FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Quantico psychiatrist: Bradley Manning's pretrial conditions worse than death row
Ft. Meade, MD -November 29, 2012 - Yesterday at Bradley Manning's Article 13 hearing, professional military psychiatrist Captain Kevin Moore testified that Bradley Manning's pretrial confinement conditions at Quantico military brig were worse than that of any other long-term pretrial prisoner he'd observed. He added that Bradley's restrictive conditions, including being held in a 6x8 foot cell, having access to only 20 minutes of sunshine and exercise per day, and being deprived of basic items such as clothing and toilet paper for periods of time, were most comparable to yet still more severe than conditions of prisoners he'd observed on death row.
Bradley Manning's case garnered considerable media buzz early in 2010 when it came to light that the UN and Amnesty International had initiated investigations into possibly illegal conditions of pretrial confinement at Quantico. Wednesday in court, two high-ranking military psychiatrists, Captain William Hoctor and Captain Moore, testified that the extent to which their recommendations were ignored by the Quantico Marine staff was unlike anything they had experienced elsewhere over a combined 30+ years of experience at various bases. Cpt. Hoctor went so far as to say that even at Guantanamo Bay his recommendations were implemented much faster than at Quantico. At Quantico, it would often take up to two weeks for the staff to implement his recommendations to change a prisoner's status, in contrast with the few days it would take elsewhere. In PFC Manning's case, the recommendations of both Cpt. Hoctor and Captain Moore to allow PFC Manning more exercise and downgrade him from Prevention-of-Injury (POI) status based on improved mental state was ignored over the course of many months.
Captain Hoctor said he became the angriest he'd been a long time when Quantico base commander Colonel Daniel Choike stated in a meeting that "Nothing's going to change. He won't be able to hurt himself. He's not going to be able to get away, and our way of ensuring this is that he will remain on this status indefinitely." During testimony on Tuesday, Col. Choike confirmed his position during that exchange. In reference to this statement, Bradley Manning Support Network Steering Committee member Jeff Paterson responded, "I think a reasonable person can see why PFC Manning was frustrated with these conditions. No matter what he did or how exemplary his behavior, the Col. had no intention of respecting his overall well-being and legal rights as a pretrial prisoner.
While base commanders Col. Choike and Col. Robert Oltman testified that they believed brig staff acted in interest of PFC Manning's safety, they both stated that the longest they had seen any other prisoner held at Quantico was 2 months. Additionally, they had both informed commanding officers that the Quantico brig was unsuitable for holding a prisoner longer than 90 days.
During his testimony, Psychiatrist Captain Moore indicated that he'd been trained in military interrogation, and that adverse mental side effects were to be expected in any prisoner held in such constrictive conditions for a long period of time. POI, the psychiatrists clarified, was typically a short-term status. In closing questions, defense attorney David Coombs asked Cpt. Hoctor how, in his professional psychiatric opinion, he would characterize an authority who chose to ignore or discount possible adverse effects when choosing a highly restrictive status such as POI for a long period of time. After a thoughtful look, Cpt. Hoctor replied the word he would choose is "callous."
Three WikiLeaks backers will seek to block the U.S. from reviewing their Twitter account data at a hearing today in federal court in Virginia, arguing that the government’s demands violate their constitutional rights.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in Alexandria will hear a challenge to her order requiring Twitter to give the investigators data on subscribers “associated with WikiLeaks,” including its leader, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier charged with leaking classified information, according to court records.
The hearing is the first public skirmish in the government’s criminal investigation of Assange and others who may have helped leak diplomatic cables and classified military documents through the WikiLeaks website.
I am in Berkeley, California, for an event tonight sponsored by KPFA Radio & Courage to Resist called, “Saluting Bradley Manning.” I’ll be speaking with Daniel Ellsberg and Patricia Ellsberg.
I will be updating attendees on recent developments in Manning’s court martial while at the same time providing some insight into how the government is prosecuting him and the effect it could have on freedom of the press.
The event I am doing tonight will be filmed by “Democracy Now!” and recorded for broadcast on the radio.
It will be an exceptional opportunity to share the reporting that many of you have been graciously following and supporting. Around 500 people are likely to be in attendance at the venue where this is being held.
Prior to the event, I will be on KPFA’s “The Visionary Activist Show” at 2 pm PST (5:00 pm EST). It should be a freewheeling discussion of Bradley Manning, secrecy, transparency and some key stories from this week, such as the censorship episode at Guantanamo. Tune in here.
The Justice Department has been ruthless in targeting those who bring hidden information into the public realm.
Dreamworks announced that shooting began today on their Wikileaks movie entitled “The Fifth Estate.” The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Brühl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The cast also includes Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, and David Thewlis. Bill Condon, fresh off the Twilight: Breaking Dawn Series, will direct.
The studio also released a still from the shoot, and I have to say, Benedict Cumberbatch looks about as much like Julian Assange as I do.
In a recent discussion about gun control on Thom Hartmann's program, my opponent suggested that gun control advocates like me really have a cultural aversion to guns. That's a standard ploy for the gun set: when reason isn’t on your side, deploy emotional and personal arguments instead.
"Anti-gun"? I could've brought up my own recreational gun use, or even brought out the firing range pass I carry in my wallet. But I'll admit that I've lost a little of my taste for it as our national killing spree continues unabated. What's more, that would've been disrespectful to the millions of Americans who do have an understandable aversion to guns. Personal habits should have no part in a rational policy discussion.
Now that President Obama has made his initial gun control proposals, the crazy's being ratcheted up to a new level. Rational Americans in all walks of life will be confronted with these kinds of arguments. We're going to need a playbook. Here are 12 responses you can use when you're confronted with some of the standard illogical, irrational and emotionally overheated statements that gun extremists use.
1. I'm not anti-gun, I'm pro-kindergartner.
After Newtown, what person in his right mind thinks it's irrational to propose some common-sense measures to prevent similar tragedies in the future?
