February 26, 2007

Why is Mainstream American Journalism Failing?

"The problem with the MSM is that they don't want to educate they want to sell." That suscinctly sums up the mainstream media, which is why I call it the corporate media.

With the help of commentary by journalism professor, Bob Jensen, lets exlpore the question, "Why is the American corporate media failing to provide independent and critical journalism?"

1) Commercial, for profit, enterprises have a structure that constrains their capacity to operate.

2) Journalistic practices have evolved to foster the notion that they must rely on official sources.

3) American journalists are socialized to believe that the United States acts with benevolence in domestic and world affairs. This is based on the mythology that the US, as an early democracy, is a break with history and thus unique in its benevolence.

Another question is the paradox of so-called "liberal journalism." How is it that statistics can show individual members of the media trend toward describing themselves as moderate or liberal while the media is so conservative? First, the definition of moderate has shifted significantly to the right since the 1980s, so what might seem moderate today was less so in years past.

Second, those who are "liberal" towards gay rights and other liberal social norms aren't necessarily economic liberals.

Third, liberal reporters answer to editors who in turn answer to management who in turn answer to owners and advertisers; the commercial pressure in a concentrating market imposes a conservatism toward questioning the status quo along the chain of command down to the reports. At the apex of the chain are now huge transnational corporations. The primary US media has consolidated from about 50 outlets in the mid-1980s to about six today:

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations),

General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations),

Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines),

Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations),

Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and

(Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).

These giant corporations, almost by definition, are conservative institutions that answer to investors and commercial culture.

That status quo is one of corporate globalization, and deregulation that includes the telecommunications industry. The result includes concentrated wealth among the executives and many media figures who, as celebrities, are part of the wealthy elite. If they want to maintain their status, they cannot rock the boat. Even the lowly media research assistant faces job security pressures that lead to risk averse (conservative) behavior; getting a job in main stream media is competative to begin with. Then, you have to toe the corporate line to move up the chain. And if you're lucky enough to advance, you become an insider who doesn't want to blow it by challenging the dominant corporate structure. There simply aren't a bunch of liberals at the top questioning why they're getting disproportionate benefits from recent tax cuts, why the US has an imperialistic foreign policy, why bankruptcy laws were written to favor large financial institutions rather than common people, why campaign finance laws are failing our democracy while funneling huge profits to television outlets in the form of campaign advertizing revenue.

So, these huge multinational media corporations are conservative, not liberal. But what of the first three points? We've dealt with the first one; corporate rule is not liberal and it dominates mainstream media.

The second point is actually a symptom of the first point, and we've alluded to it in reference to celebrity media figures. The Scooter Libby trial pulled back the curtain on this to some degree. Mainstream journalists are not pressured by their editors to get controversial stories about US fostering death squads in Iraq; they didn't cover it in Central America in the 1980s, and it's not being covered now. The editor isn't pushing for investigative reporting, in part because the budgets have been cut as part of the media consolidation process (news isn't a huge revenue generator and investigative journalism costs money). It's easier to report what the government officials say at their press conferences or (wow) private conversations!! It's also safer to one's career; you can't make mistakes by simply reporting what you're told by "government officials". And, to maintain this comfort zone, it's important for reporters to maintain good relations with their sources. As a consequence, there is pressure to avoid being too critical of government official sources that reporters have invested time cultivating. The bottom line is that the vast majority of mainstream reporters and producers don't want to rock the boat... this how the media works, and it is a conservative mode of operation, not liberal.

The third point, about the Amarican mythology that "we're the good guys," also points to conservatism. The mainstream media didn't spend much time describing the cozy US relationship with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s when reporting on his recent hanging (little mention that the US allowed sales of pesticide base ingredients the were ultimately used on Kurdish villages). In fact, you rarely ever hear about the pattern of such relationships: The US creation of Osama bin Laden during the Afghan war, nor the fact that the US helped engineer that war (the "Bear Trap" designed to create a Vietnam for the USSR according to Zbigniew Brzezinski), Manuel Noriega in Panama, Diem in South Vietnam and support of dictators like Marcos in the Phillipines and the Shah of Iran, not to mention the current monarchy of Saudi Arabia and dictatorship in Pakistan.

The contradition of the US supporting these bad guys isn't questioned by the mainstream media. The US government routinely supports brutal dictators who in turn allow US corporations to exploit their resources (oil, minerals, agricultural plantation products, cheap labor); the dictators and corporations get rich, and the US government officials are treated well by the corporate elite, often rotatng through jobs in the private sector, while the peasants of these countries and US middle class are squeezed. The mainstream media doesn't report on this to any appreciable degree, why? In part because it doesn't fit the American mythology, "We're the good guys."


1. Media Matters, with Bob McChesney, Interview with Bob Jensen, Professor of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin, February 25, 2007.

2. Why Media Ownership Matters, April 3, 2005 by the Seattle Times by Amy Goodman and David Goodman.

February 25, 2007

Will the World Sit by and Watch if the US Attacks Iran?

In July 2006, the world sat by and watched Israel destroy much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure including roads and bridges, water systems, electric power plants telecommunications towers, government buildings and thousands of businesses and residential homes.

Fast forward to Iran. According to a recent, well documented article by By Michel Chossudovsky [1]:

... the planned air strikes are by no means limited to Iran's nuclear facilities. Central Command Headquarters in Florida (CENTCOM) has already selected a comprehensive list of military and civilian targets. Industrial sites, civilian infrastructure including roads, water systems, bridges, electric power plants telecommunications towers, government buildings are part of the assumptions underlying the Blitzkrieg. "A single raid could result in 10,000 targets being hit with warplanes flying from the US and Diego Garcia."[2]
In retrospect, the 2006 US/Israel assault on Lebanon's civilian infrastructure looks like a practice run for the pending attack on Iran. Will the world sit by and watch it done to Iran?

Iran, itself, is likely to respond. According to Chussudovsky, Iran could respond "in the form of targeted strikes on US military facilities in the Iraq and the Gulf States," and Israel. Iran also has intelligence assets around the world who could take action. Deeper assessments of the Iranian response are provided in a 2004 paper by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies [5], and an article by Wayne White. [6]

But, will the rest of the world sit by and just watch? Maybe. However, several reactions are conceivable.

First, Israel could be drawn into the conflict, that is, if they are not involved from the beginning.

Second, united by American aggression against the predominantly Shia Iran, many Shia factions in Iraq might not sit by and watch. Even if the Iraqi Shia don't rediscover common cause with the predominantly Sunni Iraqi insurgency, they could find common cause with Iran. In the past, there were signs of a growing unified Shia/Sunni resistance to US occupation. Many believe the US promoted sectarian violence in Iraq to "divide and conquer" this growing unity between Shia and Sunni. However, even without renewed unity, the Shia connections to Iran are strong, and Shia resistance to the US is a real possability as described at length in the CNS paper [5].

Third, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded by Russia, China and several "stan" nations, is considered to be a counter balance to NATO. Although SCO claims it isn't a military bloc, it does have a security cooperation component. Iran is an observer nation to SCO. The SCO nations might not sit by watching. China and Russia held joint military exercises in 2005, and both have significant economic and military sales relationships with Iran. [3] (Asia Times Link). Finally, Russia does have a military alliance with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, (CSTO). They conducted war games on August 24, 2006.

