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Beyond the Military: Investigating the Civilian Role in the Argentine Dictatorship

By Tess Bennett | The Argentina Independent | December 17, 2013

Last Friday, after 13 months and 400 witness testimonies, the mega-lawsuit in Federal Court of Tucumán found 37 of 41 defendants guilty of crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 dictatorship in Argentina. In the historic trial, known as Jefatura II-Arsenales II, four civilians were among the accused: two were pardoned and two were convicted for their involvement in the dictatorship.

María Elena Guerra, a civilian and ex-police officer, and Guillermo Francisco Lopez Guerrero, a civil intelligence agent, joined a select few civilians who have been found guilty of crimes committed during the brutal seven-year military regime, in which some 30,000 people were kidnapped and killed or ‘disappeared’.

Since the trials were reopened in 2003, hundreds of members of the military have been sentenced to prison for crimes committed during the dictatorship. However, it was only in December last year that James Smart, a former government minister of the Province of Buenos Aires, became the first civilian to be convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship. He was sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed in six clandesine detention centres.

These landmark rulings demonstrate how, after 30 years of democratic rule, the way Argentines, politicians, and the legal system examine crimes from this period has evolved, with the focus turning more recently to the role of businesses and civilians in the human rights atrocities of that period.

Human rights groups have long used the term ‘civic-military dictatorship’ to acknowledge the complicity and support of some civilian sectors. But the title has become increasingly common in recent years under the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, opening the door for a number of emblematic trials investigating the role of these civilians, with the aim of bringing the impunity of the powerful to an end.

Causes of the Coup: A New Economic Model

Human rights groups argue that economic motives were behind the 24th March 1976 coup, saying it can no longer be argued that the objective was only to combat “subversion”. They believe so-called “captains of industry” collaborated with military leaders to perpetrate crimes against humanity for economic gain.

Last week, Banco de la Nación Argentina officially recognised Roberto Hugo Barrera as the 31st employee still missing – disappeared – after being kidnapped during the dictatorship. The institution has been an important player in the drive to highlight the economic motives behind the so-called ‘National Reorganisation Process’ implemented by the military junta.

Graciela Navarro, President of the Commission of the Banco de la Nación Personnel for Memory, Truth and Justice told The Argentina Independent that when identifying what occurred in 1976, it is first important to understand that there was no “war.”

“There were operations of some armed groups, but these were isolated. There was never a war here. It was always state terrorism,” she said, alluding to the still oft-used term ‘Dirty War’ by foreign press.

According to Navarro, certain civilian sectors used the military to implement a neo-liberal economic model. “It was necessary to implement an economic model of exclusion to benefit economic groups that utilised the Armed Forces as a instrument of social discipline – for repression, for fear, to deal with any resistance movement.

“The true causes of the coup were economic, because of this we say civic-military dictatorship,” she added.

Marta Santos, a former Central Bank employee and friend of one of the five known desaparecidos (missing) who worked at the institution, echoes this view.

“This dictatorship, this military force, needed the support of civilians in key parts of the state and in the private economy… In this sense we say that dictatorship was civic-military because it pursued neo-liberal economic interests of private [business] and the state,” says Santos, who today is part of a team working with the Central Bank to investigate if there are more unknown desaparecidos who worked there.

Civilians in Government

Santos says it is important to denounce civilian collusion with the military junta in the defence of democracy, to ensure these institutions can never again prop up a dictatorship. She names José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz as the prime example of civilian involvement.

Former president of the steel company Acindar – which operated one of the country’s first clandestine torture and detention centres on its premises in 1975 – Martínez de Hoz was economy minister from 1976 to 1981, in charge of ushering in a new economic paradigm based on the principles of neo-liberalism. During this period, it was common for businessmen close to the economy minister to assume key government roles, helping to fuse civil society to the military junta. His policies sowed the seeds for financial collapse, providing a brief period of prosperity but leading to a deep recession in 1981 and saddling the nation with a burdensome external debt that would cause problems long after the return to democracy.

José Martínez de Hoz as economy minister (1976-81)

José Martínez de Hoz – 1976

Martínez de Hoz was under house arrest when he died in March this year, being investigated for his alleged role in the kidnap of father and son, Federico and Miguel Gutheim. The family owned the cotton export company Sadeco, and were allegedly coerced into making business deals that favoured the dictatorship.

