• Federal Judge Says U.S. Must Release Abu Ghraib Photos

    March 31, 2015 // 7 Comments »


    The few photos publicly seen of the abuses American soldiers committed inside the Abu Ghraib prison are only a tiny portion of the whole (former Senator Joe Lieberman said in 2009 that there were nearly 2,100 more photographs.)

    The photos, such as the ones you see here, were released by a whistleblower. A significant number of photos, said to show acts of sodomy and brutality far worse than what is already known, have been kept from the public by the U.S. government for eleven years now, ostensibly to protect American forces from retaliation. Since the American Civil Liberties Union first filed a lawsuit against the government in 2004 seeking the release of the photographs, the government has been successful in blocking them. That may — may — change.

    A federal judge ruled March 20 that the U.S. government must release photographs showing the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites. However, Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled that his order would not take effect for 60 days to give the U.S. Department of Defense time to decide whether to appeal.

    “The photos are crucial to the public record,” ACLU’s deputy legal director said. “They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies.”

    Keep in mind Hellerstein first ordered the government to turn over the photographs in 2005, but while that order was being appealed, Congress passed a law allowing the Secretary of Defense to withhold the photographs by certifying their release would endanger U.S. citizens. Then remember Hellerstein already ruled last August that the government had failed to show why releasing the photographs would endanger American soldiers and workers abroad, but then immediately gave the government until March 20 a chance to submit more evidence. The judge’s most recent order said the additional evidence had failed to change his decision. Yet Hellerstein has still left open a further appeal.

    Meanwhile, the horrors of Abu Ghraib done in our names, and well-known to the Iraqi victims, remain shielded from only the American public by their own government.

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Classification: Hiding American War from Americans

    June 17, 2014 // 3 Comments »

    Our government classifies a lot of documents, some 92 million in 2011 alone.

    The ostensible point of all that classification is protect the nation’s secrets. Some of it even makes sense. Troop movements, nuclear things, identities of spies, traditional stuff you want to keep from your enemies. The purpose of classification is not to hide government mistakes or prevent embarrassing things from coming into daylight.

    The president even said so. Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on National Security Information made clear “In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error, or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”

    More Irony in a Nation Awash with It

    Yes, more irony in a nation awash with it. But seriously, when the point of classification is keeping the realities of America’s wars from Americans, that says we are the enemy. Today’s case in point:

    The top official in charge of the classification system decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and urinating on them. Many of the photos have already been published, but no matter, whatever hasn’t leaked out is now a secret. A kicker is that the “top official” who decides these things is some guy at the National Archives you’ve never heard of.

    That top official is allowed to be the final arbiter of what Americans can see of their wars because of Executive Order 13526, Section 5.5, which grants him alone the authority to make a report to the head of an agency, or to the designated senior agency official for classified national security information, if any members of the agency knowingly, willfully, or negligently classify or continue the classification of information in violation of the Order. So, in this case, he just did that, confirming in a simple letter that the Marines can keep the photos a secret.

    Support the Troops!

    The stated reason for the secrecy? To support the troops, of course. The rationale is that the release of additional images would make the Taliban somehow even angrier at the U.S. for occupying Afghanistan for 13 years and provoke more attacks. The same rationale, though a different legal manipulation, was used to keep additional photos of American torture at Abu Ghraib and images from the bin Laden kill locked up.

    A video of the Marines’ now-classified act is still on YouTube:

    Unless the Taliban can’t see YouTube from Afghanistan, they already know what happened.

    Another thing the Taliban also know is that the Marine Corps sniper captured on a YouTube video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan was only reduced in rank after a court-martial. So, an act by a Marine that supposedly could cost American lives is punished merely by a reduction in rank. And even that mild rebuke took two years to happen. That couldn’t possibly stir anyone up in Afghanistan.

    We Got This

    The Taliban, as the Iraqis before them, know darn well what happened. It is even possible they know of atrocities by American troops that weren’t photographed as trophies of war and are thus unknown to Americans. Classifying the photos does not change the fact that the atrocities happened. It only tries (albeit crudely and stupidly) to hide those atrocities from the American people.