2. Saying "If we have gun control only outlaws will have guns" is like saying "If you outlaw drunk driving, only outlaws will drive drunk."
Rush Limbaugh's recent variation on the old "only outlaws will have guns" line went like this: "If you have gun control laws, the law-abiding will be the only people that don’t have guns."
This anti-gun control cliche makes absolutely no sense. We lose our driver's license if we're arrested for drunk driving, or if we commit too many other moving violations. But law-abiding people are free to drive. Gun control laws aren't any different.
3. If dead children are a "distraction," what subjects are important enough to be worthy of your attention?
As Media Matters reports, an increasing number of gun-extremist righties have suggested that attempts to prevent more deaths, including the deaths of young people at Newtown, Aurora, Columbine and elsewhere, are really just a "distraction" from more important matters.
Try convincing the parents of dead kids that their personal tragedies aren't important. And if dead kindergartners don’t deserve your attention, what does?
4. So you've got "Second Amendment" rights? Where's the rest of your militia?
The text of the Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Where are the other soldiers? Who’s in charge? And which state are you protecting?
5. Oh, and congratulations on keeping the Lanza kid so "well-regulated."
Along withCrazy New York Hermit Dude, the Columbine killers, the Tucson shooter, and all the other members of your "militia."
6. If I can't drive without decent vision, I shouldn't be able to purchase weapons of mass killing after beating my grandmother to death with a hammer.
Maybe I’m off base here, but that just seems like common sense to me.
7. "Freedom to own a gun"? I have the freedom to own a car. But I don't have the freedom to buy an M1A1 Abrams tank, or the many kinds of rounds -- armor-piercing, incendiary, point detonation, delay, airburst, and shotgun-like antipersonnel tungsten balls -- manufactured for its 120mm smoothbore cannon.
And I'm okay with that.
If our laws had permitted that, I'm pretty sure we would’ve wised up the third or fourth time somebody drove one up to a school, parked in the school bus lane, and started lobbing cannon rounds into the gym, music room, cafeteria, and classrooms -- while fending off law enforcement with a rain of fire from its three auxiliary machine guns.
8. The only other country besides the United States that considers unrestricted gun ownership a fundamental human right is Yemen …
... and Yemen's having second thoughts.
From the UN's Small Arms Survey: "Only two—the United States and Yemen—is ownership of firearms a citizen's basic right. Figures published in the Small Arms Survey 2007 show that the USA and Yemen also have the highest rates of firearms per civilian, with an estimated 90 guns per 100 people in the US, and 55 in Yemen."
There's a slogan for you: "More extreme than Yemen."
9. Why is it that the people who think our "freedom to own guns" is absolute and inflexible are always the first ones to attack our other freedoms -- of speech, of assembly, of worship (a religion other than their own), of privacy -- in the name of national security?
We have the data which shows that our supposed "gun freedom" is causing thousands of needless deaths each year. Most "gun rights" advocates don't care -- and are more than eager to sacrifice other fundamental freedoms even when the evidence suggests it's unnecessary and even wasteful.
Unconstitutional surveillance? Check. Unconstitutional suppression of Wikileaks and other information outlets? Check. Unconstitutional suppression of demonstrators’ rights? Check. Constitutional and rational gun control?
10. You say guns make us safer, but we already have more guns per capita than any other nation on Earth.
We also have the highest gun homicide rate of any developed nation. Our rate is 32 times that of Great Britain's, for example.
Are we safe enough yet?
11. "Recreational gun use"?
Which sports, exactly, require an assault weapon that fires 850 rounds per minute?
And is there any mass-killing capacity that would be too much for your recreational activity? 5,000 rounds per minute? 10,000 rounds per minute? Or is the recreational value of high-speed gunfire infinite and unbounded?
12. Statistics show that states with more guns also have more homicides. Have you considered starting your own state?
That would allow you, for the first time, to use the Second Amendment for its true and stated purpose: to protect the security of a state.
All the other gun extremists could join you there. Wouldn't that be great?
Most of us are getting tired of reading the obituaries of public servants, moviegoers, shoppers, schoolchildren, and other innocent bystanders in our local papers. Now we can be safe, you can be happy -- and Wall Street investors can keep profiting from guns and the misery they cause.
The state of “Guntopia” isn’t a perfect idea. We would worry about your children’s safety -- but then, we already do.
AMY GOODMAN: We have flown from Washington, D.C., from the inauguration, to Park City, Utah, to cover the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the 10th anniversary of the documentary track. And we’re going to start off by getting response to President Obama’s inaugural address. On Monday, President Obama declared a decade of war is now ending and that lasting peace does not require perpetual war. But he never mentioned the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan by name.
There was also no mention about the secret drone war that’s vastly expanded under President Obama. On the same day he gave his inaugural address, a U.S. drone strike killed three people in Yemen east of the capital, Sana’a. Also Monday, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to be director of the CIA, succeeding retired Army General David Petraeus, who resigned. Nicknamed the "assassination czar" by some, Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly confirm drone attacks overseas and to defend their legality. Four years ago, John Brennan was a rumored pick for the CIA job when Obama was first elected but was forced to withdraw from consideration amidst protests over his role at the CIA under the Bush administration. Obama also officially nominated Chuck Hagel to head defense and John Kerry to become secretary of state on Monday.
Well, joining us here in Park City, Utah, is Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. He is featured in and co-wrote the new documentary Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. Jeremy’s latest book, with the same title, is due out in April.
We’re also joined by Dirty Wars director Richard Rowley, independent journalist with Big Noise Films. The film premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. documentary competition section. And when we flew into Salt Lake City last night, we went directly to the Salt Lake City Library, where there was a packed, sold-out crowd to see the—a showing of Dirty Wars. We want to congratulate you, Jeremy and Rick, on this absolutely remarkable film.
