Inter Press Network

Friday, July 30, 2004

Early 'handover' uncovers White House crisis

CNN - 7/25/2004 10:00:00 AM GMT

The U.S. occupation forces handed over power to the Iraq Interim government, 2 days earlier than it was scheduled. What does this move reveal? And what really lies behind the U.S. haste in handing over power to the Iraqis, although the occupation hasn’t ended yet.

Bush and Blair persistently refused to allow elections to be held before handing over the power to the Iraqis, hoping that their new friend, the interim government, will be able to allow them to win the elections on their side when they are finally held.

Last April, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made crystal clear the limits that U.S. occupation would put on this handy picked new 'government'.

Powell said that he hopes that the Iraqis "will understand that in order for this government to get up and running - to be effective - some of its sovereignty will have to be given back, if I can put it that way, or limited by them. ...It's sovereignty but [some] of that sovereignty they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf and with their permission."

However despite U.S. control over this new "government", they and their allies, were losing control over Iraq as anti-occupation fighters, and were also loosing their credibility worldwide. The amount of causalities among Iraqi and the Abu Ghraib scandal was enough to shatter the U.S. and its allies’ image all over the world.

General Tommy Franks, the Commander of U.S. Central Command at the time of the invasion, expressed how U.S. doesn’t pay the least respect to Iraqi casualties when he stated, "we don't do body counts".

The released photos of abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib notorious prison was an evidence to the amount of violations done to Iraqis by the U.S. occupation forces and its allies. Also with the Red Cross reporting that the occupation officers said that between 70%-90% of those prisoners were "arrested by mistake".

The occupation repressive methods have stirred the world’s outrage and bitterness towards the occupiers.

Then comes 'handing over power to the Iraqi people'. If this was a true handover, then Iraqis would have been asking for immediate end of the occupation. There can be no doubt that almost all of the Iraqis don’t are anti-occupation, even among Kurds who were to some extent supportive to the U.S.-led invasion.

The recent months before the handover of power witnessed the shattering of the U.S. image and failure of its policy. The U.S. military found itself forced into a series of tactical retreats, fearing that their operations would provoke a generalized national uprising.

The 'collective punishment' strategy that the U.S. adopted in the Iraqi city Fallujah failed and the U.S. was forced to effectively reconstitute part of the old Iraqi army to win control over the area.

Moreover, U.S. military's delay in supporting the new 'Iraqi army' with weaponry came as a sign of their lack of confidence in these forces, many of whom have only joined for financial reasons.

Behind these policy reversals we tend to see both the rising opposition to the occupying forces' presence in Iraq and Bush's mounting fear that the unraveling of his Iraq adventure will jeopardize the November U.S. Presidential elections, which of course he can’t afford losing.

As a matter of fact the U.S. made 'interim government' has been designed to be a disguise behind which the U.S. will still run the country. But the Wall Street Journal uncovered how the CPA has formed a series of 'commissions' and agencies that have effectively taken over the power previously held in Iraqi ministries, thus leaving the new 'government' with very little power left. Which stirred the U.S. fears.

While the CPA itself was to end its existence by the end of June, the new U.S. Embassy, the largest in the world, based in one of Saddam's palaces, with around 1,600 staff, was prepared to take over its role!

The U.S. had great hopes that the new 'interim government' will serve as a buffer that will redirect opposition to its colonial grip. As the opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq continued to grow, there was no unifying focus for the resistance. This meant that it was a combination of ethnic, religious and tribal groupings which at first gave the occupiers the opportunity to maneuver between the different groups.

Increasingly the occupiers are relying on deals with different groups, in effect trying to play off one grouping against another. An example is in the northern Kurdish area where for some time the Kurdish leaders have been the most consistent supporters of the occupation. These leaders have received some rewards for this, for example the promise that the two main Kurdish militias will form part of the internal security forces of the Kurdistan regional government.

But the U.S. refused the Kurdish demands for control over the northern Iraqi oilfield around Kirkuk. The U.S. didn’t want to alienate the Turkish government which opposes Kurdish independence and at the same time wanted to strike a deal with the leaders of the Iraqi Shia majority. So the U.S. made a gesture towards Sistani by ensuring that the latest UN resolution on Iraq did not mention the Transitional Administration Law that granted Kurds some rights, on paper, to a federal Iraq.

The combination of the lack of a national uprise against occupation and the occupying powers' increasing reliance on local deals was creating a trend towards break-up of Iraq under local forces and fighters. This in turn brought the fear of provoking further ethnic, tribal, and religious tensions as rival elites struggle for power and economic resources.

This formal handover of power to a form of Iraqi government was the only way out to save the shattered U.S. image all over the world and consequently save Bush his chair in November’s presidential elections. Also it was a proof and a sign of U.S. losing control in Iraq after causalities, lies, abuse and torture were uncovered to the whole world.


War of Ideology


When foreign policy wonks go to bed, they dream of being X. They dream of writing the all-encompassing, epoch-defining essay, the way George F. Kennan did during the cold war under the pseudonym X.

Careers have been spent racing to be X. But in our own time, the 9/11 commission has come closer than anybody else. After spending 360 pages describing a widespread intelligence failure, the commissioners step back in their report and redefine the nature of our predicament.

We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict.

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.

The 9/11 commission report argues that we have to fight this war on two fronts. We have to use intelligence, military, financial and diplomatic capacities to fight Al Qaeda. That's where most of the media attention is focused. But the bigger fight is with a hostile belief system that can't be reasoned with but can only be "destroyed or utterly isolated."

The commissioners don't say it, but the implication is clear. We've had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a commission to analyze our intellectual failures. Simply put, the unapologetic defenders of America often lack the expertise they need. And scholars who really know the Islamic world are often blind to its pathologies. They are so obsessed with the sins of the West, they are incapable of grappling with threats to the West.

We also need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.

Most of all, we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological. He observed that we are in the fight against Islamic extremism now where we were in the fight against communism in 1880.

We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it.

The writer can be reached at

Published in The New York Times on July 24, 2004

How to Lose the War on Terror...

A CIA bin Laden expert’s lament

One of the striking things about the Iraq War is the extent to which American foreign-affairs professionals—intelligence analysts, diplomats, and high-ranking military officers—recognize it is a tragically misguided venture. Among the most recent to speak out is the CIA officer formerly charged with analyzing Osama bin Laden. Known only as “Anonymous,” he is the author of the new book Imperial Hubris —a scathing look at the way the United States has conducted the War on Terror thus far. TAC editors Philip Giraldi (a CIA veteran with extensive Mideast experience), Kara Hopkins, and Scott McConnell recently visited with the author. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

TAC: You’ve said that Iraq was the best Christmas present that Osama bin Laden could have possibly received …

ANON: Have you seen the movie “Christmas Story,” where the boy wants a Red Rider air gun and his mom says no? Then at the end of Christmas day, when he has opened all his presents, he gets the gun and he thinks, “My God, I really got it. I never thought I’d get it.” Iraq was Osama’s Red Rider BB gun. It was something he always wanted, but something he never expected.

Iraq is the second holiest place in Islam. He’s now got the Americans in the two holiest places in Islam, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, and he has the Israelis in Jerusalem. All three sanctities are now occupied by infidels, a great reality for him. He also saw the Islamic clerical community, from liberal to the most Wahhabist, issue fatwas that were more vitriolic and more demanding than the fatwas that were issued against the Soviets when they came into Afghanistan. They basically validated all of the theological arguments bin Laden has been making since 1996, that it is incumbent on all Muslims to fight the Americans because they were invading Islamic territory. Until we did that in Iraq, he really had a difficult time making that argument stick, but now there is no question.

It’s also perceived widely in the Muslim world that we attacked Iraq to move along what, at least in Muslims’ minds, is the Israelis’ goal of a greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. While we’re beating the hell out of the Iraqis, Sharon and the Israelis are beating the hell out of the Palestinians every day. So we have an overwhelming media flow into the Muslim world of infidels killing Muslims. It’s a one-sided view, but it’s their perception. And unless you deal with what they think, you’re never going to understand what we’re up against.

TAC: I was interested in your analysis of terrorism versus insurgency …

ANON: I worked on the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and watched the organizational structure and the ability of the Afghan insurgent groups to absorb tremendous punishment and survive, and then I worked for the next period of my career on terrorism, where the groups were much smaller. Their leadership is more concentrated, and if you hurt them to a significant degree, they cease to be as much of a threat. They are lethal nuisances, not national-security risks. Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist group but an insurgency with an extraordinary ability to replicate at the leadership level. When Mr. Johnson was executed in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi authorities killed four al-Qaeda fighters, one of them named Mukrin. Within four hours, al-Qaeda’s media enterprise had issued a statement acknowledging the death of Mukrin, appointing his successor, and providing a brief résumé.

TAC: You suggest that al-Qaeda would be delighted to have George Bush stay in the White House because nothing could be better for their international objectives. How do you see this playing out in terms of—this is totally hypothetical—a potential terrorist incident, somewhat like the bombing in Spain?

ANON: I said that al-Qaeda itself has said that it could not wish for a better government than the one that is now governing the U.S. because, on the policies of issue to Muslims, al-Qaeda believes this government is wrong on every one and thus allows their insurgency to grow larger to incite other groups to attack Americans.

TAC: One of your principal points is that this is a much broader war against Islam. How do you deflect critics who would suggest that Islam is, in fact, a lot more complicated? Countries like Malaysia don’t really fit the Islamist or the fundamentalist profile …

ANON: I don’t know if we have to say we are at war with Islam, but I think it defies reality to say that a growing part of Islam is not at war against us. I am at a loss to understand how this far along into the bin Laden problem we can still be saying that this war has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with religion in terms of the motivation bin Laden, his followers, sympathizers, and Muslims generally feel to fight us.

Bin Laden’s genius has been to focus the Muslim world on specific U.S. policies. He’s not, as the Ayatollah did, ranting about women who wear knee-length dresses. He’s not against Budweiser or democracy. The shibboleth that he opposes our freedoms is completely false, and it leads us into a situation where we will never perceive the threat.

TAC: Unless we believe that bin Laden is rational, we are underestimating him …

ANON: Tremendously. One of the prime examples of our underestimation is the whole discussion of Iraq and al-Qaeda. Bin Laden would not be very likely to deal with the Iraqis, not because he didn’t like them, not because he hated Saddam—both of those are true—but because the Iraqis were a third-rate service. They are ham-handed, clumsy. Most of their terrorist operations result in killing their own people. We have never seen al-Qaeda associate with someone who posed a risk to the security of their organization, operatives, or plan of attack. Al-Qaeda is a first-rate insurgent organization with a first-rate intelligence and counterintelligence service. Bin Laden has shown throughout his career that he deals with equals.

