US bombing: wedding party or terrorist hideout?

John Allen comments on this tiem: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - While Iraqis at the scene of a U.S. air strike insisted that some 40 innocent people at a wedding were killed, U.S. military officials remained just as adamant that the strike targeted, and hit, foreign terrorists". John writes: "We may never know the truth about whether the airstrike by US forces yesterday killed 40 people, including women and children, in a wedding party or whether the airstrike hit a target identified as being used by "terrorist" forces who fired on US aircraft. But whether we know the truth or not, I would hope that no American commander would ever again demonstrate his incredible ignorance of
Middle Eastern culture by making the following statement as a justification for the US airstrike: "How many people go to the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, told reporters in Fallujah. "These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive." Asked about witness estimony and footage of children killed or wounded, Mattis said: "I have not seen the pictures, but bad things happen in wars. I don't have
to apologize for the conduct of my men." Well, General, among desert dwellers become town dwellers, it is not at all uncommon to return to the site of an ancestral village or even a favored location of temporary habitation by nomads for such important ceremonial observances as weddings or funerals. It is also not uncommon among former or present desert dwellers to celebrate certain occasions by firing into the air. Silly and wasteful of ammunition, perhaps, but a custom in this part of the world at least since the days of T.E. Lawrence, who reported such
occurrences. General Mattis must have flunked his course in Middle Eastern geography and culture (surely all our commanders in the field in Iraq have been required to take such a course!).

General Mattis may also be the only person in the US Army who has never attended a wedding. He seems to think the presence of "two dozen military-age males" is proof-positive of a terrorist cell. I don't know about most WAISers but in my limited social circles and attendances at weddings in the United States, at least 50% of the male attendees at such ceremonies were of "military-age." General Mattis is correct in saying that "bad things happen in wars." Duh. But I'm not certain that he is correct when he says that he doesn't have to apologize for the conduct of his men. He may, if further facts come out, have to apologize not only for the conduct of his men but for his own conduct--both before and after the event that killed 40 men, women, and children. I repeat: we do not have all the facts about this event and perhaps the mother of all terrorist cells was eliminated and all of the statements and photographs of a devastated wedding party are faked for propaganda purposes. But even if an error was not made, our field commanders, who serve as the representatives of the American people abroad (shudder) don't have to deomonstrate our obvious national ignorance of Middle Eastern culture by making statements like those of General Mattis. Ronald Hilton might say here that this whole sorry story provides stronger justification for teaching geography in institutions of higher education where it is absent from the curriculum. I would agree with him".

RH: I have no information that commanders in the field in Iraq are required to take a course on Middle Eastern geography and culture.

IRAQ: The "hazing at Abu Ghraib prison

Randy Black insists on calling the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib "hazing", comparable to what he was subjected to at Ford Ord. General Robert Gard asks: "I wonder if Randy Black was required to masturbate with co-eds looking on, if he was dragged naked with a collar around his neck by a co-ed, if he was stripped naked and manculed while co-eds belittled him, or if his senior frat brothers had guard dogs bite him. Nor do I know when and under what circumstances he was "hazed" at Fort Ord. When I was the commanding general there, the drill sergeants provided lots of tough love to trainees, but they stopped far short of the activities seen in pictures of the jail in Iraq".

Randy Black answers General Robert Gard, saying that his experiences at Fort Ord justified his referring to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail as "hazing". It is, of course, his testimony, not mine: ªRandy Black says college hazing, in his experience, included nearly everything except the public masturbation and dog bites. Yes, we were subjected to dog collars, public nudity, having to spend an entire day of college classes with a unboiled egg, still in the shell of course, carried in the scrotum of our underwear, on campus, being “felt up” between classes by upper classmen in front of co-eds to make sure that we still had our egg intact, having to drink urine and worse at the University of Oklahoma. I am certain that most, if not all frats did the same thing to their pledges, there and on other campuses. One kid was chained naked to a tree in front of a sorority house and the key to the lock was put through the mail slot in the front door so that only the girls could let him go. We were 18, young and dumb enough to not know that we had options.