...[It]’s very appropriate to begin our four days of broadcasting here at Park City, on this day after the inauguration of President Obama, to begin with Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.
Jeremy, talk about President Obama’s first four years and where we’re going now. You got a chance to hear his inaugural address; what you thought of it?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, I think if we look back at the—at the first term of the Obama administration, what we saw was you had this very popular Democratic president that had—who had campaigned, in terms of his broader rhetoric during the presidential campaign against John McCain, on the notion that he was going to transform the way that the U.S. conducted its foreign policy around the world. And, you know, he then proceeded to double down on some of the greatest excesses of the Bush administration. If you look at the use of the state secrets privilege; if you look at the way the Obama administration has expanded the drone wars; has empowered special operations forces, including from JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, to operate in countries where the United States is not at war; if you look at the way in which the Obama administration has essentially boxed Congress out of any effective oversight role of the covert aspects of U.S. foreign policy, what we really have is a president who has normalized, for many, many liberals in the United States, the policies that they once opposed under the Bush administration. And, you know, this really has been a war presidency.
And, you know, yesterday, as the—as President Obama’s talking about how we don’t need a state of perpetual war, multiple U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a country that we’re not at war with, where the U.S. has killed a tremendous number of civilians. Rick and I have spent a lot of time on the ground in Yemen. And, you know, to me, most disturbing about this is John Brennan, who really was the architect of this drone program and the expansion of the drone program—these guys are sitting around on Tuesdays at the White House in "Terror Tuesday" meetings, discussing who’s going to live and who’s going to die across the world. These guys have decided—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "Terror Tuesday" meetings?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s what they’re referred to. You know, senior—when this first came out, senior White House officials said that they internally refer to them as "Terror Tuesdays," where they meet and they go over the list of potential targets. And they have them, you know, on baseball cards in some cases. And they’re identifying people that they want to take out and that are on the U.S. kill list. And we have an ever-expanding kill list. You know, after 9/11, there were seven people on the U.S. kill list, and then we had the deck of cards in Iraq and Saddam and his top people. I mean, now there are thousands; it’s unknown how many people are on this kill list. And U.S. citizens—three U.S. citizens were killed in operations ordered by the president in late 2011, including, you know, as we reported on Democracy Now! before, the 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
And, you know, so the appointment of Brennan to CIA, to me, is the greatest symbol of how deeply invested in covert war and an expansion of wars around the world and the notion that was popularized under the neocons of "the world is a battlefield," that notion that the United States can strike in any country across the world, wherever it determines that terrorists or suspected militants may reside. The most disturbing part of this policy, to me—and I think also to people within the intelligence community who are looking at this—is that there are regions of Yemen or Pakistan where President Obama has authorized the U.S. to strike, even if they don’t know the identities of the people that they’re striking, the so-called "signature strike" policy. The idea that being a military-aged male in a certain region of a particular country around the world, that those people become legitimate targets based on their gender and their age and their geographic presence, that those are going to be legitimate targets is—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, this was something that started under the Bush administration, and when President Obama first took office, he was briefed on this by the then-director—the outgoing director of the CIA, Michael Hayden. And he described to him this policy that they had developed called "signature strikes," where they were looking at patterns of life. If an individual had contact with certain other individuals, if they were traveling in a certain area at certain times, if they were gathering with a certain number of people, that there was a presumption that they must be up to no good, that they are suspected militants or suspected terrorists and that the U.S. could take preemptive action against those people—and by "preemptive action," I mean killing them with a missile—that there was authorization to do that. In some cases, the president has actually pre-cleared theCIA to authorize these strikes without being directly notified.
But President Obama, my understanding from sources, you know, within the intelligence and military world, has really sort of micromanaged this process. And, you know, Brennan has been—Brennan is basically the hit man of this administration, except he never has to go out and do the hitting himself. He orders, you know, planes and missile strikes and AC-130 strikes to, you know, hit in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. You know, we’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush. And I think it says something about the bankrupt nature of partisan politics in this country that the way we feel about life-or-death policies around the world is determined by who happens to be in office. I mean, that’s—that, to me, is a very sobering reality.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a first clip of your film, Jeremy and Rick. The story of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki features prominently in Dirty Wars. His 16-year-old son became the third U.S. citizen to be killed in a drone strike in Yemen in October 2011. President Obama called the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki a, quote, "milestone."
JEREMY SCAHILL: Aden—Yemen’s ancient port city was nothing like Kabul. In Afghanistan, life was defined by the war. Everything revolved around it. But in Yemen, there was no war, at least not officially. The strikes seem to have come out of the blue, and most Yemenis were going about life as usual. It was difficult to know where to start. The Yemeni government claimed responsibility for the strikes, saying they had killed dozens of al-Qaeda operatives. But it was unclear who the targets really were or who was even responsible.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeremy Scahill in Yemen in the film that has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: So what we were seeing there was a scene where we’re first getting into what’s happening on the ground in Yemen, and we learn about these—this series of missile strikes, cruise missile strikes, that had happened in December of 2009, the first time that Yemen had been bombed by the United States in seven years. And in the process of looking at who the targets were, we understood that Anwar al-Awlaki, that there had been an attempt to kill him, and in fact that the—that it had been announced that Awlaki had been killed. And that’s how we discovered that Anwar Awlaki was in fact on the kill list. And, of course, Anwar Awlaki is a U.S. citizen.
The first bombing that happened, on December 17th, 2009, where President Obama directly authorized the strike, was on this village of al-Majalah in southern Yemen, and 46 people were killed, including two dozen women and children, in that strike. And so, what Rick and I did is we went down to the heart of where these strikes were happening, and we met with people on the ground, and we interviewed survivors of these—of these missile strikes. And we gathered evidence, and we actually filmed the cruise missile parts. And the U.S. had—did not claim responsibility for those strikes; in fact, the Yemeni government claimed responsibility for the strikes. And we know from the WikiLeaks cables that were released that General David Petraeus essentially conspired with senior Yemeni officials, including the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to cover up the U.S. role in what would become a rapidly expanding U.S. bombing campaign inside of Yemen. And, you know, this administration has continued to pummel Yemen.