TAC: Can you give us a sense of where al-Qaeda is now in terms of popularity and resonance in the Muslim world?

ANON: We dealt al-Qaeda some serious blows in terms of its people who are designated to attack the United States, but they have been succeeded by others who were understudying before those people disappeared.

In terms of popularity, it would be difficult to underestimate the growth in popular support across the Muslim world. Bin Laden has identified six specific U.S. policies that appeal to the anger of Muslims: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices within a tolerable range for consumers; our support for people who oppress Muslims, i.e., Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, China in Western China; our presence on the Arabian Peninsula; our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; and finally our support for Muslim tyrannies from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Bin Laden is a formidable enemy because he has recognized what are deemed by many Muslims, even those who don’t support his martial activities, as threats to Islam.

TAC: You suggest that the situation with al-Qaeda requires two things: an acceptance that this is a war against the major insurgency that encompasses a major part of the earth, and while we are fighting the war, we have to address the policy issues that have made the it happen. If you were the czar today, what would you do to make this happen?

ANON: I don’t think we can win this war until we have a debate over what has caused it and recognize that it is in our power to win this war over a period of time or to fight this war forever. This is not a choice between war and peace. It is a choice between war and endless war.

People say we are going to do public diplomacy—magazines for Muslims. Well, as long as Al-Jazeera is broadcasting from Gaza and the West Bank live, 24 hours a day, no one is going to listen to the Americans. We are talking to basically ourselves and to the Europeans, who don’t like us much anyway.

Certainly, I am not smart enough to formulate foreign policy for the whole country, but we must have this kind of a debate. We pursued policies for 30 years which have led us to 9/11 and which will lead us to further 9/11s, and unless we decide that we are willing to wage this war aggressively with the military, but also complement it with genuine political movement, we are in a position where we are going to be defeated time and again.

TAC: I don’t understand how the aggressive military part complements the political strategy. Aggressive action would seem to imply a lot of collateral damage, which would undercut political efforts …

ANON: War is what it was when there were cavemen or when Napoleon went into Russia or when we fought World War II. Collateral damage is a natural condition of war, especially when you are fighting an opponent that is uniform-less.

Why do I say we need to be more aggressive? We went into Afghanistan in October 2001, the estimate was 50,000 Taliban fighters under arms and 8-10,000 al-Qaeda. If we give the military intense credit and say they killed 20 percent of that number, 45,000 went home with their guns to fight another day. Why would anyone define that as winning?

It’s a politically correct handicap to think that you can have a war but maintain a position where we don’t want to kill the enemy, we don’t want collateral damage, and we don’t want our people to die. That falls in the category of analysis by assertion. You can say it’s true, but it’s not. It’s never been true. Unless we address the policy issue, we have left ourselves with only the military option.

TAC: But when you have an insurgency that is organized like a terrorist group, it is dispersed and difficult to find. To destroy that group in a conventional military sense goes into decimation of whole groups of people as a way to get at the terrorists.

ANON: It is a very complex problem, but I have never understood my oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” and care just as much about foreigners as Americans. If I had to choose between the president attacking somebody and killing some civilians to protect my children and not doing it, I think I would support the president.

I am not arguing that we carpet-bomb someplace just for the sake of killing civilians. What I am saying is that if you have an opportunity to hit the enemy, you don’t spend a lot of time discussing if the evidence will make it in the Southern District of New York. Intelligence is not evidentiary material. It is information, and when you get to the level where you think you are not going to get any better, you act. That is something we failed utterly on in the ’90s.

TAC: Do you think we could have pretty much gotten rid of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan at the end of 2001?

ANON: I think if we had been prepared to act on the day of the attack or the next couple of days, we would have dealt them a very serious blow. Bin Laden had declared war on us in 1996, but the military had absolutely no response ready. When they did respond, they spent a month destroying 30-year-old Soviet junk. From Sept. 11 until Oct. 7, al-Qaeda and the Taliban dispersed. And then when we did get there, we used surrogates rather than our own soldiers.

TAC: How important is getting bin Laden?

ANON: Of decreasing importance as the years go by, but bin Laden has a genius: he has the only organization of its kind in the Muslim world. He has Muslims from multiple ethnic groups and they work together with a lot of friction, but they work together effectively. We’ve watched the Palestinians for 45 years. They are all Palestinians, and they can’t go across the street together.

Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda initially will lose some of its cohesiveness because of his very genuine credentials as a leader, but al-Qaeda is now a very mature organization. It is into its second generation of leadership, and the second generation seems to be more professional and businesslike. They’re quieter.

August 2, 2004 issue
Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative

A badge of honour...The left doesn't have to compromise any principle to defend and work with Muslims - on the contrary

by Lindsey German

There is no section of the British population that has seen its world change more dramatically since 9/11 than the Muslim community. Events have propelled British Muslims into political activity, especially around the anti-war movement. The continuing plight of the Palestinians, the imprisonment of Muslims without human rights in Guantánamo Bay and Belmarsh prison and the terrorism laws have all fuelled a new politicisation.

Muslims were already the target of widespread racist attacks - the situation is now far worse. The British National Party singled out Muslims in its recent election broadcast, while the home secretary has demanded British Muslims accept the "British way" and that English should be spoken in Asian homes. There has been a dramatic rise in the stop and search of Asian men as "Muslim" has become increasingly interchangeable with "terrorist" or "fundamentalist" in some sections of society, including some in uniform.

It should be a badge of honour to those of us on the left that a group of people who face discrimination and victimisation should look to organisations like Stop the War Coalition to help defend them - and that the overwhelming majority of those so politicised do not turn to fundamentalist groups but to socialists, trade unionists and peace campaigners.

Unfortunately, however, those liberals who backed the war against Iraq seem to regard any alliance with the Muslim community as a pact with the devil. Charges of anti-semitism, support for terrorism, homophobia and sexism abound, as in the attacks on Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Muslim Association of Britain in recent days. Those of us who have long supported women's and gay liberation have now picked up some unlikely supporters. Papers like the Sun, itself no stranger to sexist and homophobic rants, have developed a belated concern for the rights of Muslim women and gays.

For any socialist, the defence of sexual equality and freedom must be unconditional. But we cannot, in the process, join in the attacks on those very Muslims who are at the sharp end of racist attacks and Islamophobia in Britain. We could start by not treating Muslims as one reactionary, superstitious mass. Just because women wear the hijab, for example, does not mean that they are more oppressed than other women. Our experience in the anti-war movement is the opposite. Young Muslim women, most of whom wear the hijab, have played a central role in organising, speaking at meetings, fundraising and debating policy. Many say they dress in this way not out of deference but because they want to show pride in their culture and religion.

Everyone should oppose homophobia and attacks on women from whichever source. But such views are far from being held by all Muslims, nor are they unique to Muslims. Fundamentalists of most religions hold such views - but where is the uproar when fundamentalist Baptist preachers from the US visit our shores?

It is also absurd to insinuate that homophobic attacks or wife-beating are exclusively Muslim problems. They are preponderantly found among the white majority in this country. Many of the attitudes being condemned were themselves part of public British culture until relatively recently. It has taken argument and organisation to challenge those views, and that political engagement needs to be continued.

For example, the Muslim Association has increasingly put forward Muslim women speakers to represent it on anti-war platforms as our campaign has developed. And, while its support for the Palestinian people's struggle is unequivocal, it clearly distinguishes between the Jewish people and the Israeli state. Those who argue that Muslim groups such as the MAB are fascist, or that al-Qaradawi's views on gays are worse than the BNP's, are dangerously wide of the mark.

The BNP's heroes in Nazi Germany scapegoated gays, trade unionists, Gypsies, socialists and, above all, Jews because they wanted to destroy democratic and working-class organisations in the interests of a German imperialist super-state. British Muslims, however much we might disagree with some of the views that some hold, are struggling to uphold their rights and culture in an environment of pervasive racism - a racism used to uphold the policies of the new imperialism. The comparison with Nazism is abhorrent.

Of course, some Muslims - and non-Muslims - hold views on some social issues that are more conservative than those of the socialist and liberal left. But that should not be a barrier to collaboration over common concerns. Would a campaign for gay rights, for example, insist that all those who took part share the same view of the war in Iraq? That would be a road to the fragmentation of any progressive movement seeking to reach out beyond the traditional left.

It would be a catastrophe for the left to bow to the witch-hunt and turn its back on the Muslim community. We have always defended ethnic minorities and immigrants coming to Britain. When socialists and communists joined Jews in London's East End in the 1930s to defeat fascism, they did so because they realised that if we do not defend those under attack today, we would all be under attack tomorrow.

·Lindsey German is the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition
She is available at

The article was first published in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday July 13,2004


Blair tells aides: find a way I can apologise for dossier

by Alison Hardie

Key points
Blair looks for way to say sorry over dossierAim is to apologise for errors without saying war was wrongOpponents still question PM's 'personal integrity'
Key quote
"I think he should have come clean with the people. I think he should have told them exactly what the intelligence was. The evidence is that he didn’t do that, that he misled the country." - Tory leader, Michael Howard

Story in full TONY Blair has ordered his closest aides to find a way for him to apologise for the dossier on Iraq after he bowed to pressure yesterday to lead a crucial debate on the war in parliament.

Downing Street strategists had hoped the Prime Minister’s statement on Wednesday, when he said he took "full responsibility for any mistakes made", would go far enough to see off his critics.

But last night, Mr Blair personally instructed his inner circle to "find a form of words" that would let him say sorry for the errors identified by Lord Butler in his report without saying the war that removed Saddam Hussein was wrong.

The way was paved for Mr Blair yesterday by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who said he did not regret the publication of the controversial dossier, but admitted that intelligence-service doubts should have been left in it.

Mr Straw said: "I don’t regret it. I don’t regret we produced it. We produced it as part of greater openness. There were huge demands to produce what became known as ‘the dossier’. We thought it entirely reasonable to do so. Would we do so again, produce a synopsis of the case? I think so. But question its contents."

Mr Straw repeated the government’s assertion that Britain and George Bush, the president of the United States, would have accepted co-operation from Saddam as the United Nations sought to force him to comply with resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. He stressed: "I happen to know that President Bush would have taken yes for an answer."

