Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Blaming the Victims of Israel’s Gaza Massacre

By Gregory Shupak | FAIR | May 17, 2018

Israel massacred 60 Palestinians on Monday, including seven children, bringing to 101 the total number of Palestinians Israel has killed since Palestinians began the Great March on March 30. In that period, Israel has killed 11 Palestinian children, two journalists, one person on crutches and three persons with disabilities.

Monday’s casualties included 1,861 wounded, bringing total injuries inflicted by Israel to 6,938 people, including 3,615 with live fire. Israel is using bullets designed to expand inside the body, causing maximum, often permanent damage: “The injuries sustained by patients will leave most with serious, long-term physical disabilities,” says Médecins Sans Frontières (Ha’aretz, 4/22/18).

On the 70th anniversary of Israel’s so-called “declaration of independence,” the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem—a city Israel claims as its own, despite what international law says on the matter—and Palestinians undertook unarmed protests in reaction to the move and as part of the Great Return March. Although to this point, the only Israeli casualty during the entire cycle of demonstrations has been one “lightly wounded” soldier, considerable space in coverage of the massacres is devoted to blaming Palestinians for their own slaughter.

NBC: Scores Dead in Gaza Fence Protest as US Moves Embassy to Jerusalem

NBC (5/14/18) mentions “what Palestinians refer to as their ‘right of return’”; actually, it’s what international law calls it, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Two of the first three paragraphs in an NBC report (5/14/18) provided Israel’s rationalizations for its killing spree. The second sentence in the article says that the Israeli military

accused Hamas of “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people,” adding that “firebombs and explosive devices” as well as rocks were being thrown towards the barrier.

A Washington Post article (5/14/18) devoted two of its first four sentences to telling readers that Palestinians are responsible for being murdered by Israel. Palestinian “organizers urged demonstrators to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them,” read one sentence. “At the barrier, young men threw stones and tried to launch kites carrying flames in hopes of burning crops on the other side,” stated the next one, as though stones and burning kites released by a besieged people is violence remotely equivalent to subjecting people to a military siege and mowing them down.

The New York Times (5/14/18) said that “a mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire,” painting Israel’s rampage as a reaction to a Palestinian provocation. Like FAIR (2/21/18) has previously said of the word “retaliation,” “response” functions as a justification of Israeli butchery: To characterize Israeli violence as a “response” is to wrongly imply that Palestinian actions warranted Israel unleashing its firing squads.

A Yahoo headline (5/14/18) described “Violent Protests in Gaza Ahead of US Embassy Inauguration in Jerusalem,” a flatly incorrect description in that it attributes the violence to Palestinian demonstrators rather than to Israel. The BBC (5/15/18) did the same with a segment called “Gaza Braced for Further Violent Protests.”

Bloomberg: Hamas Vows to Keep Targeting Fence After Gaza Bloodshed

In Bloomberg‘s account (5/14/18), the fence seemed to be the real victim.

One Bloomberg article (5/14/18) by Saud Abu Ramadan and Amy Teibel had the same problem, referring to “a protest marred by violence,” while another one (5/14/18) attributed only to Ramadan is headlined “Hamas Targets Fence as Gaza Bloodshed Clouds Embassy Move,” as though the fence were Monday’s most tragic casualty. Ascribing this phantom violence to Palestinians provides Israel an alibi: Many readers will likely conclude that Israel’s lethal violence is reasonable if it is cast as a way of coping with “violent protests.”

The second paragraph of the Bloomberg article solely written by Ramadan says that

Gaza protesters, egged on by loudspeakers and transported in buses, streamed to the border, where some threw rocks, burned tires, and flew kites and balloons outfitted with firebombs into Israeli territory.

This author—like the rest in the “Palestinians were asking for it” chorus—failed to note that Israel’s fence runs deep into Palestinian territory and creates a 300-meter “buffer zone” between Palestinians and Israeli forces, which makes it highly unlikely that the kites and balloons of the colonized will have an effect on their drone-operating, rifle-wielding colonizers, let alone on people further afield in Israeli-held territory.

The New York Times editorial board (5/14/18) wrote as though Palestinians are barbarians against whom Israel has no choice but to unleash terror:

Led too long by men who were corrupt or violent or both, the Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now, Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence, rather than keeping their protests strictly peaceful.

The board claimed that “Israel has every right to defend its borders, including the boundary with Gaza,” incorrectly suggesting that Palestinians were aggressors rather than on the receiving end of 100 years of settler-colonialism.

Moreover, like the Times and Bloomberg articles discussed above, the editorial attempts to legitimize Israel’s deadly violence by saying that it is defending a border that Palestinians are attempting to breach, but there is no border between Gaza and Israel. There is, as Maureen Murphy of Electronic Intifada (4/6/18) pointed out, “an armistice line between an occupying power and the population living under its military rule” that Palestinians are trying to cross in order to exercise their right to return to their land.

WaPo: Hamas Has Launched Another War. Israel Needs a Better Response

The Washington Post (5/15/18) condemned the “cruel, cynical tactic” of trying to exercise the internationally guaranteed right of return.

A Washington Post editorial (5/15/18) called the Palestinians hunted by Israel “nominal civilians.” Apart from being a logical impossibility (one either is or isn’t a civilian), the phrase illuminates how too much of media think about Palestinians:  They are inherently threatening, intrinsically killable, always suspect, never innocent, permanently guilty of existing.

A Business Insider piece (5/14/18) by columnist Daniella Greenbaum described “Palestinian protesters who ramped up their activities along the Gaza strip and, as a result, were targeted by the Israeli army with increasing intensity.” Greenbaum’s use of the phrase “as a result” implies that it was inevitable and perhaps just that Palestinians’ “ramped up activities” led to Israel mowing down a population it occupies, 70 percent of whom are refugees Israel refuses to allow to return to their homes.

Greenbaum then climbs into the intellectual and moral gutter, claiming that

absent from the commentary that children have unfortunately been among the injured and dead are questions about how they ended up at the border. On that question, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the extent to which Palestinians have glorified violence and martyrdom — and the extent to which the terrorist organization Hamas has organized the “protests.”

In her view, dozens of Palestinians died because they are primitive savages who take pleasure in sacrificing their own children, not because Israel maintains the right to gun down refugees in the name of maintaining an ethnostate.

In a rare instance of a resident of Gaza allowed to participate directly in the media conversation, Fadi Abu Shammalah wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (4/27/18) that offered an explanation of why Palestinians are putting their lives on the line to march. Life for the people of Gaza, including for his three young sons, has been “one tragedy after another: waves of mass displacement, life in squalid refugee camps, a captured economy, restricted access to fishing waters, a strangling siege and three wars in the past nine years. ” Recalling the concern for his safety expressed by his seven-year-old child, Shammalah concludes:

If Ali asks me why I’m returning to the Great Return March despite the danger, I will tell him this: I love my life. But more than that, I love you, Karam and Adam. If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.

Palestinians have a right to liberate themselves that extends to the right to the use of armed struggle, yet as Shammalah wrote, the Great Return March signifies a “nearly unanimous acceptance of peaceful methods to call for our rights and insist on our humanity.” Nevertheless, based on media coverage, readers could be forgiven for concluding that it was Palestinians, not Israel, who carried out what Doctors Without Borders called “unacceptable and inhuman” violence.

May 23, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Making Excuses for Russiagate

By Daniel Lazare | Consortium News | May 18, 2018

The best evidence that Russia-gate is sinking beneath the waves is the way those pushing the pseudo-scandal are now busily covering their tracks. The Guardian complains that “as the inquiry has expanded and dominated the news agenda over the last year, the real issues of people’s lives are in danger of being drowned out by obsessive cable television coverage of the Russia investigation” – as if the Guardian’s own coverage hasn’t been every bit as obsessive as anything CNN has come up with.

The Washington Post, second to none when it comes to painting Putin as a real-life Lord Voldemort, now says that Special counsel Robert Mueller “faces a particular challenge maintaining the confidence of the citizenry” as his investigation enters its second year – although it’s sticking to its guns that the problem is not the inquiry itself, but “the regular attacks he faces from President Trump, who has decried the probe as a ‘witch hunt.’”

And then there’s the New York Times, which this week devoted a 3,600-word front-page article to explain why the FBI had no choice but to launch an investigation into Trump’s alleged Russian links and how, if anything, the inquiry wasn’t aggressive enough. As the article puts it, “Interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the FBI was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known.”

It’s Nobody’s Fault

The result is a late-breaking media chorus to the effect that it’s not the fault of the FBI that the investigation has dragged on with so little to show for it; it’s not the fault of Mueller either, and, most of all, it’s not the fault of the corporate press, even though it’s done little over the last two years than scream about Russia. It’s not anyone’s fault, evidently, but simply how the system works.

This is nonsense, and the gaping holes in the Times article show why.

The piece, written by Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Nicholas Fandos and entitled “Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation,” is pretty much like everything else the Times has written on the subject, i.e. biased, misleading, and incomplete. Its main argument is that the FBI had no option but to step in because four Trump campaign aides had “obvious or suspected Russian ties.”

‘At Putin’s Arm’

One was Michael Flynn, who would briefly serve as Donald Trump’s national security adviser and who, according to the Times, “was paid $45,000 by the Russian government’s media arm for a 2015 speech and dined at the arm of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.” Another was Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman and was a source of concern because he had “lobbied for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine and worked with an associate who has been identified as having connections to Russian intelligence.” A third was Carter Page, a Trump foreign-policy adviser who “was well known to the FBI” because “[h]e had previously been recruited by Russian spies and was suspected of meeting one in Moscow during the campaign.” The fourth was George Papadopoulos, a “young and inexperienced campaign aide whose wine-fueled conversation with the Australian ambassador set off the investigation. Before hacked Democratic emails appeared online, he had seemed to know that Russia had political dirt on Mrs. Clinton.”

Seems incriminating, eh? But in each case the connection was more tenuous than the Times lets on. Flynn, for example, didn’t dine “at the arm of the Russian president” at a now-famous December 2015 Moscow banquet honoring the Russian media outlet RT. He was merely at a table at which Putin happened to sit down for “maybe five minutes, maybe twenty, tops,” according to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein who was just a few chairs away. No words were exchanged, Stein says, and “[n]obody introduced anybody to anybody. There was no translator. The Russians spoke Russian. The four people who spoke English spoke English.”

The Manafort associate with the supposed Russian intelligence links turns out to be a Russian-Ukrainian translator named Konstantin Kilimnik who studied English at a Soviet military school and who vehemently denies any such connection. It seems that the Ukrainian authorities did investigate the allegations at one point but declined to press charges. So the connection is unproven.

Page Was No Spy

The same goes for Carter Page, who was not “recruited” by Russian intelligence, but, rather, approached by what he thought were Russian trade representatives at a January 2013 energy symposium in New York. When the FBI informed him five or six months later that it believed the men were intelligence agents, Page appears to have cooperated fully based on a federal indictment filed with the Southern District of New York. Thus, Page was not a spy but a government informant as ex-federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy has pointed out – in other words, a good guy, as the Times would undoubtedly see it, helping the catch a couple of baddies.

As for Papadopoulos, who the Times suggests somehow got advance word that WikiLeaks was about to dump a treasure trove of Hillary Clinton emails, the article fails to mention that at the time the conversation with the Australian ambassador took place, the Clinton communications in the news were the 30,000 State Department emails that she had improperly stored on her private computer. These were the emails that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about,” as Bernie Sanders put it. Instead of spilling the beans about a data breach yet to come, it’s more likely that Papadopoulos was referring to emails that were already in the news – a possibility the Times fails to discuss.

FBI ‘Perplexed’

One could go on. But not only does the Times article get the details wrong, it paints the big picture in misleading tones as well. It says that the FBI was “perplexed” by such Trump antics as calling on Russia to release still more Clinton emails after WikiLeaks went public with its disclosure. The word suggests a disinterested observer who can’t figure out what’s going on. But it ignores how poisonous the atmosphere had become by that point and how everyone’s mind was seemingly made up.

By July 2016, Clinton was striking out at Trump at every opportunity about his Russian ties – not because they were true, but because a candidate who had struggled to come up with a winning slogan had at last come across an issue that seemed to resonate with her fan base. Consequently, an intelligence report that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee “was a godsend,” wrote Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes in Shatteredtheir best-selling account of the Clinton campaign, because it was “hard evidence upon which Hillary could start to really build the case that Trump was actually in league with Moscow.”