Today or—I think today, they claimed for probably the dozenth time in the past couple of years to have killed Said al-Shihri, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And, you know, maybe he has been killed this time; maybe he hasn’t. But what we saw on the ground is that the United States and Yemen claim to be killing al-Qaeda leadership—and they’ve killed a handful of them in Yemen—but for the most part, it seems that the drone strikes are hitting in areas where they’re killing civilians. And what it’s doing is it’s turning people in Yemen that might not be disposed, have anything against the United States, into potential enemies that have a legitimate grudge against America. And that’s—we saw that repeatedly.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick Rowley, your filmmaking is truly remarkable, and you’ve shown that in your previous films, for example, Fourth World War. But in Dirty Wars, that you take this one camera, and you and Jeremy travel the world, as you’ve been covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, going to places that the entire U.S. press corps—I mean, with their armed guards—has rarely been, if ever at all, to track what has been secret until now. Talk about that journey through Yemen.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I—the global war on terror is the most important story of our generation, you know, and it’s a story that’s been completely not covered. It remains invisible and hidden from most Americans. I mean, this is a war—this is the longest war in American history. It’s a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. But it’s happening in the shadows. And so, Dirty Wars — in Dirty Wars, Jeremy and I are trying to make this invisible war that’s being fought in our name, but without our knowledge, visible to the American people. And in order to do that, we had to leave the safety of the Green Zone and go out to where—where the war takes place, talk to the civilians on the ground in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen about how this war is affecting their lives.
So, in Yemen, as a result of the—all these drone strikes, as the backlash against these drone strikes in the south was huge, when we arrived in Yemen, an entire province in the south had been taken over by an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization because of the massive popular anger over the drone strikes and the government’s complicity in the strikes, which, you know, turned the south of Yemen into a terrifying place. I mean, these missile strikes, these night raids destabilize the countries that they happen in, and they turn them into places where it becomes very dangerous to move and to operate. So, in Yemen—I mean, in Afghanistan, as well, Jeremy and I had to travel—it was only possible for us to work as a crew of two, because we had to keep a low profile and try to travel under the radar. We couldn’t roll—I mean, rolling around with security would only make it more dangerous for us.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Rick had to actually—he had to train one of the—our Afghan colleagues in how to use a second camera, so that we could have someone filming me while Rick was filming, you know, the people that we were interviewing, because we wouldn’t have been safe to bring more people than that. So Rick actually was training people on the fly in multiple countries on how to do other things, because of some of the limitations, for security purposes, of having to travel very lightly.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that humbles both of us is that, you know, when you arrive in a village in Afghanistan and knock on someone’s door, you’re the first American they’ve seen since the Americans that kicked that door in and killed half their family. And yet, time and time again, those families invited us in, welcomed us and shared their stories with us, based on—you know, we promised them that we would do everything we could to make their stories be heard in the U.S. And so, it’s actually really—it’s amazing to be here at Sundance, because finally we’re able to keep those promises.
AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan, Gardez, Jeremy, talk about one of the central focuses of Dirty Wars.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, you know, we—when we began working on this film, it was a very different film. And, you know, I mean, Amy, we—both Rick and I have been on Democracy Now! I mean, I feel like I grew up at Democracy Now! On my Facebook page, I list Democracy Now! as my university, and really, really view it that way. And you know, because we were talking to you at the time, that we had started on a very different journey. And we had read about this raid that happened in Gardez, in Paktia province, because a very, very brave reporter named Jerome Starkey, who’s a correspondent for The Times of London, who now is in Africa covering the latest sort of expansion of the not-so-covert war in Mali—
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll talk about that in a minute.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And we’ll talk about that, yeah. So we had read about this night raid that took place, and it was a horrible massacre. And what happened in Gardez was that U.S. special operations forces had intelligence that there were—you know, a Taliban cell was in a—was having some sort of a meeting to prepare a suicide bomber. And they raid this house in the middle of the night, and they end up killing five people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, and another person that they killed in the house, Mohammed Daoud, turned out to be a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S., including by the mercenary—or the private security company MPRI, Military Professional Resources Incorporated. They weren’t even Pashtun, the dominant—the almost exclusive ethnicity of the Taliban. They spoke Dari. And they’re—and what was happening that night was not preparing a suicide bomber; they were celebrating the birth of a child. And they were dancing and had music, and they had women without head covers on.
And they—and so the soldiers raid this house, and they kill these people. And instead of realizing that they had made a horrible mistake and that the intelligence was wrong and it resulted in these people being killed, they actually covered up the killings. And we interview the survivors of this raid, including a man who watched, while he was zip-cuffed, soldiers, American soldiers, digging bullets out of his wife’s dead body. And they then tried to—
AMY GOODMAN: And they did that because?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, so just to finish this part of it, they kill the people, they dig the bullets our of the bodies, then they take into custody all of the men of the house, including a man who has just watched his sister and his wife and his niece killed, and they fly them to a different province, and they’re interrogating them, trying to get them to give up some information that would indicate that the Taliban had a connection to that family. I mean, it shows you how horrid the intelligence is. I mean, these people weren’t even Pashtun. You have a senior police commander. They’re dancing, playing loud music, and they have women without head cover in the house. And what happened is that NATO then issues a press release and made statements anonymously in the media where they said that the U.S. forces had stumbled upon the aftermath of a Taliban honor killing, and they implied that the family—that the women were killed by their own murderous families.
And so, in the course of the film, we investigate that night raid, and we learn that the individuals who did that raid were members of the Joint Special Operations Command. And we know that because the then-head of the Joint Special Operations Command, Vice Admiral William McRaven, showed up in this village with scores of Afghan soldiers and U.S. forces. And they—there’s a scene, and we show this in the film, where they offload a sheep, and they offer to sacrifice the sheep to say—you know, ask for forgiveness. It’s an Afghan cultural tradition, and it was meant to be a gesture of reconciliation. And they offload the sheep, and they’re offering to sacrifice it in the very place where the raid had taken place. And then Admiral McRaven goes into the home and says his men were responsible for killing the women and the police commander, and he asks for forgiveness from the head of the family, Haji Sharabuddin. Had a brave photographer named Jeremy Kelly not been there to snap the photographs that you see in our film of Admiral McRaven in Gardez, we may never have known who the actual killers were that day.
And both Jerome Starkey and I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests. We’ve tried to get information out of the U.S. military. My requests have been bounced all around the military. And the most current update I have is months old from them. They said that it’s in an unnamed agency awaiting review. We don’t know if anyone was disciplined for the action. We don’t know if anyone was ever held accountable for the action. All we know is that Admiral McRaven and a bunch of soldiers showed up with a sheep and said, "We did this, and we’re sorry."
AMY GOODMAN: And tried to destroy Jerome Starkey’s reputation, meanwhile, back in Kabul in a news conference.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, Jerome Starkey—there’s a couple of journalists in our film who really emerge as the heroes of the story that we’re telling. Another one is currently in jail in Yemen right now, and we can maybe talk about him, named Abdulelah Haider Shaye—and we’ve talked about him on the show before—in jail because President Obama intervened, when he was about to be pardoned, to keep him in jail after he exposed the role, U.S. role, in certain missile strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean he intervened, if you could just say for a moment?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, there was—the journalist who first exposed the missile strike I was talking about earlier in al-Majalah, Yemen, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, had taken photographs of the U.S. missile parts, and that’s how we first learned that it was in fact U.S. cruise missiles. And Yemen doesn’t have cruise missiles. And so, after he did his reporting and continued to report on the expanding U.S. air war in Yemen, he was snatched from his home by the U.S.-backed Yemeni counterterrorism units and then was put on trial for allegedly being an al-Qaeda facilitator or propagandist and was sentenced to five years in prison. There was huge protests as his trial was denounced as a sham by international human rights and media organizations. And he was about to be pardoned by the Yemeni president, because there was tremendous pressure in the country, and then President Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh and expressed his concern over the release of Abdulelah Haider Shaye.
AMY GOODMAN: The reporter.
JEREMY SCAHILL: The reporter. And then the pardon was ripped up after that. And his lawyers say, clearly, that he’s in jail because of Obama’s intervention, that he would have been released. And lest you think this is some kind of a conspiracy theory, you can hop onto the White House website and see the readout of the phone call from that day. The White House put it openly. When I called the State Department to ask them about the case, they said, "We stand by President Obama’s position on—initial position on this," regarding this journalist. They don’t even refer to him as a journalist, "regarding this individual." He had worked withABC News, The Washington Post — you know, very small, unknown media outlets. And I heard from a very—someone inside of a very prominent news organization in the U.S. told me that they had been called by the administration when they were working with Abdulelah Haider Shaye and told that "You should stop working with him, because he takes his paychecks and gives them to al-Qaeda." I mean, they tried to slander this journalist behind the scenes and in front.
But you asked about Jerome Starkey. When Jerome Starkey first exposed the cover-up of Gardez, NATO publicly attacked him by name and accused him of lying. And then, when more information started to come out about who did it, then they changed their story, but they never apologized to Jerome Starkey.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Rick Rowley, you have this remarkable footage. Aside from you both going to Gardez and interviewing survivors, talk about the video footage you retrieve there and the hands of the U.S. soldiers that you see.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, one of incredible things in Gardez, the family gave us cellphone videos that they had taken the night of the raid. And there was one clip in particular. It was early in the morning. It’s a shaky video. And we just thought it was just another sort of shaky video of the bodies. But then you can hear voices come over it, and they’re American-accented voices speaking about piecing together their version of the night’s killings, getting their story straight. And, I mean, you hear them trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.
AMY GOODMAN: And you see their hands.
RICK ROWLEY: And you see their hands moving the corpses around and photographing the bullet holes. But we never get to see their faces. All we have are their voices. We spent a long time actually trying to analyze the audio to figure out, because a name is mentioned in one part of it, but it’s too thin and distorted on the cellphone to find out. I mean, these are the—these are the scraps and pieces that we have to use to reconstruct the story of these wars, because everything is systematically hidden from us. I mean, all we had to go on were these pictures that Jeremy Kelly took, this cellphone video, and that—
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Kelly is the photographer, videographer for Jerome Starkey.
RICK ROWLEY: For Jerome, yes, who is now the Kabul bureau chief—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Afghan correspondent.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. All we had were these tiny little scraps of clues that weren’t even supposed to exist, and pictures of a person who was unknown at the time. I mean, Admiral William McRaven, you know, no one knew who he was. I mean, that was the first sort of shock here—looked at him, see his rank, read his name. But he’s not—he wasn’t from the NATO command. He wasn’t from the Eastern Regional Command that owns that battle space. He was not even—I mean, why was this elite force operating, kicking in the doors on farmers? I mean, that is the sort of the—the mystery that begins the investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you take this forward, Jeremy, back to the United States and show McRaven a photograph.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. And so, you know, after—after we learn that this figure, William McRaven, was the leader of this raid, it sort of—our film was sort of in the—this journey was sort of like pulling on the tail of an elephant that’s behind a hidden wall. And you’re pulling on it, and you’re pulling on it, and the cracks start to show this behemoth that’s behind a wall, and you realize that this is part of a much bigger story. And really, that kicked off a journey that took us to Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere.
