Saturday, August 05, 2006
Israel holds Palestinian Speaker
Israeli forces have detained the Speaker of the Palestinian parliament at his home in the West Bank.
Aziz Dweik, also a key member of Hamas, which controls the government, was held after 20 Israeli vehicles surrounded his home in Ramallah.
The Israeli military confirmed the detention, saying Mr Dweik was a legitimate target as a Hamas leader.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya condemned the action, accusing Israel of "piracy".
He said: "We urge all Arab and international parliamentarians to condemn and denounce this crime and to secure the release of Aziz Dweik and all jailed ministers and lawmakers."
Israel detained eight members of the Hamas-led government and 20 MPs on 29 June. Palestinians called that an act of war.
The detentions followed the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants in June.
An Israeli army spokesman, confirming Mr Dweik's detention to Reuters news agency, said: "Since Hamas is a terrorist organisation, he is a target for arrest."
Israeli forces had twice previously surrounded Mr Dweik's home but had not arrested him.
Mr Dweik's wife told Reuters on Saturday: "We were sitting home peacefully, normally. Then we heard knocking on the door.
"He went down because the army was there. He opened the door. They saw him in his pyjamas and asked him to go with them."
Red Cross request
Israeli soldiers and tanks moved back into the south of the Gaza Strip three days ago, conducting searches for its detained soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit.
Seventeen Palestinians have been killed, mainly in air strikes, in that time.
On Saturday, Hamas issued a statement rejecting a Red Cross request for a visit to Cpl Shalit, saying it was "not appropriate at a time when more than 10,000 Palestinian families are denied to visit their prisoners".
Israeli Cabinet minister Ophir Pines said: "We allow people to see Palestinian prisoners... people know where they are and we allow access by international organisations".
August 5 / 6, 2006
Bad Apples from a Rotten Tree
Military Training and Atrocities
By Sgt. MARTIN SMITH, USMC (Ret.)
The mounting revelations of war crimes in Iraq have ripped the mask of democracy and nation-building off of a fatigued and wearied Uncle Sam, revealing the true face of U.S. imperialism. At least thirty U.S. servicemen are being prosecuted or are under investigation for the murder of Iraqi civilians. Twenty-one year old Steven Green, who served in the 502nd Infantry Regiment, was charged with the gang rape and murder of a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl in Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad.
The accused, with the assistance of five other soldiers, allegedly premeditated the attack and carried it out in broad daylight. After a drinking bout, the soldiers changed out of their uniforms and Green covered his face with a brown skivvy undershirt to avoid detection as they entered the woman's house to commit the crime. After the sexual assault, they murdered her and poured a flammable liquid over her body to destroy the evidence. Afterwards, Green shot the victim's parents and sister in the head, execution-style. The soldiers made a pact to never discuss the incident.
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg of the U.S. occupation's horror show in Iraq. Out of revenge for the death of a fellow Marine, who had died from a roadside bomb last November, members of Kilo Co, 3rd BN, 1st Marine Regiment are accused of killing twenty-four unarmed civilians in Haditha. Iraqis claim that Marines gunned down unarmed teenagers in the streets and then stormed through homes, killing residents, including babies and the elderly, in what can only be described as a blood bath. Likewise, in March in the town of Ishaqi, witnesses claim that eleven civilians, including children under the age of five and a seventy-five year old woman, were forced into a corner of a room with hands bound and then brutally shot by U.S. troops.
Explaining how U.S. soldiers could be capable of such ghastly deeds has led to blatant distortions and false claims by the media punditocracy. The Fox News and Limbaughesque loudmouths were quick to blame the anti-war movement's criticisms of the conduct of the war as a scheme to demoralize America's "will to win" and a ploy aimed to bolster the propaganda efforts of "al Qaeda operatives." Some in the blogosphere even absolved U.S. war crimes as a just response to an insurgency which has utilized beheadings, kidnappings, and roadside bombs--even though the targeting of civilians is in contravention of international humanitarian law or let alone the fact that the Iraqi resistance is born out of the very presence of U.S. troops as an occupying force.
Liberal analyses rely on two versions of the "bad apple" hypothesis that are equally inept. On the one hand, it is claimed that the war crimes are the result of a renegade president who flaunts international law. According to such a view, the impeachment of Bush would be a step forward in remapping what is merely a stray path on which the neo-con Republicans have circuitously navigated U.S. democracy. On the other, many argue that such incidents are the result of a few deranged individuals and that Steven Green's discharge with a "personality disorder" is proof that his actions represent an isolated incident by an unstable individual. The former argument buys into the liberal myth that the U.S. military is somehow capable of humanitarian interventions-if only Al Gore or John Kerry were president, or so they say. Such an assessment fails to acknowledge that U.S. imperialism has never been humanitarian nor has it been free of blatant war crimes, as the history of military intervention under Clinton in Kosovo or Somalia will attest. The latter is merely another version of the "support our troops" sloganeering which holds that the U.S. military, as a whole, represents the lofty ideals of honor, courage and commitment. While many have loved ones or relatives in service; or may have served in the military themselves, there can be no denial that the military is a tool of big business--and comes at a cost to human life that is, as they say, "priceless." In describing the interventions that he participated in during the early decades of the 20th century--and the corporate interests he served--U.S. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler said: "I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
Some of the Bushies and the Pentagon war planners attempt to camouflage the mounting war crimes and the staggering count of Iraqi dead by painting a rosy picture of how troops are giving candy to Iraqi children or rebuilding schools and hospitals in Afghanistan-even though the infrastructures of these countries were destroyed by U.S. bombs and firepower in the first place. Yet despite the deceptions and manipulations, the realities of the war are coming home. With almost 2,600 U.S. troops now dead and thousands more maimed and crippled, one thing is for certain. In this "dirty war," troops cannot tell friend from foe, leading to war crimes against a civilian population. It is also certain that, with our government promoting a campaign of lies and deception to justify its illegal actions (with the complicity of both parties in Washington), and with U.S. troops fighting to support a regime that lacks popular support and legitimacy, the war in Iraq will increasingly resemble another immoral and unjust war from a not so distant past.
The atrocities of Al-Mahmudiyah, Haditha, and Ishaqi resemble the war crimes committed by U.S. troops in the American War, the Vietnamese name for the conflict known in this country as the war in Vietnam. On March 16, 1968, members of Charlie Company murdered 347 unarmed men, women, and children in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. Lt. William "Rusty" Calley became infamous as details emerged of how he herded some 100 Vietnamese into a ditch and machine-gunned them to death. When he saw a baby crawling away from the dead, he grapped the child by the leg and threw it back in the pit and opened fire. Vietnam is now infamous in the public memory as the "bad war," largely because a vocal anti-war movement opened a public space that allowed the exposure of war crimes, such as My Lai. The Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit in 1971 by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, included the testimony of over one hundred veterans who testified about war crimes they had either witnessed or committed, including rape and torture.
Yet the comparisons to Vietnam extend beyond the massacre at My Lai. In fact, the dehumanization of the enemy and the callous disregard for human life exhibited in both Vietnam and Iraq travels in multiple directions. Atrocities were not only committed "in country" to Vietnam but were also exported to the U.S. from overseas. Recently, the finally released report by a special prosecutor on systematic police torture exposed what African American victims long knew, that Chicago police detectives during the seventies and eighties tortured nearly two hundred African Americans to gain coerced confessions. John Burge, the Joseph Goebbels of Chicago, practiced torture techniques on African Americans in the west side of Chicago for more than ten years and is now retired in Florida where he receives his full pension. He was also a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Ninth Military Police Company. Burge's instruments of torture included mock executions with pistols, a cow prod targeting the victim's genitals, and a black box that generated an electric shock when a crank was turned. In fact, this black box technique was the same device utilized by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, a field telephone that was jimmied into a torture method known by soldiers as "the Bell telephone hour." It is likely that Burge first honed his skills as master-torturer in the fields of Vietnam.
The barbaric acts committed by Chicago's "finest" are reminiscent of the same incidents that took place at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. torture chamber in Iraq, where at least twenty-seven military intelligence officers and numerous military contractors humiliated detainees. According to the military's own investigation of the abuse, there were at least forty-four accounts of abuse which included sodomizing of detainees, stripping them naked and leading them around on leashes, and attaching electrical probes to their genitals. In one case, military personnel attempted to force two teenage detainees to defecate by terrorizing them with aggressive and snarling dogs.
Thus, given the massive scale of abuse committed by the U.S. from Vietnam to the Middle East and even within the criminal injustice system; and realizing the similarities between the inhumane conduct of the Steven Greens, the Lt. Calleys, and the Jon Burges-all military veterans, it is far time that we look far beyond the "bad apple" thesis. Because rather than a few bad apples, it is clear that the contents of the entire wretched barrel are, in fact, rotten. If the military is capable of producing "personalities" that kill babies, rape women, and torture the innocent, then what is responsible for the degradation and dissolution of these military personnel? How and why do U.S. soldiers lose their humanity? A closer examination of military recruit training may shed some light on these questions.
With the recent allegations of U.S. war crimes, many are criticizing the standards for recruitment and training. Some are pointing to the fact that in 2005 the Pentagon increased the number of admitted Category 4 enlistees, recruits with low test scores, and is currently giving more waivers to those with criminal backgrounds and drug abuse histories. Such adjustments are a necessary response by the U.S. Army, which consistently failed to meet recruiting goals due, in part, to the counter-recruitment efforts by segments of the anti-war movement. Others fault basic training for the increase in war crimes, claiming the military is in need of improved ethics training. If only the military instilled proper values and respect for the Geneva Convention, it is argued, then troops would behave with more compassion, a sort of "occupation with a human face," so to speak.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense boasts that is has modified recruit training to teach the essentials of fighting in Iraq and the principals of urban warfare. Yet returning troops report that none of their training prepared them for what they experienced in Iraq. "You can train up all you want, but you're not going to be prepared until you get here and mingle with the culture," explained Spc. Travis Gillette, an Army infantryman who served in Iraq.
Gillette's advice reveals the contradiction of U.S. occupation. Indeed, learning about Iraqi culture and its people might, on the one hand, improve relations between U.S. soldiers and the civilian population. Yet on the other, the danger is that, as a result, soldiers may sympathize with the Iraqi people and turn against U.S. war aims and its justifications. In fact, keeping a greater distance between troops and the civilian population is one of the lessons the military learned from the Vietnam War, a war in which large numbers of troops turned against the war and discovered that the real enemy was the military itself, particularly from 1968 to 1973.
But rather than blaming the Pentagon for the loosening of recruitment standards and instead of boot camp needing an overhaul that would require more lessons in core values, the overall design and purpose of recruit training should be truthfully acknowledged. In fact, boot camp continues and has long served the needs of U.S. imperialism all too well. Despite some minor reforms during the seventies, the goals of recruit training have changed very little since the Vietnam War. In order for the military to avoid feelings of solidarity between their soldiers and the "enemy," it has developed a tried and true method of conditioning enlistees to kill efficiently and also, and most importantly for success, to dehumanize an adversary. As the war whoop jingo printed on t-shirts and flags, and attributed to the Green Berets in Vietnam, disgustingly puts it: "Kill 'em all. Let God sort them out."
The Department of Defense structures basic training with the goal of molding a singular and uniform killing machine. The notion of manufacturing conformity was expressed openly in a 1968 U.S. Army publication for new recruits about basic training, utilizing cartoon illustrations. On the cover of the brochure is a motley crew of all-white individuals who represent a range of stereotypes, including a cigarette smoking cowboy, a guitar strapped and barefoot hippie, a beefy jock in a "letter sweater," and, of course, the geek with glasses carrying a bulky briefcase. However, by the end of the pamphlet, the image of the drill sergeant is presented as the figure to which all recruits should aspire. Gone are the civilian markers of individuality, replaced instead by the trim, piercing dark eyed, chiseled facial boned, short-haired, and, again, white figure which the military trains one to become.
The brochure explains ten learning objectives of basic training with humor and cartoons. Lessons include "learning how to shoot and care for your rifle or other weapons," "performing guard duty," and "getting in good physical condition." However, one lesson, in particular, reveals a not so subtle message about the projection of military conformity. Lesson nine is "learning how to conceal yourself and your equipment." The picture is of a recruit hiding behind a tree as he spies on three scantily dressed white women as they frolic and splash in a pond. How three sprightly and smiling civilian women managed to find a pond in the middle of basic training for their merriment is a question the military must assume the average recruit would not ask. Yet, the real purpose of the cartoon was to assert that one's newfound military identity is to be based upon the affirmation of heterosexuality. The cartoon was a not so subtle warning that real military recruits long for and desire white women.
Lesson nine also reveals a more disturbing current within the military. Not only is the smirking recruit hiding behind a tree, but he is also, as the brochure explains, "concealing his equipment." One wonders what the sly grin on the face of the recruit might also represent. Thus, not only was the cartoon about affirming heterosexuality but it was also about confirming a soldier's right to violate the privacy and space of women. Underneath the surface of the cartoon is an implied predatory violence.
While the military projected the experience of basic training with light-mannered humor in the brochure, the actual experience of basic for many recruits is far from amusing. Taking away one's individuality during training is based on a planned and structured form of cruelty. As Terry Mullen, who served in the Americal Division infantry in Vietnam, explains, "I remember going into basic and the first thing that hits you is that they take away from you any individuality you had and put you in a mass. . . .they tell you in this situation that you are the legs and they are the head. You don't think. You don't do anything but act. From there on it goes. You are in it."
Through basic training, the military molds troops into fighting members of the Armed Forces. Key to the recruit training is the inculcation of discipline. As the 1967 Guidebook for Marines, the bible of rules and regulations for enlisted personnel, made clear, "when a Marine learns to be a disciplined Marine, he has learned a sense of obligation to himself and to his comrades, to his commander and to the Marine Corps. He has learned that he is a member of a team which is organized, trained and equipped for the purpose of engaging and defeating enemies of his country." The achievement of military discipline is based on the ability to shut down any emotional feelings so that one is prepared for the possible exigencies of battle and the ability to overcome fear. "The individual must be able to recognize and face fear because fear is the enemy of discipline. Fear unchecked will lead to panic and a unit that panics is no longer a disciplined unit but a mob," according to the Guidebook.
Training recruits to be "disciplined" and not a "mob" is based on removing civilian emotions of compassion so that troops accept their role of killing during combat. John R. Fabian, who served in the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam from 1969-1970, explains how drill instructors taught recruits to quash their feelings of compassion:
The day I went into the Army-I'll never forget that-I got to basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the senior drill instructor said, "You are not human being. You are animals." That stays with me. Everything they taught you was not to be a human being, to have compassion, to have feelings. If you had feelings and compassion, you are a shit soldier. As soon as you got rid of those things, the better off you were, those emotions.
