistan, while those within the official borders of India, although nominally British, were still effectively independent in the absence of trouble, while tolerating the presence of British troops in garrison-towns like Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Both sides had learned to fear and respect each others' boundaries and understood that escalations of military force were in nobody's interest and should be kept to a minimum. This was the status quo that the British transferred to Pakistan in 1947, and which the United States has now placed in jeopardy, and with nothing realistic to replace it.

So, an escalation by JSOC and other "special forces" in Afghanistan will only result in exacerbating this spiral of violence, especially with the political fortunes of Obama and the Democrats wedded to this strategy. The Democrats are habitually terrified of appearing weak, and the Republicans are habitually unscrupulous in exploiting the moral weakness that the Democrats' fear of such accusations betrays. And the victims of all this weakness and unscrupulousness will be the oppressed women in their burqas; the Afghan children with their surprisingly Western features; these amazing people who have led their unique way of life in their mountain homes for hundreds of years, and who respond to foreign invaders exactly the way that most Americans like to believe that we would if the roles were reversed.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Caroline case and American drone strikes in Pakistan

Accepted for publication in Peace Review. Earlier versions published by Online Journal ( and in the May 2009 edition of Z Magazine.

In his first press conference as President on February 9th 2009, Mr. Obama attempted to justify continuing attacks by American Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan. These unprecedented air strikes have already killed at least 340 people, and continue unabated under the new U.S. administration. The United States Department of Defense has claimed that the attacks have killed leading figures in Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the dead and wounded have included many innocent men, women and children living peacefully in their own country. The nature of these attacks raises the specter of a new form of state terrorism: a global technological umbrella of airborne violence that can strike virtually anyone in any country based on secret rationales and suspicions that are beyond public scrutiny or accountability.

Obama explained that the goal of the attacks is to "root out safe havens for terrorists" in Pakistan. But Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi delivered a sharp protest to Ambassador Holbrooke the next day, warning him that the drone strikes are actually undermining Pakistan's own counter-terrorism strategy. This controversy is not taking place in a legal vacuum. American exceptionalist arguments have to be viewed in the context of established international law, which provides clear (and binding) rules on such "preemptive" strikes across international borders. The applicable rules are known as the principles of necessity and proportionality, and they were defined by the Caroline case, which stemmed from American popular support for an insurgency in Canada in 1837.

Following the American Revolution, Upper Canada (now Ontario) was largely settled by successive waves of immigrants from the United States. The migration began with about 7,000 United Empire Loyalists fleeing the Revolution, but these were followed by "late-Loyalists" attracted mainly by cheap land grants. The "late-Loyalists" eventually outnumbered the original Loyalists by about ten to one. The doubtful loyalties of this population led American Members of Congress to speculate that the annexation of Upper Canada to the United States would be a "mere matter of marching". But the British government understood the vulnerability of its Canadian possessions, and kept more troops on the Canadian border than anywhere else in the British Empire throughout the 19th century (including this writer's great-great-great-grandfather from 1841 to 1847). The United States eventually annexed more than half of Mexico, but none of Canada.

William Lyon Mackenzie emigrated from Scotland to Upper Canada, where he published a newspaper and won election to the Colonial Assembly of Upper Canada as a radical reformer, campaigning for Britain to delegate real power to Canada's Colonial Assemblies. After being twice expelled from the Assembly, he was elected the first mayor of Toronto in 1834, and re-elected to his Assembly seat. After his Reform Party lost the 1836 election, he lost patience with peaceful reform and began planning an armed rebellion.

In 1837, the British garrison in Toronto was sent to fight a rebellion in Lower Canada (Quebec), and MacKenzie took the opportunity to march on Toronto with a rag-tag army of 400 men, mostly farmers from the surrounding area. The British governor called out the local militia, and enough men answered his call to outnumber and defeat the rebels in a bloody battle at Montgomery's Tavern.

MacKenzie and 200 rebels regrouped on Navy Island in British territory on the Niagara River, and declared independence as the Republic of Canada on December 13th 1837. MacKenzie toured Buffalo and northern New York State, raising men and arms which were ferried over to Navy Island from Schlosser on an American steamer named the Caroline. The rebels brought over several cannons, and kept up sporadic fire on Chippewa, inflicting some damage and a few casualties.

On December 29th 1837, a British boarding party crossed the river at night in small boats and captured the Caroline at Schlosser, killing at least one American, Amos Durfee. The British cut the Caroline loose, towed her out into the current, set her on fire and left her to drift down the river. A contemporary newspaper depicted the fiery wreck tipping over Niagara Falls, but later research suggested that it broke up and sank before that. Two weeks later, the British attacked Navy Island and defeated the rebels, but demands for reform forced the British to grant Canada greater autonomy and led eventually to its post-colonial dominion status.

The passions aroused by the Caroline incident on both sides of the border brought Britain and the United States to the brink of war. Like the American drone attacks in Pakistan and the Israeli attack on Gaza, the Caroline incident raised the fundamental question of how a government can legitimately respond to cross-border fire or attacks by irregular forces that the government of the neighboring territory is failing to prevent. The British claimed the right to cross into American territory to conduct a "preemptive" military operation to prevent further men and arms reaching the rebels on Navy Island, while Americans universally viewed this as an act of war and a violation of American sovereignty.

President Van Buren sent Major General Winfield Scott to Buffalo to discourage Americans from joining further attacks on Canada, but Britain and the United States remained at a diplomatic impasse for more than four years. To complicate matters further, American authorities arrested a Canadian named Alexander McLeod who claimed to have taken part in the raid, and a court in New York State put him on trial for the murder of Amos Durfee.

But powerful interests in both countries were eager to resolve the dispute. British bankers wanted to invest in the United States, and American land developers wanted British capital. Important matters like the border of Maine and New Brunswick and the disposition of Oregon also remained unresolved due to the diplomatic stand-off. Finally, in 1842, the British government sent Lord Ashburton, a senior partner in Barings Bank, to Washington to negotiate with the new U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster. They exchanged several letters, and Ashburton eventually expressed his government's regrets for the incident based on a definition of the relevant customary international law that Webster had included in a letter to the British government in 1841. Webster's definition went as follows:

"(The U.S. Government) does not think that that transaction can be justified by any reasonable application or construction of the right of self-defence under the laws of nations. It is admitted that a just right of self-defence attaches always to nations as to individuals, and is equally necessary for the preservation of both. But the extent of this right is a question to be judged of by the circumstances of each particular case, and when its alleged exercise has led to the commission of hostile acts within the territory of a Power at peace, nothing less than a clear and absolute necessity can afford ground of justification.....

Under these circumstances, and under those immediately connected with the transaction itself, it will be for Her Majesty's Government to show upon what state of facts, and what rules of international law, the destruction of the Caroline is to be defended. It will be for that Government to show a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation. It will be for it to show, also, that the local authorities of Canada, even supposing the necessity of the moment authorized them to enter the territories of The United States at all, did nothing unreasonable or excessive; since the act, justified by the necessity of self-defence, must be limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it. It must be shown that admonition or remonstrance to the persons on board the Caroline was impracticable, or would have been unavailing; it must be shown that day-light could not be waited for; that there could be no attempt at discrimination between the innocent and the guilty; that it would not have been enough to seize and detain the vessel; but that there was a necessity, present and inevitable, for attacking her in the darkness of the night, while moored to the shore, and while unarmed men were asleep on board, killing some and wounding others, and then drawing her into the current, above the cataract, setting her on fire, and, careless to know whether there might not be in her the innocent with the guilty, or the living with the dead, committing her to a fate which fills the imagination with horror. A necessity for all this, the Government of the United States cannot believe to have existed.

All will see that if such things be allowed to occur, they must lead to bloody and exasperated war."

Webster's words defined what have since been recognized in international law as the principles of necessity and proportionality. His precise wording has been cited in subsequent cases, in particular the "necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation" and that the action taken "must be limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it." Perhaps most notably, the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg cited the Caroline case as an established legal precedent in rejecting the defendants' claim that Germany's invasion of Norway was an act of preemptive self-defense. The judges also rejected the claim that "Germany alone could decide...whether preventive action was a necessity, and that in making her decision her judgment was conclusive". The Tribunal ruled that this "must ultimately be subject to investigation and adjudication if international law is ever to be enforced."

The Caroline principles were also instrumental in the outcome of the Fur Seal Arbitration case in 1893. The United States had seized and confiscated fourteen British schooners that were illegally hunting seals in the Bering Sea. The British government protested and the two governments agreed to take the case to the international Tribunal of Arbitration. The British representative to the Tribunal, Sir Charles Russell, recounted the history of the Caroline case, and asserted that, on that basis, the only circumstances in which such aggressive acts of self-defense can be legitimate "are occasions of emergency...when there is no time for deliberation, no time for contrivance, no time for warning, no time for diplomatic expostulation. That is the very idea at the bottom of all these exceptional acts of self-defense or self-preservation."

Russell went on, " such a case as the present, where there was no such instant overwhelming necessity of self-defense, where there was time for device of means, where there was time for deliberation, where there was time for diplomatic expostulation and representation, is idle to try to treat this case as a case of necessary self-defence..." The Tribunal of Arbitration accepted his arguments and ordered the United States to pay $473,151.26 in compensation for the loss of the schooners.

On the other hand, there have been cases in which international bodies have ruled in favor of countries that took preemptive military action because they concluded that the conditions stipulated in the Caroline case had been met. Israel justified its raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976 to the U.N. Security Council entirely on the basis of the Caroline principles. Israeli Ambassador Herzog told the Council, "The right of self-defense...can be applied on the basis of the classical formulation, as was done in the well-known Caroline case, permitting such action where there is a "necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation."". Invoking the principle of proportionality,Herzog added, "...the means that were used were the minimum necessary to fulfill the purpose." The Security Council accepted his arguments and took no action against Israel.

Applying the Caroline principles to the American drone attacks in Pakistan, it is clear that President Obama is not faced with an "instant" or "overwhelming" necessity of self-defense. Like the danger that the rebels on Navy Island posed to Canada in 1837 or that an independent Norway posed to Germany in 1940, the danger to the United States from terrorists in the Hindukush mountains is not "instant" or "overwhelming" but relates, as President Obama suggested, to what they may do in the future if they are allowed to maintain "safe havens" there. Far from having "no moment for deliberation", the United States government has taken seven years since Bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda allegedly fled into Pakistan to develop and deploy a "choice of means" that it did not even possess at that time. As with Guantanamo, the tragic fact that the United States government has spent seven years and billions of tax-payers' dollars developing this illegal and deadly policy does not provide any legal justification for continuing it now. The American "necessity of self-defense" is neither instant nor overwhelming, and it has permitted ample time for deliberation and a broad "choice of means" that includes diplomacy, intelligence sharing and international co-operation between police forces. The present policy appears to fail not just one condition of Webster's necessity test but every single part of it.

Cases of illegal detention at Guantanamo, Bagram and CIA prisons have demonstrated that U.S. intelligence agents are often unable to distinguish terrorists from innocent civilians, even when they are shackled to the floor right in front of them and their mental capacity to resist interrogation has been methodically broken down by ruthless and sophisticated forms of torture. The drone pilots who fire missiles in Pakistan from computer terminals at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas operate at an infinitely greater remove from their victims and cannot possibly know for sure who they are firing at. Nellis AFB has been turned into a macabre casino, where grounded Air Force pilots gamble with the lives of unknown men, women and children on the other side of the world. Using consoles modeled on Xbox and Playstation video game systems, they consign their unsuspecting victims to "a fate which fills the imagination with horror" with the push of a button.

At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Rob Hewson, the editor of the arms trade journal Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, assessed the accuracy of U.S. "precision" weapons at 75-80%, meaning that another 20-25% miss their targets by at least 10 meters. The impression created by the U.S. Department of Defense and corporate media outlets that these weapons can be used to surgically "zap" one house in a civilian area without harming innocent people is therefore an artful blend of propaganda and science fiction. Even if the United States could somehow show a necessity for some sort of preemptive military action in Pakistan, the means it has chosen would appear to fail Webster's proportionality test by a very wide margin, to say nothing of more general prohibitions against the use of military force in predominantly civilian areas.

The remarkable thing about Mr. Bush's and now Mr. Obama's efforts to ignore the Caroline principles in their response to insurgency and terrorism is that these principles were originally formulated in that very context, as the history of the Caroline incident demonstrates. The argument that terrorism, which led to the establishment of these principles in the first place, has now rendered them obsolete or inadequate is a non-sequitur, and officials who make this argument are either tragically ignorant of history and international law or cynically intent on deceiving the public, or some combination of both.

In its recent report on terrorism, counter-terrorism and human rights, a panel convened by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and headed by former U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and President of Ireland Mary Robinson explained that the United States government has confused the public by framing its counter-terrorism activities within a "war paradigm". A legal state of war between nations, in which the laws of war apply, is quite different from the rhetorical use of the term "war", as in the "war on terror", the "war on drugs" or the "war on obesity", which does not provide a legal basis for indefinite detention, let alone torture or the illegal use of military force across international borders.

The ICJ Eminent Jurists Panel found that, "The US’s war paradigm has created fundamental problems. Among the most serious is that the US has applied war rules to persons not involved in situations of armed conflict, and in genuine situations of warfare, it has distorted, selectively applied and ignored otherwise binding rules, including fundamental guarantees of human rights laws." These "binding rules" and "fundamental guarantees" include the Caroline principles of necessity and proportionality, as well as the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.S. War Crimes Act and Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the entire body of international law governing war and human rights.

The ICJ panel concluded that, contrary to the claims of the U.S. government, the established principles of international law "were intended to withstand crises, and they provide a robust and effective framework from within which to tackle terrorism." Any effort to "root out safe havens for terrorists" in Pakistan must therefore be governed by the same principles of necessity and proportionality that U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster stipulated to the British government in 1841, and which have since gained universal recognition as binding customary international law. These principles require the United States to end its campaign of illegal drone strikes against Pakistan, and to find less dramatic and more effective means of tackling the crisis that its reliance on inappropriate military action has created and continues to exacerbate in that part of the world.

Recommended Readings:

Rogoff, Martin A. & Edward Collins. 1990. "The Caroline incident and the development of international law". Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol XVI:3.

Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights. 2009. Assessing Damage, Urging Action. Geneva: International Commission of Jurists.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Obama and the war on terror - the real thing

Published by Online Journal:

My brother gave me War on Terror, the boardgame for Christmas. It’s a world domination game like Risk, but with the added feature that players employ terrorists as well as conventional armies to attack each other. The real twist is that the terrorists can and usually do end up turning against the player who recruited them in the first place. As it says on the box, “Fight the terrorists. Fund the terrorists. Be the terrorists.” The game is a razor-sharp satire of the world according to Washington.

Barack Obama got War on Terror for Christmas too, but, unlike me, he got the real thing. Every day, as the Obama presidency begins, American weapons are blowing real people to bits -- men, women and children -- all over the world.

The so-called surge in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 provided cover for a massive escalation of U.S. air strikes. These were mostly in civilian areas and therefore illegal under international law, as the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq reminded U.S. officials. The climax of the campaign was 760 air strikes between June and September 2007, but it continued at full force into 2008, with about 110 air strikes per month through at least the first half of the year. In terms of devastation, Iraq remains the “central front in the War on Terror,” with a million dead and 5 million refugees.

U.S. Central Command’s numbers on air strikes in Iraq don’t include cannon or rocket fire by planes or helicopters, nor attacks by AC-130 Specter gunships operated by U.S. special forces. These modified cargo planes are equipped with machine guns, howitzers and every weapon in between “to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods” according to the U.S. Air Force web site. In other words, they cruise over and around targets, pouring a torrent of bullets and shells into them for as long as necessary to completely obliterate them. The United States has 13 of these planes operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. Incredibly, the Air Force touts their value in “urban operations.”

It was a Specter gunship that killed 90 civilians at Azizabad in Afghanistan in August 2008, according to U.N. and local officials. The U.S. initially denied killing civilians in that attack, but was forced to admit it had killed at least 33 civilians after American officials and journalists were confronted with cell phone video footage of the bodies of dead children. In Afghanistan, in the first week of the Obama administration, another American Special Forces attack killed 16 civilians in Garoosh in Laghman province, resulting in demonstrations in Kabul and an official protest by President Karzai. According to figures released by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies killed at least 472 civilians in 2007 and 577 in the first eight months of 2008. Considering the geography of Afghanistan and based on the results of studies in other war-zones, these numbers from passive reporting probably represent only 5 percent to 20 percent of the actual number of civilians killed.

Then there is the first specific military operation known to have been ordered by the new Obama administration, a series of Predator or Raptor drone attacks in Pakistan on January 23. Five American missiles killed 22 people, including at least three children. This was about the fortieth American attack inside Pakistan in the past year. U.S. officials claim they have killed eight “senior al-Qaeda leaders,” but they have killed at least 120 other people, too.

Even as President Obama issues orders to close Guantanamo, the Pentagon is expanding the capacity of its prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from 600 to 1,100 prisoners, more than picking up the slack. Prisoners who have passed through both prisons have reported equally disturbing forms of torture in each of them. In Five years of My Life, Murat Kurnaz described being hung in excruciating positions and beaten for days on end at Bagram. Later he was repeatedly suffocated to the point of unconsciousness for a month at a time in an airless, stifling shipping container at Guantanamo. It would be difficult to make a case that the treatment of prisoners has been better or less criminal at Bagram or Guantanamo.

Many other people have disappeared without trace into the world of secret American prisons, on U.S. ships at sea, on U.S. bases in Europe, and in the “frequent flyer program” of extraordinary rendition to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. The human rights group Reprieve has compiled a list of 39 people who have disappeared without trace in U.S. custody. Some of their names were read into the Congressional Record on July 19, 2006, by four Republican members as part of a mysterious “No Longer a Threat” list. Since at least 96 prisoners are known to have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, including cases of death by torture for which U.S. troops have been court-martialed, it is feared that many of the disappeared may also have died horrific deaths.

Since the launching of the War on Terror, at least 19 U.S. allies or clients have used newly acquired American weapons against their neighbors or their own people (Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen). U.S. arms exports hit an all-time high in fiscal year 2008 at $32 billion, but this barely maintained America’s 40 percent share of global arms exports as its allies and competitors have eagerly joined the new arms race. British arms exports exploded from $600 million per year in 2000-2003 to $5.4 billion per year since then. In 2006, Pakistan was the largest customer for American weapons, surpassing even Israel and Saudi Arabia, and now it’s also a target of U.S. weaponry -- an arms merchant’s dream come true.

Across the border in Afghanistan, the absurd premises of the War on Terror make even less sense. Every Afghan knows that it was the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI “intelligence” service that recruited, funded, trained and deployed Al Qaeda and the Taliban. So, when the United States sends its own troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, seven years after Al Qaeda fled back over the mountains to Pakistan, the only two possible explanations for this behavior are that Americans are just utterly stupid or that we have ulterior motives. Either way, the prospect of persuading Afghan Pashtuns to take our side in our war against the terrorists we unleashed on them and ourselves is zero. And the Tajiks and Uzbeks of the Northern Alliance, now dubbed the “Afghan Army,” are just more foreign invaders to 40 million Pashtuns on either side of the border. Afghan drug gangsters are glad to profit from American policy, but they offer no prospect of salvaging America’s honor or investment in this futile adventure.

The justification for all the violence I’ve described is that the United States and its allies face serious threats from “non-state actors,” wielding box-cutters and homemade bombs and missiles. In a microcosm of the wider War on Terror, the recent Israeli attack on Gaza demonstrated the obvious, that the latest weapons technology inflicts disproportionate casualties (about a hundred to one) on lightly armed resistance forces and civilians. This disproportionality is an essential feature of the War on Terror, making it politically expedient to use increasingly destructive weapons without a backlash from large numbers of Western casualties. The people of Gaza and the Pashtun tribesmen of Afghanistan and Pakistan therefore have so much more reason to fear Israelis and Americans than we have to fear them, and yet our leaders claim that our fear gives us the right to attack them in their homes. Their assigned role is just to die in whatever numbers we deem necessary without ever fighting back, but of course they do fight back, which then serves to justify the next American or Israeli escalation. As in War on Terror - the boardgame, we fight the terrorists, we fund the terrorists, we are the terrorists.

Our leaders claim that all of their interventions in other countries are designed to bring “stability” or “security.” But killing people and blowing up their homes and infrastructure does not bring stability or security. On the contrary, it brings death, terrible injuries, devastation and chaos. The use of military force is destructive by definition. The fact that people and societies eventually recover from war does not mean that war or those who engage in it deserve the credit for their victims’ recovery. Only a drunk driver who is still very drunk would take credit when a person he injured finally emerged from hospital and rehabilitation, but militarists drunk on aggression are quick to do just that.

No American war is ever launched without reference to the recovery of Germany and Japan from the Second World War as an example of the benefits of aerial bombardment and military occupation. Both countries built new societies out of the ruins of war, but their success was the result of rejecting militarism and redirecting their substantial national resources into peaceful economic development. Now there’s a model the United States could follow!

The reason American leaders are still patting themselves on the back over Germany and Japan (even if they were still in diapers at the time) is that they don’t have more recent examples of successful American military interventions to point to. They understand that the invasion of Grenada does not provide a convincing precedent for bombing Iran. In fact, since the 1950s, it is hard to find a case where American military intervention can legitimately be credited with bringing stability or security anywhere in the world, because that’s just not what military force does. That is why the nations of the world came together in 1945 after the two worst wars in history, signed the U.N. Charter and universally accepted its prohibition on the “threat or use of military force.”

Unfortunately, since then and especially after the end of the Cold War, American foreign policy specialists came to believe that a state of limited war might serve American interests better than a state of peace. With no serious military competitor, they were determined to find new justifications for the use of military force, to make the most of America’s unchallenged military superiority. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Michael Mandelbaum, the director of East-West Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the New York Times, “For the first time in 40 years we can conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about triggering World War III.”

The Clinton administration’s “humanitarian” claims for both of its interventions in Yugoslavia muddied the waters between peacekeeping in Bosnia (to keep a peace that was established by diplomacy, not by force) and aggression against Serbia in 1999. Even after attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa and the U.S.S. Cole at Aden, terrorism still seemed a flimsy justification for widespread U.S. military operations in the Middle East. But then the September 11 attacks provided the opportunity to condition the American public to view that entire region as a legitimate target for the use of military force. The predictable outcome that this would only exacerbate the threat of terrorism it claimed to address was viewed only as a public relations problem by the reinvigorated militarists in Washington. They eventually delegated the diplomacy to mitigate worldwide outrage at U.S. policy to Karen Hughes, a public relations expert with no experience in foreign relations.

The British government has officially replaced the term “War on Terror” with “the struggle against terrorism.” But President Obama has not challenged the legitimacy or rationality of what War on Terror - the boardgame proclaims as “war on the most dangerous abstract noun known to man.” Nor has he unmasked for the American public the opportunism that was inherent in the original choice of words and obvious to the rest of the world all along.

War on Terror - the boardgame can theoretically end in one of three ways: “empire victory,” “terrorist victory” or “world peace.” The first two are almost impossible to achieve. Describing the third option, the “rules of engagement” (the instructions for the game) read, “In this case, the remaining empires share a victory and can give themselves a well-earned pat on the back for being so nice and possessing the wise understanding that this is a war no one can win.”

The world is now holding its collective breath, teetering between the hopes Mr. Obama has raised and awareness of the powerful interests invested in American militarism. Fidel Castro spoke eloquently for the naysayers, “It would be supremely naive to believe that the good intentions of one intelligent person can alter the results of centuries of interests and greed.” Code Pink and other American peace groups are keeping our hopes alive and urging Obama to live up to them. This just may be one of those times in history when smart and committed political activists can actually change the world. We have nothing to fear but fear itself -- our elected officials’ fear of the all-powerful military-industrial interests behind these policies; and the irrational fear of terrorism they have spread among the public to justify disproportionately more deadly state terrorism and a $700 billion annual military budget.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Declare victory and get out

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As Americans cast their hopes and fears into the wishing-well of the U.S. presidential election, the United States is squandering the best chance it may ever get to withdraw its military and civilian occupation forces from Iraq on relatively favorable terms.

In 1991, President George Bush Senior avoided the trap of a land invasion of Iraq. One of his senior advisers told him that sooner or later the Iraqis would insist on holding elections, which "our guys will lose." Twelve years later, Bush II and Cheney launched their desperate effort to reverse the nationalization of the global oil industry and to establish the aggressive and illegal use of U.S. military power as a dominant force in the 21st century. Whether you view this as a risky decision or a serious war crime depends on the relative value you attach to American wealth and human life.

But the Iraqis did insist on holding elections and our guys did lose, as predicted, in 2005. Our guys were Anglo-Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Iraqi-American Interior Minister Falah Naqib, and a whole slate of Iraqi exiles who had been part of the CIA's program for regime change in Iraq throughout the 1990s. Allawi is back in London, certainly richer, possibly wiser, and with a few good stories to tell over a glass of Scotch. "Did I tell you I was the prime minister of Iraq?" It seems that the real meaning of "security" for "Saddam without the mustache" was his day-job as an eye-doctor in Britain's National Health Service.

Naqib was the son of the chief of staff of the Iraqi Army who defected to the United States in the 1970s. The younger Naqib was appointed interim interior minister of Iraq in 2004. Steven Casteel, the former chief of intelligence of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, who had run the interior ministry for the Coalition Provisional Authority, stayed on as Naqib's senior US adviser. Naqib and Casteel recruited, trained and deployed the Special Police death squads who detained, tortured and executed thousands of Iraqis in a reign of terror and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad and other cities.

The Special Police recruited by Naqib and Casteel (later re-branded as the National Police) have continued their grisly work throughout the occupation, while Western journalists have unquestioningly accepted the Pentagon's successive narratives of "stolen police uniforms," "sectarian violence" and "infiltration by Shiite militias" to explain away the carnage. And yet Naqib himself admitted to the New York Times, after the public disclosure of the al-Jadiriyah interrogation center in November 2005, that "the majority of commando officers working in the ministry now were appointed by him," although his Badr Brigade successor, Bayan al-Jabr, with Casteel still at his elbow, did add more of his own militiamen to their ranks.

The Special Police were trained by retired Colonel James Steele, an Iran-Contra figure who trained counter-insurgency forces that committed similar atrocities in Cambodia and El Salvador. He later became a vice president at Enron. After he left Iraq in April 2005, his trainees continued to work closely with American Special Police Transition Teams and with Americans stationed at the high-tech Special Police command center that they established and equipped in January 2005. The Special Police command center was part of the U.S. command and control network in Iraq, directly connected to CENTCOM in Baghdad and every U.S. forward operating base in the country. The notion that its massive campaign of arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial execution was somehow carried out without both active and passive support from US officials is an absurdity. The Americans involved must ultimately be held accountable for their crimes, just as surely as those who authorized torture and attacks on civilians by US forces and the "supreme international crime," the war itself.