He was also linked to the kidnap of René Carlos Alberto Grassi, director de Industrias Siderúrgicas Grassi (a rival company of Acindar) and president of the Bank of Hurlingham, in September 1978. Grassi was held in Campo de Mayo for a year after his abduction, and eventually Industrias Siderúrgicas Grassi was absorbed by Acindar. One month before the abduction, Martínez de Hoz had asked to buy the Bank of Hurlingham and was declined.

From the early days of the dictatorship there was a strong repression of workers, but the kidnap of Grassi was significant; he did not pose a threat as an opposition force to the regime, his value was economic.

Martínez de Hoz was pardoned by Menem in 1990, though this was annulled 16 years later when the Gutheim case was reopened. Up until his death, he denied any involvement in the kidnappings and was a remorseless defender of the dictatorship-era economic policies.

The investigation of Martínez de Hoz is an early example of a civilian investigated for abuses committed during the reign of the military junta. In recent years, many more legal battles concerning civilian’s roles in the dictatorship have come to the surface.

Thirty Years of Reconstruction

Horacio Verbitsky, president of CELS and co-author of the 2013 book ‘Cuentas pendientes: los cómplices económicos de la dictadura’, which examines the links between economic powers and state repression, argues the economic influence of civilians who were complicit in the dictatorship continued throughout the first two decades of democracy. Verbitsky argues that economic powers could have endangered the stability of democracy, which limited the possibility of pursuing justice for their responsibility during the dictatorship.

Argentina’s first president after the return of democracy, Raúl Alfonsín, had the complex task of addressing human rights abuses in the face of a weak economy and massive external debt, which had ballooned from US$7.87bn in 1975 to US$43bn in 1982.

“It is not easy to build democracy in a setting where political culture and civic habits have been degraded by authoritarianism. Nor is it easy to build democracy in the midst of a deep economic crisis exacerbated by the need to repay a huge foreign debt that the old dictatorial regime had contracted and irresponsibly misspent,” Alfonsín said in 1992, after his term had ended prematurely in 1989.

Videla and other military chiefs are found guilty of crimes against humanity in 1985.

Videla and other military chiefs are found guilty of crimes against humanity in 1985.

The neo-liberal economic paradigm that dominated the nineties – a time that corresponded with the amnesty offered to those responsible in the dictatorship – deepened the economic model launched in 1976, taking it to the economic and political crisis of 2001.

Graciela Navarro believes that since Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003 there have been two distinct periods relating to the last civic-military dictatorship, the first being the recovery of the memory of those who had been tortured or disappeared, and the end of impunity for military leaders. “When Cristina was elected,” Navarro believes, “it was possible to begin to examine the true causes of the coup, which were economic, and charge those who are responsible.

“The military has been judged,” adds Navarro, “but many civilians, if not them then their children, are owners of the large economic groups… this is difficult. These are the interests that Cristina is dealing with.”

Pending Cases

After years of impunity, Argentina’s legal system has begun to investigate the role of officials, powerful businessmen, and mulitnationals who may have collaborated with the military in state terrorism. According to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), as of September 2013 there were a total of 261 civilians accused of involvement in the human rights abuses of the era.

Several high profile and emblematic cases involving civilians, and their business interests, are currently making their way through the legal system.

Papel Prensa: On 2nd November, 1976, three newspapers – Clarín, La Nación, and La Razón – obtained the majority shares in Papel Prensa, the company which produces newsprint for the industry, soon after owner, businessman and banker David Graiver, died in a plane crash in Mexico in August 1976. Graiver’s widow, Lidia Papaleo testified in 2010 that at that time she was stripped of the factory after receiving death threats against her and her young daughter. In March 1977, Papaleo was abducted and tortured until she was released on July 24, 1982.

The case concerning the sale of Papel Prensa was opened in August 2010 after President Fernández presented a report in the Casa Rosada titled “Papel Prensa: The Truth” denouncing the “illegal appropriation” of the business. Most recently, the case has been in the headlines after the discovery of official minutes from the dictatorship that mention Papel Prensa 13 times between September 1976 and November 1977.

According to Defence Minister Agustín Rossi, the minutes make it “clear that for the Junta, Papel Prensa was a part of the same theme as the detention of [ex-owners] the Graiver family… this appears clearly in the minutes.” Copies of the documents are now in the hands of Federal Judge Julián Ercolini, who has jurisdiction over the case.