The process of basic training is part of a structured environment so that troops replaced their civilian identity, which allowed a limited degree of emotional feelings, with an idealized military masculinity based on the denial of attachment and compassion.
Through ritual-like commands, recruits learn the acceptance of any and all orders within the military rank structure. As soon as recruits arrive off the bus, they receive their new buzz haircut, a ritual of dehumanization. Throughout the training weeks, recruits live an ultra-regimented life, akin to prison, participating in daily calisthenics, close-order drill, and classes in first aid and military history and traditions. According to Daniel Barnes, who served in an Army infantry unit from 1969-1970, "the main word was, 'Kill. Kill. Kill,' all the time, they then pushed it into your head twenty-four hours a day. Everything you said-even before you sat down to eat your meals, you had to stand up and scream, 'Kill' before you could sit down and eat." If for some reason, a recruit does not perform a task efficiently, drill instructors punish the entire training unit or team. In so doing, individual recruits learn to see their larger purpose as tied to the other recruits and to the training unit as a whole. Thus, one's emerging military identity is based on a doctrine of conformity constructed around teamwork.
However, the military has larger plans for promoting teamwork beyond troop morale and welfare. The process of breaking-down recruits and molding them into future troops is based on building a team which was in opposition to those who were outside of it. Drill instructors indoctrinate recruits to dehumanize the enemy in order to train them how to overcome any fear or prejudice against killing. The process of dehumanization is central to military training. Before Vietnam, the Japanese and Germans were derogatively referred to as "Japs" and "Krauts." The enemy in Vietnam was simply a "gook," "dink," or a "slope." Today, "rag head" and "sand nigger" are the current racist epithets of derision lodged against Arabs and Muslims.
Steve Padris, who served in the Army infantry from 1969-1970, revealed that he learned in basic that "the only good dink is a dead dink, and once you do get over there you can't trust any of the people." Similarly, Guadalupe G. Villarreal, who also served in the Army infantry during Vietnam, explains how the racism learned in basic was tied to national identity as well:
They are indoctrinated and that is sort of a racist type thing that of course the gooks are gook and they are inferior to us; therefore, you just hear this statement. Well, if you kill ten gooks for one American that's all right because that's how much they are worth. They would say that anybody would go along with that because that's what an American was worth, was worth so much more. . . .That their lives have really no meaning and this, of course, is the attitude that is shown to you and the ones indoctrinated with it, this is indoctrinated into you from the first time you get into the Army until the time you leave. When you get there, this is the attitude that you find.
Simply put by Daniel Barnes, all of the Vietnamese "were something less than human." Military identity is based upon both learning solidarity with the unit as a means to draw a demarcation between those who were inside the boundaries of the unit and those who are outside of it. Drill instructors enforce a dehumanization of the enemy that infects the entire training process.
Yet the racialized "other" is not the only group targeted as the outsider. A carefully crafted campaign of teaching recruits to despise and mistrust women is also part of the training regiment. Future soldiers run in formation through cadences based on the repetition of call and response lyrics with their drill instructors. Cadence calls are in the lineage of work songs utilized centuries previous by slaves and often chanted by sailors on whaling vessels in the nineteenth century. However, a large portion of military cadences degrade women.
Recruits sing "Jody Calls" or "Jodies" to encourage male bonding through the homosocial space of the military. Jody is a mythical figure who stays at home, avoids the military, and then steals one's girlfriend. Thus, the Jody figure plays several roles. He represents the draft-evader or civilian "outsider" who shirks his call to duty. Military culture teaches recruits to hate and despise Jodies. Therefore, the "insider" status of recruits is forged in opposition to all of the potential Jody "outsiders," civilians who are not in the military. However, the assumption at the core of the call and response verses is that if one were not in the military, one would also be the womanizer that Jody embodies. He is, therefore, both despised and valorized. The real purpose of the Jody figure is thus to reinforce the idea amongst recruits that women are disloyal and two-timing. As the Jody figure perpetuates, women will always leave a soldier at the drop of a hat. Only military men and particularly those within one's unit can be trusted.
The following cadence is typical of the "Jodies" prevalent in today's military and is representative of the general theme of those utilized in the past:
When I was home on leave last time,
Found out the meaning of Jody rhymes.
My girl was running with another guy,
Had planned to write and tell me bye.
But I surprised her with this man,
You should have seen the way they ran.
The guy was a wimp, looked real weak,
My girl was alone, he took a peek.
While I was fighting to keep them free,
They got it on and forgot about me.
In fact, the above "Jody" is bland and mild-mannered in comparison to the more vulgar and degrading verses of many cadence calls. The implication and logical conclusion of such cadences are that women are to be used for one purpose only-as repositories for sexual aggression. In Tim O'Brien's classic Vietnam memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, he recalls several "Jodies" that expressed a profound hatred towards women sung during the Vietnam era. Therefore, troops learn to forge an identity based on achieving a group "insider" status in opposition to the feminine "outsider." The "other" is not only the nation's so-called adversary but also the entire civilian world, particularly women.
Producing conformity based on hatred of the "outsider" is just one purpose of breaking-down recruits and molding them into troops. The training also encourages one to lose their ability to think independently and to become psychologically dependent on the officers and upper enlisted for all decisions, including the very personal aspects of one's hygiene and identity. It must be acknowledged, however, that the military is never completely successful in this endeavor. Not all troops accept the indoctrination of basic training whole-heartedly. Some bring a questioning attitude into the military that no amount of "training" can erase. Still others become bitter at the military as a result of the harsh treatment, enforced regulations, and military discipline imposed by drill instructors.
The molding of a uniform killing machine, the convergence of the hippie, geek, and jock into the perfect warrior, is far from uniform and less than perfect. For example, in 1971, Garry Battle, who served in the Americal Division in Vietnam, reflected, "I made it through basic training with difficulty. I didn't like stabbing a dummy with a bayonet. I just couldn't see it. I don't like killing." Likewise, Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien reminisces about the close friendship he developed at basic training at Fort Lewis, refusing to reign in his feelings of compassion. O'Brien explains how his camaraderie with Eric was built upon defiance:
It was a war of resistance; the objective was to save our souls. Sometimes it meant hiding the remnants of conscience and consciousness behind battle cries, pretended servility, bare, clench-fisted obedience. Our private conversations were the cornerstone of the resistance, perhaps because talking about basic training in careful, honest words was by itself an insult to army education. Simply to think and talk and try to understand was evidence that we were not cattle or machines.
O'Brien and Eric subverted the military training "to save our souls," relying on each other as a means to express their hidden protest.
Yet relying on a secret friendship should not be the only means through which the men and women in uniform can hold on to their humanity. The deterrence of more Greens, Calleys, and Burges depends on the strength and tactics of today's anti-war movement. It should be our task to not only "bring the troops home now" but to also give our soldiers the determination and fortitude to refuse to participate in war crimes and atrocities. It is no coincidence that the strength of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War and the dissension in the ranks, what David Cortright has called the "soldiers in revolt," were mutually reinforcing. During the Sixties, many soldiers encountered their first anti-war or civil rights protest at home and some revolutionary socialists purposefully entered the military to organize, carrying the ideas of social justice with them into the military structure. Therefore, the "GI Movement," the widespread dissent and rebellion by active duty troops and veterans during the Vietnam War, emerged out of an organic connection between the organizing at home and the resistance abroad. It is just such a connection that we should take heart in from the past and aim to rebuild and strengthen in our anti-war tactics in the present.
