If 2003 was the year of the liars, as I opined last year, then 2004 was the year of the war criminals, starting with Time magazine’s designated Man of the Year, criminal-in-chief George W. Bush. It was Bush who presided over the torture and abuse not only at Abu Ghraib but in U.S.-run dungeons from Guantanamo to Afghanistan – and spare me the cries of protest that he didn’t know, and Abu Ghraib was an “isolated incident.”
To begin with, he did know. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the president’s personal responsibility in this disgusting saga has been revealed, along with the existence of FBI internal memos and other material that cite a previously unknown Executive Order authorizing torture at Abu Ghraib and other prison facilities.
Bush, the Janus-faced ruler of an empire of hypocrites, loudly announces a “global democratic revolution” even as he whispers to subordinates that torture is okay: he’s a liar and a criminal.
Lynndie England had her day in court: when will Bush have his?
Government, which supposedly exists to protect us from criminals, is itself a criminal organization, bigger, more destructive, and certainly better-funded than the Mafia, the Bloods, and the Crips. The essential criminality of government – not just the American government, but all government – is underscored by the news that agents of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who had knowledge of abuses were threatened by Special Operations personnel if they revealed the illegal activities taking place at Guantanamo.
Every once in a while liberals discover this truth, and are shocked – shocked! – that what they consider the instrument of human good could so easily become the source of so much evil. It’s a rude awakening, and much needed: but it may not come in time. I fear it’s too late to halt the political and moral degeneration of our old republic into a decadent and cynical imperial power, like pagan Rome, where torture was a common form of public entertainment.
If Janet Jackson bares her breast, there’s a national outcry – and the threat of government action. But if the Pentagon, with the full backing of the president, authorizes an orgy of sadism and, yes, systematic terrorism inflicted on the “liberated” people of Iraq – 10,000 of whom now languish in U.S. torture pens – there is … silence. The only action taken by the U.S. government has been to cover up the burgeoning scandal, with full congressional complicity.
Follow the first link, and you find the story of two Iraqis stopped by the U.S. for being out after curfew, who were then taken to the Tigris river and forced to jump in – one drowned, the other survived. The irony here is that the victims are related to a prominent Iraqi blogger, lionized by the pro-war “blogosphere” for hailing the Americans as his “liberators” – but when Zeyad blogged the death of his cousin, rightly pointing out that this wasn’t exactly the sort of behavior one expects from “liberators,” he was quickly dropped and even denounced by the pro-war bloggers.
At the trial, lawyers for the four accused American soldiers argued that there was no proof the drowning ever occurred – this in spite of the offer of the family to exhume the body. All charges have been dropped against two of the accused, but two others face trial in the coming year.
The second link goes to a story about “consensual” sex between Pvt. Federico Daniel Merida and 19-year-old Falah Zaggam that ended in the murder of the latter by the former: Merida gave several versions of how the crime unfolded, first saying that the young Iraqi National Guard tried to rob him, later claiming the Iraqi “forced” him into sexual relations, and eventually taking the “gay panic” defense – admitting that the sex was consensual yet averring that he, Merida, then “snapped” and killed the kid by shooting him 11 times. Merida tried to cover it up by making it appear as if his victim had fired shots.
It looks like a sentence of 25 years in prison for Merida, which seems awfully light, but if I were the Iraqi insurgency, I would broadcast the following video and accompanying headline far and wide: GI sentenced to three years in death of Iraqi teen. After blowing up a truck and finding a badly wounded 16-year-old boy in it – who had nothing to do with the insurgents – Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr. shot the kid to “put him out of his misery.” Horne, 30, of Winston-Salem, N.C., “also received a reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of wages and a dishonorable discharge.”
Three years – for murder? Is that how much an Iraqi life is worth?
Where are all the “pro-life” conservatives now?
If 2004 was a year of untrammeled American criminality, the worst crimes of our government may have been rhetorical: as the president’s speechwriters are crafting soaring phrases hailing the arrival of “democracy” and “freedom” in Iraq, his lawyers are constructing legal arguments justifying the torture of Iraqis and other foreigners – and immunizing the president and his minions from prosecution.
No better pitch could be made by the insurgents than to cite the slap on the wrist meted out to Horne. They need only point to Abu Ghraib, the drowning of Zaydun Fadhil, and the numerous reports of torture and worse that are pouring out of Iraq in a veritable tsunami of moral degradation to underscore the religious imperative and moral necessity of the insurgency. It is not a hard argument to make to those whose homes have been bombed out of existence and who must endure the daily depredations of an occupying army.
Constantly reminded of their ongoing national and personal humiliation, young Iraqi men are naturally drawn to the resistance, which is growing exponentially – possibly beyond the ability of the occupation force, as presently constituted, to contain it. “More troops!” the War Party cries, and the chorus of criticism coming at this administration is loudest on the pro-war right. But the visibility and ubiquity of American troops is the insurgency’s prime recruiting device: the latest strategic wisdom coming from many military experts is to lower the profile of the American occupation, and at least try to give the administration’s Potemkin Village “democracy” in Iraq a thin veneer of credibility.
More troops mean more targets, without necessarily ensuring more order. Rummy, who’s no dummy, knows this, as does the neocon mob calling for his head. The latter, however, are less concerned about keeping order in Iraq – “creative destruction” is more the neocon style – than they are about gathering American forces for the next war, which, in my opinion, is bound to take place in and around Syria, including Lebanon, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq.
Speaking of the Kurds, much is made of the Sunni-Shi’ite division in Iraq and how it’s leading to civil war, but the really big problem, which has been largely put off so far, is what to do about the burning desire of most Kurds to strike out on their own. A petition demanding independence signed by 1.7 million Kurds – more than half the Kurdish population of northern Iraq– was recently delivered to the United Nations. Its arrival heralds a fresh crisis for the Americans, who have so far managed to keep their most enthusiastic supporters, the Kurdish peshmerga, from going off the reservation. But the Israelis, whose Kurdish incursions have been detailed by Seymour Hersh, may have other ideas.
(By the way, the news that some of the Guantanamo prisoners had been wrapped by their captors in the Israeli flag must provoke even the most doggedly incurious to ask where U.S. interrogators picked up a trick like that.)
In any case, this stirring of the Kurdish pot seems to be having repercussions on the home front – or, possibly, vice versa – in light of the FBI’s recent take-down of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the epicenter of Israel’s powerful lobby in the U.S., and long rated as one of the most powerful in Washington. After two raids on AIPAC’s D.C. headquarters, and four subpoenas issued to top officials Israel’s premier lobbyist accompanied by extensive “leaks” to the media, Israel’s amen corner is reeling. Their crimes, including espionage – and, in my own view, treason – were uncovered in 2004, and it looks like 2005 is going to be the year of their comeuppance.
Oh yes, it was a banner year for criminality at the highest levels of government: look at Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, who confessed to being a spy for Israel and was “flipped” by the FBI’s counterintelligence unit. Franklin, who agreed to help ferret out his confederates in top policymaking positions, is at the center of a storm that has already done considerable damage to the once mighty AIPAC – and may yet give new meaning to the “special relationship” between the U.S. and its truculent ally.
Franklin was caught red-handed relating top secret government intelligence to Naor Gilon, the top political affairs officer at the Israeli embassy, at a lunch with two high-ranking AIPAC officials. Now we learn that, having been flipped, Franklin was on the phone to Richard Perle, Francis Brooke, and no doubt others intimately involved in the neocon-Chalabi intelligence network centered in the Pentagon’s “Office of Special Plans.” Chalabi is accused of handing over vital U.S. secrets to Iran, and the Americans are beginning to ponder if perhaps they haven’t been snookered, and not only by the Iranians.
How, one wonders, did Chalabi get his hands on U.S. signal intercepts, sensitive intelligence that only top U.S. policymakers could access? The FBI is wondering, too, and the Washington Post (Sept. 2) reports that AIPAC is the number-one suspect:
“FBI counterintelligence agents are investigating whether several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a law enforcement official and other people familiar with the case. … Initially, news reports revealed that the FBI was investigating whether Lawrence A. Franklin – a mid-level analyst specializing in Middle East issues in the Pentagon office of Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy – had passed a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC, and whether the group had passed the information to Israel. AIPAC is an influential lobbying group with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“The FBI probe is actually much broader, according to senior U.S. officials, and has been underway for at least two years. Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi.”
So the crime of treason is added to murder, torture, and other war crimes, including an extensive and ongoing cover-up: the year 2004 has been little more than one long, non-stop crime spree in the corridors of power.
What the Franklin case will show, I believe, is that the same cabal that lied us into war then turned around and stole our secrets, handing them over to Chalabi and Iran via AIPAC. A recent piece in The Forward by AIPAC-defender Edwin Black tries to portray the pursuit of AIPAC by law enforcement as the intelligence community’s “war” on the neoconservatives: Black has repeatedly accused the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence unit of “anti-Semitism,” and apparently some of the principals in this case have a longstanding adversarial relationship. However, by Black’s logic – which has led him to call for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard – any pursuit of AIPAC is, by definition, suspect. As to why AIPAC must be granted immunity from investigation, especially when it comes to such a serious charge as espionage, is not at all clear.
In any event, if 2003 was the year of the liar, and 2004 the year of the war criminal, then let 2005 be the year of justice. That is not a prediction, but only a hope.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I‘ll be on Charles Goyette‘s morning radio show, out of Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday, Jan. 4 (8:30 Pacific Standard Time).
Thanks to the many readers who pointed out that what I thought was a Finnish translation of one of my columns was really Swedish: or, rather, a local dialect merging elements of the two. Who knew I had so many Finnish readers?