That was not enough to convince Michael Howard, the Tory leader, who stepped up his attack on Mr Blair, calling into question his personal integrity.

He repeated his claim that Mr Blair had "misled" the country over the Iraq intelligence.

Mr Howard told BBC Radio 2: "When you have such a contrast, such a yawning gap, between the words used by the Prime Minister and the actual intelligence on which his words were meant to be based, then there is a very legitimate question to be asked.

"I think he should have come clean with the people. I think he should have told them exactly what the intelligence was. The evidence is that he didn’t do that, that he misled the country."

The Butler Report said intelligence was "seriously flawed" and "open to doubt", and that MI6 reservations about leaks from Iraq were not included in the September 2002 dossier presented by Mr Blair as he made the case for war. Downing Street repeatedly declined yesterday to be drawn on whether Mr Blair would apologise, although the Prime Minister’s official spokesman conceded that there were lessons to be learned from the Butler Report, which also criticised Mr Blair’s informal style of government.

The spokesman said: "Obviously, there are implications within the Butler Report which we will have to reflect on, and the wider system will have to reflect on."

Alison Hardie is the political correspondent The Scotsman newspaper


Israel – A Rogue State ...Sharon against the world

by Justin Raimondo
July 21, 2004

In 1987, a black teenager, Tawana Brawley, claimed to have been abducted and raped by six white cops in upstate New York. In addition to sexually abusing her, she said, they had scrawled racial epithets on her body and smeared her with feces. She later identified Steven A. Pagones, a Duchess County district attorney, as one of the perpetrators, and the case became a cause célèbre in the black community, with prominent black leaders demanding that Pagones be prosecuted and the "cover-up" ended. The Reverend Al Sharpton used the case to catapult himself into the center of public attention, and the alleged incident was seized on by some civil rights activists to illustrate a persistent and seemingly inherent "racism" in American society.

There was just one problem with this line of argument: the "rape" of Tawana Brawley was a hoax.

There was no physical evidence Ms. Brawley had been raped, and so she changed her story to sexual abuse without penetration. But there were so many anomalies in her tale that the whole thing began to fall apart, anyway, and yet still Brawley and her supporters insisted that she had been victimized, instead of the innocent Pagones, who had been falsely accused. It took seven months for a jury to conclude, after examining medical and police records and hearing over 100 witnesses, that Tawana was a liar. The epithets scrawled in charcoal, the smearing of feces, her ripped clothing – all of it had been self-inflicted. For the better part of a year, the community had been rent apart by a divisive and increasingly contentious feud, pitting black against white, but the perpetrators of this hoax weren't through. They continued to maintain that the "rape" was real, and called Pagones – and virtually every New York politician in the book – a "racist." Ten years later, Pagones sued Brawley and her lawyers for defamation: a judge, in awarding Pagones a substantial sum, remarked that "Tawana Brawley appears caught up in her own fiction."

The myth of victimization is not easily dispelled by the facts, especially when it is reinforced by ideology. Brawley's camp followers and supporters knew that American society is inherently and unredeemably racist, and therefore the rape of Tawana just had to be true. The line between truth and falsehood is easily blurred where ideology is concerned: if Tawana wasn't literally a victim in this case, then surely her rape at the hands of marauding white cops was figuratively and symbolically true in the sense that it was a plausible story.

Or something like that….

A similar hoax recently threw all of France into turmoil. This time the author was one Marie-Leonie LeBlanc, a 23-year-old Frenchwoman, who claimed she had been attacked on the Paris subway by six youths of North African appearance. Upon relieving her of her wallet, and discovering her address, one of her alleged assailants had supposedly remarked: "Only Jews live in the 16th arrondissement." The six proceeded to tip over her baby carriage, slash her clothes, and draw swastikas on her stomach – all in plain sight of some 20 people in the train car at the time, who supposedly sat passively in their seats while LeBlanc was cruelly abused by these swarthy stormtroopers.

The incident provoked a national orgy of outrage and self-recrimination: every public official and newspaper of note bellowed that the whole society stood condemned and wallowed in a luxurious bath of collective guilt. Why hadn't they woken up to the rising threat of a supposedly rampant anti-Semitism earlier? The answer, we were told, lay in the North African minority that was permeated with "hate." Israel's amen corner was quick to point out that this "hate" was fueled by opposition to the Jewish state, not only in the Muslim community but among secular French opponents of Israeli government policies: anti-Zionism, they claimed, was separable from anti-Semitism only in theory. In practice, they averred, the two are almost always indistinguishable.

The braying chorus of moralizers kept it up even as Ms. LeBlanc's story began to fall apart with Tawana-like speed: the video surveillance cameras revealed nothing of the surreal scene described by the alleged victim, and not a single witness had come forward. Unlike Tawana, however, it took LeBlanc only four days to admit to the hoax, engineered in cooperation with her boyfriend: an apology was offered, but no explanation. And still the braying of the moralizers only got louder, as in this bizarre account in Time magazine,

"No one felt vindicated, however, for the simple reason that the tale had been completely credible – France today is a place where such acts of anti-Semitism and racism are commonplace. 'If reaction was so intense, it's because people unfortunately know that such a horrific scenario is plausible,' says Yonathan Arfi, president of the Union of French Jewish Students. France's hate-crime wave extends far beyond a single well-publicized case. 'Whether this is the 10th or 20th assault of its kind changes nothing,' says former Socialist Economy and Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn. 'We have a real problem.'"

As a metaphor for the myth of "rising anti-Semitism," the ersatz martyrdom of Marie LeBlanc illustrates the real problem: truth is now irrelevant. A lie has only to be "plausible," these days, and it passes the reality test.

Anti-Semitism is "commonplace" in Europe and the United States only if one redefines it to include looking cross-eyed at Ariel Sharon. As Israeli helicopter gunships shoot down Palestinian teenagers and the apartheid-like conditions prevalent in the Jewish state are given physical form in the shape of a Wall of Separation, this group has grown in numbers – evidence, we are told, of increasing anti-Semitism.

Something is on the increase, but it isn't anti-Semitism: it is the aggressiveness of Israel and its international amen corner, not only in the occupied territories but in places as far-flung as France and New Zealand. The French were taken aback when, in reaction to the LeBlanc episode, Sharon declared in an address to American Jewish leaders that French Jews must "move immediately" to Israel. "We see the spread of the wildest anti-Semitism there," Sharon said, adding "I think it's a must and they have to move immediately."

The French daily Le Figaro cited a source close to LeBlanc describing her as a "mythomaniac." She and Sharon are perfect soulmates, in that sense, psychologically if not politically. Even as the Zionists' Tawana Brawley was arrested and charged, and her boyfriend detained, the Israelis touted the arrival of some 200 French Jews "fleeing" alleged persecution at the hands of their French tormentors.

The limits of political correctness having been reached, French President Jacques Chirac exploded in a fury, disinviting the Israeli Prime Minister from his planned visit to Paris and demanding an official explanation. But old Ariel just chuckled and explained, with some justice, that he had always said that Jews should commit themselves to aliyah, and come "home" to Israel. It was only a few months ago, after all, that Ha'aretz reported on a meeting held by Sharon and his top lieutenants in government on the question of how to increase Jewish immigration to Israel – with the focus particularly on France.

According to the report, Sharon envisions a million new immigrants this year, 20,000 of them French. Whereas before the main thrust of Zionist recruitment had been toward the East, directed at the former captive nations of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, Sharon proposed a complete turnaround:

"One necessary change would be for the relevant agencies to shift their focus from distressed countries to the prosperous West - what the Jewish Agency defines as 'immigration by choice.' The problem is that there is no precedent in Zionist history for mass immigration of this sort. 'The dominant factor in mass immigration was distress,' said Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of Hebrew University. Nevertheless, he said, it is possible to observe signs of distress even in the wealthy West – with France being the prime example.

"Dr. Erik Cohen of Bar-Ilan University's school of education, who recently conducted a study of French Jews, concurred, saying that interest in immigration is at an all-time high. 'This isn't an exodus that will begin from one day to the next,' he said, 'but before such an exodus, one hears an echo – and I heard this echo.' Cohen said it 'would not be impossible' to bring 50,000 French Jews here, particularly, he said, as 90 percent of French Jews already have friends or relatives here."

The Sharon-Chirac showdown is a psychodrama with a Zionist lesson attached to it, and the Israelis are playing it for all it's worth. It's part of a more general pattern of increased Israeli belligerence directed at unlikely, i.e. Western, adversaries – with New Zealand certainly qualifying as the unlikeliest.

The case of the Mossad spies who tried to get a passport by stealing the identity of a housebound paraplegic has been the subject of a previous column, and the story has by now evolved into a full-blown diplomatic brouhaha similar to the fracas with the French. While Sharon's government – and the two Israeli agents captured by New Zealand's security services – has stubbornly denied any involvement by Israel, it turns out the Kiwis were bugging their phones from the get-go. Prime Minister Helen Clark, although reticent in relating how she knew it, wasn't shy about saying what she knew:

"The New Zealand government views the act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international law."

After announcing diplomatic and political sanctions against the Israeli government, and canceling talks planned for later this year, Clark challenged the Israelis to come clean:

"The ball is in Israel's court as to where it wants to move from here. Three months ago we asked for an apology and an explanation. That has not been forthcoming."

Instead of apologies, the Israelis and their supporters internationally have been demonizing the Kiwis as neo-Nazis for daring to defend their sovereignty. They are especially sensitive to the implications of this scandal because, as New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told Ha'aretz:

"The passports that Mossad agents tried to obtain illegally might have been reserved for an assassination operation in a third country, which would have caused irreparable damage to New Zealand."

An Israeli assassination team used Canadian passports in a 1997 botched mission to Jordan targeting Palestinian militants, and a stolen New Zealand passport was found on a member of an al-Qaeda cell that plotted to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the turn of the millennium. As the New Zealand and Australian governments beef up security procedures, they are also hunting for at least two other suspected Israeli agents, including one Ze'ev William Barkan, thought to be either American or Canadian, apparently the ringleader of the spy cell. The Sydney Morning Herald cites an international aid worker with the goods on Barkan:

"'He goes to Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand and deals with gangs who rob tourists of their valuables and passports,' the aid worker said. 'Barkan is mostly interested in passports and there have been a number of Australian passports.' Intelligence analysts in New Zealand believe Barkan, a former navy diver in the Israeli Defence Force, was trying to secure a 'clean' passport for use in a sensitive Israeli undercover operation in the region, less risky than a forged passport."