But our ideas are just as important as our actions. We can neither rely on claims that impeaching Bush will end future war crimes nor that the actions of a few individuals are merely to blame. Rather, the entire military institution and its training are complicit in the project of U.S. imperialism, including the war crimes of the past, and, if not stopped, in the continuance and promotion of further atrocities. Moreover, individual soldiers should never be viewed as cogs in a wheel or as mere simpletons and powerless victims. The elemental truth is that generals and war planners call the shots from air-conditioned building and bunkers far from combat, but wars must be fought on the ground by working-class troops who, when organized, can act on their own political principles rather than on those of their commanding officers. As David Cortright argues, a new generation of activists in solidarity with active-duty personnel and military families "need not be helpless before the power of illegitimate authority . . . by getting together and acting upon their convictions people can change society and, in effect, make their own history"--a history that is free of torture, far removed from war crimes, and rid of the likes of Steven Green, Lt. Calley, and John Burge.
Martin Smith, a former sergeant in the US Marine Corps, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He can be reached at: email@example.com
More than 100 MPs sign petition attacking PM
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 05 August 2006
, including Paul Clark, the parliamentary private secretary to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, have signed the petition. Mr Blair will not face the immediate threat of a vote because the Commons has risen for the summer recess, but it shows that he has lost the support of almost a third of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the issue.
The petition has been organised by Crisis Action, a campaign organisation.
The signatories included Martin Salter, the MP for Reading West, a member of the Parliamentary committee, a group of senior MPs who meet the Prime Minister every week. Most Liberal Democrat MPs, including Sir Menzies Campbell, said they would sign the petition,
Cabinet ministers are ordered not to sign petitions to avoid splits in the Government. "We contacted every cabinet minister and none of them said they supported Mr Blair's position, which is pretty surprising," said Brendan Cox, director of Crisis Action. He said the petition, available at www.ceasefiretoday.org, had been signed by more than 35,000.
* A new political party launched by the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq plans to contest every by-election and field up to 70 candidates at the next general election. Reg Keys, 54, who stood against Tony Blair last year, and launched Spectre, said members would meet over the next two weeks to establish its strategy.
Now get the T-shirt
The Independent is offering readers the opportunity to own their own limited edition Katherine Hamnett "Unconditional Ceasefire Now" T-shirt for the special, discounted price of £3. Present this coupon at the Stop the War Coalition stalls at the beginning of today's march at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park to collect the shirt. Alternatively, you can write to STWC, 27 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JP. An additional charge of £2 will be made for postage and packing.
Yesterday, Israel brutally murdered 33 Syrian farm workers in the town of Qaa in Lebanon, firing U.S.-made and supplied missiles from U.S.-made and supplied jets. A massacre, a war crime of the first order, quite possibly committed with weapons supplied by the U.S. since the shooting began. So how did the media, saturated with similar atrocities occuring nearly every day, treat this news?
The New York Times has a front page article on the assault on Lebanon. It's headline says "Israeli Air Raids Destroy Bridges North of Beirut," giving no hint of the massacre in Qaa. The lead sentence does mention the death of "more than 30 people in other areas," but we don't actually learn of the Qaa massacre until paragraph ten, where this is the sum total of the coverage:
In the Bekaa Valley, hard against the Syrian border, an airstrike killed at least 28 seasonal farm workers, most of them Syrian Kurds, loading fruit and vegetables into a truck.
Ali Yaghi, the head of the rescue service in the tiny village of Qaa, told reporters that others might be buried in the rubble. Israel has frequently fired upon vehicles it suspected of carrying fighters or weapons, but has also hit vehicles with water drilling rigs, convoys of medical supplies and minivans of fleeing civilians.
The Washington Post could only manage page 12 for the story, but did manage to fit the farmworkers into a subhead: "Israeli Warplanes Hit Lebanon's Christian Areas - 30 Farmworkers Also Die; Rockets Kill Three Israelis." Once again, after a brief mention of the 30 dead in the first sentence, the Post has more important things to get up near the top of the article. Paragraphs five and six tell us about each of the three Israeli victims, but not until the 19th paragraph do we return to the Qaa massacre, along with a generously supplied excuse:
The farmworkers who died in Lebanon, some of them Syrians, were killed by Israeli missiles near the village of Qaa in the northernmost corner of the fertile Bekaa Valley, just beside the border with Syria, as they loaded fruit and potatoes on trucks for transport to markets, according to Lebanese media reports quoting local officials. The number of deaths was estimated at between 28 and 33, with more than a dozen people wounded, the reports said.
Qaa Mayor Nicola Matar, in a telephone interview with Lebanon's Future TV, put the death toll at 31. Lebanese television stations showed rows of bodies, blackened and distorted by the blast, lined up on the ground where the missiles hit.
An Israeli military spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said Israeli planes attacked a building in Qaa suspected of "being used as a weapons depot of some sort." By his account, Israeli forces identified a truck that entered the building, remained an hour, then returned across the border to Syria.
Syria has long been the main transit point for Hezbollah weapons and money supplied by Iran. But despite frequent attacks by Israeli warplanes in the area, some trucks loaded with missiles and other munitions are still getting through, according to a Lebanese source with access to military intelligence.
The Los Angeles Times has the most appropriate coverage. Although the headline takes the tack that others do - "Airstrikes Hit Christian Area North of Beirut" - the lead sentence reads, "Israeli forces killed 33 agricultural workers Friday in northeast Lebanon in a wave of airstrikes that also pierced the country's Christian heartland for the first time and severed its last major highway link to the outside." Like the others, they don't return to Qaa for many paragraphs, but when they do, they report the important details that the Times and the Post left out:
The worst reported violence Friday in Lebanon was in the village of Qaa, in the Bekaa Valley about three miles from the Syrian border, where Israeli officials said they launched strikes against what they believed to be a weapons storage site. Truck traffic was observed between the area and the Syrian border, said an Israeli military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But town administrator Saadeh Tawm said the site was a refrigerated agricultural storage facility where farmworkers, including a number of Syrian Kurds, were loading fruit for transport elsewhere.
In a telephone interview, he said about 40 workers were loading fruit onto trucks when two missiles struck about 10 minutes apart. "The first strike hit, and there were lots of casualties. People came to help them out, but then another strike hit, and there were even more casualties," he said.
The town has no hospital, and previous airstrikes had blocked roads, preventing rescuers from taking the wounded to nearby Lebanese hospitals, so they were taken across the border to the Syrian town of Homs, Tawm said. A total of 33 bodies had been recovered, he said.
But they too will likely drop the story as we move on to today's massacre, or tomorrows. Coverage on the network and cable channel news shows I've seen have generally mentioned the massacre, but only with about a sentence or two. I guess they don't have good enough footage. Sorry, guys. Your families will remember you, and probably most of the Arab and Muslim world, but rest assured that the American public, the ones who even know you once existed, will have forgotten about you by tomorrow. The media (and the U.N., which will ignore this massacre just like all the others) will see to that.
There is a general lesson which can be drawn from this incident which, needless to say, you won't be hearing any of the wise pundits making. This story provides a quintessential example of the kind of "intelligence" upon which the Israelis are murdering people in Lebanon, just like the American are murdering people in Iraq and Afghanistan. A large building. A truck headed toward Syria. What more evidence do you need, for goodness sake? Do you want Colin Powell to spell it out for you with a nice PowerPoint presentation?
