A number of people have expressed their discontent with the way Jews are portrayed in some of the scenes in this video. To these people I say, the music video for ‘Chinese Food On Christmas’ is a satire. It employs outrageous scenarios, such as a car full of Jews slamming on the brakes to pick up a coin, to show just how silly and ridiculous our stereotypes can be. Jews are one of the most charitable cultural groups in the world, and anyone who takes any time to look into these stereotypes will realize that they are simply untrue.
Scott Horton, in a must read piece, carefully dissects the New York Times article today on the creation and destruction of the CIA torture tapes [I posted the Times article here.] He views the article as part of the attempt to distance the White House from the tapes, their destruction, and the torture they depict. After quoting from the article, here is Horton’s analysis:
Let’s think through what we’re being told for a moment. And let’s start with the circumstances. The Administration has launched what Laura Rozen recently termed “Operation Stop Talking,” a program designed to insure that all intelligence officers and former officers maintain complete silence about what transpired with these tapes. This has included some very heavy handed measures, including an FBI investigation targeting John Kiriakou. My own sources tell me that Rozen’s reporting is right on the money about this—the word has been put out that any one allowing further information to slip out, or corroborating Kiriakou’s account, can expect severe retribution. And what is the objective of this extraordinary public relations project? Again, the aspect of Kiriakou’s remarks that gave rise to it was his detailed depiction of the Justice Department’s and the White House’s role in the entire process.
The Bush Administration’s containment strategy for this matter is very clear: it was a CIA affair, start to finish. The decision to make and destroy the tapes came down in the ranks of the CIA. Other agencies and particularly the White House were uninvolved. Yes, there will be a scapegoat offered up. So here are some points to contemplate as you work your way through the New York Times piece:
• Why is a former senior CIA official speaking on the record about details of the program notwithstanding “Operation Stop Talking?” Note who he is: A.R. Kronberg—“Cookie” Kronberg’s better regarded brother—was a Blackwater advisor and was considered to be a Republican Party-wired “insider” within the intelligence community. Mr. Kronberg is, of course, dispensing “the official story,” just what others have been silenced to make way for.
• Note that the decision to start making the tapes was made in the field according to Shane’s and Mazzetti’s sources. That’s a very convenient set of facts, since in a fairly axiomatic rule of bureaucratic decision-making presumably those who make the decision to make the tapes have the authority to decide to destroy them. But even other statements in this Times piece contradict that conclusion, starting with the concern that the tapes would be used by figures far up the line to “second guess” the work of the case officers.
• But is it true? If we go back over Kiriakou’s statements, we find nothing really conclusive on the subject. But he’s quite emphatic over the strong line of control over the operating program, ending squarely in the White House. He also suggests very clearly that the tapes are being used for control purposes; that they allowed people up the decision-making chain to see how their instructions were being carried out. It would be a reasonable inference from this that the taping procedure was introduced and used by those with oversight authority, and potentially very far up the chain. I have heard for sometime that some of Vice President Cheney’s staffers, starting with Addington, are real “intelligence junkies.” Why would they entertain themselves with reruns of Fox’s “24″ when they can mainline real snuff flicks provided by the CIA?
• The new account offers that the tapes served training and analytical purposes. That’s a plausible explanation, but it’s not the only one offered even in this article. It also takes note of the Bagram deaths and suggests that the tapes would prove that the officers administering torture were following approved techniques–to protect them. Note this is an oversight and control function. It seems inescapable that the tapes were made and used for all these purposes, and the oversight and control purpose was likely the most important, even if now–for transparent reasons–they want to play it down.
• The new account says that tapes were being reused starting in 2002. This is a very significant statement on several fronts. It reflects that taping was a general practice, and it suggests one method of destroying tapes was taping right over them. That suggests that there were many more tapes made than just the two cases noted. (In fact, in the meantime, newspapers in Britain and Australia have already reported, courtesy of their own intelligence services, that the claims that the collections of tapes was limited to two subjects is nonsense.)
The Times story reflects the latest Administration effort at damage control, and it has to be understood in that light, which is to say, very skeptically. Is it true that the decision to tape and the decision to destroy the tapes was taken far down the ranks within the CIA and that the White House had no involvement in it? Note how they carefully sprinkle in the reference to the suggestion that “Bush agreed” that he should not be briefed on the location of the black sites. They are really working very hard to put whatever distance they can between Bush personally and the criminal decisions in play here.
And in the end, the effort is completely unconvincing. We know that the White House knew about the existence of the tapes. Four of the president’s leading lawyers were deeply involved, and one of them, almost certainly Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, was advocating destruction of the tapes, and thereby offering apparent White House authority for the act of destruction. It’s highly probable that individuals inside the White House, and in all likelihood the president himself, actually watched some of the tapes, most likely including the tapes of Abu Zabaydah, who was tortured by waterboarding.
Now they desperately want to pin everything on second and third tier officials at the CIA. That would be a farce. Responsibility for all of this—the decision to torture, the specific approval of individual torture techniques on specific individuals, the decision to record and document all of this, and the decision in the face of court orders requiring preservation and disclosure to destroy evidence of criminal conduct—rests squarely with George W. Bush and the senior echelons of his administration. It’s time to confront all efforts to obscure these facts through friendly leaks with the skepticism and, indeed, contempt that they deserve.
The Times piece closes on an appropriate note. They interview former CIA Deputy Director John Gannon, and describe his analysis of the situation:
“Mr. Gannon said he thought the tapes became such an issue because they would have settled the legal debate over the harsh methods. “To a spectator it would look like torture,” he said. “And torture is wrong.” “
It is not a matter of “looking like torture,” of course, the process of waterboarding and other harsh techniques that Bush has authorized (indeed, shoved down the throat of a skeptical intelligence community) is torture. It’s a crime under American law which will be enforced again when law enforcement is restored to the agenda of the Justice Department.
The Times tells us that public appearances played a decisive role in this entire affair, and that’s the most truthful statement in the piece. But there is something unsettling about this tendency to dismiss a question of moral rights and wrongs on the most fundamental level as a question of “public relations.” Team Bush have used all the powerful communications resources at their command to trivialize torture—to equate it with fraternity antics, and to scapegoat immature young soldiers who implement their designs. All of this has been done to suppress the moral indignation that torture, once clearly seen by the American people, would awaken. In this saga of the destroyed tapes we are watching the morally corrosive effects of torture, we are watching it corrupt judgment and social values. As Immanuel Kant teaches us, all humans have an innate sense of moral right and wrong, they feel it instinctively even if they lack a more developed code of ethical or religious standards. Revelation–visual proof of their crimes–is the enemy that Bush and his fellow torture facilitators fear now, more even than the judgment that history certainly will pass upon them.