Given Sharon's ambitious plans to inspire aliyah, perhaps the idea was to so thoroughly embarrass the Jews of New Zealand that they would flee to Israel out of pure chagrin. However, a more sinister aspect of this operation is underscored by reports that Barkan has been spotted in North Korea, attending a conference as an "Israeli security consultant." The New Zealand website Scoop cites "a senior NGO chief executive with Global-Protect All Children" who says:

"Barkan is there (In Pyongyang) negotiating details of an extensive contract for design and technical equipment to support (a security wall) project, including- but by no means limited to - Israeli produced motion sensors and night vision equipment. Barkan flew from Beijing to Pyongyang at the end of April. He was allegedly travelling on a Canadian passport issued in the name of Kevin Hunter, which had been reported stolen at the Canadian Consulate in the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in mid April."

Barkan's in the neighborhood because "it is believed North Korean and Israeli experts are conducting a 'feasibility study' on the construction of a security fence along the 1500 KM North Korea China border. Brussels-based NGO contacts attached to Human Rights Without Frontiers tipped off other NGOs to the North Korean plans," Scoop reports.

I don't know if I believe all that, but certainly it's plausible – far more believable as a narrative than the alleged wave of anti-Semitism supposedly burying all Europe in an avalanche of Hitlerian hate.

Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in relation to its other neighbors, has recently been a series of provocations, and now this in-your-face aggression is being directed at the West. The covert activities of Israel's infamous intelligence agency, the legendary Mossad, raise the question of the source of the LeBlanc hoax – what was her motive? We are told she's deluded, but then what about the complicity of her unnamed boyfriend?

The parallel case of the French Rabbi Farhi, who apparently knifed himself in what was initially thought to be an unambiguous case of anti-Semitic violence, is suspicious in the same sense. As in the Brawley and LeBlanc cases, Farhi's story had an emotion-laden political angle – and began to come apart when it came down to the details.

In January of last year, Farhi claimed a man in a motorcycle helmet appeared at the front door of his synagogue, shouted "Allahu Akbar," and stabbed him with a knife. But according to the center-left weekly magazine, Marianne, the medical report noted that the Rabbi's light wound "could correspond to one that was self-inflicted." The police report observed that the tear in his coat didn't match the location of the knife, and the doctor further noted that Farhi's wound was "hardly compatible with the description" of the incident.

To further murk up an already cloudy incident, it was discovered that a threatening letter – sent to Rabbi Farhi after the alleged incident – was authored, not by some radical Islamist gang, but by one of his own congregants.

First Farhi, and now LeBlanc: if the hoaxing pattern holds true to form, I don't suppose it takes much to topple a few gravestones in one of Wellington's oldest Jewish cemeteries. In any case, the incident, which occurred soon after Clark's severing of relations, provided a much-needed counterpoint to front page stories about the lurid escapades of the Israeli identity thieves and their Maxwell Smart-ish antics.

Sharon has been riding pretty high since 9/11, and even higher since the American invasion and conquest of Iraq – for which his spooks provided much of the intelligence, and which his amen corner in the U.S. relentlessly lobbied for.

The Israelis have always pursued their own interests, to the exclusion of all others, but rarely so ruthlessly as today. Their policies can only be described as reckless – a troubling characteristic in the leadership of a nation armed with nuclear weapons.


Hail, the Conquering War Criminal Comes!...What Kerry Really Did in Vietnam


In his senior year at Yale in 1966 John Kerry enlisted in the US Navy, with his actual induction scheduled for the summer, after his graduation. Already notorious among his contemporaries for his political ambition, he'd maneuvered himself into the top slot at the Yale political union, while also winning admission to Skull and Bones.

While Bush, two years behind Kerry, was seeking commercial opportunity at Yale by selling ounce bags of cocaine, (so one contemporary has recalled) Kerry was keeping a vigilant eye on the political temperature and duly noted a contradiction between his personal commitment to go to war and the growing antiwar sentiment among the masses, some of whom he hoped would vote for him at a not too distant time.

It was a season for important decisions and Kerry pondered his options amid the delights of a Skull and Bones retreat on an island in the St Lawrence river. He duly decided to junk his speech on the theme of "life after graduation" and opted for a fiery denunciation of the war and of an LBJ. The speech was well received by the students and some professors. Most parents were aghast, though not Kerry's own mother and father.

Unlike Bill Clinton and George Bush, Kerry duly presented himself for military service. After a year's training he was assigned to the USS Gridley, deployed to the Pacific, probably carrying nuclear missiles. Beset by boredom, Kerry received the news that once of his best friends, Dickie Pershing, grandson of "Black Jack" Pershing had been killed in Vietnam. Kerry seethed with rage and yearned, as he put it years later to his biographer Douglas Brinkley, for vengeance. (Brinkley's recently published and highly admiring bio, A Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, offers many telling vignettes to an assiduous reader. It's based almost entirely on Kerry's diaries and letters of the time.)

Kerry engineered reassignment to the Swift boat patrol. In Vietnam the Tet offensive had prompted a terrible series of search and destroy missions by the US, plus the assassination program known as Phoenix. As part of the US Navy's slice of the action, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and his sidekick Captain Roy "Latch" Hoffman had devised "Operation Sea Lords", in which the Swift boats would patrol the canals and secondary streams of the Mekong Delta, with particular emphasis on the areas near the Cambodian border. The basic plan, explicitly acknowledged by many Swift boat veterans, was to terrorize the peasants into turning against the National Liberation Front, aka Viet Cong. The entire area, except for certain designated "friendly villages", was a free fire zone, meaning the Americans could shoot at will and count anyone they killed as VC.

Arriving in Vietnam on November 17, 1968, Kerry chafed at patrols around Cam Ranh bay and pushed successfully for assignment to the forward, killing patrols. He was no Al Gore, peaceably smoking dope and shooting hoops on his Army base in Vietnam and writing home fierce moral critiques of the war. "I was more opposed to the war than ever", Kerry told Brinkley in 2003, "yet more compelled by patriotism to fight it. I guess until you're in it, you still want to try it."

Day after day, night after night, the Swift boats plied the waters, harassing and often killing villagers, fishermen and farmers. In this program, aimed at intimidating the peasants into submission, Kerry was notoriously zealous. One of his fellow lieutenants, James R. Wasser, described him admiringly in these words: "Kerry was an extremely aggressive officer and so was I. I liked that he took the fight to the enemy, that he was tough and gutsy--not afraid to spill blood for his country."

On December 2, Kerry went on his first patrol up one of the canals. It was near midnight when the crew caught sight of a sampan. Rules of engagement required no challenge, no effort to see who was on board the sampan. Kerry sent up a flare, signal for his crew to start blazing away with the boat's two machineguns and M16 rifles. Kerry described the fishermen "running away like gazelles".

Kerry sustained a very minor wound to his arm, probably caused by debris from his own boat's salvoes. The scratch earned him his first Purple Heart, a medal awarded for those wounded in combat. Actually there's no evidence that anyone had fired back, or that Kerry had been in combat, as becomes obvious when we read an entry from his diary about a subsequent excursion, written on December 11, 1968, nine days after the incident that got Kerry his medal. "A cocky air of invincibility accompanied us up the Long Tau shipping channel, because we hadn't been shot at yet, and Americans at war who haven't been shot at are allowed to be cocky."

He got two more Purple Hearts, both for relatively minor wounds. Indeed Kerry never missed a day of duty for any of the medal-earning wounds.

Craving more action, Kerry got himself deployed to An Thoi, at Vietnam's southern tip, one of the centers for the lethal Phoenix sweeps and the location of a infamous interrogation camp which held as many as 30,000 prisoners.

Kerry's first mission as part of the Phoenix program was to ferry a Provincial Reconnaissance Unit of South Vietnamese soldiers, which would have been led by either a Green Beret or CIA officer. After off-loading the unit Kerry hid his Swift boat in a mangrove backwater. Two hours later a red flare told them that the PRU wanted an emergency "extraction". Kerry's boat picked up the PRU team, plus two prisoners. The leader of the PRU team told Kerry that while they were kidnapping the two villagers (one of them a young woman) from their hut, they'd seen four people in a sampan and promptly killed them. The two prisoners were "body-snatched" as part of a regular schedule of such seizures in the victims would be taken to An Thoi for interrogation and torture.

Kerry's term to Brinkley for such outings--and there were many in his brief--is "accidental atrocities".

On daylight missions the Swift boats were accompanied by Cobra Attack helicopters that would strafe the river banks and the skeletal forest ravaged by napalm and Agent Orange. "Helos upset the VC [sic, meaning anyone on the ground] more than anything else that we had to offer", Kerry tells Brinkley, "and any chance we had to have them with us was more than welcome."

An example of these Cobras in action. It's daylight, so the population is not under curfew. Kerry's boat is working its way up a canal, with a Cobra above it. They encounter a sampan with several people in it. The helicopter hovers right above the sampan, then empties its machineguns into it, killing everyone and sinking the sampan. Kerry, in his war diary, doesn't lament the deaths but does deplore the senselessness of the Cobra's crew in using all of its ammunition, since the chopper pilot "requested permission to leave in order to rearm, an operation that left us uncovered for more than 45 minutes in an area where cover was essential".

Christmas Eve, 1968, finds Kerry leading a patrol up a canal along the Cambodian border. The Christmas ceasefire has just come into effect. So what the boat was doing there is a question in and of itself. They spot two sampans and chase them to a small fishing village. The boat takes some sniper fire, (or at least Kerry says it did). Kerry orders his machine-gunner, James Wasser, to open up a barrage. At last a note of contrition, but not from Kerry. Wasser describes to Brinkley how he saw that he'd killed an old man leading a water buffalo. "I'm haunted by that old man's face. He was just doing his daily farming, hurting nobody. He got hit in the chest with an M-60 machinegun round. It may have been Christmas Eve, but I was real somber after that... to see the old man blown away sticks with you." It turned out that Kerry's boat had shot up one of the few "friendly" villages, with a garrison of South Vietnamese ARV soldiers, two of whom were wounded.

Contrast Wasser's sad reflections with Kerry's self-righteous account in his diary of such salvoes, often aimed into Cambodian territory. "On occasion we had shot towards the border when provoked by sniper or ambush, but without fail this led to a formal reprimand by the Cambodian government and accusations of civilian slaughters and random killings by American 'aggressors'. I have no doubt that on occasion some innocents were hit by bullets that were aimed in self-defense at the enemy, but of all the cases in Vietnam that could be labeled massacres, this was certainly the most spurious."