Not only did Clinton believe this, but her followers did as well, as did the corporate media and, evidently, the FBI. This is the takeaway from text messages that FBI counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok exchanged with FBI staff attorney Lisa Page.

Andrew McCarthy, who has done a masterful job of reconstructing the sequence, notes that in late July 2016, Page mentioned an article she had come across on a liberal web site discussing Trump’s alleged Russia ties. Strzok texted back that he’s “partial to any women sending articles about nasty the Russians are.” Page replied that the Russians “are probably the worst. Very little I finding redeeming about this. Even in history. Couple of good writers and artists I guess.” Strzok heartily agreed: “f***ing conniving cheating savages. At statecraft, athletics, you name it. I’m glad I’m on Team USA.”

The F’ing Russian ‘Savages’

This is the institutional bias that the Times doesn’t dare mention. An agency whose top officials believe that “f***ing conniving cheating savages” are breaking down the door is one that is fairly guaranteed to construe evidence in the most negative, anti-Russian way possible while ignoring anything to the contrary. So what if Carter Page had cooperated with the FBI? What’s important is that he had had contact with Russian intelligence at all, which was enough to render him suspicious in the bureau’s eyes. Ditto Konstantin Kilimnik. So what if the Ukrainian authorities had declined to press charges? The fact that they had even looked was damning enough.

The FBI thus made the classic methodological error of allowing its investigation to be contaminated by its preconceived beliefs. Objectivity fell by the wayside. The Times says that Christopher Steele, the ex-MI6 agent whose infamous, DNC and Clinton camp paid-for opposition research dossier turned “golden showers” into a household term, struck the FBI as “highly credible” because he had “helped agents unravel complicated cases” in the past. Perhaps. But the real reason is that he told agents what they wanted to hear, which is that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” with the “[a]im, endorsed by PUTIN, … [of] encourage[ing] splits and divisions in [the] western alliance.” (which can be construed as a shrewd defensive move against a Western alliance massing troops on Russian borders.)

What else would one expect of people as “nasty” as these? In fact, the Steele dossier should have caused alarm bells to go off. How could Putin have possibly known five years before that Trump would be a viable presidential candidate? Why would high-level Kremlin officials share inside information with an ex-intelligence official thousands of miles away? Why would the dossier declare on one page that the Kremlin has offered Trump “various lucrative real estate development business deals” but then say on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business had gone nowhere and that he therefore “had had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success”? Given that the dossier was little more than “oppo research” commissioned and funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, why was it worthy of consideration at all?

The Rush to Believe

But all such questions disappeared amid the general rush to believe. The Times is right that the FBI slow-walked the investigation until Election Day. This is because agents assumed that Trump would lose and that therefore there was no need to rush. But when he didn’t, the mood turned to one of panic and fury.

Without offering a shred of evidence, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a formal assessment on Jan. 6, 2017, that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election … [in order] to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

The New Yorker reports that an ex-aide to John McCain hoped to persuade the senator to use the Steele dossier to force Trump to resign even before taking office. (The ex-aide denies that this was the case.)

When FBI Director James Comey personally confronted Trump with news of the dossier two weeks prior to inauguration, the Times says he “feared making this conversation a ‘J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,’ with the FBI presenting embarrassing information “to lord over a president-elect.”

But that is precisely what happened. When someone – most likely CIA Director John Brennan, now a commentator with NBC News – leaked word of the meeting and Buzzfeed published the dossier four days later, the corporate media went wild. Trump was gravely wounded, while Adam Schiff, Democratic point man on the House Intelligence Committee, would subsequently trumpet the Steele dossier as the unvarnished truth. According to the Times account, Trump was unpersuaded by Comey’s assurances that he was there to help. “Hours earlier,” the paper says, “… he debuted what would quickly become a favorite phrase: ‘This is a political witch hunt.’”

The Times clearly regards the idea as preposterous on its face. But while Trump is wrong about many things, on this one subject he happens to be right. The press, the intelligence community, and the Democrats have all gone off the deep end in search of a Russia connection that doesn’t exist. They misled their readers, they made fools of themselves, and they committed a crime against journalism. And now they’re trying to dodge the blame.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bucketful of Novichok

By Rob Slane | The Blog Mire | May 5, 2018

In my last piece, I wrote that one of the downsides of the probable D-Notice slapped on the Skripal Case was that we may well be deprived of our daily dose of farcical nonsense, such as whether the poison was administered in the restaurant, the car, the cemetery, the flowers, the luggage, the bench, the porridge, the door handle or – and I’m surprised nobody has thought of it yet – perhaps the cat. There is no doubt an FSB manual waiting to be found which explains how cats can be safely used as conduits for “Novichok”, and it has almost certainly been put together by the dashingly handsome, astonishingly intelligent, but inexplicably bitmapped ruthless ex-KGB assassin, “Gordon”, who was apparently a suspect a couple of weeks ago, but is no longer deemed a person of interest.

But despite the D-Notice, on the morning of 5th May it seemed that the torrent of patent absurdities was actually not about to cease anytime soon. In an interview with the New York Times, the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, said the following:

“For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that, without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection.”

My immediate reaction was to ask why only 50-100 grams (which the New York Times helpfully tells its readers is between about a quarter-cup to a half-cup of liquid)? Why not a whole bucketful of Novichok, splashed indiscriminately over the front door of Mr Skripal’s house?

It is testimony to the truly uninquisitive minds of the dutiful stenographers at the New York Times and the rest of the media which ran with the same story, that none of them appear to have wondered to themselves something along these lines:

“Huh? 100 grams of military-grade nerve agent? Of a type said to be 5-8 times more lethal than VX, which itself has a median lethal dose of 10 milligrams. And we’re now apparently talking about 100,000 milligrams! And yet not only are the Skripals alive (well at least they were when last Yulia got hold of a phone) but the population of Salisbury seems to be doing okay as well. In fact no-one died (apart from the cat and the guinea pigs). Does Mr Uzumcu know what he’s talking about?”

My next reaction was to wonder whether actually he knows exactly what he’s talking about. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Anyway, later in the day, the OPCW issued a Statement on Amount of Nerve Agent Used in Salisbury, which read as follows:

“In response to questions from the media, the OPCW Spokesperson stated that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. However, the analysis of samples collected by the OPCW Technical Assistance Visit team concluded that the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions.”

As an aside, I’d love to know which media asked the questions. My guess is that it wasn’t any of those organisations who had repeated the claims made in the New York Times.

But what of the statement itself? Taken at face value, along with Mr Uzumcu’s original statement, it is very odd for a number of reasons:

1. Firstly, it says that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the substance used. But of course this is exactly what Mr Uzumcu did appear to say, when he mentioned the quantities 50 and 100 grams.

2. Secondly, the statement says that the quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. Not bucketfuls then? But of course the problem with this is that it does appear to leave Mr Uzumcu looking rather stupid, as if he:

a) Doesn’t know his grams from his milligrams and

b) Doesn’t realise that a cupful of military grade nerve agent 5-8 times more toxic than VX would kill people – like, lots and lots and lots of people

3. And thirdly, the milligrams for grams exchange completely undercuts the whole point Mr Uzumcu was making. He was saying that it appeared from the amount used that it could not have been produced in any old laboratory, as he had admitted a week before when he had said it could be produced “in any country where there would be some chemical expertise.” Rather, the point he was making was that quantities like 50-100 grams could only point to military production of the agent, rather than simply for research purposes.

This is all very bizarre. That’s hardly surprising, though, since there is almost nothing about this case that has not been extremely odd. From what I can tell, there are only really two possible explanations for this latest bout of strangeness.

One possible explanation is that Mr Uzumcu is simply incompetent, and so lacking in knowledge that he doesn’t know his grams from his milligrams, nor that half a cup of deadly nerve agent would wipe out hundreds, if not thousands, of people (not to mention being impossible to put on a door handle in the first place, at least not without the kind of protection that might just draw attention). However, this seems to me fairly unlikely. I assume that you don’t become Director General of the OPCW and remain in the position for eight years if you really are that inept.

But is there another more revealing explanation?

If you go back and read Mr Uzumcu’s statement, it is very noticeable that he does not actually state that he personally believes the quantity of the poison used in Salisbury was 50 or 100 grams. What he actually said is:

“For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that, without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection” [my emphasis].

It looks like they may have used more than that? From what does it look like that? From the months long, multi-million pound clean up job being undertaken, by any chance?

And of the quantity, he says he was told this. But the question is, who told him?

I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that he does know his grams from his milligrams; that he is well aware that 50-100 grams of the stuff would be enough to have killed the Skripals outright, along with hundreds or possibly thousands of others in the surrounding area; and also that he understands full well that the current multi-million pound clean up operation in Salisbury, which is precisely intended to give the impression that there was so much of the stuff that it might make up half a cupful, or perhaps even a whole bucketful, is something of a farce.

And so even though his original statement at first seems absurd, I’m fairly convinced that it was not a display of incompetence on his part. Rather, together with the subsequent clarification, it was very likely a signal that he believes his source for the claim to be either incompetent or – shall we say – economical with the actualité. And it may be that his real aim was – as diplomatically as possible – to let certain folks in Britain know that he’s not as convinced by some of their claims as they might like him to be.

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 1 Comment

NYT Examines How History Impacts Korean Talks–but Its Own Memory Is Fuzzy

By Jim Naureckas | FAIR | April 30, 2018

In a New York Times news analysis (4/29/18) examining how the overthrow of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi after he agreed to halt his nuclear program might influence North Korean thinking about disarmament, the TimesPeter Baker writes that “President Barack Obama and European allies launched military action against Libya in 2011 to prevent a threatened massacre of civilians.” Later, Baker recounts that Gadhafi “vowed to crush his opponents, including civilians, prompting Mr. Obama and European allies to intervene to stop him.”

But did Gadhafi actually threaten to massacre civilians? A radio broadcast by the Libyan leader in which he declared he would show “no mercy” in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi was offered as justification for the UN Security Council vote that authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. “Gadhafi Vows ‘No Mercy’ as UN Eyes Action,” was how AP  (3/17/11) reported on the Security Council deliberations.

But when the New York Times (3/17/11) itself reported on the speech, it described it as a threat against rebel combatants, not against civilians: Gadhafi “promised amnesty for those ‘who throw their weapons away’ but ‘no mercy or compassion’ for those who fight,” the Times’ David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim reported.

The myth that Gadhafi had openly threatened civilians and thus necessitated international military intervention sprang up quickly as the US and its NATO allies launched an attack on Libya’s government. “What obviously changed [Obama’s] mind” about using force, reported the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman (4/3/11), “was the fear that Moammar Gadhafi was bent on mass slaughter — which stemmed from Gadhafi’s March 17 speech vowing ‘no mercy’ for his enemies.” But the claims that Gadhafi was intending to slaughter tens or hundreds of thousands were, wrote Chapman, outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them”—but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.

Elsewhere in his Times article, Baker refers to the nuclear deal Iran made with the United States:

Iran was not known to have weapons but did have a nuclear program that seemed intended to develop them when it signed an agreement with Mr. Obama’s administration in 2015 to give up its program.

This too contradicts earlier New York Times reporting: “American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb,” wrote James Risen and Mark Mazzetti (2/24/12), under the headline “US Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” They reported that US intelligence agencies were standing by their 2007 assessment that “Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier.”

Baker’s piece ends with the observation that “each side sees its own very different lessons” from the Libyan history. It’s easier to draw correct lessons from history when the paper of record reports history as it happened.


You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com  (or via Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

Neocon Bret Stephens Wants Syria’s Assad Assassinated

By Michael S. Rozeff | Lew Rockwell | May 1, 2018

Bret Stephens is a political commentator who works for The New York Times and NBC News. Stephens was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post between 2002 and 2004.

His Jewish identity is mentioned hand-in-hand with his political orientation by The Times of Israel : “In criticizing Trump even after his electoral victory, Stephens joins other leading Jewish conservative voices, including Brooks, Jennifer Rubin and William Kristol.” His Jewish identity is pertinent because he is known as a neocon and a strong supporter of Israel. The one seems to reinforce the other. Furthermore, his position on Iraq was criminal and disastrous and now he’s advocating a position on Syria that would also be criminal and disastrous. We should be extremely skeptical of the objectivity of someone like him who comes across as a shill for Israel and the Empire all-in-one.