Adam Liptak, in the New York Times, reviews Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side:
The Power of Authority: A Dark Tale
by Adam Liptak
FRANK GIBNEY was old and sick and a little more than a month away from dying. But he was filled with righteous anger, and he had some things to say. He told his son, the documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, to unplug a noisy oxygen machine and to grab a video camera.
The older Mr. Gibney, a journalist and scholar who died in April, had served as a naval interrogator in World War II. In a moving statement that serves as a sort of coda to “Taxi to the Dark Side,” a new documentary about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies in the post-9/11 world, he said it had never occurred to him to use brutal techniques on the Japanese prisoners in his custody.
“We had the sense that we were on the side of the good guys,” Frank Gibney said, seething. “People would get decent treatment. And there was the rule of law.”
There would seem to be an enormous distance between the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the central events in “Taxi to the Dark Side” take place, and Enron’s headquarters in Houston, where the machinations of white-collar criminals brought down the giant energy company and became the backdrop for Mr. Gibney’s entertaining 2005 documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” But Mr. Gibney said the two projects have common themes.
“The subject of corruption unites my films,” he said. “‘Enron’ was about economic corruption, and ‘Taxi’ is about the corruption of the rule of law.”
In person Mr. Gibney, 54, is simultaneously casual and intense. He wears jeans, cool glasses and a goatee, and he juggles several projects at a time from an office overlooking the rail yards on the west side of Manhattan. On the wall is a poster for “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” a 2002 documentary that he wrote. He is finishing up a documentary on the writer Hunter S. Thompson and is working on another about the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
He said he has returned repeatedly to one concern: the power of authority to warp morality. At bottom, Mr. Gibney said, people do what they are told. “Everything in life,” he said, “goes back to the Milgram experiment.”
In the early 1960s Dr. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale, showed that many people were willing to deliver what they understood to be painful electric shocks to other human beings simply because they were told by a scientist that it was necessary.
At Enron as at Bagram, Mr. Gibney said, “a process had occurred, like Milgram, where they had crossed little personal lines, bit by bit.”
“Until,” he added, “they looked back and realized they were way over the line.”
Mr. Gibney persuaded a half-dozen guards and interrogators to appear in his documentary. They are candid, reflective, troubled and sometimes broken, and their testimony is the beating heart of the film.
Many of the traders at Enron were decent men too, Mr. Gibney said.
“One of the most interesting things for me was to discover that most of these guys, off the job, were really nice guys,” Mr. Gibney said. “I mean, pillars of their community. They gave to charity, set up orphanages. But on the job they were killers.”
“Taxi to the Dark Side” is an artful film, starting with cinematic vistas in Afghanistan and presenting soldiers in tight shots against dark backgrounds while former officials and journalists talk in grand settings filled with light.
Sometimes his filmmaking techniques stray from the journalistic straight-and-narrow. In an otherwise positive review of the Enron documentary, for instance, David Ansen of Newsweek objected to an impressionistic recreation of an executive’s suicide and whispering voices on the soundtrack, calling them “cheesy fictional techniques.”
Mr. Gibney said he is often asked why he does not give it to audiences straight.
His answer: “It’s because I didn’t want to give it to you straight. I wanted to have some fun.”
“Werner Herzog calls it the difference between an accountant’s truth and ecstatic truth,” Mr. Gibney continued. “It’s the idea that sometimes you can take a roundabout way to truth that’s more effective.”
In the new film he uses a re-creation to depict the interrogation of Mohamed al-Kahtani, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“It took us a long time to get that sequence right, where we juxtaposed words, music, re-creations and then also testimony in some of the Senate hearings,” Mr. Gibney said. By mixing these, “you get some sense of the absurdity, of how the interrogators themselves were becoming unhinged,” he said. “By visualizing it you feel its power in a way you don’t if you just have someone describe it.”
Mr. Gibney became fascinated by film at Yale in the 1970s, haunting the film societies that showed classics for a dollar, and then attended film school at the University of California, Los Angeles. “My favorite filmmakers, generally speaking, are not documentary filmmakers,” he said. One is Luis Buñuel, and he keeps a framed letter from Mr. Buñuel on a wall of his office. “The way he shoots everything is so matter of fact,” Mr. Gibney said. “It’s kind of documentary. But he’s got such a wicked sense of humor. He’s always bringing something to the party, but in ways that you don’t really realize.”
Mr. Gibney worked for years on television series, including “The Fifties” and “The Blues,” bringing lessons from those sprawling projects to his feature films.
“You have to have characters that breathe inside a narrative,” he said, naming one lesson. “That’s what makes it work, and unless that happens none of the big ideas really matter.”
There has been no shortage of films about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and about the Bush administration’s approach to national security and civil liberties. The fictional ones — like “Lions for Lambs,”“Rendition,”“Redacted” and “In the Valley of Elah” — have landed at the box office with a thud. But there seems to be an appetite for accessible and sometimes argumentative documentaries about American power and values presented with nerve and verve, even from the earliest days of the war in Iraq, like “Gunner Palace.”
“Taxi to the Dark Side,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 18, is a sort of companion piece to “No End in Sight,”Charles Ferguson’s recent documentary about the occupation of Iraq. (Mr. Gibney was an executive producer.) The next month, Errol Morris’s documentary about the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, “S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure,” will have its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The narrative thread of “Taxi to the Dark Side” recounts the story of an Afghan taxi driver known only as Dilawar, who was taken to Bagram and beaten to death. His family, interviewed in the film, described Dilawar as simple and shy, and he left behind a wife and a 2-year-old daughter.
His legs, a coroner’s report found, had been struck over and over again until they “had basically been pulpified.” “Even if he had survived,” an Army report found, “both legs would have had to be amputated.”
Mr. Dilawar’s story was first reported in The New York Times and was the subject of a series of investigative reports in the paper. Two reporters for The Times, Carlotta Gall and Tim Golden, appear in the documentary.