These war games, officially tagged as part of a counter terrorism program, are in direct response to US military threats in the region including the planned attacks against Iran. [4]

Fourth, global terrorist attacks could be conducted by those who sympathize with Iran, or simply want to use the US attack as a pretext.

Fifth, the world economy might not "sit by and watch." Oil corporations will, yet again, reap windfall profits as oil prices soar. However, businesses that are sensitive to oil prices, like trucking and airlines, will be shocked. Other businesses and consumers will feel the impacts. Whether or not a systemic chain reaction will undermine the global economy must always be a concern.

Sixth, although my faith in Senator Joe Biden is thin, he has promised a "constitutional confrontation" if Bush attacks Iran. My understanding of the constitution, based on the Supreme Court decision in Campbell vs Clinton, is that Congress has to pass an explicit law before it even has standing for a "constitutional confrontation."

They must, pursuant to Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, preclude any additional deployment of United States Armed Forces to the operations in Iran. Congress must explicitly refused to authorize or appropriate the use of funds for an operation on Iran. This is necessary to establish an actual confrontation between the legislative and executive branches sufficient to confer standing to Congress in the U.S. Supreme Court should the President disobey their directive and should they seek intervention of the judicial branch. (Campbell vs Clinton).
So, in the end, we can expect protests in the US and other countries, an initial US military "success," dutifully portrayed by the corporate media, followed by a replay of the Iraq unraveling on a regional scale. Zbigniew Brzezinski recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, if Bush continues on his current path, we can anticipate

military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


1. "Theater Iran Near Term" (TIRANNT), Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, February 21, 2007. (Updated February 23, 2007).

2. Gulf News, February 21, 2007.

3. Asia Times, June 4, 2005, "The ties that bind China, Russia and Iran," Jephraim P Gundzik.

4. Russia and Central Asian Allies Conduct War Games in Response to US Threats Michel Chossudovsky, Global Resarch, August 24, 2006.

5. "A Preemptive Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities: Possible Consequences," Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Sammy Salama and Karen Ruster, August 12, 2004.

6. "U.S. attack on Iran would be huge mistake," February 11, 2007, Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department’s Intelligence and Research Office, focusing on Middle East issues, especially Iraq and Iran.

February 23, 2007

What if George Bush Declared Martial Law?

Jane Smiley asks how could Bush actually subdue Americans if he were to declare Martial Law?:
One day, we were supposed to wake up, and martial law would be declared, and we were supposed to actually pay attention to it? Where are they keeping the troops who were going to patrol our neighborhoods? Who was it who was going to disarm the population? Who was their base going to be, when they sought public support for martial law? Who was going to round us up and where were they going to put us?

Glad someone is asking. It's also good to see a very healthy response from readers, over 350 comments.

Some of the Comments:

Appropriately, the first comment was,

"The first thing to go will be the internet." - elmcorners

Then, someone pointed out the Blackwater brown shirts, Bush's pretorian gaurd:

To address the question "where would the troops come from" since they're all in Iraq or sitting in their own shit at Walter Reed, this is where Blackwater comes in. Are there sufficient numbers to control the entire country..of course not. But, there are enough of these redneck, uneducated, testosterone ladden inbreeds to cause much disruption. - halsey

Would the local authorities fall in line? Dissent? Split? Here's one prediction:

Local police would gear up in their ski masks and military like outfits and await their leaders orders. I believe Americans, including myself, would take to the streets. - Michigan

He's not the only one prepared:

I've been expecting him to pull something like this since 2000. So has everyoe in my family. We're prepared. - vurz

And the requisite Orwell quote:

The lessons of Orwell's 1984 were not lost on the neocons: brook no dissent, suppress truth, use brutality and threat of torture, control the media; create a complete dissociation between reality and the approved myth of the Benevolent Leader. Put TVs everywhere.

So far, so good. - fairwitness

Some advice to dacoyle, you better plan ahead:

If Bush declared martial law, I would give thanks that my complaints about the NRA had come to nothing. Then I would go out and buy a gun. - dacoyle

Buy that gun before the clampdown. MomMadonna did:

This is why this peacenik woman has kept up her shooting skills and owns a personal arm. - MomMadonna

Then, there's the counter-intuitive thinker:

as bizarre as it sounds, maybe a declaration of martial law is precisely what it is going to take to finally shake our citizens out of their slumber and force these criminals from office... the white house occupants would be replaced in a matter of days...

Maybe... we can hope. Then, there's the cynic dashing that hope:

Those opposing Martial Law would sit around slinging abuse at those who support it, and vice versa. Ultimately you'd do nothing but moan a little before getting on with your lives.

You are American.

Unforturnately, that sounds all too familiar to me, echoed with examples here:

What would we do about it? Nothing, What have we done about the Patriot Act, eavesdropping, illegal detention of prisoners, the invasion of Iraq, the false justification behind the authorization for this war, the obvious build up of an imminent conflict with Iran?

You've probably heard what comes at the end of this too:

Well, let's see, they federalize the Nat'l Guard, the State Police, the country Sheriff, and the local police. They issue a curfew for 6pm with shoot to kill orders for anyone out after that time. Wow, that is funny. What's REALLY funny is what they did just before issuing the martial law order...cancel the 2008 elections. Hardy, har, har.

I guess this reader didn't take too kindly to Jane Smiley's sentiment that martial law under Bush would be a joke. Then there's someone who's better versed than they think:

I am not well versed on these things but it seems to me that the kind of martial law envisioned by BushCo is less a country-wide affair and more a targeted approach designed to stifle dissent of the kind we saw last year when immigrants took to the streets in massive numbers. - Litz

Yes. Crack-down on a minority (Litz inserts: dark-skinned people, immigrants, hippies, war protestors, etc.). The joint task forces are getting plenty of practice conducting raids on the immigrants, recently in San Francisco.

Then there is the serious, honest conservative:

What Would You Do If Bush Declared Martial Law?

I asked myself that very question last fall when I chose to reenlist rather then retire. I will submit my retirement papers as a form of protest. Other then that, I have not yet decided. I do believe every patriot ought to be considering their potential responses and preparing their resources to ensure they are free to act upon whichever decision they may make. - Radical Republican (Mike)

Nice to know that we've got conservatives on "our side." Then there's the pragmatic economic angle, there always is. But this time with an edge of dissent:

How disruptive to business would martial law be? Let's say that I wouldn't go shopping. here are lots of ways to express dissent besides protesting in the streets or signing petitions. How about slow downs? Just not pay the bills on time. I mean, to hell with the credit cards and playing 'good taxpayer'. - gro

You go gro!

Here's a creepy one, in more than one way:

Nothing is illegal to these thugs that currently have our nation in a choke hold. Who will round up the Americans, you ask? Speculation has it, it will be the literally millions of the south/central american/mexican paramilitary gangs that have inundated our country.

Then, there's the harsh reality of families further torn appart:

My Brother is in National Guard. He Informed me years ago,he thinks. We SHOULD be under Martial Law.

There's the person who has moved out of the US because of Bush, the person who has noticed the MSM's ratcheted rhetoric on al-Qaida

Then, there's the hope of a military coup... against Bush:

I too believe that the US military, by and large, would resist such obviously illegal orders.

Probably shouldn't pin too much on hope.

These are the highlights from only two of fifteen pages of comments.


According to a post on Slashdot entitled Bush Signs Bill Enabling Martial Law a revision of the Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331 -335) gives Bush new authorities that may override the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C.1385). The Posse Comitatus Act places strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement.

See more from Frank Morales piece, October 26, 2006, that appeared on the Toward Freedom web site.

That would be praetorian guard

February 22, 2007

Is the Chaos in Iraq Intentional? Connecting the Dots

A friend writes:

During the last few years it's become increasingly clear that the Iraq war is going pretty much the way a lot of neocons want it to go - as sort of a second-best solution. The first-best neocon situation would be an Iraq controlled by a multi-national-corporation-based "democracy" (basically an arm of the U.S. military-industrial complex). Under this scenario, Iraq would be a base from which to spread instability and chaos to the rest of the Middle East (except to Israel and some of the Bush family's Arab friends), basically a catalyst to gain control of the entire Middle-East and its oil. Since this neocon dream hasn't happened (now virtually impossible - part of the "being greeted as liberators" fantasy), the second best situation is to have an unstable, chaotic Iraq that is a catalyst of instability and chaos in neighboring countries. This clearly IS happening.

So, I would argue that the current situation in Iraq, which is bad news to most Americans, is actually good news to neocons (its the start of the "permanent war"). The seeming failure of the Bush approach in Iraq is actually, in their minds, largely a success. Cheney and Rumsfield, if nothing else, are smart, savvy guys when it comes to military operations. Strategically, how could they have done just enough to fail time and again? How could they have ****ed up so badly? Well, they haven't - at least not according to them. This has all been by design. I'm not the first to posit this theory.

He then discusses connecting the dots.

The short term for a multi-national-corporation-based "democracy" is imperial democracy. Some neocons openly use the term. Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, has made the quip, "Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy, Buy One Get One Free." Another term is "Superpower democracy." Empire, creeping fascim have also been used.

I have blogged on this general topic before, prompted by a question posed by the Iraqi blogger Riverbend. The post is entitled, Riverbend ponders: Is the Iraq Debacle Intended?

More recently, former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, made a similar argument. Maybe I put words in his mouth, but he comes pretty close to saying, "Bush is Steering US Toward War with Islam."

I'm also working on a piece about US supported death squads in Iraq. Examining that avenue is likely to help connect the dots on the question of whether the US leaders are intentionally fostering chaos, a permenant war.

Finally, I also started an essay about memoranda written by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo. If you want to get creeped out, read this. It's very clear to Yoo that a 'war time president' has greatly expanded powers as Commander in Chief. There is the motive. Now we need to connect the dots to the means and the opportunity for these crime against peace.

February 21, 2007

On the Lighter Side - Drew

Just when you thought you'd go nuts from reading about another violation of civility by George Bush, you come to discover you're not the only one who's going nuts:

Courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner. He's been at it steady since 2002.

February 20, 2007

Pandering Edwards Showing True Colors?

A little while back I did a broad side on John Edward's speech to a conference in Herzliya, Israel. (Before that, I was heaping praise).

Maybe he's just a politician playing both sides, but I found this of interest. But this tid bit is making its rounds on the blogosphere, from Peter Bart's Variety column January 19, 2007. Writing about Hollywood politics, Bart describes an encounter John Edwards had at a recption hosed by "Adam Venit, a honcho at Endeavor":

The aggressively photogenic John Edwards was cruising along, detailing his litany of liberal causes last week until, during question time, he invoked the "I" word -- Israel. Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. As a chill descended on the gathering, the Edwards event was brought to a polite close.

If the event is described fairly, it says as much about the crowd as it does Edwards. We should be concerned about an Israeli attack, and Iranian potential response. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski's testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Februray 1, 2007, Edwards is right:

A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks [that is, Bush's surge fails]; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Military Police State Tightens it's Grip

"We're just interpreting the law," is the effective statement of the 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upholds Bush's authority to detain US citizens indefinitely if he labels them "enemy combatants".[1] Don't look to the Judicial branch if the Bush military machine grabs you off of the street. The judiciary has itself been "captured" by the right-wing authoritarians. Chris Floyd of Empire Burlesque expands on the specific judges in this decision.

Unless Congress reverses the Military Commissions Act, which it passed just last year with Democratic (jellyfish) support, even lackey drivers and cooks who happen to work for suspected terrorists, are now subject to arbitrary and capricious military tribunals, if they are lucky, and detention for life, if they are unlucky.

This police state black hole certainly applies to non-citizens. But if you're a citizen and merely accused if being an enemy combatant, you could also face the black hole. There's nothing legal to prevent you from facing the fate of Jose Padilla, a US-born citizen who has been detained and tortured to the point brink of insanity.[2] The message? Don't, what ever you do, get on the wrong side of the Executive Branch of the United States of America, because the values of justice and fairness are no longer "the American way."

Today, the American way has descended into the murky world, embracing the ethic of might makes right. Don't get on the wrong side of this new American ethic. And, to be sure the right-wing authoritarians know which side you're on, they are busily working with the corporate communications oligopoly to make ours a life of Orwell's Winston Smith. For skin-crawling details, see this interview with Maureen Webb, human rights lawyer and author of “Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post 9/11 World.”[3]

And, lest you think that only enemy combatants can be put behind bars, think again. The federal government is now abusing the murky realm of the Grand Jury system to silence people. It isn't too hard for 'deciders' in the Executive branch to hand-pick a prosecutor and steer a case to a right-wing judge. Then, you face "talking" about what you thought was private or protected political speech, or being locked up indefinitely if the judge finds you in criminal contempt for not talking or turning over "evidence". In other words, the right-wing authoritarians that rule America are using Grand Jury Traps.

History tells us that it's up to the people to steer our democracy, and change domestic right-wing authoritarian regimes. I was once told by a Brazilian, who lived through their US-backed dictatorship, that it's easier to prevent a dictatorship than to unseat one. Now is the time for preventive action.

Congressional and Media Contacts:

Write the US House of Representatives
Write the US Senate
Write the Major Media Outlets


1. "Court: Detainees can't challenge cases", HOPE YEN, Associated Press, February 20, 2007.

2. "Experts: Padilla unable to stand trial," CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press, February 21, 2007.

3. "Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World," Interview of Maureen Webb by Amy Goodman, DemocracyNow! Tuesday, February 20th, 2007.

February 19, 2007

Bush President's Day Propaganda Backfire

Oops! In an attempt to compare his war of terrorism with the American Revolutionary War, Bush inadvertently reversed the roles:

On the field of battle, Washington's forces were facing a mighty empire, and the odds against them were overwhelming. The ragged Continental Army lost more battles than it won, suffered waves of desertions, and stood on the brink of disaster many times.
Now, the US is the "mighty empire," and the "ragged" armies facing the mighty empire are, well, not North American. This "open-mouth-insert-foot" moment isn't Bush's fault. Clearly the speech writers goofed on this one.

February 18, 2007

Brzezinski: Bush Steering US Toward War with Islam

The bloggers at Pedestrian Infidel (PI) have bought into what Zbigniew Brzezinski recently called, "A mythical historical narrative," or maybe they're just trying to sell it. In a February 8, 2007 post to their site, PI proposes an amendment to the US constitution. Following nine whereas statements that argue Islam is social and political ideology, is intolerant of other religions, seeks to supplant all other religions across the world, they conclude Therefore:

Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology more akin to Fascism and totally in opposition to the ideals of freedom as described in the United States Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.