    BONUS: For anyone offended by the images above, or who thinks I should label this article NSFW because of the pee pee thing, please stop for a moment and acknowledge what you see here was done by Americans to people they just killed. In that sense only is it offensive and obscene.

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Review: We Meant Well in The Nation

    February 7, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Founded in 1865, The Nation is one of America’s oldest magazines. It recently ran a review of We Meant Well, that while behind a paywall, I can share here with you.

    The Nation said about We Meant Well:

    Despite the risks of such frankness for Van Buren—he is currently the subject of a State Department investigation—he writes with the sardonic candor of a man too intent on recounting the absurdities he has witnessed to worry about what he has to lose.

    The virtue of the telling is, of all things, its hilarity, the politically incorrect, pop-inflicted gallows humor exposing the litany of bungles through the damning lens of farce. “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head,” Van Buren quotes an Iraqi as saying. “Everyone comes in and puts flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”

    If the image suggests a tea party held at Abu Ghraib, it may prove as representative of the flippancy and ineptness of a State Department-run Iraq as the photos of torture were of an earlier phase of a shapeless, unnecessary war.

    Read the entire review to learn more, or grab the current issue of The Nation at your fave bookstore.

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Hip Hop COIN Diplomacy: Awww, P*ss on It

    January 12, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Here is the viral video (social media!) that “purportedly” shows “alleged” US “Marines” Corps urinating on “what are believed to be” Afghan corpses. All of those words are in “quote marks” because the US is still “investigating” whether or not the video is “authentic.”

    “While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” ABC News quotes an official statement.

    So let’s watch and see for ourselves:

    If the embed is not showing up, follow this link to the video

    Anybody out there want to argue the video is not somehow “authentic”? The people in it dress like Marines, carry the right gear, are wearing the right boots, carrying the right weapons, same sense of humor as Marines (“Have a great day, buddy,” one of the alleged Marines can be heard saying on the footage.)

    A couple of points:

    –We can assume that this video is now on every cell phone in Afghanistan and is rocketing across the Middle East. The “bad guys” do not need to produce their own propaganda when we do it for them.

    –The expected statement from the US side, that these are “rogue” Marines, not representative of the many fine men and women in the Corps, will mean absolutely nothing to anyone outside the US. It is possible for something to be both true, and irrelevant, at the same time.

    –Most online boneheads will say things like “Well, the Taliban does worse things!” Yeah, but the Taliban is not trying to win a COIN war in a foreign country they invaded 10 years ago. Also, see above, it is possible for something to be both true, and irrelevant, at the same time.

    –About 90% of the US effort will be spent countering the domestic US reaction to the video, 9.9% that of our allies and 0.1% that of the Afghans themselves.

    –The US media will respond as trained, with only 0.1% still carrying the story in a few days. About 90% of Muslim world media will keep talking about this.

    –Absolutely nothing about this on US Embassy Kabul web site, Twitter or Facebook. So much for the use of social media. Can you say “we are irrelevant”?

    –All the happy talk hip hop diplomacy and smiley face 21st century Statecraft in the world can be rendered as useless as dust in the wind by acts like this. That’s what makes counterinsurgency such a dead end proposition. Our side has to only get it wrong once in awhile to lose.

    –As one online commenter, who identified himself as a veteran, said: “Thanks fellas, you just pissed away everything me and my boys fought for.”

    Abu Ghraib

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Contractors in Iraq Never Held Responsible

    July 8, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    If my child does something wrong, as a parent I’m responsible for interceding. If an employee does something wrong, the employer steps in to fix things. If a US Government contractor in Iraq does something wrong, anything from torture to sexual harassment to murder, nobody is held responsible. By law, it seems.