Ledesma: Also working its way through the legal system is a case involving president of sugar company Ledesma, one of Argentina’s most powerful businesses, for his involvement in kidnappings during the ‘blackout night’, when over 400 people were kidnapped in the province of Jujuy following an electricity outage on 20th July, 1976.

President of Ledesma Carlos Blaquier and former general manager Alberto Lemos are accused of providing the vehicles that were used for transporting the victims. This month, the Federal Court of Salta confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that the company Ledesma collaborated in the kidnapping of their workers to dismantle the labour union. As a result, Blaquier and Lemos will be put on trial, which is set to begin in April 2014. The court upheld that Blaquier will be prosecuted as a “necessary participant” in twenty cases of illegal deprivation of liberty and Lemos is accused of being a “secondary participant” to the kidnappings.

Ford: During the dictatorship, the Ford Falcon became known as a vehicle commonly used by kidnappers. But the company is also accused of more direct involvement in the human rights abuses of the time.

In May, charges were laid against three ex-directors of Ford Motors Argentina for their role in the disappearance of 24 workers from the plant. Former plant manager Pedro Müller, ex-leader of labour relations Guillermo Galarraga, and ex-security chief Héctor Sibilla are accused of having given to military commanders in the area “personal data, photographs, and addresses” of workers at the factory between 24th March and 20th August, 1976.

The three men are also accused of having allowed the military to use the factory as a detention centre where they carried out the interrogation of the workers. According to Judge Alicia Vence, the workers were “tied up with their faces covered and beaten.”

Although 24 workers survived the kidnapping and torture, only twelve are still alive today. The formal legal process began in 2001 but the first reports of the events date back to 1984.

Mercedes Benz: The families of 17 workers from the Mercedes Benz plant who were kidnapped and tortured have bought a civil case against the parent company of the car maker, Daimler Chrysler, in the US. Mercedes-Benz Argentina is alleged to have identified workers who were kidnapped and sent to the clandestine torture centre, Campo de Mayo, during the dictatorship.

The investigation began in 2004 and has been rejected by US courts on previous occasions, with the US Supreme Court currently determining if the case falls under its jurisdiction. A decision is expected in the coming months on whether multinational corporations can be sued in US courts for alleged human rights abuses abroad.

In Argentina, the lawsuit for kidnapping and torture of the 17 workers, 14 of whom are still missing, was initiated by journalist Gabriela Weber in 2002 and in 2006 was transferred to Federal Court in San Martín under the charge of Judge Alicia Vence. So far no one has been formally charged or arrested.

The car maker is also accused of the appropriation of three children, and the adoption and substitution of identity of Paula Logares, the first grandchildren reclaimed by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in 1987.

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Beyond the Military: Investigating the Civilian Role in the Argentine Dictatorship

Dirty Wars and Self-Indulgence

By Douglas Valentine | Dissident Voice | June 7, 2013

Let me begin with some background not covered in the film.  Dirty War derives from “La Salle Guerre”, the term the French applied to their counter-terror campaign in Algeria, circa 1954-1961. Algeria wanted independence, and France resisted.

Like subject people everywhere, the Algerians were badly outgunned and resorted to guerrilla tactics including “selective terrorism,” a hallmark of the Viet Minh, who fought the French until 1954, when America claimed Vietnam as its rightful property. Viet Minh tactics were derived largely from Mao’s precepts for fighting a People’s War.

Selective terrorism meant the murder of low-ranking officials – collaborators – who worked closely with the people; policemen, mailmen, teachers, etc. The murders were gruesome – a bullet in the belly or a grenade lobbed into a café – designed to achieve maximum publicity and demonstrate to the people the power of the nationalists to strike crippling blows against their oppressors.

Whether the Great White Fathers are French or American or English, they agree that putting down a People’s War means torturing and slaughtering the people – despite the fact that most people are not engaged in terrorism or guerrilla action and have no blood on their hands.

As John Stockwell taught us years ago, Dirty War means destabilizing a targeted nation through covert methods, the type the CIA has practiced around the world for 66 years.  Destabilizing means “hiring agents to tear apart the social and economic fabric of the country.