But the two elections held in 2005 marginalized Allawi, Naqib and even our Islamist guy, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of the London branch of the Dawa Party. Jaafari succeeded Allawi as transitional prime minister, but soon followed him home to London. Neither he nor Allawi were ever foolish enough to move their families or principal residences to the country they were pretending to rule. Jaafari told Tim Russert that Noam Chomsky was one of his favorite authors.

Instead of administering an Iraq run by our guys, the United States is now occupying a country in which the major players are all playing a more complex game than American occupation officials can control. For the umpteenth time in its history, the United States is finding that puppet-strings can be pulled from either end, and that this makes for an unpredictable puppet show with little relation to its own script. As Gabriel Kolko pointed out in Confronting the Third World in 1988, "The notion of an honest puppet is a contradiction that the United States has failed to resolve anywhere in the world since 1945."

Even as resistance forces continue to strike American targets in Iraq every day, the Iraqi government and national assembly are establishing credibility with their own people by standing up to their American puppet-masters over oil privatization and the status of forces negotiations. The United States is being forced to accept conditions for its presence in Iraq that serve the interests of the Iraqi government rather than its own commercial and strategic interests. Maliki and his colleagues know only too well what the Americans want, and they understand that they can use American desires for permanent bases and oil contracts as carrots to keep the Americans on their side, to help them consolidate their power in the country and to kill or intimidate their opponents.

A common understanding of torture survivors, in Iraq and elsewhere, is that they can stay alive by refusing to give their interrogators what they want. Tareq Sammaree, the former director of the School of Education at Baghdad University credits his survival at al-Jadiriyah to this understanding. He was sure that he would be killed as soon as his interrogators had got what they wanted from him, primarily the locations of other Iraqi academics who were hiding from the Special Police. This knowledge enabled him to endure horrific torture by US-trained interrogators. By the same token, Iraqi leaders understand that it is precisely their ability to withhold what the Americans want that gives them power over their puppet-masters.

The United States has been down this road so many times that it must be like a recurrent nightmare for State Department officials. In the 1940s, successive American envoys to the Chinese Nationalist government in Chungking reported that Chiang Kai-shek was running the most corrupt regime in history, but American aid continued to fill his coffers for want of a better option. The nightmare recurred with Syngman Rhee in South Korea, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Mobutu in the Congo, Suharto in Indonesia, successive governments in South Vietnam, a long succession of dictators in Latin America and of course Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Once an American puppet has grasped the power that he wields over his handlers, the United States is faced with a choice between following him down this well-worn garden path or engineering another regime change. The garden path usually wins out, as long as the carrots are kept dangling in front of the lumbering donkey's nose. The more that the US helps to eliminate its puppet's opponents and consolidate his power, the more problematic the prospects for a further regime change become.

In Iraq, the horrific violence of five years of military occupation in a country that quickly transitioned from conventional to guerilla war provided American officials with an albeit circular justification to maintain the occupation. Although the occupation itself was unquestionably the primary cause of violence, they argued that worse violence would be unleashed if it ended. The violence of the occupation provided its own justification. Now that the violence has diminished a little, because the work of the death squads and the destruction of cities in Anbar has been more or less completed, US officials argue that things are going better -- so now there is no reason for American forces to leave. This is a huge mistake.

Instead of seizing what is likely a fleeting opportunity to declare victory and get out, American policy-makers are greedily renewing their commitment to the original goals of the invasion. Western oil companies are finally taking tentative steps to begin operations, even without a legal basis, and negotiations continue for a status of forces agreement with the Maliki government. Despite congressional prohibitions on "permanent bases," they still want 58 of them, a compromise from the 200 they asked for when the negotiations began. A Pentagon lawyer admitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee in April that the Department of Defense has no legal definition for the term "permanent base." "It doesn't really mean anything," he said.

For the Iraqis, all of this can only serve to justify renewed resistance, possibly by the united front of Sadrists and Sunnis that the CIA warned against in November 2003, but which the US-backed death squads succeeded in undermining in the years that followed. Or a reconciliation between Maliki and other factions may lead to an official request for a US withdrawal, perhaps after the American election. And al-Sadr has withdrawn his party from provincial elections in order to maintain its status as an armed resistance group. Resistance to the occupation is still more important to him and his millions of followers than claiming the larger role in provincial government that they were bound to win at the polls.

Whatever happens on the Iraqi side, American leaders must understand that their original goals in Iraq are not and will never be achievable. As long as U.S. forces, officials and contractors remain in Iraq, they will always meet political opposition and armed resistance. They will never be welcome. How could they be after what they have done to these people and their country? The best chance for any sort of mutually beneficial or profitable relationship in the future lies in seizing this moment to begin a complete withdrawal of occupation forces from the country, including all U.S. troops, contractors and civilian officials. Once its sovereignty has been restored, Iraq will undoubtedly form close relationships with other countries in the region, China and Russia -- anybody but the United States. But mutual interests will eventually lead to at least a normalization of relations. Sincere apologies and substantial reparations will help this process more than anything the US can do from its present illegitimate position.

Senator Obama's campaign website declares, "He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats." Under other circumstances, this might sound reasonable. But the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is not a legitimate embassy, and its thousand-plus staff are not diplomatic envoys to a sovereign country. The so-called embassy is a 104-acre fortified compound enclosing a corner of the four-square-mile Green Zone. It is 10 times the size of any legitimate embassy in the world. This is in fact the jewel in the crown of the network of American bases in Iraq, the headquarters of the US occupation, from which American advisers plan to maintain their influence over this and subsequent Iraqi governments.

The American occupation headquarters cost $736 million to build. Thousands of construction workers were lured, mostly from South Asia, by false promises of jobs in Dubai. Their plane tickets were taken away in Kuwait as they were loaded onto unmarked, aging chartered planes headed for Baghdad. Supervisors described workers being "treated like animals," beaten regularly and given dangerously inadequate healthcare that resulted in at least two deaths. Workers who escaped were rounded up and incarcerated, but 375 Pakistanis were finally sent home after they went on strike in June 2006.

The United States has also spent $5.6 billion on military construction at its other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus an additional $1.8 billion now allocated for 2009. The embassy is the first of these bases that should be evacuated and handed back to Iraq, eliminating any pretext for Obama to leave behind a "residual force" that would continue the occupation on a smaller scale. The United States didn't pay a penny for the land in the first place -- it was a gift from Allawi's interim government. And State Department employees are only now moving into the new offices and apartment buildings, so it would be both practical and diplomatic to quietly abandon this folly now rather than later, along with the roughly 265 other US bases in Iraq.

A persistent feature of the "tragedy of American diplomacy," as William Appleman Williams called it, has been the hubris that has blinded American officials to opportunities like the one they are squandering in Iraq today. In Century of War in 1994, Kolko described the "institutional myopia" by which "options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not merely plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles."

In Washington, this institutional myopia has been compounded since the end of the Cold War by missed opportunities, delusional thinking and vested interests. The opportunity for nuclear disarmament and a more peaceful world has been squandered in favor of an unprecedented and unprovoked military build-up and the opportunistic use of U.S. military superiority to threaten and attack other countries. The tragic consequences of this historic failure have become much clearer during the eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime. And yet neither major candidate in this year's presidential election has presented a plan to finally retire the Cold War military-industrial complex before it wreaks even more havoc. Nor has either of them presented a new vision, however overdue, of a legitimate role that the United States could play in a peaceful post-Cold War world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Watching and waiting: al-Sadr's strategy to defeat the occupation

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On the morning of March 19, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I stood with a small group of protesters outside U.S. Southern Command Headquarters in Miami. A reporter asked me whether I felt frustrated.

"The war seems to be endless," she volunteered.

"No," I told her, "it's not endless. It's definitely going to end. The only question is whether it will end sooner rather than later, and how much more death and destruction our government and armed forces are going to inflict on the people of Iraq in the meantime."

In the looking glass world of American political commentary, U.S. forces are fighting to establish peace and order in Iraq. On April 10, George W. Bush gave a speech claiming that reduced violence in Iraq was a sign of success. In the same speech, however, Bush praised his Badr Brigade allies for the recent escalation of violence in Basra, and Israeli-trained U.S. Special Forces for a nightly campaign of targeted assassination that has been murdering Iraqis in their beds for more than four years. Seymour Hersh and Julian Borger broke that story in December 2003.

Bush declared, "In the period ahead, we will stay on the offense against the enemy. As we speak, U.S. Special Forces are launching multiple operations every night to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. Coalition and Iraqi forces are also stepping up conventional operations against al Qaeda in northern Iraq, where terrorists have concentrated after being largely pushed from central and western Iraq. And Prime Minister Maliki's government has launched operations in Basra that make clear a free Iraq will no longer tolerate the lawlessness by Iranian-backed militants."

