As we pull, and tug at the spam propaganda story those fake “good news” letters from Iraq sent out to 500 newspapers, signed by different soldiers the whole fabric of this odd little episode begins to come apart, revealing a whole other layer underneath. The Pentagon, the local commanders, everyone disclaimed any knowledge of this “good news” factory, and it was only a coincidence that the President had just launched a major public relations blitz designed to shore up support for the war.
The official story, up until recently, was that a single individual soldier had taken it upon himself to write and circulate the letter, but, as it turned out, this wasn’t just any grunt: it was Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, who is, by any measure, far from ordinary. Caraccilo stepped forward and claimed credit, or blame the latter occurring in a normal world, and the former in the post-9/11 Bizarro World we live in, where up is down and moral inversion rules.
Caraccilo refused to apologize. The letter, he declared, “perfectly reflects what each of these brave soldiers has and continues to accomplish on the ground. With the current and ongoing media focus on casualties and terrorist attacks, we thought it equally important to share with the American public, and especially the folks from our soldier’s hometowns, the good news associated with our work in Kirkuk.”
Military officials, while distancing themselves from Caraccilo’s effort, and assuring the media that he had been instructed not to do it again, “said his intentions were honorable,” according to USA Today. There are currently no plans to discipline Caraccilo. But there should be, and not just for sending out fake letters.
The idea of using the troops in the field as pawns in a propaganda war on the home front is utterly antithetical to our republican form of government: when it comes to the political arena, the military must be strictly neutral in the battle between the contending parties. Caraccilo’s crime, directly traceable to our foreign policy of global intervention, is one of the chief corruptions of empire. Far from “honorable,” Caraccilo’s deception was execrable.
What is interesting is that the military high command an organization not known for cutting slack would so readily acknowledge, at least implicitly, that Caraccilo’s actions were wrong. As Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald, a military spokesman, put it:
“It sounded like a good idea at their level [but] it’s just not the way to do business. They’re not going to do that again.”
Yet Caraccilo’s superiors refuse to punish him in any way, thus inviting a repeat. It’s as if the whole dubious operation had been unofficially sanctioned at a higher level, or initiated by some other as yet unnamed agency. This whole incident is highly unusual, but, then again, Caraccilo is himself highly unusual.
He is not only a published author and editor, but is also, perhaps, the single most cited soldier in press accounts of the war, as a Google search reveals. Wherever there is a question to be answered, a rationale to articulate, a “good news” perspective to be given on some unfolding disaster, Lt. Col. Caraccilo is at the media’s service.
Early in the war, before the myth of Iraqi WMD had been discredited, Caraccilo was touting one of the first of many false alarms: several barrels of a mysterious substance (that turned out not to be biological or chemical weapons):
“‘The weapons inspectors never would have found this stuff,’ said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, the battalion commander who led the team to the sites. ‘It would have taken 40 years.'”
Gee, imagine if we hadn’t invaded, hadn’t so far taken nearly 400 casualties and thousands wounded, and hadn’t run up a bill for $87 billion we would never have found all that liquified camel dung, or whatever it was, and that woulda been a cryin’ shame.
Caraccilo showed up again at the scene of another attempt to somehow rationalize the invasion, touting the capture of “Al Qaeda suspects” in Kirkuk. A Washington Post story places Caraccilo at the center of its narrative, the purpose of which is to convince the reader of the Iraqi-Al Qaeda connection:
“The word came at 11:15 a.m. Sunday: al-Qaida suspect in the southeast segment of the city.
At the Kirkuk air base, headquarters for the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry, U.S. Army Col. Dominic Caraccilo weighed his options.
As it turns out, the group in question was Ansar-al-Islam, a shadowy outfit that is only vaguely “linked to Al Qaeda.” Citing an anonymous Army officer who questions “how seriously to take reports of Al Qaeda activity,” the Post reports “Caraccilo decided the new information seemed solid and potentially important.”
Yeah, just in time for the reporters and the photographers. This guy is forever schmoozing with the media, so much so that it almost seems as if that’s his primary job. Here he is again, this time handling the squabbling Kurdish factions with admirable aplomb. And yet again, this time in the midst of adoring Iraqis:
“The reconnaissance mission, led by Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, rolled out from Bashur Airfield at dawn yesterday in a convoy of humvees. The paratroopers drew smiles, waves and cheers as they drove through villages in this semiautonomous Kurdish enclave.
“‘I love you,’ one young girl yelled in English at the soldiers.
“‘Where are you going? Please stay,’ another man said in Kurdish as the procession left one area.”
Wherever there’s good news, there is Caraccilo, a one-man harbinger of hope. If the story of the Iraqi invasion is a narrative of liberation and steady success, then he is its central hero, the character through whose eyes we see this war as not only necessary but also kinda fun:
“‘Nobody wants war,’ said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the Second Battalion, 503d Airborne Infantry, one of the brigade’s two infantry battalions. ‘But this is a paratrooper’s dream.'”
Even when things look bad, as in this story headlined “Chaos Reigns in Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk,” there’s Caraccilo, ready with a positive spin:
“In Kirkuk, another major northern city, the 173rd Airborne Brigade and special forces planned to begin patrols and set up checkpoints Saturday to stop the looting, said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry. “We will guard key installations and re-establish the rule of law.”
“‘Should that have happened? No,’ said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo of Seneca Falls, N.Y., commander of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry. ‘It tears my heart out. But sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got, to the detriment of the individual troops. No one died, and no one got scurvy.'”
Caraccilo is a major journalistic prop of this administration’s Iraqi Potemkin Village, with the work his unit is doing in Kirkuk held up as exemplary by the military-media complex, as in this Knight-Ridder piece headlined “In Kirkuk, troops see less violence, fewer attacks“:
“Soldiers of the 173rd regularly eat and shop in local establishments and interact with residents. By contrast, for example, the 82nd Airborne battalion based in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, doesn’t allow its troops to buy so much as a can of soda outside their walled and heavily guarded compound off a major highway.
“The 173rd’s approach is riskier. The houses have been attacked occasionally with rocket-propelled grenades, and one soldier lost his legs in such an attack. But the risk brings rewards, said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, who commands the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, which lives in the city. Soldiers know their neighborhoods intimately and regularly get good tips about potential problems. On Monday, one such tip led to the arrest of some weapons dealers.
“‘I just don’t understand how you could hold yourself out as doing nation-building and not live among the people,’ Caraccilo said.'”
Instructing us in the glories of “nation-building,” while schooling the Kurds in the intricacies of democracy, Caraccilo is a shepherd tending two flocks. In sending those letters out at taxpayers’ expense Caraccilo was merely playing, on the home front, the same role he has so consistently played abroad as a propagandist for the U.S. war effort. The quick disavowal by the Pentagon to the contrary notwithstanding, it is hard to believe that he plays this role free-lance.
In tracing the story of how this administration came to believe fake and in some instances outright forged “evidence” compiled to justify the invasion, what has come out is a portrait of an intelligence community bitterly divided against itself. That’s what the Plame affair is all about, and that could well be what this Spam Scam is all about, too.
On the road to war, one faction the CIA was telling the President one thing, while another faction the neocons, and their own “Office of Special Plans” set up especially for the occasion fed him information altogether different. The neocons have been running a lot of rogue operations lately. So it may be that the Pentagon is telling the truth about how they knew nothing of Caraccilo’s effort but somebody did. The question is: who?
The same liars who piped lies into the White House and Congress have now redirected their efforts at the American people. Whether Caraccilo is part of that operation remains to be seen, but certainly, in the context of the larger unfolding scandal of how we got into this war in the first place, it is not an unreasonable suspicion.