It's very striking how we never find, in any of Kerry's diaries or letters, the slightest expression of contrition or remorse--and Brinkley would surely have cited them had Kerry ever written such words. Nor did Kerry, in his later career as a self-promoting star of the antiwar movement, ever go beyond generalized verbiage about accidents of war, even as many vets were baring their souls about the horrors they had perpetrated.

It's not that he couldn't have summoned up for his audiences back then some awful episodes. For example, a few weeks after the incident on the Cambodian border Kerry's boat was heading up the Cua Lon river toward Square bay, when one of the crew yelled "sampan off port bow". Kerry ordered the machineguns to fire on the fishing boat. The sampan stopped and Kerry and his crew boarded it. They found a woman holding an infant, and near her the body of her young child riddled with machine gun bullets, lying face down among bags of rice. Kerry tells Brinkley he refused to look at the dead child, saying, "the face would stay with me for the rest of my life and it was better not to know whether it was a smile or grimace or whether it was a girl or boy". Kerry's preferred mode is the usual one. "Our orders", he tells Brinkley a few pages later, "were to destroy all the hooches and sampans we could find."

As part of Operation Sea Lords Kerry would ferry Nung tribesmen on assassination missions. The Nung were paid by the kill, and Kerry contrasts them favorably to the South Vietnamese PF guardsmen, derisively terming the latter "Cream Puffs". On one occasion, Kerry tells Brinkley, he ferried Nung to a village where they seized an old man and forced him to act as a human mine detector, walking ahead of them along the trail. There were no mines and the Nung encountered no enemy. But for the old man it was a one way trip. The Nung slit his throat, disembowelled him and left a warning note on his body.

When Kerry was awarded his Silver Star he had it pinned on by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and at the ceremony had the opportunity to meet Commander Adrian Lonsdale, the operational commander of Seas Lords. Kerry seized the chance to criticize the conduct of the war: "It's not that the men are afraid or chicken to go into the rivers", he says he told Lonsdale. "It's not that they're not willing to risk their lives, or that they don't agree with the principle of what's being done over here. It's just that they want to have a fair chance to do something that brings results and what they're doing now isn't bringing them anything. If we were to have some support, something that would guarantee that we were gaining something, but for a country with all the power that we have, we're making men fight in a fashion that defies reason.... What we need, Sir, are some troops to sweep through the areas and secure them after we leave; otherwise we're just going to be shot to hell after we go through, and there'll be nothing gained."

Yes, this is the same Kerry who today is calling for 40,000 more US troops to deployed to Iraq.

How He Won His Silver And Bronze Stars

The incident that won US Navy lieutenant John Kerry his Silver Star, thus lofting him to the useful status of "war hero", occurred on February 28, 1969. His Swift boat was ferrying US "explosives experts" and some South Vietnamese soldiers up the Dong Cung river. After dropping them off, Kerry's boat came under small arms fire. Kerry turned the boat toward the source of the shots, beached the boat and opened up at the forest with the boat's .50 and .60 caliber machine guns.

By beaching the boat Kerry was disobeying standard orders forbidding this on the grounds that it made the craft and its crew a sitting duck. Kerry's motive? As crew member Michael "Duke" Medeiros explained it to Kerry's biographer, Douglas Brinkley, it was a matter of verifying kills. "We never knew whether we killed any VC or not. When fired upon, he [Kerry] wanted to beach the boat and go get the enemy."

The boat's machine-guns had in fact killed a Vietnamese, described as "a VC guerilla", and they took evidence [undescribed] from the body.

The boat continued downstream and was fired on once more, by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Here's where accounts of the event diverge markedly, depending on the interests of the various narrators. The citation for Kerry's Silver Star describes the event this way: "With utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy. Upon sweeping the area an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which was destroyed. The extraordinary daring and personal courage of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking the n numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission."

This citation, issued by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, was based on the incident report, written by John Kerry. Missing from the Zumwalt version was a dramatic confrontation described by Kerry 27 years later in 1996, in the heat of a nasty relection fight against Republican William Weld, when Kerry was seeking a third senate term. Kerry imparted to Jonathan Carroll, writing for the New Yorker, a story going as follows: he had faced down a Viet Cong standing a few feet from him with a B-40 rocket launcher; "It was either going to be him or it was going to be us", Kerry told Carroll. "It was that simple. I don't know why it wasn't us--I mean, to this day. He had a rocket pointed right at our boat. He stood up out of that hole, and none of us saw him until he was standing in front of us, aiming a rocket right at us, and, for whatever reason, he didn't pull the trigger--he turned and ran. He was shocked to see our boat right in front him. If he'd pulled the trigger, we'd all be dead. I just won't talk about all of it. I don't and I can't. The things that probably really turn me I've never told anybody. Nobody would understand."

(He may not have wanted to talk but he certainly liked to screen. The first time Kerry took Hollywood star Dana Delany to his home in the Eighties she says his big move was showing her video clips taken of him in the Navy when he was in Vietnam. She never went out with him again. (As he prepared to make his grand entry to the Democratic convention in Boston, stories circulqatyed that Kerry had reenacted his skirmishes, filming them with an 8mm camera for later political use.)

Two of Kerry's crew members, Medeiros and machine-gunner Tommy Belodeau, found no mystery in why the VC soldier didn't fire his B-40 RPG launcher. The Vietnamese was effectively unarmed. He hadn't reloaded the RPGafter the first shot at Kerry's boat as it headed down the river.

Later that year of 1996 Belodeau described the full scope of the incident to the Boston Globe's David Warsh. Belodeau told Warsh that he opened with his M-60 machine gun on the Vietnamese man at a range of ten feet after they'd beached the boat. The machine gun bullets caught the Vietnamese in the legs, and the wounded man crawled behind a nearby hooch. At this point, Belodeau said, Kerry had seized an M-16 rifle, jumped out of the boat, gone up to the man who Belodeau says was near death, and finished him off.

When the Globe published Warsh's account of Belodeau's recollection, essentially accusing Kerry of a war crime, the Kerry campaign quickly led Madeiros to the press and he described how the Vietnamese, felled by Belodeau's machine-gun fire, got up, grabbed the rocket launcher and ran off down a trail through the forest and a disappeared around a bend. As Kerry set off after him, Medeiros followed. They came round the corner to find the Vietnamese once again pointing the RPG at them ten feet away. He didn't fire and Kerry shot him dead with his rifle.

Circulating around veterans' websites in early February of 2004 was an email written by Mike Morrison who, like Kerry, won a bronze star won in Vietnam. Morrison who later went on to write speeches for Lee Iacocca, was highly suspicion of Kerry's claims to martial glory. In a letter to his brother Ed he wrote as follows:

"I've long thought that John Kerry's war record was phoney. We talked about it when you were here. It's mainly been instinct because, as you know, nobody who claims to have seen the action he does would so shamelessly flaunt it for political gain.

"I was in the Delta shortly after he left. I know that area well. I know the operations he was involved in well. I know the tactics and the doctrine used. I know the equipment. Although I was attached to CTF-116 (PBRs) I spent a fair amount of time with CTF-115 (swift boats), Kerry's command.

"Here are my problems and suspicions:

"(1) Kerry was in-country less than four months and collected, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three purple hearts. I never heard of anybody with any outfit I worked with (including SEAL One, the Sea Wolves, Riverines and the River Patrol Force) collecting that much hardware so fast, and for such pedestrian actions. The Swifts did a commendable job. But that duty wasn't the worst you could draw. They operated only along the coast and in the major rivers (Bassac and Mekong). The rough stuff in the hot areas was mainly handled by the smaller, faster PBRs. Fishy.

"(2) Three Purple Hearts but no limp. All injuries so minor that no time lost from duty. Amazing luck. Or he was putting himself in for medals every time he bumped his head on the wheel house hatch? Combat on the boats was almost always at close range. You didn't have minor wounds. At least not often. Not three times in a row. Then he used the three purple hearts to request a trip home eight months before the end of his tour. Fishy.

"(3) The details of the event for which he was given the Silver Star make no sense at all. Supposedly, a B-40 (rocket propelled grenade) was fired at the boat and missed. Charlie jumps up with the launcher in his hand, the bow gunner knocks him down with the twin .50 (caliber machine guns), Kerry beaches the boat, jumps off, shoots Charlie, and retrieves the launcher. If true, he did everything wrong. (a) Standard procedure when you took rocket fire was to put your stern to the action and go (away) balls to the wall. A B-40 has the ballistic integrity of a Frisbee after about 25 yards, so you put 50 yards or so between you and the beach and begin raking it with your .50's. ( Did you ever see anybody get knocked down with a .50 caliber round and get up? The guy was dead or dying. The rocket launcher was empty. There was no reason to go after him (except if you knew he was no danger to you--just flopping around in the dust during his last few seconds on earth, and you wanted some derring-do in your after-action report). And we didn't shoot wounded people. We had rules against that, too.

"Kerry got off the boat. This was a major breach of standing procedures. Nobody on a boat crew ever got off a boat in a hot area. EVER! The reason was simple. If you had somebody on the beach your boat was defenseless. It couldn't run and it couldn't return fire. It was stupid and it put his crew in danger. He should have been relieved and reprimanded. I never heard of any boat crewman ever leaving a boat during or after a firefight.

"Something is very fishy."

The account that makes sense to us is Belodeau's. There were three high-powered machine guns on the boat and one Vietnamese at close range on the land and Belodeau says his machinegun knocked him down. Even if the Vietnamese fighter miraculously got up and started running away down that trail, is it likely that the two would have pursued him down an unknown path on foot. Wouldn't be more likely that the boat would have used its machineguns again, blazing away as on Kerry's own account they did, day and day and night after night?

Kerry's Bronze Star On March 13, 1969, two weeks after the episode that yielded the Silver Star Kerry saw his last slice of action. It got him his bronze star and his third purple heart, which meant he could file a request to be transferred out of Vietnam.

Kerry earned the bronze star by pulling another lieutenant out of the water after the latter's Swift boat had hit a mine. That same mine's detonation caused enough wake to throw Kerry against a bulkhead, bruising his arm. This was classed as a wound, which meant the third purple heart. Then, amid rifle fire, Kerry maneuvered his boat toward Lieutenant Rassman and hoisted him onto the deck.