In 2005 a military jury convicted Willie V. Brand, who had been a guard at Bagram, of assault, maltreatment and maiming. But his only punishment was a reduction in rank. He received an honorable discharge.
Mr. Brand and the other guards and interrogators who appear in “Taxi to the Dark Side” make the case that they were untrained, unmoored from morality and only did what they thought their commanders wanted.
A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on “Meet the Press” and sketched out his thinking.
“We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will,” he said, in a clip Mr. Gibney includes in his film. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world.”
Statements like those generated the abuses at Bagram and Abu Ghraib, Mr. Gibney maintains. “It’s the opposite of the bad apple theory,” he said. “The bad apple theory is that there are a few bad people who occasionally do bad things, and everything’s fine. Mostly they’re good kids who, like all of us, can over to the dark side if people like Dick Cheney say it’s O.K.”
David B. Rivkin, a lawyer in the administrations of President RonaldReagan and the first President Bush, said the abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq were exceptions and unfortunate byproducts of war. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not policy,” he said, “and it’s pretty clear that these things are prosecuted.”
Mr. Rivkin said the military’s performance by historical standards has been quite good in the recent conflicts. “In all the good wars,” he said, “we have had some pretty bad records.”
That is not how Frank Gibney saw it.
After the Second World War Frank Gibney would occasionally meet the men he had interrogated for dinner or drinks in Tokyo, and his son would sometimes tag along. The soldiers had a respectful rapport, a camaraderie.
“It’s hard to imagine that happening 10 years from now,” Alex Gibney said.
In the Kurdish north, the peaceful corner of Iraq, rapid social change is pushing increasing numbers of women to suicide, the Dallas Morning News reports. Since the war, one women a day sets herself alight.
Alas, the article doesn’t really give an explanation for this epidemic of female suicide. There are hints about rapid change, poverty and family tensions. But no insight is provided as to how these are combining to cause the rash of suicides:
Northern Iraqi women increasingly attempting suicide
by Cheryl Diaz Meyer
ERBIL, Iraq – Iman Eaziden Bakr raised her chin, her eyes glistening in the dim light.
“I thought, ‘This is my death,’ ” she said. “I felt like a chicken being roasted. I will never forget the torture of my skin. It was so painful, as if my insides were being exposed.”
Her tea had long gone cold as she recounted Jan. 14, the day she poured kerosene on her body and set herself on fire.
Despite the economic boom in Iraqi Kurdistan, Ms. Bakr and her family are among the majority of Kurds who live in poverty. Eight people live together in one room.
“I started feeling hopeless about life, and I couldn’t bear their fighting anymore,” she said. “So I sacrificed myself for my family. But it was useless.”
When she returned home from the hospital, it was worse.
As new social and economic pressures collide with old traditions in the newly prosperous region of northern Iraq, Kurdish women still exert little control over their lives, health experts say. They struggle to describe a mental malaise that women and girls experience in the patriarchal culture, where women see little hope for their future and find themselves driven to kill themselves at unprecedented levels.
Since 2003, an average of one female sets herself on fire each day in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Khasro Omar, head nurse of the Emergency Management Centre in Erbil. The center is the premier hospital for burn patients in the area.
Ms. Bakr, 17, said she was diagnosed with depression. But her mother refused to buy the prescribed medicine, fearful that people would think their family was crazy.
“Anyone could see that I was not normal,” she said. “I heard voices telling me to kill myself, but my mother thought I was just being melodramatic.”
Most of the women and girls say they immolated themselves because of unresolved problems with their families. Some had issues in their marriages, while others alleged they were burned by accident as they worked in the kitchen, their long dresses a danger near the flames.
For many of these women, ordinary problems seem magnified. That was the case for 19-year-old Qumri Kaifi.
“I was washing the floor, and my sister kept walking over it, making me upset,” she said. After months of strife between her and her new stepmother, this was the final straw. She went into the kitchen and set herself on fire with her 10-year-old sister watching.
Those who survive suffer estrangement from their families and society. Married women who cannot work because of their injuries are often divorced by their husbands. No organizations in the region have long-term programs to help these women.
In the far end of the Erbil ward lies Aveen Bayz, 13, her brow furrowed in pain and her eyes dark and woeful. She resembles a mummy, almost completely covered in gauze to protect her burns, which cover 70 percent of her skin.
Ms. Bayz said she immolated herself because her younger sister was jealous of her and harassed her for not doing the house chores correctly. She has survived eight days after immolating herself. Even the staff won’t venture to guess if she will live or die.
Nearby, her anguished mother wipes away tears.
“I would do anything for my daughter, if only she’d stay alive,” said Sameera Mohammad. “I wish to hear her voice every morning.”
Nine months have passed since Ms. Bakr’s attempt to kill herself. She still emanates the acrid smell of burned skin, and her scars itch as they crack open and heal.
“I do feel that they love me,” Ms. Bakr said of her family. “But even if I wasn’t making good choices – why didn’t they stop me? I don’t understand their love.”
She still sees little promise for the future.
“I gradually feel myself becoming hopeless again,” she said. “So, I probably will one day succeed in killing myself.”
The New York Times today provides further explanation of the reasons the CIA torture tapes were created and the debate regarding their destruction. In the article are little tidbits, including that psychologists viewed the tapes:
“You couldn’t have more than one or two analysts in the room,” said A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.’s No. 3 official at the time the interrogations were taped. “You want people with spectacular language skills to watch the tapes. You want your top Al Qaeda experts to watch the tapes. You want psychologists to watch the tapes. You want interrogators in training to watch the tapes.”
Also, doctors were viewing them:
The tapes might visually identify as many as five or six people present for each interrogation — interrogators themselves, whom the agency now prefers to call “debriefers”; doctors or doctor’s assistants who monitored the prisoner’s medical state; and security officers, the official said.
Here is the whole article:
Tapes by C.I.A. Lived and Died to Save Image
by Scott Shane & Mark Mazzetti
If Abu Zubaydah, a senior operative of Al Qaeda, died in American hands, Central Intelligence Agency officers pursuing the terrorist group knew that much of the world would believe they had killed him.
So in the spring of 2002, even as the intelligence officers flew in a surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital to treat Abu Zubaydah, who had been shot three times during his capture in Pakistan, they set up video cameras to record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having his bandages changed, being interrogated.