Strong criticism of his position on Syria appears in an article by Robert Rabil dated yesterday that quotes him as follows: “U.S. should target Assad and his senior lieutenants directly in a decapitation strike, just as the U.S. attempted in Iraq in 2003, and against Osama bin Laden in 2011… if we [Americans] are serious about confronting Iran, Syria remains the most important battlefield.” What may result from such an aggression and war crime as decapitating Syria? I quote the article:

“It is mind boggling that someone as astute as Stephens would call for the decapitation of the regime in the same way U.S. had done in Iraq without providing an alternative to the regime. No less significant, does ‘our’ seriousness about confronting Iran require decapitating the Syrian regime? Is punishing the Syrian regime a pretext to confront Iran? This is a dangerous and flawed logic divorced from the harsh reality of the Levant. How could anyone invoke what the U.S. attempted in Iraq without admitting and internalizing the staggering human and financial cost the U.S. has paid? Has the notion of what may happen the day after the decapitation strike and confronting Iran crossed Stephens’ mind, or of those echoing him?

“Undoubtedly, Syria will further descend into anarchy and wretchedness, leading up to regional and international strife. A decapitating strike against the Syrian regime and/or an open confrontation with Iran in Syria would most likely put Moscow and Washington on a path of armed conflict. Russia made its position clear that it will respond to any game changing attack on Syria…

“Most importantly, is it in the national interest of Washington to risk a war over Syria, and by extension Iran, with Moscow after what United States has gone through in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for the enormous sacrifices Americans have made?”

Stephens was born in New York City in 1973. Stephens is said to be “brilliant”. He has several awards, indicating he’s a smart fellow, but being smart doesn’t make you wise, right or someone whose ideas should be followed. He strongly endorsed the war on Iraq:

“Stephens was a ‘prominent voice’ among the media advocates for the start of the 2003 Iraq War, for instance writing in a 2002 column that, unless checked, Iraq was likely to become the first nuclear power in the Arab world. Although the weapons of mass destruction used as a casus belli were never shown to exist, Stephens continued to insist as late as 2013 that the Bush administration had ‘solid evidence’ for going to war. Stephens has also argued strongly against the Iran nuclear deal and its preliminary agreements, arguing that they were a worse bargain even than the 1938 Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany.”

Stephens’ advice on Syria is easily as criminal as his advice on Iraq. Keeping the covenant with Iran is productive of peace. Breaking it is productive of war.

The neocon world view fails to recognize the the tremendous injuries the U.S. is inflicting on peoples in other lands. It fails to recognize either their property rights or rights to self-determination. The neocons fail to recognize the long-term ill-will and retaliation that the U.S. is producing. The neocons naively and wrongly think that democracy is a wonderful institution, that the U.S. has a right to overthrow regimes and set up democratic governments. They wrongly think that they are capable of building states when they are not. The neocons fail to recognize the military capabilities, including the nuclear weapons, of other powers. The neocons overestimate the efficacy of the U.S. military. The Jewish neocons are influenced strongly by Israeli right-wingers, and they are not of a mind to devise peaceful solutions to the nagging problems associated with Israel. The neocons do not comprehend that the world can progress peacefully and without a dominant superpower attempting to impose its standards and form of government. The neocons fail to recognize the faults of the U.S. government. The neocons ignore the inflation of the domestic police state as a feature of the Empire, just as they ignore the mounting U.S. debt. The neocons fail to see or appreciate other peoples as persons, instead viewing them as pieces they can move on a world chess board.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Nonsense about Syria gas attacks reveals US ideology of tyranny

By Stephen Gowans | what’s left | April 11, 2018

Ideologues of US power, notably those ensconced in the editorial offices of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, believe that the United States has an imprescriptible right to exercise an absolutist tyranny over the world, to define the boundary between civilization and barbarism, and that Washington is unbound by international law, but free to wield it as a tool against the barbarians. In the ideology of US despotism, the compass of civilization includes states that submit to “US leadership”, a euphemized version of “US tyranny,” while states which favor an international order based on the UN Charter’s ideal of the sovereignty and equality of states (Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela are among the supporters of this alternative, democratic, order) are relegated to the category of barbarism. Once a state has been located outside of civilization, Western legal traditions—testing accusations against evidence and the assumption of innocence until culpability is credibly demonstrated— no longer apply. The “barbaric” state becomes guilty of all acts of which it is accused, regardless of whether there exists credible evidence to corroborate the accusation.

In a 9 April editorial “In Syria, Trump faces the limits of bluster” The New York Times attributes a global leadership role to the United States, which it urges the Trump administration to exercise by creating “an independent investigation that could lead to prosecution” of the Syrian leadership “in a tribunal like the International Criminal Court,” a court the United States itself rejects and refuses to be bound by.

The New York Times’ editors lay out steps Washington ought to take if “the Syrian regime’s guilt is determined,” but conclude all the same that the Syrian government is guilty on all charges, contrary to the reality that the US State Department, British Foreign Office, and its own reporters, have acknowledged that the chemical attack allegations against the Syrian government are unverified and unconfirmed. What’s more, the sources of the allegations are the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, partisan outfits, funded by Western governments, and allied with anti-government insurgents, who have an interest in fabricating atrocities to defame their enemy and to justify continued and even elevated Western intervention in Syria.

Additionally, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, at a 2 February news conference, admitted that the Pentagon has no evidence that the Syrian military has ever used chemical weapons. This, however, didn’t stop the New York Times’ editors from declaring that Syria has failed to honor its agreement to destroy its chemical weapons under a 2013 pact or that it is responsible “for most of the 85 chemical attacks in the country over the past five years.” A newspaper which proclaims itself to live up to the highest standards of journalism, indeed, to set the gold standard, appears to have no trouble creating facts out of thin air.

The editors lay out steps the Trump administration should take once a legal imprimatur is conferred upon a pre-judgement of guilt. Inevitably, military action is called for. “If a Russian veto prevents Security Council action, then Mr. Trump needs to work with our allies, through NATO or otherwise,” the editors counsel—a call for the US administration to violate international law (again.)

“The use of poison gas,” the newspaper of record observes one paragraph later, “is a war crime under international law,” a curious observation given the editors’ dim view of international law as evidenced by their urging Washington to act without Security Council authorization in order to exercise “America’s traditional leadership role.” It should be recalled that the Third Reich, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan also claimed leadership roles, to say nothing of imperial Britain and imperial France, the latter of which is eager to rehabilitate its colonial tyranny over its former Syrian mandate under the guise of punishing the “barbarian” Assad for outrages against civilization.

The Pentagon has the world’s largest stockpile of weaponized poison gas. The point of having it is to possibly use it, despite its prohibition under the very same international law the New York Times condemns Syria (without evidence) of violating. Thus, the ideologues of US tyranny reveal that international law is a matter of significance only to countries the United States defines as its enemies (the barbarians), and not to the United States itself, which is free to act as it pleases against the barbarians, according to its own laws, as the guarantor of a global moral order. Needless to say, the idea that the United States, the principle source of disorder, suffering and decay in the world, has even a soupcon of moral authority, is risible, if not a sick joke—a truth of which most of the world’s population is only too aware.

In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 2625, which, inter alia, declared that “States have the duty to refrain from propaganda for wars of aggression,” a resolution of apparently no significance to the New York Times, which is only too happy to spread propaganda for wars of aggression in the service of a US tyranny which, far from exercising moral authority, continues to spread its dark wings over the whole world, led by a madman at the top of a system of global oppression and exploitation, from which has sprung a program of neo-colonial warfare and escalating confrontation with China and Russia.

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, War Crimes | , , | 2 Comments

Anthrax: The Forgotten Lie

OffGuardian | March 20, 2018

Fifteen years ago today, March 20, the “Coalition of the Willing” declared war on Iraq. We now know that war was based on a monumental and inexcusable lie about Iraq possessing “weapons of mass destruction”, and that the war itself was a crime under international law. But we tend to forget that WMDs wasn’t the only lie told to us at the time. There was also the lie about the anthrax attacks in the USA, which in some ways can be counted even more egregious and cold-blooded.

We were told the anthrax that killed five people and harmed 17 others had been positively identified as originating in Iraq. Colin Powell’s famous “test tube full of washing powder” was a bit of theatre designed to sell us on this alleged fact. But it wasn’t true.

Almost immediately after the attacks the FBI knew the anthrax must have been homegrown, or at least produced somewhere with sophisticated laboratory equipment. But since this fact didn’t fit with the al Qaeda narrative it was suppressed from public knowledge. By October 2001 the Guardian was reporting “Iraq ‘behind US anthrax outbreaks’.” All the usual suspects in promoting imperialist war soon followed suit.

The narrative at this time was clearly intended to be that Iraq was the state-sponsor of al Qaeda terror, and had not only been a supporter of the 9/11 attacks but had provided Osama’ boys with the goods to murder even more Americans with anthrax. This, obviously, was intended to act as the rationale for attacking those two vitally strategic countries in the the US’s project for dominance in the Middle east and Asia – Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, as so often seems to happen, this narrative was almost immediately undermined by official White House statements (perhaps originating in elements of the government anxious to preserve the administration from outright association with a lie) that the anthrax in question showed no signs of coming from Iraq, because they specifically lacked an ingredient called bentonite. Which, as we now know, was true.

This official denial, based on solid scientific evidence, should have been an end to the story. But, as the film above shows, owing to a vast campaign of distraction and deception by politicians and the media, the completely discredited story of Iraqi responsibility for the anthrax attacks continued to flourish and even gain momentum. Outlets such as ABC and, most prominently, from Judith Miller (whose pre-2001 prescience about the dangers of anthrax in the US seems truly breathtaking) in the New York Times, brazenly continued to sell the idea in feature articles, specials and endless repetition in the nightly news.

And what was the central “fact” on which the media story of Iraq’s guilt was built?

Nothing less than the completely and provably false claim the White House had already denied – that there was bentonite in the anthrax.

Even the White House, the same White House that had officially denied the presence of bentonite and therefore ruled out Iraq involvement, continue to use implications, lies by omission and weasel words to enable the opposite view to become lodged in the public mind.

These people didn’t just bend the truth, or fudge or obfuscate. They lied. They invented whole narratives, they made up whole back stories, they looked us in the camera’s eye on TV and completely deceived us. The media’s Anthrax Meme never existed. Not one single part of it. And even while Colin Powell was allowing us to believe the story he had known for more than a year that it was a complete fabrication

The UK government is currently lying to us about the Skripal poisoning. We know that already to be beyond doubt. The only question is how deep the lie goes this time.

When we look back at 2001 we have to realise it could be very deep indeed.

March 20, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , | 1 Comment

The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On

Women and children at My Lai moments before they were killed. Photograph : Ron Haberle/WikiCommons
By Michael Uhl | Mekong Review | February, 2018 edition

Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.

— Primo Levy

On March 17th, 1968, The New York Times ran a brief front page lede headed, “G.I.s’ in Pincer Movement Kill 128 in Daylong Battle;” the action took place the previous day roughly eight miles from Quang Ngai City, a provincial capital in the northern coastal quadrant of South Vietnam. Heavy artillery and helicopter gunships had been “called in to pound the North Vietnamese soldiers.”  By three in the afternoon the battle had ceased, and “the remaining North Vietnamese had slipped out and fled.” The American side lost only two killed and several wounded.  The article, datelined Saigon, had no byline. Its source was an “American military command’s communique,” a virtual press release hurried into print and unfiltered by additional digging.

Several days later a more superficially factual telling of this seemingly crushing blow to the enemy was featured in Southern Cross, the weekly newsletter of the Americal Division in whose ‘area of operation’ the ‘day long battle’ had been fought. It was described by Army reporter Jay Roberts, who had been there, as “an attack on a Vietcong stronghold,” not an encounter with North Vietnamese regulars as the Times had misconstrued it. However, Roberts’ article tallied the same high number of enemy dead.  When leaned on by Lt. Colonel Frank Barker, who commanded the operation, to downplay the lopsided outcome, Roberts complied, noting blandly that “the assault went off like clockwork.” But certain after action particulars could not be fudged. Roberts was obliged to report that the GIs recovered only “three [enemy] weapons,” a paradox that surely warranted clarification. None was given. It was to be assumed that, either the enemy was poorly armed, or that he had removed the weapons of his fallen comrades – leaving their bodies to be counted – when he retired from the field. Neither of the news outlets cited here, nor Stars and Stripes, the semi-official newspaper of the U. S. Armed Forces which ran with Robert’s account, makes reference to any civilian casualties.

It would be nearly eighteen months later when, on September 6, 1969, a front page article in the Ledger-Enquire in Columbus, Georgia reported that the military prosecutor at nearby Ft. Benning – home of the U. S. Army Infantry – was investigating charges against a junior officer, Lieutenant William L. Calley,  of “multiple murders” of civilians during “an operation at a place called Pinkville,” GI patois for the color denoting man-made features on their topographical maps in a string of coastal hamlets near Quang Ngai.

