Our never-ending war with the Muslim world doesn’t sound like it is going so well in Afghanistan. What’s our end game? Why are we pissing away lives and dollars in this forsaken backwater? Once we leave, and we will leave eventually, if only to invade some other failing country, what happens then?
Dexter Filkins reports, in part:
And then there is President Karzai himself, who appears to be increasingly estranged not only from his NATO allies but also from reality. For years, American officials put up with Karzai’s excesses and even apologized for them; in so doing, they encouraged him to become more and more delusional. In a speech earlier this month, Karzai suggested to an audience of his countrymen that NATO forces were using nuclear weapons in Afghanistan, and accused them of killing innocent civilians and damaging the environment. He said of the Americans, “They have come to our country for their own goals and interests, and they are using our country.”
It will not be difficult to say goodbye to a man like this. But what of the thirty million other Afghans? The premise that anchored counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan—and in Iraq—was never explicitly humanitarian. The idea was that America could succeed only by helping these countries find a way to stand on their own. Otherwise, the places would collapse, and we’d have to go back. In Iraq, after many years of bloodshed, the Americans seem to have found a formula for maintaining rudimentary stability. In Afghanistan, after years of mismanagement and neglect, we manifestly have not. The country remains riddled with violence, and negotiations with the Taliban—a last-resort option—have led nowhere. It is not hard to imagine a repeat of the Afghan civil war, which engulfed the country after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, and which ultimately gave rise to the Taliban. Bloodied but unbroken, the Taliban hardly seem like an army preparing to beg for peace. Their leaders greeted Obama’s words with a swift promise: “Our armed struggle will increase.”
For the moment, the prospect of all-out civil war in Afghanistan rests safely on a distant horizon. Even after the thirty-three thousand troops have departed, by the end of 2012, the Americans and their NATO partners will have nearly a hundred thousand soldiers there. The effects of the drawdown might not be visible for years. But the moment of maximum American influence is passing without very much to show for it. “These long wars will come to a responsible end,” the President said toward the end of his speech. That’s an appropriately tortured construction for two badly managed occupations. As a prediction for Afghanistan, though, it seems more like a prayer
According to retired brigadier general, Steven Anderson1, the Pentagon spends $20,000,000,000 annually on air conditioning. That’s a lot of simolians.
The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.
That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.
“When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq.
Why does it cost so much?
To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than “improved goat trails,” Anderson says. “And you’ve got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way.”
Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125 degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.
Still, his $20.2 billion figure raises stark questions about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. In the wake of President Obama’s announcement this week that about 30,000 American troops will soon return home, how much money does the U.S. stand to save?
I’d much rather we invest in repairing our own national infrastructure instead of blowing up Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s, then repairing it. Especially since the GOP strategy for 2014 is to destroy the US economy any way possible…
As Mr. Obama begins trying to untangle the country from its military and civilian promises in Afghanistan, his critics and allies alike are drawing a direct line between what is not being spent to bolster the sagging economy in America to what is being spent in Afghanistan — $120 billion this year alone.
On Monday, the United States Conference of Mayors made that connection explicitly, saying that American taxes should be paying for bridges in Baltimore and Kansas City, not in Baghdad and Kandahar.
The mayors’ group approved a resolution calling for an early end to the American military role in Afghanistan and Iraq, asking Congress to redirect the billions now being spent on war and reconstruction costs toward urgent domestic needs. The resolution, which noted that local governments cut 28,000 jobs in May alone, was the group’s first anti-war vote since it passed a resolution four decades ago calling for an end to the Vietnam War.
And in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said: “We can no longer, in good conscience, cut services and programs at home, raise taxes or — and this is very important — lift the debt ceiling in order to fund nation-building in Afghanistan. The question the president faces — we all face — is quite simple: Will we choose to rebuild America or Afghanistan? In light of our nation’s fiscal peril, we cannot do both.”
Demonstrators describing themselves as “angry jobless citizens” said they would picket the Capitol on Wednesday to urge members of Congress to use any savings from Mr. Obama’s troop reductions to create more jobs. The group sponsoring the demonstration, the Prayer Without Ceasing Party, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “urging the masses to call their congressmen and the president to ensure that jobs receive a top priority when the troops start returning to America.”
