Archive for the 'war/peace/militarism' Category



When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib Come Home

CounterPunch, October 26, 2009

When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib Come Home

By BILL QUIGLEY and DEBORAH POPOWSKI

The Louisiana Board that licenses psychologists is facing a growing legal fight over torture and medical care at the infamous Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons.

In 2003, Louisiana psychologist and retired colonel Larry James watched behind a one-way mirror in a U.S. prison camp while an interrogator and three prison guards wrestled a screaming near-naked man on the floor.

The prisoner had been forced into pink women’s panties, lipstick and a wig; the men then pinned the prisoner to the floor in an effort “to outfit him with the matching pink nightgown.”  As he recounts in his memoir, Fixing Hell, Dr. James initially chose not to respond.  He “opened [his] thermos, poured a cup of coffee, and watched the episode play out, hoping it would take a better turn and not wanting to interfere without good reason…”

Although he claims to eventually find “good reason” to intervene, the Army colonel never reported the incident or even so much as reprimanded men who had engaged in activities that constituted war crimes.

Sadly, the story of Dr. James’ complicity in prisoner abuse does not end there.  The New Orleans native and former LSU psychology professor admits to overseeing the detention, interrogation and health care of three boys, aged twelve to fourteen, who were disappeared to Guantanamo and held without charge or access to counsel or their families. In Fixing Hell and elsewhere, Dr. James proudly proclaims that he was in a position of authority at Guantanamo.

Government records indicate that, as the senior psychologist consulting on interrogations, his decisions affected the policy and operations of interrogations and detention on the base.  During his time there, reports of beatings, sexual abuse, religious humiliation and sleep deprivation during interrogations were widespread, and draconian isolation was official policy.  Prisoners suffered, and some continue to suffer, devastating physical and psychological harm.

Dr. Trudy Bond, a psychologist under an ethical obligation to report abuse by other psychologists, filed a complaint against Dr. James before the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists in February 2008.

Dr. Bond’s complaint says that Dr. James’ conduct violated Louisiana laws governing his psychology license.  As a psychologist and military colonel, he had a duty to avoid harm, to protect confidential information, and to obtain informed consent, as well as to prevent and punish the misconduct of his subordinates.

How did the Louisiana licensing board respond?  Rather than investigate, the Board dismissed the complaint, and when asked again, reaffirmed its decision.  Dr. Bond has now taken the case to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.  Dr. James played an influential role in both the policy and day-to-day operations of interrogations and detention in the notorious prison camps built to hold men and boys captured during the U.S. “War on Terror.”

According to his own statements, he was a senior member of interrogation consulting teams that, as documented by government records, were central in designing interrogation plans that exploited psychological and physical weaknesses of individual detainees.  In one example cited by the New York Times, a military health professional told interrogators that “the detainee’s medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.”

Had Dr. James chosen to cast himself as a brave, but ultimately ineffective voice against torture, he may have fooled some people into believing him. Instead, he’s presented an utterly implausible portrait: one of a man “chosen” by “the nation” to “fix the hell” of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, a feat he claims to have accomplished so successfully that ever since he was first deployed in January 2003, “where ever [sic] we have had psychologists no abuses have been reported.”

This is patently untrue.  The real “fact of the matter,” as documented by government records, reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross and eyewitness accounts, is that serious abuses were widespread both during Dr. James’ tenure as senior psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantánamo, and after he left.

One would imagine that such disregard for a law designed to protect the public welfare would greatly concern the body charged with its enforcement. But the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, which issued James his license, has refused to investigate whether he violated professional misconduct law.

The Board’s conduct should alarm all Louisiana health professionals and their patients.  The Board demeans the profession when it fails to seriously address the possibility that a Louisiana licensee was involved in torture.  It also strips the Louisiana psychology license of meaning and value.

How can patients rely on a license issued and enforced by a body that arbitrarily refuses to look into allegations of grave misconduct?

As the legal battle wears on, the people of Louisiana need to ask the Board’s members what “good reason” they await in order to act. They should demand that the Board of Examiners conduct a thorough investigation of Larry James and, if what he admits is true, revoke his privilege to practice.

Bill Quigley is a Loyola Law professor working at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Deborah Popowski is a Skirball Fellow at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program. Both authors are involved with the campaign When Healers Harm: Hold Health Professionals Accountable for Torture, see http://whenhealersharm.org/

Bill can be contacted at quigley77@gmail.com.

Deborah can be contacted at dpopowski@law.harvard.edu.

 

Mahmoud Abbas’ chronic submissiveness

Haaretz,  October 5, 2009

Mahmoud Abbas’ chronic submissiveness

By Amira Hass

In a single phone call to his man in Geneva, Mahmoud Abbas has demonstrated his disregard for popular action, and his lack of faith in its accumulative power and the place of mass movements in processes of change.

For nine months, thousands of people – Palestinians, their supporters abroad and Israeli anti-occupation activists – toiled to ensure that the legacy of Israel’s military offensive against Gaza would not be consigned to the garbage bin of occupying nations obsessed with their feelings of superiority.

Thanks to the Goldstone report, even in Israel voices began to stammer about the need for an independent inquiry into the assault. But shortly after Abbas was visited by the American consul-general on Thursday, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization got on the phone to instruct his representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council to ask his colleagues to postpone the vote on the adoption of the report’s conclusions.

Heavy American pressure and the resumption of peace negotiations were the reasons for Abbas’ move, it was said. Palestinian spokespeople spun various versions over the weekend in an attempt to make the move kosher, explaining that it was not a cancelation but a six-month postponement that Abbas was seeking.

Will the American and European representatives in Geneva support the adoption of the report in six months’ time? Will Israel heed international law in the coming months, stop building in the settlements and announce immediate negotiations on their dismantlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories? Is this what adoption of the report would have endangered? Of course not.

A great deal of political folly and short-sightedness was bared by that phone call, on the eve of Hamas’s celebration of its victory in securing the release of 20 female prisoners. Precisely on that day, Abbas put Gaza in the headlines within the context of the PLO’s defeatism and of spitting in the face of the victims of the attack – that is how they felt in Gaza and elsewhere.

Abbas confirmed in fact that Hamas is the real national leadership, and gave ammunition to those who claim that its path – the path of armed struggle – yields results that negotiations do not.

This was not an isolated gaffe, but a pattern that has endured since the PLO leadership concocted, together with naive Norwegians and shrewd Israeli lawyers, the Oslo Accords. Disregard for, and lack of interest in the knowledge and experience accumulated in the inhabitants of the occupied territories’ prolonged popular struggle led to the first errors: the absence of an explicit statement that the aim was the establishment of a state within defined borders, not insisting on a construction freeze in the settlements, forgetting about the prisoners, endorsing the Area C arrangement, etc.

The chronic submissiveness is always explained by a desire to “make progress.” But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Civil Administration.

This is a leadership that has been convinced that armed struggle – certainly in the face of Israeli military superiority – cannot bring independence. And indeed, the disastrous repercussions of the Second Intifada are proof of this position. This is a leadership that believes in negotiation as a strategic path to obtaining a state and integration in the world that the United States is shaping.

But in such a world there is personal gain that accrues from chronic submissiveness – benefits enjoyed by the leaders and their immediate circles. This personal gain shapes the tactics.

Is the choice really only between negotiations and armed-struggle theater, the way the Palestinian leadership makes it out to be? No.

The true choice is between negotiations as part of a popular struggle anchored in the language of the universal culture of equality and rights, and negotiations between business partners with the junior partner submissively expressing his gratitude to the senior partner for his generosity.

Why Afghanistan? It’s pipelines, not terrorism.

San Francisco Gray Panthers Newsletter, October 2009

Why Afghanistan?

Afghanistan lies in the path of a new proposed gas pipeline

Afghanistan lies in the path of a new proposed gas pipeline

In a nod to reality on the ground, the Obama administration put clearing al Qaeda from Pakistan high on the list of 46 benchmarks for tracking success in the war in Afghanistan. There are 68,000 US combat troops, 40,000 NATO troops, and 74,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan, with more expected to come. If al Qaeda has moved to Pakistan, why don’t the troops follow them?

One answer, rarely talked about in the US media, is—you guessed it!—oil and natural gas, this time in the Caspian Basin, and a planned pipeline that would carry natural gas from land-locked Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it could be shipped to the West. To accomplish this, a strong centralized government willing to make deals with the West is needed, hence the attempts to prop up Hamid Karzai with US/NATO military assistance against the Taliban and war lords and with fraudulent elections.

Will this plan succeed? Probably not, given the Afghan opposition. Taliban attacks increased 59% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year. Death tolls are rising. Billions of dollars have already been spent. Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran and adviser to four presidents, said, “Anyone who thinks that in 12 to 18 months we’re going to be anywhere close to victory is living in a fantasy.”

NO MORE ENERGY WARS!

Obama Backs Extending Patriot Act Spy Provisions

Wired, September 15, 2009

Obama Backs Extending Patriot Act Spy Provisions

The Obama administration has told Congress it supports renewing three provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire at year’s end, measures making it easier for the government to spy within the United States.

In a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department said the administration might consider “modifications” to the act in order to protect civil liberties.

“The administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities,” Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general, wrote to Leahy, (.pdf) whose committee is expected to consider renewing the three expiring Patriot Act provisions next week. The government disclosed the letter Tuesday.

It should come as no surprise that President Barack Obama supports renewing the provisions, which were part of the Patriot Act approved six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

As an Illinois senator in 2008, he voted to allow the warrantless monitoring of Americans’ electronic communications if they are communicating overseas with somebody the government believes is linked to terrorism. That legislative package, which President George W. Bush signed, also immunized the nation’s telecommunication companies from lawsuits charging them with being complicit with the Bush administration’s warrantless, wiretapping program. That program was also adopted in the wake of Sept. 11.

These are the three provisions due to expire:

*A secret court, known as the FISA court, may grant “roving wiretaps” without the government identifying the target. Generally, the authorities must assert that the target is an agent of a foreign power and/or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday that 22 such warrants — which allow the monitoring of any communication device — have been granted annually.

*The FISA court may grant warrants for “business records,” from banking to library to medical records. Generally, the government must assert that the records are relevant to foreign intelligence gathering and/or a terrorism investigation. The government said Tuesday that 220 of these warrants had been granted between 2004 and 2007. It said 2004 was the first year those powers were used.

*A so-called “lone wolf” provision, enacted in 2004, allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of an individual even without showing that the person is an agent of a foreign power or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday it has never invoked that provision, but said it wants to keep the authority to do so.

“The basic idea behind the authority was to cover situations in which information linking the target of an investigation to an international group was absent or insufficient, although the target’s engagement in ‘international terrorism’ was sufficiently established,” Weich wrote.

The American Civil Liberties opposes renewing all three provisions, especially the lone wolf measure.

Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, said in a telephone interview, “The justification for FISA and these lower standards and letting it operate in secret was all about terrorist groups and foreign governments, that they posed a unique threat other than the normal criminal element. This lone wolf provision undercuts that justification.”

The committee hearing is set for 10 a.m. Sept. 23 and will be webcast live.
See Also:

Indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon threaten to occupy newly appearing oil wells

August 26, 2009

Indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon threaten to occupy newly appearing oil wells
Hunt Oil Company takes over almost 4 million acres in jungle.

Earl Gilman, El Nuevo Topo

Indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon are threatening to occupy the oil wells that are now appearing in the Amazonian jungle. The indigenous groups claim the government is not negotiating with them, despite the murder of more than 30 people in Bagua in June. Instead, the government has been meeting with a few self-appointed indigenous leaders who are amenable to the government.

In the last 2 months the Hunt Oil Company, based in Texas, has taken over almost 4 million acres (1 million 500 thousand hectacres) in the jungle. So far they have only built one heliport, but the company plans 166 heliports in the area, together with corresponding mobile encampments as well as 1948 unloading zones. There has been a fall in tourism, with the hiring of 600 workers by the company, farmers are abandoning their lands and there has been an increase in the price of food.

The Hunt Oil Company also is drilling oil wells in Kurdistan in Iraq, signing agreements with local warloads.

The Hunt Oil Company is privately owned by the Hunt Family. Roy L. Hunt, CEO, is also on the Board of Directors of Pepsico Co. and a former director of Halliburton Co. He is former chairman of the Federal Reserve of Dallas. In 2001 he was appointed by President Bush to Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board with security clearance. He contributed 35 million dollars to the George W, Bush Presidential Library.

The Hunt Oil Company also has built 2 pipelines for delivering liquefied natural gas to the U.S. West Coast, investing 2.6 billion dollars, cutting through the Amazon to the coast to deliver gas from the Camisea field. After the pipeline was built, there were three major spills.

= = =

Climate and Capitalism, August 7, 2009

Peru plans more Amazon oil auctions

Despite violent protests by indigenous groups over plans to expand oil and gas exploration in the Peru’s Amazon rainforest, energy investments in the South American country are expected to increase to $1.5 billion in both 2009 and 2010, reports Reuters.

Daniel Saba, president of Perupetro, Peru’s energy agency, told Reuters that the government will auction more than a dozen lots in October or November. Most of the 17 blocks are located in the country’s Amazon region, 70 percent of which has been concessioned for oil and gas exploration and development. A number of firms are already operating in the area including Repsol (Spain), Perenco (France), Pluspetrol (Argentina), Petrobras (Brazil), Maple Energy (United States), and Petroperu (Peru). South American Explorations, working on behalf of the U.S.-based Hunt Oil, launched exploration activities in a million-acre area in the Madre De Dios region late last month, according to local sources.

Indigenous groups have fiercely opposed what they see as encroachment on their traditional lands. In May thousands of protesters blocked roadways and rivers in opposition to a set of presidential decrees that would have made it easier for foreign firms to develop Amazon land. President Alan Garcia responded by sending in federal police, quickly leading to a heated standoff that ended in bloodshed when 34 police and protesters were killed. The escalation was widely condemned by human rights groups and environmentalists.

Garcia has since rescinded two of the most controversial decrees and shuffled his cabinet. But Saba’s remarks to Reuters indicate that Peru intends to move forward on oil and gas development despite the controversy.

Green groups and indigenous rights’ organizations say the rainforests slotted for oil and gas exploration is home to a wealth of biodiversity and “uncontacted” tribes. The Peruvian government maintains there is but a single isolated tribe and that development will bring vast sums to the treasury.

= = =

Meanwhile, it has come out that Mercedes Cabanillas, Peru’s former Interior Minister had ordered the deadly June 5 police attack on an indigenous people’s peaceful blockade of a major highway,  resulting in at least 33 deaths of police and protesters.  She then tried to promote 11 participating police officials for meritorious service.

IPS reports “The operation, involving 600 heavily armed DINOES policemen backed up by an Mi-17 helicopter and an armoured vehicle, opened fire on the peaceful crowd of indigenous people at dawn on Jun. 5 at the spot on the highway known as the Curva del Diablo (Devil’s Curve), where the protesters were manning the roadblock.  According to sources at the national police directorate who spoke with IPS in June, the operation was carried out despite the fact that two local police chiefs had signed a non-aggression pact with the leaders of the protests.”


The Great Hiroshima Cover-Up

Huffington Post

The Great Hiroshima Cover-Up

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan 64 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years, all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for 25 years, and the U.S. military film remained hidden for nearly four decades. I first probed the coverup back in 1983 in Nuclear Times magazine (where I was editor), and developed it further in later articles and in my 1995 book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America and in a 2005 documentary Original Child Bomb.

As editor of Nuclear Times in the early 1980s, I met Herbert Sussan, one of the members of the U.S. military film crew, and Erik Barnouw, the famed documentarian who first showed some of the Japanese footage on American TV in 1970. In fact, that newsreel footage might have disappeared forever if the Japanese filmmakers had not hidden one print from the Americans in a ceiling.

The color U.S. military footage would remain hidden until the early 1980s, and has never been fully aired. It rests today at the National Archives in College Park, Md., in the form of 90,000 feet of raw footage labeled #342 USAF. I have a VHS copy of all of it today.

When that footage finally emerged, I spoke with and corresponded with the man at the center of this drama: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the U.S. military film-makers in 1945-1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades.

“I always had the sense,” McGovern told me, “that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force — it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child….They didn’t want the general public to know what their weapons had done — at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn’t want the material out because…we were sorry for our sins.”

Sussan, meanwhile, struggled for years to get some of the American footage aired on national TV, taking his request as high as President Truman, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow, to no avail.

More recently, McGovern declared that Americans should have seen the damage wrought by the bomb. “The main reason it was classified was…because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. Because the footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was hidden for so long, the atomic bombings quickly sank, unconfronted and unresolved, into the deeper recesses of American awareness, as a costly nuclear arms race, and nuclear proliferation, accelerated.

In 2005, Editor & Publisher (where I am editor) broke the news that articles written by famed Chicago Daily News war correspondent George Weller about the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki were finally published, in Japan, almost six decades after they had been spiked by U.S. officials. But suppressing film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was even more significant, as this country rushed into the nuclear age with its citizens having neither a true understanding of the effects of the bomb on human beings, nor why the atomic attacks drew condemnation around the world. The common view abroad, and among many U.S. historians, is that Russia’s entry into the war (long scheduled and carried out on August 8) would have forced a Japanese surrender long before any U.S. invasion took place. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself later said it was not necessary to hit Japan “with that awful thing.”

The atomic cover-up also reveals what can happen in any country that carries out deadly attacks on civilians in any war (such as Japan’s policy in China in World War II) and then keeps images of what occurred from its own people.

The Japanese Newsreel Footage

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the center of Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 civilians instantly and perhaps 50,000 more in the days and months to follow. Three days later, it exploded another atomic bomb over Nagasaki, slightly off target, killing 40,000 immediately and dooming tens of thousands of others. Within days, Japan had surrendered, and the U.S. readied plans for occupying the defeated country — and documenting the first atomic catastrophe.

But the Japanese also wanted to study it. Within days of the second atomic attack, officials at the Tokyo-based newsreel company Nippon Eigasha discussed shooting film in the two stricken cities. In early September, just after the Japanese surrender, and as the American occupation began, director Sueo Ito set off for Nagasaki. There his crew filmed the utter destruction near ground zero and scenes in hospitals of the badly burned and those suffering from the lingering effects of radiation.

On Sept. 15, another crew headed for Hiroshima. When the first rushes came back to Toyko, Akira Iwasaki, the chief producer, felt “every frame burned into my brain,” he later said.

At this point, the American public knew little about conditions in the atomic cities beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of those who survived the initial blasts (claims that were largely taken to be propaganda). Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent, or censored. Life magazine would later observe that for years “the world…knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.”

Tens of thousands of American GIs occupied the two cities. Because of the alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions.

Then, on October 24, 1945, a Japanese cameraman in Nagasaki was ordered to stop shooting by an American military policeman. His film, and then the rest of the 26,000 feet of Nippon Eisasha footage, was confiscated by the U.S. General Headquarters (GHQ). An order soon arrived banning all further filming. It was at this point that Lt. Daniel McGovern took charge.

Shooting the U.S. Military Footage

In early September, 1945, less than a month after the two bombs fell, Lt. McGovern — who as a member of Hollywood’s famed First Motion Picture Unit shot some of the footage for William Wyler’s “Memphis Belle” — had become one of the first Americans to arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a director with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, organized by the Army the previous November to study the effects of the air campaign against Germany, and now Japan.

As he made plans to shoot the official American record, McGovern learned about the seizure of the Japanese footage. He felt it would be a waste to not take advantage of the newsreel footage, noting in a letter to his superiors that “the conditions under which it was taken will not be duplicated, until another atomic bomb is released under combat conditions.”

McGovern proposed hiring some of the Japanese crew to edit and “caption” the material, so it would have “scientific value.” He took charge of this effort in early January 1946, even as the Japanese feared that, when they were done, they would never see even a scrap of their film again.

At the same time, McGovern was ordered by General Douglas MacArthur on January 1, 1946 to document the results of the U.S. air campaign in more than 20 Japanese cities. His crew would shoot exclusively on color film, Kodachrome and Technicolor, rarely used at the time even in Hollywood. McGovern assembled a crew of eleven, including two civilians. Third in command was a young lieutenant from New York named Herbert Sussan.

The unit left Tokyo in a specially outfitted train, and made it to Nagasaki. “Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there,” Sussan later told me. “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to make a record of this holocaust…I felt that if we did not capture this horror on film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened. At that time people back home had not seen anything but black and white pictures of blasted buildings or a mushroom cloud.”

Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived (at least momentarily) and were asked to display their burns, scars, and other lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world.

At the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima, a Japanese physician traced the hideous, bright red scars that covered several of the patients — and then took off his white doctor’s shirt and displayed his own burns and cuts.

After sticking a camera on a rail car and building their own tracks through the ruins, the Americans filmed hair-raising tracking shots that could have been lifted right from a Hollywood movie. Their chief cameramen was a Japanese man, Harry Mimura, who in 1943 had shot Sanshiro Sugata, the first feature film by a then-unknown Japanese director named Akira Kurosawa.

The Suppression Begins

While all this was going on, the Japanese newsreel team was completing its work of editing and labeling all their black and white footage into a rough cut of just under three hours. At this point, several members of Japanese team took the courageous step of ordering from the lab a duplicate of the footage they had shot before the Americans took over the project.

Director Ito later said: “The four of us agreed to be ready for 10 years of hard labor in the case of being discovered.” One incomplete, silent print would reside in a ceiling until the Occupation ended.

The negative of the finished Japanese film, nearly 15,000 feet of footage on 19 reels, was sent off to the U.S. in early May 1946. The Japanese were also ordered to include in this shipment all photographs and related material. The footage would be labeled SECRET and not emerge from the shadows for more than 20 years.

The following month, McGovern was abruptly ordered to return to the U.S. He hauled the 90,000 feet of color footage, on dozens of reels in huge footlockers, to the Pentagon and turned it over to General Orvil Anderson. Locked up and declared top secret, it did not see the light of day for more than 30 years.

McGovern would be charged with watching over it. Sussan would become obsessed with finding it and getting it aired.

Fearful that his film might get “buried,” McGovern stayed on at the Pentagon as an aide to Gen. Anderson, who was fascinated by the footage and had no qualms about showing it to the American people. “He was that kind of man, he didn’t give a damn what people thought,” McGovern told me. “He just wanted the story told.”

In an article in his hometown Buffalo Evening News, McGovern said that he hoped that “this epic will be made available to the American public.” He planned to call the edited movie Japan in Defeat.

Once they eyeballed the footage, however, most of the top brass didn’t want it widely shown and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was also opposed, according to McGovern. It nixed a Warner Brothers feature film project based on the footage that Anderson had negotiated, while paying another studio about $80,000 to help make four training films.

In a March 3, 1947 memo, Francis E. Rundell, a major in the Air Corps, explained that the film would be classified “secret.” This was determined “after study of subject material, especially concerning footage taken at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is believed that the information contained in the films should be safeguarded until cleared by the Atomic Energy Commission.” After the training films were completed, the status would be raised to “Top Secret” pending final classification by the AEC.

The color footage was shipped to the Wright-Patterson base in Ohio. McGovern went along after being told to put an I.D. number on the film “and not let anyone touch it — and that’s the way it stayed,” as he put it. After cataloging it, he placed it in a vault in the top secret area.

“Dan McGovern stayed with the film all the time,” Sussan later said. “He told me they could not release the film [because] what it showed was too horrible.”

Sussan wrote a letter to President Truman, suggesting that a film based on the footage “would vividly and clearly reveal the implications and effects of the weapons that confront us at this serious moment in our history.” A reply from a Truman aide threw cold water on that idea, saying such a film would lack “wide public appeal.”

McGovern, meanwhile, continued to “babysit” the film, now at Norton Air Force base in California. “It was never out of my control,” he said later, but he couldn’t make a film out of it any more than Sussan could (but unlike Herb, he at least knew where it was).

The Japanese Footage Emerges

At the same time, McGovern was looking after the Japanese footage. Fearful that it might get lost forever in the military/government bureaucracy, he secretly made a 16 mm print and deposited it in the U.S. Air Force Central Film Depository at Wright-Patterson. There it remained out of sight, and generally out of mind. (The original negative and production materials remain missing, according to Abe Mark Nornes, who teaches at the University of Michigan and has researched the Japanese footage more than anyone.)

The Japanese government repeatedly asked the U.S. for the full footage of what was known in that country as “the film of illusion,” to no avail. A rare article about what it called this “sensitive” dispute appeared in the New York Times on May 18, 1967, declaring right in its headline that the film had been “Suppressed by U.S. for 22 Years.” Surprisingly, it revealed that while some of the footage was already in Japan (likely a reference to the film hidden in the ceiling), the U.S. had put a “hold” on the Japanese using it — even though the American control of that country had ceased many years earlier.

Despite rising nuclear fears in the 1960s, before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, few in the U.S. challenged the consensus view that dropping the bomb on two Japanese cities was necessary. The United States maintained its “first-use” nuclear policy: Under certain circumstances it would strike first with the bomb and ask questions later. In other words, there was no real taboo against using the bomb. This notion of acceptability had started with Hiroshima. A firm line against using nuclear weapons had been drawn — in the sand. The U.S., in fact, had threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis and on other occasions.

On Sept. 12, 1967, the Air Force transferred the Japanese footage to the National Archives Audio Visual Branch in Washington, with the film “not to be released without approval of DOD (Department of Defense).”

Then, one morning in the summer of 1968, Erik Barnouw, author of landmark histories of film and broadcasting, opened his mail to discover a clipping from a Tokyo newspaper sent by a friend. It indicated that the U.S. had finally shipped to Japan a copy of black and white newsreel footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese had negotiated with the State Department for its return.

From the Pentagon, Barnouw learned in 1968 that the original nitrate film had been quietly turned over to the National Archives, so he went to take a look. Soon Barnouw realized that, despite its marginal film quality, “enough of the footage was unforgettable in its implications, and historic in its importance, to warrant duplicating all of it,” he later wrote.

Attempting to create a subtle, quiet, even poetic, black and white film, he and his associates cut it from 160 to 16 minutes, with a montage of human effects clustered near the end for impact. Barnouw arranged a screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and invited the press. A throng turned out and sat in respectful silence at its finish. (One can only imagine what impact the color footage with many more human effects would have had.) “Hiroshima-Nagasaki 1945″ proved to be a sketchy but quite moving document of the aftermath of the bombing, captured in grainy but often startling black and white images: shadows of objects or people burned into walls, ruins of schools, miles of razed landscape viewed from the roof of a building.

In the weeks ahead, however, none of the (then) three TV networks expressed interest in airing it. “Only NBC thought it might use the film,” Barnouw later wrote, “if it could find a ‘news hook.’ We dared not speculate what kind of event this might call for.” But then an article appeared in Parade magazine, and an editorial in the Boston Globe blasted the networks, saying that everyone in the country should see this film: “Television has brought the sight of war into America’s sitting rooms from Vietnam. Surely it can find 16 minutes of prime time to show Americans what the first A-bombs, puny by today’s weapons, did to people and property 25 years ago.”

This at last pushed public television into the void. What was then called National Educational Television (NET) agreed to show the documentary on August 3, 1970, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of dropping the bomb.

“I feel that classifying all of this filmed material was a misuse of the secrecy system since none of it had any military or national security aspect at all,” Barnouw told me. “The reason must have been — that if the public had seen it and Congressmen had seen it — it would have been much harder to appropriate money for more bombs.”

The American Footage Comes Out

About a decade later, by pure chance, Herb Sussan would spark the emergence of the American footage, ending its decades in the dark.

In the mid-1970s, Japanese antinuclear activists, led by a Tokyo teacher named Tsutomu Iwakura, discovered that few pictures of the aftermath of the atomic bombings existed in their country. Many had been seized by the U.S. military after the war, they learned, and taken out of Japan. The Japanese had as little visual exposure to the true effects of the bomb as most Americans. Activists managed to track down hundreds of pictures in archives and private collections and published them in a popular book. In 1979 they mounted an exhibit at the United Nations in New York.

There, by chance, Iwakura met Sussan, who told him about the U.S. military footage.

Iwakura made a few calls and found that the color footage, recently declassified, might be at the National Archives. A trip to Washington, D.C. verified this. He found eighty reels of film, labeled #342 USAF, with the reels numbered 11000 to 11079. About one-fifth of the footage covered the atomic cities. According to a shot list, reel #11010 included, for example: “School, deaf and dumb, blast effect, damaged Commercial school demolished School, engineering, demolished.School, Shirayama elementary, demolished, blast effect Tenements, demolished.”

The film had been quietly declassified a few years earlier, but no one in the outside world knew it. An archivist there told me at the time, “If no one knows about the film to ask for it, it’s as closed as when it was classified.”

Eventually 200,000 Japanese citizens contributed half a million dollars and Iwakura was able to buy the film. He then traveled around Japan filming survivors who had posed for Sussan and McGovern in 1946. Iwakura quickly completed a documentary called Prophecy and in late spring 1982 arranged for a New York premiere.

That fall a small part of the McGovern/Sussan footage turned up for the first time in an American film, one of the sensations of the New York Film Festival, called Dark Circle. It’s co-director, Chris Beaver, told me, “No wonder the government didn’t want us to see it. I think they didn’t want Americans to see themselves in that picture. It’s one thing to know about that and another thing to see it.”

Despite this exposure, not a single story had yet appeared in an American newspaper about the shooting of the footage, its suppression or release. And Sussan was now ill with a form of lymphoma doctors had found in soldiers exposed to radiation in atomic tests during the 1950s — or in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In late 1982, I met Sussan and Erik Barnouw — and talked on several occasions with Daniel McGovern, out in Northridge, California. “It would make a fine documentary even today,” McGovern said of the color footage. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a movie of the burning of Atlanta?”

After he hauled the footage back to the Pentagon, McGovern said, he was told that under no circumstances would the footage be released for outside use. “They were fearful of it being circulated,” McGovern said. He confirmed that the color footage, like the black and white, had been declassified over time, taking it from top secret to “for public release” (but only if the public knew about it and asked for it).

Still, the question of precisely why the footage remained secret for so long lingered. Here McGovern added his considerable voice. “The main reason it was classified was because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. “The medical effects were pretty gory. The attitude was: do not show any medical effects. Don’t make people sick.”

But who was behind this? “I always had the sense,” McGovern answered, “that people in the AEC were sorry they had dropped the bomb. The Air Force — it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn’t want those images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. But the AEC, they were the ones that stopped it from coming out. They had power of God over everybody,” he declared. “If it had anything to do with nukes, they had to see it. They were the ones who destroyed a lot of film and pictures of the first U.S. nuclear tests after the war.”

Even so, McGovern believed, his footage might have surfaced “if someone had grabbed the ball and run with it but the AEC did not want it released.”

As Dark Circle director Chris Beaver had said, “With the government trying to sell the public on a new civil defense program and Reagan arguing that a nuclear war is survivable, this footage could be awfully bad publicity.”

Today

In the summer of 1984, I made my own pilgrimage to the atomic cities, to walk in the footsteps of Dan McGovern and Herb Sussan, and meet some of the people they filmed in 1946. (The month-long grant was arranged by the current mayor of Hiroshima, Tad Akiba.) By then, the McGovern/ Sussan footage had turned up in several new documentaries. On September 2, 1985, however, Herb Sussan passed away. His final request to his children: Would they scatter his ashes at ground zero in Hiroshima?

In the mid-1990s, researching Hiroshima in America, a book I would write with Robert Jay Lifton, I discovered the deeper context for suppression of the U.S. Army film: it was part of a broad effort to suppress a wide range of material related to the atomic bombings, including photographs, newspaper reports on radiation effects, information about the decision to drop the bomb, even a Hollywood movie.

The 50th anniversary of the bombing drew extensive print and television coverage — and wide use of excerpts from the McGovern/Sussan footage — but no strong shift in American attitudes on the use of the bomb.

Then, in 2003, as adviser to a documentary film, Original Child Bomb, I urged director Carey Schonegevel to draw on the atomic footage as much as possible. She not only did so but also obtained from McGovern’s son copies of home movies he had shot in Japan while shooting the official film.

Original Child Bomb went on to debut at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, win a major documentary award, and debut on the Sundance cable channel. After 60 years at least a small portion of that footage reached part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended. Americans who saw were finally able to fully judge for themselves what McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race — and the nuclear proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today.

Greg Mitchell is the editor of E&P and co-author of “Hiroshima in America.” His latest book is “Why Obama Won.” His email is: gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com

Israel evicts Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, Settlers immediate occupy houses

Aljazeera English, August 3, 2009

Israel evicts Palestinian families

Israeli security forces have forcibly evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem after a court rejected an appeal against their eviction.

The al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families who were evicted on Sunday have been living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood since 1956.

Israel has reportedly set aside the land their houses were built on for a planned hotel project.

The eviction comes amid international calls for Israel to halt settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.

A large police force was involved in the operation in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the most sensitive and upmarket Arab neighbourhoods closest to the so-called Green Line which separates east and west Jerusalem.

Violent ‘scuffles’

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in East Jerusalem, said: “According to the Hanoun family, the members that I have spoken to, at about 6am as they were sleeping inside the house, Israeli police officers broke in and we can see the shattered glass all over the floor outside.

“They say that the police were armed and they forcibly evicted both the international activists that were staying at the house and members of the family themselves.

“Members of the family say the police officers beat them with batons and children as young as six were man-handled … scuffles were seen and heard between the police and the two families trying to get back into their houses,” she said.

Tadros said the international activists were arrested and personal items belonging to the families such as cameras, laptops and computers have all been confiscated.

‘Blatant violation of law’

Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, composed of 28 Palestinian families, held a press conference on May 6 in order to raise awareness regarding the Israeli District Court decision to issue an ultimatum to the al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families giving them 10 days to evacuate their homes or face punitive measures, including forcible expulsion.

Maher Hanoun, one of 53 family members of the two families affected by the court decision said in a statement: “The al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun cases are part of an ongoing attempt by the two Jewish settler organisations to take over 28 housing units built in 1956 to house refugees and to turn it into a Jewish colony.

“Israel’s measures against the two families constitute blatant violations of international law including the 4th Geneva Convention that obligates the occupying authorities, Israel, to maintain the geographic and demographic characteristics of occupied East Jerusalem,” he said.

Hanoun appealed to the “international community, human rights organisations, and the EU to exert pressure on Israel to stop it from pursuing its plan to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its Palestinian population”.

In 1982, Israeli settler organisations began demanding rent from the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah, who at that point had been living in the neighbourhood for almost 30 years – and when many of the families refused to pay this rent, the first eviction orders were issued.

The legal proceedings continued over the years, and in 2006 it was ruled by court that the settler organisations did not have rights to the land, and the Israeli land registration department agreed to revoke the settler associations’ ownership.

Settlement expansion

Despite pending appeals and the lack of legal ownership of land in the neighbourhood, the settler organisations sold their property claim in 2008 to an investment company that plans to demolish the 28 Palestinian homes and build 200 settlement units for new Jewish immigrants.

Further reports state that two additional construction plans being currently reviewed by the Jerusalem municipality would create an additional 150 housing units, for a total of 350 new housing units for Israelis, as well as a synagogue in Sheikh Jarrah.

Settlements have emerged as a major sticking point in relations between Israel and the administration of Barack Obama, the US president.

Although Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, recently yielded to US pressure to conditionally endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has consistently resisted US demands for a total freeze on settlement expansion.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the whole city its capital after the 1967 Six Day War, a move not recognised by the international community

Deportations spark outcry

Earlier on Saturday, thousands of Israeli and migrant workers, including children, formed a human chain in Tel Aviv in protest at Israel’s decision to deport families of illegal aliens, most of them from Africa.

Israel had set an August 1 deadline to expel illegal migrants and their children, even those who grew up in the country, triggering an outcry among human rights groups.

According to the interior ministry, some 300,000 illegal aliens – including 100,000 migrants, tourists who overstayed their visit and Palestinians – live in Israel which is home to seven million inhabitants.

But human rights groups have said that these figures are inflated.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Joel

Joel Beinin, of Jewish Peace News,  adds:

Stand Up for Jerusalem has posted videos <http://bit.ly/xu92J> of Israeli police evicting two Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem at 5:00 am on August 2.  One of the families, the Hijazi family, claims to have deeds to the property dating to the 19th century.  The Sephardic Community Committee also claims to have owned the properties before the 1948 War.  Twenty-eight Palestinian refugee families were resettled in Sheikh Jarrah by the UN and the Jordanian government, which occupied East Jerusalem during the war.  After Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 they were granted the status of “protected” tenants (meaning ordinarily they could not be evicted).  The putative Jewish owners claimed the two families were delinquent in their rent and therefore subject to eviction.  With the consent of the Sephardic Community Committee, settlers have already occupied the homes.

This appears to be a further step in the process of “judaizing” Sheikh Jarrah, a project which has been under way for some time.  Nahalat Shimon International, a settler-related real estate group which also claims to have an Ottoman-era deed, has been seeking to build a 200-unit settlement named Shimon Ha-Tzadik in the area. Settlers already occupy several other houses in the neighborhood.

A full report on the legal background to the case is available at the website of ‘Ir ‘Amim, an NGO that seeks an equitable and shared Jerusalem in the framework of an agreed political future. <http://bit.ly/1bu3Fd>

The Sheikh Jarrah evictions have aroused a storm of international protest from the USA, UK, the EU, Sweden, Egypt, and others. Secretary of State Clinton called the eviction “a very regrettable action,” and the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, was called in for a scolding.  Verbal protests seem unlikely to be enough to halt the Netanyahu government’s determination to build more Jewish colonies in East Jerusalem.

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

CounterPunch, July 31, 2009

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

By Alexander Cockburn

Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose president Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet.

At the superficial level Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois .

The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements–or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way.

Take Joe Biden. Three weeks ago he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another,somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage.

But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi he told the Georgian parliament that the U.S. would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and would help Tbilisi meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia.

Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the take-off point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili and also Temur Yakobashvili , the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.”

On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a tv chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. ‘defense umbrella,’” actually a nuclear defense umbrella for Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia too.

The Israel lobby has been promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, with one of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of Middle Eastern policy at Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year Clinton flourished the notion as an example of the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice in foreign affairs, Barack Obama.

From any rational point of view the “nuclear umbrella” is an awful idea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high cold war era, about “first strike”, “second strike”, “stable deterrence” ,“controlled escalation” and “mutual assured destruction”, used to sell US escalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the late Robert McNamara(“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”).

Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “the Administration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horrible exaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians may be too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent to deliver.”

The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same old Cold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclear confrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defense spending; and 2) to continue sixty years of supporting Israeli imperialism for the same reasons that every president from Harry to Dubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money and votes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing the Chicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in his campaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the two are hardly unrelated).

So right from the start Obama was already an Israel lobby fellow traveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather about settlements were simply cosmetic, bones tossed to the increasing proportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherent strategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but without making so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold War enemies (e.g. Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and only presidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in no sense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeed increasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellation to push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence to all the other pork in the Congressional defense budget.

The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreign policy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time to solidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy team with tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions of Biden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahu and his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed.

Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really. Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bush administration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of the United States” of 2002 — preserved in its essence in ensuing years — of the right and intention of the United States to preëmptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s middle east advisor in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as this remains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian government would be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.”

But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionism and, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccably conventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmed by the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred war from Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.

Hence Biden and Clinton’s mutinies, conducted on behalf of the Israel lobby and designed to seize administration policy as Obama’s popularity weakens. When the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll were published, showing Obama’s declining numbers, there were news reports of cheering in Tel Aviv. And remember two useful guiding principles: first, it is impossible to overestimate the vanity of politicians, particularly of Joe Biden. Maybe he secretly entertains some mad notion of challenging Obama in 2012, propelled by Israel Lobby money withheld from Obama. Maybe Bill is reminding HRC that he reached the White House in 1992 partly because the Israel lobby turned against George Bush Sr. Second principle: there is no such thing as foreign policy, neither in democratic governments nor in dictatorships. As Thalheimer’s Law* decrees. All policy is domestic.

John Pilger: Empire, Obama and the Last Taboo

johnpilger.com July 9, 2009

Adapted from an address, Empire, Obama and the Last Taboo, given by John Pilger at Socialism 2009 in San Francisco on 4th July

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good… We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Mourn on the fourth of July

In an essay for the New Statesman, John Pilger argues that while liberals now celebrate America’s return to its “moral ideals”, they are silent on a venerable taboo. This is the true role of Americanism: an ideology distinguished by its myths and the denial that it exists. President Obama is its embodiment.

The monsoon had woven thick skeins of mist over the central highlands of Vietnam. I was a young war correspondent, bivouacked in the village of Tuylon with a unit of US marines whose orders were to win hearts and minds. “We are here not to kill,” said the sergeant, “we are here to impart the American Way of Liberty as stated in the Pacification Handbook. This is designed to win the hearts and minds of folks, as stated on page 86.”

Page 86 was headed WHAM. The sergeant’s unit was called a combined action company, which meant, he explained, “we attack these folks on Mondays and we win their hearts and minds on Tuesdays”. He was joking, though not quite. Standing in a jeep on the edge of a paddy, he had announced through a loudhailer: “Come on out, everybody. We got rice and candy and toothbrushes to give you.”

Silence. Not a shadow moved.

“Now listen, either you gooks come on out from wherever you are, or we’re going to come right in there and get you!”

The people of Tuylon finally came out and stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow flush lavatories were kept for the colonel’s arrival. And when the colonel arrived that evening, the district chief was summoned and the yellow flush lavatories were unveiled.

“Mr District Chief and all you folks out there,” said the colonel, “what these gifts represent is more than the sum of their parts. They carry the spirit of America. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no place on earth like America. It’s a guiding light for me, and for you. You see, back home, we count ourselves as real lucky having the greatest democracy the world has ever known, and we want you good folks to share in our good fortune.”

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Davy Crockett got a mention. “Beacon” was a favourite, and as he evoked John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”, the marines clapped, and the children clapped, understanding not a word.

It was a lesson in what historians call “exceptionalism”, the notion that the United States has the divine right to bring what it describes as liberty and democracy to the rest of humanity. That this merely disguised a system of domination, which Martin Luther King described, shortly before his assassination, as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, was unspeakable.

As the great people’s historian Howard Zinn has pointed out, Winthrop’s much-quoted description of the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city upon a hill”, a place of unlimited goodness and nobility, was rarely set against the violence of the first settlers, for whom burning alive some 400 Pequot Indians was a “triumphant joy”. The countless massacres that followed, wrote Zinn, were justified by “the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained”.

Not long ago, I visited the American Museum of History, part of the celebrated Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. One of the popular exhibitions was “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War”. It was holiday time and lines of people, including many children, shuffled reverentially through a Santa’s grotto of war and conquest where messages about their nation’s “great mission” were dispensed. These ­included tributes to the “exceptional Americans [who] saved a million lives” in Vietnam, where they were “determined to stop communist expansion”. In Iraq, other true hearts ­“employed air strikes of unprecedented precision”. What was shocking was not so much the revisionist description of two of the epic crimes of modern times as the sheer scale of omission.

“History without memory,” declared Time magazine at the end of the 20th century, “confines Americans to a sort of eternal present.. They are especially weak in remembering what they did to other people, as opposed to what they did for them.” Ironically, it was Henry Luce, founder of Time, who in 1941 divined the “American century” as an American social, political and cultural “victory” over humanity and the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit”.

None of this is to suggest that vainglory is exclusive to the United States. The British presented their often violent domination of much of the world as the natural progress of Christian gentlemen selflessly civilising the natives, and present-day TV historians perpetuate the myths. The French still celebrate their bloody “civilising mission”. Prior to the Second World War, “imperialist” was an honoured political badge in Europe, while in the US an “age of innocence” was preferred. America was different from the Old World, said its mythologists. America was the Land of Liberty, uninterested in conquest. But what of George Washington’s call for a “rising empire” and James Madison’s “laying the foundation of a great empire”? What of slavery, the theft of Texas from Mexico, the bloody subjugation of central America, Cuba and the Philippines?

An ordained national memory consigned these to the historical margins and “imperialism” was all but discredited in the United States, especially after Adolf Hitler and the fascists, with their ideas of racial and cultural superiority, had left a legacy of guilt by association. The Nazis, after all, had been proud imperialists, too, and Germany was also “exceptional”. The idea of imperialism, the word itself, was all but expunged from the American lexicon, “on the grounds that it falsely attributed immoral motives to western foreign policy”, argued one historian. Those who persisted in using it were “disreputable purveyors of agitprop” and were “inspired by the communist doctrine”, or they were “Negro intellectuals who had grievances of their own against white capitalism”.

Meanwhile, the “city on the hill” remained a beacon of rapaciousness as US capital set about realising Luce’s dream and recolonising the European empires in the postwar years. This was “the march of free enterprise”. In truth, it was driven by a subsidised production boom in a country unravaged by war: a sort of socialism for the great corporations, or state capitalism, which left half the world’s wealth in American hands. The cornerstone of this new imperialism was laid in 1944 at a conference of the western allies at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Described as “negotiations about economic stability”, the conference marked America’s conquest of most of the world.

What the American elite demanded, wrote Frederic F Clairmont in The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism, “was not allies but unctuous client states. What Bretton Woods bequeathed to the world was a lethal totalitarian blueprint for the carve-up of world markets.” The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank were established in effect as arms of the US Treasury and would design and police the new order. The US military and its clients would guard the doors of these “international” institutions, and an “invisible government” of media would secure the myths, said Edward Bernays.

Bernays, described as the father of the media age, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. “Propaganda,” he wrote, “got to be a bad word because of the Germans… so what I did was to try and find other words [such as] Public Relations.” Bernays used Freud’s theories about control of the subconscious to promote a “mass culture” designed to promote fear of official enemies and servility to consumerism. It was Bernays who, on behalf of the tobacco industry, campaigned for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation, calling cigarettes “torches of freedom”; and it was his notion of disinformation that was deployed in overthrowing governments, such as Guatemala’s democracy in 1954.

Above all, the goal was to distract and deter the social democratic impulses of working people. Big business was elevated from its public reputation as a kind of mafia to that of a patriotic force. “Free enterprise” became a divinity. “By the early 1950s,” wrote Noam Chomsky, “20 million people a week were watching business-sponsored films. The entertainment industry was enlisted to the cause, portraying unions as the enemy, the outsider disrupting the ‘harmony’ of the ‘American way of life’… Every aspect of social life was targeted and permeated schools and universities, churches, even recreational programmes. By 1954, business propaganda in public schools reached half the amount spent on textbooks.”

The new “ism” was Americanism, an ideology whose distinction is its denial that it is an ideology. Recently, I saw the 1957 musical Silk Stockings, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Between the scenes of wonderful dancing to a score by Cole Porter was a series of loyalty statements that the colonel in Vietnam might well have written. I had forgotten how crude and pervasive the propaganda was; the Soviets could never compete. An oath of loyalty to all things American became an ideological commitment to the leviathan of business: from the business of armaments and war (which consumes 42 cents in every tax dollar today) to the business of food, known as “agripower” (which receives $157bn a year in government subsidies).

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good… We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that “everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but “US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all”. It is as if “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening… You have to hand it to America… masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

As Obama has sent drones to kill (since January) some 700 civilians, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. In Britain, the elite has long seen in exceptional America an enduring place for British “influence”, albeit as servitor or puppet. The pop historian Tristram Hunt says America under Obama is a land “where miracles happen”. Justin Webb, until recently the BBC’s man in Washington, refers adoringly, rather like the colonel in Vietnam, to the “city on the hill”.

Behind this façade of “intensification of feeling and degradation of significance” (Walter Lippmann), ordinary Americans are stirring perhaps as never before, as if abandoning the deity of the “American Dream” that prosperity is a guarantee with hard work and thrift.. Millions of angry emails from ordinary people have flooded Washington, expressing an outrage that the novelty of Obama has not calmed. On the contrary, those whose jobs have vanished and whose homes are repossessed see the new president rewarding crooked banks and an obese military, essentially protecting George W Bush’s turf.

My guess is that a populism will emerge in the next few years, igniting a powerful force that lies beneath America’s surface and which has a proud past. It cannot be predicted which way it will go. However, from such an authentic grass-roots Americanism came women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, graduated income tax and public ownership. In the late 19th century, the populists were betrayed by leaders who urged them to compromise and merge with the Democratic Party. In the Obama era, the familiarity of this resonates.

What is most extraordinary about the United States today is the rejection and defiance, in so many attitudes, of the all-pervasive historical and contemporary propaganda of the “invisible government”. Credible polls have long confirmed that more than two-thirds of Americans hold progressive views. A majority want the government to care for those who cannot care for themselves. They would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone. They want complete nuclear disarmament; 72 per cent want the US to end its colonial wars; and so on. They are informed, subversive, even “anti-American”.

I once asked a friend, the great American war correspondent and humanitarian Martha Gellhorn, to explain the term to me. “I’ll tell you what ‘anti-American’ is,” she said. “It’s what governments and their vested interests call those who honour America by objecting to war and the theft of resources and believing in all of humanity. There are millions of these anti-Americans in the United States. They are ordinary people who belong to no elite and who judge their government in moral terms, though they would call it common decency. They are not vain. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of America’s citizens. They can be counted on. They were in the South with the civil rights movement, ending slavery. They were in the streets, demanding an end to the wars in Asia. Sure, they disappear from view now and then, but they are like seeds beneath the snow. I would say they are truly exceptional.”


Breaking the Silence: “Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count”

The recently released report of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, “Breaking the Silence,” which attested to war crimes there,  but a March 30 Palestine Monitor report, “Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count,” tells the story in more detail.  It is reproduced below.

Common Dreams, Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Israeli Soldiers in Gaza Describe a ‘Moral Twilight Zone’

by Dion Nissenbaum

JERUSALEM – Israeli combat soldiers have acknowledged that they forced Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields, needlessly killed unarmed Gazans and improperly used white phosphorus shells to burn down buildings as part of Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter.

[Israeli mobile artillery fires shells towards the Gaza Strip on January 9. Israeli soldiers involved in the war on Gaza were told to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, an activist group's report has said. (AFP/File/Jack Guez)]Israeli mobile artillery fires shells towards the Gaza Strip on January 9. Israeli soldiers involved in the war on Gaza were told to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, an activist group’s report has said. (AFP/File/Jack Guez)

In filmed testimony and written statements released Wednesday, more than two dozen soldiers told an Israeli army veterans’ group that military commanders led the fighters into what one described as a “moral Twilight Zone” where almost every Palestinian was seen as a threat.

Soldiers described incidents in which Israeli forces killed an unarmed Palestinian carrying a white cloth, an elderly woman carrying a sack, a Gazan riding a motorcycle, and an elderly man with a flashlight, said Breaking the Silence, a group formed by army reservists in 2004.

Any Palestinian spotted near Israeli troops was considered suspect. A man talking on a cell phone on the roof of his building was viewed as a legitimate target because he could’ve been telling militants where to find Israeli forces, the group quoted soldiers as saying.

“In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy,” said one soldier. “No innocents.”

The 110-pages of testimony – along with 16 video clips – of interviews with 26 unnamed Israeli soldiers offers the most comprehensive look inside a military campaign that’s become the subject of an unfolding United Nations war crimes investigation.

The Israel Defense Forces dismissed the report.

IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said Tuesday that the IDF now is conducting dozens of investigations into troop conduct during the Gaza operation and that more than a dozen cases led to police investigations.

In April, the IDF announced it had concluded five high-level investigations, including one into the use of phosphorus to burn down buildings, and cleared itself.

Yehuda Shaul, a co-founder of Breaking the Silence, said the report didn’t identify the soldiers by name because at least half the men quoted were young conscripts who could be jailed for speaking to the media. He agreed, however, to name the units and where they were operating in several instances.

Two soldiers from the Givati brigade who served in Zeitoun told the story of shooting an unarmed civilian without warning him.

The elderly man was walking with a flashlight toward a building where Israeli forces were taking cover.

The Israeli officer in the house repeatedly ignored requests from other soldiers to fire warning shots as the man approached, the soldiers said. Instead, when he got within 20 yards of the soldiers, the commander ordered snipers to kill the man.

The soldiers later confirmed that the man was unarmed.

When they complained to their commander about the incident, the soldiers were rebuffed and told that anyone walking at night was immediately suspect.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights attorney who reviewed the testimony, said the stories reflected a “dramatic change in the ethos” of the Israeli military that portrays itself as the most moral army in the world.

“What we are seeing now is a deterioration of our moral values and red lines,” Sfard said. “This is a dramatic change in heart and values.”

Israel launched the 22-day military offensive on Dec. 27 in a bid to destabilize the Hamas-led government and deter Palestinian militants who’ve fired thousands of crude rockets and mortars at southern Israel that have killed 12 people in the past four years.

Nine Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza during the fighting, four of them by friendly fire.

By contrast, Palestinian human rights groups and Gaza medical officials said that 1,400 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, were killed by Israeli forces. The Israeli military has questioned that figure, but hasn’t made its own analysis available for review.

Breaking the Silence identified other specific instances in which Israeli forces carried out highly questionable practices.

According to the soldiers, the Israeli military fired white phosphorus mortars and artillery shells to set suspicious buildings ablaze and destroyed scores of Palestinian homes for questionable reasons. The white phosphorus supplied by the U.S. is supposed to be used to illuminate targets or provide smoke cover for advancing troops.

“Phosphorus was used as an igniter, simply make it all go up in flames,” one soldier said.

A second soldier – said by the reservists’ group to have been in a tank brigade stationed in the Atatra neighborhood – told Breaking the Silence that at least one officer fired unauthorized white phosphorus mortars because it was “cool.”

The use of white phosphorus to destroy buildings was part of a larger campaign to demolish parts of Gaza to make it more difficult for Palestinian militants to fire rockets at Israel, the soldiers said.

One soldier, who served in an infantry reserve unit of the Negev Brigade near Netzarim, said they were repeatedly told by officers to raze buildings as part of a campaign to prepare for “the day after.”

“In practical terms, this meant taking a house that is not implicated in any way, that its single sin is the fact that it is situated on top of a hill in the Gaza Strip,” said one soldier.

“In a personal talk with my battalion commander he mentioned this and said in a sort of sad half-smile, I think, that this is something that will eventually be added to ‘my war crimes,” he added.

In the Ezbt Abd Rabbo neighborhood, Israeli combatants said they forced Palestinians to search homes for militants and enter buildings ahead of soldiers in direct violation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that bars fighters from using civilians as human shields.

“Sometimes a force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian’s shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield,” said one Israeli soldier with the Golani Brigade. “Commanders said these were the instructions, and we had to do it.”

Each Palestinian forced to work with the Israeli military was given the same nickname: Johnnie.

The story was confirmed by four other Israeli soldiers who seized control of the Gaza neighborhood, but declined to speak on the record, Shaul said.

The testimony matches with that of nine Palestinian men who told McClatchy last winter that Israeli soldiers forced them into battle zones during the offensive in their northern Gaza Strip neighborhood.

One Palestinian, Castro Abed Rabbo, said Israeli soldiers ordered him to enter buildings to search for militants and booby traps before they sent in a specially trained dog with high-tech detection gear.

Two other Palestinian men told McClatchy that Israeli soldiers used them as human shields by forcing them to kneel in a field during a firefight as they exchanged fire with Gaza fighters.

“I was down on my knees and they fanned out in a ‘V’ behind me,” Sami Rashid Mohammed, a Fatah-leaning former Palestinian Authority police officer, said in an unpublished interview in February. “It wasn’t more than 10 or 15 minutes of shooting, but it was so scary.”

One of the Israeli soldiers interviewed described the offensive was necessary.

“We did what we had to do,” he said. “The actual doing was a bit thoughtless. We were allowed to do anything we wanted. Who’s to tell us not to?”

One Israeli reservist said a brigade commander gave them stark orders as they were preparing for combat.

“He said something along the line of ‘Don’t let morality become an issue; that will come later,’” the soldier said. “He had this strange language: ‘Leave the nightmares and horrors that will come up for later – now just shoot.”

“You felt like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants,” another Israeli soldier said. “A 20-year-old kid should not be doing such things to people. . . . the guys were running a ‘Wild West’ scene: draw, cock, kill.”

(McClatchy special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this article from Jerusalem.)


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Palestine Monitor, March 30, 2009

“Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count”

In the past few days various internationally recognized associations have heavily condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza, shedding light on the recurrent crimes. Alleged accusations are becoming more certain now and are being backed up with evidence and testimonies from both sides, including the Israeli soldiers themselves. Even war has rules and they were repeatedly breached. What is justice waiting for?

Two months after the end of the deadly Israeli assault on the Gaza strip tongues are loosened and several human rights organizations, along with journalists and UN officials, are now releasing reports gathering evidences on war crimes carried out by Israel.

Human Right Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and many more are now seeking for inquiry with a common aim: shedding documented light on Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes during the Cast Lead operation. Their message is united and clear: an international independent investigation is needed. Time has finally come for the State to give accountability for the 23 days of continuous, barbaric actions in the Strip.

For the first time since its creation in 1948, and after 40 years of occupation of Palestinian land, the Israeli government is facing serious allegations of war crimes, issued by respected figures throughout the world. Even war has rules and they have been breached several times.

Today detailed evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel has been released. It includes various inhuman actions such as the use of Palestinian children as human shield, firing upon medical teams on duty and the willful use of prohibited weapons.

If these allegations have been publicized since the beginning of the aggression what has change now is that facts are now being backed up by Israeli soldiers’ narratives and irrefutable evidence.

Detailed reports now attest that it is pointless and naïve to still believe in the Israeli assumption that Cast lead aimed only at Hamas. The reality is that it left one in every 250 residents of the Strip killed or severely injured. [1]

Similarly, the Israeli claim of acting strictly within the frame of the international law sounds hollow too.

They said their snipers were moral and well trained, they said their artilleries were amongst the most sophisticated in the world, their targets were so accurate and their drones so precise that their operators can tell the color of the clothes worn by a target. They claimed this would prevent any mistake.

In Gaza, over 900 ‘mistakes’ were committed.

As time passes and reports flow, it is becoming obvious that many ‘mistakes’ were intentional and planned. By commanders consciously using weapons they shouldn’t, by firing upon harmless targets or by giving orders that bypassed the rules of war. Facts and evidence below speak for themselves. The decimated population can no longer be considered as ‘collateral damage’. It was deliberate.

We have claimed this since the very beginning of the attacks. But apparently Palestinian voices count less than international ones, so we have collected them for you. This is what they have reported:

The first obvious feature that characterized the assault since its very first hour was the disproportionate use of force against civilians as a response to the rocket attacks.

Internationally impartial human rights groups commonly attested that the majority of the offenses have been committed by Israel. In terms of victims, there were 1,400 Palestinian killed in Gaza in 23 days while since 2002, there have been 21 Israeli deaths by rockets fired from Gaza. During Cast Lead Operation three Israeli civilian deaths were reported, six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fire and four by friendly fire.

The tactic used on Gaza was broadly inhuman as Israel had imposed a heavy siege on the Strip for the eighteen months that preceded the Cast Lead attack and totally severed entry in the days leading up to the operation. Besieged and closed from the rest of the world, no one could escape. Neither harmless civilians seeking safety, nor the injured, turning Gaza into an open-air jail. There was nowhere to escape further bombing for Gaza’s residents while Israel failed to differentiate between civilian and military targets.

Richard Falk, a senior UN official recently suggested that Israel should be held accountable for a “new crime against humanity” during its January assault on the Gaza strip, mentioning that Israel had confined Palestinian civilians to the combat zone in Gaza, a unique move which should be outlawed.

“Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity, and should be formally recognised as such, and explicitly prohibited,” Falk said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as part of a much longer report from nine UN investigators including specialists on the right to health, food, adequate housing and education, as well as on summary executions and violence against women.

1. Children as human shield

The UN special Rapporteur for Children in armed conflict reported this week that the Israeli soldiers used an 11 year-old boy as a human shield during the latest Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the Cast Lead operation. According to the UN human rights experts, the Israeli soldiers forced the child to walk in front of them in the Tel Hawa neighborhood in Gaza city, using him while breaking into buildings and homes.

Later then, the Guardian reported the same inhuman tactic involving three Palestinian brothers, who gave their testimonies to the British journalist.

Al’a, Ali and Nafiz described how they were taken from their home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them.

“They would make us go first, so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them,” said 14-year-old Al’a al-Attar. His brothers further described how when the three of them were being led through built-up areas in their home town the soldiers would order them to suddenly stop – then fire their rifles over the brothers’ shoulders and between their legs.

The use of “human shields” is prohibited under article 28 of the fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel and therefore bound by it. The use of human shields was further outlawed by Israel’s supreme court in 2005 following several clearly identified incidents. But human rights groups insist the Israeli military continues to use civilians in this way.

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13 year-old Mohammad Badwan was tied by the arm to an Israeli military jeep in Biddo in April 2004.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Rapporteur stated that several similar incidents took place during the war, with Israeli troops reported to have shot at harmless children, bulldozing homes –including a home were a woman and her child were still inside- as well as shelling a building after forcing dozens of civilians from the same family to gather into it a day earlier.

“Violations are carried out on a daily basis”, she commented, “they are too numerous to count”. But the UN experts will investigate the claims nonetheless.

The 43-page report was mostly denied by the Israeli ambassador to the UN, claiming that it “demonizes” Israel, stating that the UN is becoming “an informal bloc of African and Islamic Nations, supported by Russia and Cuba”.

2. “Fire upon rescue” – easing the rules of war

Physician for Human Rights, the Israeli human rights association, also released a report this week highlighting several attacks against medical teams on duty and medical centers in Gaza. The report also calls for an independent, unbiased international investigation into the Israeli violations of human rights in Gaza, especially violations against patients, the wounded and medical teams.

Medical teams on duty, Gaza 2009

The report detailed the work of doctors under fire, adding that attacks on medical teams were not isolated cases but recurrent actions.

According to the association the Israeli army barred medics, including the Red Cross movement, Amnesty International and UNRWA personnel from reaching wounded residents, further preventing first aid from reaching injured Palestinians. This led to a number of deaths and increased the already dramatic statistics.

The Israeli army never respected the rules of humanitarian law endorsed by 4th Geneva Convention that prohibit harming civilians and attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. Doctors and medical crew were often deliberately targeted. Soldiers killed 16 doctors and injured 25 in addition to shelling 34 medical centers, including overcrowded hospitals, and 26 first aid clinics.

Medical Human Rights groups affirm now that there was “certainty” that Israel violated the international humanitarian law during the war, with attacks on medics, damages to medical buildings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured.

“We have noticed a stark decline in IDF morals concerning the Palestinian population of Gaza, which in reality amounts to a contempt for Palestinian lives,” said Dani Filc, chairman of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

The Israeli army responded to those allegations, saying they were under orders to avoid harming medics, but: “However, in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza Strip carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who operate in the area take the risk upon themselves.”

What is this supposed to mean? That because Israel is firing upon Gaza, one of the most tiny and densely populated areas on the planet, doctors should stop carrying out their duty?

In Ha’aretz, Amira Hass backed up the human rights group’s claims by reporting that, days after the end of the hostilities a sheet of paper entitled “Situational assessment” was found in one of the Palestinian homes the IDF took over, with a handwritten notice mentioning “rules of engagement: Open fire upon rescue”, both in Hebrew. A reservist officer who did not take part in the Gaza offensive believes that the note is part of orders from a low-level commander written before giving his soldiers their daily briefing.

This week the Guardian reported that the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz discovered that the IDF’s international law division (ILD), the body responsible for advising Israeli forces on the legality of their actions, had authorised an easing of the rules of engagement in Gaza, including the targeting of medics.

A copy of the rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead was obtained by Ha’aretz in the days before the offensive began. According to a journalist who saw the document the new, less stringent rules were approved at the highest levels of the Israeli military.

Ha’aretz was repeatedly blocked from publishing the document by the military censor.

3. White Phosphorus and unmanned drones distinguishing civilians

Several investigations into the high number of civilian deaths have found that Israel used a variety of weapons in illegal ways. Indiscriminate munitions, including shells packed with white phosphorus, were fired into densely populated areas, while precision missiles and tanks shells were fired into civilian homes.

Richard Falk, the UN special Rapporteur for the Human Rights in the oPt, made, during and after the invasion, countless declarations and statements denouncing the Israeli violations in Gaza. In his latest paper on alleged war crimes during the Cast Lead operation he describes why the 23 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from much prior recourse to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In terms of battlefield practices Falk re-affirms the various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive), that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.

The controversial use of the lethal snow powder

Human Rights Watch made the news this week by providing documented evidence in its latest report entitled “rain of fire, Israel’s unlawful use of White Phosphorus in Gaza”, claiming war crimes were committed.

Since the beginning of the ground offensive in Gaza, several media sources reported the possible used of the chemical military ordnance, despite the IDF’s constant claim that no such thing has been used. “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used”, said an IDF spokesperson on CNN on the 7th of January, during the midst of the war.

Today HRW affirms it firmly: “Israel’s repeated firing of firing white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

The 71-page report provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that the munitions have had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Its researchers went on the ground immediately after hostilities ended and found spent shells, canister liners and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards and at UN schools -a substance that has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect and can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. Its principle is easy: the phosphorus burns anything it touches. The potential for harm to civilians is further magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.

It is Israel’s tactical use of White Phosphorus that is controversial, as the ordnance in itself is not prohibited. Used as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations) is permissible in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, when used deliberately in open areas, white phosphorus munitions are illegal.

“In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died (…). For the needless civilian deaths caused by the white phosphorus, senior commanders should be held to account”, Abrahams said.

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White Phosphorus shells fall on a UN school converted into shelter, Jabalya/Gaza, January 2009
Picture: AP

According to HRW, in the recent Gaza operations Israeli forces frequently air-burst white phosphorus in artillery shells in and near populated areas. Each air-burst shell spreads 116 burning white phosphorus wedges in a radius extending up to 125 meters from the blast point. White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 816 degrees Celsius until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns.

Conclusion is reached that IDF repeatedly exploded it unlawfully over populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.

According to HRW, The IDF knew that white phosphorus posed life-threatening dangers to civilians. A medical report prepared during the recent hostilities by the Israeli ministry of health said that white phosphorus “can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed.” Burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart, the ministry report says. Infection is common and the body’s absorption of the chemical can cause serious damage to internal organs, as well as death.

Israel at first denied it was using white phosphorus in Gaza but, facing mounting evidence to the contrary, said that it was using all weapons in compliance with international law. Later it announced an internal investigation into possible improper white phosphorus use.

Precise unmanned drones hitting harmless families

White phosphorus was not the only controversial weapon used: Israel’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – were also reported to have killed civilians.

The drones are operated from a remote position, usually outside the combat zone. They use optics that are able to see the details of a man’s clothing and are fitted with pinpoint accurate missiles, Israel claims. If this is so, why then has it been reported that drones have killed at least 48 civilians, as claimed earlier this week by the Guardian presenting the conclusions of its investigations in Gaza?

Mounir al-Jarah’s family was decimated by the unmanned weapon.

On the 16th of January a rocket fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle killed Mounir’s sister, her husband and four of her children, who drinking tea in their small courtyard in Gaza. All six members of the family were blown to pieces. “We found Mohammed lying there, cut in half. Ahmed was in three pieces; Wahid was totally burnt – his eyes were gone. Wahid’s father was dead. Nour had been decapitated. We couldn’t see her head anywhere”, she reported to the Guardian.

Drones are known to be extremely accurate. If Israel was effectively only aiming fighters, then why was a peaceful family drinking tea in a garden blown to pieces? Why were a group of girls walking in the street targeted too? Along with children playing in a field? These are only few cases reported by the Guardian on the use of unmanned drones killing harmless civilians.

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Israeli-made Drone, known as Hermes 450
Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Though Israel still claim their use of weapons conforms with international law and denied having used unmanned drones on Gaza, the Guardian found in the online version of an Israeli army magazine, Major Gil, the deputy commander of the first UAV squadron, describes using the drones to carry out attacks during this offensive. He describes being able clearly monitor accurately everything and to clearly distinguish fighters from women and children and other civilians.

On the drone’s use, as it is the case for the White phosphorus, teams of human rights investigators and international law experts are now building the case for war crimes charges against Israel for having killed so many civilians.

4. Home destruction ‘wanton’

During the 23-days of what should be better named an aggression than a war, UNDP estimated that 14,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed, along with 219 factories and 240 schools.

But most of them, said human right groups, were not necessary but rather deliberate destruction aimed at ruining Palestinian lives and economy.

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Over 14,000 homes have been destroyed during the Cast Lead operation, Gaza 2009
Picture: AP

Amnesty International challenges the Israeli main narrative that “buildings were destroyed because of the military operation needs”, by releasing evidences of the use of mines. Fragments of anti-tank mines have been found in the rubbles of destroyed properties, highlighting that houses were blown from below, rather than being destroyed from above in an airstrike.

“Israeli troops have to leave their vehicles to plant the mines, indicating that they faced no danger and that there was no military or operational justification. (…) Unless those operating on the ground felt not just 100% but 200% secure – that the places were not booby trapped, that they wouldn’t come under fire – they could not have got out of the vehicles,” she said. “They would not have used that method”, said Donatella Rovera, the head of the AI fact-finding mission to Southern Israel and Gaza.

This allegation is furthermore backed up by the conclusion of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group, stating that “many demolitions had been carried out when there was no immediate threat” and that “from the testimonies that we’ve gathered, lots of demolitions – buildings demolished either by bulldozers or explosives – were done after the area was under Israeli control,” said Yehuda Shaul, one of the group’s members.

Though destruction of civilian property is not illegal in itself under international law, it must be justifiable on military grounds – for example if the building was booby trapped or being used as cover for enemy fighters which was apparently not always the case.

But wanton destruction on a large scale would qualify as a war crime, emphasized Amnesty. Could 15,000 private homes constitute a ‘large scale’? It is likely so.

5. Inhumanity among the Israeli army, dehumanizing the Palestinians – the mature fruit of the occupation

Another investigation from Ha’aretz made a lot of noise this week, embarrassing strongly the Israeli commanders when the newspaper published striking testimonies from Israeli soldiers involved in the Gaza fighting, in which they described the shooting of civilians and the low regard held among the troops for Palestinians.

Over 20 documented occasions have been reported on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags.

Their horrendous tales includes the killing of an elderly and harmless Palestinian woman walking on a road and the willful killing of a woman and her two children, after been told they would be safe.

A young sharpshooter witnessed his colleague’s crime and testified: “I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to … I don’t know how to describe it …. The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way,” he said.

Though we had already assumed this, it has now been revealed by several testimonies from the army itself that soldiers acted in complete disregard to the Palestinian lives in Gaza.

Rules of engagement were also reported to have been eased, such as allowing the clearing out of Palestinian houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. An IDF squad leader is quoted in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz as saying his soldiers interpreted the rules to mean “we should kill everyone there [in the centre of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.”

Acts of unjustified vandalism where also common such as writing ’death to the Arabs’ on the walls of a family house or to take family pictures and spit on them. “I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It’s what I’ll remember the most”, testified a squad leader, who took part in the operation.

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A Palestinian man looks through a door as he stands in a home commandeered by Israeli soldiers during the recent Gaza offensive, in Gaza City, Monday, March 23, 2009. The Hebrew graffiti on the wall reads “The eternal people has no fear”, bottom, and “Shaked”, a name referring to an army battalion. In recent testimony, several Israeli soldiers confirmed they were engaged in unnecessary destruction.
Picture: AP

Those testimonies further challenge the IDF claim that “The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world”, and, as more and more emerge by the day, it is also very unlikely to believe in the argument that these are isolated incidents.

They are far from being isolated. And further away from being incidents.

If it is satisfactory that the eyes of the world have now been opened to the Israeli violations, one should never forget that they neither start nor stop with the Gaza operation. Those who have monitored the situation in Gaza and the West Bank for months or years know that everything started long before this and violations are not limited to the tiny, besieged strip.

Further from Gaza, in the towns and cities of the West Bank it isn’t much different. Illegal bombs or drones are not used, but prohibited bullets are shot at close range to peaceful demonstrators and the constant humiliation and the killing of the innocent is routine.

The dehumanization of the IDF troops is the result of a long lasting process. It is the result of dozens of years of occupation in which an entire generation of soldiers has grown into a context of impunity where demolishing Palestinian houses or killing children has become common.

Gideon Levy, a well-know Ha’aretz columnist further noted that “Most of the soldiers who took part in the assault on Gaza are youths with morals. They will escort an old woman across the street or rescue earthquake victims. But in Gaza, when faced with the inhuman Palestinians, the package will always be suspicious, the brainwashing will be stupefying and the core principles will change. That is the only way they can kill and engage in wanton destruction without deliberating or wrestling with their consciences, not even telling their friends or girlfriends what they did.”

It is an entire trend that has to be reversed. And it can only be done by challenging the impunity that the Israeli army and government had benefited from for over six decades.

We do not want the IDF to investigate their crimes. We want an impartial, independent investigation that would ask for individual accountability

Gathering these cases above, we now have what we need: facts and evidence.

During the Operation so many citizens around the world expressed their solidarity with Gazans and their tiredness of Israel being far above every rule and killing with total impunity. Thousands and thousands of world citizens, led by their conscience and beliefs in social justice, stood up in the cold to pressure their government. The message was unique: “Act to End This Now.”

The laws of war obligate states to investigate impartially allegations of war crimes. The IDF won’t be impartial. Israel has to be under independent investigation for the war crimes, along with the governments which supplied Israel with its munitions.

Though the Israeli army, now embarrassed, claimed it would investigate such violations it appears to be very unlikely that any serious steps towards justice will be taken by the army itself.

Without a proper independent investigation there will be no deterrent. We need a binding, compulsory conclusion that would finally mean something on the ground. If not, the message of the international community will remain the same, “keep on doing what we don’t like, there will be no sanctions.”

To change this we need a political will and courage. Various bodies announced their will to investigate the Israeli crimes and charged the State for war crimes.

Judges who participated in investigation committees into crimes in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and East-Timor, decided to set up a similar international committee to investigate “all the parties” in the IDF offensive on Gaza, concluding that these events go beyond isolated incidents and that “the problem is not only soldiers’ behavior, but the instructions from the senior military ranks and the minister in charge.”

Similarly, the UK has announced unofficially this week the impossibility to hold its promise to Israel to cover up their war crimes. As the British law permits private citizens to press charges against foreigners on war crimes the legislation permits the arrest of IDF officers visiting Britain on war crimes. The UK promised the Israeli government to amend the law, protecting the State from any investigation from their side.

But the UK just stepped back under the pressure of its public opinion, claiming that “as a result of the decline in Israel’s public image following the Cast lead Operation, the government believes it will be unable to pass the amendment to the legislation before the next elections”, understanding that for its citizens, backing up Israel blindly is not synonymous with gaining voices anymore.

This is a discrete trend, but a good sign, that impunity might not last any longer.

If international NGO’s, the United Nations, and the citizens are behind us What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for?

[1] 1,450 Palestinians were killed, including at least 960 were civilians and among them 431 children and 114 women.


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