In reality, as Bush implied, any prospect of peace in Iraq poses a serious threat to the goals that drove the United States to invade Iraq in the first place, and have kept U.S. forces stuck there ever since. This is not hard to understand. Iraq is scheduled to hold provincial elections in October, and to elect a new Constituent Assembly next year. If these elections take place under remotely fair and peaceful conditions, independent, nationalist parties opposed to the U.S. occupation are sure to make a clean sweep, with Muqtada al-Sadr's wing of the Dawa Party, the Basra-based Fadilha (Justice) Party and nationalist Sunni parties handing pro-occupation parties a similar defeat to that suffered by America's first Iraqi puppet Iyad Allawi in 2005. The next step would be the election of a national government that will order U.S. occupation forces out of the country.

This is what makes the whole situation such a hot potato for the next American president. Without endless and ultimately unsustainable injections of American violence, the occupation of Iraq was always destined to end this way. No permanent bases -- no privatization of the oil industry -- no puppet government. This was the result predicted by Bush Senior's advisers in 1990 when they counseled against invading Iraq. "Sooner or later they'll have an election, and our guys will lose." Our government has destroyed Iraq in a desperate effort to keep this inevitable outcome at bay, with five years of air strikes, American and Iraqi death squads, torture, devastation and terror.

In the meantime, the present Iraqi Constituent Assembly established by the fraudulent U.S.-backed political process is still refusing to pass a law to privatize Iraq's oil industry. It also attempted to prevent the renewal of the U.N. mandate for the "Multi-National Force" in Iraq last December. And these were supposed to be our Iraqis. The lists of names that were not revealed to voters until the day of the election in 2005 included dozens of exiles eager to claim their share of power and wealth as America's allies in the new Iraq. Now most of those exiles have returned to London, Washington, Tehran and wherever else they came from, and the Assembly can barely make a quorum. And many of the representatives who remain are actually standing up for their own country's interests in the face of American bribes, threats and blackmail.

Oil privatization has always been a primary goal of the U.S. occupation. The members of Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force understood that growth in Asia was bound to swell the demand side of the world oil market for many years to come. And they understood painfully well that, as a result of the nationalization of the oil industry in every major oil-producing country since the 1970s, the bulk of the huge profits from increasing demand and rising prices would flow into the coffers of OPEC governments, instead of to the shareholders of Exxon, Shell, BP and Chevron. Before World War II, BP paid only a 16 percent royalty for the privilege of extracting oil from Iran. Now it has to buy it at full price on the open market.

The oil companies are doing incredibly well as it is, but just imagine their position if the nationalization of the major producers' oil industries had never happened, or could somehow be reversed. They could now be sharing in the massive profits from the production of oil in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and elsewhere. With production costs for Iraqi oil still at $1 or $1.50 a barrel, and the same barrel selling for $113 on the world market, even a modest share of production revenues would bring unprecedented profits to the major oil companies. And reversing the nationalization of the oil industry in one of the major oil-producing countries could be the first step to regaining control of the world oil market. James Paul explained this in greater detail in his article, "Oil in Iraq: the Heart of the Crisis," in December 2002.

Well, surprise, surprise! This is exactly what the U.S.-backed Iraqi oil law is designed to do. Before the invasion, the U.S. State Department's Oil and Energy Working Group recommended that Iraq "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war," and favored "production sharing agreements" as the most promising vehicle for doing this. An oil industry consultant from London, named Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, who was a member of the State Department working group, was appointed as oil minister in the transitional occupation government in 2005, and he began the process of drafting a law based on precisely that model.

Under the new law, in addition to sharing in oil production revenues, Western oil companies would hold a controlling majority on the board that would allocate new oil production contracts. While the Iraqi National Oil Company would retain control of 17 oil fields that are already in production, it would have to compete with foreign companies for contracts to develop 63 other fields that it has already discovered, as well as other fields that are discovered in the future.

The oil law would also grant foreign oil companies the rights to repatriate 100 percent of their profits, to bring in unlimited quantities of cheap labor from outside Iraq, as Western contractors are already doing in other industries, and to exclude Iraqi companies, technicians and workers from oil field operations in their own country. If the present Constituent Assembly will not swallow this bitter pill, the chances of ramming it through any future one are slimmer still.

The Constituent Assembly also asserted its authority on the renewal of the U.N. Security Council mandate for the "multi-national force" in Iraq. Under Iraq's Constitution, the Maliki government was required to consult the Assembly before requesting the renewal of the MNF mandate. When the government failed to submit its request to the Assembly, a majority of the Assembly's members signed a letter to the Security Council explaining that the government's MNF renewal request was not constitutional. The Security Council ignored the Assembly and the Constitution, and renewed the mandate regardless, but the Assembly once again demonstrated that it has escaped from American control.

Muqtada al-Sadr's Islamist social philosophy is not progressive by Western standards. But one thing he shares with other popular leaders like Gandhi and King is the understanding that the moral contradictions of oppressors or occupiers can be the key to defeating them. Just as Gandhi challenged the British to behave like Christians, and King challenged America to "live out the true meaning of its creed," Sadr understands that America is likewise caught in a web of its own contradictions in Iraq. Without violence, there is no rationale for continued occupation. If Sadr maintains his ceasefire, there is no reason to cancel elections or to exclude his party from them.

The Americans, like the British in India or the segregationists in the American South, are being forced to choose between committing even greater violence and ceding political power to Iraqis who oppose the occupation. As Gandhi said, "First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win." Once a popular leader or movement can no longer be ignored or marginalized, there are few good options. Bush has chosen violence at every turn, but he has succeeded only in killing a million people, prolonging the conflict and raising the stakes for his successor.

When American, British and Badr Brigades forces attacked Basra at the end of March, U.S. officials claimed that they had no part in the new offensive, and only became involved in order to rescue their Iraqi allies. And yet U.S. forces soon became fully engaged in operations in Basra and elsewhere, and have now launched a new offensive in Sadr City. It seems that the Badr offensive in Basra was a classic provocation to draw out the Sadrists and other resistance forces around the country, so that their sanctuaries can now be targeted by air strikes, house raids and death squads.

Al-Sadr has responded by reiterating his cease-fire, once again refusing to be drawn into the kind of widespread armed resistance that could lead to his party's exclusion from the political process. He knows that time and history are on his side. Sooner or later, as long as he plays his cards correctly, this will end. The Americans will leave, and he or a successor can start to pick up the broken pieces of their country.

If America is to salvage its own position in the world, it must find a face-saving way out of Iraq. All over the world, from Pakistan and Nepal to Ecuador and Guatemala, popular political movements are overturning militarist regimes allied with the United States. In Iraq, the mask of American "values" has slipped too far, exposing the true nature of the powerful interests that control U.S. policy. The war in Iraq is forcing Americans to confront the practical, moral and legal contradictions of their government's policies. This is a crisis of historic proportions, but the final result may yet be a wiser, safer, fairer, more humane and more peaceful America. It's up to us.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

U.N. challenges U.S. on illegal air strikes in Iraq

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Just as U.S. air operations over Iraq have reached their highest level since the destruction of Fallujah in November 2004, with as many as 70 close air support missions flown on many days since October 1, a new Human Rights Report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq has challenged the United States to stop killing civilians in illegal air strikes.

The Human Rights Report for the second quarter of 2007 was long overdue, and was finally published on October 11. The report explains that it was modified following discussions with U.S. and Iraqi occupation authorities, and this appears to account for the long delay in its publication.

The report makes it clear that U.S. air strikes in densely populated civilian areas are violations of international human rights law. A footnote to the section on "MNF military operations and the killing of civilians" explains, "Customary international humanitarian law demands that, as much as possible, military objectives must not be located within areas densely populated by civilians. The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area."

UNAMI demands "that all credible allegations of unlawful killings by MNF (Multi National Force) forces be thoroughly, promptly and impartially investigated, and appropriate action taken against military personnel found to have used excessive or indiscriminate force" and adds that, "The initiation of investigation into such incidents, as well as their findings, should be made public."

The UNAMI report provides the following details of 88 Iraqi civilians killed by air strikes, 15 civilians killed "in the context of raid and search operations" by U.S. ground forces and several incidents of torture and extra-judicial execution by members of Iraqi auxiliary forces under overall U.S. command. UNAMI investigated these incidents because a relative, a journalist or a local official brought each one to its attention. Without doubt, the U.S. Department of Defense is aware of many more killings of civilians by air strikes and ground operations, hence UNAMI's urgent demand for full public disclosure and investigation of all such killings.

March 11 - Nine civilians in 5 villages near Ba'quba killed by U.S. air strikes.

March 13 & 14 - Twelve Palestinians detained by the Interior Ministry at al-Baladiyat and tortured with electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, forcing metal sticks down the throat, and rape and other sexual assault with metal objects.

March 15 - Two civilians killed in Dulu'iya by a U.S. air strike.

March 29 - A 14-year-old boy and three other family members killed in Mosul by a U.S. raid on the home of Zeyour Mohamed Khalil.

March 30 - Sixteen civilians killed in Sadr City by U.S. air strikes.

April 2 - Six civilians killed in U.S. raids on the homes of Bashar Mahfoudh and Walid al-Ahmadi near Mosul.