At Fort Ord, similar activities were common except it was far more serious, and deadly. We were forced to allow other trainees to urinate on us if we failed certain exercises. If you came down sick, you still had to fall out for the morning roll call in cold, wet conditions before dawn where you were belittled by the CO and the sergeants for being weak and sick. One guy was so sick that he could not get out of his bunk for roll call, thus the CO refused to allow him to go down the hill to the medical facility. He almost died.

Spinal meningitis killed several trainees that year due to neglect and unhealthy conditions, in previous and subsequent years at Fort Ord. As a result, the drill sergeants’ solution was to make us sleep with the windows open in the dead of winter.

During my Basic experience there, we never saw an officer above the rank of Major at any of the activities although I, along with others, were required to clean the toilets at the division headquarters at night as punishment for having gone to college. The four of us who were college graduates, out of about 250 in our basic training company, were singled out for special work, including such activities. It wasn’t so bad, cleaning those offices, as we found out. While we went about our cleaning activities, we could listen to the television in the CO’s office, and we were able to make off with a couple of rolls of toilet paper which made us popular back at the barracks where such materials were rationed. By making a platoon of perhaps 30 trainees share one roll per day, the military had the attitude that this made us better soldiers.

I witnessed drill sergeants backing their cars up to the rear of the mess hall at night and loading up their trunks with the steaks that the trainees were allotted for winning the war games at the end of basic. Instead we ate hamburger since the “good food” was stolen by the drill sergeants.

Our E-3 head cook, a guy who had been busted down in rank several times for fighting according to himself, helped load the sergeant’s cars. The same cook sold marijuana to the trainees with the complicity of the drill sergeants and threatened me with a bayonet when I said that I would report him. One of my fellow reservists, an FBI agent from Florida, turned the guy in to the judge advocate after basic. Nothing came of it.

Once out of basic, and in my AIT (Advance Instructional Training?) phase, I ran into my old drill sergeant one night. I asked him about the steaks that we never got, as promised, for winning the war games exercise. He said it was common to steal them and sell them off post, since their wages were so low. He had served in ‘Nam, had volunteered to become a drill sergeant. Overall, despite his being a thief, I thought of him as a reasonable, professional soldier.

The only generals I ever saw were on the Ft. Ord golf courses. They had two courses, among other amenities. The place was considered one of the best places to be posted in the US military, being on the Monterey Peninsula of California, near Carmel, the golf courses, and the very pleasant summers".

RH: The account of life at the University of Oklahoma sounds like "Animal House". I am not familiar with American fraternity life. The allegations about Ford Ord should be investigated-

Randy Black described the abuse by American soldiers at of prisoners at Abu Graib prison as "hazing". Christopher Jones asks: "I wonder if Mr Black would qualify the behavior of Irma Griese as "hazing"? In Europe, we have been subjected to an interview with Lynndie English, the "Queen of Abu Ghraib" whose sadistic frolics with Iraqi inmates recalls the sadism of Miss Griese, who was hanged for crimes which did not include a single documented case of murder, although it seems she participated in the selection process of prisoners destined for the gas hambers". RH: I had forgotten who Irma Griese was, but a recent TV program has made her name a household word in Europe. Dr. Gisela Perl, a prisoner at Auschwitz, said "......Irma Greze (sic) was the most depraved, cruel, imaginative sexual pervert I ever came across. She was the highest ranking SS woman in Auschwitz and it was my bad luck to be under her eyes during my entire camp life........" She was pregnant by Dr.. Mengele, and she forced Dr. Perl to perform an abortion on her. She was reportedly very beautiful, which proves that appearances can be deceptive.