“What we’re talking about is going in and deliberately creating conditions where the farmer can’t get his produce to market; where children can’t go to school; where women are terrified inside their homes as well as outside; where government administered programs grind to a complete halt; where the hospitals are treating wounded people instead of sick people; where international capital is scared away and the country goes bankrupt.”

Economic warfare – strangling nations like Cuba, Iraq and Iran in Medieval fashion – is a type of Dirty Warfare beloved by the Great White Fathers who control the world’s finances. Though no less deadly than atomic bombs, or firebombing Dresden, it is easier to sell to the bourgeoisie.

You’ll hear no mention of this in Scahill’s film, nor will you hear any references to Phil Agee, or the countless others who have explained Dirty War to each generation of Americans since World War Two.

You will not hear about psychological warfare, the essence of Dirty War.

America’s first was terror guru was Ed Lansdale, the advertising executive who made Levi’s blue jeans a national craze in the 1930’s.   He applied his sales skills to propaganda in the OSS and after WW II, concocted a new generation of psywar tactics as an agent of the Office of Policy Coordination assigned to the Philippines under military cover.  Lansdale’s bottomless black bag of dirty tricks included a “skull squadron” death squad that roamed the countryside, torturing and murdering Communist terrorists.

One of Lansdale’s counter-terror “psywar” tactics was to string a captured Communist guerrilla upside down from a tree, stab him in the neck with a stiletto, and drain his blood. The terrorized Commies fled the area and the terrified villagers, who believed in vampires, begged the government for protection.

Lansdale referred to his sadism as “low humor,” an excuse borrowed liberally by American officialdom during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Lansdale formalized “black propaganda” practices to vilify the Communists: one of his Filipino commando units would dress as rebels and commit atrocities, and then another unit would arrive with cameras to record the staged scenes and chase the “terrorists” away.

Lansdale brought his black propaganda and passion for atrocity to Saigon in 1954, along with a goon squad of Filipino mercenaries packaged as “Freedom Company.”

Under Lansdale’s guidance, Freedom Company sent Vietnamese commandoes into North Vietnam, under cover as relief workers, to activate stay-behind agent nets and conduct all manner of sabotage and subversion.  Disinformation was a Lansdale specialty, and his agents spread lurid tales of Vietminh soldiers’ disemboweling pregnant Catholic women, castrating priests, and sticking bamboo slivers in the ears of children so they could not hear the Word of God.

In the South, with the help of the American media, Lansdale re-branded the heroic Vietminh as the beastly Viet Cong.

Lansdale’s greatest innovation, still used today, was to conduct all manner of espionage and terror under cover of “civic action.”  As a way of attacking Viet Minh agents in the South, Lansdale launched “Operation Brotherhood,” a Filipino paramedical team patterned on the typical Special Forces A team. With CIA money, Operation Brotherhood built medical dispensaries that the CIA used as cover for terror operations, as depicted in the book and movie The Quiet American.

Levis never went out of fashion, nor did Lansdale’s dirty tricks. Think Saddam Hussein killing babies in their incubators. Such disinformation invariably works on an American public looking for any excuse to rationalize its urge for racist genocide.

Think Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and every Rambo and Bruce Willis films.

Only Americans were fooled by the propaganda, and the Vietnamese quickly caught on.  So the CIA in 1956 launched the Denunciation of Communists campaign, which compelled the Vietnamese people to inform on Commies or get tortured and murdered.  The campaign was managed by CIA agents who could arrest, confiscate land from, and execute Communists and their sympathizers on the CIA’s master list. In determining who was a Communist, the CIA used a three-part classification system: A for dangerous party members, B for less dangerous party members, and C for loyal citizens.

As happened later in the Phoenix program, the threat of an A or B classification was used to extort innocent civilians, while category A and B offenders were put to work building houses and offices for CIA officers and their lackeys. And, of course, the puppet Vietnamese President used his CIA created, funded and trained security forces to eliminate his political rivals.

As Lansdale confessed, “it became a repressive tool to liquidate any opponent.”

“This development was political,” Lansdale observes. “My first inkling came when several families appeared at my house one morning to tell me about the arrest at midnight of their men-folk, all of whom were political figures. The arrests had a strange aspect to them, having come when the city was asleep and being made by heavily armed men who were identified as ‘special police’.”

Lansdale complained, but he was told that a “U.S. policy decision had been made. We Americans were to give what assistance we could to the building of a strong nationalistic party that would support Diem. Since Diem was now the elected president, he needed to have his own party.”