Guilty until proven innocent isn't just the standard for prisoners in Guantanamo. It's pretty much the standard for the entire world when it comes to the decision to drop U.S. bombs and commit another massacre.
Bush extends Iran, Libya sanctions law
Fri Aug 4, 7:47 PM ET
US President George W. Bush extended to September 29 a law that calls for sanctions on entities that invest in Iran and Libya's energy sectors, the White House said.
Bush signed a provision extending the "Iran and Libya Sanctions Act" of 1996 at his Texas ranch, where he was enjoying a 10-day vacation from Washington.
The law imposes economic sanctions on persons or firms that invest 40 million dollars or more in any 12-month period in Iran or Libya's oil or gas industries.
War may trump all other concerns in Congressional election season
**how coincidental do you think that is?**
By Margaret Talev
WASHINGTON - Returning home now for a month of summer campaigning, congressional Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for what some are calling the biggest "do-nothing" Congress since President Harry S Truman hung that tag on lawmakers in 1948.
The criticism refers to the scant number of days the 109th Congress has spent on the job, and also to its failure to finish a litany of legislative priorities.
To be sure, there were some accomplishments. Congress overhauled pension protection for American workers, confirmed two Supreme Court justices, updated statutes governing bankruptcy and class-action lawsuits, and opened a big swath of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.
But it's the unfinished business that stands out: legislative standoffs over immigration policy and a minimum-wage hike. No solutions for the fiscal crunch looming over Social Security and Medicare.
Then too, perhaps the most politically significant consensus that Congress achieved this year - bipartisan passage of legislation to expand embryonic stem-cell research - drew President Bush's first veto.
As November's congressional elections approach, pollsters say that voters are more inclined to blame the gridlock on the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and the White House, than to punish the Democrats for obstruction.
Even so, many analysts say the criticism may be little more than a side issue in an election driven by deeper fears about the . Not even a determined Congress could do much about those anytime soon.
"It's not about accomplishment," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who doesn't face re-election this year but is closely watching his state's race to replace Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton, who's retiring. "It's about Iraq. That's the great discontent that is out there. Those events are beyond our control."
Thomas Mann, a veteran congressional scholar with the Brookings Institution, a center-left research center, agrees: "Basically, I don't think anything Congress does from now out will have any material impact on the elections."
"What's driving voters is the war in Iraq, high energy and health-care prices, and overwhelming pessimism by Americans," he said. "I have believed for many months this is one of those once-a-decade national tide elections in which we get a strong referendum on the party in power."
The last time that happened was 1994, when Republicans swept Democrats from power in both houses. In the hope of mirroring that rout, Democrats are hammering away at the "do-nothing Congress."
"When they (Republicans) get up and read their litany, it's things that only a few narrow special interests care about, like a bankruptcy bill or class-action reform," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Anything major that affects average Americans and makes their lives better, they haven't been able to get done, and I think people know that."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., finds such Democratic spin exasperating.
"To the extent major issues have not moved, it's primarily because they've been filibustered by the Democrats," Gregg said. "It's sort of like somebody who killed their parents going to the court claiming that they should get some sort of special dispensation because they're orphans."
A Republican plan to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 was blocked this week in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster, because it was attached to a controversial tax break for heirs of multimillion-dollar estates. Two Republicans crossed party lines to provide the crucial votes to block it.
One of the two, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, said he supported a minimum wage increase but didn't think a nation with wartime debt and a pending wave of baby boom retirements could afford to lose the hundreds of billions of dollars that cutting the estate tax would cost. He said he was frustrated with both parties for putting election considerations ahead of long-term policy needs.
"I think a lot of people are watching what's going on out there," Voinovich said. "They know what this is all about - politics - for everybody. And the public is saying, who's paying attention to the stuff we should really be paying attention to?"
On immigration, the standoff stems as much from divisions within the Republican Party as differences between Republicans and Democrats.
The House bill focuses on beefing up border enforcement. The Senate bill would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. As lawmakers left for their August recess, neither side was budging, and any chance of compromise this year seemed remote.
For Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who's seeking re-election in a state devastated by manufacturing job losses, the failure to get a minimum-wage increase was a disappointment, and not getting an immigration bill would only make it worse.
"I like the Senate bill, but I would be happy if we could just move things forward with a bill that starts dealing with the borders," he said. "We need to do something."
Judges in Egypt: Scrap peace deal with Israel
Egyptian judges ask government to cancel peace accord with Israel; Strike scheduled for Sunday
The judges expressed support of popular resistance against Israeli
advances, which, in their eyes, is the only way to protect the Arab ummah (greater nation).
In a statement issued Thursday, Egyptian judges censured "the barbaric Israeli attacks on the Palestinian and Lebanese people." They , based on the 'Greater Middle East' plan, via Israeli pride and American hegemony, in whose eyes the lives of hundreds of Arab children are not worth the wounds of one Israeli child."
The judges expressed their belief that the popular resistance is the only way to protect the Arab nation and their honor, and stated their support from "the bravery of Lebanese resistance fighters and the stance of Lebanese people of all denominations."
They censured those trying to bring about war between Sunni and Shiites and labeled them "an agent with malicious motives." Likewise, they condemned anyone trying to provoke war between Muslims and Christians and anyone expressing doubt that an entrenched nation in the area (implying Iran) has nuclear know-how.
The Egyptian judges called upon judges from around the world to do their duty and aid in imposing values of justice and equality between human beings.
Sunday: General strike
The Egyptian union of professional associations, boasting seven million members, announced that they intend to hold a general, hour-long strike on Sunday, including all members of the union with the exception of emergency medical workers.
Granted, it will not be the first public condemnation of Israel in Egypt. The London-based al-Sharq al Wasat newspaper, reported that Egyptian lawyers conducted a general strike on Thursday against IDF operations in Lebanon.
Member of Parliament and chairman of the Egyptian Physician's Association, Hamdi al-Sayyid, announced that Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had told him that the organization required only moral support, not volunteers. Al-Sayyid announced that Egyptian armed forces agreed to transfer airborne aid to Lebanon.
The Egyptian reform movement, 'Kafia', is also pressing on the Egyptian government. In the last presidential and parliament elections, the movement protested against the continued leadership of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
This time, they focused their criticism on Israel and demanded a cessation of gas exports from Egpyt to that country. Newspapers also reported that popular anti-Israeli sentiment was growing, including among organizations, political movements and factions of the population that had previously not actively expressed such views.
These accounts come on the heels of similar reports in Egypt and other Arab countries. Several days ago, it was reported that Egyptian opposition sources demanded the removal of Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen.
Comparable demands were voiced in Mauritania and Jordan. Abdullah, the king of Jordan, was asked, in an interview published Thursday, if he intended to comply. Skirting the issue, the king responded that: "We will do everything in the best interest of our homeland and our brothers in Lebanon and Palestine."
Thousands of Troops Say They Won’t Fight
By Ana Radelat
Saturday 05 August 2006
Swept up by a wave of patriotism after the US invasion of Iraq, Chris Magaoay joined the Marine Corps in November 2004.
The newly married Magaoay thought a military career would allow him to continue his college education, help his country and set his life on the right path.
Less than two years later, Magaoay became one of thousands of military deserters who have chosen a lifetime of exile or possible court-martial rather than fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"It wasn’t something I did on the spur of the moment," said Magaoay, a native of Maui, Hawaii. "It took me a long time to realize what was going on. The war is illegal."
Magaoay said his disillusionment with the military began in boot camp in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where a superior officer joked about killing and mistreating Iraqis. When his unit was deployed to Iraq in March, Magaoay and his wife drove to Canada, joining a small group of deserters who are trying to win permission from the Canadian government to stay.
"We’re like a tight-knit family," Magaoay said.
The Pentagon says deserters like Magaoay represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s fighting forces.
"The vast majority of soldiers who desert do so for personal, family or financial problems, not for political or conscientious objector purposes," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the Army.
Those who help war resisters say .
"They lied in Vietnam with the amount of opposition to the war and they’re lying now," said Eric Seitz, an attorney who represents Army Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to the war in Iraq.
Watada is under military custody in Fort Lewis, Wash., because he refused to join his Stryker brigade when it was sent to Iraq last month.
Watada said he doesn’t object to war but considers the conflict in Iraq illegal. The Army has turned down his request to resign and plans to file charges against him.
Critics of the Iraq war have demonstrated on the lieutenant’s behalf. Conservative bloggers call him a traitor and opportunist.
Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said deserters aren’t traitors because they’ve done nothing to help America’s enemies. But he rejects arguments that deserters have a moral right to refuse to fight wars they consider unjust.
"None of us can choose our wars. They’re always a political decision," Davis said. "They’re letting their buddies down and hurting morale - and morale is everything on the battlefront."
Because today’s military is an all-volunteer force, troops seeking objector status must convince superior officers they’ve had an honest change of heart about the morality of war.
The last time the US military executed a deserter was World War II. But hundreds face court-martials and imprisonment every year.
Members of the armed forces are considered absent without leave when they are unaccounted for. They become deserters after they’ve been AWOL for 30 days.
A 2002 Army report says desertion is fairly constant but tends to worsen during wartime, when there’s an increased need for troops and enlistment standards are more lax. They also say deserters tend to be less educated and more likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior than other troops.
Army spokesman Hilferty said the Army doesn’t try to find deserters. Instead, their names are given to civilian law enforcement officers who often nab them during routine traffic stops and turn them over to the military.
Commanders then decide whether to rehabilitate or court-martial the alleged deserter. There’s an incentive to rehabilitate because it costs the military an average of $38,000 to recruit and train a replacement.
Jeffry House, an attorney in Toronto who represents Magaoay and other deserters, said there are about 200 deserters living in Canada. They have decided not to seek refugee status but instead are leading clandestine lives, he said.
Like many of the people helping today’s war resisters, House fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. About 50,000 Americans sought legal residency in Canada during the Vietnam era.
"You would apply at the border and if you didn’t have a criminal record, you were in," House said.
He said changes in Canadian law make it harder for resisters to flee north. Now, potential immigrants must apply for Canadian residency in their home countries. Resisters say that exposes them to US prosecution.
Syria Blames US Admin For Israeli Missile Attack Deaths
BEIRUT (AP)--Syria blamed the U.S. administration late Friday for the deaths of 23 Syrians from four Israeli missiles that slammed into a refrigerated warehouse where farm workers were loading vegetables near the Lebanon-Syria border.
The strike occurred near the town of al-Qaa, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold that has been hit by Israeli airstrikes at least three times.
The first attack was three days after fighting began 24 days ago. Hermel was largely cut off from the rest of the country after two Israeli air raids destroyed a bridge on the Orontes river in the Bekaa Valley last Saturday.
According to officials at al-Qusair National Hospital on the Lebanese-Syrian border and the National Hospital in the Syrian city of Homs, where the dead and wounded were taken, a total of at least 28 people were killed in the missile attack.
Syria's official news agency reported that 33 were killed, 23 of them Syrians. The Syrian dead included 18 men, 2 elderly women and 3 young girls, it said.
Ten were wounded. Syria said the U.S. administration was directly responsible for the deaths because of what Syrian information minister Mohsen Bilal said was Israel's reluctance to call for an immediate cease-fire despite international demands.
He called the deaths "massacres." Israeli army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal said that the army suspected that the warehouse was used for arms because they tracked a truck believed to be carrying weapons going into the building from the Syrian side, staying inside for about 90 minutes, then returning to Syria. The agricultural site was run by a Lebanese company.
Iran to supply Hezbollah with surface-to-air missiles
Fri Aug 4, 11:28 AM ET
Iran will supply Hezbollah with surface-to-air missile systems in the coming months, boosting the guerrillas' defences against Israeli aircraft,
In a meeting, held late last month, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia called on Tehran to "accelerate and extend the scope of weapon shipments from Iran to the Islamic Resistance, particularly advanced missiles against ground and air targets."
Hezbollah's representatives pressed for "an array of more advanced weaponry, including more advanced SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems," Jane's said Friday.
"Iranian authorities conveyed a message to the Hezbollah leadership that their forces would continue to receive a steady supply of weapons systems,"it added.
"The details coming from the meeting reveal that they are about ensuring a constant supply of weapons to support Islamic Resistance operations against Israel," said Robin Hughes, the magazine's Middle East Editor.
"We are told the latest meeting was attended by senior representatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods force which is responsible for training and logistic support for Iranian-backed insurgent groups."
According to Jane's Defence Weekly, Iranian authorities have supplied the militia with Iranian-made Noor radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles and Chinese QW-1 (Vanguard) shoulder-launched SAMs.
Russian-made SAMs will reportedly be supplied at a later date.
Hezbollah has been locked in a more than three-week long deadly conflict against Israel since it kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others on July 12.
Israel has carried out a widespread bombing campaign of southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and Hezbollah has fired rockets into northern Israel.
A Hezbollah anti-ship missile also damaged an Israeli corvette off the Lebanese coast in the early days of the conflict, killing four sailors. Israel said the missile was Iranian-built but Tehran denied involvement.
August 5, 2006
On Talking With Terrorists
With the second Intifada and rise to power of Ariel Sharon, Israel abandoned Oslo and land-for-peace. We will never again negotiate with Arafat, said Sharon, because Israel does not negotiate with terrorists.
Two Israeli prime ministers, Rabin and Peres, had shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat. A third, "Bibi" Netanyahu, had handed over Hebron to Arafat. A fourth, Ehud Barak, had offered Arafat 95 percent of the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem. Yet, Sharon not only made his policy stick, he got George W. Bush to sign on to it.
Where Arafat had been to the Clinton White House more times than Bob Dole, he was blackballed by the Bush White House.
Sharon's distaste of Arafat was visceral and real. He would not shake hands with him. But it was also politically astute. As security analyst Michael Vlahos has written, nations often declare adversaries "terrorists" to delegitimize them and absolve themselves of any obligation to talk peace with them. They fall back on the time-tested formula: "We do not negotiate with terrorists!"
And it is surely true that Arafat's Fatah, as well as his PLO, had committed acts of terror: the killing of the innocent for political ends, not only Israelis but U.S. diplomats. Yet, Sharon, in 1953, led a force called Unit 101 into the West Bank village of Kibya to avenge the Arab slaying of an Israeli woman and her children. Sixty-nine Palestinians were massacred, mostly women and children, as their homes were dynamited. Sharon was also the army commander when the IDF let the Phalangists into Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, and fired flares to light the night so the killers could get on with their work.
What of us Americans? Do we negotiate with terrorists?