Spending on the war in Afghanistan has skyrocketed since Mr. Obama took office, to $118.6 billion in 2011. It was $14.7 billion in 2003, when President George W. Bush turned his attention and American resources to the war in Iraq.
The spokesman for a three-star general accused of instructing troops to carry out “psychological operations” to sway visiting members of Congress said Saturday that the general was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Lt. Col. Shawn Stroud, communications director for NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, sent out a personal e-mail to friends and colleagues to “categorically deny the assertion” that the commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, or his officers “used an Information Operations cell to influence distinguished visitors.”
Rolling Stone magazine reported Thursday that General Caldwell or his senior aides improperly ordered a team of specialists to gather information about Congressional delegations to persuade them to endorse the allocation of more money and troops for the training effort.
“The evidence provided in the Rolling Stone article is misleading at best and outright false in many places,” Colonel Stroud wrote in the e-mail, which was labeled as a personal note and not an official news release. A copy of the e-mail was provided to The New York Times.
Looks like the Army has access to Rolling Stone magazine, on the web at least, and is going to issue a press release in a couple of weeks. If I was a betting person, I’d lay money on the “nothing happened”, “nothing to see” side of the investigation getting top billing.
The American commander in Afghanistan will order an investigation into accusations that military personnel deployed to win Afghan hearts and minds were instructed over their own objections to carry out “psychological operations” to help convince visiting members of Congress to increase support for the training mission there, military officials said Thursday.
A brief statement issued by the military headquarters in Kabul said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Afghanistan, “is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”
The investigation was prompted by an article released Thursday by Rolling Stone magazine that described an “information operation” or “psychological operation” ordered by Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who is in charge of training Afghan security forces.
The article said that General Caldwell and his senior aides ordered a team of specialists to gather information about distinguished visitors and create a campaign to sway, in particular, traveling American lawmakers to endorse more money and troops for the war. When the officer running the team resisted, saying that it would not be proper, he was ordered in writing to make this his priority.
Under pressure, the article said, quoting the officer and numerous documents, the team eventually gathered biographies and things like the guests’ voting records — a standard task for headquarters staff before visits by Congressional delegations. The article quotes a spokesman in Kabul denying that the command used an information operations cell to influence high-ranking visitors.
This is not the first time that military officers have developed information or persuasion campaigns viewed as improper by members of Congress.
The New York Times reported in late 2007 that Ellen O. Tauscher, during her tenure as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California, visited Iraq and found that a biography compiled by military communications officers was distributed to Iraqi officials and American troops before her meetings.
The material highlighted her critical remarks about the Bush administration’s war strategy — but did not mention her sponsorship of legislation requiring more time at home for combat troops or support of financing for armored vehicles. Ms. Tauscher, now serving as under secretary of state, said the document left her “feeling slimed.”
Michael Hastings is not going to get a Christmas card from the Pentagon this year, methinks. And the cynic in me wonders how many years has this policy gone on. Probably since George Washington? Only the tools and techniques have become drastically more sophisticated as Army scientists figure out how to manipulate brains better.
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.
The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”
The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
Bob Herbert, on the never-ending slog in Afghanistan:
Time described the mental-health issue as “the U.S. Army’s third front,” with the reporter, Mark Thompson, writing: “While its combat troops fight two wars, its mental-health professionals are waging a battle to save soldiers’ sanity when they come back, one that will cost billions long after combat ends in Baghdad and Kabul.”
In addition to the terrible physical toll, the ultimate economic costs of these two wars, as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his colleague Linda Bilmes have pointed out, will run to more than $3 trillion.
I get a headache when I hear supporters of this endless warfare complaining about the federal budget deficits. They’re like arsonists complaining about the smell of smoke in the neighborhood.
There is no silver lining to this nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan. Poll after poll has shown that it no longer has the support of most Americans. And yet we fight on, feeding troops into the meat-grinder year after tragic year — to what end?