And, you know, for us, I mean, the sort of—just this incredible looking-glass moment happened when Osama bin Laden was killed. And all of a sudden, everyone is talking about JSOC. It’s everywhere. I mean, we had spent so much time embedded in this story, where there was very little being written about it, except for a small circle of journalists. And all of a sudden, the people that—whose journey we’d been tracking had become national heroes. And Disney tried to trademark SEAL Team 6, and, you know, the Hollywood producers got in bed with the CIA to make their version of the—you know, the events, the sort of official history.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that’s the film...?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, it’s—and we can talk about that film later. But, I mean, the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood over this issue is one that I think needs to be very, very thoroughly debated. And I’m thankful that we are debating it. And, you know, one great thing that has happened as a result of Zero Dark Thirty is that people are actually talking about torture and what has happened in the past. But for us to see, you know, McRaven sitting in front of Congress and JSOC being talked about publicly was really an incredible experience, because we had seen this other side. Our film is about all these things that these same units did that almost never get talked about. What Americans know about JSOC is overwhelmingly limited to what happened in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, you know, Rick often points out sort of the irony of the way that that’s covered versus the role these forces play around the world.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, we’re flooded with details about one raid, the—on May 2nd, 2011. We know everything about it. We know how many SEALs were in the helicopters. We know what kind of helicopters they were. We know what kind of rifles they were carrying. We know that they had a dog with them that was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. We know everything about this raid. But that same year, there were 30,000 other night raids in Afghanistan. So, we know everything about this, but those—those are all hidden from us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to a pair of remarkable investigative journalists, whose investigations are now a film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival in its 10th year. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: The great Somali Canadian, K’naan, singing "Somalia," his home country. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, and we’re with two great journalists: Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy, a longtime Democracy Now! correspondent and national security correspondent for The Nation. Rick Rowley, videographer, filmmaker, who has been in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years. They have now put together this film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. And it has premiered here. In fact, K’naan was here celebrating the first night. And I want to talk about Somalia and Mali, but let’s start with a clip of this film in Somalia. Jeremy, can you introduce it?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, we—what we discovered in Somalia was that the U.S. had been for years outsourcing its kill list in Somalia to local warlords. And in our film, you meet two of those warlords: Mohamed Qanyare and Indha Adde. And Indha Adde at one time was protecting people who were on the U.S. kill list, and he was an ally of the al-Qaeda and al-Shabab figures within Somalia. And he has been flipped and is now working with the U.S. So, here we meet Indha Adde, this notorious warlord who’s working on the side of the U.S.
JEREMY SCAHILL: In an earlier life, Indha Adde had been America’s enemy, offering protection to people on the U.S. kill list. But the warlord had since changed sides. He was now on the U.S. payroll and assumed the title of general.
So he’s saying that the fiercest fighting that they’re doing right now is happening right here.
The men fired across the rooftops, but it didn’t make sense to me what we were doing here—or what the Americans were doing here in Somalia, arming this warlord-turned-general for what seemed like a senseless war.
UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve got to move.
JEREMY SCAHILL: So these were Shabab fighters you buried here.
GEN. INDHA ADDE: [translated] If recapture fighters alive, we give them medical care, unless they are foreigners. The foreigners, we execute.
JEREMY SCAHILL: If you capture a foreigner alive, you execute them on the battlefield?
GEN. INDHA ADDE: [translated] Yes. The others should feel no mercy.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S.-backed Somali warlord Indha Adde. Journalist Jeremy Scahill there in Somalia, Rick Rowley filming. Jeremy, talk about Somalia and Mali, as we—the world learns about Mali now, with the French attacks on Mali and what’s happened in Algeria, and how that ties into the central theme of your film about JSOC.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, one thing that’s interesting, you know, we have some people from within the JSOC community whose identities we protect in the film, and we’re talking to them. And we actually, you know, two years ago, were considering going to Mali, because we were hearing from our sources that there were covert operations that were happening inside of Mali tracking these—the spread of these al-Qaeda affiliates. And, you know, this is something that we’re seeing throughout the Horn of Africa and in places throughout the Sahel and North Africa, where these groups are getting stronger and stronger. And so, you know, the U.S. is increasingly getting itself involved in these dirty wars in Africa. And, you know, we could have easily gone to Uganda or Somalia or Mali and reported on this, but there’s—you know, since AFRICOM was created as a full free-standing command, like Southern Command and Central Command, AFRICOMhas been expanding these wars.
AMY GOODMAN: And McRaven, where he is now?
JEREMY SCAHILL: McRaven is the commander of the Special Operations Command. He is—William McRaven is the most powerful figure in the United States military. He is an incredibly brilliant man. He is very shrewd. He understands media. And he is in charge of the most elite force the U.S. has ever produced, and he has been given carte blanche to do what he believes is right around the world, empowered much more under President Obama than they were under President Bush. In fact, you see someone who has worked within JSOCsaying that to us in our film. And out of Camp Lemonnier, which is in Djibouti, the U.S. has been expanding these covert wars in Africa. And most of what—most Americans, what they know about Somalia is Black Hawk Down. And I think in our film you’re going to see a very different reality, and you’re going to see the hellscape that has been built by a decade of covert war.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it too cynical to say—I mean, this is the fourth anniversary of President Obama promising to close Guantánamo. It hasn’t happened. There’s still scores of men there, 166 men. Something—more than 80 of them have been cleared, yet they’re still there. Is it too cynical to say that this "dirty war," as you call it, the targeted killings, are a way to end all of these prisons? Because you don’t detain prisoners, you simply kill them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s what people like Jack Goldsmith and other, you know, former Bush legal advisers and national security team—I mean, the irony of these guys, who have no moral standing to talk about these issues, are saying, "Well, Obama is just killing these people. At least we stuck them in some sort of a prison." I mean, it’s devastating that this is what these Bush people are saying about Obama. That’s what they’re alleging.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, devastating is your film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. It has premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, has just been picked up IFC, Sundance Selects, which means it will go out to scores of movie theaters around the country. This is just the beginning. And I congratulate you both, Jeremy Scahill, Rick Rowley, of Big Noise Films and The Nation magazine and Democracy Now! What an amazing film. This is our first day at the Sundance Film Festival. I thank all for all the work they’ve done.Tue, 01/22/2013 - 13:56
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Pham To looked great for 78 years old. (At least, that’s about how old he thought he was.) His hair was thin, gray, and receding at the temples, but his eyes were lively and his physique robust -- all the more remarkable given what he had lived through. I listened intently, as I had so many times before to so many similar stories, but it was still beyond my ability to comprehend. It’s probably beyond yours, too.
Pham To told me that the planes began their bombing runs in 1965 and that periodic artillery shelling started about the same time. Nobody will ever know just how many civilians were killed in the years after that. “The number is uncountable,” he said one spring day a few years ago in a village in the mountains of rural central Vietnam. “So many people died.”
And it only got worse. Chemical defoliants came next, ravaging the land. Helicopter machine gunners began firing on locals. By 1969, bombing and shelling were day-and-night occurrences. Many villagers fled. Some headed further into the mountains, trading the terror of imminent death for a daily struggle of hardscrabble privation; others were forced into squalid refugee resettlement areas. Those who remained in the village suffered more when the troops came through. Homes were burned as a matter of course. People were kicked and beaten. Men were shot when they ran in fear. Women were raped. One morning, a massacre by American soldiers wiped out 21 fellow villagers. This was the Vietnam War for Pham To, as for so many rural Vietnamese.
One, Two… Many Vietnams?
At the beginning of the Iraq War, and for years after, reporters, pundits, veterans, politicians, and ordinary Americans asked whether the American debacle in Southeast Asia was being repeated. Would it be “another Vietnam”? Would it become a “quagmire”?
The same held true for Afghanistan. Years after 9/11, as that war, too, foundered, questions about whether it was “Obama’s Vietnam” appeared ever more frequently. In fact, by October 2009, a majority of Americans had come to believe it was “turning into another Vietnam.”
In those years, “Vietnam” even proved a surprisingly two-sided analogy -- after, at least, generals began reading and citing revisionist texts about that war. These claimed, despite all appearances, that the U.S. military had actually won in Vietnam (before the politicians, media, and antiwar movement gave the gains away). The same winning formula, they insisted, could be used to triumph again. And so, a failed solution from that failed war, counterinsurgency, or COIN, was trotted out as the military panacea for impending disaster.
Debated comparisons between the two ongoing wars and the one that somehow never went away, came to litter newspapers, journals, magazines, and the Internet -- until David Petraeus, a top COINdinista general who had written his doctoral dissertation on the “lessons” of the Vietnam War, was called in to settle the matter by putting those lessons to work winning the other two. In the end, of course, U.S. troops were booted out of Iraq, while the war in Afghanistan continues to this day as a dismally devolving stalemate, now wracked by “green-on-blue” or “insider” attacks on U.S. forces, while the general himself returned to Washington as CIA director to run covert wars in Pakistan and Yemen before retiring in disgrace following a sex scandal.
Still, for all the ink about the “Vietnam analogy,” virtually none of the reporters, pundits, historians, generals, politicians, or other members of the chattering classes ever so much as mentioned the Vietnam War as Pham To knew it. In that way, they managed to miss the one unfailing parallel between America’s wars in all three places: civilian suffering.
For all the dissimilarities, botched analogies, and tortured comparisons, there has been one connecting thread in Washington’s foreign wars of the last half century that, in recent years at least, Americans have seldom found of the slightest interest: misery for local nationals. Civilian suffering is, in fact, the defining characteristic of modern war in general, even if only rarely discussed in the halls of power or the mainstream media.
An Unimaginable Toll
Pham To was lucky. He and Pham Thang, another victim and a neighbor, told me that, of the 2,000 people living in their village before the war, only 300 survived it. Bombing, shelling, a massacre, disease, and starvation had come close to wiping out their entire settlement. “So many people were hungry,” Pham Thang said. “With no food, many died. Others were sick and with medications unavailable, they died, too. Then there was the bombing and shelling, which took still more lives. They all died because of the war.”
Leaving aside those who perished from disease, hunger, or lack of medical care, at least 3.8 million Vietnamese died violent war deaths according to researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington. The best estimate we have is that 2 million of them were civilians. Using a very conservative extrapolation, this suggests that 5.3 million civilians were wounded during the war, for a total of 7.3 million Vietnamese civilian casualties overall. To such figures might be added an estimated 11.7 million Vietnamese forced from their homes and turned into refugees, up to 4.8 million sprayed with toxic herbicides like Agent Orange, an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million war orphans, and 1 million war widows.
The numbers are staggering, the suffering incalculable, the misery almost incomprehensible to most Americans but not, perhaps, to an Iraqi.
No one will ever know just how many Iraqis died in the wake of the U.S. invasion of 2003. In a country with an estimated population of about 25 million at the time, a much-debated survey -- the results of which were published in the British medical journal The Lancet -- suggested more than 601,000 violent “excess deaths” had occurred by 2006. Another survey indicated that more than 1.2 million Iraqi civilians had died because of the war (and the various internal conflicts that flowed from it) as of 2007. The Associated Press tallied up records of 110,600 deaths by early 2009. An Iraqi family health survey fixed the number at 151,000 violent deaths by June 2006. Official documents made public by Wikileaks counted 109,000 deaths, including 66,081 civilian deaths, between 2004 and 2009. Iraq Body Count has tallied as many as 121,220 documented cases of violent civilian deaths alone.
Then there are those 3.2 million Iraqis who were internally displaced or fled the violence to other lands, only to find uncertainty and deprivation in places like Jordan, Iran, and now war-torn Syria. By 2011, 9% or more of Iraq’s women, as many as 1 million, were widows (a number that skyrocketed in the years after the U.S. invasion). A recent survey found that 800,000 to 1 million Iraqi children had lost one or both parents, a figure that only grows with the continuing violence that the U.S. unleashed but never stamped out.