April 3 - Twenty-seven civilians killed in Khaldiya, near Ramadi, by U.S. air strikes.

April 12 - Three civilians killed in southern Haditha in a house raid by U.S. forces.

April 26 - U.S. air strikes kill four civilians in Sadr City and four more in Taji.

April 29 - Al-Kesra, Baghdad, five men found dead after being detained by Iraqi Army in al-Sifina.

April 30 - Three civilians killed by an air strike in Basra.

May 3 - Hay al-Amel, Baghdad, 16 people detained and killed by Interior Ministry Public Order Forces.

May 4th - Al-Dubbat, Baghdad, 14 civilians arrested and then shot dead by Iraqi security forces.

May 5 - Seven civilians killed by a U.S. air strike east of Baghdad.

May 5 - Hay al-Rissala, Baghdad, men guarding a mosque detained and executed by Iraqi security forces.

May 6 - One civilian killed by a U.S. air strike in Sadr City.

May 8 - Seven children killed by a U.S. helicopter attack on an elementary school in Diyala province.

May 26 - Eight civilians in Basra killed by air strikes.

May 29 - Four prisoners executed by the Kurdistan Regional Government after testifying to the death under torture of Fahmi Ismail Abu Bakr in 2005.

June 6 - Yassin Farhan and his son Sarmad killed by U.S. troops in a house raid in Baghdad.

April-June - Seventy-three percent of KRG detainees interviewed by UNAMI reported being victims of torture.

The recent increase in U.S. air operations in Iraq has brought a spate of reports of more such incidents. On the day the UNAMI report was released, six women, nine children and 19 men were killed in air strikes near Lake Tharthar, north of Baghdad. The Centcom press office immediately declared that the 19 men were "terrorists" but similar claims regarding previous air strikes have been contradicted by local residents and officials, and they beg the question as to how you know that 19 men were "terrorists" after you've blown them off the face of the earth. An air strike on September 25 in Mussayyib, 30 miles south of Baghdad, killed five women and four children; and one on September 28 on the al-Saha district of Baghdad killed seven men, two women and four children. Once again, I must stress that these incidents just happen to have been reported and that they are probably only the tip of the iceberg of civilians being killed by U.S. air strikes.

Iraqi Health Ministry reports in September 2004 and January 2005 attributed 72 percent and 62 percent respectively of civilian deaths in Iraq to "coalition" forces, not "insurgents", and attributed the high numbers killed by U.S. forces specifically to air strikes. The first of two epidemiological studies on mortality in Iraq published in the Lancet medical journal supported these findings, while the second did not attempt to break down deaths by who was responsible. The Health Ministry retracted its January 2005 figures after the BBC reported them, and has stopped attributing any proportion of Iraqi deaths to occupation forces. It is important to understand that, while "precision" weapons are more accurate today than in the past, about 15-25 percent still miss their targets by at least 40 feet, so the impression conveyed by the Centcom press office and CNN that they can be used to safely and surgically "zap" one house in an urban area is an artful blend of propaganda and science fiction.

Previous reports by Iraqi and international human rights monitors have also found that 60-80 percent of prisoners held by Iraqi forces recruited, trained and directed by the U.S. command in Iraq have been tortured, and UNAMI has documented cases in which people have been sentenced to death and executed based on confessions apparently obtained by torture. The current report also protests the indefinite detention of Iraqis without charge by U.S. forces, and states "persons who are deprived of their liberty are entitled to be informed of the reasons for their arrest; to be brought promptly before a judge if held on a criminal charge, and to challenge the lawfulness of their detention."

The UNAMI report does not directly address torture by U.S. forces, but the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights groups have documented extensive and systematic violations of international humanitarian law in the treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces in Iraq. The U.S. government has tortured and abused prisoners throughout its network of prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba, as well as in CIA-run prisons in Romania, Mauretania, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere. Human rights groups have amassed incontrovertible evidence of systematic torture, authorized at the highest levels, throughout this gulag, including death threats, mock executions, near-drowning, excruciating stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, various forms of sodomy, and endless beatings, to say nothing of more psychological forms of torture such as sexual humiliation and torture of family members.

In February 2006, Human Rights First issued “Command’s Responsibility,” a report on 98 deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, endorsed by two retired generals and an admiral. The dead included eight people confirmed tortured to death; another 37 suspected or confirmed homicides; and a tell-tale lack of information about 48 more who died of “undetermined” or “unannounced” causes.

Until we succeed in ending the U.S. occupation and restoring genuine sovereignty and independence to Iraq, preventing the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces has to be a top priority. Apart from the brief and localized scandal over the pictures from Abu Ghraib, this is a topic that the political debate in Congress and the corporate media have scrupulously avoided. Senator Bob Graham told his colleagues in October 2002 that "Blood is going to be on your hands", and they are now in it up to their armpits, even as they deny both the carnage and their role in continuing and escalating it. Until this horror comes to an end, Americans must join UNAMI in publicizing, condemning and demanding accountability for every single act of illegal, indiscriminate and excessive killing by American forces in Iraq, with particular attention to the mass killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. air strikes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

From Aggression to Genocide

Published in Z Magazine, September 2007

As the destruction of Iraq has progressed, the country beyond the walls of the Green Zone in Baghdad has become deadly for journalists. Western reporting on the war, which was corrupted from the start by the Pentagon’s psychological warfare “embedding” program, has now degenerated to a mainly stenographic exercise orchestrated by the Centcom press office. The echo chamber of the U.S. corporate media fleshes out this artificial construct to create an alternate, virtual Iraq in the minds of U.S. media consumers, feeding a political debate that bears no relation to the real war that our government and armed forces are waging, the country it is destroying, or the lives of its 27 million inhabitants.

But what have our government and our armed forces really done to the country and people of Iraq? Despite the historic failure of Western journalism, there are plenty of sources of information for anyone who wants to know.

Despite an awkward complicity in the events it describes, the UN has published regular reports on the “Situation in Iraq.” Its human rights reports (www.uniraq. org/aboutus/HR.asp) in particular have documented the terrible consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation for the population and have contained increasingly frank assessments of the U.S. failure to restore a legitimate or functioning government. The Global Policy Forum, which monitors policy-making at the UN, is another excellent resource (

Les Roberts of Columbia University has led two international teams of epidemiologists to assess the full scale of violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion, and these reports have been published in Britain by the Lancet medical journal. On March 26, 2007, the BBC published a memo from Sir Roy Anderson, chief scientific adviser to Britain’s Ministry of Defense, in which he described the epidemiologists’ methods as “close to best practice” and their study design as “robust,” exposing the cynicism with which the British and U.S. governments have dismissed their work. Articles in other academic and medical journals have also made important contributions to an understanding of the crisis.

Iraqi bloggers like Riverbend and Khalid Jarrar have given us an inside look at life under occupation, while independent journalist Dahr Jamail, veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, and a few of their colleagues have reported news that their counterparts have missed or ignored. And we must not forget that at least 163 journalists have been killed in Iraq, including Yasser Salihee of Knight Ridder, who was shot by a U.S. army sniper as he investigated the chain of command of the Interior Ministry death squads that were unleashed on Baghdad in 2005.

While Americans puzzled over a steady stream of tell-all (or not) books by insiders and former officials, the British public gained access to a series of declassified and leaked documents that revealed much more about the planning and selling of the war. What follows is a point by point history of the crisis, based on the most reliable sources, with an emphasis on facts that the U.S. media have ignored or downplayed.

1. Regime change in Iraq was a long-standing objective of U.S. policy. The CIA has a history of failed coups in countries all over the world, as well as some successes, but the one it planned with Iyad Allawi in June 1996 was exceptional in the totality of its failure. It completely destroyed the CIA’s network of informers and potential agents inside Iraq. On the eve of the coup, the CIA’s satellite communication with its network of plotters in Iraq went dead overnight. The Iraqi government had obtained one of the CIA’s satellite receivers at an early stage in the planning of the coup and knew every detail of the plot, as well as the identity of every Iraqi involved. It had arrested them all.

2. Regime change in Iraq remained the ultimate goal of U.S. and British policy throughout the 1990s. UN inspectors were convinced by 1995 that Iraq’s banned weapons had been destroyed by order of Saddam Hussein in 1991, but the UN continued inspections in an effort to prove to the U.S. and British governments that no weapons had been hidden and retained. This was a fool’s errand, since these mythical weapons were an essential part of the U.S. and British rationale for continued sanctions and the CIA’s pretext for regime change, and they were not prepared to give these up. Then, in 1998, the U.S. Congress drafted a bill to formalize “regime change” in Iraq as the official policy of the United States government. It passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Thus, when the Bush administration took office in 2001, the stage was already set for the policy that the neoconservatives had been advocating since the first Gulf War—the invasion of Iraq and its destruction as an independent power in the Middle East.