With the story now leaked, if only in the regional papers – it would migrate as well to a daily in Montgomery, Alabama – the Ft. Benning public information officer moved to “keep the story low profile,” and “released a brief statement that The New York Times ran deep inside its September 7, 1969 issue,” limited to three terse paragraphs on a page cluttered with retail advertising. The press announcement from the Army flack had referred only to “the deaths of more than one civilian.”  In the nation’s newspaper of record, which also mentioned Calley by name, this delicate ambiguity was multiplied to “an unspecified number of civilians.” Yet, once again, the Times was enlisted to serve the agenda of a military publicist, and failed to approach the story independently.

An Army recon commando named Rod Ridenhour had taken it upon himself to do just that. While still serving with the Americal Division’s 11th Light Infantry Brigade from which Task Force Barker – named for its commander – was assembled for the attack on Pinkville, Ridenhour documented accounts of those who had witnessed or participated in a mass killing.  A year later in March 1969, now stateside and a civilian, Ridenhour sent “a five page registered letter” summarizing his findings to President Richard Nixon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and select members of the U.S. Congress urging “a widespread and public investigation.” General William Westmoreland, who had commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam until June 1968, reacted to Ridenhour’s allegations with “disbelief.”  The accusations were, he told a Congressional committee, “so out of character with American forces in Vietnam that I was quite skeptical.” Nonetheless an inquiry was launched.

The Times, although forewarned, had once again squandered a chance to scoop for its global readership what was arguably the most sensational news story of the entire Vietnam War. The two regional reporters had done their legwork, then, bereft of big city resources had nowhere else to go. But in late October, a seasoned freelance journalist in Washington named Seymour Hersh, acting on a colleague’s anonymous tip from inside the military, immediately “stopped all other work and began to chase down the story,” which by mid-November 1969 would be revealed to the American public and the world at large as the My Lai massacre.

This outline of the massacre’s initial falsification and suppression, followed by its eventual disclosure, is cobbled from My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness (Oxford, 2017), a thorough retreatment of the infamous Vietnam War atrocity by Howard Jones, a professor of history at the University of Alabama. The question is, to what end? Has the voluminous, careful study in the literature devoted to the My Lai massacre left something out? It’s not a matter of omissions, the historian argues, but that the record is replete with conflicting interpretations. To tell the “full story” required Jones to reorder events in their “proper sequence,” he says. His other reasons for taking us back to Pinkville are equally vague, and casually embedded among several floating asides in the author’s Acknowledgments. His debts are many, but foremost among them Jones recognizes his Vietnamese-American graduate assistant who “emphasized the importance of incorporating the Vietnamese side into the narrative and remaining objective in telling the story.”

I took this profession of objectivity as a signal to be on the alert for its potential subjective or editorial opposite. Jones insists that “everyone who has written… about My Lai has had an agenda.” The suspicion that a subtle revisionist agenda, nurtured perhaps by the resentments of a partisan of the losing side [his assistant], might underlie Jones’ intentions for revisiting this much examined massacre was heightened by the anecdote he tells about his wife’s emotionally fraught response when listening to his grim descriptions of the slaughter. However revolting, the atrocities must be detailed she insists. To do otherwise, the author agrees “would leave the mistaken impression that nothing extraordinary took place at My Lai.”

That My Lai was extraordinary I hold beyond dispute. But the privileged attention given to the massacre by historians and other commentators – not to mention its impact on the general public – which by far prefers vivid superlatives to cloudy comparisons – hangs like a curtain and obscures the broader and far grizzlier picture of the U.S. driven horrors of the Vietnam War that were commonplace and quotidian.  Would the historian tell that story too, I wondered, as I plunged into his text? Or was the only purpose to take up this subject again five decades on to ensure that the censorious curtain remained firmly in place?

Quang Ngai was a hot bed of resistance under the Viet Minh independence movement during French colonial rule. With the transition to the American War, resistance fighters – now reconstituted as the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong – remained capable of striking at will throughout the province, which, until 1967, was under the jurisdiction of the South Vietnamese Army. But the American command found its native allies unreliable, without ever asking if perhaps their reluctance to challenge the local resistance rested, not on fear or cowardice, but familiarity or even kinship.  U.S. soldiers possessed no such scruples.

After “intelligence sources” targeted the area around My Lai as “an enemy bastion for mounting attacks” on Quang Ngai City and its surroundings, American forces were concentrated under Task Force Barker, “a contingent of five hundred soldiers” to bring the troublesome province under control of the government of South Vietnam.[i]

On the evening before the assault, Captain Earnest Medina – like Calley a principal target of the Army’s subsequent investigation – briefed the hundred men of Charlie Company under his command. “We’re going to Pinkville tomorrow… after the 48th Battalion,” he told them. “The landing zone will be hot. And they outnumber us two to one… expect heavy casualties.” Charlie Company had already taken “heavy casualties” in the two months they’d been humping the boonies of Quang Ngai. The local guerrilla unit, the lethal, elusive 48th, was all the more feared since the GIs had never seen the face of a single combatant behind the sniper bullets or booby traps that bloodied and killed their comrades. “By the last week of February,” Harold Jones reckons, “resentment and hostility had spread among the GI’s, aimed primarily at the villagers.”

Pinkville had been declared a free fire zone. The mission for the assault was to search and destroy. If the soldiers encountered non-combatant villagers the text book regulations dictated they be detained and interrogated as to the whereabouts of the enemy, and then moved to safety in the rear. But the various strands of intelligence-gathering that guided Task Force Barker were interpreted to suggest there would be no non-combatants, because the villagers had been warned to evacuate, or, given that the assault was on a Saturday, those residents who’d defied evacuation would be off to the market in Quang Ngai City. This was all Intel double talk. The true military objective was that the residents have no village to return to because the GIs were primed to slay all livestock, lay waste to every dwelling and defensive bunker, destroy the crops and foul the wells, that is, to ensure that My Lai and its contiguous hamlets were left uninhabitable, and thus utterly untenable as bases to support the guerrillas.

Beginning just before 8 a.m. on March 16th, the three platoons of Charlie Company were airlifted to the fringes of the Vietnamese hamlets where they expected to encounter fierce enemy resistance.  The hail of bullets from helicopter gunships that churned up the earth around them and aimed at suppressing potential enemy fire, created for many of these soldiers who had never experienced combat the impression that they’d been dropped in the midst of the “hot landing zone” Captain Medina had promised them. But as Army photographer Ron Haeberle, assigned to document the assault, would later testify, there was “no hostile fire.” The headquarters of the 48th and what remained of its fighters had taken refuge west into the mountains after being decimated during the Tet Offensive a month before. And the few VC who had been visiting their families around My Lai, hardly ignorant of American movements, had gotten out by dawn on the 16th.

In a state of confusion as to exactly what they were facing, Charlie Company’s platoons stepped off from opposing positions to sweep through the village, already partially damaged by artillery, intending to squeeze the enemy between them. Instead they soon confronted, not the guerrilla fighters they were sent to dislodge, but scores of inhabitants who weren’t supposed to be there. GIs immediately shot several villagers who panicked and attempted to flee. In this war such trigger happy killings were not far from the norm. But Lieutenant Calley “had interpreted Medina’s briefing to mean that they were to kill everyone in the village… Since it was impossible to distinguish between friend and foe, the only conclusion was to presume all Vietnamese were Viet Cong and to kill them all.” Calley, moreover, was being relentlessly spurred by Medina over the radio to quicken the pace of the 1st platoon’s forward sweep, and therefore, would later claim, he could neither evacuate the non-combatants, nor, for reasons of security, leave them to his rear.

Jones offers from the record a facsimile of the field radio transmission between Calley and his commander:

 “What are you doing now?” Medina asked.

“I’m getting ready to go.”

“Now damn it! I told you now. Get your men in position now.”

“And these people, they aren’t moving too swiftly.”

“I don’t want that crap. Now damn it, waste all those goddamn people! And get in the damn position.”

“Roger.”

The idea of questioning orders, comments Jones dryly, never crossed Calley’s mind, particularly during combat.

One brief panel of the horror show will suffice to roil the imagination toward grasping what Jones styles a ‘descent into darkness,” which, given the scale of the ensuing carnage that morning, has elevated the My Lai massacre to the extraordinary status in the Vietnam War that history has bestowed upon it.

Calley, in the grip of all his embedded demons – his mental and moral mediocrity, his cracker barrel knee jerk racism, his incompetence as a leader, his slavish kowtowing to authority which clearly disgusted his commander and his troops, everything that conspired to create the monster that was him – returned from his latest whipping by Medina to where one group of villagers sat on the ground, and demanded of two members of his platoon, “How come you ain’t killed them yet?” The men explained they understood only that they were to guard them. “No,” Calley said, “I want them dead… When I say fire… fire at them.”  Calley and, Paul Meadlo – whose name would become almost as closely associated with the massacre as Calley’s – “a bare ten feet from their terrified targets… set their M-16s on automatic… and sprayed clip after clip of deadly fire into their screaming and defenseless victims…  At this point, a few children who had somehow escaped the torrent of gunfire struggled to their feet… Calley methodically picked off the children one by one… He looks like he’s enjoying it,” one soldier remarked, who moments before had been prevented by Calley from forcing a young woman’s face into his crotch, but who now refused to shoot.

The mass killing, which Harold Jones parades scene by scene with exhaustive precision, was repeated throughout the morning until the bodies of hundreds of villagers lay scattered across the landscape. Not just those killed by Calley’s platoon, but by others throughout the rest of Charlie Company. And not just at My Lai 4, but also at My Khe 4 several miles distant by members of Bravo Company. “In not a few cases, women and girls were raped before they were killed.” Jones dutifully chronicles the accounts of the few who resolutely refused to shoot, and of one man who blasted his own foot with a .45 to escape the depravity.  “Everyone except a few of us was shooting,” Pfc. Dennis Bunning of the second platoon would later testify.

But there was another man that morning who didn’t just seek to avoid the killing, he attempted to stop it.

Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson piloted his observation helicopter, a three seater with a crewmember on each flank armed with a machine gun, several hundred feet above My Lai. Thompson’s mission was to fly low and mark with smoke grenades any source of enemy fire, which would prompt the helicopter gunships tiered above him – known as Sharks – to swoop down and dispense their massive fire power on the target. Spotting a large number of civilian bodies in a ditch, Thompson at first suspected they’d been killed by the incoming artillery. Hovering near the ground for a closer look Thompson and his crew, Gary Andreotta and Larry Colburn, were stunned to witness Captain Medina shoot a wounded woman who was lying at his feet. Banking closer to the ditch, Thompson “estimated he saw 150 dead and dying Vietnamese babies, women and children and old men… and watched in disbelief as soldiers shot survivors trying to crawl out.”

Against regulations, Thompson landed and confronted Lieutenant Calley, asking him to help the wounded and radio for their evacuation. Calley made it clear he resented the pilot’s interference and would do no such thing. Thompson stormed away furiously warning Calley “he hadn’t heard the last of this.” With Medina again at his heels, Calley ordered his sergeant “to finish off the wounded,” and just as Thompson was taking off the killing resumed.

Aloft again Thompson saw “a small group… of women and children scurrying toward a bunker just outside My Lai 4… and about ten soldiers in pursuit,” and felt “compelled… to take immediate action.” He again put his craft down, jumped out between the civilians and the oncoming members of the second platoon led by Lieutenant Stephen Brooks. When Thompson asked Brooks to help evacuate the Vietnamese from the bunker, Brooks told him he would do so with a grenade. The two men screamed at each other. Like Calley, Brooks was unyielding, and Thompson warned his two gunners, now standing outside the chopper, “to prepare for a confrontation.”

“I’m going to go over to the bunker myself and get those people out. If they [the soldiers] fire on those people or fire on me while I’m doing that. Shoot ‘em.” That moment has been cast in the My Lai literature as a classic armed standoff. But Thompson’s two gunners had not aimed their weapons at Brooks and his men who stood fifty yards away, a bit of manufactured drama several chroniclers of that confrontation, among them Sy Hersh, have chiseled into the record. Harold Jones in this instance had gone beyond the dogged task of compilation. While researching his book, he had spent many hours with Larry Colburn, and befriended him. And it was Larry who told Jones that he and Andreotta did not aim their weapons directly at the soldiers who faced them. They tried to stare then down, “while carefully pointing their weapons to the ground in case one of them accidentally went off.” This verisimilitude restores a dimension of realism to a scene imagined by those who’d never been soldiers.

Checking Brooks, but failing to get his cooperation, Thompson took another extraordinary step. He radioed Warrant Officer Danny Millians, one of the pilots of the gunships, and convinced him to also defy the protocols against landing in a free fire zone. Then, in two trips, Millians used the Shark to transport the nine rescued Vietnamese, including five children, to safety. Making one final pass over the ditch where he’d locked horns with Calley, Thompson “hovered low… searching for signs of life while flinching at the sight of headless children.” Thompson landed a third time, remaining at the controls. He watched as Colburn, from the side of the ditch, grabbed hold of a boy that Andreotta, blood spilling from his boots, had pulled from among a pile of corpses. Do Hoa, a boy of eight, had survived.

Livid and in great distress at what he had witnessed, Thompson, on returning to base, and in the company of the two gunship pilots, made their superior, Major Frederic Watke, immediately aware of “the mass murder going on out there.” From that moment, every step taken to probe and verify “the substance of Thompson’s charges almost instantly came into dispute.” Although Watke would later tell investigators he believed Thompson was “over-portraying” the killings” owing to his “limited combat experience,” the major had realized that the mere charge of war crimes obliged him “to seek an impartial inquiry at the highest level.” The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) required that field commanders investigate “all known, suspected or alleged war crimes or atrocities… Failure to [do so] was a punishable offense.”  Having reported Thompson’s allegations to Task Force commander Barker, Watke had fulfilled this duty. But there was a Catch-22 permitting command authority to ignore the MACV directive if they “thought” a war crime had not been committed.

The trick here was for Barker and several other ranking officer in the division and brigade chain of command to assess if civilians had been killed during the assault, and if so, how many. Captain Medina – in addition to contributing to the fictional enemy body count – would supply a figure of “thirty civilians killed by artillery.” The division chaplain would characterize these deaths as “tragic… an operational mistake… in a combat operation.” For this line of argument to carry, however, it had been necessary for the commander of the Americal Division, Major General Samuel Koster, the “field commander” who alone possessed the authority to prevent the accusations from going higher, to put his own head deep into the sand.

When Colonel Orin Henderson, who commanded the 11th Infantry Brigade from which Medina’s Charlie Company had been detailed to the Task Force, ordered LTC Barker in the late afternoon of March 16th to send Charlie Company back to My Lai 4 to “make a detailed report of the number of men, women and children killed and how they died, along with another search for weapons… Medina strongly objected.” It would be too dangerous, he said, to move his men “in the dark through a heavily mined and booby trapped area… where the Vietcong could launch a surprise attack.” Monitoring the transmission between Barker and Medina, General Koster countermanded Henderson’s order. Later claiming he was “concerned for the safety of the troops,” Koster saw “no reason to go look at that mess.” Medina’s estimate of the number of civilian deaths, Koster ruled, was “about right.”

Not only had Koster’s snap judgement given Barker license to cook up the initial battlefield fantasy of 128 enemy dead, it ensured that the internal investigations into the charges of “mass murder,” notably by Henderson and other high ranking members of Koster’s staff, would not deviate from the conclusion voiced by the division commander. By navigating each twisting curve along a well camouflaged path toward the fictive end those in command were seeking, Harold Jones lays bare a virtual text book case of conspiracy, which must be read in its entirety to capture the intricate web of fabrication and self-deception the conspirators constructed to assure themselves the crypt of the cover-up had been sealed.[ii]

When discussing the massacre later at an inquiry, the Americal Division chaplain, faithful to the Army but not his higher calling, claimed that, had a massacre been common knowledge, it would have come out.  That the massacre was “common knowledge” to the Vietnamese throughout Quang Ngai Province on both sides of the conflict (not to mention among their respective leadership on up to Hanoi and Saigon) goes without saying. Indeed low ranking local South Vietnamese officials attempted to stir public outrage about the massacre (not to mention negotiate the urgent remedy of compensation for the victims), and were suppressed by the Quang Ngai Province Chief, a creature of the Saigon government who fed at the trough of U.S. materiel and did not wish to risk the good will of his American sponsors. My Lai was quickly recast as communist propaganda, pure and simple.

While this proved a viable method of suppression for South Vietnamese authorities, it could not still tales of the massacre in the scuttlebutt of the soldiers who had been there, who had carried it out. From motives said to be high minded, but not fueled by an anti-military agenda, and in the piecemeal fact-gathering manner typical of any investigation, the whistleblower Ron Ridenhour had thus resurrected the buried massacre, and bestowed on Sy Hersh the journalistic coup of a lifetime.

As the articles and newscasts about what took place at My Lai were cascaded before the public in November 1969, efforts to manage the political fallout by various levels of government were accelerated with corresponding intensity. Pushing back at the center of that storm were Richard Nixon and other members of the Executive; congressional committees in both the House and Senate; and not least, and in some cases with considerably more integrity than their civilian political masters, members of the professional military.

Not surprisingly, if one understands anything about American society, a substantial portion of the public, in fact its majority, expressed far greater sympathy for William Calley than for his victims. One could cite endemic American racism as a contributing factor for this unseemly lack of human decency. More broadly speaking, an explanation less charged by aggression would point to a level of provincialism that apparently can only afflict a nation as relatively pampered as my own. In such an arrangement, turning a blind eye for expedience sake toward the pursuit of global power, consequences be damned, is as good as a national pastime.

Despite the spontaneous public sympathy for Calley, Nixon, fretted that news of My Lai would strengthen the antiwar movement and “increase the opposition to America’s involvement in Vietnam.” Nixon, true to form, lashed out with venom at the otherness of his liberal enemies. “It’s those dirty rotten Jews in New York who are behind this,” Nixon ranted, learning that Hersh’s investigation had been subsidized by the Edgar B. Stern Family Fund, “clearly left-wing and anti-Administration.” Nixon was strongly pressed to “attack those who attack him… by dirty tricks… discredit one witness [Thompson] and highlight the atrocities committed by the Viet Cong.” Only Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird seemed to grasp that manipulation of public opinion would not perfume the stink of My Lai. The public might tolerate “a little of this,” Laird mused, “but you shouldn’t kill that many.” There was apprehension in the White House because calls for a civilian commission had begun to escalate. Habituated to work the dark side, and unbeknownst to his Secretary of Defense, Nixon formed a secret task force “that would seek to sabotage the investigative process by undermining the credibility of all those making massacre charges.”

Nixon found a staunch ally for this strategy in Mendel Rivers, the “hawkish” Mississippi Democrat who chaired the House Armed Services Committee.  As evidence from the military’s internal inquiries mounted to prove the contrary, members of River’s committee sought to establish that no massacre had occurred, and that the only legitimate targets of interest were Hugh Thompson and Larry Colburn (Gary Andreotta having been killed in an air crash soon after the massacre), who were pilloried at a closed hearing, virtually accused of treason for turning their guns on fellow Americans.

During a televised news conference on December 8th – with Calley’s court martial already under way for three weeks – Nixon announced that he had rejected calls for an independent commission to investigate what he now admitted for the first time “appears to have been a massacre.” The President would rely instead on the military’s judicial process to bring “this incident completely before the public.” The message the Administration and its pro-war allies would thenceforth steam shovel into the media mainstream wherever the topic was raised, was that My Lai was “an isolated incident,” and by no means a reflection of our “national policy” in Vietnam.

As maneuvers to re-consign the massacre to oblivion faltered, the Army was just then launching a commission of its own under a three-star general, William Peers, whose initial charge was to disentangle the elaborate cover-up within the Americal Division that had kept the massacre from exposure for almost two years. In order to reconcile the divergent testimonies among its witnesses, the scope of the Peers Commission soon necessarily expanded to gather a complete picture of the event the cover-up sought to erase. The Army’s criminal investigation by the CID, on which charges could be based, and which would guide any eventual legal proceedings, continued on a separate track and beyond the public eye as a matter of due process.

After Lieutenant General Peers had submitted the commission’s preliminary report, Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor moved to soften the “abrupt and brutal” language. He requested that Peers not refer “to the victims as elderly men, women, children and babies,” but as “noncombatant casualties.” And might Peers “also be less graphic in describing the rapes?” Resor further edited the word “massacre” from the report, and when presenting it to the press, had the chair of his commission describe My Lai rather as “a tragedy of major proportions.” Peers was reportedly indignant, but complied. It required no such compulsion to ensure that Peers toe the line on a far more central theme. Responding to questions from the media, Peers insisted there had been no cover-up at higher levels of command beyond the Americal Division, and echoed his Commander in Chief’s mantra that My Lai was an isolated incident. When Peers was questioned about what took place at My Khe that same day, he insisted it was inseparable from what occurred at My Lai. No reporter followed up with a challenge to that assertion.

Investigators had a long list of suspects deployed at My Lai and My Khe in Task Force Barker, as well as those throughout the Americal chain of command, who they believed should be charged and tried. Some forty enlisted men were named, along with more than a dozen commissioned officers. [iii] Only six among them, two sergeants and four officers would ultimately stand trial. There would be no opportunity to enlarge the scope of the massacre through the spectacle of a mass trial that would, moreover, conjure images of Nuremburg and Tokyo where America dispensed harsh justice on its defeated enemies only two decades earlier. It was agreed upon by both Nixon and the Pentagon Chiefs that defendants would be tried separately and at a spread of different Army bases.

If the elaborate subterfuge employed to cover-up the massacre had been the work of individuals desperate to protect their professional military careers, the court martial proceedings reveal how an entire institution operates to protect itself. George Clemenceau, French Prime Minister during the First World War, is credited with the droll observation that ‘military music is to music what military justice is to justice.” Harold Jones, using the idiom of the historian, demonstrates in his summaries of the trials the disturbing reality behind Clemenseau’s quip.

First before the bar at Fort Hood, Texas in November 1969 was Calley’s platoon sergeant David Mitchell, that witnesses described as someone who carried out the lieutenant’s orders with a particular gusto. Then in January it was Sergeant Charles Hutto’s turn at Fort McPhearson, Georgia. Hutto had admitted turning his machine gun on a group of unarmed civilians. These two men were so patently guilty in the eyes of their own comrades that theirs were among the strongest cases the investigators had constructed for the prosecution. Both men were acquitted in trials that can only be described as judicial parodies.

At Mitchell’s trial the judge, ruling on a technicality, did not allow the prosecution to call witnesses with the most damning testimony, like Hugh Thompson. Hutto had declared in court that “it was murder,” but claimed “we were doing it because we had been told.” When the jury refused to convict him because Hutto had not known that some orders could be illegal, Harold Jones nails how the court was sanctioning “the major argument that had failed to win acquittal at Nuremburg.”

Shortly after Hutto’s trial, the Army dropped all charges against the remaining soldiers, fearing their claims to have been following orders would likewise find merit in the prevailing temper of the military juries.  Heeding the judicial trend, Lieutenant General Jonathan Seaman, a regional commander exercising jurisdiction over officers above the rank of captain, dropped all charges against Major General Koster. By some opaque calculation which convinced no one, Seaman had concluded that Koster was not guilty of “intentional abrogation of responsibilities.” A hue and cry followed in the press and on Capitol Hill denouncing Seaman for “a white wash of the top man.” The outcry did prod the Pentagon to take punitive action against Koster. The general had already been dismissed as the commandant of West Point, and he was now demoted to brigadier general and stripped of his highest commendation.

Seaman informed Koster through internal channels that he held him “personally responsible” for My Lai, a kind of symbolic snub among gentlemen. But in exonerating the Americal commander, Seaman had, by design it can be argued, inoculated the higher reaches of command straight up to General Westmoreland from being held responsible for the actions of their subordinates, a blatant act of duplicity in light of the ruling at the Tokyo trials following World War II where lack of knowledge of atrocities committed by his troops had not prevented General Yamaschita from being hanged.

