Friday, July 27, 2007

Gregor Gall on the SSP, Pam Currie replies

The forthcoming issue of What Next carries Gregor Gall's important assessment of the recent depresing electoral debacle for socialist politics in Scotland. A crucial analysis. It'll probably take an age for the hard copy edition of the magazine to appear, but Bob Pitt does us a service by carrying this.

MustSocialism in Scotland: A Cruel and Unnecessary Catastrophe
Gregor Gall
The only sensible and realistic motto for socialists to have approached the parliamentary and council elections in Scotland on 3 May 2007 was "prepared for the worst, hoping for something a tiny bit better". This is a cruel and devastating indictment of a situation four short years on from the Scottish Socialist Party’s electoral breakthrough in May 2003. The best opportunity in a generation for a left of Labour socialist project was squandered right in front of everybody’s eyes as well as our own. The SSP took socialism out of the ghetto and now it and socialism have been forced back into the ghetto. Solidarity: Scotland’s Socialist Movement makes no difference to this equation.

Read the rest here.

And there's a reply by Pam Currie: Why the SSP is Worth Fighting For

THERE can be no doubt that 3 May 2007 marks a low point in the SSP’s nine year history. The election result was a massive disappointment, following on the heels of the car-crash of the summer of 2006, the libel action and the split. But does it sound the death knell of the Scottish Socialist Party? Is the party so damaged and discredited that it cannot recover? And has almost a decade’s hard work by the activists who built the SSP – one of the most successful left unity projects in the world in recent years – been destroyed by the actions of one man? I would answer a resounding "no" – and I’m confident that the vast majority of the SSP’s members and supporters would concur.

On the face of it, the bare figures from May 3 would suggest otherwise – a vote of just 12,572 across the country, 0.66% on average in the regions, below the bizarre collection of uncomfortable bedfellows assembled in Sheridan’s hastily cobbled-together "Solidarity" faction and below the racist, far-right BNP. But disillusioned campaigners would do well to remember that an election takes place on one day – it is a snapshot, nothing more, nothing less. Reports from around the country during the course of the campaign suggest that the SSP’s percentage of the vote did not reflect the broader support for policies such as free school meals, scrapping the council tax and prescription charges, and free public transport.

The rest is here.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson on CIA

July 24, 2007 5:04 pm
Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Agency of Rogues

Introduction by Tom Englehardt
The secret prison was set up on a secure U.S. Naval base outside the U.S. and so beyond the slightest recourse to legal oversight. It was there that the CIA clandestinely brought its "suspects" to be interrogated, abused, and tortured.

That description might indeed sound like Guantanamo 2002, but think again. According to New York Times reporter Tim Weiner's new history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes -- a remarkable treasure trove of grim and startling information you hadn't known before -- this actually happened first in the Panama Canal Zone in the early 1950s. It was there, as well as at two secret prisons located in Germany and Japan, the defeated Axis powers (and not, in those days, in Thailand or Rumania), that the CIA brought questionable double agents for "secret experiments" in harsh interrogation, "using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing." This was but a small part of "Project Artichoke," a 15-year, multi-billion dollar "search by the CIA for ways to control the human mind."

No book in recent memory has done such a superb job of illuminating the roiling, disastrous, thoroughly destructive path through history of America's top covert-operations agency over the last six decades, what Chalmers Johnson has often called "the president's private army." Johnson himself was an outside consultant for the CIA from 1967 to 1973 until, as he writes in his latest book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy), "this consulting function was abolished by [National Security Advisor Henry] Kissinger and [CIA Director James] Schlesinger during [President Richard] Nixon's second term precisely because they did not want outsiders interfering with their ability to tell the president what to think." On first arrival at the Agency's "campus" in Langley, Virginia, Johnson reminds us, Schlesinger, in the typically highhanded fashion of CIA heads, immediately announced, "I am here to see that you guys don't screw Richard Nixon." Think of CIA Directors George Tenet or Porter Goss and George Bush and you're back in our present age.

As books, Nemesis and Legacy of Ashes complement each other superbly, so I thought it worthwhile to set Johnson loose on Weiner's new work in a rare book review for Tomdispatch. Tom

The Life and Times of the CIA
Wall Street Brokers, Ivy League Professors, Soldiers of Fortune, Ad Men, Newsmen, Stunt Men, Second-Story Men, and Con Men on Active Duty for the United States
By Chalmers Johnson
This essay is a review of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (Doubleday, 702 pp., $27.95).

The American people may not know it but they have some severe problems with one of their official governmental entities, the Central Intelligence Agency. Because of the almost total secrecy surrounding its activities and the lack of cost accounting on how it spends the money covertly appropriated for it within the defense budget, it is impossible for citizens to know what the CIA's approximately 17,000 employees do with, or for, their share of the yearly $44 billion-$48 billion or more spent on "intelligence." This inability to account for anything at the CIA is, however, only one problem with the Agency and hardly the most serious one either.
There are currently at least two criminal trials underway in Italy and Germany against several dozen CIA officials for felonies committed in those countries, including kidnapping people with a legal right to be in Germany and Italy, illegally transporting them to countries such as Egypt and Jordan for torture, and causing them to "disappear" into secret foreign or CIA-run prisons outside the U.S. without any form of due process of law.

The possibility that CIA funds are simply being ripped off by insiders is also acute. The CIA's former number three official, its executive director and chief procurement officer, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, is now under federal indictment in San Diego for corruptly funneling contracts for water, air services, and armored vehicles to a lifelong friend and defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, who was unqualified to perform the services being sought. In return, Wilkes treated Foggo to thousands of dollars' worth of vacation trips and dinners, and promised him a top job at his company when he retired from the CIA.

Thirty years ago, in a futile attempt to provide some check on endemic misbehavior by the CIA, the administration of Gerald Ford created the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. It was to be a civilian watchdog over the Agency. A 1981 executive order by President Ronald Reagan made the board permanent and gave it the mission of identifying CIA violations of the law (while keeping them secret in order not to endanger national security). Through five previous administrations, members of the board -- all civilians not employed by the government -- actively reported on and investigated some of the CIA's most secret operations that seemed to breach legal limits.

However, on July 15, 2007, John Solomon of the Washington Post reported that, for the first five-and-a-half years of the Bush administration, the Intelligence Oversight Board did nothing -- no investigations, no reports, no questioning of CIA officials. It evidently found no reason to inquire into the interrogation methods Agency operatives employed at secret prisons or the transfer of captives to countries that use torture, or domestic wiretapping not warranted by a federal court.

Who were the members of this non-oversight board of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys? The board now in place is led by former Bush economic adviser Stephen Friedman. It includes Don Evans, a former commerce secretary and friend of the President, former Admiral David Jeremiah, and lawyer Arthur B. Culvahouse. The only thing they accomplished was to express their contempt for a legal order by a president of the United States.

Corrupt and undemocratic practices by the CIA have prevailed since it was created in 1947. However, as citizens we have now, for the first time, been given a striking range of critical information necessary to understand how this situation came about and why it has been so impossible to remedy. We have a long, richly documented history of the CIA from its post-World War II origins to its failure to supply even the most elementary information about Iraq before the 2003 invasion of that country.

Declassified CIA Records
Tim Weiner's book, Legacy of Ashes, is important for many reasons, but certainly one is that it brings back from the dead the possibility that journalism can actually help citizens perform elementary oversight on our government. Until Weiner's magnificent effort, I would have agreed with Seymour Hersh that, in the current crisis of American governance and foreign policy, the failure of the press has been almost complete. Our journalists have generally not even tried to penetrate the layers of secrecy that the executive branch throws up to ward off scrutiny of its often illegal and incompetent activities. This is the first book I've read in a long time that documents its very important assertions in a way that goes well beyond asking readers merely to trust the reporter.

Weiner, a New York Times correspondent, has been working on Legacy of Ashes for 20 years. He has read over 50,000 government documents, mostly from the CIA, the White House, and the State Department. He was instrumental in causing the CIA Records Search Technology (CREST) program of the National Archives to declassify many of them, particularly in 2005 and 2006. He has read more than 2,000 oral histories of American intelligence officers, soldiers, and diplomats and has himself conducted more than 300 on-the-record interviews with current and past CIA officers, including ten former directors of central intelligence. Truly exceptional among authors of books on the CIA, he makes the following claim: "This book is on the record -- no anonymous sources, no blind quotations, no hearsay."

Weiner's history contains 154 pages of end-notes keyed to comments in the text. (Numbered notes and standard scholarly citations would have been preferable, as well as an annotated bibliography providing information on where documents could be found; but what he has done is still light-years ahead of competing works.) These notes contain extensive verbatim quotations from documents, interviews, and oral histories. Weiner also observes: "The CIA has reneged on pledges made by three consecutive directors of central intelligence –- [Robert] Gates, [James] Woolsey, and [John] Deutch -- to declassify records on nine major covert actions: France and Italy in the 1940s and 1950s; North Korea in the 1950s; Iran in 1953; Indonesia in 1958; Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s; and the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Laos in the 1960s." He is nonetheless able to supply key details on each of these operations from unofficial, but fully identified, sources.

In May 2003, after a lengthy delay, the government finally released the documents on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's engineered regime change in Guatemala in 1954; most of the records from the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco in which a CIA-created exile army of Cubans went to their deaths or to prison in a hapless invasion of that island have been released; and the reports on the CIA's 1953 overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq were leaked. Weiner's efforts and his resulting book are monuments to serious historical research in our allegedly "open society." Still, he warns,
"While I was gathering and obtaining declassification authorization for some of the CIA records used in this book at the National Archives, the agency [the CIA] was engaged in a secret effort to reclassify many of those same records, dating back to the 1940s, flouting the law and breaking its word. Nevertheless, the work of historians, archivists, and journalists has created a foundation of documents on which a book can be built."

Surprise Attacks
As an idea, if not an actual entity, the Central Intelligence Agency came into being as a result of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. It functionally came to an end, as Weiner makes clear, on September 11, 2001, when operatives of al-Qaeda flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Both assaults were successful surprise attacks.

The Central Intelligence Agency itself was created during the Truman administration in order to prevent future surprise attacks like Pearl Harbor by uncovering planning for them and so forewarning against them. On September 11th, 2001, the CIA was revealed to be a failure precisely because it had been unable to discover the al-Qaeda plot and sound the alarm against a surprise attack that would prove almost as devastating as Pearl Harbor. After 9/11, the Agency, having largely discredited itself, went into a steep decline and finished the job. Weiner concludes: "Under [CIA Director George Tenet's] leadership, the agency produced the worst body of work in its long history: a special national intelligence estimate titled ‘Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.'" It is axiomatic that, as political leaders lose faith in an intelligence agency and quit listening to it, its functional life is over, even if the people working there continue to report to their offices.

In December 1941, there was sufficient intelligence on Japanese activities for the U.S. to have been much better prepared for a surprise attack. Naval Intelligence had cracked Japanese diplomatic and military codes; radar stations and patrol flights had been authorized (but not fully deployed); and strategic knowledge of Japanese past behaviors and capabilities (if not of intentions) was adequate. The FBI had even observed the Japanese consul-general in Honolulu burning records in his backyard but reported this information only to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who did not pass it on.

Lacking was a central office to collate, analyze, and put in suitable form for presentation to the president all U.S. government information on an important issue. In 1941, there were plenty of signals about what was coming, but the U.S. government lacked the organization and expertise to distinguish true signals from the background "noise" of day-to-day communications. In the 1950s, Roberta Wohlstetter, a strategist for the Air Force's think tank, the RAND Corporation, wrote a secret study that documented the coordination and communications failings leading up to Pearl Harbor. (Entitled Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, it was declassified and published by Stanford University Press in 1962.)

The Legacy of the OSS
The National Security Act of 1947 created the CIA with emphasis on the word "central" in its title. The Agency was supposed to become the unifying organization that would distill and write up all available intelligence, and offer it to political leaders in a manageable form. The Act gave the CIA five functions, four of them dealing with the collection, coordination, and dissemination of intelligence from open sources as well as espionage. It was the fifth function -- lodged in a vaguely worded passage that allowed the CIA to "perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct" -- that turned the CIA into the personal, secret, unaccountable army of the president.

From the very beginning, the Agency failed to do what President Truman expected of it, turning at once to "cloak-and-dagger" projects that were clearly beyond its mandate and only imperfectly integrated into any grand strategy of the U.S. government. Weiner stresses that the true author of the CIA's clandestine functions was George Kennan, the senior State Department authority on the Soviet Union and creator of the idea of "containing" the spread of communism rather than going to war with ("rolling back") the USSR.

Kennan had been alarmed by the ease with which the Soviets were setting up satellites in Eastern Europe and he wanted to "fight fire with fire." Others joined with him to promote this agenda, above all the veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a unit that, under General William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan during World War II, had sent saboteurs behind enemy lines, disseminated disinformation and propaganda to mislead Axis forces, and tried to recruit resistance fighters in occupied countries.

On September 20, 1945, Truman had abolished the OSS -- a bureaucratic victory for the Pentagon, the State Department, and the FBI, all of which considered the OSS an upstart organization that impinged on their respective jurisdictions. Many of the early leaders of the CIA were OSS veterans and devoted themselves to consolidating and entrenching their new vehicle for influence in Washington. They also passionately believed that they were people with a self-appointed mission of world-shaking importance and that, as a result, they were beyond the normal legal restraints placed on government officials.

From its inception the CIA has labored under two contradictory conceptions of what it was supposed to be doing, and no president ever succeeded in correcting or resolving this situation. Espionage and intelligence analysis seek to know the world as it is; covert action seeks to change the world, whether it understands it or not. The best CIA exemplar of the intelligence-collecting function was Richard Helms, director of central intelligence (DCI) from 1966 to 1973 (who died in 2002). The great protagonist of cloak-and-dagger work was Frank Wisner, the CIA's director of operations from 1948 until the late 1950s when he went insane and, in 1965, committed suicide. Wisner never had any patience for espionage.

Weiner quotes William Colby, a future DCI (1973-1976), on this subject. The separation of the scholars of the research and analysis division from the spies of the clandestine service created two cultures within the intelligence profession, he said, "separate, unequal, and contemptuous of each other." That critique remained true throughout the CIA's first 60 years.

By 1964, the CIA's clandestine service was consuming close to two-thirds of its budget and 90% of the director's time. The Agency gathered under one roof Wall Street brokers, Ivy League professors, soldiers of fortune, ad men, newsmen, stunt men, second-story men, and con men. They never learned to work together -- the ultimate result being a series of failures in both intelligence and covert operations. In January 1961, on leaving office after two terms, President Eisenhower had already grasped the situation fully. "Nothing has changed since Pearl Harbor," he told his director of central intelligence, Allen Dulles. "I leave a legacy of ashes to my successor." Weiner, of course, draws his title from Eisenhower's metaphor. It would only get worse in the years to come.

The historical record is unequivocal. The United States is ham-handed and brutal in conceiving and executing clandestine operations, and it is simply no good at espionage; its operatives never have enough linguistic and cultural knowledge of target countries to recruit spies effectively. The CIA also appears to be one of the most easily penetrated espionage organizations on the planet. From the beginning, it repeatedly lost its assets to double agents.

Typically, in the early 1950s, the Agency dropped millions of dollars worth of gold bars, arms, two-way radios, and agents into Poland to support what its top officials believed was a powerful Polish underground movement against the Soviets. In fact, Soviet agents had wiped out the movement years before, turned key people in it into double agents, and played the CIA for suckers. As Weiner comments, not only had five years of planning, various agents, and millions of dollars "gone down the drain," but the "unkindest cut might have been [the Agency's] discovery that the Poles had sent a chunk of the CIA's money to the Communist Party of Italy." [pp. 67-68]

The story would prove unending. On February 21, 1994, the Agency finally discovered and arrested Aldrich Ames, the CIA's chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, who had been spying for the USSR for seven years and had sent innumerable U.S. agents before KGB firing squads. Weiner comments, "The Ames case revealed an institutional carelessness that bordered on criminal negligence." [p. 451]

The Search for Technological Means
Over the years, in order to compensate for these serious inadequacies, the CIA turned increasingly to signals intelligence and other technological means of spying like U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and satellites. In 1952, the top leaders of the CIA created the National Security Agency -- an eavesdropping and cryptological unit -- to overcome the Agency's abject failure to place any spies in North Korea during the Korean War. The Agency debacle at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba led a frustrated Pentagon to create its own Defense Intelligence Agency as a check on the military amateurism of the CIA's clandestine service officers.

Still, technological means, whether satellite spying or electronic eavesdropping, will seldom reveal intentions -- and that is the raison d'être of intelligence estimates. As Haviland Smith, who ran operations against the USSR in the 1960s and 1970s, lamented, "The only thing missing is -- we don't have anything on Soviet intentions. And I don't know how you get that. And that's the charter of the clandestine service [emphasis in original, pp. 360-61])."

The actual intelligence collected was just as problematic. On the most important annual intelligence estimate throughout the Cold War -- that of the Soviet order of battle -- the CIA invariably overstated its size and menace. Then, to add insult to injury, under George H. W. Bush's tenure as DCI (1976-77), the agency tore itself apart over ill-informed right-wing claims that it was actually underestimating Soviet military forces. The result was the appointment of "Team B" during the Ford presidency, led by Polish exiles and neoconservative fanatics. It was tasked to "correct" the work of the Office of National Estimates.

"After the Cold War was over," writes Weiner, "the agency put Team B's findings to the test. Every one of them was wrong." [p. 352] But the problem was not simply one of the CIA succumbing to political pressure. It was also structural: "[F]or thirteen years, from Nixon's era to the dying days of the Cold War, every estimate of Soviet strategic nuclear forces overstated [emphasis in original] the rate at which Moscow was modernizing its weaponry." [p. 297]
From 1967 to 1973, I served as an outside consultant to the Office of National Estimates, one of about a dozen specialists brought in to try to overcome the myopia and bureaucratism involved in the writing of these national intelligence estimates. I recall agonized debates over how the mechanical highlighting of worst-case analyses of Soviet weapons was helping to promote the arms race. Some senior intelligence analysts tried to resist the pressures of the Air Force and the military-industrial complex. Nonetheless, the late John Huizenga, an erudite intelligence analyst who headed the Office of National Estimates from 1971 until the wholesale purge of the Agency by DCI James Schlesinger in 1973, bluntly said to the CIA's historians:
"In retrospect.... I really do not believe that an intelligence organization in this government is able to deliver an honest analytical product without facing the risk of political contention. . . . I think that intelligence has had relatively little impact on the policies that we've made over the years. Relatively none. . . . Ideally, what had been supposed was that . . . serious intelligence analysis could.... assist the policy side to reexamine premises, render policymaking more sophisticated, closer to the reality of the world. Those were the large ambitions which I think were never realized." [p. 353]

On the clandestine side, the human costs were much higher. The CIA's incessant, almost always misguided, attempts to determine how other people should govern themselves; its secret support for fascists (e.g., Greece under George Papadopoulos), militarists (e.g., Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet), and murderers (e.g., the Congo under Joseph Mobutu); its uncritical support of death squads (El Salvador) and religious fanatics (Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan) -- all these and more activities combined to pepper the world with blowback movements against the United States.

Nothing has done more to undercut the reputation of the United States than the CIA's "clandestine" (only in terms of the American people) murders of the presidents of South Vietnam and the Congo, its ravishing of the governments of Iran, Indonesia (three times), South Korea (twice), all of the Indochinese states, virtually every government in Latin America, and Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The deaths from these armed assaults run into the millions. After 9/11, President Bush asked "Why do they hate us?" From Iran (1953) to Iraq (2003), the better question would be, "Who does not?"

The Cash Nexus
There is a major exception to this portrait of long-term Agency incompetence. "One weapon the CIA used with surpassing skill," Weiner writes, "was cold cash. The agency excelled at buying the services of foreign politicians." [p. 116] It started with the Italian elections of April 1948. The CIA did not yet have a secure source of clandestine money and had to raise it secretly from Wall Street operators, rich Italian-Americans, and others.
"The millions were delivered to Italian politicians and the priests of Catholic Action, a political arm of the Vatican. Suitcases filed with cash changed hands in the four-star Hassler Hotel. . . . Italy's Christian Democrats won by a comfortable margin and formed a government that excluded communists. A long romance between the [Christian Democratic] party and the agency began. The CIA's practice of purchasing elections and politicians with bags of cash was repeated in Italy -- and in many other countries -- for the next twenty-five years." [p. 27]

The CIA ultimately spent at least $65 million on Italy's politicians -- including "every Christian Democrat who ever won a national election in Italy." [p. 298] As the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe got up to speed in the late 1940s, the CIA secretly skimmed the money it needed from Marshall Plan accounts. After the Plan ended, secret funds buried in the annual Defense appropriation bill continued to finance the CIA's operations.

After Italy, the CIA moved on to Japan, paying to bring Nobusuke Kishi to power as Japan's prime minister (in office 1957-1960), the country's World War II minister of munitions. It ultimately used its financial muscle to entrench the (conservative) Liberal Democratic Party in power and to turn Japan into a single-party state, which it remains to this day. The cynicism with which the CIA continued to subsidize "democratic" elections in Western Europe, Latin America, and East Asia, starting in the late 1950s, led to disillusionment with the United States and a distinct blunting of the idealism with which it had waged the early Cold War.

Another major use for its money was a campaign to bankroll alternatives in Western Europe to Soviet-influenced newspapers and books. Attempting to influence the attitudes of students and intellectuals, the CIA sponsored literary magazines in Germany (Der Monat) and Britain (Encounter), promoted abstract expressionism in art as a radical alternative to the Soviet Union's socialist realism, and secretly funded the publication and distribution of over two and a half million books and periodicals. Weiner treats these activities rather cursorily. He should have consulted Frances Stonor Saunders' indispensable The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.

Hiding Incompetence
Despite all this, the CIA was protected from criticism by its impenetrable secrecy and by the tireless propaganda efforts of such leaders as Allen W. Dulles, director of the Agency under President Eisenhower, and Richard Bissell, chief of the clandestine service after Wisner. Even when the CIA seemed to fail at everything it undertook, writes Weiner, "The ability to represent failure as success was becoming a CIA tradition." [p. 58]

After the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the CIA dropped 212 foreign agents into Manchuria. Within a matter of days, 101 had been killed and the other 111 captured -- but this information was effectively suppressed. The CIA's station chief in Seoul, Albert R. Haney, an incompetent army colonel and intelligence fabricator, never suspected that the hundreds of agents he claimed to have working for him all reported to North Korean control officers.
Haney survived his incredible performance in the Korean War because, at the end of his tour in November 1952, he helped to arrange for the transportation of a grievously wounded Marine lieutenant back to the United States. That Marine turned out to be the son of Allen Dulles, who repaid his debt of gratitude by putting Haney in charge of the covert operation that -- despite a largely bungled, badly directed secret campaign -- did succeed in overthrowing the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. The CIA's handiwork in Guatemala ultimately led to the deaths of 200,000 civilians during the 40 years of bloodshed and civil war that followed the sabotage of an elected government for the sake of the United Fruit Company.

Weiner has made innumerable contributions to many hidden issues of postwar foreign policy, some of them still on-going. For example, during the debate over America's invasion of Iraq after 2003, one of the constant laments was that the CIA did not have access to a single agent inside Saddam Hussein's inner circle. That was not true. Ironically, the intelligence service of France -- a country U.S. politicians publicly lambasted for its failure to support us -- had cultivated Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign minister. Sabri told the French agency, and through it the American government, that Saddam Hussein did not have an active nuclear or biological weapons program, but the CIA ignored him. Weiner comments ruefully, "The CIA had almost no ability to analyze accurately what little intelligence it had." [pp. 666-67, n. 487]

Perhaps the most comical of all CIA clandestine activities -- unfortunately all too typical of its covert operations over the last 60 years -- was the spying it did in 1994 on the newly appointed American ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, who sought to promote policies of human rights and justice in that country. Loyal to the murderous Guatemalan intelligence service, the CIA had bugged her bedroom and picked up sounds that led their agents to conclude that the ambassador was having a lesbian love affair with her secretary, Carol Murphy. The CIA station chief "recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy." The agency spread the word in Washington that the liberal ambassador was a lesbian without realizing that "Murphy" was also the name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog. She was actually a married woman from a conservative family. [p. 459]
Back in August 1945, General William Donovan, the head of the OSS, said to President Truman, "Prior to the present war, the United States had no foreign intelligence service. It never has had and does not now have a coordinated intelligence system." Weiner adds, "Tragically, it still does not have one." I agree with Weiner's assessment, but based on his truly exemplary analysis of the Central Intelligence Agency in Legacy of Ashes, I do not think that this is a tragedy. Given his evidence, it is hard to believe that the United States would not have been better off if it had left intelligence collection and analysis to the State Department and had assigned infrequent covert actions to the Pentagon.

I believe that this is where we stand today: The CIA has failed badly, and it would be an important step toward a restoration of the checks and balances within our political system simply to abolish it. Some observers argue that this would be an inadequate remedy because what the government now ostentatiously calls the "intelligence community" -- complete with its own website -- is composed of 16 discrete and competitive intelligence organizations ready to step into the CIA's shoes. This, however, is a misunderstanding. Most of the members of the so-called intelligence community are bureaucratic appendages of well-established departments or belong to extremely technical units whose functions have nothing at all to do with either espionage or cloak-and-dagger adventures.

The sixteen entities include the intelligence organizations of each military service -- the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Defense Intelligence Agency -- and reflect inter-service rivalries more than national needs or interests; the departments of Energy, Homeland Security, State, Treasury, and Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as the FBI and the National Security Agency; and the units devoted to satellites and reconnaissance (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office). The only one of these units that could conceivably compete with the CIA is the one that I recommend to replace it -- namely, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Interestingly enough, it had by far the best record of any U.S. intelligence entity in analyzing Iraq under Saddam Hussein and estimating what was likely to happen if we pursued the Bush administration's misconceived scheme of invading his country. Its work was, of course, largely ignored by the Bush-Cheney White House.

Weiner does not cover every single aspect of the record of the CIA, but his book is one of the best possible places for a serious citizen to begin to understand the depths to which our government has sunk. It also brings home the lesson that an incompetent or unscrupulous intelligence agency can be as great a threat to national security as not having one at all.

Chalmers Johnson's latest book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2007). It is the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy, which also includes Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire. A retired professor of international relations from the University of California (Berkeley and San Diego campuses) and the author of some seventeen books primarily on the politics and economics of East Asia, Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute.
Copyright 2007 Chalmers Johnson

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Todd Gitlin: Nader's Dead End

Nader's dead end
When the Democrats enlarged their tent to include leftist activists, Ralph
Nader was left in the cold.
By Todd Gitlin
Los Angeles Times

July 22, 2007
At a green party convention in Reading, Pa., on July 14, Ralph Nader provoked admirers and detractors alike when he declared that he is once again "considering" a run for the presidency.

This would be the 73-year-old activist's fourth third-party race. For a decade now and counting, Nader has presented himself as the outsider's outsider, as the reformer's conscience and as a sturdy crusader against a corrupt party system -- meaning, in effect, against Democrats, from whom he siphons votes (a fact amply noted by the Republican donors who boosted his Green Party campaigns in 2000 and 2004).

As Nader's advocates do not weary of pointing out, American third parties have often been the vehicles in which those excluded from the two-party system (such as the abolitionist Republicans of the mid-19th century and the Socialists of the early 20th) hitched a ride. The idea is that when the major parties duck the urgent and transforming issues of their time, outsiders will fuse their passion and ideals into a battering ram. They are likely to lose in the
end, but they will be influential.

There's some truth to that argument, and especially to the idea that their self-sacrifice is both inevitable and, at times, somewhat effective. A rhythm of outsider assault followed by accommodation runs through American history. The moral declaimers aim to upend the table but eventually find seats there -- if not for themselves then for their ideas, as espoused by their
better-behaved, more accommodating cousins. The Socialists and Progressives, for example, were rarely elected, but their ideas were critical to the New Deal. And many of Alabama Gov. George Wallace's anti-federal attitudes found their way into Ronald Reagan's programs.

What Nader refuses to recognize, however -- indeed, what he is intensely committed to not recognizing -- is that political reform movements today are not what they were. The world has changed. The energy and moral vigor of outsiders has now taken up residence inside the Democratic Party. There, it is a force -- a recruiting channel, a source of funds, a well of campaigners, a lobby, a debate center.

In the language of the book that serves as something of a manifesto for the latest generation of practical rebels -- written by bloggers Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga -- they have "crashed the gates." Now that they're inside, they can take credit for party victories without sacrificing their independence or integrity. They have both influence and momentum.
This is because they have learned from the triumphs of the mobilized right. While liberal and leftist activists pitched camp for years outside their natural party (largely because the Democrats were divided, first over civil rights and then over the Vietnam War), the conservative movement decamped for the epublican Party with an eye to winning elections and governing. First they laid claim to the party in the Goldwater crusade of 1964. Then, after the
Nixon interregnum, they roared back still more conclusively, with religious zeal, when Reagan was elected president in 1980. They bounced back yet again, ripe with experience and passion, in the George W. Bush election of 2000. Not only were they fortunate to have standard-bearers with the common touch and moralist auras, but they benefited from enfeebled oppositions that they successfully saddled with an elitist reputation. Now, the fervent activists of the so-called netroots have taken a page from the conservative playbook. They have stormed into the Democratic Party and become one of its indispensable segments. First visible in the anti-impeachment effort of 1998, then in the 2004 campaign of Howard Dean, and
most recently in the decidedly more successful Democratic mobilization of 2006, the netroots number in the millions, united, organized and empowered by the power of the Internet. Their numbers are compounded by their fervor -- they are, in the main, activists.

They do differ from their conservative counterparts in several respects.
They do not benefit from a media apparatus -- the talk shows and Fox News -- so, informally, they have devised their own, largely online (much as the right earlier cultivated the use of direct mail).

Moreover, they are not an ideological machine fused around a core program or a simple set of slogans. Many are liberal, but some are centrist. The Iraq war is their most galvanizing cause, but they do not all agree about how exactly to extricate the country from it. Many are in their 30s, but many are older or younger. Whereas the Republicans can bumper-sticker their appeals with "lower taxes" and "family values," the Democrats' netroots are all over the place. Where the movement conservatives have long coordinated their tactics and stay relentlessly "on message," the left-of-center netroots have learned to play catch-up.

One overpowering cause unites them -- overturning the Bush bulldozer and the conservative cause that was powered up and ready for him even before he arrived on the scene. For all their disagreements, the Democrats' netroots can agree that the precondition for progress on any of their issues -- a less belligerent foreign policy, climate change, economic equality -- is the definitive and enduring defeat of the Republicans. They may disagree on trade, foreign policy and other issues, but they have pitched a big tent.

The netroots want their movement to function within the party -- a machine committed to winning and governing. And this is why Nader no longer matters. In the post-Bush setting, Nader's Greens are dead-enders. counts 3.25 million members, a larger number than the Nader voters of 2000. MoveOn strategizes with Beltway politicians; Nader ships out on the Nation's summer fundraising cruise later this month.

To vote for Nader now means to agree with him that there's no real difference between the Republicans and the Democrats -- a proposition as absurd as attributing 9/11 to Saddam Hussein.

As an earlier Democratic majority flamed out in napalm, so has the Republican revolution flamed out in the Iraqi desert. Now the Democrats, whatever their travails, are offering three or four candidates who specialize in putting up big tents. In their varying ways, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson can not only make majoritarian arguments, but they
each look and sound like leaders suitable for a party that numbers tens of millions of people.

The Democrats' embarrassment of riches is a sign that they have learned the decisive lesson of modern politics: They must enfold movement energies within the party.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author of many books, including "The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals" to be published in September.


Monday, July 16, 2007

New Statesman July 16th

The cover of this New Statesman (July 16th) attends to both Chavez and Campbell. In a week of too-much Campbell there's an interesting piece by Martin Bright and Chris Ames focussed on the 'nucelar timelines' element of the infamous Dossier and they provide a detailed concordance that shows the much-denied political interference. John Kampfner reviews the book.

Alice O'Keefe is rather critical of Chavez: 'From hero is tyrant' is the subtitle and it comes with a picture from an esqualidos demo with a vast red Chavez como el diablo head. The story is one of polarization, the tome is critical of Chavez -'power-crazed' and sympathetic to the opposition, especially over RCTV. O'Keefe says 70% of the population oppose the closure of RCTV (which is presented in simplified terms that distorts the issue). There are hints about the significance of the role of the military. A Harvard 'conflict resolution specialist'William Urry is quoted on the symptoms of an incipient civil war. Hmmm, I was expecting the New Statesman to be much more friendly to Chavez than this! The extensive comments are pretty polarised, but not that illuminating. On balance the critics (i.e Chavez defenders) have it, but I think 'wrong' is a better charge than 'biased'.

Rageh Omaar reports on the 'Battle for Pakistan's Soul' after the military assault on the Lal Masjid and its extensive death-toll. Impressive piece, prognosis poor.

Shiraz Maher on 'How we can rid Britain of violent extremism', which arges that 'the general culture of extreme Islamist dissent can, and often does, give rise to terrorism itself.' Maher (who has come to fame through his friendship with the failed Glasgow suicide-bombers Bilal Abdulla and Kafeel Ahmed via Hizb ut-Tahrir) wants a challenge to the general ideology of radical Islamicism.

And in a Radio column Andrew Billen writes rather positively about George Galloway on TalkSport.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dahr Jamail: Iraq Reporter Schizophrenic in Disneyland

July 12, 2007 3:47 pm
Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, Iraq Reporter Schizophrenic in Disneyland

What if you spoke regularly of "haji food," "haji music" and "haji homes"? What if your speeding convoys ran over civilians often enough that no one thought to report the incidents? What if your platoon was told pointblank: "The Geneva Conventions don't exist at all in Iraq, and that's in writing if you want to see it"; or, when you shot noncombatants, it was perfectly normal to plant "throwaway weapons" by their bodies, arrest those civilians who survived, and accuse them all of being "insurgents"? What if your buddy got his meal-ready-to-eat standard spoon and asked you to take a photo of him pretending to scoop the brains out of a dead Iraqi? Or what if the general attitude among your buddies was: "A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi.... You know, so what?"

These examples -- and many more like them -- can be found in a remarkable breaking story in the new issue of the Nation magazine. In a months-long investigation, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian interviewed 50 U.S. combat veterans who had been stationed in Iraq. They were intent on exploring "the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians" (as well as on those soldiers). The article, "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness," offers Americans a look behind the bombings and carnage in the headlines at just what kind of a war American troops have found themselves fighting -- focusing on the degradation that is essential to it and will accompany those troops home.

It is the perfect companion to the piece independent reporter Dahr Jamail has written for Tomdispatch today, which gives a sense of what anybody, even a journalist exposed to such "apocalyptic violence" and despair, is likely to bring home with him. Even more important, through a series of wrenching emails Jamail has received recently from Iraq, you get a small sense of what the dark and horrific war the American vets described to Hedges and al-Arian, a war only escalating in brutality, looks like to the Iraqis -- the ones who stand in danger of getting run over by those speeding convoys, or are at the other end of the kicked-in door, or the racism, or simply the anger and frustration of isolated soldiers in a strange and hostile land.

Jamail's new book on the Iraq he saw but most Americans, soldiers or journalists, didn't -- Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq -- is being published in October. Like Hedges and al-Arian, he offers a sense of an ongoing war you almost never hear about on the nightly news. Tom

Iraq on My Mind
Thousands of Stories to Tell -- And No One to Listen
By Dahr Jamail

"In violence we forget who we are" -- Mary McCarthy, novelist and critic

1. Statistically Speaking

Having spent a fair amount of time in occupied Iraq, I now find living in the United States nothing short of a schizophrenic experience. Life in Iraq was traumatizing. It was impossible to be there and not be affected by apocalyptic levels of violence and suffering, unimaginable in this country.

But here's the weird thing: One long, comfortable plane ride later and you're in Disneyland, or so it feels on returning to the United States. Sometimes it seems as if I'm in a bubble here that's only moments away from popping. I find myself perpetually amazed at the heights of consumerism and the vigorous pursuit of creature comforts that are the essence of everyday life in this country -- and once defined my own life as well.

Here, for most Americans, you can choose to ignore what our government is doing in Iraq. It's as simple as choosing to go to a website other than this one.

The longer the occupation of Iraq continues, the more conscious I grow of the disparity, the utter disjuncture, between our two worlds.

In January 2004, I traveled through villages and cities south of Baghdad investigating the Bechtel Corporation's performance in fulfilling contractual obligations to restore the water supply in the region. In one village outside of Najaf, I looked on in disbelief as women and children collected water from the bottom of a dirt hole. I was told that, during the daily two-hour period when the power supply was on, a broken pipe at the bottom of the hole brought in "water." This was, in fact, the primary water source for the whole village. Eight village children, I learned, had died trying to cross a nearby highway to obtain potable water from a local factory.

In Iraq things have grown exponentially worse since then. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that 70% of Iraqis do not have access to clean water and 80% "lack effective sanitation."

In the United States I step away from my desk, walk into the kitchen, turn on the tap, and watch as clear, cool water fills my glass. I drink it without once thinking about whether it contains a waterborne disease or will cause kidney stones, diarrhea, cholera, or nausea. But there's no way I can stop myself from thinking about what was -- and probably still is -- in that literal water hole near Najaf.

I open my pantry and then my refrigerator to make my lunch. I have enough food to last a family several days, and then I remember that there is a 21% rate of chronic malnutrition among children in Iraq, and that, according to UNICEF, about one in 10 Iraqi children under five years of age is underweight.

I have a checking account with money in it; 54% of Iraqis now live on less than $1 a day.

I can travel safely on my bicycle whenever I choose -- to the grocery store or a nearby city center. Many Iraqis can travel nowhere without fear of harm. Iraq now ranks as the planet's second most unstable country, according to the 2007 Failed States Index.

These are now my two worlds, my two simultaneous realities. They inhabit the same space inside my head in desperately uncomfortable fashion. Sometimes, I almost settle back into this bubble world of ours, but then another email arrives -- either directly from friends and contacts in Iraq or forwarded by friends who have spent time in Iraq -- and I remember that I'm an incurably schizophrenic journalist living on some kind of borrowed time in both America and Iraq all at once.

2. Emailing

Here is a fairly typical example of the sorts of anguished letters that suddenly appear in my in-box. (With the exception of the odd comma, I've left the examples that follow just as they arrived. They reflect the stressful conditions under which they were written.) This one was sent to my friend Gerri Haynes from an Iraqi friend of hers:

Dear Gerri:

No words can describe the real terror of what's happening and being committed against the population in Baghdad and other cities: the poor people with no money to leave the country, the disabled old men and women, the wives and children of tens of thousands of detainees who can't leave when their dad is getting tortured in the Democratic Prisons, senior years students who have been caught in a situation that forces them to take their finals to finish their degrees, parents of missing young men who got out and never came back, waiting patiently for someone to knock the door and say, "I am back." There are thousands and thousands of sad stories that need to be told but nobody is there to listen.

I called my cousin in the al-Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad to check if they are still alive. She is in her sixties and her husband is about seventy. She burst into tears, begging me to pray to God to take their lives away soon so they don't have to go through all this agony. She told me that, with no electricity, it is impossible to go to sleep when it is 40 degrees Celsius unless they get really tired after midnight. Her husband leaves the doors open because they are afraid that the American and Iraqi troops will bomb the doors if they don't respond from first door knock during searching raids. Leaving the doors open is another terror story after the attack of the troops' vicious dogs on a ten-month old baby, tearing him apart and eating him in the same neighborhood just a few days ago. The troops let the dogs attack civilians. The dogs bite them and terrify the kids with their angry red eyes in the middle of the night. So, as you can see my dear Gerri, we don't have only one Abu Ghraib with torturing dogs, we have thousands of Abu Ghraibs all over Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

I was speechless. I couldn't say anything to comfort her. I felt ashamed to be alive and well. I thought I should be with them, supporting them, and give them some strength even if it costs me my life. I begged her to leave Baghdad. She told me that she can't because of her pregnant daughter and her grandkids. They are all with them in the house without their dad. I am hearing the same story and worse every single day. We keep asking ourselves what did we do to the Americans to deserve all this cruelness, killing, and brutishness? How can the troops do this to poor, hopeless civilians? And why?

Can anybody answer my cousin why she and her poor family are going through this?? Can you Gerri? Because I sure can't.

In recent weeks I had been attempting to get in touch with one of my friends, a journalist in Baghdad. I'll call him Aziz for his safety. Beginning to worry when I didn't receive his usual prompt response, I sent him a second email and this is what finally came back:

Dear old friend Dahr,

I am so sorry for my late reply. It is because my area of Baghdad was closed for six days and also because I lost my cousin. He was killed by a militia. They tortured and mutilated his body. I will try to send you his picture later.

Just remember me, friend, because I feel so tired these days and I live with this mess now.

With all my respect,


Conveying my sadness, I asked him if there was anything I could possibly do to ease his suffering. As a reporter in that besieged country, he is constantly exhausted and overworked. I hesitantly suggested that perhaps he should take a little time to rest. He promptly replied:

Dahr, my old friend,

I really appreciate your condolence message. Your words affected me very much and I feel that all my friends are around me in this hard time. I live with this mess and I do need some rest time as you advise before getting back to work again. BUT, really, I have to continue working because there are just very few journalists in Iraq now, and especially in my area. I have to cover more and more everyday.

Anyway friend, everything will be ok for me. And I wish we can make some change in our world towards peace.

With my respect to you friend, Aziz

I have also been corresponding with "H," who lives in the volatile Diyala province and has been a dear friend since my first trip to Iraq. He would visit me in Baghdad, bringing with him delicious home-cooked meals from his wife, insisting always that I be the one to eat the first morsel.

A deeply religious man, his unfailing greeting, accompanied by a big hug, would always be: "You are my brother."

He was concerned about the perception that there were vast differences between Islam and Christianity. "Islam and Christianity are not so different," he would say, "In fact they have many more similarities than differences." He would often discuss this with U.S. soldiers in his city.

Yet he was no admirer of imperialism. Last summer in Syria, he and I visited the sprawling Roman ruins of Palmyra. One evening, as we stood together overlooking the vast landscape of crumbling columns and sun-bleached walls in the setting sun, he turned to me and said, "Mr. Dahr, please do not be offended by what I want to say, but it makes me happy to see these ruins and remember that empires always fall because empires are never good for most people."

After several weeks when I received no reply to repeated emails, I wrote to "M," a mutual friend, and received the following response:

Habibi [My dear friend],

It has been very long since I have written to you. I'm sorry. I was terribly busy. I have some very bad news. [H] was kidnapped by the members of al-Qaeda in Diyala 25 days ago and there is no news about him up to this moment. It's a horrible situation. One cannot feel safe in this country.

When I pressed him for more information, he wrote me the details:

[H] was kidnapped as he was trying to get home. He was coming to Baquba to visit his parents, as he does every day. His oldest daughter who was with him told him that a car carrying several men was following them from the beginning of the street leading to his parents' home. So, when he stopped to get his car in the garage, they got out of their car covering their faces and asked him to come with them for questioning. People in Diyala definitely know that such a thing means either killing or arresting for few days. You may ask why I'm sure it is al-Qaeda. That is because no other group, including the U.S. military, dominates the whole city like they do.

We are the people of the city and we know the truth. They overwhelmingly dominate the streets and are even stronger than the government. So, there is no doubt about whether this was al-Qaeda or another group. You may ask how people stay away from these very bad people. People never go in places like the central market of Baquba. For this reason, all, and I mean all, the shops are closed; some people have left Diyala, some have been killed, while most are kept in their homes.

If someone wants to go the market, this means a bad adventure. He may be at last found in the morgue. Al-Qaeda fought every group that are called resistance who work against coalition [U.S.] forces or the government (policemen or Iraqi National Guards). Nowadays, there is fighting between al-Qaeda and other [Iraqi resistance] groups like Qataib who are known here as the honest resistance in the streets. By the way, I forgot, when al-Qaeda kidnaps someone, they also take his car in order that the car shall be used by them. So, they took his car, along with him. In case he is released, he comes without his car. I will tell you more later on.

I soon slipped into the frantic routine all too familiar by now to countless Iraqis -- scanning the horrible reports of daily violence in Iraq looking for the faintest clue to the whereabouts of my missing friend

3. Murderously Speaking

In McClatchy News' July 5th roundup of daily violence for Diyala, I read:

"A source in the morgue of Baquba general hospital said that the morgue received today a head of a civilian that was thrown near the iron bridge in Baquba Al Jadida neighborhood today morning.

A medical source in Al Miqdadiyah town northeast [of] Baquba city said that 2 bodies of civilians were moved to the hospital of Miqdadiyah. The source said that the first body was of a man who was killed in an IED explosion near his house in Al Mu'alimeen neighborhood in downtown Baquba city while the second body was of a man who was shot dead near his house in Al Ballor neighborhood in downtown Baquba city."

The data for Baghdad that day read:

"24 anonymous bodies were found in Baghdad today. 16 bodies were found in Karkh, the western side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (7 bodies in Amil, 3 bodies in Doura, 2 bodies in Ghazaliyah, 1 body in Jihad, 1 body in Amiriyah, 1 body in Khadhraa and 1 body in Mahmoudiyah). 8 bodies were found in Rusafa, the eastern side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (6 bodies in Sadr city, 1 body in Husseiniyah and 1 body in Sleikh.)"

What could I possibly hope to find in nameless reports like these, especially when I know that most of the Iraqi dead never make it anywhere near these reports. That is the way it has been throughout the occupation.

On July 8th, M sent me this email:


Up to this moment, I heard that one of my neighbors saw [H's] photo in the morgue but I couldn't make sure yet. Traditionally, when a body is dropped in a street and found by police, they take it to the morgue. The first thing done is to take a photo for the dead person in the computer to let the families know them. This procedure is followed because the number of bodies is tremendously big. For this people cannot see every body to check for their sons or relatives. For this, people see the photos before going to the refrigerator. I will go to the morgue tomorrow.

The next day he wrote yet again:


Today I went to the morgue. I saw horrible things there. I didn't see [H's] photo among them. Some figures cannot be easily recognized because of the blood or the face is terribly deformed. I saw also only heads; those who were slayed, it's unbelievable. Tomorrow, we will have another visit to make sure again. In your country, when somebody wants to go to the morgue, he may naturally see two or, say, three or four bodies. For us, I saw hundreds today. Every month, the municipality buries those who are not recognized by their families because of the capacity of the morgue. Imagine!

In one of H's last emails to me sent soon after his return home from Syria earlier this summer, he described driving out of Baquba one afternoon. Ominously, he wrote:

We left Baquba, which was sinking in a sea of utter chaos, worries, and instability. People there in that small town were scared of being kidnapped, killed, murdered or expelled. The entire security situation over there was deteriorating; getting to the worse.

Now, that passage might be read as his epitaph.

4. Subjectively Speaking

The morning I receive the latest news from M, I crawl back into bed and lie staring at the ceiling, wondering what will become of H's wife and young children, if he is truly dead. Barring a miracle, I assume that will turn out to be the case.

Later, I go for a walk. It's California sunny and the air is pleasantly cool on my skin. I'm aware -- as I often am -- that I never even consider looking over my shoulder here. I'm also aware that those I pass on my walk don't know that they aren't even considering looking over their shoulders.

The American Heritage Dictionary's second definition of schizophrenia is:

A situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities: the national schizophrenia that results from carrying out an unpopular war [italics theirs].

That's what I'm experiencing -- a national schizophrenia that results from our government carrying out an unpopular war. It's what I continue to experience with never lessening sharpness two years after my last trip to Iraq. The hardest thing, in the California sun with that cool breeze on my face, is to know that two realities in two grimly linked countries coexist, and most people in my own country are barely conscious of this.

In Iraq, of course, there is nothing disparate, no disjuncture, only a constant, relentless grinding and suffering, a pervasive condition of tragic hopelessness and despair with no end in sight.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has covered the Middle East for the last four years, eight months of which were spent in occupied Iraq. Jamail is currently writing for Inter Press Service, Al-Jazeera English, and is a regular contributor to Jamail's forthcoming book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Independent Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books) will be released this October. His reports are regularly available on his website, Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches. (Thanks to Tom Engelhardt for the research done to provide the statistics used in this article.)

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Iraq Vets: 'In Their words'

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness
The Nation [from the July 30, 2007 issue]

In Their Own Words: Camilo Mejía of Miami, and three others share their impressions of the interactions between US military forces and Iraqi noncombatants in this slide show. They were among the fifty combat veterans interviewed for this article.

Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported--and almost always go unpunished.

Court cases, such as the ones surrounding the massacre in Haditha and the rape and murder of a 14-year-old in Mah­mudiya, and news stories in the Washington Post, Time, the London Independent and elsewhere based on Iraqi accounts have begun to hint at the wide extent of the attacks on civilians. Human rights groups have issued reports, such as Human Rights Watch's Hearts and Minds: Post-war Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Caused by U.S. Forces, packed with detailed incidents that suggest that the killing of Iraqi civilians by occupation forces is more common than has been acknowledged by military authorities.

This Nation investigation marks the first time so many on-the-record, named eyewitnesses from within the US military have been assembled in one place to openly corroborate these assertions.

While some veterans said civilian shootings were routinely investigated by the military, many more said such inquiries were rare. "I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you'd spend all your time doing that," said Marine Reserve Lieut. Jonathan Morgenstein, 35, of Arlington, Virginia. He served from August 2004 to March 2005 in Ramadi with a Marine Corps civil affairs unit supporting a combat team with the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade. (All interviewees are identified by the rank they held during the period of service they recount here; some have since been promoted or demoted.)

Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims--at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect.

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi," said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. Specialist Englehart served with the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, in Baquba, about thirty-five miles northeast of Baghdad, for a year beginning in February 2004. "You know, so what?... The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we're trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us."

He said it was only "when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

The Iraq War is a vast and complicated enterprise. In this investigation of alleged military misconduct, The Nation focused on a few key elements of the occupation, asking veterans to explain in detail their experiences operating patrols and supply convoys, setting up checkpoints, conducting raids and arresting suspects. From these collected snapshots a common theme emerged. Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.

Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned," said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn. He served a thirteen-month tour beginning in April 2003 with the 167th Armor Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, in Al-Rashidiya, a small town near Baghdad. "I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg.... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn't crying, wasn't anything, it just looked at me like--I know she couldn't speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?... I was just like, This is--this is it. This is ridiculous."

Much of the resentment toward Iraqis described to The Nation by veterans was confirmed in a report released May 4 by the Pentagon. According to the survey, conducted by the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command, just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured "an innocent noncombatant."

These attitudes reflect the limited contact occupation troops said they had with Iraqis. They rarely saw their enemy. They lived bottled up in heavily fortified compounds that often came under mortar attack. They only ventured outside their compounds ready for combat. The mounting frustration of fighting an elusive enemy and the devastating effect of roadside bombs, with their steady toll of American dead and wounded, led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.

Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses.

In June 2003 Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía's unit was pressed by a furious crowd in Ramadi. Sergeant Mejía, 31, a National Guardsman from Miami, served for six months beginning in April 2003 with the 1-124 Infantry Battalion, Fifty-Third Infantry Brigade. His squad opened fire on an Iraqi youth holding a grenade, riddling his body with bullets. Sergeant Mejía checked his clip afterward and calculated that he had personally fired eleven rounds into the young man.

"The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population that was supporting them," Sergeant Mejía said.

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photo­graphs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon.

"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," a soldier who had been in Sergeant Mejía's squad said as he put his arm around the corpse. Sergeant Mejía recalls that the shroud covering the body fell away, revealing that the young man was wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.

"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.

The scene, Sergeant Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.

In the sections that follow, snipers, medics, military police, artillerymen, officers and others recount their experiences serving in places as diverse as Mosul in the north, Samarra in the Sunni Triangle, Nasiriya in the south and Baghdad in the center, during 2003, 2004 and 2005. Their stories capture the impact of their units on Iraqi civilians.

A Note on Methodology

The Nation interviewed fifty combat veterans, including forty soldiers, eight marines and two sailors, over a period of seven months beginning in July 2006. To find veterans willing to speak on the record about their experiences in Iraq, we sent queries to organizations dedicated to US troops and their families, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the antiwar groups Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War and the prowar group Vets for Freedom. The leaders of IVAW and Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of IAVA, were especially helpful in putting us in touch with Iraq War veterans. Finally, we found veterans through word of mouth, as many of those we interviewed referred us to their military friends.

To verify their military service, when possible we obtained a copy of each interviewee's DD Form 214, or the Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty, and in all cases confirmed their service with the branch of the military in which they were enlisted. Nineteen interviews were conducted in person, while the rest were done over the phone; all were tape-recorded and transcribed; all but five interviewees (most of those currently on active duty) were independently contacted by fact checkers to confirm basic facts about their service in Iraq. Of those interviewed, fourteen served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, twenty from 2004 to 2005 and two from 2005 to 2006. Of the eleven veterans whose tours lasted less than one year, nine served in 2003, while the others served in 2004 and 2005.

The ranks of the veterans we interviewed ranged from private to captain, though only a handful were officers. The veterans served throughout Iraq, but mostly in the country's most volatile areas, such as Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul, Falluja and Samarra.

During the course of the interview process, five veterans turned over photographs from Iraq, some of them graphic, to corroborate their claims.


"So we get started on this day, this one in particular," recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, who said he raided between twenty and thirty Iraqi homes during an eleven-month tour in Kirkuk and Hawija that ended in October 2005, serving with the Third Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade. "It starts with the psy-ops vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be, saying, basically, saying, Put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they're needed, and it's also a good show of force. And we're running around, and they--we'd done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people.

"And we were approaching this one house," he said. "In this farming area, they're, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we're approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, 'cause it's doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn't--mother­fucker--he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog--I'm a huge animal lover; I love animals--and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he's running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I'm at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I'm, like, What the fuck are you doing? And so the dog's yelping. It's crying out without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family, and they're just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, Fucking shoot it, you know? At least kill it, because that can't be fixed....

"And--I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but--and I had tears then, too--and I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that's what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I'm so sorry that asshole did that.

"Was a report ever filed about it?" he asked. "Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not."

Specialist Chrystal said such incidents were "very common."

According to interviews with twenty-four veterans who participated in such raids, they are a relentless reality for Iraqis under occupation. The American forces, stymied by poor intelligence, invade neighborhoods where insurgents operate, bursting into homes in the hope of surprising fighters or finding weapons. But such catches, they said, are rare. Far more common were stories in which soldiers assaulted a home, destroyed property in their futile search and left terrorized civilians struggling to repair the damage and begin the long torment of trying to find family members who were hauled away as suspects.

Raids normally took place between midnight and 5 am, according to Sgt. John Bruhns, 29, of Philadelphia, who estimates that he took part in raids of nearly 1,000 Iraqi homes. He served in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, a city infamous for its prison, located twenty miles west of the capital, with the Third Brigade, First Armor Division, First Battalion, for one year beginning in April 2003. His descriptions of raid procedures closely echoed those of eight other veterans who served in locations as diverse as Kirkuk, Samarra, Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit.

"You want to catch them off guard," Sergeant Bruhns ­ex­plained. "You want to catch them in their sleep." About ten troops were involved in each raid, he said, with five stationed outside and the rest searching the home.

Once they were in front of the home, troops, some wearing Kevlar helmets and flak vests with grenade launchers mounted on their weapons, kicked the door in, according to Sergeant Bruhns, who dispassionately described the procedure:

"You run in. And if there's lights, you turn them on--if the lights are working. If not, you've got flashlights.... You leave one rifle team outside while one rifle team goes inside. Each rifle team leader has a headset on with an earpiece and a microphone where he can communicate with the other rifle team leader that's outside.

"You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.

"You get the interpreter and you get the man of the home, and you have him at gunpoint, and you'll ask the interpreter to ask him: 'Do you have any weapons? Do you have any anti-US propaganda, anything at all--anything--anything in here that would lead us to believe that you are somehow involved in insurgent activity or anti-coalition forces activity?'

"Normally they'll say no, because that's normally the truth," Sergeant Bruhns said. "So what you'll do is you'll take his sofa cushions and you'll dump them. If he has a couch, you'll turn the couch upside down. You'll go into the fridge, if he has a fridge, and you'll throw everything on the floor, and you'll take his drawers and you'll dump them.... You'll open up his closet and you'll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it.

"And if you find something, then you'll detain him. If not, you'll say, 'Sorry to disturb you. Have a nice evening.' So you've just humiliated this man in front of his entire family and terrorized his entire family and you've destroyed his home. And then you go right next door and you do the same thing in a hundred homes."

Each raid, or "cordon and search" operation, as they are sometimes called, involved five to twenty homes, he said. Following a spate of attacks on soldiers in a particular area, commanders would normally order infantrymen on raids to look for weapons caches, ammunition or materials for making IEDs. Each Iraqi family was allowed to keep one AK-47 at home, but according to Bruhns, those found with extra weapons were arrested and detained and the operation classified a "success," even if it was clear that no one in the home was an insurgent.

Before a raid, according to descriptions by several veterans, soldiers typically "quarantined" the area by barring anyone from coming in or leaving. In pre-raid briefings, Sergeant Bruhns said, military commanders often told their troops the neighborhood they were ordered to raid was "a hostile area with a high level of insurgency" and that it had been taken over by former Baathists or Al Qaeda terrorists.

"So you have all these troops, and they're all wound up," said Sergeant Bruhns. "And a lot of these troops think once they kick down the door there's going to be people on the inside waiting for them with weapons to start shooting at them."

Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, estimates he raided "thousands" of homes in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. He served with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, for one year beginning in February 2004. "We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house," he said.

Spc. Ali Aoun, 23, a National Guardsman from New York City, said he conducted perimeter security in nearly 100 raids while serving in Sadr City with the Eighty-Ninth Military Police Brigade for eleven months starting in April 2004. When soldiers raided a home, he said, they first cordoned it off with Humvees. Soldiers guarded the entrance to make sure no one escaped. If an entire town was being raided, in large-scale operations, it too was cordoned off, said Spc. Garett Reppenhagen, 32, of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a cavalry scout and sniper with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, who was deployed to Baquba for a year in February 2004.

Staff Sgt. Timothy John Westphal, 31, of Denver, recalled one summer night in 2004, the temperature an oppressive 110 degrees, when he and forty-four other US soldiers raided a sprawling farm on the outskirts of Tikrit. Sergeant Westphal, who served there for a yearlong tour with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, beginning in February 2004, said he was told some men on the farm were insurgents. As a mechanized infantry squad leader, Sergeant Westphal led the mission to secure the main house, while fifteen men swept the property. Sergeant Westphal and his men hopped the wall surrounding the house, fully expecting to come face to face with armed insurgents.

"We had our flashlights and...I told my guys, 'On the count of three, just hit them with your lights and let's see what we've got here. Wake 'em up!'"

Sergeant Westphal's flashlight was mounted on his M-4 carbine rifle, a smaller version of the M-16, so in pointing his light at the clump of sleepers on the floor he was also pointing his weapon at them. Sergeant Westphal first turned his light on a man who appeared to be in his mid-60s.

"The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream," Sergeant Westphal recalled. "I've never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam."

The farm's inhabitants were not insurgents but a family sleeping outside for relief from the stifling heat, and the man Sergeant Westphal had frightened awake was the patriarch.

"Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys...either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children," Sergeant Westphal said. "We didn't find anything.

"I can tell you hundreds of stories about things like that and they would all pretty much be like the one I just told you. Just a different family, a different time, a different circumstance."

For Sergeant Westphal, that night was a turning point. "I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that's just not what I joined the Army to do," he said.


Fifteen soldiers we spoke with told us the information that spurred these raids was typically gathered through human intelligence--and that it was usually incorrect. Eight said it was common for Iraqis to use American troops to settle family disputes, tribal rivalries or personal vendettas. Sgt. Jesus Bocanegra, 25, of Weslaco, Texas, was a scout in Tikrit with the Fourth Infantry Division during a yearlong tour that ended in March 2004. In late 2003, Sergeant Bocanegra raided a middle-aged man's home in Tikrit because his son had told the Army his father was an insurgent. After thoroughly searching the man's house, soldiers found nothing and later discovered that the son simply wanted money his father had buried at the farm.

After persistently acting on such false leads, Sergeant Bocanegra, who raided Iraqi homes in more than fifty operations, said soldiers began to anticipate the innocence of those they raided. "People would make jokes about it, even before we'd go into a raid, like, Oh fucking we're gonna get the wrong house," he said. "'Cause it would always happen. We always got the wrong house." Specialist Chrystal said that he and his platoon leader shared a joke of their own: Every time he raided a house, he would radio in and say, "This is, you know, Thirty-One Lima. Yeah, I found the weapons of mass destruction in here."

Sergeant Bruhns said he questioned the authenticity of the intelligence he received because Iraqi informants were paid by the US military for tips. On one occasion, an Iraqi tipped off Sergeant Bruhns's unit that a small Syrian resistance organization, responsible for killing a number of US troops, was holed up in a house. "They're waiting for us to show up and there will be a lot of shooting," Sergeant Bruhns recalled being told.

As the Alpha Company team leader, Sergeant Bruhns was supposed to be the first person in the door. Skeptical, he refused. "So I said, 'If you're so confident that there are a bunch of Syrian terrorists, there, why in the world are you going to send me and three guys in the front door, because chances are I'm not going to be able to squeeze the trigger before I get shot.'" Sergeant Bruhns facetiously suggested they pull an M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle up to the house and shoot a missile through the front window to exterminate the enemy fighters his commanders claimed were inside. They instead diminished the aggressiveness of the raid. As Sergeant Bruhns ran security out front, his fellow soldiers smashed the windows and kicked down the doors to find "a few little kids, a woman and an old man."

In late summer 2005, in a village on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Specialist Chrystal searched a compound with two Iraqi police officers. A friendly man in his mid-30s escorted Specialist Chrystal and others in his unit around the property, where the man lived with his parents, wife and children, making jokes to lighten the mood. As they finished searching--they found nothing--a lieutenant from his company approached Specialist Chrystal: "What the hell were you doing?" he asked. "Well, we just searched the house and it's clear," Specialist Chrystal said. The lieutenant told Specialist Chrystal that his friendly guide was "one of the targets" of the raid. "Apparently he'd been dimed out by somebody as being an insurgent," Specialist Chrystal said. "For that mission, they'd only handed out the target sheets to officers, and officers aren't there with the rest of the troops." Specialist Chrystal said he felt "humiliated" because his assessment that the man posed no threat was deemed irrelevant and the man was arrested. Shortly afterward, he posted himself in a fighting vehicle for the rest of the mission.

Sgt. Larry Cannon, 27, of Salt Lake City, a Bradley gunner with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, served a yearlong tour in several cities in Iraq, including Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul, beginning in February 2004. He estimates that he searched more than a hundred homes in Tikrit and found the raids fruitless and maddening. "We would go on one raid of a house and that guy would say, 'No, it's not me, but I know where that guy is.' And...he'd take us to the next house where this target was supposedly at, and then that guy's like, 'No, it's not me. I know where he is, though.' And we'd drive around all night and go from raid to raid to raid."

"I can't really fault military intelligence," said Specialist Reppenhagen, who said he raided thirty homes in and around Baquba. "It was always a guessing game. We're in a country where we don't speak the language. We're light on interpreters. It's just impossible to really get anything. All you're going off is a pattern of what's happened before and hoping that the pattern doesn't change."

Sgt. Geoffrey Millard, 26, of Buffalo, New York, served in Tikrit with the Rear Operations Center, Forty-Second Infantry Division, for one year beginning in October 2004. He said combat troops had neither the training nor the resources to investigate tips before acting on them. "We're not police," he said. "We don't go around like detectives and ask questions. We kick down doors, we go in, we grab people."

First Lieut. Brady Van Engelen, 26, of Washington, DC, said the Army depended on less than reliable sources because options were limited. He served as a survey platoon leader with the First Armored Division in Baghdad's volatile Adhamiya district for eight months beginning in September 2003. "That's really about the only thing we had," he said. "A lot of it was just going off a whim, a hope that it worked out," he said. "Maybe one in ten worked out."

Sergeant Bruhns said he uncovered illegal material about 10 percent of the time, an estimate echoed by other veterans. "We did find small materials for IEDs, like maybe a small piece of the wire, the detonating cord," said Sergeant Cannon. "We never found real bombs in the houses." In the thousand or so raids he conducted during his time in Iraq, Sergeant Westphal said, he came into contact with only four "hard-core insurgents."


Even with such slim pretexts for arrest, some soldiers said, any Iraqis arrested during a raid were treated with extreme suspicion. Several reported seeing military-age men detained without evidence or abused during questioning. Eight veterans said the men would typically be bound with plastic handcuffs, their heads covered with sandbags. While the Army officially banned the practice of hooding prisoners after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, five soldiers indicated that it continued.

"You weren't allowed to, but it was still done," said Sergeant Cannon. "I remember in Mosul [in January 2005], we had guys in a raid and they threw them in the back of a Bradley," shackled and hooded. "These guys were really throwing up," he continued. "They were so sick and nervous. And sometimes, they were peeing on themselves. Can you imagine if people could just come into your house and take you in front of your family screaming? And if you actually were innocent but had no way to prove that? It would be a scary, scary thing." Specialist Reppenhagen said he had only a vague idea about what constituted contraband during a raid. "Sometimes we didn't even have a translator, so we find some poster with Muqtada al-Sadr, Sistani or something, we don't know what it says on it. We just apprehend them, document that thing as evidence and send it on down the road and let other people deal with it."

Sergeant Bruhns, Sergeant Bocanegra and others said physical abuse of Iraqis during raids was common. "It was just soldiers being soldiers," Sergeant Bocanegra said. "You give them a lot of, too much, power that they never had before, and before you know it they're the ones kicking these guys while they're handcuffed. And then by you not catching [insurgents], when you do have someone say, 'Oh, this is a guy planting a roadside bomb'--and you don't even know if it's him or not--you just go in there and kick the shit out of him and take him in the back of a five-ton--take him to jail."

Tens of thousands of Iraqis--military officials estimate more than 60,000--have been arrested and detained since the beginning of the occupation, leaving their families to navigate a complex, chaotic prison system in order to find them. Veterans we interviewed said the majority of detainees they encountered were either innocent or guilty of only minor infractions.

Sergeant Bocanegra said during the first two months of the war he was instructed to detain Iraqis based on their attire alone. "They were wearing Arab clothing and military-style boots, they were considered enemy combatants and you would cuff 'em and take 'em in," he said. "When you put something like that so broad, you're bound to have, out of a hundred, you're going to have ten at least that were, you know what I mean, innocent."

Sometime during the summer of 2003, Bocanegra said, the rules of engagement narrowed--somewhat. "I remember on some raids, anybody of military age would be taken," he said. "Say, for example, we went to some house looking for a 25-year-old male. We would look at an age group. Anybody from 15 to 30 might be a suspect." (Since returning from Iraq, Bocanegra has sought counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and said his "mission" is to encourage others to do the same.)

Spc. Richard Murphy, 28, an Army Reservist from Pocono, Pennsylvania, who served part of his fifteen-month tour with the 800th Military Police Brigade in Abu Ghraib prison, said he was often struck by the lack of due process afforded the prisoners he guarded.

Specialist Murphy initially went to Iraq in May 2003 to train Iraqi police in the southern city of Al Hillah but was transferred to Abu Ghraib in October 2003 when his unit replaced one that was rotating home. (He spoke with The Nation in October 2006, while not on active duty.) Shortly after his arrival there, he realized that the number of prisoners was growing "exponentially" while the amount of personnel remained stagnant. By the end of his six-month stint, Specialist Murphy was in charge of 320 prisoners, the majority of whom he was convinced were unjustly detained.

"I knew that a large percentage of these prisoners were innocent," he said. "Just living with these people for months you get to see their character.... In just listening to the prisoners' stories, I mean, I get the sense that a lot of them were just getting rounded up in big groups."

Specialist Murphy said one prisoner, a mentally impaired, blind albino who could "maybe see a few feet in front of his face" clearly did not belong in Abu Ghraib. "I thought to myself, What could he have possibly done?"

Specialist Murphy counted the prisoners twice a day, and the inmates would often ask him when they would be released or implore him to advocate on their behalf, which he would try to do through the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps office. The JAG officer Specialist Murphy dealt with would respond that it was out of his hands. "He would make his recommendations and he'd have to send it up to the next higher command," Specialist Murphy said. "It was just a snail's crawling process.... The system wasn't working."

Prisoners at the notorious facility rioted on November 24, 2003, to protest their living conditions, and Army Reserve Spc. Aidan Delgado, 25, of Sarasota, Florida, was there. He had deployed with the 320th Military Police Company to Talil Air Base, to serve in Nasiriya and Abu Ghraib for one year beginning in April 2003. Unlike the other troops in his unit, he did not respond to the riot. Four months earlier he had decided to stop carrying a loaded weapon.

Nine prisoners were killed and three wounded after soldiers opened fire during the riot, and Specialist Delgado's fellow soldiers returned with photographs of the events. The images, disturbingly similar to the incident described by Sergeant Mejía, shocked him. "It was very graphic," he said. "A head split open. One of them was of two soldiers in the back of the truck. They open the body bags of these prisoners that were shot in the head and [one soldier has] got an MRE spoon. He's reaching in to scoop out some of his brain, looking at the camera and he's smiling. And I said, 'These are some of our soldiers desecrating somebody's body. Something is seriously amiss.' I became convinced that this was excessive force, and this was brutality."

Spc. Patrick Resta, 29, a National Guardsman from Philadelphia, served in Jalula, where there was a small prison camp at his base. He was with the 252nd Armor, First Infantry Division, for nine months beginning in March 2004. He recalled his supervisor telling his platoon point-blank, "The Geneva Conventions don't exist at all in Iraq, and that's in writing if you want to see it."

The pivotal experience for Specialist Delgado came when, in the winter of 2003, he was assigned to battalion headquarters inside Abu Ghraib prison, where he worked with Maj. David DiNenna and Lieut. Col. Jerry Phillabaum, both implicated in the Taguba Report, the official Army investigation into the prison scandal. There, Delgado read reports on prisoners and updated a dry erase board with information on where in the large prison compound detainees were moved and held.

"That was when I totally walked away from the Army," Specialist Delgado said. "I read these rap sheets on all the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and what they were there for. I expected them to be terrorists, murderers, insurgents. I look down this roster and see petty theft, public drunkenness, forged coalition documents. These people are here for petty civilian crimes."

"These aren't terrorists," he recalled thinking. "These aren't our enemies. They're just ordinary people, and we're treating them this harshly." Specialist Delgado ultimately applied for conscientious objector status, which the Army approved in April 2004.

The Enemy

American troops in Iraq lacked the training and support to communicate with or even understand Iraqi civilians, according to nineteen interviewees. Few spoke or read Arabic. They were offered little or no cultural or historical education about the country they controlled. Translators were either in short supply or unqualified. Any stereotypes about Islam and Arabs that soldiers and marines arrived with tended to solidify rapidly in the close confines of the military and the risky streets of Iraqi cities into a crude racism.

As Spc. Josh Middleton, 23, of New York City, who served in Baghdad and Mosul with the Second Battalion, Eighty-Second Airborne Division, from December 2004 to March 2005, pointed out, 20-year-old soldiers went from the humiliation of training--"getting yelled at every day if you have a dirty weapon"--to the streets of Iraq, where "it's like life and death. And 40-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can--do you know what I mean?--we have this power that you can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level."

In Iraq, Specialist Middleton said, "a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want."

In the scramble to get ready for Iraq, troops rarely learned more than how to say a handful of words in Arabic, depending mostly on a single manual, A Country Handbook, a Field-Ready Reference Publication, published by the Defense Department in September 2002. The book, as described by eight soldiers who received it, has pictures of Iraqi military vehicles, diagrams of how the Iraqi army is structured, images of Iraqi traffic signals and signs, and about four pages of basic Arabic phrases such as Do you speak English? I am an American. I am lost.

Iraqi culture, identity and customs were, according to at least a dozen soldiers and marines interviewed by The Nation, openly ridiculed in racist terms, with troops deriding "haji food," "haji music" and "haji homes." In the Muslim world, the word "haji" denotes someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is now used by American troops in the same way "gook" was used in Vietnam or "raghead" in Afghanistan.

"You can honestly see how the Iraqis in general or even Arabs in general are being, you know, kind of like dehumanized," said Specialist Englehart. "Like it was very common for United States soldiers to call them derogatory terms, like camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand nigger."

According to Sergeant Millard and several others interviewed, "It becomes this racialized hatred towards Iraqis." And this racist language, as Specialist Harmon pointed out, likely played a role in the level of violence directed at Iraqi civilians. "By calling them names," he said, "they're not people anymore. They're just objects."

Several interviewees emphasized that the military did set up, for training purposes, mock Iraqi villages peopled with actors who played the parts of civilians and insurgents. But they said that the constant danger in Iraq, and the fear it engendered, swiftly overtook such training.

"They were the law," Specialist Harmon said of the soldiers in his unit in Al-Rashidiya, near Baghdad, which participated in raids and convoys. "They were very mean, very mean-spirited to them. A lot of cursing at them. And I'm like, Dude, these people don't understand what you're saying.... They used to say a lot, 'Oh, they'll understand when the gun is in their face.'"

Those few veterans who said they did try to reach out to Iraqis encountered fierce hostility from those in their units.

"I had the night shift one night at the aid station," said Specialist Resta, recounting one such incident. "We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall in our aid station, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die.... So these guys in the guard tower radio in, and they say they've got an Iraqi out there that's asking for a doctor.

"So it's really late at night, and I walk out there to the gate and I don't even see the guy at first, and they point out to him and he's standing there. Well, I mean he's sitting, leaned up against this concrete barrier--like the median of the highway--we had as you approached the gate. And he's sitting there leaned up against it and, uh, he's out there, if you want to go and check on him, he's out there. So I'm sitting there waiting for an interpreter, and the interpreter comes and I just walk out there in the open. And this guy, he has the shit kicked out of him. He was missing two teeth. He has a huge laceration on his head, he looked like he had broken his eye orbit and had some kind of injury to his knee."

The Iraqi, Specialist Resta said, pleaded with him in broken English for help. He told Specialist Resta that there were men near the base who were waiting to kill him.

"I open a bag and I'm trying to get bandages out and the guys in the guard tower are yelling at me, 'Get that fucking haji out of here,'" Specialist Resta said. "And I just look back at them and ignored them, and then they were saying, you know, 'He doesn't look like he's about to die to me,' 'Tell him to go cry back to the fuckin' IP [Iraqi police],' and, you know, a whole bunch of stuff like that. So, you know, I'm kind of ignoring them and trying to get the story from this guy, and our doctor rolls up in an ambulance and from thirty to forty meters away looks out and says, shakes his head and says, 'You know, he looks fine, he's gonna be all right,' and walks back to the passenger side of the ambulance, you know, kind of like, Get your ass over here and drive me back up to the clinic. So I'm standing there, and the whole time both this doctor and the guards are yelling at me, you know, to get rid of this guy, and at one point they're yelling at me, when I'm saying, 'No, let's at least keep this guy here overnight, until it's light out,' because they wanted me to send him back out into the city, where he told me that people were waiting for him to kill him.

"When I asked if he'd be allowed to stay there, at least until it was light out, the response was, 'Are you hearing this shit? I think Doc is part fucking haji,'" Specialist Resta said.

Specialist Resta gave in to the pressure and denied the man aid. The interpreter, he recalled, was furious, telling him that he had effectively condemned the man to death.

"So I walk inside the gate and the interpreter helps him up and the guy turns around to walk away and the guys in the guard tower go, say, 'Tell him that if he comes back tonight he's going to get fucking shot,'" Specialist Resta said. "And the interpreter just stared at them and looked at me and then looked back at them, and they nod their head, like, Yeah, we mean it. So he yells it to the Iraqi and the guy just flinches and turns back over his shoulder, and the interpreter says it again and he starts walking away again, you know, crying like a little kid. And that was that."


Two dozen soldiers interviewed said that this callousness toward Iraqi civilians was particularly evident in the operation of supply convoys--operations in which they participated. These convoys are the arteries that sustain the oc­cupation, ferrying items such as water, mail, maintenance parts, sewage, food and fuel across Iraq. And these strings of tractor-trailers, operated by KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root) and other private contractors, required daily protection by the US military. Typically, according to these interviewees, supply convoys consisted of twenty to thirty trucks stretching half a mile down the road, with a Humvee military escort in front and back and at least one more in the center. Soldiers and marines also sometimes accompanied the drivers in the cabs of the tractor-trailers.

These convoys, ubiquitous in Iraq, were also, to many Iraqis, sources of wanton destruction.

According to descriptions culled from interviews with thirty-eight veterans who rode in convoys--guarding such runs as Kuwait to Nasiriya, Nasiriya to Baghdad and Balad to Kirkuk--when these columns of vehicles left their heavily fortified compounds they usually roared down the main supply routes, which often cut through densely populated areas, reaching speeds over sixty miles an hour. Governed by the rule that stagnation increases the likelihood of attack, convoys leapt meridians in traffic jams, ignored traffic signals, swerved without warning onto sidewalks, scattering pedestrians, and slammed into civilian vehicles, shoving them off the road. Iraqi civilians, including children, were frequently run over and killed. Veterans said they sometimes shot drivers of civilian cars that moved into convoy formations or attempted to pass convoys as a warning to other drivers to get out of the way.

"A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one," said Sgt. Ben Flanders, 28, a National Guardsman from Concord, New Hampshire, who served in Balad with the 172nd Mountain Infantry for eleven months beginning in March 2004. Flanders ran convoy routes out of Camp Anaconda, about thirty miles north of Baghdad. "So speed was your friend. And certainly in terms of IED detonation, absolutely, speed and spacing were the two things that could really determine whether or not you were going to get injured or killed or if they just completely missed, which happened."

Following an explosion or ambush, soldiers in the heavily armed escort vehicles often fired indiscriminately in a furious effort to suppress further attacks, according to three veterans. The rapid bursts from belt-fed .50-caliber machine guns and SAWs (Squad Automatic Weapons, which can fire as many as 1,000 rounds per minute) left many civilians wounded or dead.

"One example I can give you, you know, we'd be cruising down the road in a convoy and all of the sudden, an IED blows up," said Spc. Ben Schrader, 27, of Grand Junction, Colorado. He served in Baquba with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, from February 2004 to February 2005. "And, you know, you've got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere. And I've seen this, I mean, on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we're cruising down and a bomb goes off."

Several veterans said that IEDs, the preferred weapon of the Iraqi insurgency, were one of their greatest fears. Since the invasion in March 2003, IEDs have been responsible for killing more US troops--39.2 percent of the more than 3,500 killed--than any other method, according to the Brookings Institution, which monitors deaths in Iraq. This past May, IED attacks claimed ninety lives, the highest number of fatalities from roadside bombs since the beginning of the war.

"The second you left the gate of your base, you were always worried," said Sergeant Flatt. "You were constantly watchful for IEDs. And you could never see them. I mean, it's just by pure luck who's getting killed and who's not. If you've been in firefights earlier that day or that week, you're even more stressed and insecure to a point where you're almost trigger-happy."

Sergeant Flatt was among twenty-four veterans who said they had witnessed or heard stories from those in their unit of unarmed civilians being shot or run over by convoys. These incidents, they said, were so numerous that many were never reported.

Sergeant Flatt recalled an incident in January 2005 when a convoy drove past him on one of the main highways in Mosul. "A car following got too close to their convoy," he said. "Basically, they took shots at the car. Warning shots, I don't know. But they shot the car. Well, one of the bullets happened to just pierce the windshield and went straight into the face of this woman in the car. And she was--well, as far as I know--instantly killed. I didn't pull her out of the car or anything. Her son was driving the car, and she had her--she had three little girls in the back seat. And they came up to us, because we were actually sitting in a defensive position right next to the hospital, the main hospital in Mosul, the civilian hospital. And they drove up and she was obviously dead. And the girls were crying."

On July 30, 2004, Sergeant Flanders was riding in the tail vehicle of a convoy on a pitch-black night, traveling from Camp Anaconda south to Taji, just north of Baghdad, when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). He was about to get on the radio to warn the vehicle in front of him about the ambush when he saw his gunner unlock the turret and swivel it around in the direction of the shooting. He fired his MK-19, a 40-millimeter automatic grenade launcher capable of discharging up to 350 rounds per minute.

"He's just holding the trigger down and it wound up jamming, so he didn't get off as many shots maybe as he wanted," Sergeant Flanders recalled. "But I said, 'How many did you get off?' 'Cause I knew they would be asking that. He said, 'Twenty-three.' He launched twenty-three grenades....

"I remember looking out the window and I saw a little hut, a little Iraqi house with a light on.... We were going so fast and obviously your adrenaline's--you're like tunnel vision, so you can't really see what's going on, you know? And it's dark out and all that stuff. I couldn't really see where the grenades were exploding, but it had to be exploding around the house or maybe even hit the house. Who knows? Who knows? And we were the last vehicle. We can't stop."

Convoys did not slow down or attempt to brake when civilians inadvertently got in front of their vehicles, according to the veterans who described them. Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, 29, from Cañon City, Colorado, was based at the Talil Air Base in Nasiriya with the Colorado National Guard's 220th Military Police Company for a year beginning in February 2003. She recounted one incident she investigated in January 2004 on a six-lane highway south of Nasiriya that resembled numerous incidents described by other veterans.

"It's like very barren desert, so most of the people that live there, they're nomadic or they live in just little villages and have, like, camels and goats and stuff," she recalled. "There was then a little boy--I would say he was about 10 because we didn't see the accident; we responded to it with the investigative team--a little Iraqi boy and he was crossing the highway with his, with three donkeys. A military convoy, transportation convoy driving north, hit him and the donkeys and killed all of them. When we got there, there were the dead donkeys and there was a little boy on the side of the road.

"We saw him there and, you know, we were upset because the convoy didn't even stop," she said. "They really, judging by the skid marks, they hardly even slowed down. But, I mean, that's basically--basically, your order is that you never stop."

Among supply convoys, there were enormous disparities based on the nationality of the drivers, according to Sergeant Flanders, who estimated that he ran more than 100 convoys in Balad, Baghdad, Falluja and Baquba. When drivers were not American, the trucks were often old, slow and prone to breakdowns, he said. The convoys operated by Nepalese, Egyptian or Pakistani drivers did not receive the same level of security, although the danger was more severe because of the poor quality of their vehicles. American drivers were usually placed in convoys about half the length of those run by foreign nationals and were given superior vehicles, body armor and better security. Sergeant Flanders said troops disliked being assigned to convoys run by foreign nationals, especially since, when the aging vehicles broke down, they had to remain and protect them until they could be recovered.

"It just seemed insane to run civilians around the country," he added. "I mean, Iraq is such a security concern and it's so dangerous and yet we have KBR just riding around, unarmed.... Remember those terrible judgments that we made about what Iraq would look like postconflict? I think this is another incarnation of that misjudgment, which would be that, Oh, it'll be fine. We'll put a Humvee in front, we'll put a Humvee in back, we'll put a Humvee in the middle, and we'll just run with it.

"It was just shocking to me.... I was Army trained and I had a good gunner and I had radios and I could call on the radios and I could get an airstrike if I wanted to. I could get a Medevac.... And here these guys are just tooling around. And these guys are, like, they're promised the world. They're promised $120,000, tax free, and what kind of people take those jobs? Down-on-their-luck-type people, you know? Grandmothers. There were grandmothers there. I escorted a grandmother there and she did great. We went through an ambush and one of her guys got shot, and she was cool, calm and collected. Wonderful, great, good for her. What the hell is she doing there?

"We're using these vulnerable, vulnerable convoys, which probably piss off more Iraqis than it actually helps in our relationship with them," Flanders said, "just so that we can have comfort and air-conditioning and sodas--great--and PlayStations and camping chairs and greeting cards and stupid T-shirts that say, Who's Your Baghdaddy?"


Soldiers and marines who participated in neighborhood patrols said they often used the same tactics as convoys--speed, aggressive firing--to reduce the risk of being ambushed or falling victim to IEDs. Sgt. Patrick Campbell, 29, of Camarillo, California, who frequently took part in patrols, said his unit fired often and without much warning on Iraqi civilians in a desperate bid to ward off attacks.

"Every time we got on the highway," he said, "we were firing warning shots, causing accidents all the time. Cars screeching to a stop, going into the other intersection.... The problem is, if you slow down at an intersection more than once, that's where the next bomb is going to be because you know they watch. You know? And so if you slow down at the same choke point every time, guaranteed there's going to be a bomb there next couple of days. So getting onto a freeway or highway is a choke point 'cause you have to wait for traffic to stop. So you want to go as fast as you can, and that involves added risk to all the cars around you, all the civilian cars.

"The first Iraqi I saw killed was an Iraqi who got too close to our patrol," he said. "We were coming up an on-ramp. And he was coming down the highway. And they fired warning shots and he just didn't stop. He just merged right into the convoy and they opened up on him."

This took place sometime in the spring of 2005 in Khadamiya, in the northwest corner of Baghdad, Sergeant Campbell said. His unit fired into the man's car with a 240 Bravo, a heavy machine gun. "I heard three gunshots," he said. "We get about halfway down the road and...the guy in the car got out and he's covered in blood. And this is where...the impulse is just to keep going. There's no way that this guy knows who we are. We're just like every other patrol that goes up and down this road. I looked at my lieutenant and it wasn't even a discussion. We turned around and we went back.

"So I'm treating the guy. He has three gunshot wounds to the chest. Blood everywhere. And he keeps going in and out of consciousness. And when he finally stops breathing, I have to give him CPR. I take my right hand, I lift up his chin and I take my left hand and grab the back of his head to position his head, and as I take my left hand, my hand actually goes into his cranium. So I'm actually holding this man's brain in my hand. And what I realized was I had made a mistake. I had checked for exit wounds. But what I didn't know was the Humvee behind me, after the car failed to stop after the first three rounds, had fired twenty, thirty rounds into the car. I never heard it.

"I heard three rounds, I saw three holes, no exit wounds," he said. "I thought I knew what the situation was. So I didn't even treat this guy's injury to the head. Every medic I ever told is always like, Of course, I mean, the guy got shot in the head. There's nothing you could have done. And I'm pretty sure--I mean, you can't stop bleeding in the head like that. But this guy, I'm watching this guy, who I know we shot because he got too close. His car was clean. There was no--didn't hear it, didn't see us, whatever it was. Dies, you know, dying in my arms."

While many veterans said the killing of civilians deeply disturbed them, they also said there was no other way to safely operate a patrol.

"You don't want to shoot kids, I mean, no one does," said Sergeant Campbell, as he began to describe an incident in the summer of 2005 recounted to him by several men in his unit. "But you have this: I remember my unit was coming along this elevated overpass. And this kid is in the trash pile below, pulls out an AK-47 and just decides he's going to start shooting. And you gotta understand...when you have spent nine months in a war zone, where no one--every time you've been shot at, you've never seen the person shooting at you, and you could never shoot back. Here's some guy, some 14-year-old kid with an AK-47, decides he's going to start shooting at this convoy. It was the most obscene thing you've ever seen. Every person got out and opened fire on this kid. Using the biggest weapons we could find, we ripped him to shreds." Sergeant Campbell was not present at the incident, which took place in Khadamiya, but he saw photographs and heard descriptions from several eyewitnesses in his unit.

"Everyone was so happy, like this release that they finally killed an insurgent," he said. "Then when they got there, they realized it was just a little kid. And I know that really fucked up a lot of people in the head.... They'd show all the pictures and some people were really happy, like, Oh, look what we did. And other people were like, I don't want to see that ever again."

The killing of unarmed Iraqis was so common many of the troops said it became an accepted part of the daily landscape. "The ground forces were put in that position," said First Lieut. Wade Zirkle of Shenandoah County, Virginia, who fought in Nasiriya and Falluja with the Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from March to May 2003. "You got a guy trying to kill me but he's firing from houses...with civilians around him, women and children. You know, what do you do? You don't want to risk shooting at him and shooting children at the same time. But at the same time, you don't want to die either."

Sergeant Dougherty recounted an incident north of Nasiriya in December 2003, when her squad leader shot an Iraqi civilian in the back. The shooting was described to her by a woman in her unit who treated the injury. "It was just, like, the mentality of my squad leader was like, Oh, we have to kill them over here so I don't have to kill them back in Colorado," she said. "He just, like, seemed to view every Iraqi as like a potential terrorist."

Several interviewees said that, on occasion, these killings were justified by framing innocents as terrorists, typically following incidents when American troops fired on crowds of unarmed Iraqis. The troops would detain those who survived, accusing them of being insurgents, and plant AK-47s next to the bodies of those they had killed to make it seem as if the civilian dead were combatants. "It would always be an AK because they have so many of these weapons lying around," said Specialist Aoun. Cavalry scout Joe Hatcher, 26, of San Diego, said 9-millimeter handguns and even shovels--to make it look like the noncombatant was digging a hole to plant an IED--were used as well.

"Every good cop carries a throwaway," said Hatcher, who served with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Squadron, in Ad Dawar, halfway between Tikrit and Samarra, from February 2004 to March 2005. "If you kill someone and they're unarmed, you just drop one on 'em." Those who survived such shootings then found themselves imprisoned as accused insurgents.

In the winter of 2004, Sergeant Campbell was driving near a particularly dangerous road in Abu Gharth, a town west of Baghdad, when he heard gunshots. Sergeant Campbell, who served as a medic in Abu Gharth with the 256th Infantry Brigade from November 2004 to October 2005, was told that Army snipers had fired fifty to sixty rounds at two insurgents who'd gotten out of their car to plant IEDs. One alleged insurgent was shot in the knees three or four times, treated and evacuated on a military helicopter, while the other man, who was treated for glass shards, was arrested and detained.

"I come to find out later that, while I was treating him, the snipers had planted--after they had searched and found nothing--they had planted bomb-making materials on the guy because they didn't want to be investigated for the shoot," Sergeant Campbell said. (He showed The Nation a photograph of one sniper with a radio in his pocket that he later planted as evidence.) "And to this day, I mean, I remember taking that guy to Abu Ghraib prison--the guy who didn't get shot--and just saying 'I'm sorry' because there was not a damn thing I could do about it.... I mean, I guess I have a moral obligation to say something, but I would have been kicked out of the unit in a heartbeat. I would've been a traitor."


The US military checkpoints dotted across Iraq, according to twenty-six soldiers and marines who were stationed at them or supplied them--in locales as diverse as Tikrit, Baghdad, Karbala, Samarra, Mosul and Kirkuk--were often deadly for civilians. Unarmed Iraqis were mistaken for insurgents, and the rules of engagement were blurred. Troops, fearing suicide bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, often fired on civilian cars. Nine of those soldiers said they had seen civilians being shot at checkpoints. These incidents were so common that the military could not investigate each one, some veterans said.

"Most of the time, it's a family," said Sergeant Cannon, who served at half a dozen checkpoints in Tikrit. "Every now and then, there is a bomb, you know, that's the scary part."

There were some permanent checkpoints stationed across the country, but for unsuspecting civilians, "flash checkpoints" were far more dangerous, according to eight veterans who were involved in setting them up. These impromptu security perimeters, thrown up at a moment's notice and quickly dismantled, were generally designed to catch insurgents in the act of trafficking weapons or explosives, people violating military-imposed curfews or suspects in bombings or drive-by shootings.

Iraqis had no way of knowing where these so-called "tactical control points" would crop up, interviewees said, so many would turn a corner at a high speed and became the unwitting targets of jumpy soldiers and marines.

"For me, it was really random," said Lieutenant Van Engelen. "I just picked a spot on a map that I thought was a high-volume area that might catch some people. We just set something up for half an hour to an hour and then we'd move on." There were no briefings before setting up checkpoints, he said.

Temporary checkpoints were safer for troops, according to the veterans, because they were less likely to serve as static targets for insurgents. "You do it real quick because you don't always want to announce your presence," said First Sgt. Perry Jefferies, 46, of Waco, Texas, who served with the Fourth Infantry Division from April to October 2003.

The temporary checkpoints themselves varied greatly. Lieutenant Van Engelen set up checkpoints using orange cones and fifty yards of concertina wire. He would assign a soldier to control the flow of traffic and direct drivers through the wire, while others searched vehicles, questioned drivers and asked for identification. He said signs in English and Arabic warned Iraqis to stop; at night, troops used lasers, glow sticks or tracer bullets to signal cars through. When those weren't available, troops improvised by using flashlights sent them by family and friends back home.

"Baghdad is not well lit," said Sergeant Flanders. "There's not street lights everywhere. You can't really tell what's going on."

Other troops, however, said they constructed tactical control points that were hardly visible to drivers. "We didn't have cones, we didn't have nothing," recalled Sergeant Bocanegra, who said he served at more than ten checkpoints in Tikrit. "You literally put rocks on the side of the road and tell them to stop. And of course some cars are not going to see the rocks. I wouldn't even see the rocks myself."

According to Sergeant Flanders, the primary concern when assembling checkpoints was protecting the troops serving there. Humvees were positioned so that they could quickly drive away if necessary, and the heavy weapons mounted on them were placed "in the best possible position" to fire on vehicles that attempted to pass through the checkpoint without stopping. And the rules of engagement were often improvised, soldiers said.

"We were given a long list of that kind of stuff and, to be honest, a lot of the time we would look at it and throw it away," said Staff Sgt. James Zuelow, 39, a National Guardsman from Juneau, Alaska, who served in Baghdad in the Third Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, for a year beginning in January 2005. "A lot of it was written at such a high level it didn't apply."

At checkpoints, troops had to make split-second decisions on when to use lethal force, and veterans said fear often clouded their judgment.

Sgt. Matt Mardan, 31, of Minneapolis, served as a Marine scout sniper outside Falluja in 2004 and 2005 with the Third Battalion, First Marines. "People think that's dangerous, and it is," he said. "But I would do that any day of the week rather than be a marine sitting on a fucking checkpoint looking at cars."

No car that passes through a checkpoint is beyond suspicion, said Sergeant Dougherty. "You start looking at everyone as a criminal.... Is this the car that's going to try to run into me? Is this the car that has explosives in it? Or is this just someone who's confused?" The perpetual uncertainty, she said, is mentally exhausting and physically debilitating.

"In the moment, what's passing through your head is, Is this person a threat? Do I shoot to stop or do I shoot to kill?" said Lieutenant Morgenstein, who served in Al Anbar.

Sergeant Mejía recounted an incident in Ramadi in July 2003 when an unarmed man drove with his young son too close to a checkpoint. The father was decapitated in front of the small, terrified boy by a member of Sergeant Mejía's unit firing a heavy .50-caliber machine gun. By then, said Sergeant Mejía, who responded to the scene after the fact, "this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment." The next month, Sergeant Mejía returned stateside for a two-week rest and refused to go back, launching a public protest over the treatment of Iraqis. (He was charged with desertion, sentenced to one year in prison and given a bad-conduct discharge.)

During the summer of 2005, Sergeant Millard, who served as an assistant to a general in Tikrit, attended a briefing on a checkpoint shooting, at which his role was to flip PowerPoint slides.

"This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18-year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun," he said. "This car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged 4 and the daughter was aged 3. And they briefed this to the general. And they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen.'"

Whether or not commanding officers shared this attitude, interviewees said, troops were rarely held accountable for shooting civilians at checkpoints. Eight veterans described the prevailing attitude among them as "Better to be tried by twelve men than carried by six." Since the number of troops tried for killing civilians is so scant, interviewees said, they would risk court-martial over the possibility of injury or death.

Rules of Engagement

Indeed, several troops said the rules of engagement were fluid and designed to insure their safety above all else. Some said they were simply told they were authorized to shoot if they felt threatened, and what constituted a risk to their safety was open to wide interpretation. "Basically it always came down to self-defense and better them than you," said Sgt. Bobby Yen, 28, of Atherton, California, who covered a variety of Army activities in Baghdad and Mosul as part of the 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment for one year beginning in November 2003.

"Cover your own butt was the first rule of engagement," Lieutenant Van Engelen confirmed. "Someone could look at me the wrong way and I could claim my safety was in threat."

Lack of a uniform policy from service to service, base to base and year to year forced troops to rely on their own judgment, Sergeant Jefferies explained. "We didn't get straight-up rules," he said. "You got things like, 'Don't be aggressive' or 'Try not to shoot if you don't have to.' Well, what does that mean?"

Prior to deployment, Sergeant Flanders said, troops were trained on the five S's of escalation of force: Shout a warning, Shove (physically restrain), Show a weapon, Shoot non-lethal ammunition in a vehicle's engine block or tires, and Shoot to kill. Some troops said they carried the rules in their pockets or helmets on a small laminated card. "The escalation-of-force methodology was meant to be a guide to determine course of actions you should attempt before you shoot," he said. "'Shove' might be a step that gets skipped in a given situation. In vehicles, at night, how does 'Shout' work? Each soldier is not only drilled on the five S's but their inherent right for self-defense."

Some interviewees said their commanders discouraged this system of escalation. "There's no such thing as warning shots," Specialist Resta said he was told during his pre­­deployment training at Fort Bragg. "I even specifically remember being told that it was better to kill them than to have somebody wounded and still alive."

Lieutenant Morgenstein said that when he arrived in Iraq in August 2004, the rules of engagement barred the use of warning shots. "We were trained that if someone is not armed, and they are not a threat, you never fire a warning shot because there is no need to shoot at all," he said. "You signal to them with some other means than bullets. If they are armed and they are a threat, you never fire a warning shot because...that just gives them a chance to kill you. I don't recall at this point if this was an ROE [rule of engagement] explicitly or simply part of our consistent training." But later on, he said, "we were told the ROE was changed" and that warning shots were now explicitly allowed in certain circumstances.

Sergeant Westphal said that by the time he arrived in Iraq earlier in 2004, the rules of engagement for checkpoints were more refined--at least where he served with the Army in Tikrit. "If they didn't stop, you were to fire a warning shot," said Sergeant Westphal. "If they still continued to come, you were instructed to escalate and point your weapon at their car. And if they still didn't stop, then, if you felt you were in danger and they were about to run your checkpoint or blow you up, you could engage."

In his initial training, Lieutenant Morgenstein said, marines were cautioned against the use of warning shots because "others around you could be hurt by the stray bullet," and in fact such incidents were not unusual. One evening in Baghdad, Sergeant Zuelow recalled, a van roared up to a checkpoint where another platoon in his company was stationed and a soldier fired a warning shot that bounced off the ground and killed the van's passenger. "That was a big wake-up call," he said, "and after that we discouraged warning shots of any kind."

Many checkpoint incidents went unreported, a number of veterans indicated, and the civilians killed were not included in the overall casualty count. Yet judging by the number of checkpoint shootings described to The Nation by veterans we interviewed, such shootings appear to be quite common.

Sergeant Flatt recounted one incident in Mosul in January 2005 when an elderly couple zipped past a checkpoint. "The car was approaching what was in my opinion a very poorly marked checkpoint, or not even a checkpoint at all, and probably didn't even see the soldiers," he said. "The guys got spooked and decided it was a possible threat, so they shot up the car. And they literally sat in the car for the next three days while we drove by them day after day."

In another incident, a man was driving his wife and three children in a pickup truck on a major highway north of the Euphrates, near Ramadi, on a rainy day in February or March 2005. When the man failed to stop at a checkpoint, a marine in a light-armored vehicle fired on the car, killing the wife and critically wounding the son. According to Lieutenant Morgenstein, a civil affairs officer, a JAG official gave the family condolences and about $3,000 in compensation. "I mean, it's a terrible thing because there's no way to pay money to replace a family member," said Lieutenant Morgenstein, who was sometimes charged with apologizing to families for accidental deaths and offering them such compensation, called "condolence payments" or "solatia." "But it's an attempt to compensate for some of the costs of the funeral and all the expenses. It's an attempt to make a good-faith offering in a sign of regret and to say, you know, We didn't want this to happen. This is by accident." According to a May report from the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department issued nearly $31 million in solatia and condolence payments between 2003 and 2006 to civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan who were "killed, injured or incur[red] property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces' actions during combat." The study characterizes the payments as "expressions of sympathy or remorse...but not an admission of legal liability or fault." In Iraq, according to the report, civilians are paid up to $2,500 for death, as much as $1,500 for serious injuries and $200 or more for minor injuries.

On one occasion, in Ramadi in late 2004, a man happened to drive down a road with his family minutes after a suicide bomber had hit a barrier during a cordon-and-search operation, Lieutenant Morgenstein said. The car's brakes failed and marines fired. The wife and her two children managed to escape from the car, but the man was fatally hit. The family was mistakenly told that he had survived, so Lieutenant Morgenstein had to set the record straight. "I've never done this before," he said. "I had to go tell this woman that her husband was actually dead. We gave her money, we gave her, like, ten crates of water, we gave the kids, I remember, maybe it was soccer balls and toys. We just didn't really know what else to do."

One such incident, which took place in Falluja in March 2003 and was reported on at the time by the BBC, even involved a group of plainclothes Iraqi policemen. Sergeant Mejía was told about the event by several soldiers who witnessed it.

The police officers were riding in a white pickup truck, chasing a BMW that had raced through a checkpoint. "The guy that the cops were chasing got through and I guess the soldiers got scared or nervous, so when the pickup truck came they opened fire on it," Sergeant Mejía said. "The Iraqi police tried to cease fire, but when the soldiers would not stop they defended themselves and there was a firefight between the soldiers and the cops. Not a single soldier was killed, but eight cops were."


A few veterans said checkpoint shootings resulted from basic miscommunication, incorrectly interpreted signals or cultural ignorance.

"As an American, you just put your hand up with your palm towards somebody and your fingers pointing to the sky," said Sergeant Jefferies, who was responsible for supplying fixed checkpoints in Diyala twice a day. "That means stop to most Americans, and that's a military hand signal that soldiers are taught that means stop. Closed fist, please freeze, but an open hand means stop. That's a sign you make at a checkpoint. To an Iraqi person, that means, Hello, come here. So you can see the problem that develops real quick. So you get on a checkpoint, and the soldiers think they're saying stop, stop, and the Iraqis think they're saying come here, come here. And the soldiers start hollering, so they try to come there faster. So soldiers holler more, and pretty soon you're shooting pregnant women."

"You can't tell the difference between these people at all," said Sergeant Mardan. "They all look Arab. They all have beards, facial hair. Honestly, it'll be like walking into China and trying to tell who's in the Communist Party and who's not. It's impossible."

But other veterans said that the frequent checkpoint shootings resulted from a lack of accountability. Critical decisions, they said, were often left to the individual soldier's or marine's discretion, and the military regularly endorsed these decisions without inquiry.

"Some units were so tight on their command and control that every time they fired one bullet, they had to write an investigative report," said Sergeant Campbell. But "we fired thousands of rounds without ever filing reports," he said. "And so it has to do with how much interaction and, you know, the relationship of the commanders to their units."

Cpt. Megan O'Connor said that in her unit every shooting incident was reported. O'Connor, 30, of Venice, California, served in Tikrit with the Fiftieth Main Support Battalion in the National Guard for a year beginning in December 2004, after which she joined the 2-28 Brigade Combat Team in Ramadi. But Captain O'Connor said that after viewing the reports and consulting with JAG officers, the colonel in her command would usually absolve the soldiers. "The bottom line is he always said, you know, We weren't there," she said. "We'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but make sure that they know that this is not OK and we're watching them."

Probes into roadblock killings were mere formalities, a few veterans said. "Even after a thorough investigation, there's not much that could be done," said Specialist Reppenhagen. "It's just the nature of the situation you're in. That's what's wrong. It's not individual atrocity. It's the fact that the entire war is an atrocity."

The March 2005 shooting death of Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari at a checkpoint in Baghdad, however, caused the military to finally crack down on such accidents, said Sergeant Campbell, who served there. Yet this did not necessarily lead to greater accountability. "Needless to say, our unit was under a lot of scrutiny not to shoot any more people than we already had to because we were kind of a run-and-gun place," said Sergeant Campbell. "One of the things they did was they started saying, Every time you shoot someone or shoot a car, you have to fill out a 15-[6] or whatever the investigation is. Well, that investigation is really onerous for the soldiers. It's like a 'You're guilty' investigation almost--it feels as though. So commanders just stopped reporting shootings. There was no incentive for them to say, Yeah, we shot so-and-so's car."

(Sergeant Campbell said he believes the number of checkpoint shootings did decrease after the high-profile incident, but that was mostly because soldiers were now required to use pinpoint lasers at night. "I think they reduced, from when we started to when we left, the number of Iraqi civilians dying at checkpoints from one a day to one a week," he said. "Inherent in that number, like all statistics, is those are reported shootings.")

Fearing a backlash against these shootings of civilians, Lieutenant Morgenstein gave a class in late 2004 at his battalion headquarters in Ramadi to all the battalion's officers and most of its senior noncommissioned officers during which he asked them to put themselves in the Iraqis' place.

"I told them the obvious, which is, everyone we wound or kill that isn't an insurgent, hurts us," he said. "Because I guarantee you, down the road, that means a wounded or killed marine or soldier.... One, it's the right thing to do to not wound or shoot someone who isn't an insurgent. But two, out of self-­preservation and self-interest, we don't want that to happen because they're going to come back with a vengeance."


The Nation contacted the Pentagon with a detailed list of questions and a request for comment on descriptions of specific patterns of abuse. These questions included requests to explain the rules of engagement, the operation of convoys, patrols and checkpoints, the investigation of civilian shootings, the detention of innocent Iraqis based on false intelligence and the alleged practice of "throwaway guns." The Pentagon referred us to the Multi-National Force Iraq Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, where a spokesperson sent us a response by e-mail.

"As a matter of operational security, we don't discuss specific tactics, techniques, or procedures (TTPs) used to identify and engage hostile forces," the spokesperson wrote, in part. "Our service members are trained to protect themselves at all times. We are facing a thinking enemy who learns and adjusts to our operations. Consequently, we adapt our TTPs to ensure maximum combat effectiveness and safety of our troops. Hostile forces hide among the civilian populace and attack civilians and coalition forces. Coalition forces take great care to protect and minimize risks to civilians in this complex combat environment, and we investigate cases where our actions may have resulted in the injury of innocents.... We hold our Soldiers and Marines to a high stand­ard and we investigate reported improper use of force in Iraq."

This response is consistent with the military's refusal to comment on rules of engagement, arguing that revealing these rules threatens operations and puts troops at risk. But on February 9, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, then coalition spokesman, writing on the coalition force website, insisted that the rules of engagement for troops in Iraq were clear. "The law of armed conflict requires that, to use force, 'combatants' must distinguish individuals presenting a threat from innocent civilians," he wrote. "This basic principle is accepted by all disciplined militaries. In the counterinsurgency we are now fighting, disciplined application of force is even more critical because our enemies camouflage themselves in the civilian population. Our success in Iraq depends on our ability to treat the civilian population with humanity and dignity, even as we remain ready to immediately defend ourselves or Iraqi civilians when a threat is detected."

When asked about veterans' testimony that civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces often went unreported and typically went unpunished, the Press Information Center spokesperson replied only, "Any allegations of misconduct are treated seriously.... Soldiers have an obligation to immediately report any misconduct to their chain of command immediately."

Last September, Senator Patrick Leahy, then ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, called a Pentagon report on its procedures for recording civilian casualties in Iraq "an embarrassment." "It totals just two pages," Leahy said, "and it makes clear that the Pentagon does very little to determine the cause of civilian casualties or to keep a record of civilian victims."

In the four long years of the war, the mounting civilian casualties have already taken a heavy toll--both on the Iraqi people and on the US servicemembers who have witnessed, or caused, their suffering. Iraqi physicians, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, published a study late last year in the British medical journal The Lancet that estimated that 601,000 civilians have died since the March 2003 invasion as the result of violence. The researchers found that coalition forces were responsible for 31 percent of these violent deaths, an estimate they said could be "conservative," since "deaths were not classified as being due to coalition forces if households had any uncertainty about the responsible party."

"Just the carnage, all the blown-up civilians, blown-up bodies that I saw," Specialist Englehart said. "I just--I started thinking, like, Why? What was this for?"

"It just gets frustrating," Specialist Reppenhagen said. "Instead of blaming your own command for putting you there in that situation, you start blaming the Iraqi people.... So it's a constant psychological battle to try to, you know, keep--to stay humane."

"I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people," said Sergeant Flanders. "The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned."

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