They continue with a series of proposed constitutional amendements that begin with a change to Article I:

The social/political/ideological system known around the world as Islam is not recognized in the United States as a religion.

The practice of Islam is therefore not protected under the 1st Amendment as to freedom of religion and speech.

One might dismiss this as, "just another blogger doing his or her thing", or in this case just another group of bloggers.

Which brings us back to Zbigniew Brzezinski's testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Februray 1, 2007. Rather than ignore the kind of thinking reflected by the Pedestrian Infidel, Brzezinski invests a signigicant portion of his short testimony to exposing it's fraudulence. The set-up is his statement that:

A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks [that is, Bush's surge fails]; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

This statement is followed immediately by Brzezinski's exposure of the messianic, fear mongering calls for a crusade against Islam:

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran—though gaining in regional influence—is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In no uncertain terms, Brzezinski is saying that he believes the Bush Administration is intentionally steering the Nation into a huge war with Islam, which will make the war in Iraq pale by comparison.

Deplorably, the Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about “a new strategic context” which is based on “clarity” and which prompts “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles’s attitude of the early 1950’s toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.

Brzezinski closes his brief testimony with four steps in the "quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq."

February 17, 2007

Brzezinski: Four Steps Out of Iraq

In his February 1, 2007 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Zbigniew Brzezinski laid out four steps in the "quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq." It's basically an excerpt of the diplomatic elements of the Iraq Study Group recommendations, including attention to the Palestinian-Israeli situation, and a recomendation for the US to state clear intentions of prompt military withdrawl from Iraq.
The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time. Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony.
Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level. Perhaps the U.S. Congress could do so by a joint resolution.

The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders—including those who do not reside within “the Green Zone”—in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond “the Green Zone” can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of the current Iraqi regime, characterized by the Bush administration as “representative of the Iraqi people,” defines itself largely by its physical location: the 4 sq. miles-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as “the Green Zone.”

The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding
regional stability.

The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq’s neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region’s security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration. Iran and Syria have no reason to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony. It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria
have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive – and mainly sloganeering – U.S. diplomacy.

A serious regional dialogue, promoted directly or indirectly by the U.S., could be buttressed at some point by a wider circle of consultations involving other powers with a stake in the region’sstability, such as the EU, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Members of this Committee might consider exploring informally with the states mentioned their potential interest in such a wider dialogue.

Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

The United States needs to convince the region that the U.S. is committed both to Israel’s enduring security and to fairness for the Palestinians who have waited for more than forty years now for their own separate state. Only an external and activist intervention can promote the long-delayed settlement for the record shows that the Israelis and the Palestinians will never do so on their own. Without such a settlement, both nationalist and fundamentalist passions in the region will in the longer run doom any Arab regime which is perceived as supportive of U.S. regional hegemony.


February 16, 2007

Murtha Seeks to Stop War in Iran

The buzz is that the Bush administration is considering an imminent attack on Iran, the word I hear is "Spring." Spring begins March 21, 2007.

President Bush believes he has the authority from Congress to launch an assault on Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes Bush doesn't have the authority to invade Iran.

Obviously, John Murtha isn't taking any chances with a president who flouts the law. So, John Murtha is attempting to assert Congress's authority to prevent the Executive Branch from committing an act of aggression against Iran without explicit consent from the Legislative Branch. The Breaking Story

24 minute video of Murtha interviewed by MoveCongress.Org

February 15, 2007

What is a Grand Jury Trap?

A grand jury trap is trick that can exploit state and federal grand jury proceedings to entrap someone into being charged with a crime, such as purgery, obstruction of justice, or other legal entanglement.

In principle, someone in the executive branch could appoint a prosecutor sympathetic to their cause (entrapping someone), steer the case to a sympathetic judge, and then lay the trap.

Even if the prosecutor and judge are not in on the fix, the mere potential that a fix is in is often sufficient motivation for the target person to resist testifying. In that case, the target is in contempt of the grand jury, and the judge may try to compel testimony by incarcerating the target individual.

Flight of fancy? No. Without even looking, I'm aware of three cases in which this Principal has applies. First, San Francisco independent journalist and video blogger Josh Wolf was arrested August 1, 2006, for refusing a federal grand jury’s request to turn over video he shot at a demonstration.

Second, Sami Al-Arian, formerly a tenured professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, is being held for failing to testify against other people before a grand jury. He has earlier been cleared of earlier charges against him, which were based on political activities and speech that the jury in his trial found were protected. Given the government's earlier attempts to silence him, is legitimately concerned about the potential use of grand jury entrapment against him. Thus, he has chosen the lesser of the two evils, contempt and additional time in jail.

Third, former black activists from the 1970s have faced similar concerns about grand juries convened, supposedly to gather evidence surrounding possible crimes dating back to the 1970s. Google Black Panther Jury

In short, the message is, if the federal or state government wants to make your life miserable, they have the grand jury trap as another tool in their police state toolbox.

February 14, 2007

Mini US Military Coup Slows Rush to Attack Iran

On February 13, 2007, the US experienced a mini military coup.

On February 11, 2007, the White House engineered a press briefing in Baghdad to announce that Iran was supplying sophisticated armor piercing explosives being used against US soldiers in Iraq.

On the 13th, Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace under cut the White House's now-famous Baghdad briefing. Pace effectively said, yes, weapons made in Iran are entering Iraq. But he said that he was unaware of any evidence that the Iranian government leaders made decisions to provide those weapons. This military statement contradicted the civilian White House message in Baghdad, and thus was a mini military coup.

Since then, the Pentagon has muddied the waters on this subject to give General Pace plausible deniablity in staging a mini coup. Pace's statement had its desired effect, and the coup was successful. The media started saying the White House was "back tracking", and the White House had to move into damage control mode, spinning the briefing to say that the anonymous military briefers had overstated the case. That spin is not credible, because the White House had crafted the briefing, going as far as to delay it:

The briefing was being carefully monitored by the White House -- which had postponed it twice previously. National security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters on February 2: "The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts."
In short, the military has learned it cannot trust the White House. It's a frightening time when the stability of the United States depends on military coups because the civilian leaders are out of control.

February 11, 2007

Reasons for Attacking Iran

The drum beat of war with Iran is unmistakable. A synopsis of that would be it's own topic. We're facing a "Boy who cried wolf moment," but I'm not buying the drum beat; don't worry George. You won't be eaten.

The Bush administration is demonizing Iran, with occasional foot-in-mouth assistance from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and compliance of the corporate mass media. But the Iranian constitution gives Ahmadinejad little power, so ignore the man who dresses like Obama behind the curtain.

Most of the drum beats are just propaganda excuses. For example, "Iranian's have refused some IAEA inspectors, and inspections." This is an excuse that the US engineered by securing special inspections through obscure actions of the UN Security Council, which the US knew Iran could not accept. The US was then able to point to "Iran's refusal to allow IAEA inspections", thereby making Iran look unreasonable, like they're hiding something. But, just as in Iraq, Bush must have underlying motives, or reasons, for war with Iran, right?

The Reasons for Attacking Iran:

These are the reasons that I think are motivating the Bush administration.

1) Controlling Iran has always been part of the neo-con master plan that Bush has bought into. Controlling Iran, like Iraq, entails the benefits of control over natural resources, if only to create predicatability, not necessarily stealing the wealth. Control also entails brining Iran into the corporate globalization free market world view. I find it hard to believe Bush thinks they can achieve "regime change," nevertheless, control is a long-term motivation.

2) Nearer-term, Bush needs to weaken Iran. He must first have chaos in Iran before he can have control. This goal is more urgent, because of the way things have gone badly Iraq. The logic is simple:

The US can't continue to occupy Iraq, because US soldiers are getting chewed up, it's too costly, and the US public is getting restless.

The US can't leave Iraq, because Iraq is now run by Shia political parties that are friendly to Iran, and leaving now would yeild too much regional influence to Iran.

Solution? First attack and weaken Iran, THEN pull back from Iraq (leaving behind US military bases, of course). Call it "The Third Way" to resolving the Iraq problem.

3) Israel Wants It. I confess. I've bought into the perspective that, "What Israel wants, the US wants." Just look at the way Hillary Clinton and John Edwards pander to the Israeli lobby? As far as Iran goes, the message to the Israeli vote is that "Everything is on the Table." Does Israel have any reasons? That doesn't really matter, but in general, they want control too.

4) Potential Nuclear Weapons in Iran. Even if Iran is ten years away from having a nuclear weapon, that's too soon. If an attack could make that twenty years, that's a good thing. Attack them in another ten years, and reset the clock again. Keep doing this, and.... we'll, you get the idea. Preventive war is now a formal part of American miliatry strategic policy, so we might as well make use of it, right? Who's going to stop us?

The recent propaganda about Iranians providing weapons to the Iraqi insurgency is being floated as a trial balloon in this reagard. But the logic falls a little flat; Iran's Shia allys are basically in power in Iraq, and thus don't need weapons to fight the US, and Iran's enemies are the Sunni "Saddam dead ender insurgency" fighting the US. This ties into number 2) above. That is, the US doesn't want Iran to gain influence in the region. Even if Iran isn't giving weapons to the insurgency, the US doesn't want Iran currying favor with the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

Other Thoughts on the Topic:

The Provoked Response: This is no more a "reason" than the Tonkin Gulf incident was a reason for escalation in Vietnam. That is, the US will try to provoke a response from Iran, and use that as a pretext for attacking (As if nukes ain't good enough you say). This reason hasn't yet materialized, but it will. It will be bolstered by the drum beat of demonization that provides a fertile foundation for the unsuspecting American TV watchers (I hope I'm wrong about this). It helps that they're religious fundamentalists and we're, ah'hem, not. The Iranian Supreme Leader, a title to which Bush and Cheney aspire, has offered predictions to this end: terrorism or human rights violations. So has Zbigniew Brzezinski.

I think five reasons are enough. I suppose the benefits to the defense industry lobby might be another "good reason", but I don't want to be accused of being too cynical. Testing new bunker busters is another good reason, but that's probably considered a mere side-benefit to the inside-crowd who are taking us to war in Iran. Then, there is also the mesianic reason, against which former National Security Advisor, Zignew Brzezinski, spoke out against in his February 1, 2007 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It's hard to tell whether this later "reason" is actually motivating the Bush people or is just part of the Bush propaganda drum beat, in this case designed to rally his radical base of christian crusaders.

Scott Ritter offers another reason. The big bully has gotten beat in Iraq. It's time for the deafeated bully to vent elsewhere.... like Iran. To this many people might say say, "We can't go into Iran. We're already stretched too thin in Iraq." We're not "going in to Iran." We're just going to bomb the bajeebers out of 'em. We've got three aircraft carrier groups over there. CNN viewers will get to see more Clintonesque cruise missile launches. No, this isn't a wag-the-dog rationale... OK, maybe that's a "side-benefit."

There are other reasons being given,
some of them, while intended to be humorous, have a sickening grain of truth to them.

February 10, 2007

Haiti: War on the Poor

What's happening in Haiti? Most don't care. But I had to say something.

It's a story repeated in many small countries. A wealthy minority is threatended by the poor masses, who have majority-rule democracy on their side. This well-connected minority convinces the well-connected minority of the U.S. that it's in their national interest to repress the poor masses. It's not hard to imagine their argument:

You can't have a bunch of unruley masses taking over and allowing a safe haven for terriorists, can you? Furthermore, "these people" don't understand the economic principles of the free market. They don't realize it's for their own good. They will undermine decades of investment in the institutions of trade liberalization. The very fabric of globalization is thretened here. Yes, this is a small country, but if they get a foothold here, it will spread.
This is the unreported story of Haiti. Haiti is a battle ground for the real war that's being waged in the world. It translates into a war on the poor, albeit, it's more nuanced than a simple class war. However, the corporate mass media fails to tell this story.

Instead, the mass media follow a predictable, superficial narrative. One-time popular leader becomes corrupt, looses popular support, a crisis develops, the leader flees to avoid a bloodbath. No mention of US-backed destabilization program to create the crisis. No mention of provocations that help create justifications. The notion of a slow-motion coup is too complex for the mainstream media to grasp, in part because of reporter down-sizing as part of the on-going media consolidation.

Now we're being told by mainstream media that the United Nations Peace Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are conducting operations in the slums of Citè Soliel to pacify "gangs." Surely there are gangs in the slums of Citè Soliel, some are committing violent acts. They are desperate. Have they been pushed to desperation? It's a tried-and-true tactic to provoke a response and then point at the reponse as justification for violent oppression.

But, what about the organized criminals that operate on a national level, with what appears to be the complicity of elements of the interim government? What about the death squads of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), founded by Emmanuel 'Toto' Constant, who claimed to be on the CIA payroll when he created FRAPH. What about Lame Ti Manchèt (the Little Machete Army). This civilian vigilante group is reported, by residents of Martissant in southern Port-au-Prince, to be responsible for the killing of freelance photojournalist Jean-Rémy Badio on January 19, 2006.[1]

Mainstream media reports have painted a simplistic picture of Lame Ti Manchèt being a "rival gang" in conflict with Baz Gran Ravin (Big Ravine Base), a group that has served a self-defense function in Martissant.[1] These reports generally fail to mention the relations that Lame Ti Manchèt have with elements in the Hatian National Police (NHP), who have their own human rights abuse problems.[2] Amnesty International describes a July 2006 massacre by Lame Ti Manchèt in the Grand Ravine neighborhood in which hundreds of homes were burned and women and children killed. These were followed by an August 20, 2006 attack at a soccer game by Lame Ti Manchèt and police killing 20 people, and an August 21, 2006 attack on Grand Ravine in which the home of Bruner Esterne, President of the Grand Ravine Community Council for Human Rights, was burned. On 21 September 2006, Bruner Esterne was killed by unknown individuals. [3]

United Nations: Enforcers of Mainstream Narrative:

The international community backed the slow-motion coup of Hatian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The US and France wanted it, and the rest of the world didn't car, surely having more immediate issues to deal with. Enter the in United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), at the request of the international community. It shouldn't come as a surprise that MINUSTAH has become an arm of the mainstream narrative.

So, we're hearing of MINUSTAH members attacking journalists, and being involved in chaotic attacks in poor neighborhoods.

The UN mission in Haiti seems to be unraveling. This is exemplified by reports of UN cover-ups of "massacres" and disproportionate use of force. UN Special Representative, Edmund Mulet, denied the UN fired from helicopters into Cite Soleil at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on January 31, 2007. Mulet said, "We never shot from a helicopter – never. We had one helicopter with a camera taking pictures and following the operation, but we never shoot from helicopters. We never use heavy artillery either.” [4]

This was contradicted by Medical Doctor John Carroll in an inteview with Pacifica Radio program Flashpoints.[5]

Medical Doctor Dr. John Carrol [using an internet phone connection]: I spoke with the mother, she was 48, I’ll call her Immacula, and a couple of daughters. And what happened, according to this family, is that [United Nations] MINUSTAH helicopters circled for about three hours above their home, above the neighborhood in Sole’ 17 … and they shot down for at least three hours over the area. As I looked up I could see about a twelve-inch hole in their roof on the right hand side of where I was standing, and then there were smaller holes on the left hand side.

She had, Immacula had three daughters a 19-year old, a 15-year old and a 17-year old. The 19-year old was hurt the worst. They all dove under their beds and did the best get out of the gun fire. The 19-year old was shot in the left shoulder and the left chest, was hospitalized at St. Catherine’s hospital about a mile down the road in Cite’ Soleil. The 15-year old girl was, ah took a shot to the left side of the head, I would call it shrapnel, the left side of her head was still shaved when I examined her and the shrapnel had been removed, she was OK. The 17-year old, ah what I’m calling shrapnel, in the mid right leg, which would be the tubual [?] area, and that wound was also uninfected.

I did check the 19-year old girl, the daughter that was injured the most, after she was released from a hospital. And I say “a hospital” because she was transferred from St. Catherine’s to another hospital and then I saw her in clinic. She’s psychologically very wounded, she’s very afraid. There’s a large scar on her left shoulder, her left arm was not working like it should from the neurological standpoint. There was also a bullet wound on the left side of her chest and on the dosum, which is the back of the right hand. But she’s alive, all the girls were alive. They’re very scared and the people in Sole are very scared.

Dennis Bernstein: You’re documenting and saying now that the United Nations flew over head of Cite’ Soleil and were firing on and off for some three hours. Is it your understanding, based on your own personal examinations that these people were shot from the air? [break up] Doctor Carrol?

Dr. Carrol: Dennis I lost you for a second.

Dennis Bernstein: Dr. Carrol, let me repeat my question because it’s crucial, be cause what we’re doing here is essentially we’re documenting a situation where the United Nations lied to the World. So, let me ask you again. Are you saying, based on your examinations as a medical doctor and your interviews that you confirm that the United Nations is lying and that these people were shot from the air.

Dr. Carrol: That’s correct. Your question is cut up quite a bit by the internet, but ah, the family stated, as I stated, that the helicopter from MINUSTAH, the United Nations, circled overhead and shot down. I saw the holes in the roofs and I saw the holes in the patients. Go ahead.

So again, just to confirm, based on your examination as a medial doctor, you confirm that the United Nations is lying when they say that they did not use a helicopter gun ship on this very poor community.

Dr. Carrol: That would be my assessment. That would be my impression, ah based on what I saw in their home, ah with the holes in the roof, with the holes in the children, ah and on the interview. I don’t know what more to say.


[1] Jeb Sprague, January 27, 2007, Lame Ti Manchèt accused of role in killing of Photojournalist

[2] William G. O'Neill, Haiti Insight Volume 7, No. 3, National Coalition for Hatian Rights, The Haitian National Police: A Mixed Record

[3] Amnesty International, September 28, 2006. Activist’s killing shows need for disarmament programme

[4] Haiti Information Project (This is a fairly weak citation).

[5] Februray 7, 2007, Flashpoints Radio, Interview with Dr. John Carroll

February 9, 2007

Privatizing the War in Iraq

Guest Writer: L. Vincent Sebastian

This article summarizes some of the issues surrounding private armed forces involved in the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. It draws from the sources referenced at the end.

With the casualty count growing daily and troops stretched thin on the ground, the Bush administration is looking to mercenaries to help control Iraq. The practice of using mercenaries to fight wars is not new, but has become increasingly popular in recent years. During the first Gulf War, one out of every 50 to 60 soldiers on the battlefield was a mercenary. The number had climbed up to one in ten during the Bosnian conflict. Currently in Iraq, more than 40 percent of the total occupying force comprises private contractors. For President Bush and his political allies, war has become just another industry to be outsourced, with contractors providing a backdoor means of expanding the occupation through the deployment of private armies.

In his State of the Union address in last month, Bush mentioned a major new initiative in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps. Bush said: “Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.” But this is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input. Private contractors constitute the second-largest force in Iraq, about 100,000 strong, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The number of private soldiers (armed security contractors) has more than doubled in the last two years, up from 20,000 in the first quarter of 2005. This is an undeclared expansion of the scope of the occupation.

This expansion is paid for with taxpayer dollars, of course. Obviously, the training of U.S. military personnel is paid for by our tax dollars. However, once skilled and experienced soldiers becomes eligible for discharge, private, for-profit corporations such as Blackwater USA (see footnote below) may recruit them away from the military, offering salaries much higher than those paid by the military. The average pay for a contractor on “active duty” is $500 to $600 a day, and may be as much as $1,000 a day, which is far more than that of military personnel. This is a strong incentive. One contractor said that he is regularly approached by far younger, low-paid U.S. servicemen, who ask about jobs at Blackwater.

The problem is that firms such a Blackwater rely primarily on large, taxpayer-funded U.S. government contracts to stay in business, not on the business of private sector customers or clients. Blackwater has a $300-million, no-bid contract (from 2003) with the State Department to guard diplomats in Iraq. Thus, tax dollars are used first to pay to train the troops, then to pay them a lot more to do basically the same job with a private contracting firm, and finally to pay hefty profits to the contracting firm.

While Blackwater is known in some quarters for its professionalism (it sees itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations), the credentials of other firms are more questionable. Consider Aegis Defense Services, for example. Aegis was awarded a $293 million contract from the U.S. government to provide security in Iraq, despite the fact that its principal (Tim Spicer) was suspected of being involved in the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, for which his former business associate (Simon Mann) was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in Zimbabwe; and despite the fact that Aegis had no previous experience in Iraq and didn't have the resources to fulfill the contract. The controversial nature of this contract got the attention of Congress, and eventually the Pentagon admitted that its contracting officer was completely unaware of Spicer's background. Aegis’s first DOD audit in 2005 was damning, including the charge that the company was trying to ramp up so fast to meet the contract requirements they were hiring poorly vetted Iraqis and giving them passes to the Green Zone. The company also came under scrutiny when videos of Aegis contractors indiscriminately firing at civilian cars surfaced on the Internet. Despite this, Aegis continues to carry out extensive contracting operations in Iraq.

The role of private contractor personnel is ambiguous and controversial. Typically, they are bodyguards (for diplomats and other officials), or are armed guards hired to protect oil wells or to provide security for airports or along transportation corridors. These private soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints. In the first years of the war, there were no rules limiting contractors’ use of force in Iraq. They could shoot to kill, but had little accountability. If contractors misbehaved – as they did at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison – they rarely faced charges. Why? Because private contractors are not legally considered combatants. Military law applies to the troops, but not to contractors, even though contractors are frequently in the same combat situations as the troops – where life and death decisions are made. The military can take disciplinary action and/or bring criminal charges against U.S. troops – but not against contractors – that break rules, regulations, and laws (including the Geneva Conventions) that govern troop conduct during times of war.

U.S. military officials have expressed concern about combat situations in which contractors open fire. Recently, the State Department imposed restrictions discouraging contractors from firing warning shots. As a consequence, private military firms have recently shifted their focused to “peacekeeping” duties (in part, to improve their image). But, there are still frequent reports of contractors running Iraqis off the road or injuring or killing innocent people. In carrying out their assignments, contractors can be very aggressive, offending locals and making enemies each time they go out (from a statement by retired Marine colonel T. X. Hammes). Ultimately, a contractor’s paid mission may not be fully consistent with that of the U.S. military, and may not support the broader interests of the U.S. counterinsurgency.

At the same time, the contractor’s work is as risky or riskier than that of the U.S. troops, and may make the jobs of both more difficult. The prospect of private armed security guards moving around combat zones adds a level of uncertainty and complexity for the troops (“Is that SUV coming toward us friend or foe?”). On many occasions, contractors have been fired upon by U.S. soldiers and Marines at checkpoints. Contractors are also targets for insurgents and militia in Iraq, as seen in early 2004 when four Blackwater employees were ambushed and burned in the Sunni hotbed of Fallouja. Multiple execution-style killings of contractors have taken place since then, the most recent just hours before Bush’s State of the Union address last month.

As the number of U.S. (and coalition) troop deaths rises, contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll. The non-counting of contractors is certainly politically expedient since the official number hides some of the human costs of war. As of the first quarter of 2005, there were an estimated 240 deaths among some 20,000 armed private security contractors in Iraq. This number was not obtained from military sources, but from the Department of Labor (through Freedom of Information Act requests), which tracks the number of contractors that have been killed because the federal government has a program to insure contractors who service the US military abroad (an outgrowth of the Defense Base Act). More than 600 families of contractors in Iraq have filed for these benefits. Contractor firms such as Blackwater are under no obligation to make public the identities of those killed or details of the deaths.

Yet, 240 deaths (as of early 2005) is an underestimate of true number of contractors killed because it accounts for only contractors that are eligible for federal benefits inside the United States. Many of the 48,000 U.S.-funded mercenaries in Iraq are not Americans, and their deaths are not tracked by the Labor Department.

Blackwater and other U.S.-based military contractors have created a private military melting pot by hiring not only Americans, but also mercenaries from Bosnia, Chile, Colombia, the Filipeans, and South Africa. Many of these soldiers-for-hire are veterans of repressive military regimes, including that of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and South Africa’s former apartheid government. Other recruits are impoverished former military personnel desperate for a paying job (Blackwater has a recruitment center in the Philippines).

Foreign mercenaries are typically paid much less than their American counterparts. One firm pays Filipino mercenaries $60,000-$80,000 a year, half of what it pays American mercenaries with equivalent qualifications and for the same assignments (although this is still more than the salaries of most active duty U.S. military personnel).

But it is ultimately the U.S. taxpayer who foots the bill, as illustrated by the following scenario reported by Sonni Efron with comments from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) (Los Angeles Times, July 2005). The U.S. government has funded “Plan Colombia”, a counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics program that includes training and support for the Colombian police and military. We have been training foreign nationals – who then take that training and market it to private companies, who pay them three or four times as much as we are paying soldiers. American taxpayers are paying for the training of those Colombian soldiers. When they leave to take more lucrative jobs, perhaps with an American military contractor, they take that training with them. So then we are paying to train that person's replacement. And then we are paying the bill to the private military contractors.

The fact that U.S. firms recruit foreign nationals does not sit well with their home countries. South Africa’s Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act prohibits South African citizens from direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's defense minister, has ordered an investigation into whether such recruitment is legal under Chilean laws. And, Blackwater's recruitment activities in the Philippines have triggered severe criticism and massive protests there.

* Footnote: Blackwater USA has a 6,000 acre para-military training facility as part of its corporate headquarters, in Moyock, North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border. This training center was founded in 1996 to fulfill the “anticipated demand” for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training. Blackwater has trained more than 50,000 military and law enforcement personnel. The firm also has additional offices in Baghdad, Iraq, and Kuwait City, Kuwait.


Bill Berkowitz, “Mercenaries ‘R’ Us”, AlterNet, March 24, 2004.

Amy Goodman, “Our mercenaries in Iraq: Interview with Jeremy Scahill”, Democracy Now! January 26th, 2007.

Mark Hemingway, “Warriors for Hire: Blackwater USA and the rise of private military contractors”, Weekly Standard, v. 012(14), December 18, 2006.

Jeremy Scahill, “Our mercenaries in Iraq” Op Ed, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2007.

Sourcewatch: A project of the Center for Media & Democracy

Ann Scott Tyson, “Private Security Workers Living On Edge in Iraq”, Washington Post, April 23, 2005.

Photo credits:

Private Security Near Landcruiser

Blackwater USA Helicopter: Agence France Presse—Getty Images.

February 7, 2007

Stop the US Imperium from the Outside

Former US Special Forces member, Stan Goff, offers a 10-point plan of nonviolent action to "Break US Imperial Power." His call reflects a journal article that I think appeared in Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations. The article observed that US democracy has deteriorated to a degree that the US public no longer has control over the actions of the US government, and that only external forces could bring it under control. Many believe the most likely "external force" to do the job will be a major economic collapse. But, for those who don't want to wait, Goff offers some actions to undertake now.

Below is a summary of his ten points.

(1) Expel US military bases.

(2) Boycott US companies.

(3) Default or refinance debt to the US.

(4) Boycott any American agricultural products being dumped on your national markets.

(5) Boycott American cultural products.

(6) Make these political issues at home.

(7) Nationalize your most valuable natural resources.

(8) Expose and resist projects that are run out of the US Embassy by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

(9) Expose and resist any political activity by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

(10) Mount massive political efforts directed at US Embassies everywhere to oppose the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and demand not only withdrawal, but that no US bases be left behind.

February 6, 2007

Is Anything Keeping Bush from Attacking Iran?

One thing keeping Bush from attacking Iran might be joint chiefs chairman General Peter Pace. It was a mini military coup when Pace contradicted the White House line, saying there is no direct link to Iranian leaders. Pace spoke out while traveling in Indonesia.

There is, however, plenty of buzz that an attack is brewing. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former NSC Director in the Carter administration, delivered this warning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 1:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
There's also practical consideration of Iran's potential response to an attack that might give Bush pause: Iran has said they will retaliate around the world if attacked, and they have the assets to do it. Also, Iran could make life for US soldiers in Iraq even more dangerous if the US were to attack.

Brzezinski did not conceal his opinion about the genesis of Bush's Iraq war. His opening sentence was a slam:

Your hearings come at a critical juncture in the U.S. war of choice in Iraq, and I commend you and Senator Lugar for scheduling them.
Brzezinski and General Pace are doing their part to counter Bush's drive to war with Iran, and perhaps war with Islam. The other thing that could help keep Bush from attacking Iran is intense public pressure. To that end, we can begin by voicing our views with Congress and with the corporate mass media.


Write the US House of Representatives
Write the US Senate
Write the Major Media Outlets

February 5, 2007

Massacre in Najaf?

Under the subtitle "Al-Zaman reports..." Juan Cole comments on Sunni calls for an investigaion into the recent assault near Najaf in which hundreds were reported killed, and a US helicopter was shot down. Juan Cole continues:

The Sunnis are archly comparing what they are calling a massacre to the killings at Dujjail in 1982. It was for killing 150 or so persons there, in response to their attempt to assassinate him, that Saddam Hussein was hanged. The Sunnis are implying that now that the Shiites are in power, it is they who are massacring people when they prove troublesome, and that maybe some more hangings are in order.
He points out an inconsistency that the supposed pilgrims were going to Najaf to commemorate the martyrdom of al-Husayn, the Prophet's grandson.

I still can't understand why you would go to Najaf for that commemoration. Husayn's tomb is in nearby Karbala, and 2 million other people went there, including people from Najaf.
Maybe the people involved in the military confrontation were on their way to Karbala? Then, Cole adds a comment that I interpret to suggest he is suspicious of the claims of a massacre:

Maybe this kind of suspicious detail is the reason for which only Sunnis are taking the allegations seriously.
Maybe. But other reports aren't as cautious as Cole's.

Here's another take on the question of a "Najaf Massacre" from DemocracyNow! which involves an interview with Patrick Cockburn, of the London Independent, and Dr. Amer Majeed, an Iraqi doctor at Al Sadr hospital in Najaf.

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, reporting for Inter Press Service (IPS), add their voices on this subject. What might be confusing to some is that it was Shia who were killed and Sunni who are calling for the investigation, according to Cole. Jamail and al-Fadily explain that the Hawatimah and Khaz'al tribes, members of which were supposedly killed, do not follow Iranian-born Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Rather, according to the IPS report, "They believe the religious leadership should be kept in the hands of Arab clerics." Ali al-Fadhily, who visited the scene for IPS, reports:

Ahmed, a member of the al-Khazali tribe said "our two tribes have a strong belief that Iranians are provoking sectarian war in Iraq which is against the belief of all Muslims, and so we announced an alliance with Sunni brothers against any sectarian violence in the country. That did not make our Iranian dominated government happy."
It looks like the southern Iraqis called in US and British "air support," and the coalition forces did much of the dirty work. It raises the question, once again, who benefits from the sectarian violence? Iraqi blogger Riverbend has pondered a similar question.

Regardless of this recent event in Najef, there is plenty of reason compare acts of the US, and Israel for that matter, with the the case of Dujail.

February 4, 2007

Helicopters Down: Anti-Iraqi Ground Fire?

Update: Make that 5 downed since January 20. Uh.. make that at least six (Feb 21, 2007), which is about six in one month.

Original Post:

Here's a funny quote by Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters that the investigations into the crashes of three Army and one private helicopters are incomplete.

it does appear they were all the result of some kind of anti-Iraqi ground fire that did bring those helicopters down. [1]
"Anti-Iraqi ground fire?" Everyone slips up now and again. Maybe Associated Press Writer SAMEER N. YACOUB got it wrong. So someone meant to say "Anti-Aircraft."

A friend and I were talking yesterday about this "turning point." It was predicted by General Barry McCaffrey, who indicated that the loss of air cover would result in an upturn in the loss of US Troops (still looking for that reference). Instead of 2-3 losses, we might be hearing about 10-20 losses.

But why now? Is it a reporting phenomenon? Interesting that reports on numbers of helicopters downed since May 2003 are vanishing from the web. Google's ghost reports the following:

Another U.S. helicopter lost in Iraq - Yahoo! News. The United States has lost more than 50 helicopters in Iraq since May 2003 ...news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070203/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq - 41k - Feb 2, 2007
Since May 2003, the U.S. military has lost 54 helicopters in Iraq, about half of ... attack helicopter in Iraq, includes a number of sophisticated defenses,
www.columbian.com/news/APStories/AP01292007news98511.cfm - 57k
On average, that's about 13 a year, or one a month, half to hostile fire if we can believe the reports (Briet Bart does offer a full article). Maybe it's just a statistical clump we're seeing, and the corporate media has new-found interest in reporting on the down-sides of Bush's Iraq war. But it has been three helicopters in ten days. Maybe the insurgents have gotten lucky and pilots have gotten sloppy. However, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that insurgent ground fire in Iraq "has been more effective against our helicopters in the last couple of weeks." [2]

Or, maybe the training takes even longer, or the Iraqi insurgency is very disciplined and has been waiting for this point in time: The final battle. Under this hypothesis, missing anit-aircraft missiles, reported originally by the New York Times in 2004, could account for the current upsurge in lost helicopters.

I'll leave further pondering to the miliary analysts.


[1] Associated Press, Februrary 4, 2007, U.S.: 4 copter losses due to ground fire.

[2] Associated Press, February 3, 2007, By BASSEM MROUE. Another U.S. Helicopter Lost in Iraq

February 3, 2007

Is the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq Politicized?

That's the question the Democratic Congress must answer. They must call hearings, examine the process and actors who had editorial control, and also interview lower level staff to determine whether there is any political spin in the assessment.

There is ample evidence that politicization occured in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq that was developed prior to the 2003 US invasion. For example, Robert Dryfus, and others, exposed the Pentagon's system of short-circuiting the formal chain of intelligence designed to inform the President (The Lie Factory). John Negroponte, who served as the first Director of National Intelligence while this NIE was under development, is a netorious political operator who effectively led America's dirty wars involving death squads in Cenral America during the 1980s.

Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who could have influenced the final touches on the NIE, also has a history of bending to political will during his tenure as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1985 Gates was both deputy director of CIA, and chairman of the National Inelligence Committee (NIC) that drafted the Iran NIE. Having a political director position serve as chair creates the opportunity for politicization. Jennifer Glaudemans, A former CIA analyst on the 1985 Iran NIE, said that, "Now, not since he held that position has anyone ever yet again held a conflict of interest position of holding those two jobs." She also said, "...the CIA never took a footnote to an estimate, could not dissent to an estimate, as long as Mr. Gates was also the chairman of the NIC." [1]

Glaudemans explains, "What happened in the Third World Activities Division [of the CIA] was analytical judgments were put out as [intelligence] community view in estimates or as CIA view, for which there was no evidence. The Iran estimate in 1985 is just a classic example of that, and one I was personally involved with. There was no evidence to support the key judgment about the Soviets in that Iranian estimate. There was a ton of evidence that contradicted that. So it’s not a question of a young junior analyst not getting her view taken, it was a question of evidence versus no evidence." [1]

According to Glaudemans, "there was an Inspector General investigation. Many analysts, not just myself, many managers -- I think everyone in the Office of Soviet Analysis was interviewed. And one of the judgments of that IG report was that the perception of politicization of analysis was pervasive." This isn't directed solely at Gates, but is another demonstration that intelligence findings are subject to politicization.

Given the track record of the current administration, it is highly likely the current Iraq NIE is politicized. Given the high stakes, the Democratic Congress must investigate that question.

You can help make that happen by contacting Congress and by raising the question with media outlets.

Write the US House of Representatives
Write the US Senate
Write the Major Media Outlets


[1] DemocracyNow! December 5, 2006. Interview of Jennifer Glaudemans and Ray McGovern