With Calley’s court martial already in progress, only three other officers, Medina and the Task Force Barker intelligence officer, Captain Eugene Kotouc, for war crimes, and 11th Brigade commander Henderson, for the cover-up, remained to be tried. Harold Jones deftly unspools how the flawed and self-protective system of military justice enabled trial judges in each case to provide improvised instructions to their juries which had all but dictated the acquittal of all three men. Kotouc had been charged with murdering a prisoner, whom, given the available evidence, he almost certainly had; still the jury found him not guilty in less than an hour. Asked if he would stay in the military, Kotouc gushed, “Who would get out of a system like this… it’s the best damn army in the world.”[iv]

Henderson’s and Medina’s trials were media spectacles in their own right, but mere side shows compared with the main event at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Calley trial opened in November, soon after the My Lai revelation. By the middle of March when the talented young prosecutor, Captain Aubrey Daniel, began his closing argument, a great majority of Americans had been glued to the courtroom drama for four months. Calley had a courtly elderly gent, George Latimer, a former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and later an original member of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, to lead his defense. Clearly Latimer knew his way around the arcana of military justice; moreover as a veteran of World War II who had achieved the rank of colonel, he was of the very caste. Latimer was confident he’d prevail. As the trial progressed, the testimony of nearly one hundred witnesses so prejudiced his client that Latimer desperately veered the defense toward an insanity plea, a strategy which foundered after three Army psychiatrists judged the accused to possess “the mental capacity to premeditate.” Finally Calley took the witness stand and quickly blundered. Under a rigorous cross-examination, Captain Daniel marched Calley back across the killing fields of Pinkville, at each step recapping eyewitness accounts, including the testimony of Hugh Thompson. Before he grasped the significance of his misstep, Calley had confessed to shooting into the ditch filled with Vietnamese victims. The verdict seemed ordained.

Yet, it was no slam dunk for the prosecution. The jury took eighty hours to deliberate, in the end finding Calley guilty of murder by a vote of four to two, one ballot shy of a mistrial, if not an outright acquittal. As a capital felony, Calley might have received the death penalty, but Daniel argued only for life imprisonment. On March 29, 1970 the judge agreed and passed sentence. Calley appeared shaken as he faced the court.  Surely the shrinks had gotten it wrong in not certifying a case of mental dissociation as acutely obvious as Calley’s? He seemed the perfect robotic tool of the Cold War. Hadn’t he been madly insisting all along that he had not been killing humans, but only communists, including babes at the breast who would grow up one day to be communists themselves? Then again, maybe Calley wasn’t as clueless and out of touch as he came across. In addressing the judge at sentencing, one could read in Calley’s plea, “I beg you… do not strip future soldiers of their honor” as he had been stripped of his, a message defending the common man and shrewdly aimed at a wider audience beyond the courtroom that the defendant must have known was substantially in his corner.

The polls quickly confirmed this. 79% of the public opposed the conviction. Across an ideological divide embracing both the war’s supporters and opponents, a large majority saw Calley as a scapegoat, one man custom-made to bear the blame for the entire Vietnam fiasco. Nixon played this public frustration to his advantage. There was little opposition when the President saw fit to have the prisoner removed from the stockade, where he’d spent just one night, and returned to his own Ft. Benning apartment. Calley would serve only three and a half years under house arrest before going free, but, after the trial, he quickly faded into anonymity.

At the White House, only a week after the verdict, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger reassured Nixon that “the public furor… [had] quieted down…  Let the judicial process… take its normal course,” counselled Kissinger. Liberal efforts to stir “a feeling of revulsion against the deed,” and turn the trial into a referendum against the war, had failed. “In fact the deed itself didn’t bother anybody,” Kissinger added.  “No,” Nixon agreed, picking up eagerly on his advisor’s cynical drift. “The public said, ‘Sure he was guilty but, by God, why not?’ ” Both laughed.[v]

The “deed” these two twisted political misanthropes found so amusing is memorialized at a shrine today in the My Lai township listing the names of the massacre’s 504 victims, more than half of whom were under the age of twenty, to include “forty-nine teenagers, 160 aged four to twelve, and fifty who were three years old or younger.”

In reflecting on the sordid tale he has chosen to historicize anew, and on its reduction by the U.S. political and military establishments to a judicial farce, Harold Jones explains how, “My Lai made it imperative nonetheless that the army institute major changes in training.” And further that “to understand the importance of restraint in combat, soldiers and officers must learn to disobey illegal orders… and the importance of distinguishing between ‘unarmed civilians… and the people who are shooting at us.’” Jones documents the extensive effort undertaken to incorporate this thinking by updating the rules of war, to “make them more specific, then teach, follow and enforce them.”

But in examining the next most infamous atrocity of modern memory committed by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib during the recent Iraq War, Jones concludes that “the central problem… lies less in writing new laws and regulations than in having officers who enforce those already in effect.” That officers may not be inclined to such enforcement underscores the apparently insoluble dilemma of an autocratic institution, the military, at the heart of a civilian democracy to which it is, in principle, subordinate. But we have already been shown over a panoply of legal proceedings that, at least in its capacity to dispense justice, the military is a power unto itself.[vi] Jones does not follow that thought directly, but rather indulges in a philosophical aside which dilutes the unhappy subject of his history in the horrors that attend all wars, concluding darkly that, in the right situation, we are all “one step away from My Lai.”

It’s not that the historian entirely buys Nixon’s aberration line; Jones does refer to other reported atrocities in VN. But he does buy Peers’ “right situation” explanation for why My Lai stands out, quoting the Peers Commission report that “none of the other [investigated] crimes even remotely approached the magnitude… of My Lai.” That would depend on how one defines “magnitude.” Peers had failed to do the math, and so has Jones. The American invasion, and occupation for over a decade, left a trail of bloodshed and destruction throughout Vietnam that led elements of the antiwar movement worldwide to level the charge of genocide against the U.S.

What one pro-war historian lamented as a veritable “war crimes industry,” had sprung up within the U.S., not from the campuses of the middle class protestors, but among the ranks of returning veterans, who for roughly two years after My Lai was exposed, brought accounts of atrocities they had participated in or witnessed before the American public. Harold Jones, to demonstrate historical balance, provides a cursory account of this effort, referring to a “sizeable segment of Vietnam veterans who considered… that My Lai was not an isolated incident and that Calley had become a scapegoat for the high ranking civilian and military officials who drew up the policies responsible for the atrocities.”

Having already established that Nixon denied the link between My Lai and “national policy,” Jones does not engage the argument further. But the war veterans (including the present writer) were not suggesting that the policy of genocide was etched in a secret covenant buried in a Pentagon vault. We were saying, in effect, don’t just look at the record body count attached to the slaughter at Pinkville, and imagine you have a true picture of American crimes in that war. Count the day to day toll of Vietnamese civilian deaths that resulted from premeditated frames like “mass population transfers” – the Strategic Hamlet program, or “chemical warfare” – the saturation of the countryside with phenoxy herbicides like Agent Orange, that were already prohibited by the conventions of war to which the U.S. was a signatory.

Other strategic tools, the Air War, and the relentless, not atypically indiscriminate, bombardment by artillery and naval guns, were employed by American forces against the “unpacified” countryside with unprecedented savagery.[vii] While these displays of massive fire power are thought to have created the highest proportion of civilian casualties during the war, the battlefield tactics – search and destroy operations in free fire zones, systematic torture and murder of prisoners, the “mere gook rule,” that turned every dead Vietnamese into an enemy body count, were a close second. These are facts available to anyone who cares to know them.[viii]

In both detail and presentation Harold Jones, with My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness, has produced a work of considerable value, and it is fair to acknowledge that the work, as recently characterized in a brief note by the New York Times Book Review, must now be considered the standard reference for the massacre. As for the scale and volume of terrors inflicted on the Vietnamese people during the American War, Jones, hewing close to official doctrine in the U.S., fails to acknowledge that My Lai was just the tip of the iceberg.[ix]

Michael Uhl served with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade as leader of a combat intelligence team eight months after the My Lai massacre. On return from Vietnam he joined the antiwar movement, and organized fellow veterans to make public their personal accounts of American atrocities in Vietnam. He presents this history in the war memoir, Vietnam Awakening (McFarland, 2007).

Notes.

[i].  Heonik Kwon, in his study, After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai (University of California Press, 2006), attributed to allied forces operating in Quang Ngai Province, notably units of the ROK (Republic of Korea) Marines (p.44), “at least six large scale civilian massacres during the first three months of 1968… Two secret reports made by the district communist cells to the provincial authority recorded nineteen incidents of mass killings during this short period.  The tragedy of mass killings had already been witnessed in Quang Ngai in 1966.”

In their recent documentary film series on the Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick reported that no province suffered more than Quang Ngai during the war, and no place was more dangerous for operating militarily.

[ii]. The author’s account of the cover-up reads as definitive; Harold Jones here follows closely Seymour M. Hersh in Cover Up (Random House, 1972).

[iii].  This would not include Barker, himself, who had died a month after the massacre when his helicopter crashed during a combat mission.

[iv]. This quote (p. 347) is from Four Hours in My Lai, by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, (Penguin, 1993), the standard work on the massacre for the past twenty-five years.

[v].  Harold Jones is reporting here from what he heard on the Nixon tapes recorded on April 8, 1971.

[vi] .  One portrait of what has been called the West Point Protective Association embodying the Army’s Spartan ethic, can be found in a highly charged expose, co-authored by a former academy graduate, West Point: America’s Power Fraternity, by Bruce Calloway and Robert Bowie Johnson (Simon and Schuster, 1973).

[vii].  An extensive account of the Air War in Quang Ngai Province is found in The Real War by Jonathan Schell (Da Capo Press, 1988).

[viii]. The Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. with the names of the 58,282 American war dead is 475 feet long; a wall inscribed with the names of the Vietnamese war dead would go on for miles.

[ix]. Herbicide poisoning and unexploded ordnance are legacy issues of the war that continue to take their toll on Vietnamese victims to this day.

Michael Uhl is the author of  Vietnam Awakening

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Book Review, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment

Liberals, Conservatives Worry About Korean Peace Threat

By Gregory Shupak | FAIR | March 15, 2018

WaPo: North Korea and South Korea snooker Trump

Washington Post‘s Max Boot (3/8/18)

Commentators across the spectrum of acceptable establishment opinion are alarmed by the possibility of peace breaking out on the Korean peninsula.

Some oppose the idea of talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on principle. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (3/9/18), for instance, suggested that Trump should not meet with Kim:

Is Trump now to glad-hand with Kim, treating him as just another world leader? Will Trump even bring up human rights? (You will recall that, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was ridiculed for suggesting he’d sit down with the North Korean dictator; he prudently backed off that idea.)

Her newly hired colleague Max Boot (Washington Post, 3/8/18) concurred:

As recently as August, Trump tweeted: “The US has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” He was absolutely right.

Boot went on to contend:

The South Koreans claim that the North Koreans are willing to discuss denuclearization, but the likelihood is that they will only do so on terms that the United States should never accept. Kim may offer to give up his nukes if the United States will pull its forces out of South Korea and sign a peace treaty with the North.

What Boot sees as a doomsday scenario—peace between the two Koreas and the withdrawal from the peninsula of US troops, which serve as a constant threat to the North and thus ensure the permanent threat of war—is actually a formula for ensuring that there isn’t a second Korean war, one that is certain to be even more devastating than the catastrophic first one for Korea, and likely for the region and further afield.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: "Looked at each other as if in disbelief"

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 3/9/18)

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 3/9/18) seemed flabbergasted by the prospect of a meeting between the leaders:

It has been the dream of North Korean leaders for decades now that they would advance their weapons programs and their nuclear programs so much so that the United States would be forced to acknowledge them as an equal and meet with the North Korean leader…. They got there with [Trump] and I don’t know that the administration intended it to be that kind of a gift. It’s just a remarkable time to be covering this stuff.

MSNBC blogger Steve Benen (3/9/18) says he’s “not opposed to direct diplomacy,” but he sounded like a time capsule from 1951 when he warned that

Trump has agreed to give Kim Jong-un exactly what he wants. North Korean leaders have sought this kind of meeting for decades because it would necessarily elevate the rogue state: It would show the world that North Korea’s leader is being treated as an equal by the Leader of the Free World.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof  (3/9/18) also claims to prefer that the US and North Korea exchange words rather than missiles, but he expressed relief that the threat of peace was minimal: “It’s genuinely encouraging that Kim doesn’t object to the US resuming military exercises,” he wrote, but worried that America

has agreed to give North Korea what it has long craved: the respect and legitimacy that comes from the North Korean leader standing as an equal beside the American president.

For Maddow, Benen and Kristof, a catastrophic nuclear war likely to kill millions is less threatening than the (frankly remote) possibility of America treating a small Asian country as an equal. This sort of commentary shows that liberal analysts are every bit as capable of a chest-thumping jingoism as their counterparts on the right.

In Praise of Sanctions

Sanctions on North Korea make it harder for aid organizations to operate in the country, and for people living there to obtain drugs and medical supplies, such as anesthesia used for emergency operations and X-ray machines needed to diagnose tuberculosis (Washington Post, 12/16/17). Tomás Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, says he is “alarmed by reports that sanctions may have prevented cancer patients from access to chemotherapy and blocked the import of disability equipment.”

According to Kee B. Park (12/18/17), a neurosurgeon at Harvard Medical School, the hunger in North Korea “is devastating. And it’s our fault. Led by the United States, the international community is crippling North Korea’s economy” by “banning exports of coal, iron, lead, seafood and textiles, and limiting the import of crude oil and refined petroleum products,” “punishing the most vulnerable citizens” of the country. For example, UNICEF says that “an estimated 60,000 children face potential starvation in North Korea, where international sanctions are exacerbating the situation by slowing aid deliveries.”

The Post’s Boot, however, is impressed by the sanctions, and worried that they might be lifted: “North Korea hopes at a minimum for a relaxation of sanctions just when they are beginning to bite.” In the interest of precision, he should have added “60,000 children” after the word “bite.”

He continued:

It may make sense to talk to North Korea, but at a lower level, while maintaining the “maximum pressure” sanctions policy. Eventually the regime may feel so much pain that it will be willing to bargain in earnest.

North Korea doesn’t have the capacity to pain on the US, so it’s worth asking: Who will enforce hunger on America and destroy its economy to compel it to reverse its past approach (The Nation, 9/5/17) and “bargain in earnest” with North Korea? And would Boot endorse such an approach?

Boot can rest easy, however, about “so much pain” being reduced, as the Trump administration appears poised to maintain the sanctions until it determines that there has been “real progress” in the talks (AP, 3/13/18).

Kristof, like Boot, suggests that Trump “probably does” deserve credit for using sanctions to get North Korea to suspend tests of nuclear weapons:

First, Trump raised the economic pressure on North Korea with additional sanctions and extra support from China, and the pain was visible when I visited North Korea in September. Kim has made rising living standards a hallmark of his leadership, and sanctions have threatened that pillar of his legitimacy.

Kristof has made a career branding himself a bleeding heart concerned for the world’s most vulnerable but evidently his heart doesn’t bleed for “the most vulnerable citizens” of states that defy US dictates.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

State Dept has $120mn war chest for Russia-bashing – and ex-envoy McFaul wants to spend it

RT | March 7, 2018

There is $120 million in funding for “countering Russian propaganda” stashed somewhere in the State Department. There are “Russia experts” willing to blame Russia for everything. The two are meant to be together.

The $120 million, of which Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic corps has failed to spend a cent, is funding for the Global Engagement Center – a task force originally meant to counter jihadist propaganda online. In the late days of the Obama administration, it was tasked with countering “Russian and Chinese propaganda” aimed against America’s democratic institutions. The State Department is yet to spend any of that money.

The State Department was granted $120 million to fight Russian meddling. It has spent $0.https://t.co/JT1Jmnd7po

— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 6, 2018

For people failing to read past the New York Times headline, the failure to spend these funds would appear to be a clear indicator that Tillerson and the rest if the Trump administration have no interest in doing anything against Russia. There are memes about it, and people crying “Treason!” on Twitter.

Those who do read the story will discover the small print. For instance, the Pentagon and the State Department have been wrangling for the first annual installment of $60 million for months, and have agreed on $40 million, which is not expected until April. The US military previously lead online counterpropaganda – a coordinated effort by several departments – because they also fought jihadists with more tangible means like drones. The inclusion of Russia and China put the diplomats in charge.

Also, this money is just a tiny portion of what the US government spends on its own soft power, including promoting narratives that counter those favored by Moscow. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent body for outlets like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, requested over $685 million of taxpayers’ money for FY2018. The Trump administration also wants to allocate $527 million this year for the State Department’s assistance to Europe, which is meant to strengthen “European resilience to Russian meddling,” according to the NYT. This is significantly lower than the $1.3 billion last year, set aside under the Obama administration, but can hardly be considered petty cash.

Still, there is that pile of anti-Russian money that the State Department has not spent, and there are always people who would offer their services in spending Uncle Sam’s millions. One former diplomat has already come up with a public offer.

Is the @StateDept wants to contract out its assignment to spend $120 million to combat Russian propaganda, Im sure I could put together a great team ! (& I speak Russian!)

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

“Is [sic] the @StateDept wants to contract out its assignment to spend $120 million to combat Russian propaganda, I’m sure I could put together a great team! (& I speak Russian!)” tweeted Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration.

McFaul’s tenure in Moscow was somewhat awkward. He infamously invited Russian opposition leaders to the embassy in one of his first moves, more or less ensuring their reputation as American stooges in the eyes of many Russians. After returning to academia, he wrote a book on Russia, available from Amazon.com on May 8.

An avid social network poster, he recently pledged to never share anything in Russian – after he showed his audience a video clip of mass protests with a caption in Russian inciting people to kill security officials. Even worse, the video was shot in Bahrain and erroneously claimed by the original poster to be from the latest mass protest in Iran.

Fair point Dmitry ! Ill change that on my CV. I haven’t used Russian for over four years now, since I left in 2/14. Getting a little rusty. https://t.co/FKutqSWquU

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

Good question. I just did a live tv interview in Russian. But Im sure listeners would poke holes in all of my grammatical mistakes (forgetting that hardly any Americans show respect for Russian language/history/culture & dare do interviews in Russian.) https://t.co/jTlalo2E9I

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

Of course, there are many other people in the West who wrote books about Russia and are willing to offer their expert opinions on why it poses such a danger to the US, and how it can be stopped. So there will be quite a competition for this $120 million stash, if State Department chooses to spend it.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

How ‘Operation Merlin’ Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse on Jan. 26, 2016 with his wife Holly, center, and attorney Barry Pollack. Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP
By Gareth Porter | Consortium News | March 3, 2018

Jeffrey Sterling, the case officer for the CIA’s covert “Operation Merlin,” who was convicted in May 2015 for allegedly revealing details of that operation to James Risen of the New York Times, was released from prison in January after serving more than two years of a 42-month sentence. He had been tried and convicted on the premise that the revelation of the operation had harmed U.S. security.

The entire case against him assumed a solid intelligence case that Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapon that justified that covert operation.

But the accumulated evidence shows that the intelligence not only did not support the need for Operation Merlin, but that the existence of the CIA’s planned covert operation itself had a profound distorting impact on intelligence assessment of the issue. The very first U.S. national intelligence estimate on the subject in 2001 that Iran had a nuclear weapons program was the result of a heavy-handed intervention by Deputy Director for Operations James L. Pavitt that was arguably more serious than the efforts by Vice-President Dick Cheney to influence the CIA’s 2002 estimate on WMD in Iraq.

The full story of the interaction between the CIA operation and intelligence analysis, shows, moreover, that Pavitt had previously fabricated an alarmist intelligence analysis for the Clinton White House on Iran’s nuclear program in late 1999 in order to get Clinton’s approval for Operation Merlin.

Pavitt Plans Operation Merlin

The story of Operation Merlin and the suppression of crucial intelligence on Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be understood apart from the close friendship between Pavitt and CIA Director George Tenet. Pavitt’s rise in the Operations Directorate had been so closely linked to his friendship with Tenet that the day after Tenet announced his retirement from the CIA on June 3, 2004, Pavitt announced his own retirement.

Soon after he was assigned to the CIA’s Non-Proliferation Center (NPC) in 1993 Pavitt got the idea of creating a new component within the Directorate of Operations to work solely on proliferation, as former CIA officials recounted for Valerie Plame Wilson’s memoir, Fair Game. Pavitt proposed that the new proliferation division would have the authority not only to collect intelligence but also to carry out covert operations related to proliferation, using its own clandestine case officers working under non-official cover.

Immediately after Tenet was named Deputy Director of the CIA in 1995, Pavitt got the new organization within the operations directorate called the Counter-Proliferation Division, or CPD. Pavitt immediately began the planning for a major operation targeting Iran. According to a CIA cable declassified for the Sterling trial, as early as March 1996 CPD’s “Office of Special Projects” had already devised a scheme to convey to the Iranians a copy of the Russian TBA-486 “fireset” – a system for multiple simultaneous high explosive detonations to set off a nuclear explosion. The trick was that it had built-in flaws that would make it unworkable.

A January 1997 declassified cable described a plan for using a Russian émigré’ former Soviet nuclear weapons engineer recruited in 1996 to gain “operational access” to an Iranian “target.” The cable suggested that it would be for the purpose of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, in the light of the fact that the agency had not issued a finding that Iran was working on nuclear weapons.

But in mid-March 1997 the language used by CPD to describe its proposed covert operation suddenly changed. Another declassified CPD cable from May 1997 said the ultimate goal was “to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.” That shift in language apparently reflected Tenet’s realization that the CIA would need to justify the proposed covert operation to the White House, as required by legislation.

With his ambitious plan for a covert operation against Iran in his pocket, Pavitt was promoted to Associate Deputy Director of Operations in July 1997. On February 2, 1998, CPD announced to other CIA offices, according to the declassified cable, that a technical team from one of the national laboratories had finished building the detonation device that would include “multiple nested flaws,” including a “final fatal flaw” ensuring “that it will not detonate a nuclear weapon.”

An official statement from the national lab certifying that fact was a legal requirement for the CIA to obtain the official Presidential “finding” for any covert operation required by legislation passed in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair.

Pavitt obtained the letter from the national laboratory in mid-1999 a few weeks after it was announced he would be named Deputy Director of the CIA for Operations.

But that left a final political obstacle to a presidential finding: the official position of the CIA’ s Intelligence Directorate remained that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program. The language of the CIA’s report to Congress for the first half of 1999, which was delivered to Congress in early 2000, contained formulations that showed signs of having been negotiated between those who believed Iran just have a nuclear weapons program and those who did not.

The report referred to nuclear-related projects that “will help Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure, which in turn would be useful in supporting nuclear weapons research and development.” The shift from “will” to “would” clearly suggested that nuclear weapons work was not yet an established fact.

A second sentence said, “expertise and technology gained, along with the commercial channels and contacts established-even from cooperation that appears strictly civilian in nature-could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons research and developmental program.” That seemed to hint that maybe Iran already had such a nuclear weapons program.

That was not sufficient for Tenet and Pavitt to justify a covert nuclear weapons program involving handing over a fake nuclear detonation device. So the dynamic duo came up with another way around that obstacle. A new intelligence assessment, reported in a front page article by James Risen and Judith Miller in the New York Times on January 17, 2000, said the CIA could no longer rule out the possibility that Iran now had the capability to build a bomb – or even that it may have actually succeeded in building one.

Risen and Miller reported that Tenet had begun briefings for Clinton administration officials on the new CIA assessment in December 1999 shortly after the document was completed, citing “several U.S. officials” familiar with it. The Tenet briefings made no mention of any evidence of a bomb-making program, according to the sources cited by the Times. It was based instead on the alleged inability of U.S. intelligence to track adequately Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology and materials from the black market.

But the new assessment had evidently not come from the Intelligence Directorate. John McLaughlin, then Deputy Director for Intelligence, said in e-mail response to a query that he did not recall the assessment. And when this writer asked him whether it was possible that he would not remember or would not have known about an intelligence assessment on such a high profile issue, McLaughlin did not respond. Pavitt and Tenet had obviously gone outside the normal procedure for an intelligence assessment in order to get around the problem of lack of support for their thesis from the analysts.

A declassified CIA cable dated November 18, 1999 instructed the Russian émigré to prepare for a possible trip to Vienna in early 2000, indicating that Tenet hoped to get the finding within a few weeks. Clinton apparently did give the necessary finding in early 2000; in the first days of March 2000 the Russian émigré dropped the falsified fireset plans into the mail chute of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Vienna.

Pavitt Suppresses Unwelcome Iran Nuclear Intelligence

Pavitt’s CPD was also managing a group of covert operatives who recruited spies to provide information on weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Iraq. CPD not only controlled the targeting of the operatives working on those accounts but the distribution of their reports. CPD’s dual role thus represented a serious conflict of interest, because the CPD had a vested interest in an intelligence estimate that showed Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and it could prevent intelligence analysts from getting information that conflicted with that interest.

That is exactly what happened in 2001. One especially valuable CPD operative, who was fluent in both Farsi and Arabic, had begun recruiting agents to provide intelligence on both Iran and Iraq since 1995. His talents had been recognized by the CPD and by higher levels of the Operations Directorate: by 2001 he had been promised an intelligence medal and a promotion to GS14 – the second highest grade level in the civil service.