At Tehran and Yalta, FDR ceded Eastern Europe to the Great Terrorist he called "Uncle Joe." Truman at Potsdam affirmed the grant to Stalin. Three years after Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution, Eisenhower invited the "Butcher of Budapest" to Camp David and had him escorted on a 10-day U.S. tour.
In the year the Viet Cong perpetrated the massacre at Hue, going door-to-door with lists and executing 3,000 South Vietnamese, U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman sat down with the VC and North Vietnamese at Paris.
In 1972, Nixon went to Peking to shake hands with the greatest terrorist of the century, Mao Tse-tung, even as Mao's Gang of Four, including his wife, carried out the Chinese pogrom known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam Hussein on behalf of Ronald Reagan, and we aided Saddam's Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran. Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad was said to be a state terrorist. Yet, in 1991, Bush I made him an ally in the Gulf War.
Gadhafi is responsible for the air massacre of American schoolkids over Lockerbie. Yet, Bush let Gadhafi out of the sanctions box for giving up his nuclear program and making restitution to the families of the murder victims on Pan Am 103. After early careers in which each was accused of terrorism, Tito, Begin, Shamir and Mandela were honored guests at the White House.
Which brings me to the point. America is a world power with a broader interest in the Middle East than Israel's, and if we are to protect those interests and play the role history has assigned us, we cannot allow any nation to exercise veto power over whom we talk to. While most Americans wish to maintain our commitment to the security and survival of Israel, we must declare our political and diplomatic independence of Israel, as Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan all did.
Ike ordered Ben-Gurion out of Sinai. Nixon saved Israel in the Yom Kippur war with the 1973 airlift, then told Golda Meir Israel must let Egypt resupply its Third Army on the east bank. Reagan backed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, then ordered Israel to stand down, and sold F-16s to Saudi Arabia.
It is preposterous that, at the behest of Israel, we do not talk to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, after an election in which Bush himself demanded Hamas be included. And while Syria and Iran have been distant and hostile, neither appears to want war with the United States, and neither has attacked us in at least 10 years.
If we can talk to Gadhafi, who has the blood of Americans on his hands, why cannot we talk to Bashar al-Assad and Ahmadinejad? Neither of them has slaughtered hundreds of Americans in a terror attack.
Before he launched his democracy project, Bush was warned that free elections would advance the fortunes of Islamic militants. At his insistence, the elections were held. Results:
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the seats it contested. Hezbollah swept south Lebanon. Hamas recorded a stunning victory on the West Bank and Gaza. These were the freest and fairest elections ever held in those nations. But Bush refused to engage the winners.
The painful truth is that, in the Middle East, democracy will produce, as it does in the West, two dominant parties. One will be a state party, and the other is going to be a party rooted in the Islamic faith.
Time to recognize reality – and stop isolating America.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
August 5, 2006
G.I. Crime Photos May Be Evidence
By ROBERT F. WORTH and CAROLYN MARSHALL
On March 13, a group of American soldiers sitting at a checkpoint south of Baghdad were : a 14-year-old Iraqi girl had been raped, then killed along with her family in their house nearby in Mahmudiya.
Those soldiers, along with others from their checkpoint, walked over and took of the charred and bullet-riddled bodies, as if it were a routine investigation of an insurgent attack, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Now, those photographs are likely to serve as evidence in the military’s prosecution of the case, which opens a new chapter tomorrow when an Article 32 hearing, the rough equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, begins in Baghdad for five soldiers accused in the crime.
The case, which was first widely reported in June, raised alarm about the military’s conduct, infuriating Iraqis and setting off a public bout of shame and soul-searching for the American command. And as details trickle out, a troubling picture is emerging of an Army unit numbed by months of extreme combat stress and left at one of the deadliest security checkpoints in Iraq without experienced leaders — a point that will be central in building a legal defense, lawyers in the case say.
Many questions persist about the crime in Mahmudiya. Prosecutors initially said that only two of the accused soldiers had raped the girl, and that Steven D. Green, a private who was discharged in May after a psychiatric evaluation, was the ringleader. It now appears that at least three soldiers, including Mr. Green, raped her, according to a legal memo filed by a military magistrate. Prosecutors now believe the other two soldiers raped her first and later set fire to her dead body, two lawyers involved in the case said.
At the time, the men’s squad leader and the overseeing platoon commander — both highly respected leaders — were on leave, said a sergeant in the same company as the men. He provided some details through e-mail on condition of anonymity.
“I know none of that would have happened if he was around,” the sergeant said of the squad leader.
At least one staff sergeant in the unit repeatedly complained that checkpoints were under-manned, said David P. Sheldon and Capt. James D. Culp, lawyers who represent Specialist James P. Barker, one of the accused men. He and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez have been accused of rape, murder and arson. The fifth soldier in the hearing, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is accused of dereliction of duty for not reporting the crime, but he is not thought to have been at the house. Mr. Green is being tried in civilian criminal court.
Even relatives back home knew the men were stretched. Pfc. Shane Hoeck, a soldier in the unit, shared his worries with his brother Cody, 16, in frequent e-mail messages.
“They lost so many guys they don’t have enough manpower to cover things,” Cody Hoeck said in a telephone interview.
Insurgents posted a video on the Internet last month showing images of two soldiers who had been kidnapped and castrated, one of them headless, and called it
In both episodes, soldiers appear to have been left on their own in violation of standard military procedures — a fact that has led to an investigation into possible lapses of supervision in the broader company that the men’s platoon is part of: Company B of the First Battalion, 502nd Infantry, with the 101st Airborne Division.
The men’s unit had already gained a reputation as the “hard luck platoon” among the soldiers stationed in the area around Mahmudiya, one of the most violent towns at the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency.
“You have to understand, the civilians here do not like us,” the sergeant said. “They had a good life before we came here. It is 100-percent Sunni. They all work against us even when they act like our best friends.”
Specialist Barker’s lawyers have made it clear that they will argue that commanders had exacerbated an already stressful environment by stationing him, and other soldiers, at the same dangerous checkpoint for weeks at a time.
In February, soldiers were ordered to spend up to 30 days at a time at the checkpoint — eating and sleeping there — instead of the routine three- to five-day rotation, several lawyers familiar with the case said.
At the same time, the commander of Company B, Capt. John Goodwin, was on the verge of nervous collapse and was sent to Baghdad for several days of “environmental recuperation,” Mr. Sheldon said.
The checkpoints south of Baghdad are deadly, and the one the accused men were at was among the worst.
On Dec. 10, about three months before the rape, an Iraqi man in civilian clothing walked up to it, greeting and shaking hands with one of the soldiers on duty, according to relatives and lawyers of men in the unit. The Iraqi then raised a pistol and shot two sergeants in the head, fatally wounding them. Seconds later, Private Spielman shot and killed the attacker. Mr. Green, who was also at the scene, threw one of the wounded sergeants onto the hood of a Humvee and struggled to keep him alive during a frantic ride to the base.
All told, between September and June, at least 17 members of the battalion were killed, 8 of them from Company B, and dozens were seriously wounded. In February, morale took another hit when a fire broke out in the abandoned factory being used as makeshift barracks. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed most soldiers’ personal items, including clothes, toiletries, journals, music players and family photographs.
“We thought, ‘What else can go wrong?’ ” Captain Goodwin told the military publication Stars and Stripes after the fire. “But then I thought, ‘I don’t really want to ask that question.’ ”
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, concerned about battle fatigue, stress and the resiliency of his men, began sending soldiers home in December for several weeks of leave. Even Colonel Kunk, 48-year-old decorated combat leader, was beginning to feel the weight of the losses. He recently admitted to his brother, Peter, that the last 10 months had been his hardest tour in Iraq, Peter Kunk said.
Such stresses have become a common feature of the war in Iraq. Still, cases where soldiers have been suspected of snapping under the pressure have been extremely rare.
may also have been a factor in the Mahmudiya rape and killings. According to the charging documents, on the day of the crime, at least some of the accused soldiers were drinking at their checkpoint before they went to the house.
While military rules prohibit the use of alcohol on base, and certainly in combat, soldiers can easily obtain it in Iraq, either through disguised packages from abroad (often plastic bottles of mouthwash), civilians who visit bases or Iraqis.
Last year an Army private was shot and killed by a fellow soldier in Iraq, and witnesses in that case have said the shooting was preceded by an evening of heavy drinking. The most recent Pentagon survey, in 2002, found that after years of decline,
“The military is very much aware that they have an alcohol problem,” said Dr. Genevieve Ames, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation whose work has been financed by the Defense Department.
Whatever the outcome of the coming hearings for the accused soldiers, the Iraqi outrage at the Mahmudiya case and other recent accusations of abuses has become a political problem for the Pentagon. Prosecutors are expected to highlight that problem, calling Iraqi witnesses to show the crime’s effect on the town. Several Iraqis are scheduled to testify at the hearing, and military officials have ordered that those portions be closed to the public, citing the Iraqis’ concern that any publicity would endanger them.
Specialist Barker’s lawyers have filed a motion contesting that decision. They have also accused government investigators of forcing a misleading confession from him.
If the Article 32 hearing proceeds to courts-martial, as expected, the trial would most likely be held at Fort Campbell, Ky. The misconduct cases are rarely discussed among family and friends who are awaiting the return of the soldiers, due home as early as September.
Kirk Semple contributed reporting from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article.
U.S., France OK U.N. Mideast Truce Pact
By Robin Wright, Column Lynch and Molly Moore
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 5, 2006; 1:00 PM
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 5 -- The United States and France reached agreement on a Saturday calling for "a full cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hezbollah and setting the terms for a possible negotiated settlement of the war and deployment of a U.N.-mandated international force in the region.
After days of diplomatic deadlock, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton confirmed the first hopeful development in the 25-day conflict. The Security Council is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. to discuss the proposed terms.
"We are prepared to move as quickly as other members of the council want to move," he told reporters in New York Saturday morning. "We are prepared to continue to work tomorrow to make progress."
"This is the first step of a great result," said a French envoy speaking on condition of anonymity because of ongoing diplomacy.
Dan Gillerman, the Israel ambassador to the United Nations, said Israel is "studying" the deal and will give its formal reaction later this afternoon.
In a sign of the challenges ahead,
said Mohammed Fneish, the Hezbollah cabinet Minister, who holds the energy portfolio.
The resolution is expected to be the first of at least two to deal with the bloodshed that has claimed more than 450 Lebanese civilians and about 75 Israeli civilians and soldiers. A second resolution would deal with terms for a lasting end to hostilities.
In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday that he expected a ceasefire within days.
"This is a first step. There is still much to be done. But there is no reason why this resolution should not be adopted now and we have the cessation of hostilities literally within the next couple of days," he said in a statement broadcast on television.
Fighting continued early Saturday morning as Israeli navy commandos attacked the second floor of a five-story building searching for what an Israeli military official said were Hezbollah leaders. The Shiite militia had fired long-range rockets at the western coastal city of Hadera on Friday, its deepest strike into Israel since the fighting began.
During a gunfight in the building, Israeli soldiers killed two or three Hezbollah fighters, according to a military spokesman.
As the Israeli commandos left the site, Hezbollah fighters began shooting from surrounding streets, the military officials said. Israeli soldiers killed another six or seven Hezbollah members, the official said.
One Israeli soldier was killed Saturday morning during fighting in southern Lebanon just across the border from the northern Israeli town of Metula, according to an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman. The soldier was inside an engineering vehicle when it was hit by a mortar, the spokesman said. Nine soldiers were injured in the incident, he said.
Israeli military officials said troops were continuing to operate in about 20 villages just inside Lebanon.
Israeli aircraft conducted 70 attacks in Lebanon on Friday night and early Saturday morning, according to the IDF. Much of the bombardment occurred in southern Beirut, where Israeli forces bombed what officials described as an underground Hezbollah operations base, the offices of a Hezbollah newspaper, a weapons storage facility and Hezbollah offices and command posts.
Hezbollah fired 160 rockets into northern Israel on Saturday, 120 of them in a one-hour barrage between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to police officials.
A woman and her two daughters were killed when a Katyusha rocket slammed into their house in the Israeli Arab village of Arab al-Aramshe near Israel's northern border in the western Galilee, officials said.
Two other Palestinians, one a member of Hamas and the other a member of Islamic Jihad, were killed in separate airstrikes, Palestinian officials said.
The IDF said in a statement that in one incident its troops fired at "four gunmen armed with anti-tank missiles who were identified as moving towards the forces." In another incident, Israeli forces targeted three armed men, the statement said.
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Wright reported from Washington. Moore reported from .
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
A list of UN Resolutions against "Israel"
Here is a list of UN resolutions that Israel has not complied. As far as I know they have ignored every single resolution. But the situation is far worse than would at first appear, it involves the serious distortion of the official Security Council record by the profligate use by the United States of its veto power. (See Table)
Israel’s, defiance goes back to its very beginnings. This collection of resolutions criticizing Israel is unmatched by the record of any other nation.
A list of UN Resolutions against "Israel"
1993 to 1995
UNGA Res 50/21 - The Middle East Peace Process (Dec 12, 1995)
UNGA Res 50/22 - The Situation in the Middle East (Dec 12, 1995)
UNGA Res 49/35 - Assistance to Palestinian Refugees (Jan 30 1995) l
UNGA Res 49/36 - Human Rights of Palestinian Refugees (Jan 30 1995)
UNGA Res 49/62 - Question of Palestine (Feb 3 1995)
UNGA Res 49/78 - Nuclear Proliferation in Mideast (Jan 11 1995)
UNGA Res 49/87 - Situation in the Middle East (Feb 7 1995)
UNGA Res 49/88 - The Middle East Peace Process (Feb 7 1995)
UNGA Res 49/149- Palestinian Right- Self-Determination (Feb 7 1995)
UNGA Res 48/213 - Assistance to Palestinian Refugees (Mar 15, 1994)
UNGA Res 48/40 - UNRWA for Palestinian Refugees (Dec 13, 1993)
UNGA Res 48/41 - Human Rights in the Territories (Dec 10 1993)
UNGA Res 48/58 - The Middle East Peace Process (Dec 14 1993)
UNGA Res 48/59 - The Situation in the Middle East (Dec 14 1993)
UNGA Res 48/71 - Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Mideast (Dec 16 1993)
UNGA Res 48/78 - Israeli Nuclear Armanent (Dec 16 1993)
UNGA Res 48/94 - Self-Determination & Independence (Dec 20 1993)
UNGA Res 48/124- Non-interference in Elections (Dec 20 1993)
UNGA Res 48/158- Question of Palestine (Dec 20 1993)
UNGA Res 48/212- Repercussions of Israeli Settlements (Dec 21 1993)
U.S. Vetoes of UN Resolutions Critical of Israel
Security Council Vetoes/Negative voting 1983-present
Source: U.S. State Department