Both boats had been on yet another mission ferrying Green Berets, US Navy SEALs and Nung assassins to a village. Once again they had mistakenly targeted a friendly village, where they opened fire on South Vietnamese troops who were interrogating a group of women and children lined up against a wall.

When the Green Berets and SEALs opened fire, the South Vietnamese soldiers jumped the wall and at least ten of the women and children were killed. Meanwhile, against orders, Kerry had again left his boat and attached himself to the Nung and was, by his own words, "shooting and blowing things up". One of the Nung threwew a grenade into a hut which turned out to be filled with sacks of rice. Kerry got grains of rice and some bits of metal debris embedded in his ass, the most severe wounds he sustained in Vetnam.

With three purple hearts, the silver and bronze stars, Kerry now applied for reassignment as a personal aide to a senior officer in either Boston, New York or Washington DC. He ended up in New York working for Admiral Walter F. Schlech in New York. In January 1970 he applied for early discharge to run for office. As he put it, he'd decided not to join the antiwar movement but work within the system and try and win a seat in Congress from the Third District in Massachusetts.

Zumwalt: "Kerry's Record Will Haunt Him"

A former assistant secretary of defense and Fletcher School of Diplomacy professor,W. Scott Thompson, recalled a conversation with the late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. that clearly had a slightly different take on Kerry's recollection of their discussions: "[T]he fabled and distinguished chief of naval operations,Admiral Elmo Zumwalt,told me --30 years ago when he was still CNO [chief naval officer in Vietnam] that during his own command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam,just prior to his anointment as CNO, young Kerry had created great problems for him and the other top brass,by killing so many non-combatant civilians and going after other non-military targets. "We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control", the admiral said. "Bud" Zumwalt got it right when he assessed Kerry as having large ambitions --but promised that his career in Vietnam would haunt him if he were ever on the national stage."

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's new book on the 2004 elections,Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,is going to be published in August.

Posted on July 29, 2004

A Question of Character:Kerry is a mass-murderer.Bush is psycho. What's a voter to do?

by Justin Raimondo

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that we're reliving the last days of the Roman Empire. Of course, that's not all bad, especially if you like peeled grapes, gladiatorial games, and those cute little tunics on men: but it isn't all fun and games, either, particularly when you get into the political arena, not to mention the foreign policy realm. All those wars drained the Roman treasury, and fatally attracted a horde of barbarians whose ire was ultimately the empire's undoing. The once noble Romans, having succumbed to the lure of bread and circuses, and given up their old republic, were saddled with a long succession of tyrannical and often crazed rulers: the depraved Caligula, the murderous Nero, the out-of-control teenage drag queen Elagalabus. A full accounting of the psychos who donned the Imperial purple would read like a volume by Kraft-Ebbing.

Our own degeneracy nearly matches that of our Roman predecessors, and so I am perfectly willing to believe this report from Capitol Hill Blue:

"President George W. Bush is taking powerful anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia ….

"The prescription drugs, administered by Col. Richard J. Tubb, the White House physician, can impair the President's mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and his ability to respond to a crisis, administration aides admit privately.

"'It's a double-edged sword,' says one aide. 'We can't have him flying off the handle at the slightest provocation but we also need a President who is alert mentally.'

"Tubb prescribed the anti-depressants after a clearly-upset Bush stormed off stage on July 8, refusing to answer reporters' questions about his relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth J. Lay.

"'Keep those motherfuckers away from me,' he screamed at an aide backstage. 'If you can't, I'll find someone who can.'"

If power tends to not only corrupt, but also drives even the best of us a little nuts, then what must it do to a fifth-rate intelligence like George W. Bush, the Boy Emperor of the West? The presidential depression also comes as no surprise: after all, wouldn't you be a little bit down if you had just committed the worst foreign policy mistake in American history?

Bush Paranoid? You betcha. With his aides and advisors feeding him phony "intelligence" – misleading both him and the country into thinking Iraq had WMD and a solid link to 9/11 – and even passing off crude forgeries as "proof" of Iraq's nuclear weapons procurement program, no wonder the President is paranoid.

As for Bush being "erratic," in this context that can only be a good sign. The recent trend of U.S. policy – the "handover," the stand-down in Fallujah, dumping Chalabi – is a negligible but very welcome change, one that augurs well for the hope, proffered by Pat Buchanan, that "we are on the way out" of Iraq. That's always been the neocons' great fear, ever since Bush declared "victory" and announced that combat operations in Iraq had "ended" – and one can't help but wonder, in this context, about the source of these rumors around the President's alleged malaise.

Loyalty has never been the neocons' strong suit, and, in any case, one can easily see them jumping ship mid-campaign, especially if John Kerry manages to sell himself as "a hawk among hawks," as Fred Barnes avers. And he's trying mightily. However, it isn't only Kerry's often expressed hostility directed at the Saudis, and his willingness to appease Ariel Sharon and the Lidud party's American supporters, that ought to concern antiwar voters. Kerry's character, as well as his politics and policies, will become an issue in this campaign, especially as embodied in his war record.

To begin with, one has to read this account by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair of Kerry's Vietnam war exploits, which are being touted so loudly from the proscenium in Boston, in tandem with a perusal of this report from the intrepid Matt Drudge, who cites a new book by one of Kerry's Vietnam era comrades:

"Kerry would revisit ambush locations for reenacting combat scenes where he would portray the hero, catching it all on film. Kerry would take movies of himself walking around in combat gear, sometimes dressed as an infantryman walking resolutely through the terrain. He even filmed mock interviews of himself narrating his exploits. A joke circulated among Swiftees was that Kerry left Vietnam early not because he received three Purple Hearts, but because he had recorded enough film of himself to take home for his planned political campaigns."

The introductory video preceding Kerry's convention speech incorporates some of this footage, but, Drudge reports, some shots of bullets hitting the water are "illustrative," according to the director. But the atrocities committed by Kerry in Vietnam are real enough, as he himself admits here.

Basing much of their case on Kerry's diaries and letters of the time – as cited in Douglas Brinkley's recently published and highly complimentary biography, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War – Cockburn and St. Clair draw a disturbingly dark portrait of Kerry "the conquering war hero."

Already angling for a political career in college, young Kerry made a speech against the war, denouncing LBJ, and then signed up for the Navy and marched off to fight in a conflict he ostensibly opposed. As Cockburn and St. Clair relate:

"Arriving in Vietnam on November 17, 1968, Kerry chafed at patrols around Cam Ranh bay and pushed successfully for assignment to the forward, killing patrols. He was no Al Gore, peaceably smoking dope and shooting hoops on his Army base in Vietnam and writing home fierce moral critiques of the war. 'I was more opposed to the war than ever,' Kerry told Brinkley in 2003, 'yet more compelled by patriotism to fight it. I guess until you're in it, you still want to try it.'"


From what we know about his activities as a star performer in the naval component of Operation Phoenix, which engaged in wholesale atrocities in Vietnam, it was something other than patriotism that motivated Kerry to cut a murderous swathe through "enemy" villages, mowing down innocents without showing the least sign of remorse, not even years later. As Cockburn and St. Clair relate:

"Day after day, night after night, the Swift boats plied the waters, harassing and often killing villagers, fishermen and farmers. In this program, aimed at intimidating the peasants into submission, Kerry was notoriously zealous. One of his fellow lieutenants, James R. Wasser, described him admiringly in these words: 'Kerry was an extremely aggressive officer and so was I. I liked that he took the fight to the enemy, that he was tough and gutsy – not afraid to spill blood for his country.'

"On December 2, Kerry went on his first patrol up one of the canals. It was near midnight when the crew caught sight of a sampan. Rules of engagement required no challenge, no effort to see who was on board the sampan. Kerry sent up a flare, signal for his crew to start blazing away with the boat's two machineguns and M16 rifles. Kerry described the fishermen 'running away like gazelles.'"

That's not "patriotism: that's bloodlust. And here's something from Kerry's record that seems eerily up-to-date:

"Craving more action, Kerry got himself deployed to An Thoi, at Vietnam's southern tip, one of the centers for the lethal Phoenix sweeps and the location of a infamous interrogation camp which held as many as 30,000 prisoners. Kerry's first mission as part of the Phoenix program was to ferry a Provincial Reconnaissance Unit of South Vietnamese soldiers, which would have been led by either a Green Beret or CIA officer. After off-loading the unit Kerry hid his Swift boat in a mangrove backwater. Two hours later a red flare told them that the PRU wanted an emergency 'extraction.' Kerry's boat picked up the PRU team, plus two prisoners.

"The leader of the PRU team told Kerry that while they were kidnapping the two villagers (one of them a young woman) from their hut, they'd seen four people in a sampan and promptly killed them. The two prisoners were "body-snatched" as part of a regular schedule of such seizures: the victims would be taken to An Thoi for interrogation and torture. Kerry's term to Brinkley for such outings – and there were many in his brief – is 'accidental atrocities.'"

In light of this, Kerry's promise that he will be a better manager of the Iraq war and prosecute it more efficiently seems rather ominous. As Seymour Hersh reports the existence of a secret network of torture prisons maintained by the Pentagon, and the horrors of Abu Ghraib reverberate throughout the Arab world and whatever is left of the American conscience, the Kerry-ite's claim that he'll be just as "tough" as George W. Bush, if not more so, is all too believable. Which is one reason why neocons of the Andrew Sullivan persuasion have jumped on the Kerry bandwagon.

Bush may be a depressed paranoid, but Kerry is a murderous megalomaniac, as revealed by one particularly horrific incident at An Thoi:

"It's daylight, so the population is not under curfew. Kerry's boat is working its way up a canal, with a Cobra above it. They encounter a sampan with several people in it. The helicopter hovers right above the sampan, then empties its machineguns into it, killing everyone and sinking the sampan. Kerry, in his war diary, doesn't lament the deaths but does deplore the senselessness of the Cobra's crew in using all of its ammunition, since the chopper pilot 'requested permission to leave in order to rearm, an operation that left us uncovered for more than 45 minutes in an area where cover was essential."