He’s right, what exactly is the end goal in Afghanistan? How many more need to be killed before the nebulous goal is reached? Leave now, and don’t look back.
Quoting an unnamed adviser to the president, Mr. Baker wrote that Mr. Obama sees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as “problems that need managing” while he pursues his mission of transforming the nation. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking on the record, said, “He’s got a very full plate of very big issues, and I think he does not want to create the impression that he’s so preoccupied with these two wars that he’s not addressing the domestic issues that are uppermost in people’s minds.”
Wars are not problems that need managing, which suggests that they will always be with us. They are catastrophes that need to be brought to an end as quickly as possible. Wars consume lives by the thousands (in Iraq, by the scores of thousands) and sometimes, as in World War II, by the millions. The goal when fighting any war should be peace, not a permanent simmer of nonstop maiming and killing. Wars are meant to be won — if they have to be fought at all — not endlessly looked after.
One of the reasons we’re in this state of nonstop warfare is the fact that so few Americans have had any personal stake in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no draft and no direct financial hardship resulting from the wars. So we keep shipping other people’s children off to combat as if they were some sort of commodity, like coal or wheat, with no real regard for the terrible price so many have to pay, physically and psychologically.
Not only is this tragic, it is profoundly disrespectful. These are real men and women, courageous and mostly uncomplaining human beings, that we are sending into the war zones, and we owe them our most careful attention. Above all, we owe them an end to two wars that have gone on much too long.
The articles published today are based on thousands of United States military incident and intelligence reports — records of engagements, mishaps, intelligence on enemy activity and other events from the war in Afghanistan — that were made public on Sunday on the Internet. The New York Times, The Guardian newspaper in London, and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the material several weeks ago. These reports are used by desk officers in the Pentagon and troops in the field when they make operational plans and prepare briefings on the situation in the war zone. Most of the reports are routine, even mundane, but many add insights, texture and context to a war that has been waged for nearly nine years.
Over all these documents amount to a real-time history of the war reported from one important vantage point — that of the soldiers and officers actually doing the fighting and reconstruction.
The Source of the Material
The documents — some 92,000 individual reports in all — were made available to The Times and the European news organizations by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to exposing secrets of all kinds, on the condition that the papers not report on the data until July 25, when WikiLeaks said it intended to post the material on the Internet. WikiLeaks did not reveal where it obtained the material. WikiLeaks was not involved in the news organizations’ research, reporting, analysis and writing. The Times spent about a month mining the data for disclosures and patterns, verifying and cross-checking with other information sources, and preparing the articles that are published today. The three news organizations agreed to publish their articles simultaneously, but each prepared its own articles.
A stream of US military intelligence reports accuse Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of arming, training and financing the Taliban insurgency since 2004, the war logs reveal, bringing fresh scrutiny on one of the war’s most contentious issues.
At least 180 files contain allegations of dirty tricks by the powerful agency with accounts of undercover agents training suicide bombers, bundles of money slipping across the border and covert support for a range of sensational plots including the assassination of President Hamid Karzai, attacks on Nato warplanes and even poisoning western troops’ beer supply.
They also link the ISI to some of the war’s most notorious commanders. In April 2007 for instance, the ISI is alleged to have sent 1,000 motorbikes to the warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani for suicide attacks in Khost and Logar provinces.
The White House has swiftly vowed to continue the war and predictably condemned WikiLeaks rather harshly. It will be most interesting to see how many Democrats — who claim to find Daniel Ellsberg heroic and the Pentagon Papers leak to be unambiguously justified — follow the White House’s lead in that regard. Ellsberg’s leak — though primarily exposing the amoral duplicity of a Democratic administration — occurred when there was a Republican in the White House. This latest leak, by contrast, indicts a war which a Democratic President has embraced as his own, and documents similar manipulation of public opinion and suppression of the truth well into 2009. It’s not difficult to foresee, as Atrios predicted, that media “coverage of [the] latest [leak] will be about whether or not it should have been published,” rather than about what these documents reveal about the war effort and the government and military leaders prosecuting it. What position Democratic officials and administration supporters take in the inevitable debate over WikiLeaks remains to be seen (by shrewdly leaking these materials to 3 major newspapers, which themselves then published many of the most incriminating documents, WikiLeaks provided itself with some cover).
Note how obviously lame is the White House’s prime tactic thus far for dismissing the importance of the leak: that the documents only go through December, 2009, the month when Obama ordered his “surge,” as though that timeline leaves these documents without any current relevance. The Pentagon Papers only went up through 1968 and were not released until 3 years later (in 1971), yet having the public behold the dishonesty about the war had a significant effect on public opinion, as well as the willingness of Americans to trust future government pronouncements. At the very least, it’s difficult to imagine this leak not having the same effect. Then again, since — unlike Vietnam — only a tiny portion of war supporters actually bears any direct burden from the war (themselves or close family members fighting it), it’s possible that the public will remain largely apathetic even knowing what they will now know. It’s relatively easy to support and/or acquiesce to a war when neither you nor your loved ones are risking their lives to fight it.
Turns out “Collateral Murder” was just a warmup. WikiLeaks just published a trove of over 90,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.
WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse taken, it would appear, from U.S. Central Command’s CIDNE data warehouse — has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war.
Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the United States’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In its granular, behind-the-scene details about the war, this has the potential to be Afghanistan’s answer to the Pentagon Papers. Except in 2010, it comes as a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.
Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.
Professor Jay Rosen has an interesting point about the organization itself:
If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.
U.S. troops already face plenty of threats in Afghanistan: AK-47–wielding insurgents, improvised bombs, an intransigent and incompetent government. Now add a less familiar challenge to that list of woes: Afghanistan’s toxic sand.
The pulverized turf, it turns out, contains high levels of manganese, silicon, iron, magnesium, aluminum, chromium and other metals that act as neurotoxic agents when ingested. Combine the country’s frequent sandstorms and the kicked-up dust that results from helicopter travel with troops’ nostrils, mouths and pores, and you’ve got an unexpected example of how inhospitable the terrain is for the soon-to-be 98,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines fighting the war.
That’s all according to new research presented this month to a neurotoxicology conference in Oregon by a senior scientist with the Navy Environmental Health Effects Laboratory. That scientist, Palur G. Gunasekar, tells Politics Daily’s Sheila Kaplan that “[a]s the sand extract dose increases at the higher concentration you see cell death.”
General McChrystal ignited a bit of a shite-storm with intemperate remarks about various White House officials. Not so much about policy differences with Obama, but personality conflicts, and an eagerness to speak ill of his civilian bosses, on the record. He should be fired, or demoted, or chastised in some form.
However, the more important fact I gleaned from the article is that we are fighting a useless and futile war in Afghanistan, wasting blood,1 resources, and intellectual energy. Meanwhile our own country needs some infrastructure investments that are ignored: water pipes, public schools, mass transit, clean energy, yadda yadda. Al Qaeda isn’t even in Afghanistan anymore, as far as we know.
When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. “Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan,” he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. “It’s all very cynical, politically,” says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. “Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there’s nothing for us there.”
In mid-May, two weeks after visiting the troops in Kandahar, McChrystal travels to the White House for a high-level visit by Hamid Karzai. It is a triumphant moment for the general, one that demonstrates he is very much in command – both in Kabul and in Washington. In the East Room, which is packed with journalists and dignitaries, President Obama sings the praises of Karzai. The two leaders talk about how great their relationship is, about the pain they feel over civilian casualties. They mention the word “progress” 16 times in under an hour. But there is no mention of victory. Still, the session represents the most forceful commitment that Obama has made to McChrystal’s strategy in months. “There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years – in education, in health care and economic development,” the president says. “As I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed – lights that would not have been visible just a few years earlier.”
It is a disconcerting observation for Obama to make. During the worst years in Iraq, when the Bush administration had no real progress to point to, officials used to offer up the exact same evidence of success. “It was one of our first impressions,” one GOP official said in 2006, after landing in Baghdad at the height of the sectarian violence. “So many lights shining brightly.” So it is to the language of the Iraq War that the Obama administration has turned – talk of progress, of city lights, of metrics like health care and education. Rhetoric that just a few years ago they would have mocked. “They are trying to manipulate perceptions because there is no definition of victory – because victory is not even defined or recognizable,” says Celeste Ward, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation who served as a political adviser to U.S. commanders in Iraq in 2006. “That’s the game we’re in right now. What we need, for strategic purposes, is to create the perception that we didn’t get run off. The facts on the ground are not great, and are not going to become great in the near future.”
But facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.
McChrystal should certainly get fired for insubordination – President Truman fired war hero General MacArthur, remember? And McChrystal is no war hero, he’s long been a loose cannon, responsible for the Tillman fiasco, detainee abuse and torture in Iraq, and other questionable judgements. On that front, the NYT reports:
An angry President Obama summoned his top commander in Afghanistan to Washington on Tuesday after a magazine article portrayed the general and his staff as openly contemptuous of some senior members of the Obama administration.
The military’s senior leaders joined in sharp criticism of the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and an administration official said he would meet with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House on Wednesday “to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece,” which appears in the July 8-22 edition of Rolling Stone.
General McChrystal was scheduled to attend a monthly meeting on Afghanistan by teleconference, the official said, but was directed to return to Washington in light of the article. The general apologized for his remarks, saying the article was “a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”
The article shows General McChrystal or his aides talking in sharply derisive terms about Mr. Biden; Ambassador Karl Eikenberry; Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an unnamed minister in the French government. One of General McChrystal’s aides is quoted as referring to the national security adviser, James L. Jones, as a “clown.”
A senior administration official said Mr. Obama was furious about the article, particularly with the suggestion that he was uninterested and unprepared to discuss the Afghanistan war after he took office.
Damn it, these assholes need to serve time for the war criminals they are. Bush, Cheney Rumsfeld and all their minions of doom, ensuring that several generations of Iraqis and Afghanis and Muslims hate the US, and by proxy, all Americans.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.
The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.
Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.
… Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.
He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.
Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent … If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”
He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld “innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks”.
I’m with Commander Dawood Zazai, actually, I wouldn’t sign a false confession either.
As an Afghan general read the document aloud, Cmdr. Dawood Zazai, a towering Pashtun tribal leader from Paktia Province who fought the Soviets, thumped his crutch for attention. Along with other elders, he did not like a clause in the document that said the detainees had been reasonably held based on intelligence.
“I cannot sign this,” Commander Zazai said, thumping his crutch again. “I don’t know what that intelligence said; we did not see that intelligence. It is right that we are illiterate, but we are not blind.
“Who proved that these men were guilty?”
No one answered because Commander Zazai had just touched on the crux of the legal debate that has raged for nearly a decade in the United States: Does the United States have the legal right to hold, indefinitely without charge or trial, people captured on the battlefield? His question also exposed a fundamental disagreement between the Afghans and the American military about whether people had been fairly detained.
This is the latest chapter in America’s tortuous effort to repair the damage done over the last nine years by a troubled, overcrowded detention system that often produced more insurgents rather than reforming them.
The Bush people just thought to lock everyone up first and sort it out later, while play-acting on the stage of Terrorism Theatre, but that isn’t the way the US is supposed to act. Rule of law, remember that? Not rule of gun and coercion. Donald Rumsfeld should be exported to the Pashtun region, and forced to stand trial for his war crimes.
A few interesting links collected December 8th through December 9th:
News America Paid $29.5M in Mysterious Floorgraphics Acquisition | BNET Advertising Blog | BNET – The suit has a certain chutzpah to it. A source tells BNET that FGI had sales of less than $1 million. Many outside observers believed that at the time of the deal, FGI existed mostly to resolve its litigation against NAM, not as a functioning business. It’s hard to believe NAM thought it was buying a genuine business and not settling a lawsuit, which is essentially what NAM is arguing in its suit.
The Spending Wars | The American Prospect – How did military spending become sacrosanct? – Excellent question: How did military spending become sacrosanct?”When Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, recently proposed a surtax that would pay for the Afghanistan War, the collective response from most of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle was, “Are you nuts?” Nancy Pelosi quickly put the kibosh on Obey’s “Share the Sacrifice Act,” and all talk of funding the war has been banished. Meanwhile, Democrats have spent untold hours debating how to finance health-care reform, all while Republicans carp about how doing so is just too darn expensive, what with our ever-climbing deficit.”
A Senate report with an agenda? Of course, doesn’t mean the facts are not true. The Afghanistan conflict would be quite different if Bush and Rumsfield weren’t so hell-bent to attack Iraq.
Osama bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of US troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when military leaders made the costly decision not to pursue him with massive force, a Senate report says.
The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden when he was at his most vulnerable, in December 2001, has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. The al-Qaida leader’s escape laid the foundation for today’s reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.
Staff of the Senate foreign relations committee’s Democratic majority prepared the report [pdf] at the request of the chairman, John Kerry, as Barack Obama prepares to increase US troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, has long argued that the Bush administration missed a chance to attack the al-Qaida leader and his deputies when they were holed up in the mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan three months after the September 11 attacks.
Specifically, the Committee On Foreign Relations of the US Senate spends 49 pages documenting how this puzzling decision was a policy blunder with long-term consequences:
More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders under George Bush, specifically Donald Rumsfeld, as defence secretary, and his senior military commander, Tommy Franks.
“Removing the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,” the report says. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed Bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism.”
From pages 12-13 of the report:
On November 21, 2001, President Bush put his arm on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as they were leaving a National Security Council meeting at the White House. ‘‘I need to see you,’’ the president said. It was 72 days after the 9/11 attacks and just a week after the fall of Kabul. But Bush already had new plans.
According to Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, the president said to Rumsfeld: ‘‘What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq? How do you feel about the war plan for Iraq?’’ Then the president told Woodward he recalled saying: ‘‘Let’s get started on this. And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.’’ Back at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld convened a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draft a message for Franks asking for a new assessment of a war with Iraq. The existing operations plan had been created in 1998 and it hinged on assembling the kind of massive international coalition used in Desert Storm in 1991.
In his memoir, American General, Franks later described getting the November 21 telephone call from Rumsfeld relaying the president’s orders while he was sitting in his office at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Franks and one of his aides were working on air support for the Afghan units being assembled to push into the mountains surrounding Tora Bora. Rumsfeld said the president wanted options for war with Iraq. Franks said the existing plan was out of date and that a new one should include lessons about precision weapons and the use of special operations forces learned in Afghanistan.
‘‘Okay, Tom,’’ Rumsfeld said, according to Franks. ‘‘Please dust it off and get back to me next week.’’
Franks described his reaction to Rumsfeld’s orders this way: ‘‘Son of a bitch. No rest for the weary.’’
For critics of the Bush administration’s commitment to Afghanistan, the shift in focus just as Franks and his senior aides were literally working on plans for the attacks on Tora Bora represents a dramatic turning point that allowed a sustained victory in Afghanistan to slip through our fingers. Almost immediately, intelligence and military planning resources were transferred to begin planning on the next war in Iraq. Though Fury, Berntsen and others in the field did not know what was happening back at CentCom, the drain in resources and shift in attention would affect them and the future course of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
Bill Moyers wonders, as we all do, if Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan War is a repetition of LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964.
Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.
Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.
South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.
Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.
Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.
The exact circumstances are different, but what the fuck is Obama doing? What’s the end game of escalation of the war? Will the Taliban ever throw their hands up and walk away? No, they will not, and even if they do, there is a thousand other offshoots of fundamentalists willing to step into the breach and fight The Great Satan. Are we as a country committed to staying permanently in Afghanistan? In Iraq? In Pakistan? At what cost? Can we afford to piss away trillions of dollars of our national budget protecting the interests of a few? What benefit to our nation does continuing the Afghanistan conflict actually accomplish?
As LBJ repeatedly says, sometimes you have to let the dominoes fall.