How We Got To Scahill’s Dirty War

By 1962, as the US expanded its Dirty Wars in the Far East and South America, the military replaced its Office of Special Operations with an up-dated Special Assistant for Counter-insurgency and Special Activities (SACSA).  SACSA assigned unconventional warfare forces to the CIA and regular army commanders, who initially resisted.

The development of psychological warfare and special operations is explained in Michael McClintock’s Instruments of Statecraft. For the CIA politics behind it, see Burton Hersh’s The Old Boys.

In 1965 Lansdale went back to Vietnam to run the Revolutionary Development Cadre Program as the CIA’s “second station” with a staff of CIA officers, Green Beanies, and Daniel Ellsberg. Vietnam was a laboratory and the CIA was experimenting with Pacification, aka “the Other War.”

In 1967, the CIA created the Phoenix program to coordinate everyone in its Dirty War.  Phoenix combined existing counterinsurgency programs in a concerted effort to neutralize the civilians running the shadow government.  Neutralize means to kill, capture, or make to defect.  Central to Phoenix was that it targeted civilians. “By analogy,” said Ogden Reid, a member of a congressional committee investigating Phoenix in 1971, “if the Union had had a Phoenix program during the Civil War, its targets would have been civilians like Jefferson Davis or the mayor of Macon, Georgia.”

Under Phoenix, due process was nonexistent.  South Vietnamese civilians whose names appeared on CIA blacklists were kidnapped, tortured, detained without trial, or murdered on the word of an informer. Phoenix managers imposed a quota of 1,800 neutralizations per month on the saps running the program in the field, opening it up to abuses by corrupt security officers, policemen, politicians, and racketeers. One CIA officer described Phoenix as, “A very good blackmail scheme for the central government. `If you don’t do what I want, you’re VC.”‘

Because Phoenix assassinations (totaling 25,000+) were often conducted at night while its victims were home sleeping, Phoenix proponents describe the program as a “scalpel” designed to replace the “bludgeon” of My Lai-style search and destroy operations, air strikes, and artillery barrages that indiscriminately wiped out entire villages and did little to “win the hearts and minds” of the people.  But that was just propaganda and Phoenix was, among other things, an instrument of counter-terror – the psywar tactic in which enemy agents were brutally murdered along with their families and neighbors as a means of terrorizing the people into a state of submission. Such horrendous acts were, for propaganda purposes, often made to look as if they had been committed by the enemy.

This practice is at the heart of the film I will be reviewing.

As noted, conventional soldiers hated Phoenix. General Bruce Palmer, commander of the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division in 1968, objected to the “involuntary assignment of U.S. Army officers to the program. I don’t believe that people in uniform,” he said, “who are pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions, should be put in the position of having to break those laws of warfare.”

Palmer’s was such a charming sentiment.  By 2004, Obama advisor Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, in an article for Small Wars Journal, was calling for a “global Phoenix Program.”  Tom Hayden wrote an article for The Nation about Kilcullen in 2008 titled “Reviving Vietnam War Tactics”.

Fact is, Phoenix never went out of fashion.  As McClintock notes, “Counterinsurgency and indeed all aspects of special warfare doctrine had developed a reasonable level of political sophistication by the mid-1970s, acknowledging the necessity of combining military and civil initiatives.”

By 1975 SACSA had expired, the nation had internalized its humiliating defeat in Vietnam, and the CIA, wounded by the Church Committee hearings, went underground. The age of counter-terror began.  Central and South America were the new laboratories.   The CIA forged secret alliances with proxy nations like Israel and Taiwan, whose agents taught Latin American landowners how to organize criminals into death squads which murdered and terrorized labor leaders, Human Rights activists, and all other enemies of the Great White Fathers.

To compensate for the reduction in size of its paramilitary Special Operations Division, the CIA formed its Office of Terrorism. Meanwhile, the military branches beefed up their terror capabilities, all of which glommed together in December 1980 in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  Steve Emerson chronicles this development in detail in Secret Warriors (1988).

JSOC’s mission, conducted on the Phoenix model with the CIA, is identifying and destroying terrorists and terror cells worldwide. Paramilitary personnel are often exchanged between JSOC and CIA.

By the early 1980s, CIA and military veterans of the Phoenix program were running counter-insurgency and counter-terror ops worldwide.