But that same year the operative reported very important intelligence on the Iran nuclear issue that would have caused serious problems for Pavitt and CPD and led ultimately to his being taken out of the field and being fired.

In a November 2005 court filing in a lawsuit against Pavitt, the unnamed head of CPD and then CIA Director Porter Goss, the operative, identified only as “Doe” in court records, said that one of his most highly valued “human assets” – the CIA term for recruited spies – had given him very important intelligence in 2001. That information was the subject of three crucial lines of the key paragraph in the operative’s complaint that were redacted at the demand of the CIA. For years “Doe” sought to declassify the language of that had been redacted, but the CIA had fought it.

It was assumed in press accounts at the time that the redacted lines were related to Iraq. But the lawyer who handled the lawsuit for “Doe,” Roy Krieger, revealed to this writer in interviews that the redacted lines revealed that the CIA “human asset” in question was an Iranian, and that he had told “Doe” that the Iranian government had no intention of “weaponizing” the uranium that it was planning to enrich.

It was the first intelligence from a “highly-valued” U.S. spy – one who was known to be in a position to know he claimed to know – on Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons to become available to the U.S. intelligence community. “Doe” reported what the spy had said to his supervisor at CPD, according to the court filing, and the supervisor immediately met with Pavitt and the head of CPD. After that meeting the CPD supervisor ordered “Doe” not to prepare any written report on the matter and assured him that Pavitt and the head of the CPD would personally brief President Bush on the intelligence.

But “Doe” soon learned from his own contacts at CIA headquarters that no such briefing ever took place. And “Doe” was soon instructed to terminate his relationship with the asset. After another incident involving intelligence he had reported on WMD in Iraq that had also conflicted with the line desired by the Bush administration, CIA management took “Doe” out of the field, put him in a headquarters job and denied him the intelligence medal and promotion to GS-14 that he had been promised, according to his court filing. The CIA fired “Doe” without specifying a reason in 2005.

Pavitt did not respond to requests for an interview for this story both at the Scowcroft Group and, after he retired, at his home in McLean, Virginia.

The intervention by Pavitt to prevent the intelligence from Doe’s Iranian asset from circulating within the U.S. government came as the intelligence community was working on the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program. That NIE concluded that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon, but the finding was far from being clear-cut. Paul Pillar, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, who was involved in the 2001 NIE, recalled that the intelligence community had no direct evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. “We’re talking about things that are a matter of inference, not direct evidence,” Pillar said in an interview with this writer.

Furthermore he recalls that there was a deep divide in the intelligence community between the technical analysts, who tended to believe that evidence of uranium enrichment was evidence of a weapons program, and the Iran specialists, including Pillar himself, who believed Iran had adopted a “hedging strategy” and had made no decision in favor or a nuclear weapon. The technical analysts at the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC), were given the advantage of writing the first draft not only on Iranian technical capabilities but on Iranian intentions – a subject on which it had no real expertise – as well, according to Pillar.

The introduction of the intelligence from a highly credible Iranian intelligence asset indicating no intention to convert its enriched uranium into nuclear weapons would arguably have changed the dynamic of the estimate dramatically. It would have meant that one side could cite hard intelligence from a valued source in support of its position, while the other side could cite only their own predisposition.

Pillar confirmed that no such intelligence report was made available to the analysts for the 2001 NIE. He noted just how rarely the kind of intelligence that had been obtained by “Doe” was available for an intelligence estimate. “Analysts deal with a range of stuff,” he said, “from a tidbit from technical intelligence to the goldmine well-placed source with an absolutely credible account,“ but the latter kind of intelligence “almost never comes up.”

After reading this account of the intelligence obtained by the CPD operative, Pillar said he is not in a position to judge the value of the intelligence from the Iranian asset, but that the information from the CPD Iranian asset “should have been considered by the NIE team in conjunction with other sources of information.”

That lead to a series of estimates that assumed Iran had a nuclear weapons program.

In 2004, a large cache of purported Iranian documents showing alleged Iranian research related to nuclear weapons was turned over to German intelligence, which the Bush administration claimed came from the laptop of an Iranian scientist or engineer. But former senior German Foreign Official Karsten Voigt later revealed to this writer that the whole story was a fabrication, because the documents had been given those documents by the Mujahedin-E Khalq, the Iranian opposition group that was known to have publicized anti-Iran information fed to it by Israel’s Mossad.

Those documents led directly to another CIA estimate in 2005 asserting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which in turn paved the way for all the subsequent estimates – all of which were adopted despite the absence of new evidence of such a program. The CIA swallowed the ruse repeatedly, because it had already been manipulated by Pavitt.

Operation Merlin is the perfect example of powerful bureaucratic interests running amok and creating the intelligence necessary to justify their operations. The net result is that Jeffrey Sterling was unjustly imprisoned and that the United States has gone down a path of Iran policy that poses serious – and unnecessary – threats to American security.

Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014).

March 3, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putin Claims Strategic Parity, Respect

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | March 3, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State-of-the-Nation speech Thursday represents a liminal event in the East-West strategic balance — and an ominous one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

That the strategic equation is precarious today comes through clearly in Putin’s words. The U.S. and Russia have walked backwards over the threshold of sanity first crossed in the right direction by their predecessors in 1972 with the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Amid the “balance of terror” that reigned pre-1972, sensible statesmen on both sides concluded and implemented the ABM treaty which, in effect, guaranteed “mutual assured destruction” — the (altogether fitting) acronym was MAD — if either side attempted a nuclear attack on the other. MAD might not sound much better than “balance of terror,” but the ABM treaty introduced a significant degree of stability for 30 years.

The treaty itself was the result of painstaking negotiation with considerable understanding and good faith shown by both sides. The formidable task challenging us intelligence specialists was to be able to assure President Nixon that, if he decided to trust, we could monitor Soviet adherence and promptly report any violations. (Incidentally, the Soviets did cheat. In mid-1983 we detected a huge early warning radar installation at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia — a clear violation of the ABM treaty. President Reagan called them on it, and the Soviets eventually tore it down.)

During the U.S.-Soviet negotiations on the ABM treaty, a third of the CIA Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, which I led at the time, was involved in various supporting roles. I was in Moscow on May 26, 1972 for the treaty signing by President Richard Nixon and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. I recall not being able to suppress an audible sigh of relief. MAD, I believed, would surely be preferable to the highly precarious strategic situation that preceded it. It was.

Cornerstone of Stability

In his speech on March 1, President Putin included an accurate tutorial on what happened after three decades, noting that Moscow was “categorically against” the U.S. decision in 2002 to withdraw from the ABM treaty. He described the treaty as “the cornerstone of the international security system.”

Putin explained that under the treaty, “the parties had the right to deploy ballistic missile defense systems in only one of its regions. Russia deployed these systems around Moscow, and the U.S. around its Grand Forks land-based ICBM base [in North Dakota].”  (He did not mention the aborted attempt to deploy a second installation at Krasnoyarsk.)

The Russian President explained: “The ABM treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust, but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons … because the limited number of ballistic missile defense systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.”

Putin was saying, in effect, that no matter how bad — even mad — the MAD concept may seem, it played a huge stabilizing role. He added that the U.S. rejected all Russian proposals toward constructive dialogue on the post-ABM treaty situation, and grossly underestimated Russia’s ability to respond. The Russian President then gave chapter and verse, cum video clips, on an array of new Russian weaponry which, he claimed, rendered missile defense systems “useless.” The show-and-tell segment of Putin’s speech has been widely reported.

New York Times Skeptical

David Sanger, the New York Times’ go-to guy on key issues, who is among the best in the trade on reporting as “flat facts” things like WMD in Iraq and “Russian meddling,” wrote the lede on Putin’s speech in Friday’s NY Times together with Neil MacFarquhar. The meme this time is not flat fact, but skepticism: “Do these weapons really exist? Or is Putin bluffing?”

In support of their skepticism, Sanger and MacFarquhar blithely report that “analysts writing on Facebook and elsewhere leaned toward the bluff theory.” So, QED!

And echoing former National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s insight that Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever,” Sanger and MacFarquhar remind NYT readers that “deception lies at the heart of current Russian military doctrine.”

The two NYT journalists did get one thing right at the very end of their article; namely, “For years, Mr. Putin has chafed at the perceived disrespect showed to him and Russia by the United States. ‘Nobody listened to Russia,’ he said near the end of his speech, to huge applause. ‘Well, listen now.’”

Russians, like all proud and gifted people, resent attempts to demean or marginalize them. Putin may have seen his speech, in part, as a blistering response to former President Barack Obama’s dismissive comments that “Russia doesn’t make anything” and is no more than “a regional power.”

Door Still Open to Talks

It is to be hoped that the Marine generals running U.S. defense policy, rather than calling Putin’s bluff, will now encourage President Donald Trump to take up Putin’s latest offer to “sit down at the negotiating table” and “work together … to ensure global security” — taking into account that “strategic parity” is now a reality.

Referring to what he called “our duty to inform our partners” about Russia’s claimed ability to render ABM systems “useless,” Putin added: “When the time comes, foreign and defense ministry experts will have many opportunities to discuss all these matters with them, if of course our partners so desire.”

Putin also said, “We are greatly concerned by certain provisions of the revised Nuclear Posture Review,” which envisages a nuclear response to “conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber threat.”

He described Russia’s military doctrine, as “very clear and specific”:  “Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons solely in response to a nuclear attack, or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, or an act of aggression against us with the use of conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

With burgeoning threats against Iran and Syria, it is to be hoped that someone in Washington thinks to ask Putin which countries he includes among Russia’s allies.

White Lies Nobody Believes

Dana White, Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters Thursday, “Our missile defense has never been about” Russia. Now, as Harry Truman would have put it, the Russians “weren’t born yesterday.”  Putin has been extremely derisive toward those promoting the bromide that ABM installations in and around Europe are designed to defend against missiles from Iran — or North Korea.

In an unusually candid remark on missile defense on April 17, 2014, the day before Crimea was annexed, Putin told a national TV audience: “Missile defense … is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.

To take some liberties with Shakespeare, “The fault is not in our stars, but in our Star Wars.” Ever since President Ronald Reagan was sold on the notion that a “Star Wars” ABM system could provide the U.S. with complete protection from missile attack, exceptional opportunities to restrain — or even put an end to — the nuclear arms race have been squandered. Victory has gone to the arms profiteers — those whom Pope Francis described to Congress as the “blood drenched arms merchants.”

The ABM project has been called, with justification, the world’s largest corporate welfare program. Jonathan Marshall  today explains quite well what should scare us — still more billions likely to be thrown at the makers of systems that, most serious scientists and engineers agree, can always be defeated, and comparatively cheaply, one way or another.

Three Decade-Old Conundrum

During the mid-80s, I had a front-row seat watching President Ronald Reagan blow what appeared to be a golden chance for a comprehensive peace. I had spent most of my CIA career focusing on Soviet foreign policy and was able to tell the senior U.S. officials I was briefing that Mikhail Gorbachev, in my view, was the real deal. Even so, I was hardly prepared for how far Gorbachev was willing to go toward disarmament. At the 1986 summit with President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gorbachev proposed that all nuclear weapons be eliminated within ten years.

Reagan reportedly almost rose to the occasion, but was counseled to reject Gorbachev’s condition that any research on anti-ballistic missiles be confined to laboratories for that decade. “Star Wars,” the largest and most wasteful defense-industry program in recent memory, won the day.

I know the characters who, for whatever reason, danced to the tune of “Star Wars,” Reagan’s benighted, wistful wish for an airtight defense against strategic missiles.

The naysayers to peace included ideologues like CIA Director William Casey and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, windsocks like CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates and one of his proteges, Fritz Ermarth, a viscerally anti-Russian functionary and former Northrop Corporation employee, who was a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Soviet and European Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) during Reykjavik.

According to author Jim Mann, several years after Reykjavik, Ermarth reflected on how he had been wrong in being overly suspicious of Gorbachev and how the intuition of Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz had been more perceptive.

What Now?

By all appearances, President Putin is as interested in stemming the strategic arms race as was Gorbachev. On Thursday, Putin talked about this particular moment being liminal — he called it “a turning point for the entire world.”  Will there be anyone in Washington at the other end of the phone, if Moscow calls? If, in effect, the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media complex answers, ABM developers will continue to fatten their purses and squander our children’s future.

It may be time to recall the admonition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a speech he gave 65 years ago:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. …

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. … This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

‘Nuff said.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington.  He served 30 years as an U.S. Army Intelligence and CIA analyst, and in retirement co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

March 3, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment