The Friends of California Libre...

29 March 2003

Ted Koppel's Khaki Dry Cleaning

Greetings, friends.
Last night I actually made the mistake of watching television news about the conflict in Iraq. I like the word conflict better than's hard to comprehend a war which is made so entertaining and so "Faces of Death" (thanks, Henry) by the regular media. I guess I've been spending so much time at I've forgotten about Lies, Damned Lies and (yeah) CNN.

I know ABC is over the top with their fabulous graphics and such, but what is the deal with Fox! I watched this shit and couldn't believe it. They actually had the gall to suggest that anti-war protests are responsible for keeping Saddam Hussein in power and his people fighting...and they weren't subtle about it. They also maintained (as are even the "liberal" networks) an unremitting stream of French-bashing. Regardless of other motives (and there are plenty...I don't agree that the French are cowards, but they aren't ascetic Sufis either), it must be said that the French, the Germans and the Russians (to a lesser extent) have shown more backbone than any other government. Anyone who thinks this U.S. adminstration will do anything sensible and diplomatic during or after this conflict is just kidding themselves. Our relations with these three countries will be nil (outside of our personal relations, of course, bon jour, Nic, Julie, Adam, et Hillary) until the inauguration of ANOTHER IDIOT in January 2005.

There's also fabulous news on TBN (the Christian network) but that, at least, is not surprising. The End Times are at hand! Jesus, not AGAIN.

Here's some more confirmation that no one in the government gives a Goddamn (refer to the historical rant in my previous screedlet, darlinks):
IRAQ: The Memory of a Civilization is under Attack

If you'd like to check out a nice, long, well-written column about this noise, try this site:
And The War Came
Planet America: Our world and welcome to it.

Yeah, we're doing a shitty job of taking over the globe. A few more Silkworm missiles into a few more shopping malls (and there's footage I'll bet you'd never imagined), and the other members of the "Axis" are going to be vying for our attention (thanks, Ellen):
North Korea says:"If the U.S. forces continue "pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war," the Korean People's Army will have "no option" but to take new, important measures regarding the armistice agreement."

and also from Miss Ellen, a blog of rather impressive dimensions, recounting our war with Iraq in agonizing detail (literally.) This guy must get very little rest (sound familiar, anyone?):

Let me grind the gears a bit. To continue my anti-media rant, I ask the Dixie Chicks to come up and take center stage (note my attachment relating to the anti-French idiocy). Don't say a word or we'll bulldoze your music! No, it's not a wacky DJ stunt, but the wrath of a media giant that is taking gradual control of all you see and hear. Ever heard of Clear Channel? You have now (thanks, Mike):
March 25, 2003
Channels of Influence - By PAUL KRUGMAN
By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have
certainly been vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia.

This couldn't possibly relate to a major conference on the Future of Media which took place in Seattle early this month? While you're glued to the TV, the TV is picking your pocket...

Pre-Event Coverage
Feb 11, 2003: Seattle P-I, Bill Virgin [Business]
FCC hearing is bound to be scripted, theatrical
The Stranger, Sandeep Kaushik
Now It's War: FCC Dissident to Fight Media Consolidation at "Showdown"
Hearing in Seattle
Feb 26, 2003: Eat the State!, Geov Parrish [Eat These Shorts]
Feb 27, 2003: The Stranger, Sandeep Kaushik [City]
FCC Commissioner Promotes Seattle Hearing on Media Concentration
March 5, 2003: Seattle P-I, Bill Virgin [Business]
FCC hearing to cover range of media issues
Seattle Weekly, Phillip Dawdy [Media]
Who's Media?
March 6, 2003: Seattle Times, [Editorial]
The FCC and the Octopus
March 7, 2003: Radio and Records [Today's News]
Seattle Hearing Panelist Calls News/Talk "A Fallacy"
Hearing Panelist Calls News/Talk 'A Fallacy'
FCC Commissioners Head West for Media-Ownership Hearing
Commissioners Head West For Media-Ownership Hearing
March 8, 2003: Seattle P-I, Todd Bishop [Editorial]
Backing, hisses for media consolidation
Seattle Times, Alwyn Scott [Business & Technology]
Move to ease media-ownership rules given a cool reception in Seattle
March 8, 2003: Wired, Manny Frishberg [News]
Media rules unsexy but important,1412,57972,00.html
KEXP, Mike McCormick [Mind over Matters]
Interview with Davey D
March 9, 2003: TribNet / AP, Gene Johnson [Local]
Media ownership needs to be watched, FCC panel says

But just in case you thought this screed would be devoid of good news, here's something I plucked from my own backyard...yeah, I've been there (in Chatsworth). They even make their own root beer (yum):
Burger Joint Becomes Cultural Monument

and in Denmark:
Drug Dealers Go on Strike

And if the burger story made you hungry, have some Arafat Chips (thanks, Miles):
Arafat - he's all dat and a bag of chips:

and then go out and do a little street politicking:

** FT: How long has war been in the cards? **
Recent comments by Gen. Tommy Franks further suggest U.S. officials have been preparing for a war with Iraq for a year or more.

But some people were dying (literally) to get into it:
Bechtel to get richer in post-war Iraq
Bechtel raised the Bay Bridge and assembled the Hoover Dam. The San Francisco company extinguished the oil well fires in Kuwait and dug tunnels for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Its workers have laid 50,000 miles of pipeline and built 17,000 miles of roadway in 140 countries.
The full article will be available on the Web for a limited time:

And finally, friends, two more articles from the Guardian, one about our double-standard regarding the Geneva Convention, and another about the simple fact that in destroying the Iraqis, we've destroyed a lot of the United States as well.

One rule for them
Five PoWs are mistreated in Iraq and the US cries foul. What about Guantanamo Bay?
George Monbiot
Monday March 24 2003
The Guardian

Suddenly, the government of the United States has discovered the virtues of international law. It may be waging an illegal war against a sovereign state; it may be seeking to destroy every treaty which impedes its attempts to run the world, but when five of its captured soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, immediately complained that "it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them".

He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning the treatment of prisoners, insists that they "must at all times be protected... against insults and public curiosity". This may number among the less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable. If you break them, you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes.

This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department, responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to put him away for the rest of his natural life.

His prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where 641 men (nine of whom are British citizens) are held, breaches no fewer than 15 articles of the third convention. The US government broke the first of these (article 13) as soon as the prisoners arrived, by displaying them, just as the Iraqis have done, on television. In this case, however, they were not encouraged to address the cameras. They were kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind their backs, wearing blacked-out goggles and earphones. In breach of article 18, they had been stripped of their own clothes and deprived of their possessions. They were then interned in a penitentiary (against article 22), where they were denied proper mess facilities (26), canteens (28), religious premises (34), opportunities for physical exercise (38), access to the text of the convention (41), freedom to write to their families (70 and 71) and parcels of food and books (72).

They were not "released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities" (118), because, the US authorities say, their interrogation might, one day, reveal interesting information about al-Qaida. Article 17 rules that captives are obliged to give only their name, rank, number and date of birth. No "coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever". In the hope of breaking them, however, the authorities have confined them to solitary cells and subjected them to what is now known as "torture lite": sleep deprivation and constant exposure to bright light. Unsurprisingly, several of the prisoners have sought to kill themselves, by smashing their heads against the walls or trying to slash their wrists with plastic cutlery.

The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war", but "unlawful combatants". The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country. But this redefinition is itself a breach of article 4 of the third convention, under which people detained as suspected members of a militia (the Taliban) or a volunteer corps (al-Qaida) must be regarded as prisoners of war.

Even if there is doubt about how such people should be classified, article 5 insists that they "shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal". But when, earlier this month, lawyers representing 16 of them demanded a court hearing, the US court of appeals ruled that as Guantanamo Bay is not sovereign US territory, the men have no constitutional rights. Many of these prisoners appear to have been working in Afghanistan as teachers, engineers or aid workers. If the US government either tried or released them, its embarrassing lack of evidence would be brought to light.

You would hesitate to describe these prisoners as lucky, unless you knew what had happened to some of the other men captured by the Americans and their allies in Afghanistan. On November 21 2001, around 8,000 Taliban soldiers and Pashtun civilians surrendered at Konduz to the Northern Alliance commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Many of them have never been seen again.

As Jamie Doran's film Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death records, some hundreds, possibly thousands, of them were loaded into container lorries at Qala-i-Zeini, near the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, on November 26 and 27. The doors were sealed and the lorries were left to stand in the sun for several days. At length, they departed for Sheberghan prison, 80 miles away. The prisoners, many of whom were dying of thirst and asphyxiation, started banging on the sides of the trucks. Dostum's men stopped the convoy and machine-gunned the containers. When they arrived at Sheberghan, most of the captives were dead.

The US special forces running the prison watched the bodies being unloaded. They instructed Dostum's men to "get rid of them before satellite pictures can be taken". Doran interviewed a Northern Alliance soldier guarding the prison. "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them." Another soldier alleged: "They took the prisoners outside and beat them up, and then returned them to the prison. But sometimes they were never returned, and they disappeared."

Many of the survivors were loaded back in the containers with the corpses, then driven to a place in the desert called Dasht-i-Leili. In the presence of up to 40 US special forces, the living and the dead were dumped into ditches. Anyone who moved was shot. The German newspaper Die Zeit investigated the claims and concluded that: "No one doubted that the Americans had taken part. Even at higher levels there are no doubts on this issue." The US group Physicians for Human Rights visited the places identified by Doran's witnesses and found they "all... contained human remains consistent with their designation as possible grave sites".

It should not be necessary to point out that hospitality of this kind also contravenes the third Geneva convention, which prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture", as well as extra-judicial execution. Donald Rumsfeld's department, assisted by a pliant media, has done all it can to suppress Jamie Doran's film, while General Dostum has begun to assassinate his witnesses.

It is not hard, therefore, to see why the US government fought first to prevent the establishment of the international criminal court, and then to ensure that its own citizens are not subject to its jurisdiction. The five soldiers dragged in front of the cameras yesterday should thank their lucky stars that they are prisoners not of the American forces fighting for civilisation, but of the "barbaric and inhuman" Iraqis.

Flags in the dust
Although coalition forces may be winning the military battle on land and in the air, political incompetence means that Iraq is winning the battle of hearts and minds, writes Brian Whitaker
Brian Whitaker
Monday March 24 2003
The Guardian

One of the finest war photographs ever taken shows the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima in February, 1945. The battle for this tiny island in the Pacific, just five miles long and two miles wide, lasted 31 days and cost 6,821 American lives.

In the picture, six helmeted figures grapple with a pole, attempting to plant it on a rock-strewn mountain top. At the end of the pole, the Stars and Stripes flutters in the wind against a vast open sky.

The symbolism of this picture, taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, was clear to everyone at the time. The huddle of human figures represented heroic endeavour, while the flag and the sky signalled hope and freedom.

As an artistic composition, the photograph was so brilliant that ever since the day it appeared there have been people who claimed it was specially posed - though there is ample evidence that it was not. In just 1/400th of a second, Rosenthal's camera captured the spirit of the time.

Maybe this was what someone had in mind early last Friday when invading American marines removed an Iraqi flag from a building in Umm Qasr, just across the border from Kuwait, and raised the Stars and Stripes. But what might have seemed a noble gesture in 1945 is open to different interpretations 58 years later.

In Britain, even supporters of the war denounced the flag-raising as a stupid act, undermining claims that the goal is to liberate Iraq, not to conquer it - and by nightfall the Iraqi flag was back.

In the midst of more dramatic events, this was a very minor incident, but a telling one nonetheless: it highlighted a credibility gap that may yet become a catastrophic flaw in America's war strategy.

Most wars start by accident or with a flourish of misplaced jingoism. But this war is unique. It is hard to recall any conflict in history that aroused so much opposition even before it began. At best its legitimacy and purpose is in serious doubt. At worst, millions regard it as illegal and/or immoral.

Besides that, it is led by a president for whom few outside the United States have any respect. Just as the onus was placed on Iraq, during the period of inspections, to prove that it had no weapons of mass destruction, the onus now is on the invasion forces to convince a sceptical world of their bona fides. This is probably impossible to do, since the official and unofficial aims of the war cannot be reconciled.

One example of confused messages came on the first day with the attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Apart from looking hasty and opportunistic, it conflicted with argument made during the UN inspection process that the main goal was to disarm Iraq.

That might not have been so bad if, after Saddam had appeared on television to show that he was still alive, US officials had quashed speculation that he might be dead. Whatever private doubts they might have harboured (about the use of lookalikes, etc), joining in the guesswork merely cast doubt on their
credibility as sources of authoritative information.

The Centcom command centre in Qatar, with its hugely expensive press facilities, has also been slow to get its case across. It was not until Saturday that General Tommy Franks got round to speaking to the world's media, with a polished performance that said almost nothing. In the meantime, other officials made all sorts of statements that were contradictory in some cases and downright wrong in others.

The battle for Umm Qasr, the small port near the border with Kuwait has been won and un-won so many times that by now most people have lost count. It's no excuse to attribute these failures to the "fog of war" or "psychological operations" against the Baghdad regime.

Iraqi spokesmen, on the other hand, have been remarkably forthcoming and, if we disregard the usual rhetoric, the factual content of their statements has often been more accurate than that of the invasion forces. Their figures for Iraqi casualties have also been low enough to sound plausible.

Friday brought the appalling "Shock n' Awe Show" which, in its visual effects, resembled something that might have been conceived by a big-budget Hollywood director. Its military purpose, if any, is still far from clear, and those shocked by it were mainly TV viewers outside Iraq.

After decades of wars, sanctions and repression, Iraqis themselves have become inured to almost anything. As the attack was ending, some of the Arab TV channels lingered for a few seconds on a bizarre scene in flickering night-vision green: Iraqi spectators standing in open parkland on the opposite side of the river, watching the fireworks.

Though this attack was meant to terrify the Baghdad regime into submission, nobody in Washington seems to have anticipated its effect on the rest of the world. To some in the Arab and Muslim countries, Shock and Awe is terrorism by another name; to others, a crime that compares unfavourably with September 11.

To the homespun folks in Middletown, California - recorded by the BBC the other day singing patriotic songs around their dinner table - such perceptions may be utterly incomprehensible, but they are real and cannot be ignored. They explain why the American flag has become a liability and why westerners in Yemen, for example, have taken to flying the blue-and-gold European flag from their cars to
discourage attackers.

General Franks, of course, is at pains to point out that modern American missiles are extremely accurate and that every target is carefully selected to minimise civilian casualties. This may be, but it takes only a few exceptions to persuade people otherwise - as happened at the weekend when al-Jazeera television showed millions of Arab viewers the picture of a child with a shattered head.

As the invasion forces move closer to Baghdad, it is still an open question as to whether ordinary Iraqis will view them as conquerors or liberators. The omens so far are not particularly good. When they arrived in Safwan last Friday, one Iraqi greeted them by saying: "What took you so long? God help you to become victorious."

Possibly he meant it, though it's not hard to imagine similar words being addressed to anyone who arrived in town with a conspicuous display of weaponry. Two Reuters correspondents, travelling independently of the military, told a different story:

"One group of Iraqi boys on the side of the road smiled and waved as a convoy of British tanks and trucks rolled by. But once it had passed, leaving a trail of dust and grit in its wake, their smiles turned to scowls. 'We don't want them here,' said 17-year-old Fouad, looking angrily up at the plumes of grey smoke rising from Basra. 'Saddam is our leader,' he said defiantly. 'Saddam is good'."

All these effects were easily foreseeable, though not easily avoided once a decision was made to go to war. With less than a week gone, the invasion forces may be slowly winning the battle on land and in the air but Iraq is winning the battle of hearts and minds.

To have reached such a position against an adversary who is demonstrably one of the world's most disgusting tyrants, to have transformed him into a hero figure, and to have transformed the American flag into a symbol of oppression, is not only unfortunate but reeks of political incompetence.

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