With the “liberation” of Libya from the grip of Muammar Gadhafi, progressives like E. J. Dionne and other cheerleaders for this administration are hailing the joint US-NATO operation as a new model for American intervention – an exemplar of the “good” way to push our weight around on the international stage, as opposed to the “bad” way pursued by George W. Bush and the neoconservatives in Iraq. As Glenn Greenwald points out, the same triumphalist message being trumpeted by this administration’s supporters over Libya was uncritically broadcast by the “mainstream” media in the wake of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
That reality will soon intrude, and correct this “irrational exuberance” – as a certain Federal Reserve chairman would put it – is an absolute certainty. Indeed, a few skeptical voices are already being raised, notably Patrick Cockburn, reporting from Benghazi:
“Any black African in Libya is open to summary arrest unless he can prove that he was not a member of Colonel Gadhafi’s forces… The rebels claim that many of Colonel Gadhafi’s soldiers were black African mercenaries. Amnesty International says these allegations are largely unproven and, from the beginning of the conflict, many of those arrested or, in some cases, executed by the rebels were undocumented laborers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“But there is no doubt that all black Africans are now under suspicion. The head of the militia in Faraj, a short bearded man in a brown robe named Issam, explained how well-prepared local insurgents had taken over the area on 19 August, telling Colonel Gadhafi’s supporters to hand over their weapons and stay at home. There was almost no resistance from the demoralized regime and few people had been arrested. Then Issam added, as an aside, that his men had also detained ‘tens of Africans whom we sent off to prison.’ He did not explain why they had been jailed.”
Across “liberated” Libya, black Africans are being rounded up by the rebel forces, and often either summarily executed or else imprisoned. See here, here, and here for more disgusting evidence of the rebels’ anti-black campaign.
Gadhafi reportedly hired African mercenaries to fight for his regime, and this is the ostensible reason why the rebels are rounding up blacks, but this explanation seems more like an excuse than an actual reason in view of the fact that there have been periodic anti-black riots in the country, notably in 2000.
The idea that American imperialism could be a force for “good,” with a “progressive” president holding the reins, was never very convincing. But even I never expected to be confronted with the ultimate irony: the first African-American President appears to be responsible, in part, for a large scale anti-black pogrom. This is his signal foreign policy “accomplishment” – a mass lynching.
We have truly entered Bizarro World.
One could argue, however, that this is not the fault of the Obama administration, since it was their Libyan proxies, and not US troops, who committed that particular atrocity. We can still see the US as a force for “good” in the world, albeit not without morally complex anomalies to factor into the equation. Well, tell that to the people of Ishaqi, a village in Iraq, where US troops recently conducted a raid:
“Witnesses in the village of Ishaqi, just south of Tikrit, said Iraqi and American forces opened fire on civilians and threw grenades early Friday as they conducted the raid. The villagers said the forces were responding to gunfire from people in the village and then fired back, killing a 13-year-old boy and an off-duty police officer.”
The American authorities are currently stonewalling, denying any responsibility for the deaths, and claiming it was an Iraqi operation – although they admit US forces entered the scene when “fighting broke out.” One has to wonder, however, how a 13-year-old boy and a police officer came to be the targets – are these the “terrorists” we’re supposedly fighting in Iraq, whose presence requires an extended American stay?
It’s an irony that this latest incident – which has further complicated Washington’s efforts to persuade the Iraqis they need our continued presence – took place in Ishaqi, the scene of yet another infamous US atrocity in 2006. As Antiwar.com’s John Glaser was the first to report earlier this week:
“As revealed by a State Department diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last week, US forces committed a heinous war crime during a house raid in Iraq in 2006, wherein one man, four women, two children, and three infants were summarily executed. The cable excerpts a letter written by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, addressed to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. American troops approached the home of Faiz Harrat Al-Majma’ee, a farmer living in central Iraq, to conduct a house raid in search of insurgents in March of 2006.
“’It would appear that when the MNF [Multinational Forces] approached the house,’ Alston wrote, ‘shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued’ before the ‘troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them.’ Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay’ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra’a (aged 5) Aisha ( aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz’s mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz’s sister (name unknown), Faiz’s nieces Asma’a Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 5 years old), and Usama Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (aged 23) were killed during the raid. Alston’s letter reveals that a US air strike was launched on the house presumably to destroy the evidence, but that “autopsies carried out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.”
A five-year-old, and a child of five months – shot in the head while handcuffed?
I wrote about this incident in 2006, shortly after the news came out, in response to a piece by Peter Beinart, then editor of The New Republic. Polemicizing against Bill Kristol’s view that the Abu Ghraib inquiry was unnecessary, Beinart argued the investigation showed that, while war is necessarily a horrific business, our wars are different because we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard. As I wrote back then:
“In Ishaqi, 11 villagers were slaughtered after American troops packed them into a small room, burned three vehicles, killed a herd of livestock, and then ordered an air strike on the house so as to bury all evidence of their crime. The military has just announced their ‘exoneration.’ This ‘underscores the liberal vision,’ all right – but only in the Bizarro World of Beinart and his neocon buddies.
“The big debate between Beinart and the neocons is over what constitutes the true ‘American exceptionalism.’ What ‘proves it,’ says Beinart, is that we move quickly to punish evildoers in uniform, and make sure that ‘justice’ is done. Except when it isn’t, in Ishaqi, for instance – and even if the eventual triumph of truth is made possible by non-American investigators.”
They tried to cover up their crimes in Ishaqi, first by blowing the crime scene to smithereens, and then by launching a phony “investigation” that officially exonerated US troops and their commanders.
As it turned out, the eventual triumph of truth was made possible by Wikileaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, is being harried by the US and its European allies, and detained on trumped-up charges, while an American grand jury compiles evidence to prosecute him. On the other hand, the child-killing sadists in the US military roam free.
If “American exceptionalism” means anything in this context, it is in the telling details: after all, if you’re going to kill a five year old, why handcuff her?
“This horrible story,” wrote Beinart in 2006, speaking about another atrocity, this one in Haditha, “powerfully underscores the liberal vision, which is this:
“We are not angels: without sufficient moral and legal restrictions, and under conditions of extreme stress, Americans can be as barbaric as anyone. What’s makes us an exceptional nation with the capacity to lead and inspire the world is our very recognition of that fact. We are capable of Hadithas and My Lais, so is everyone. But few societies are capable of acknowledging what happened, bringing the killers to justice, and instituting changes that make it less likely to happen again. That’s how we show we are different from the jihadists. We don’t just assert it. We prove it. That’s the liberal version of American exceptionalism, and it’s what we need right now in response to this horror.”
Beinart was wrong then, and he’s wrong now. Child murder, racist pogroms – what’s next, the liquidation of the kulaks?
The vast gulf between what America was, and what it has become, can be measured by the distance between Beinart’s uplifting rhetoric about “American exceptionalism” and the degraded reality of handcuffed children murdered by US soldiers. What we were was admired, and even loved, by freedom-seeking people the world over: what we have become is rightly hated by those same freedom-starved peoples.
The history of the last decade or so proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the US government, far from being this great liberating force, the greatest factor for good in the international equation, is instead a force for naked evil. It isn’t that “we are not angels,” it’s that we’re devils. It’s as simple as that.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Labor Day is on the way, and even I am taking a short vacation. I’ll return on Wednesday, September 7 – unless Something Big happens over the holiday, in which case I’ll be right here at my post.