3. On March 8, 2002, the British government began a formal policy review on Iraq in response to an initiative from Washington. The U.S. was proposing “a new departure” on Iraq, abandoning containment and planning to invade the country to effect “regime change.” Only four days later, at a private dinner in Washington, British foreign policy adviser David Manning told Condoleezza Rice that Tony Blair “would not budge in (his) support for regime change,” indicating that Bush and Blair were now committed to this policy. Five days later, British Ambassador Christopher Meyer reported to Manning that he had given Paul Wolfowitz the same message: “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option....” Other leaked Downing Street documents provided more background to this decision, including a warning from British Law Officers that, “Of itself, Regime Change has no basis in international law.”

4. To create political support for the invasion, the U.S. and British governments fabricated evidence and stoked fears of non-existent nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. In reality, experts understood that none of the chemical and biological agents sold to Iraq in the 1980s could still be potent as strategic weapons in 2003 (“Facts needed before Iraq attack,” CNN, July 17, 2002). And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had debunked the allegation of nuclear procurement based on some 81 millimeter rocket casings even before Bush included it in an infamous State of the Union speech. None of this was secret at the time, so that one has to view U.S. performances at the UN and elsewhere as part of an effort to manipulate domestic public opinion rather than as a serious attempt to win international backing for the invasion.

5. On March 7, 2003, Britain’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, gave Blair his 13-page “Full Legal Advice” regarding the war plan. He rejected the Bush doctrine of preemption: “This is not a doctrine which, in my opinion, exists or is recognized in international law.” He reiterated the British view that military action would not be legal without a new Security Council resolution, as only the Security Council could make the two critical determinations: whether Iraq was in violation of the 1991 ceasefire resolution and whether its violations were serious enough to revive the 1990 authorization of military force. He emphasized that the U.S. was the only country that rejected this view. In any case, he insisted that any military action justified by UN resolutions must be limited to what was necessary to enforce the terms of the 1991 ceasefire. As he had told Blair several times since March 2002, “Regime Change cannot be the objective of military action.” He warned Blair that he could face prosecution for aggression or murder if he went ahead with the plan.

6. Twelve days later, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, with token support from Australia, Denmark, and Poland. Three British law officers resigned, including Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office. Her letter of resignation was obtained by the BBC under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act and published on March 24, 2005. She referred to the invasion as a “crime of aggression,” and this view is shared by most international diplomats and legal experts. Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the UN, called it “illegal” in a BBC interview on September 16, 2004. Former Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, like Wilmshurst, defined it as “aggression,” the same crime for which German leaders were convicted, and in some cases hung, at Nuremberg.

7. The U.S. and Britain bombarded Iraq with about 29,000 bombs and missiles during the first phase of the war, but a familiar propaganda campaign surrounding the use of precision weapons preempted precise media coverage of their performance or effects. Rob Hewson, the editor of Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, estimated that 75 to 80 percent of these weapons struck within 40 feet of their target, meaning that at least 5,000 bombs and missiles struck something else. When they are accurate, even the smallest of these weapons, the Mark 82, 500 pound bomb, destroys everything within a radius of 40 to 400 feet depending on building construction, making their detonation in inhabited areas a horrific nightmare. Even more hellish, Iraqi troop concentrations were incinerated by Mark 77 napalm, a modern version of the napalm used in Vietnam. On August 8, 2003, after debunking U.S. denials based on semantics, the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed its original report that the U.S. had used napalm, adding that the Rock Island arsenal in Illinois received an order from the U.S. Marine Corps for 500 new napalm bombs soon after the invasion to replenish its stocks. Les Roberts and his international team of epidemiologists concurred with reports by the Iraqi health ministry that 60 to 80 percent of violent civilian deaths in various periods during the first two years of the war were caused by “coalition” forces, not by “insurgents,” and that most of these were the result of air strikes.

8. The brutality of the occupation has been well documented, but the underlying mis-education of U.S. troops has not. U.S. military personnel receive negligible training in the laws of war, usually one hour during basic training and another one hour briefing on deployment to a war zone. Troops in Iraq receive no specific training on the responsibilities of occupying forces under the 4th Geneva Convention, even though Article 144 of the Convention requires that members of any occupation force “must possess the text of the Convention and be specially instructed as to its provisions.” Instead, U.S. troops have been brainwashed to instill a hostile attitude toward the population, notably by rumors of secret evidence connecting Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. “The higher-ups know things they can’t tell us,” as a junior officer told Air America. The results of this insidious subversion of military law speak for themselves. On July 14, 2007, a U.S. Marine told a court martial in California that “Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency,” a view admitted by 17 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq in a recent Pentagon study. The same witness (for the defense) justified killing wounded Iraqis because, “If somebody is worth shooting once, they’re worth shooting twice.” A post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 1, 2004, found that 14 percent of soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division and 28 percent of marines in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force reported being “responsible for the death of a civilian” in Iraq. Seymour Hersh also reported in the New Yorker as early as December 15, 2003 that U.S. special forces trained by Israeli assassins in Israel and North Carolina were prowling the streets of Iraq by night on what Rumsfeld called “manhunts” to murder people suspected of supporting the resistance.

9. Like hostile military occupations throughout history, the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq has confronted every member of the Iraqi population with a terrible predicament: the life and death choice between resistance and collaboration. Because the international community has failed to respond to the illegal invasion of Iraq and has treated it as a fait accompli in several UN Security Council resolutions, there is no middle ground available to the civilian population. After four years of occupation, those who were at first willing to trust their invaders (against every historical precedent) have seen no restoration of legitimacy or sovereignty. The so-called Iraqi government in the Green Zone can neither challenge the interests of its U.S. masters nor provide basic services to the population. The 60 percent unemployment caused by the war has made it possible to recruit young men to its armed forces, but it inspires no loyalty from most of them, and many are also active in the resistance. Two million more Iraqis have been driven out of their country to live in social, political, and economic limbo in Syria and Jordan.

10. In February 2004 the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report that documented extensive and systematic violations of international humanitarian law in the treatment of prisoners by U.S. and British forces in Iraq. While the published pictures from Abu Ghraib caused a localized public scandal, the U.S. government has tortured and abused prisoners throughout its network of prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba, as well as in CIA-run prisons in Romania, Mauretania, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere. Human rights groups have amassed incontrovertible evidence of systematic torture, authorized at the highest levels, throughout this gulag, including death threats, mock executions, near-drowning, excruciating stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, various forms of sodomy, and endless beatings, to say nothing of more psychological forms of torture such as sexual humiliation and torture of family members. In February 2006, Human Rights First issued “Command’s Responsibility,” a report on 98 deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, endorsed by 2 retired generals and an admiral. The dead included 8 people confirmed tortured to death; another 37 suspected or confirmed homicides; and a tell-tale lack of information about 48 more who died of “undetermined” or “unannounced” causes.

11. The U.S. assault on Fallujah was yet another war crime of historic proportions. Civilians were encouraged to leave the city before the attack, but males between the ages of 15 and 55 were prevented from leaving and were turned back at checkpoints. From the night of November 5, 2004, most of the city was heavily bombarded, despite a UN estimate that 50,000 civilians remained in the city, notably the sick and elderly and those taking care of them. One of the first targets was the Nazzal Emergency Hospital, which was bombed to the ground in the early hours of the first morning, killing doctors, staff and patients. The city was declared a “weapons free” zone, meaning that anyone alive could be treated as hostile and shot on sight. Survivors described elderly men and women being shot in the street and wounded people trying to reach the main hospital being killed by American snipers from the hospital roof. AP photographer Bilal Hussein saw a family of five machine-gunned as they tried to swim the river to safety. (He was detained by U.S. forces on April 12, 2006 and is still being held without charge, apparently to prevent such independent journalism.) After initial denials, U.S. officials admitted using napalm, as well as white phosphorus, which is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. When forced to admit they had used “Willy Pete,” they claimed that the CWC did not apply because it was used as an incendiary weapon as opposed to a chemical one. The CWC, of course, makes no such distinction. Sixty-five percent of the buildings in this former city of 300,000 people were damaged beyond repair. How many bodies were buried in the rubble is still unknown.

12. The central front in the propaganda war over Iraq has been the effort to portray the continuing violence as the result of a “sectarian” conflict or civil war between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis, with foreign occupation forces as peacekeepers or “referees.” Americans have been led to believe that our troops have become embroiled in a centuries old blood feud. Nothing could be farther from the truth—there is no precedent for sectarian violence on this scale in Iraq. In fact, the opposition to the British-backed monarchy formed a strong secular, nationalist political identity that endured through successive Iraqi governments after 1958. The sectarian aspect to the present crisis is the direct result of U.S. policy, which set out to destroy this tradition of secular, nationalist politics in order to establish a compliant occupation government by exploiting ethnic and sectarian differences. Western reports of “sectarian violence” and speculation over the prospect of “civil war” began as part of the lead-up to the deeply flawed election organized by the occupation forces in January 2005. Yet an analysis of reported violence between Iraqis that month revealed other motives for nearly every single violent incident: 43 percent were attacks against the U.S.-backed security forces; 36 percent were directly related to the phony election; 11 percent targeted officials of the “interim government”; 5 percent of the victims worked for the U.S. in other capacities; and the remaining 5 percent were insufficiently documented to identify any motive at all. Not a single incident was ascribed simply to sectarian hatred.

13. Following the installation of the “transitional” regime in February 2005, some Sunni resistance forces came to see the entire Shiite and Kurdish sectors of the population that had participated in this corrupt political process as collaborators. Attacks against civilians by resistance forces have played into the hands of Centcom public relations and have become the focus of much Western reporting. Few Americans realize that 85 to 90 percent of all resistance operations have been against military targets, with at least 70 percent against foreign occupation forces (based on the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index). As the latest UN human rights report points out, “The distinction between acts of violence motivated by sectarian, political, or economic considerations was frequently blurred as a multitude of armed and criminal groups claimed responsibility for numerous acts of terror.” In this environment Centcom has easily shaped reports of violence in the media as either sectarian or al Qaeda-related, in spite of evidence of greater and more systematic violence against civilians by both U.S. forces and Iraqi forces recruited, trained, and directed by the U.S.

14. Violence by U.S.-trained auxiliary forces took a new and deeply disturbing turn after the U.S. recruited and trained Special Police Commando units for the Iraqi Interior Ministry in 2004 and 2005. The training of these forces was supervised by retired Colonel James Steele, who was sent to Iraq as counselor for Iraqi Security Forces to Ambassador John Negroponte. Steele is a former commander of U.S. military advisors in El Salvador who also worked secretly as a principal member of the Iran-Contra operation, overseeing arms shipments to the Contras in Nicaragua from Ilopango air-base in El Salvador. His role in Iran-Contra became public after he failed a polygraph test and confessed to the FBI, but his background in the dirty war in El Salvador is even more disturbing in light of the common pattern of thousands of atrocities committed by his trainees in both El Salvador and Iraq. Negroponte remains a shadowy figure in the background in both cases whose role deserves to be thoroughly investigated (see the “Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters” and Dennis Kucinich’s letter to Donald Rumsfeld in the Congressional Record for May 4, 2006).

15. The newly formed SCIRI “transitional” regime merged its Badr Brigades militia into these interior ministry forces under interior minister Bayan al-Jabr, a senior Badr commander. His senior U.S. advisor was former DEA Chief of Intelligence Steven Casteel, a veteran of the drug wars in Latin America. These forces were unleashed on Baghdad in April and May 2005, beginning a campaign of detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution that has claimed tens of thousands of victims. Yasser Salihee’s reporting for Knight Ridder, a UN human rights report in September 2005, and a well-publicized U.S. raid on an Interior Ministry torture center exposed the nature and dimensions of this campaign, but it continued unabated, protected by denials of responsibility from Casteel and other U.S. officials. As this campaign failed to terrorize the Sunni population of Baghdad into submission, U.S. forces supplied increasing levels of direct ground and air support to the Interior Ministry death squads, eventually reverting to a primary role in attacks on many parts of Baghdad during Operation Together Forward in 2006 and the “surge” in 2007. (See the UN Human Rights Report for July and August 2005 and subsequent interviews with its author, John Pace; also Tom Lasseter and Yasser Salihee, “Sunni men in Baghdad targeted by attackers in police uniforms,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 27, 2005; “Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps,” the Observer, July 3, 2005; and Dahr Jamail and Arkan Hamed, “Baghdad slipping into civil war,” Inter Press Service, April 19, 2006.)

16. While “reconstruction” has proved to be pure propaganda in most cases, the U.S. has spent billions of dollars on construction at its own military bases in Iraq and, most importantly, at the 104-acre occupation headquarters it is building in the Green Zone. This is officially a U.S. embassy, but it is ten times the size of the largest actual embassy in the world, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and it is clearly not designed as a diplomatic mission to a sovereign country. As the rest of the country is gradually demolished by daily air strikes and artillery fire, work on U.S. occupation headquarters has proceeded around the clock seven days a week. Construction workers from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines complain that they are beaten when they do not work hard enough and that they are “treated like animals.” Four years into the war, Bush has finally acknowledged U.S. plans for long-term bases in Iraq, comparing them to the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

17. Even more revealing of U.S. goals in Iraq is the history of its plans for the future of Iraq’s oil. Ibrahim Bahr al Uloum, the oil minister in the current puppet government, is a former exile who was a member of the U.S. State Department’s pre-invasion Oil and Energy working group, which concluded that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war” and favored “production sharing agreements” with Western oil companies as the most promising vehicle for doing this. The latest U.S. legislation funding the war in Iraq makes continued U.S. support for the puppet government conditional on the Iraqi Council of Representatives’ approval of a hydrocarbon law that adopts precisely this development model. It would replace the nationalized Iraqi oil industry with a privatized system in which Western oil companies would share in production revenues and control the allocation of contracts. The Iraq National Oil Company would only retain 17 of the 80 known oil fields in Iraq and Western companies would assume no obligation to reinvest profits in Iraq, employ Iraqi workers, or partner with Iraqi companies. The potential profits to Western oil companies from Iraqi oil under this scheme could conceivably exceed their profits from the rest of their worldwide operations combined (see Kucinich’s statement about the hydrocarbon law in the Congressional Record for May 23, 2007; also Global Policy Forum).

18. Based on the studies in the Lancet, between half a million and a million Iraqis have been killed in the war. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, has been destroyed by a slow-motion version of the assault on Fallujah. While besieging towns throughout central and northern Iraq, U.S. forces have imposed collective punishments that flagrantly violate international law: sealing them off with razor wire fences; cutting off electricity, food, water, medicine and other essential supplies; then conducting raids and calling in artillery and air strikes on “suspected insurgents.” This model is now being adapted to parts of Baghdad that are resisting the new U.S. offensive, over the impotent protests of the puppet government. The U.S. campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni Arabs has already killed between 5 and 15 percent of the pre-war population of 5 or 6 million, turned another 15 to 25 percent into refugees in their own country, and driven 30 to 40 percent out of the country. This year’s escalation of the war is a desperate effort to kill, terrorize, and expel more Sunni Arabs before the political balance tips decisively against the occupation, both in Iraq and in the United States. By the standards applied in other conflicts since the 1990s, this surely qualifies as genocide.

19. In August 2004 U.S. forces attacked the Shiite enclave and sacred city of Najaf, which was under the control of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Since then, al Sadr has avoided widespread armed confrontation with the occupation forces, and has instead quietly expanded his base of support throughout the southern half of the country and the Shiite population of Baghdad. The American strategy to deal with the Sunnis first and worry about al Sadr later has backfired. After four years, the Sunni resistance is more active than ever, conducting about 150 operations per day over the past year, while al Sadr has become the principal leader of the Shiite population. His limited cooperation with the U.S.-backed regime in the Green Zone and generally peaceful opposition to the occupation has been a skillful balancing act that has saved much of the population from greater bloodshed and enhanced his own position. He has also reached out to Sunnis in the spirit of Islamic and Iraqi unity to try and rebuild a united nationalist political front that can ultimately govern the country.

20. The latest UN human rights report states that 54 percent of Iraqis are now living on less than $1 per day, including 15 percent on less than 50 cents per day; 68 percent have no safe water to drink; and 2,000 doctors have been killed and another 12,000 have fled the country, reducing the number of doctors in the country by 42 percent. The U.S. offensive in Baghdad has raised the prison population from 31,000 to 38,000, with most of the new prisoners in the custody of the U.S. or the Interior Ministry. This is of concern to the UN because prisoners are likely to be tortured or murdered in Interior Ministry jails, while those in U.S. jails are accorded the least rights of all, and are often detained indefinitely without charge or trial. The UN is also concerned about detentions by the Kurdish regional government—there have been demonstrations in Irbil by relatives of people who have disappeared without trace after being arrested by Kurdish authorities. The Central Criminal Court set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad has sentenced 256 people to death, and has already executed 85 of them. New emergency regulations have expanded the death penalty to apply to property crimes like theft and destruction of property. Most trials, including capital cases, last only 15 to 30 minutes, and the judges’ deliberations on guilt and sentencing are even faster. The UN report found that criminal courts in Iraq “fail to meet minimum fair trial standards,” citing a long list of irregularities, and noted that “such trials are increasingly leading to the imposition of the death penalty.”

A common claim by supporters of the war is that the illegality of the U.S. invasion is irrelevant to Iraq’s current problems. A staffer at Senator Bill Nelson’s office told me recently, “That’s in the past. The question is what to do now.” On the contrary, the illegitimacy of the U.S. position in Iraq lies at the very heart of the ongoing crisis. The U.S. government invaded another country for strategic and commercial reasons, in violation of its most solemn treaty obligations under the UN Charter, but it has failed to impose its will by force on the population. Every day that it continues to wage this war and to kill or drive Sunni Arabs out of the country compounds the seriousness of the international crime it has committed. While UNSC Resolution 1546 and subsequent resolutions have made a weak attempt to chart a course toward a genuine restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and independence, this has been doomed to failure by the U.S. government’s refusal to relinquish the original goals of the invasion or to give up the illegitimate and murderous role it is playing in Iraq’s affairs in pursuit of those goals.