Today, the country, which experienced an enormous brain drain of professionals, has a total of 200 social workers and psychiatrists to aid all those, armed and unarmed, who suffered every sort of horror and trauma. (In just the last seven years, by comparison, the U.S. Veterans Administration has hired 7,000 new mental health professionals to deal with Americans who have been psychologically scarred by war.)
Many Afghans, too, would surely be able to relate to what Pham To and millions of Vietnamese war victims endured. For more than 30 years, Afghanistan has, with the rarest of exceptions, been at war. It all started with the 1979 Soviet invasion and Washington’s support for some of the most extreme of the Islamic militants who opposed the Russian occupation of the country.
The latest iteration of war there began with an invasion by U.S. and allied forces in 2001, and has since claimed the lives of many thousands of civilians in roadside and aerial bombings, suicide attacks and helicopter attacks, night raids and outright massacres. Untold numbers of Afghans have also died of everything from lack of access to medical care (there are just 2 doctors for every 10,000 Afghans) to exposure, including shocking reports of children freezing to death in refugee camps last winter and again this year. They were among the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have been internally displaced during the war. Millions more live as refugees outside the country, mostly in Iran and Pakistan. Of the women who remain in the country, up to 2 million are widows. In addition, there are now an estimated 2 million Afghan orphans. No wonder polling by Gallup this past summer found 96% of Afghans claiming they were either “suffering” or “struggling,” and just 4% “thriving.”
American Refugees in Mexico?
For most Americans, this type of unrelenting, war-related misery is unfathomable. Few have ever personally experienced anything like what their tax dollars have wrought in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia in the last half-century. And while surprising numbers of Americans do suffer from poverty and deprivation, few know anything about what it’s like to live through a year of war -- let alone 10, as Pham To did -- under the constant threat of air strikes, artillery fire, and violence perpetrated by foreign ground troops.
Still, as a simple thought experiment, let’s consider for a moment what it might be like in American terms. Imagine that the United States had experienced an occupation by a foreign military force. Imagine millions or even tens of millions of American civilians dead or wounded as a result of an invasion and resulting civil strife.
Imagine a country in which your door might be kicked down in the dead of night by heavily-armed, foreign young men, in strange uniforms, helmets and imposing body armor, yelling things in a language you don’t understand. Imagine them rifling through your drawers, upending your furniture, holding you at gunpoint, roughing up your husband or son or brother, and marching him off in the middle of the night. Imagine, as well, a country in which those foreigners kill American “insurgents” and then routinely strip them naked; in which those occupying troops sometimes urinate on American bodies (and shoot videos of it); or take trophy photos of their “kills”; or mutilate them; or pose with the body parts of dead Americans; or from time to time -- for reasons again beyond your comprehension -- rape or murder your friends and neighbors.
Imagine, for a moment, violence so extreme that you and literally millions like you have to flee your hometowns for squalid refugee camps or expanding slums ringing the nearest cities. Imagine trading your home for a new one without heat or electricity, possibly made of refuse with a corrugated metal roof that roars when it rains. Then imagine living there for months, if not years.
Imagine things getting so bad that you decide to trek across the Mexican border to live an uncertain life, forever wondering if your new violence- and poverty-wracked host nation will turn you out or if you’ll ever be able to return to your home in the U.S. Imagine living with these realities day after day for up to decade.
After natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, small numbers of Americans briefly experience something like what millions of war victims -- Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghans, and others -- have often had to endure for significant parts of their lives. But for those in America’s war zones, there will be no telethons, benefit concerts, or texting fund drives.
Pham To and Pham Thang had to bury the bodies of their family members, friends, and neighbors after they were massacred by American troops passing through their village on patrol. They had to rebuild their homes and their lives after the war with remarkably little help. One thing was as certain for them as it has been for war-traumatized Iraqis and Afghans of our moment: no Hollywood luminaries lined up to help raise funds for them or their village. And they never will.
“We lost so many people and so much else. And this land was affected by Agent Orange, too. You’ve come to write about the war, but you could never know the whole story,” Pham Thang told me. Then he became circumspect. “Now, our two governments, our two countries, live in peace and harmony. And we just want to restore life to what it once was here. We suffered great losses. The U.S. government should offer assistance to help increase the local standard of living, provide better healthcare, and build infrastructure like better roads.”
No doubt -- despite the last decade of U.S. nation-building debacles in its war zones -- many Iraqis and Afghans would express similar sentiments. Perhaps they will even be saying the same sort of thing to an American reporter decades from now.
Over these last years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of war victims like Pham Thang, and he’s right: I’ll probably never come close to knowing what life was like for those whose worlds were upended by America’s foreign wars. And I’m far from alone. Most Americans never make it to a war zone, and even U.S. military personnel arrive only for finite tours of duty, while for combat correspondents and aid workers an exit door generally remains open. Civilians like Pham To, however, are in it for the duration.
In the Vietnam years, there was at least an antiwar movement in this country that included many Vietnam veterans who made genuine efforts to highlight the civilian suffering they knew was going on at almost unimaginable levels. In contrast, in the decade-plus since 9/11, with the rarest of exceptions, Americans have remained remarkably detached from their distant wars, thoroughly ignoring what can be known about the suffering that has been caused in their name.
As I was wrapping up my interview, Pham Thang asked me about the purpose of the last hour and a half of questions I’d asked him. Through my interpreter, I explained that most Americans knew next to nothing about Vietnamese suffering during the war and that most books written in my country on the war years ignored it. I wanted, I told him, to offer Americans the chance to hear about the experiences of ordinary Vietnamese for the first time.
“If the American people know about these incidents, if they learn about the wartime suffering of people in Vietnam, do you think theywill sympathize?” he asked me.
Soon enough, I should finally know the answer to his question.Tue, 01/08/2013 - 12:22