    The latest get out of jail free card was issued by the Supreme Court last week, when they let stand the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that employees of two defense contractors took part in the torture and abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. The justices rejected an appeal by a group of 250 Iraqis seeking to reinstate their lawsuit against CACI International Inc, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc’s Titan unit, which provided interpreters to the U.S. military.

    The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of the Iraqis who said they or their relatives had been tortured or mistreated while detained by the US military at Abu Ghraib. They said contractor employees participated in the abuse. The justices declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit because the companies had immunity as government contractors. The Obama administration supported the companies and said the appeal should be denied. Free at last, I guess.


    Another case to make the news concerns the alleged rape in Iraq of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones by another KBR employee (Ms. Jones’ name and picture have been prominently featured around the web, so we are not “outing” anyone here). The criminal case got lost in immunities, and KBR’s insistence that the allegations be dealt with through the employee arbitration proceedings spelled out in Jones’ employment contract.

    After six years of legal fussing and fighting, the courts eventually sided with Jones, who is pursuing the matter as a civil complaint. Details are complex, and what really happened seems unclear—a good break down of the evidence is on Mother Jones. The claimed attack took place in 2005; ultimate source of all contractor legal matters Ms. Sparky has pages of details on the legal events since then.

    Sexual Harassment

    The problem of contractor liability is not new, nor is it going away. As a reminder, we’ve written previously about the problem women interpreters claiming sexual harassment at the hands of their contractor employment face– it is almost impossible to successfully sue any of America’s finest contractors for things that may have happened in Iraq.


    We also wrote about KBR, the contractor who runs the backstage portion of our wars, setting up the chow halls, building the offices, running the power lines and maintaining the plumbing. It is the latter task that resulted in a slip and fall lawsuit just settled after a federal judge ruled that KBR cannot be sued by someone who slipped in a toilet it maintained at Camp Shield. KBR argued against their having any liability for anything they ever did, citing cases as significant as the Supremes’ 1803 hit Marbury v. Freaking Madison in their defense.

    Ironic Comparison to the UK

    No blog post here is complete without an ironic comparison, this time to the way the UK has treated human rights abuses by its soldiers (Ok, yeah, not exactly the same as contractors, but…).

    The European court of human rights on July 7 issued two landmark rulings on UK abuses in Iraq. In the first (al-Skeini and others) it found that Britain had violated the rights of the families of four Iraqis killed by British forces (and one other case in which responsibility for the killing is disputed) by failing to ensure independent investigations into their deaths. In the second (al-Jedda) it ruled the UK had violated the rights of a man it had interned for three years without trial or any real opportunity to challenge his detention, on vague grounds of security.

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Spiking the Football

    May 5, 2011 // Comments Off on Spiking the Football

    obama at ground zeroPresident Bush Trump Obama will not release photos of a dead bin Laden, saying that:

    “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. The fact of the matter is that this is someone who is deserving of the justice he received. … We don’t need to spike the football.”

    Obama heads to Ground Zero in New York today where he will spike the football.

    Meanwhile, make do with the fake photos clogging up your Facebook account.

    I am sure that the photos of bin Laden, shot in the face at close range, are no doubt gory and might inflame people who don’t like to know what the wars they demand really look like. In the early days of the Iraq War, a web site called Now That’s Fucked Up traded access to porn to soldiers who would send in explicit photos of what war looks like. Polk County, Florida shut down the site under Florida’s obscenity laws, and the URL now redirects to the Sheriff’s web site. Thankfully, there is no other porn now on the web. We’re safe again.

    If you want to see what war looks like, see what our soldiers have had to see in our names, another site has reposted many of the war photos. This is NSFW, not safe for decent people and full of horrific images of what modern war is all about, including photos of people who were shot in the face.

    Same here: photos of other dead guys inside Osama’s house.

    You will have nightmares.

    There are also some Abu Ghraib photos on that same site, the majority of which have also not been released to the public for fear of inflaming people. It’s just better we all don’t know, right?

    Have a look before heading out into the streets to scream USA! USA! when Obama goes all passive-aggressive at Ground Zero.

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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq