Antiwar GI’s go on Denver’s streets today

Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization of more than 1,200 soldiers who survived tours in Iraq, is joining this week’s protests outside the Democratic National Convention. IVAW is demanding that Barack Obama sign on to their three-point vision of a responsible withdrawal:

1. The immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq. 2. Full and adequate health care and benefits to all returning service members and veterans. 3. Reparations made to the Iraqi people for the destruction caused by the U.S. war and occupation.

One aspect of their presence is Operation First Casualty, a public re-enactment of daily life in US-occupied Iraq on the streets. You can see in this video what OFC looked like here on the streets of New York City. 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The video is a creation of the Meerkat Media collective. Meerkat encourages collaborative video production among activists/artists, and hosts a monthly community mixer to help nurture that collaboration and show off the results.

Ongoing protests against war in San Francisco, Washington

New York: At least seven people blockading the entrance to L-3, a military and intelligence contractor which had interrogators at Abu Ghraib, were arrested this morning, in a protest that had the support of a couple dozen early morning antiwar protesters.Larger actions are happening in the national capital and the capital of the Left Coast…Washington: Civil disobedience at the IRS, multiple locations to follow.San Francisco: A network of mobile protests, office blockades, and a die-in closing Market St. at the moment is going on. News is available by radio at 102.5 FM in SF, and online at radio.indybay.org and the SF Bay Independent Media Center. Read the plan from Direct Action to Stop the War.Was it worth it?

The war “plan” that wrecked Iraq

As someone who was watching the US government march to invade Iraq from the streets of San Francisco, and from countless antiwar events, giving more of an insider’s view has been both chilling and darkly fascinating. A big help is last summer’s PBS documentary, No End in Sight.

Strangely for me after watching the film last night, this morning’s New York Times covers one of the main hidden histories exposed by the documentary. Early on in the occupation, sometime in the month of May 2003, a few highly placed Defense Department officials decided to disband the Iraqi army, without so much as asking Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, or the U.S. Army.Plans to screen and reconstitute the force were pushed aside, and Iraqi officers offering help had to be ignored. The Army’s head of policy in Baghdad, John Hughes remebers:

Later, a battalion commander from the 101st Airborne came in—to see me, and he said, “Hey, sir, I’ve gotta talk to somebody, I’ve got a group of Iraqi generals and colonels that want to talk to somebody from ORHA.”

And they—over the course of the war, even before the war, had been removing computers and software —of personnel lists from the Ministry of Defense and storing them at their home, because they knew they were not going to win this war.

And they wanted to help reestablish the Iraqi military with the Americans.

Absolutely. And I took intelligence officials with me to meet with these men. And these guys were willing to—to explain or provide information on anything that they could.

They were saying to me, “Colonel Paul, Baghdad’s burning. You tell me, and I can have 10,000 military police ready for you next week.”

I took that back, nothing ever became of it.

We were also going to—take some Iraqi units and let them become the labor force for reconstructing Iraq. If you needed the rubble from a bridge cleared, they would do that. And there on the news one morning was the announcement that the Iraqi army had been disbanded and abolished by—Ambassador Bremer.

You want to talk about feeling like the ugly American, that’s what I was. You know, here I was, trying to work with these men, to help them rebuild their country, to—to bring their soldiers under some semblance of control. And instead, they’re told they’re not worth the time.

Just two months later, lines had been drawn, and another reality began to unfold:

Hussein Saber shook with fury as he lay on a dirty hospital bed last night and told the story of another day in Baghdad, a city torn apart by killings, misunderstanding and the startling failures of America’s military occupation.

Yesterday Hussein, 33, should have collected a $50 (£30) emergency payment which all Iraq’s now unemployed soldiers are due to receive. The money did not arrive and so he and hundreds of other frustrated young men poured towards the gates of the US-led authority to protest.

Within minutes he was shot in his right side by a young, nervous American soldier. Hussein survived but two other Iraqis standing next to him in the crowd were killed.

“I hoped and I wished that when the American forces came they would bring us democracy and freedom but unfortunately we have seen the opposite,” said Hussein, a non-commissioned officer in the air force for the past 18 years. “The Americans are going to get hurt if the situation remains as it is.” (Rory McCarthy, “Just another day in Baghdad,” The Guardian, June 19, 2003)

Normally, I’m cautious about getting too deep into debates among war planners. The argument usually turns into some idea that if only more competent people were in charge, everything would go smoothly. In the context of one country ruling over another country, such an outcome seems extraordinarily unlikely. However, it is people who strive to do their very best under whatever circumstances that leave behind the archive and their regrets, both of which help us understand how an enterprise like our new colonialism could ever have happened.

This news and a lot of details in the film raise a deeper question. Aside from proving that a high tech, high corporate profit, but smaller military without the bother of too many actual American citizens on the ground, did Rumsfeld and Bremer have plans of their own? Was leaving Iraq in chaos, whatever the motive, something they were consciously pushing their colleagues and superiors aside to do?

Haditha watch: Marines investigate their own atrocities

The morning of November 19, 2005, one Marine and 24 Iraqis were killed in the town of Haditha, in occupied Iraq.  Within hours, the Marines had claimed that the improvised explosive device that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had also killed 15 civilians, while eight “insurgents” were killed in self-defense.  This description was a lie.  None of the Iraqis, 19 of whom died in their homes, were killed by the roadside bomb.  Among the men, four were killed in a house, while five – three students, a friend and their taxi driver – were either ordered or dragged from their car before being shot on the street. A balanced investigation of the morning by the German magazine Der Spiegel is online, as is the collaborative Wikipedia article on the Haditha killings.

Largely because the bedrooms of the 15 women and children who were killed that morning were recorded on video, and because that video made it into the American press, the marines involved are now on trial. One of them has turned state’s evidence, testifying that that not only did he shoot civilians of the orders of a superior officer, but he then proceeded to desecrate their freshly killed bodies. Meanwhile, apartheid rules of evidence are governing both the trial and the American press coverage. Iraqi eyewitness testimony and the conclusions of the medical examiner are being essentially discounted as either pleas for compensation money, or subject to nationalist bias.  The Marines are being held to a standard based on rules of engagement, rather than morality or law. Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who “responded instinctively, assaulting into the room and emptying his pistol” into the house where four men were killed, was recommended for exoneration by the Marines on the grounds that,  “Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement.”

You can expect that the assumption that any Military Aged Male in Iraq is an insurgent (see Juan Cole on the Rules of Engagement) will be upheld, or at least that any marine testifies that he thought such a person was armed will be backed up. this is especially chilling given the story of the men in the taxi (quoting Der Spiegel):

They were driving eastward into the morning sun, and the driver was probably momentarily blinded by the glare. By the time they had registered the scene unfolding in front of them, it was too late. What they saw signaled imminent danger: a wrecked Humvee, clouds of smoke, soldiers with drawn weapons. Normally they would have turned around immediately. But the soldiers motioned for them to stop. Anyone who attempted to continue driving at that point would come under fire. Those are the rules in Injun Country.

The Iraqis stopped. The Marines approached, signaling to the driver to turn off the engine. The Iraqis got out of the car. Up until this point, the various pieces of testimony coincide. The men and the vehicle had to be searched for weapons and explosives. When no weapons were found, it was clear that the five men posed no immediate danger. They were told to sit down with their hands behind their heads.

At some point the five men were shot.

The “Rules of Engagement” permit any Marine to kill without warning in the event of danger. This is especially applicable when it comes to so-called MAMs, or Military Age Males. Who were these five men? Were they scouts who had been sent to investigate how successful the attack had been?

The Marines must have known how unlikely this was. Only one man, not five, would have been needed to survey the scene. He would have hidden first or would have come from the River Road, on a motorcycle.

Did the five men try to run away? That was the way the accused Marines described it. Possible, but also unlikely. Most of all, it is unlikely that all five Iraqis would have pursued the same suicidal impulse. Besides, the Marines could have shot the Iraqis in the legs to prevent them from running away. However one paints the scenario, the key issue is that the men were unarmed.

Can these men get justice? A recent Editor & Publisher apology to Sharatt makes MAM status into a full explanation:

Unlike Sharratt, who was accused of killing three men who were between the ages of 24 and 41, Tatum is accused of killing women and children as young as 4 years old and as elderly as 76 years old.

For his part, Tatum is arguing “women and children can hurt you, too.” To make the entire situation more bleak, the man with the final decision on prosecution is none other than Lt. Gen. James Mattis, infamous for the following quote:

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

Mattis has just pronounced Sharatt “innocent” and exonerated Capt. Randy Stone for failures in reporting the incident (more on those here).  On Stone, Mattis stated yesterday, “his attentiveness to training the Marines in the law of war and rules of engagement and willingness to share their hardship to better appreciate the challenges facing them are notable. By patrolling alongside the infantrymen in his Battalion, he helped them embrace the imperative of ethical behavior in combat.”

Empathy

..means shared pain. Without it solidarity is impossible, and support is optional. With it, we on the trigger side of empire have a chance of uniting with the rest of humanity.

After several years of various activist stints against the Guantanamo Bay prison, I found that the group Outlandish had a song about it. Which led me to their moving piece “Try Not Cry.” Have a listen if you can, perhaps by checking out a home-made video here. Some of the lyrics:

Hmm, a little boy shot in the head / Just another kid sent out to get some bread / Not the first murder nor the last / Again and again a repetition of the past / Since the very first day same story / Young ones, old ones, some glory / How can it be, has the whole world turned blind? / Or is it just ’cause it’s only affecting my kind?!

I grew up with a kind of visceral affinity for kids throwing stones at tanks and riot police. South Africa, first of all. When an a form of oppression cuts you in two, it gets obvious. But Palestine too, where the first Intifada brought out those Mahmoud Darwish would call “the children of the stones,” shaming their elders with their refusal to accept their fate.

No matter how clearly I know that empire isn’t new, it still breaks my heart for my neighbors to be the ones driving the tanks now.

p.s. Also check out Outlandish’s video of Look Into My Eyes.