Leslie Gelb's solution

Richard Hancock writes: "There is an article on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (5/20/04) by Leslie Gelb, who is president emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations. This article seems to make sense to me. He quotes Chairman of Joint Chiefs Richard Meyer, with Secretary Donald Rumsfield at his side, as saying "There is no way to militarily lose in Iraq. There is also no way to militarily win in Iraq."

Gelb says that we should set a date certain to withdraw from Iraq perhaps in two years and proceed on the basis that none of the three largest ethnic/religious groups--Arab Shiites, Arab Sunnis and Kurds--will allow itself to be dominated by the others. He adds that the only agreement that might satisfy all three groups is a loose federation with three largely self-governing regions and a relatively weak central government.

The Shiites will not be happy with this because they are in the majority but they may come around when they understand their real choice: endless and fruitless warfare with Sunnis and Kurds as opposed to being left to run their own affairs in southern Iraq. The Sunnis will also resist this but they must be reminded that most of Iraq's oil wealth is in Shiite and Kurd territories and they could be denied their share of this oil wealth unless they adopt a more concilatory attitude. The Kurds will celebrate the retention of regional authority that they have enjoyed for the last 13 years.

Gelb recommends:

1. Hold elections in the three regions with the resulting three regional governments sending representatives to the national government in Baghdad on a proportional basis.

2. Emphasize minority rights protection throughout Iraq.

3. Make an all-out effort to share the military burden during the two-year phaseout period. If we have a sensible plan, it might be that other nations would be more inclined to help. He says that "Presumably we'd have a U.N. imprimatur. Our only condition should be that a U.S. general command the peacekeepers."

4. Launch a regional conference focusing on nonintervention commitments from all parties not to attack Iraq or supply arms and funds to Iraqi insurgents.

Gelb ends by saying that we can lance the current nastiness in attitude toward the U.S. by letting everyone know that the U.S. presence will end soon and then all must see the rationale of helping make Iraq a better and safer place.

I have always felt that the greatest risk in taking Iraq was political and not military. I fear that the American public will not support a long occupation and that we may have to come up with a plan like Gelb's that will let people know that "our boys" will be coming home on a date certain. I also think that it might concentrate the minds of the Iraquis on what they will be faced with when the hated Americans pull out".

RH: Re 3: It is far from certain that the UN, with France having veto power, would agree to a US general in charge of peacekeepers.

From the UK, John Heelan expresses lack of confidence in the solution to the Iraq war proposed by Leslie Gelb: "US bodybags continuing to return from a protracted guerrilla war in Iraq protecting US "interests" will eventually dissuade the US public from supporting the war, no matter how much the Administration hides the bodybags and spins the truth about day-to-day events. Further, should tax increases and conscription become necessary to maintain US troops in the 12 or so new military bases in Iraq- built by Pentagon-friendly corporations of course- the US population will start exhibiting anti-war feelings similar to those caused by Vietnam. By that time of course the Administration, neo-cons and their cronies will have "taken the money and run" [Perle and Fleischer have already left, Chalabi is being ejected for non-compliance- who is next to desert the sinking "S.S. Bush"?]" RH: John speculates.

Iraq Policy

A previous posting mentioned an article in Counterpunch, "The Israeli Torture Template" by Wayne Madsen. We are concerned because it refers to a distinguished and highly esteemed WAISer, James Woolsey. It mentions two companies: CACI International of Arlington, Virginia, and Titan of San Diego, California. Here is the relevant excerpt: "After his stint as CIA Director, James Woolsey served as a Titan director. Woolsey is an architect of America's Iraq policy and the chief proponent of and lobbyist for Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. An adviser to the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs, Project for the New American Century, Center for Security Policy, Freedom House, and Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Woolsey is close to Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, a key person in the chain of command who would have not only known about the torture tactics used by U.S. and Israeli interrogators in Iraq but who would have also approved them. Cambone was associated with the Project for the New American Century and is viewed as a member of Rumsfeld's neo-conservative "cabal" within the Pentagon". RH: We would gladly post any comment on this James Woolsey chooses to make.

Ronald Hilton -