In another grisly scene you didn't see on that "hail the war hero" video, Kerry and his cohorts use an old man as a human minesweeper, making him walk along a path they believed might be paved with Viet-Cong landmines. The trail was clean, there were no Viet-Cong in sight, but the Nung tribesmen Kerry was ferrying slit the guy's throat anyway, leaving a note on the old man's disemboweled remains. It turns out that a great many of those medals he pretended to cast away as part of his "antiwar" protesting were for incurring relatively superficial wounds and firing on unarmed villagers. Cockburn and St. Clair cite former assistant secretary of defense W. Scott Thompson's recollection of a conversation with the late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr.:

"[T]he fabled and distinguished chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, told me – 30 years ago when he was still CNO [chief naval officer in Vietnam] – that during his own command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam, just prior to his anointment as CNO, young Kerry had created great problems for him and the other top brass, by killing so many non-combatant civilians and going after other non-military targets. 'We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control,' the admiral said. 'Bud' Zumwalt got it right when he assessed Kerry as having large ambitions – but promised that his career in Vietnam would haunt him if he were ever on the national stage.'"

I wonder if the "antiwar" fake-leftist cheerleaders for Kerry can guarantee that they'll straightjacket him for the duration, and make sure he doesn't go off on another killing spree. I wouldn't count on it, however.

Indeed, the question of who will be straightjacketing whom is raised upon reading the news that Kerry supporter and Nader-hater Medea Benjamin – who gave a speech to San Francisco leftists, covered in this space, exhorting her comrades to get with the program and start pulling for Kerry – was arrested and dragged off the convention floor off by security guards. Her crime: unfolding a pink banner proclaiming "End the Occupation."

Hey, Medea, now will you take off that "Kerry for President" button and toss it in the trashcan where it belongs?

Look, I hate to be so bitter about it, but can anyone really blame me for being a little, uh, cranky. After all, here we are faced a "choice" of war criminals this November, one whose atrocities are in the past and another whose crimes are more recent. We can vote for a paranoid depressive with a megalomaniacal foreign policy, or for a megalomaniac with a history of violence and unmitigated narcissism.

Scylla – or Charybdis?

Poor Medea – now there's another name with strong mythological overtones! – was sucked under and carried away by the latter, but I hope the rest of her compadres on the antiwar Left don't make the same mistake – or else they will suffer the same fate.

The only way to register an effective protest against the war is by voting for one of several antiwar candidates being run by the "minor" parties: a large third party vote will send a strong message that the voters are increasingly rejecting the bipartisan interventionist "consensus" of perpetual war.

Ralph Nader is by far the most well-known of these, but the Democrats have done such a good job of enforcing the two-party monopoly on ballot status that it looks like he'll only be on the ballot in 15 states at the most. I probably won't be able to vote for him in California, since he needs to collect and turn in at least 250,000 signatures very shortly, which is possible, but not, in my view, very probable. In any case, Nader's foreign policy positions combined with his fame make him the leading antiwar candidate, albeit not the only one.

In any case, no matter which third party candidate the ballot access laws in your particular state allow you to vote for, one can hardly go wrong no matter which one you pull the lever for – with one important exception, which I'll get to shortly.

The Kerry-ite Popular Front is yelping that now is not the time to cast a "protest vote," but they couldn't be more wrong. It is precisely now, when the leading – and, in an important sense, the only – issue is the war, that a protest is most crucial, and there is no better way to do that than at the ballot box this November. An unprecedented vote for third party candidates, whether Nader, Michael Badnarik (the Libertarian candidate), or Michael Petroutka (the Constitution party nominee).

I want to pointedly exclude Cobb, the "Green" Party candidate, who is explicitly committed to Kerry's election, and declared that he wouldn't campaign in "swing states" – meaning any states the Democrats tell him to stay out of. Cobb's candidacy, a Democratic Trojan Horse inside the Green Party, has turned the Greens into an unofficial arm of the DNC. This maneuver resulted in the effective marginalization of the only candidate – Nader – who could have given expression to the view held by the majority in this country – who believe that the Iraq war was and is a mistake.

I note that the voice of the antiwar movement was entirely missing from the Democratic party convention, while the tired old refrain of the neocons, represented by Senator Joseph Lieberman, was given a prominent prime-time spot. The co-chairman of the newly-reconstituted Committee on the Present Danger explicitly endorsed the war, and hailed the legacy of "opposition to isolationism" embodied by FDR and Harry Truman. Every minority group and ethnic sub-group under the sun was honored and recognized in some form or fashion, given a voice and a forum at this convention - all but the peace movement.

"I'm John Kerry - and I'm reporting for duty."

Yes, that's right: in service to the War Party.

Okay, so get ready for the next reenactment of a Soviet party congress, the Republican convention in New York City, at which the same warmongering neocon foreign policy line is going to dominate the proceedings, albeit with a unilateralist flair. We'll see the rest of the Committee on the Present Danger in Manhattan, where they'll be a less visible but no less powerful presence, busily policing the place for any small sign of dissent.


Random thought on watching the Democratic party convention: I'm an immigrant, says Gary Locke of Washington: I'm the daughter of immigrants says California Senator Barbara Boxer. Oh, and, by the way, let's stop out-sourcing jobs to your relatives in Mexico, China, and wherever. Instead, why doesn't everybody come here? That way they can enjoy the fruits of empire and vote the straight Democratic ticket.

Posted on July 30, 2004

Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death

by Christopher Deliso

In November 2001, near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, a major battle was raging between the Northern Alliance forces of Rashid Dostum and the suddenly vulnerable Taliban. Following the battle, thousands of the latter surrendered, "under assurances that they would not be harmed." However, due to a complex series of events, this was not to be. Now, up to 3,000 murdered Taliban prisoners lie in an unmarked mass grave in a lonely stretch of Afghan desert, according to Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death, a compelling new documentary from veteran BBC journalist and filmmaker Jamie Doran.

An Investigation with Ominous Implications

The convergence of two events – the Pentagon’s announcement of new investigations into prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, and increased U.S. pressure on Serbia over fugitives suspected of war crimes in Srebrenica and elsewhere – make for a neatly ironic introduction to Convoy of Death, a movie which unfortunately more than lives up to its name.

The documentary accuses the Pentagon of a high-level cover-up of American complicity in the prisoner deaths. The film’s painstaking (and very brave) researchers make a very plausible case for a mass slaughter of prisoners, one that was personally overseen by American troops. However, Pentagon representatives denied that any such a massacre ever took place and refused to be interviewed for the film.

At least in the beginning, they seem to have banked on the likelihood that the tale would never be told; after all, this is faraway and forbidding Afghanistan we’re talking about. As one unnamed insider told the filmmakers, "you have to understand, there are folk in here who would rather that the whole story go away." But thanks to some activist work (European Union bigwigs were treated to a special pre-showing that resulted in diplomatic pressure on Kabul) and an exhaustive series of interviews with Afghans present at the time (soldiers, truck drivers, prisoners and more) and Northern Alliance commanders (including Dostum himself), as well as live footage from the relevant battles, prisons, and mass graves, we are left with a case that if not entirely unassailable comes pretty damn close.

A Focus on Justice

The film’s major point is that, if war crimes did indeed take place in Afghanistan under the watchful eye of the American military, then an international investigation and tribunal should be undertaken to bring the perpetrators to justice. This thesis seems to presuppose that the audience will necessarily agree with such a prescription, though the idea of international tribunals – in both theory and practice – is by no means a universally accepted one.

Nowhere, however, is the full weightiness of this subject broached; the major premise is accepted as a given and mere technicalities (a warlord culture, the difficulties of witness protection, etc.) are all that’s left up for discussion. And so the film suffers a bit from a lingering attitude of pious parochialism. But not too much: whatever one’s views on international justice may be, most people’s sense of personal morality will be affronted by Convoy of Death. And that is exactly how the filmmakers planned it, what with the eerie Afghan music, slow-motion cameras locked on to the searching, vacant eyes of the prisoners, trails of blood and finally the piles of bleached bones in the swirling desert sands.

Running Commentary

In addition to the anonymous Afghan masses interviewed, the producers get some color commentary from various informed individuals who weigh in from time to time during the narrative. A pivotal figure, human rights lawyer Andrew McEntee, comes across as a man determined to see justice done and the case reopened on an international level. Robert Fox of the International Institute for Strategic Studies offers some searing criticisms of not only Dostum but of the American failure of leadership. As for Dostum, at times it’s hard to tell the Afghan godfather from Marlon Brando, the way he threatens in such a polite way to rape and pillage and burn whole villages down. But for readers, the favorite special guest of all is sure to be none other than Richard N. Perle.

Perle: A Missed Opportunity

Several times during the film we are reminded that the Pentagon would not grant interviews or reply to any of the producers’ questions. Considering that Perle is introduced merely as a "former Assistant Secretary of Defense," should we conclude that the filmmakers considered him to be an adequate substitute – and nothing more? Considering that no other aspect of his storied career is mentioned, it unfortunately seems that this is the case. Yet since this leading hawk has been a lightning rod for criticism in so many different endeavors, it seems that the film erred in not exploiting this angle as much as it could have.

This is one of the few problematic aspects of Convoy of Death. After all, here you have one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for war in the whole neocon camp, a man who is overwhelmingly sure that the American way does not involve mass executions and torture – and that fighting wars is in fact the best way to make sure this pacific disposition spreads the world over. And, to top it all off, Perle is someone who has been involved in a hornet’s nest of controversy over the past couple of years, due first of all to a Seymour Hersh exposé that cost him his leadership of the Defense Policy Board. We might assume that Perle was interviewed before the scandals broke, but even in this case, it would be nice to have that information laid out in the film.

Of course, considering the producers’ need to stay tightly focused on their topic, it would have been impossible to delve deeply into the neocon mind, Perle’s proclivities, or the recent history of the war party. However, how a documentary can be about the Pentagon’s cover-up of prisoner atrocities and at the same time quote Richard Perle, without at least mentioning his formidable role in the war effort, is puzzling.

Yet since there is no mention of the neocons, or indeed any biographical info on Perle at all, one has to wonder why he was chosen to appear in the film. Was it merely, as seems plausible, because the Pentagon wouldn’t talk and he was seen as the next best thing, "former Pentagon?" Or, was he selected because, mistakenly or not, the producers felt he was a "respected" figure whose words carry great weight? If so, then it would seem a bit of a slight to the audience, if in fact the film was intended for a more informed audience than, say, Michael Moore’s.

Other Problems: Temporal Identifications

There are other small problems too. Several dates that might assume significance retrospectively, and therefore increase the film’s historic value, are not given. For example, we don’t know when Perle and most of the others were interviewed, or if he was interviewed more than once. A lot of external events, from wars right through to scandals, have had a considerable effect, not only on the moods of the protagonists involved, but on the very stakes for which they are playing. If this film intends (as seems quite clear) to be trying to raise the stakes yet further, it owes its viewers a more detailed timeline of external events as well as vital dates for interviews conducted for the film.