General Paul Gorman, who commanded U.S. forces in Central America in the mid-1980′s, defined this advanced form of Dirty War as “a form of warfare repugnant to Americans, a conflict which involves innocents, in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicit object.”  (Toledo Blade 1 Jan 1987)

All of which brings me to my review.

Dirty Wars

Dirty Wars is a post-modern film by Jeremy Scahill, about himself, starring himself in many poses.

The film owes more to Sergio Leone and Kathryn Bigelow than Constantinos Gavras. Scahill certainly is no Leslie Cockburn: there is no Tony Poe telling how the CIA facilitates heroin shipments; no Richard Secord suing him for unraveling the financial intrigues of the CIA’s secret operators. The CIA is rarely mentioned.

There is no reference to the Guerra Sucia in Argentina.

Scahill is no Franz Fallon documenting the devastating psychological effects of racism on society. There are no cameos by Jean-Paul Sartre advocating violent retribution on Hollywood, no mingling with the Taliban in their caves as they conspire against their Yankee oppressors at the Sundance Film Festival.

We get the first taste of his self-indulgent idiocy when he says it is “hard to tell” when the Dirty War began. He does tell us, however, that he is on the “front lines” of the war on terror.

Scahill (hereafter JS) brags that he wasn’t going to find the front lines in Kabul, although he could have, if he knew where to look. Instead he just looks around furtively on his way to the scene of a war crime. We see a close-up of his face.

The endless close-ups artfully convey the feeling that our hero is utterly alone, on some mythic journey of self-discovery, without a film crew or interpreters. There is no evidence that anyone went to Gardez to make sure everyone was waiting and not toiling in the fields or tending the flocks, or whatever they do. And we’ll never find out what the victims do. The stage isn’t big enough for JS and anyone else.

This is a major theme throughout the story – JS is doing all this alone and the isolation preys on him. He bears this heavy burden alone, with many soulless looks.

Initially, there is no mention that journalist Jerome Starkey reported what happened in Gardez. JS is too busy establishing himself as the courageous super-sleuth. As we drive along the road, he reminds us how much danger he is in.  Two journalists were kidnapped here, he says. This area is “beyond” NATO control. He must get in and out before nightfall or the Taliban will surely kill him like the Capitalist dog he is.

In my drinking days, we referred to this type of behavior as grandiosity. Telling everyone how you defied death, so the guys would talk about your exploits in the bars, and the girls would fall at your feet. For JS, this formula is working – a visit to his Facebook page reveals scores of “Millennial girls” wringing their hands and fretting for his safety as he strides across America’s secret battlefields in search of the truth. His carefully crafted Wiki bio furthers the legend.

Using the material gathered by Starkey (whom he eventually acknowledges), JS shows that in February 2010, American soldiers murdered five people in Gardez, including two pregnant women, and tried to cover it up by digging the bullets out of the targeted man’s body. He interviews the surviving family members. They weep. Violin music plays.  They seem more like props than human beings.

JS ingenuously asks various Afghan and American officials, why the cover-up? The officials suggest that the targeted man was working for the Taliban – and if you play that double-game, you risk your family and friends. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tells JS they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He says there will be no investigation.

Cut to Capitol Hill where, by his own account, JS has greatness thrust upon him. “It is imperative,” he tells Chairman John Conyers, “that Congress investigates this shadow war to examine its legality.”

What, one wonders, was Conyers thinking? Forty-two years earlier, after hearing testimony from Bart Osborn and Michael Uhl about the Phoenix program, Conyers and three other U.S. representatives stated their belief that “The people of these United States … have deliberately imposed on the Vietnamese people a system of justice which admittedly denies due process of law …. In so doing, we appear to have violated the 1949 Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian peoples.”

His testimony, JS tells us, “throws him into the public arena,” ever so reluctantly. He revisits his Blackwater testimony and shows pictures of himself with numerous celebrities on TV.

B-takes of Scahill walking among the common folk in Brooklyn, plotting his next move.  Haunted by the horror of Gardez, he files FOIA requests and discovers that William McRaven is head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). He’s stunned. He’s been a national security reporter for over a decade, and he’s never heard of JSOC before.  It’s covert. The story has been hidden in the shadows, he says.

This was the turning point of the film for me. For a National Security correspondent, this is an admission akin to a botanist saying he’d never heard of flowers. It’s an admission that fairly sums up the sorry state of reporting in America today. Has JS ever read a book?

JS discovers that Gardez is not an isolated incident, and that JSOC rampages across Afghanistan with “unprecedented authority.” He talks to a former JSOC soldier about its activities in Iraq, where it had hit lists and conducted night raids. This revelation, and the fact that McRaven took responsibility for Gardez, leads JS to conclude that JSOC is responsible for Gardez. It certainly wasn’t Congress, which according to JS, has no control over JSOC. JSOC money comes from rich donors.

JS learns that JSOC is not only in Afghanistan, but that it operates worldwide, and that its hit lists get bigger all the time. And we hear, for the first time, the catchy phrase, “the world is a battlefield.”

At this point JS decides, with the help of The Nation brain trust, to investigate JSOC in Yemen where CIA drones are wiping out people by the score.

B-take of JS sipping tea thoughtfully. He’s going to talk to the most powerful man in South Yemen. We view the scene of a drone strike: 46 killed, including five pregnant women. A woman in a black veil says her entire family, save one daughter, were wiped out. Violin music. But there’s no cover-up here. In fact, Obama personally kept the journalist in prison who reported the strike.

What will Obama do to JS?

Once again, we fear for JS. Luckily he lives to talk to Rachel Maddow and Morning Joe. The greatness thrust upon him forces him onto TV shows everywhere. There he is with Amy Goodman!

More close-ups. We count the pores on his nose, the hairs in his eyebrows. We feel the fear. He gets a strange call. Someone tells him JSOC tortures people without telling the CIA or regular army, which are too busy torturing people to care.

As he studies the hit lists, he comes across radical America Muslim, Anwar al-Awlaki. After talking to Tony Schaffer, he realizes JSOC targets Muslims and that is why, along with the US invasion of Iraq, Awlaki is pissed off. Awlaki is an American but is inciting people to revolution in Yemen, so Yemen allows the CIA to kill him.

Note – the CIA is mentioned maybe twice in the film. Apparently it is so covert it escaped his notice.

We see JS in an exotic location. An airplane lands. JS is back in the USA. He’s been traumatized by what he’s seen. He tells anyone who will listen that the US cannot kill its way to peace, as if peace is the objective. The war on terror, he concludes, is creating enemies, which of course is the objective.

Before the American people can rally to JS’s clarion call, Obama sends some guys to kill Osama bin Laden. This is too much of a coincidence to ignore. Was it done to subvert his investigation? In any event, McRaven and JSOC are now heroes. He meets a knowledgeable person who tells him the Dirty War will go on forever. He tells us about signature strikes that kill people randomly (but not that the CIA conducts them) and that the war on terror is out of control.

Pictures of JS pointing to countries on a map where JSOC operates. He decides to visit Somalia, where JSOC is snatching bodies and taking them to ships in the Arabian Sea, and outsourcing its Dirty War to mercenaries. He visits mercenaries wearing camo fatigues. There are no other journalists here, it is too dangerous. Someone hands JS a flak jacket.  Someone tells him they bury traitors alive. The tension soars. He’s surrounded by armed men. There’s a gunshot. He ducks behind sandbags.

We wonder who arranged for JS to meet these guys? Where did he get an interpreter? What’s the quid pro quo?

JS goes to a hospital morgue and look at a mutilated body. After which he wants to go home. But he learns that Awlaki’s son has been killed and reluctantly he returns to Yemen.

I liked this part of the film. It seemed genuine. We see home videos of Awlaki’s son doing youthful happy things. JS tries to understand why the US would deliberately kill a 16 year old kid? Which is a good question. Perhaps America is ruled by a murderous Cult of Death.

We see pictures of young girls smiling, and we revert back to the contrived scenes and monologue that drag the documentary down into gratuitous self-promotion. JS says he never had any idea where the story would lead, as if all this happened magically, like a rabbit pulled out of a hat.

The film ends and I wonder what he could have produced if he hadn’t melodramatized and spent so much time and film on close-ups. I wonder what he could have done if he’d read a few history books.

Ultimately, the film is so devoid of historical context, and so contrived, as to render it a work of art, rather than political commentary. And as art, it is pure self-indulgence.

And in this sense, it is a perfect slice of modern American life.

Douglas Valentine can be reached at dougvalentine77@gmail.com

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment