Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Even a cracked pot can cook your goose

Every country has its national mythology.

The national myth is how a people explains itself. It's how a people comes to understand itself as a whole -- what it believes, who it is, what is expected of it -- and that collective "authorized" biography, that national portrait shot in the most flattering light, is more about what a people wishes to believe about itself than what actually is the truth.

The United States' national mythology perhaps is one of the world's most all-pervasive, potent and uncritically accepted by its people. We Americans are always John Wayne in our national biopic, except when we prefer to be Jimmy Stewart or, on occasion, Cary Grant or James Dean.

Never are we Lee Marvin, villain of
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and many other films.

And being that the first casualty of war is the truth, our national mythology states Americans always go to war because there's no other recourse, then always conduct themselves as Audie Murphy -- never William Calley.

That's why a Fox News "opinion contributor," former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton, thinks the United States ought to "explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them."

Whiton wants us to attack Europe looking for where Julian Assange, founder and chief of WikiLeaks, is hiding out? Or perhaps he just wants us to send the CIA to assassinate him and his inner circle.

Funny how the release of the classified truth that belies the national myth causes some to just drop all the pretense, allowing our dark side to show its true face.

this service to Americans -- in addition to showing us what our government, and military, was (and wasn't) doing in our name in the Iraq War, acts for which we all ultimately are responsible -- Assange becomes something of a problematic prophet. Perhaps even a mad prophet.

Frankly, the man seems rather insufferable. He was reckless in his handling of the previous "document dump" concerning the Afghan War, and imperiousness coupled with an apparent messiah complex seems to be driving some of the WikiLeaks staff away.

Still, without such a seriously flawed messenger, would we know anything about this, for example? From The New York Times:
The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

The archive contains reports on at least four cases of lethal shooting
s from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of them civilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice.

In another case, in February 2007, an Apache helicopter shot and killed two Iraqi men believed to have been firing mortars, even though they made surrendering motions, because, according to a military lawyer cited in the report, “they cannot surrender to aircraft, and are still valid targets.”

The shooting was unusual. In at least three other instances reported in the archive, Iraqis surrendered to helicopter crews without being shot. The Pentagon did not respond to questions from The Times about the rules of engagement for the helicopter strike.

The pace of civilian deaths served as a kind of pulse, whose steady beat told of the success, or failure, of America’s war effort. Americans on both sides of the war debate argued bitterly over facts that grew hazier as the war deepened.

The archive does not put that argument to rest by giving a precise count. As a 2008 report to Congress on the topic makes clear, the figures serve as “guideposts,’ not hard totals. But it does seem to suggest numbers tha
t are roughly in line with those compiled by several sources, including Iraq Body Count, an organization that tracked civilian deaths using press reports, a method the Bush administration repeatedly derided as unreliable and producing inflated numbers. In all, the five-year archive lists more than 100,000 dead from 2004 to 2009, though some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures. A 2008 Congressional report warned that record keeping in the war had been so problematic that such statistics should be looked at only as “guideposts.”

In a statement on Friday, Iraq Body Count, which did a preliminary analysis of the archive, estimated that it listed 15,000 deaths that had not been previously disclosed anywhere.

The archive tells thousands of individual stories of loss whose consequences are still being felt in Iraqi families today.

Misunderstandings at checkpoints were often lethal. At one Marine checkpoint, sunlight glinting off a windshield of a car that did not slow down led to the shooting death of a mother and the wounding of three of her daughters and her husband. Hand signals flashed to stop vehicles were often not understood, and soldiers and Marines, who without interpreters were unable to speak to the survivors, were left to wonder why.

According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter.
IT'S A SAD THING that Assange -- a self-appointed messiah "too busy ending two wars" to answer legitimate inquiries from a reporter -- was the one to give lie to American lies and, yet again, shatter the myth of American moral exceptionalism when it most needed shattering, for truth's sake. From the Guardian in London:
A prisoner was kneeling on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed, when an Iraqi soldier walked over to him and kicked him in the neck. A US marine sergeant was watching and reported the incident, which was duly recorded and judged to be valid. The outcome: "No investigation required."

That was a relatively minor assault. Another of the leaked Iraqi war logs records the case of a man who was arrested by police on suspicion of preparing a suicide bomb. In the station, an officer shot him in the leg and then, the log continues, this detainee "suffered abuse which amounted to cracked ribs, multiple lacerations and welts and bruises from being whipped with a large rod and hose across his back". This was all recorded and judged to amount to "reasonable suspicion of abuse". The outcome: "No further investigation."

Other logs record not merely assaults but systematic torture. A man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".

Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.

The systematic viciousness of the old dictatorship when Saddam Hussein's security agencies enforced order without any regard for law continues, reinforced by the chaotic savagery of the new criminal, political and sectarian groups which have emerged since the invasion in 2003 and which have infiltrated some police and army units, using Iraq's detention cells for their private vendettas.

Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim – bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated – who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer's whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water – and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
THE CRITICS, on the right and in the government, are right: Julian Assange seems to be a cracked pot. And a fairly reckless one at that.

That's bad. It's bad that this is the guy upon whose judgment rests the lives of countless people.

It's worse -- immeasurably worse -- that our cracked system, our cracked military and our cracked national mythology combined to leave the likes of Assange as the go-to guy for the truth.

We won't believe Assange, or the documents he procured. We won't even believe Jimmy Stewart.

You see, even after Stewart tries to tell a reporter the truth about who really shot Liberty Valence at the end of the movie, the newspaper's editor won't print the story. He takes a look at the writer's notes, sees the God's honest truth in them . . . and burns them.

"This is the West, sir," he tells the reporter. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

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