Similarly, we are also told that several witnesses were beaten, killed or disappeared just before the film came out, though they don’t say when that is precisely. At one point Doran also mentions the Pentagon speaking of an internal inquiry "in June," but does not state the year. All in all, the film would benefit from more specific and frequently stated datelines, as the narrative it recounts is somewhat complex. Besides, its value as a historical source is of course dependent on dates of not only events but of interviews, edits, and external events as well.

However, these minor flaws should not deter anyone from watching what is truly a horrifically fascinating – and important – film.

Some Incredible Footage

The film’s live footage of events in the Mazar-i-Sharif area of Northern Afghanistan in November 2001 is one of its major selling points. The Afghan fighters look sporting in their drab, thick winter jackets and Muslim prayer hats, an adventurous combo which could, one presumes, become all the rage on American college campuses this fall if the film gets a wide enough showing.

All kidding aside, the documentary’s footage is deadly serious. Scores of bloodied bodies heaped in the craters of demolished buildings show war in all of its unglamorous misery. Taliban prisoners, just young men who wound up on the wrong side of a brawl between warlords, are shown with their hands bound behind their backs, marched off into an open enclosure together with none other than John Walker Lindh – the famous "American Taliban." The film shows real footage of CIA agents talking to Lindh, who is shown kneeling on a blanket, head down, in what could be either a pre- or post-crucifixion pose. (Their extraordinary utterances were partially transcribed by Newsweek long ago.)

Only an hour after that video was shot, the producers inform us, CIA agent Mike Spann was dead in a prison uprising. Northern Alliance soldiers interviewed tell of how it was started by Taliban prisoners grabbing guns and grenades and basically trying to cause as much mayhem as possible. Exciting and chaotic battle footage follows, courtesy of the excessively courageous reporter Najibullah Quraishi, who was almost one of 17 people killed by a Taliban mortar launched while filming. At one point during the footage, with explosions and gun shots all around, an American voice is heard saying, "the chopper that’s coming in wants to land south." Up to that point, the film reminds us, coalition partners Great Britain had been denying that their Special Forces soldiers were in Afghanistan. But SAS officers are clearly visible.

The Events

The film’s narrative is complex. Briefly we can say the following: in November 2001, with the Northern Alliance rolling down the country towards Kabul, a meeting was arranged between Dostum, the regional Taliban commander, and the American-British Special Forces present in order to expedite the surrender of over 7,000 Taliban troops. According to the agreement, the local Afghan Taliban members would be allowed to go home, whereas the foreign fighters would be turned over to the UN (Dostum is shown on tape actually announcing this to the captives).

However, before the agreement had been signed, a column of 470 Taliban broke off from the main group in Kunduz and arrived at Mazar-i-Sharif. Although they claimed to be giving themselves up, the Northern Alliance soldiers had their suspicions. They were told to take them to Dostum’s nearby fortress at a place called Kalai Janghi. There these suspicions were confirmed when a prisoner revolt left (according to Dostum) 45 Northern Alliance soldiers dead and 205 wounded. But no one knew, the film continues, that 86 of these Taliban (including John Walker Lindh) had survived the battle in underground tunnels.

Why Dostum?

Why did the Americans rely on a man like Rashid Dostum as their prime ally? According to Fox, the Americans believed "he was the only one who could deliver … there simply was not an option." The analyst goes on to call him "an extremely violent man with an extremely violent record, and with a very personal approach to the meting out of justice and the extracting of evidence under torture."

When the filmmakers put the question to Perle, the weaseling would-be pragmatist replies:

"[I]n a situation like that, you have to balance out competing interests. Obviously we would much rather be aligned with Mother Teresa. That wasn’t possible in those circumstances. It does lead to a responsibility on our part for trying to help reshape Afghanistan along more humane and democratic lines, and I think that’s exactly what we should be doing."

How the second part of that peroration logically follows from the first, I will leave up to more subtle intellects to discern; suffice it to say that the film does a good job, without needing to make the point verbally, of showing another side of what are for Perle (happily ensconced by a crackling fire in Washington) mere "competing interests": decaying bodies, shattered homes and bleached piles of bones.

The End of the Story – Or Just the Beginning?

After the prison battle, the film continues, most of the foreign press left because the "big story" had been Lindh. Few stayed on the story. Yet only 3,015 prisoners survived, and many of them weren’t even people who had been involved originally – rather, witnesses charge, they were merely local farmers picked up for the crime of speaking Pashtun. According to Doran, there is a clear contradiction between Dostum’s claim that only 3,000 to 4,000 Taliban had been taken prisoner in the first place, and the testimony of his field commander at Kalai Zeini, Gen. Abdul Ramatullah, who confirms a more realistic figure of 7,000 prisoners taken.

What happened to the rest of the prisoners? Some hundreds were sold to the secret services of their respective countries, for example the Chechens to the KGB and the Uzbek militants to Tashkent’s SMB. The first few thousand sent to the prison at Sheberghan were "the lucky ones," the film states; they merely had to endure an overcrowded jail. But the last prisoners were being shipped out as news of the prison revolt reached the Northern Alliance captors, and revenge was in the air.

The Convoy of Death

How were the prisoners moved out? Gen. Abdul Ramatullah, the man who confirmed a figure of 7,000 prisoners, visibly blanches when the subject of the "containers" is mentioned: "oh no, it’s very bad" to mention them, he tells cameraman Quraishi. Dostum’s forces commandeered flatbed trucks from all of the surrounding villages, along with their drivers, and stuffed hundreds of prisoners in each of them. (Unfortunately, because of a turn of events we will discuss later, the filmmakers had to label "reconstruction" over the flatbed truck sequence).

After 20 minutes on the road, the film states, the prisoners "started crying for air." Most of them suffocated to death. Others tried to survive by drinking each others’ sweat, or even blood, on a four-day drive permeated with the stench of vomit and rotting flesh that one witness described as "a smell to make you forget all other smells you ever experienced in your life."

At one point, Northern Alliance soldiers on the outside were told to make "ventilation" by shooting holes in the trucks. But whereas they could have done this in a safe way by shooting towards the top of the containers, they just shot at random, with the macabre but not unexpected result that they killed prisoners inside.

Tales of Torture, Well Before Abu Ghraib

Another aspect of Convoy of Death that will resonate with audiences today is its testimony to a policy of torture carried out by the presiding American troops. In interviews with former prisoners who managed to survive Sheberghan, we learn that American commandos beat prisoners not only to scare them into talking, but sometimes just to be "cruel."

The frenzy for actionable intelligence is somewhat understandable, given the emergency footing the U.S. was on in the wake of 9/11. However, the evidence presented in the film (of humiliating haircuts, beatings for "pleasure," and arbitrary neck-breakings) seems to have little to do with the race to find bin Laden.

Often, one Afghan officer recounts, random prisoners were taken outside, beaten and brought back. Sometimes, however, "they were never returned and they disappeared."

While Pentagon officials denied any knowledge of any such events, survivors tell a different story. The issue becomes most weighty and complex when we move along to the convoy’s final destination, the desert of Dasht Leile, where the anonymous bodies of prison and battle dead were dumped. Along with the rotting, bloody corpses packed into the truck containers were many who were not dead, but injured or unconscious. Those who did not die on the journey were summarily executed in the desert by Northern Alliance soldiers. The Afghan witnesses are quite clear that this all took place under the watchful eyes of American soldiers, who wanted the bodies to be disposed of "before satellite pictures could be taken."

An American Responsibility?

"If American soldiers were involved in covering up their role at Sheberghan Prison," says Robert Fox, "it would border on war crimes. But if they stood by as the summary execution of prisoners took place, when they could have intervened, this would be positively criminal."

And, continues Fox, since Americans would never take orders from Afghans, "it is ultimately an American responsibility for whatever went on under the eyes of those American soldiers."

At this point is juxtaposed the reaction of the sanctimonious Richard Perle, who is forced to concede that if such things had really taken place, a Pentagon investigation would indeed be in order. Yet, for the reasons mentioned above, the full power of the juxtaposition is diminished; it is not clear whether the producers are trying to embarrass Perle, in light of his earnest and oft-stated belief in America’s moral supremacy, or whether they are simply taking "straight" testimony from the only representative of the defense establishment who would appear on camera.

More humorously, Rashid Dostum appears, claiming to welcome an official investigation – though he also can’t guarantee the safety of anyone involved.

Also interviewed is one Manuel Gigante, a UN official in Kabul, who reiterates just how difficult it is to provide witness protection in Afghanistan. This response is elicited by the producers’ somewhat astonishing disclosure that their (surviving) witnesses have all agreed to testify at any future tribunal. An official in the Karzai administration, Taj Mohammad Wardak, finally goes on the record as saying Kabul is prepared to sue Dostum in court. But in light of the foregoing this possibility is portrayed as laughable.

The Fascinating Conclusion

Using Convoy of Death as a vehicle for testing the will of international justice makes for a compelling experiment; nevertheless, it is not the film’s most interesting aspect.

In the final moments, we learn of head researcher Najibullah Quraishi’s second near-fatal misadventure. Apparently there exists a one-and-a-half hour long videotape which shows Dostum’s troops, guided by American soldiers, moving the Taliban prisoners from location to location, firing randomly into container trucks filled with prisoners, and finally, shooting the last survivors in the desert. This, the "smoking gun" piece of evidence, would have made Convoy of Death incontestable.

But it was not meant to be. After Quraishi received the tape he was to copy from his contact, the door burst open. Apparently, he was not meant to have seen the tape at all and was severely beaten by the three Afghans who entered, surviving only because of the later intercession of a third party who won his release.

Could this tape be, as Doran suggests, Rashid Dostum’s "insurance policy" with the Americans? Doran believes that Dostum is holding on to the full proof out of a desire to "take the Americans down with him" if any war crimes trial ever materializes.

The idea that Dostum is holding a self-incriminating video, and perhaps even had it shot for this reason, shows that to be a successful warlord in the era of spin one need be concerned with more than troops and weaponry. If the wily Dostum really is holding this video as his trump card, it would show that he understands intimately the operative constraints at work in American propagandizing – and, despite all the holier-than-thou bloviations of the Richard Perles of this world, the gaping chasm between America’s deeds and its words: a gulf of hypocrisy that continues to blackmail the nation's dealings with dubious "partners" the world over.