In fact, current and former intelligence officials say, the agency’s every action in the prolonged drama of the interrogation videotapes was prompted in part by worry about how its conduct might be perceived — by Congress, by prosecutors, by the American public and by Muslims worldwide.
That worry drove the decision to begin taping interrogations — and to stop taping just months later, after the treatment of prisoners began to include waterboarding. And it fueled the nearly three-year campaign by the agency’s clandestine service for permission to destroy the tapes, culminating in a November 2005 destruction order from the service’s director, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.
Now, the disclosure of the tapes and their destruction in 2005 have become just the public spectacle the agency had sought to avoid. To the already fierce controversy over whether the Bush administration authorized torture has been added the specter of a cover-up.
The Justice Department, the C.I.A.’s inspector general and Congress are investigating whether any official lied about the tapes or broke the law by destroying them. Still in dispute is whether any White House official encouraged their destruction and whether the C.I.A. deliberately hid them from the national Sept. 11 commission.
But interviews with two dozen current and former officials, most of whom would speak about the classified program only on the condition of anonymity, revealed new details about why the tapes were made and then eliminated. Their accounts show how political and legal considerations competed with intelligence concerns in the handling of the tapes.
The discussion about the tapes took place in Congressional briefings and secret deliberations among top White House lawyers, including a meeting in May 2004 just days after photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had reminded the administration of the power of such images. The debate stretched over the tenure of two C.I.A. chiefs and became entangled in a feud between the agency’s top lawyers and its inspector general. The tapes documented a program so closely guarded that President Bush himself had agreed with the advice of intelligence officials that he not be told the locations of the secret C.I.A. prisons. Had there been no political or security considerations, videotaping every interrogation and preserving the tapes would make sense, according to several intelligence officials.
“You couldn’t have more than one or two analysts in the room,” said A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.’s No. 3 official at the time the interrogations were taped. “You want people with spectacular language skills to watch the tapes. You want your top Al Qaeda experts to watch the tapes. You want psychologists to watch the tapes. You want interrogators in training to watch the tapes.”
Given such advantages, why was the taping stopped by the end of 2002, less than a year after it started?
“By that time,” Mr. Krongard said, “paranoia was setting in.”
The Decision to Tape
By several accounts, the decision to begin taping Abu Zubaydah and another detainee suspected of being a Qaeda operative, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was made in the field, with several goals in mind.
First, there was Abu Zubaydah’s precarious condition. “There was concern that we needed to have this all documented in case he should expire from his injuries,” recalled one former intelligence official.
Just as important was the fact that for many years the C.I.A. had rarely conducted even standard interrogations, let alone ones involving physical pressure, so officials wanted to track closely the use of legally fraught interrogation methods. And there was interest in capturing all the information to be gleaned from a rare resource — direct testimony from those who had attacked the United States.
But just months later, the taping was stopped. Some field officers had never liked the idea. “If you’re a case officer, the last thing you want is someone in Washington second-guessing everything you did,” said one former agency veteran.
More significant, interrogations of Abu Zubaydah had gotten rougher, with each new tactic approved by cable from headquarters. American officials have said that Abu Zubaydah was the first Qaeda prisoner to be waterboarded, a procedure during which water is poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose to create a feeling of drowning. Officials said they felt they could not risk a public leak of a videotape showing Americans giving such harsh treatment to bound prisoners.
Heightening the worries about the tapes was word of the first deaths of prisoners in American custody. In November 2002, an Afghan man froze to death overnight while chained in a cell at a C.I.A. site in Afghanistan, north of Kabul, the capital. Two more prisoners died in December 2002 in American military custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
By late 2002, interrogators were recycling videotapes, preserving only two days of tapes before recording over them, one C.I.A. officer said. Finally, senior agency officials decided that written summaries of prisoners’ answers would suffice.
Still, that decision left hundreds of hours of videotape of the two Qaeda figures locked in an overseas safe.
Clandestine service officers who had overseen the interrogations began pushing hard to destroy the tapes. But George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, was wary, in part because the agency’s top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, advised against it, current and former officials said.
Yet agency officials decided to float the idea of eliminating the tapes on Capitol Hill, hoping for political cover. In February 2003, Mr. Muller told members of the House and Senate oversight committees about the C.I.A’s interest in destroying the tapes for security reasons.
But both Porter J. Goss, then a Republican congressman from Florida and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat, thought destroying the tapes would be legally and politically risky. C.I.A. officials did not press the matter.
The Detention Program
Scrutiny of the C.I.A.’s secret detention program kept building. Later in 2003, the agency’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, began investigating the program, and some insiders believed the inquiry might end with criminal charges for abusive interrogations.
Mr. Helgerson — now conducting the videotapes review with the Justice Department — had already rankled covert officers with an investigation into the 2001 shooting down of a missionary plane by Peruvian military officers advised by the C.I.A. The investigation set off widespread concern within the clandestine branch that a day of reckoning could be coming for officers involved in the agency’s secret prison program. The Peru investigation often pitted Mr. Helgerson against Mr. Muller, who vigorously defended members of the clandestine branch and even lobbied the Justice Department to head off criminal charges in the matter, according to former intelligence officials
“Muller wanted to show the clandestine branch that he was looking out for them,” said John Radsan, who served as an assistant general counsel for the C.I.A. from 2002 to 2004. “And his aggressiveness on Peru was meant to prove to the operations people that they were protected on a lot of other programs, too.”
Mr. Helgerson completed his investigation of interrogations in April 2004, according to one person briefed on the still-secret report, which concluded that some of the C.I.A.’s techniques appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the international Convention Against Torture. Current and former officials said the report did not explicitly state that the methods were torture.
A month later, as the administration reeled from the Abu Ghraib disclosures, Mr. Muller, the agency general counsel, met to discuss the report with three senior lawyers at the White House: Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel; David S. Addington, legal adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney; and John B. Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security Council.
The interrogation tapes were discussed at the meeting, and one Bush administration official said that, according to notes of the discussion, Mr. Bellinger advised the C.I.A. against destroying the tapes. The positions Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Addington took are unknown. One person familiar with the discussion said that in light of concerns raised in the inspector general’s report that agency officers could be legally liable for harsh interrogations, there was a view at the time among some administration lawyers that the tapes should be preserved.
Looking for Guidance
After Mr. Tenet and Mr. Muller left the C.I.A. in mid-2004, Mr. Rodriguez and other officials from the clandestine branch decided again to take up the tapes with the new chief at Langley, Mr. Goss, the former congressman.
Mr. Rodriguez had taken over the clandestine directorate in late 2004, and colleagues say Mr. Goss repeatedly emphasized to Mr. Rodriguez that he was expected to run operations without clearing every decision with superiors.
During a meeting in Mr. Goss’s office with Mr. Rodriguez, John A. Rizzo, who by then had replaced Mr. Muller as the agency’s top lawyer, told the new C.I.A. director that the clandestine branch wanted a firm decision about what to do with the tapes.
According to two people close to Mr. Goss, he advised against destroying the tapes, as he had in Congress, and told Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Rodriguez that he thought the tapes should be preserved at the overseas location. Apparently he did not explicitly prohibit the tapes’ destruction.
Yet in November 2005, Congress already was moving to outlaw “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners, and The Washington Post reported that some C.I.A. prisoners were being held in Eastern Europe. As the agency scrambled to move the prisoners to new locations, Mr. Rodriguez and his aides decided to use their own authority to destroy the tapes, officials said.
One official who has spoken with Mr. Rodriguez said Mr. Rodriguez and his aides were concerned about protection of the C.I.A. officers on the tapes, from Al Qaeda, as the C.I.A. has stated, and from political pressure.
The tapes might visually identify as many as five or six people present for each interrogation — interrogators themselves, whom the agency now prefers to call “debriefers”; doctors or doctor’s assistants who monitored the prisoner’s medical state; and security officers, the official said. Some traveled regularly in and out of areas where Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists are active, he said.
Apart from concerns about physical safety in the event of a leak, the official said, there was concern for the careers of officers shown on the tapes. “We didn’t want them to become political scapegoats,” he said.
According to several current and former officials, lawyers in the agency’s clandestine branch gave Mr. Rodriguez written guidance that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that such a move would not be illegal.
One day in November 2005, Mr. Rodriguez sent a cable ordering the destruction of the recordings. Soon afterward, he notified both Mr. Goss and Mr. Rizzo, taking full responsibility for the decision.
Former intelligence officials said that Mr. Goss was unhappy about the news, in part because it was further evidence that as the C.I.A. director he was so weakened that his subordinates would directly reject his advice. Yet it appears that Mr. Rodriguez was never reprimanded. Nor is there evidence that Mr. Goss promptly notified Congress that the tapes were gone.
The investigations over the tapes frustrate some C.I.A. veterans, who say they believe that the agency is being unfairly blamed for policies of coercive interrogation approved at the top of the Bush administration and by some Congressional leaders. Intelligence officers are divided over the use of such methods as waterboarding. Some say the methods helped get information that prevented terrorist attacks. Others, like John C. Gannon, a former C.I.A. deputy director, say it was a tragic mistake for the administration to approve such methods.
Mr. Gannon said he thought the tapes became such an issue because they would have settled the legal debate over the harsh methods.
“To a spectator it would look like torture,” he said. “And torture is wrong.”
Now receded into distant memory for many, the battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah, accompanied by the al Sadr uprising in the south, was a decisive turning point in the Iraq occupation. These battles demonstrated to much of the world that the occupation was deeply unpopular among many Iraqis, who were willing and able to fight the occupation to a stalemate. These battles both ended in standoffs, as the U.S. forces felt constrained from unleashing their full military capabilities to crush the resistance. New insights into the thinking of the U.S. military are available from a U.S. army intelligence analysis – by the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center – of the first Fallujah battle entitled Complex Environments: Battle of Fallujah I, April 2004 that was leaked this week on the Wikileaks web site.
The first battle for Fallujah (the second, in November 2004, resulted in the city’s capture by occupation forces) began when images circulated of four contractors being lynched from a bridge in the city. This new document confirms that the attack on Fallujah was designed to crush a symbol of resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq:
“On 31 March 2004, four American Blackwater contractors were killed and images of their bodies being burned and mutilated were broadcast on television around the world. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, CENTCOM Commander GEN Abizaid, and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Ambassador Bremer decided a military response was needed immediately. Fallujah had become a symbol of resistance that dominated international headlines.”
As befits a symbolic battle, the analysis makes clear that the information war was primary. The failure of the Marines’ attack to retake Fallujah was caused, the authors claim, by resistance (“insurgents” in their lingo) forces’ success in getting their message out to the world.
“Insurgents demonstrated a keen understanding of the value of information operations. IO was one of the insurgents’ most effective levers to raise political pressure for a cease-fire. They fed disinformation [sic] to television networks, posted propaganda on the Internet to recruit volunteers and solicit financial donations, and spread rumors through the street.”
The report echo’s the concern of American leaders about the influence of Al Jazeera and other Arab media at conveying the rebel’s side of the story:
“Arab satellite news channels were crucial to building political pressure to halt military operations. For example, CPA documented 34 stories on Al Jazeera that misreported or distorted battlefield events between 6 and 13 April. Between 14 and 20 April, Al Jazeera used the “excessive force” theme 11 times and allowed various anti-Coalition factions to claim that U.S. forces were using cluster bombs against urban areas and kidnapping and torturing Iraqi children. Six negative reports by al-Arabiyah focused almost exclusively on the excessive force theme. Overall, the qualitative content of negative reports increasingly was shrill in tone, and both TV stations appeared willing to take even the most baseless claims as fact.
“During the first week of April, insurgents invited a reporter from Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his film crew into Fallujah where they filmed scenes of dead babies from the hospital, presumably killed by Coalition air strikes. Comparisons were made to the Palestinian Intifada. Children were shown bespattered with blood; mothers were shown screaming and mourning.”
The report also makes clear that, in the military’s opinion, the Western press is part of the U.S.’s propaganda operation. This process was facilitated by the embedding of Western reporters in U.S. military units. The U.S. failure in this battle was largely attributable, the authors claim, to the absence of embedded reporters to convey the military’s story.
“The absence of Western media in Fallujah allowed the insurgents greater control of information coming out of Fallujah. Because Western reporters were at risk of capture and beheading, they stayed out and were forced to pool video shot by Arab cameramen and played on Al Jazeera. This led to further reinforcement of anti-Coalition propaganda. For example, false allegations of up to 600 dead and 1000 wounded civilians could not be countered by Western reporters because they did not have access to the battlefield.
“Western reporters were also not embedded in Marine units fighting in Fallujah. In the absence of countervailing visual evidence presented by military authorities, Al Jazeera shaped the world’s understanding of Fallujah.”
This account, however, is false. There were at least two “Western reporters,” as well as other Western civilians, inside Fallujah giving detailed information on the effects of the fighting on civilians. While briefly detained by rebels, they were quickly released, rather than beheaded. The report ignores these reporters as they were independents, neither embedded with the U.S. military nor bound by the implicit rules of the mainstream media to give special consideration to U.S. military claims and perspectives. Further, the accounts of these reporters and observers contradicted American military claims.
“As I was there, an endless stream of women and children who’d been sniped by the Americans were being raced into the dirty clinic, the cars speeding over the curb out front as their wailing family members carried them in.
“One woman and small child had been shot through the neck — the woman was making breathy gurgling noises as the doctors frantically worked on her amongst her muffled moaning.
“The small child, his eyes glazed and staring into space, continually vomited as the doctors raced to save his life.
“After 30 minutes, it appeared as though neither of them would survive.”
Contrary to the army report’s claim that no cluster bombs were used in the attack, Jamail saw wounds suspiciously like those from that weapon:
“There had been reports of this, as two of the last victims that arrived at the clinic were reported by the locals to have been hit by cluster bombs — they were horribly burned and their bodies shredded.”
Another of these nonexistent Western reporters was Rahul Mahajan, who wrote for various alternative news sites, as well as his Empire Notes blog. He reported from Fallujah on April 11, 2003. Since Mahajan was in the same group with Jamail, it is perhaps not surprising that he also reported extensive civilian casualties:
“During the course of the roughly four hours we were at that small clinic, we saw perhaps a dozen wounded brought in. Among them was a young woman, 18 years old, shot in the head. She was having a seizure and foaming at the mouth when they brought here in; doctors did not expect her to survive the night. Another likely terminal case was a young boy with massive internal bleeding. I also saw a man with extensive burns on his upper body and wounds in his thighs that might have been from a cluster bomb; there was no way to verify in the madhouse scene of wailing relatives, shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), and anger at the Americans.”
The intelligence report claims that “Red Crescent ambulances transported fighters” yet does not discus how this alleged situation was dealt with by the U.S. troops. Mahajan, like other Westerners in the city, provides elucidation of this gap by reporting that the Americans were firing on ambulances, including ones containing civilians:
“I had heard these claims at third-hand before coming into Fallujah, but was skeptical. It’s very difficult to find the real story here. But this I saw for myself. An ambulance with two neat, precise bullet-holes in the windshield on the driver’s side, pointing down at an angle that indicated they would have hit the driver’s chest (the snipers were on rooftops, and are trained to aim for the chest). Another ambulance again with a single, neat bullet-hole in the windshield. There’s no way this was due to panicked spraying of fire. These were deliberate shots to kill people driving the ambulances.
“The ambulances go around with red, blue, or green lights flashing and sirens blaring; in the pitch-dark of a blacked-out city there is no way they can be missed or mistaken for something else). An ambulance that some of our compatriots were going around in, trading on their whiteness to get the snipers to let them through to pick up the wounded was also shot at while we were there.”
Jo Wilding, a British observer also among the Westerners in Fallujah, was in one of the ambulances fired upon, on a trip to pick up a pregnant woman and transport her to the hospital. She and the ambulance staff hoped that the presence of Westerners would help protect from American attack. They were wrong:
“Azzam is driving, Ahmed in the middle directing him and me by the window, the visible foreigner, the passport. Something scatters across my hand, simultaneous with the crashing of a bullet through the ambulance, some plastic part dislodged, flying through the window.
“We stop, turn off the siren, keep the blue light flashing, wait, eyes on the silhouettes of men in US marine uniforms on the corners of the buildings. Several shots come. We duck, get as low as possible and I can see tiny red lights whipping past the window, past my head. Some, it’s hard to tell, are hitting the ambulance I start singing. What else do you do when someone’s shooting at you? A tyre bursts with an enormous noise and a jerk of the vehicle.
“I’m outraged. We’re trying to get to a woman who’s giving birth without any medical attention, without electricity, in a city under siege, in a clearly marked ambulance, and you’re shooting at us. How dare you?”
Even back in Baghdad, Mahajan and Jamail were the only Western reporters who attended a press conference of the Iraqi Minister of Health, who confirmed that the Americans had fired upon ambulances in Fallujah (and also in Sadr City in Baghdad):
“During the questions, when asked about shooting at ambulances, Abbas confirmed that U.S. forces shot at ambulances, not only in Fallujah and the approaches to Fallujah, but also in Sadr City. He agreed that the acts were criminal and said he has asked the IGC ([Interim] Governing Council) and Bremer [U.S. governor of occupied Iraq] for an explanation.”
While in Fallujah, Jo Wilding also saw civilians fired upon by U.S. troops, illustrating the “Coalition’s concern for collateral damage” that the intelligence analysis refers to:
“There’s a man, face down, in a white dishdasha, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies [h]ave got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I’m by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave’s hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out.
“There’s no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He was unarmed. He just went out the gate and they shot him. None of them have dared come out since. No one had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate the traditions of treating the body immediately. They couldn’t have known we were coming so it’s inconceivable tat anyone came out and retrieved a weapon but left the body.
“He was unarmed, 55 years old, shot in the back.”
Also relevant to the issue of “collateral damage” is the way in which the U.S. forces divided civilians into potential “insurgents” – all males considered to be of “military age” – and all others. The others were allowed to leave the city or areas of active combat (“Throughout the fight Coalition forces allowed nonmilitary-age men, women, and children to exit through the cordon”), but males considered to be of fighting age – many tens of thousands in a city of perhaps 250,000 population – were not allowed to leave and were thus subject to being shot, as was the man described above by Wilding, upon the least suspicion. Wilding describes the implementation of this policy as a group of volunteers attempted to evacuate civilians before a planned American attack:
“‘We’re going to be going through soon clearing the houses,’ the senior one says.
“’What does that mean, clearing the houses?’
“’Going into every one searching for weapons.’ He’s checking his watch, can’t tell me what will start when, of course, but there’s going to be air strikes in support. ‘If you’re going to do t[h]is [evacuate] you gotta do it soon….’
“The people seem to pour out of the houses now in the hope we can escort them safely out of the line of fire, kids, women, men, anxiously asking us whether they can all go, or only the women and children. We go to ask. The young marine tells us that men of fighting age can’t leave. What’s fighting age, I want to know. He contemplates. Anything under forty five. No lower limit.”
Any military forcing tens of thousands of mostly noncombatant civilians to stay in a war zone under siege is obviously not putting the reduction of civilian casualties (reduction of “collateral damage”) high on its list of priorities. Not surprisingly, an analysis by Iraq Body Count concluded that almost 600 (“between 572 and 616 of the approximately 800 reported deaths”) civilians were among the dead in Fallujah.
The intelligence report also contains chilling phrases that, while subject to multiple interpretations, suggest both the difficulties of fighting a guerilla resistance in a city and the possibility of horrifying actions. Thus, in describing the structure of homes in Falluja, the report calmly states:
“The houses also are all made of brick with a thick covering of mortar overtop. In almost every house a fragmentation grenade can be used without fragments coming through the walls. Each room can be fragged individually.”
Absences in Report
It is striking that, for all its emphasis on claims that U.S. troops followed the “Laws of War” in the battle, avoiding, they claim, extensive “collateral damage” (i.e., civilian casualties) there is no discussion of any strategies designed to accomplish this in the “complex environment” of a city with tens to hundreds of thousands of residents in place. Of course, the accounts of Jamail, Mahajan, and Wilding suggest that the claim that collateral damage was largely avoided is exaggerated at best.
While providing useful analyses of the nature of the Fallujah fighting, and of the information war, this intelligence report demonstrates yet again the difficulties that U.S. occupation forces, including intelligence analysts, have in coming to terms with the nature of nationalist opposition to occupation. While it contains interesting discussions of the organization of the Fallujah resistance, including their decentralized command and control structures which were hard to destroy, the authors cannot resist repeating the Marine attackers description of the resistance fighters as ” an “evil Rotary club” rather than a military organization.”
The report also illustrates American blinders in analyzing the political context of the Fallujah battle. The report does refer to the growing opposition to the assault among the Iraqi Governing Council, a group of Iraqi officials hand-picked by the United States:
“The Iraqi Governing Council began to unravel. Three members quit and 5 others threatened to quit…. The Sunni politicians considered the operation ‘collective punishment.’”
The intelligence analysis, however, doesn’t mention the extreme unpopularity, at the time of the Fallujah battle, of the occupation among many Iraqis as part of the context that hampered the U.S. in its assault. For example, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll of Iraqis taken in late March and early April 2004 found:
“Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger…
“Asked whether they view the U.S.-led coalition as ‘liberators’ or ‘occupiers,’ 71% of all respondents say ‘occupiers.’
“That figure reaches 81% if the separatist, pro-U.S. Kurdish minority in northern Iraq is not included….
“53% say they would feel less secure without the coalition in Iraq, but 57% say the foreign troops should leave anyway. Those answers were given before the current showdowns in Fallujah and Najaf between U.S. troops and guerrilla fighters.”
In failing to come to terms with the unpopularity of the occupation, the report continues the American blindness to the difficulties of sustaining an occupation as opposition mounts. The report thus pays insufficient attention to the extent to which the Fallujah population supported the resistance fighters. Perhaps, however, the absence of any discussion of “winning hearts and minds” is an implicit recognition that this was an impossible goal, and one irrelevant to the U.S. desire to crush Fallujah as a symbol of organized opposition to occupation.
In the end, the most surprising aspect of this leaked report is the absence of any information or analysis in the classified document that was not readily available in the public domain. Its failure to deal with the real situation the U.S. faced in Iraq during the Fallujah assault raises the question as to why, even in a classified intelligence analysis, the military, and perhaps the entire U.S. government, did not analyze reality, rather than relay propaganda. Many possible explanations can be contemplated: a fear of the document being leaked, military leaders and even intelligence analysts being infected with the same propaganda being fed to the press and the public, or systems for relaying information that reward those who support the prevailing ideology. Most likely is some combination of these factors. But the result, this report illustrates, is that, as with prewar intelligence, the intelligence during the Iraq occupation has in many cases reinforced existing beliefs rather than provide new insights designed to allow the U.S. forces to adapt to the real conditions they faced.
Preparing for November Attack
The report does provides several glimpses into the tactics used to prepare for the later November 2004 attack in which Fallujah was captured by the Americans at the cost of thousands of damaged buildings, many tens of thousands of refugees, and an unknown number of both rebel and civilian casualties. In preparing for the November attack, U.S. forces had more time for pre-attack “shaping operations”:
“Shaping operations that clear civilians from the battlefield offers [sic] many positive second-order effects. In Fallujah in April 2004, IMEF [I Marine Expeditionary Force] only had a few days to shape the environment before engaging in decisive combat operations. The remaining noncombatants provided cover for insurgents, restrained CJTF-7′s[Coalition Joint Task Force 7] employment of combat power, and provided emotional fodder for Arab media to exploit.”
In preparing for the November attack, the U.S. engaged in months of massive bombing and artillery strikes, perhaps in order to terrorize into leaving many of the population who were not of military age and hence allowed to leave. As the Guardian reported October 31, 2004:
“US warplanes and artillery pounded targets in the city amid prolonged clashes with insurgents. A marine at a nearby US base described the strikes as the heaviest artillery bombardment he had heard in two months. At least a dozen airstrikes hit a southeastern district of the Sunni Muslim city during the afternoon, witnesses said.”
These “shaping operations” largely worked, as Reuters reported on October 26, 2004:
“‘Three-quarters of the people have fled to other towns to avoid the American air strikes, especially the women and children,’ said Abdel Aziz Ibrahim, a teacher.
“Bank employee Mohammed al-Alwani said: ‘Whoever looks around Falluja now can only feel saddness. The damage is so heavy the suburbs look like they were hit by an earthquake.’”
Having failed to destroy Fallujah as a symbol of resistance to occupation in April, the U.S. designed the November attack to accomplish this goal once and for all, as the Christian Science Monitor explained on the eve of the attack:
“‘One thought going around now is: “Why doesn’t Iraq look like [post-World War II] Germany or Japan, which knew they had been defeated?”’ says John Pike, a military analyst who heads Globalsecurity.org in Alexandria, Va. ‘One of the challenges we are facing now is these people don’t know they have been defeated,’ he says. ‘Fallujah will be an opportunity for them to be crushed decisively and for them to taste defeat.’”
Or, as explained by another Western analyst in the same article:
“‘The logic is: You flatten Fallujah, hold up the head of Fallujah, and say “Do our bidding, or you’re next,”‘ says Toby Dodge, an Iraq analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.”
The U.S. also learned from its perceived failure in the information war during the April attack, which led, in the view of the intelligence report, to calling off the attack before victory. In November they got many reporters, including even Iraqi reporters, to embed with U.S. troops, so that they could act, in the words of the intelligence report, as the propaganda arm of U.S. forces.
The greater success in manipulating the information war in November was offset, however, by the U.S.’s inability to hide from reporters and thus, from the world the country’s descent into full-scale civil war. It remains to be seen if the relative lull in civil war currently occurring as the various factions reevaluate the situation will allow the U.S. greater success in the information war, if not in the real war of occupation.
First we had the scene of thousands of lawyers in Pakistan fighting that country’s dictator. Now American lawyers are joining in. Over 1,000 have signed a statement calling for Congressional investiagation into abuses, and potential criminality, by the Bush administration:
We, the undersigned lawyers in the United States, have been inspired by the many lawyers in Pakistan who have risked their own liberty and careers in an effort to preserve their nation’s freedoms.
Their courage has deepened our own resolve to defend the rule of law in our nation. As lawyers, we have both a moral and professional responsibility to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States.
To that end, we are committed to creating a movement of lawyers in this nation dedicated to monitoring and, when appropriate, challenging the actions of our government when those actions threaten our nation’s freedoms.
As our initial act, we are issuing the following statement to the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees, urging hearings into the unconstitutional and possibly criminal actions of the Bush Administration.
Message to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy from
American Lawyers Defending the Constitution
We are lawyers in the United States of America. As such, we have all taken an oath obligating us to defend the Constitution and the rule of law from those who would violate and subvert them, and to hold wrongdoers accountable.
We believe the Bush administration has committed numerous offenses against the Constitution and may have violated federal laws. Evidence exists that it has illegally spied on Americans, tortured and abused men and women in its direct custody, sent others to be tortured by countries like Syria and Egypt, and kept people in prison indefinitely with no chance to challenge the bases of their detention. Moreover, the administration has blatantly defied congressional subpoenas, obstructing constitutional oversight of the executive branch.
Thus, we call on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to launch hearings into the possibility that crimes have been committed by this administration in violation of the Constitution, federal statutes, and international treaties. We call for the investigations to go where they must, including into the offices of the President and the Vice President. Should these hearings demonstrate that laws have in fact been broken by this administration, we support all such legal and congressional actions necessary to ensure the survival of our Constitution and the nation we love.
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung,
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht,” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I I’ve learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
Here is my article , written for the Christmas season two years ago:
The 1914 Christmas Truce and the Possibility of Peace
A new French film, Joyeux Noel , brings the 1914 Christmas truce, that moment when a world of peace could be imagined, to a wider audience.
An article on the truce and the film from the Telegraph has this nugget:
Some viewers might find a certain sentimental excess in the scene in which a Scottish bagpiper spontaneously joins in when German soldiers began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). There are records of such an event. “All the acts of fraternisation had one thing in common: music and song,” says Carion. “I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a few hours.”
Perhaps we should learn something from this experience about the importance of music to peace. After all, the 60’s peace movements were infused with song, whereas today’s movements are silent. Music and song can unite, they can inspire, but they also can soothe. Movements for peace need all three.
The Telegraph article continues to point out that the reality of peace is beyond what audiences can believe:
The film also features a foraging ginger cat adopted as a mascot by both the French and the Germans. The cat existed, and, in real life, it was arrested by the French, convicted of espionage and shot in accordance with military regulations. “It was an era of madmen,” says Carion, who filmed this scene – to the great distress of his extras – but decided not to include it in case his audience didn’t believe it.
A Scottish bishop’s sermon, which includes references to a “crusade” and a “holy war”, seems like a thumpingly obvious effort to find parallels with more recent discourses about Iraq. In fact, these words were, Carion says, taken directly from a sermon preached by an Anglican bishop at Westminster Abbey. Here, too, the truth was toned down: Carion excised the real bishop’s references to German soldiers “crucifying babies on Christmas Day” in order to make it credible.
Perhaps the propensity toward war is aided by our unwillingness to imagine the depths to which people can sink when captured by the lure of war, the fantasy of perfect union with the state, that idealized perfect mother, and the ability to extrude all evil onto the enemy, that poisonous cannibalistic bad mother. As Christopher Hedges points out in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in more normal times we disown this desire for union and extrusion and cannot remember or imagine how destructive it can be.
Perhaps this dynamic also helps explain people’s passivity toward the threats to democracy facing us in the United States today. For those identified with their country, to truly accept the danger puts the evil, the bad, inside the union, where it is especially terrifying.
A resolution for many is the demonization solution, to view George W. Bush and his administration as absolute evil, destroying the country and the world. While tempting, and certainly not without evidence, the problem with this outlook is that it is the mirror image of that attitude which leads us into the nightmare. To those adopting this view, evil resides in Bush, in Cheney, in the Republicans. If only they could be removed, impeached, tried, the world would be saved. The problem with this notion is that it encourages only destruction of the enemy, not construction of something better. History has repeatedly demonstrated that movements guided by hatred do not end up producing a better world.
The Christmas truce, in its magnificence, gives us a tiny glimpse of a true alternative, a world in which we are all simply human, in which that which we have in common is greater than that which divides us. For the brief moment of that truce, lasting days or weeks, the soldiers on all sides embodied the wisdom of peace through union, a union without an all-bad enemy (though the officer class trying so hard to restore their respective killing machines surely could have qualified). A union of fun, of games, and of song. A world dominated by eros.
The challenge, so far unsolved, is how to take such a moment and make it last, or at least not turn into its opposite, a renewed carnage of destruction. This challenge, as pacifists and nonviolent activists have repeatedly discovered, requires us to find a way to accept and tame the capacity for destructiveness in each of us, so as not to need to attribute it to an enemy. At the same time, we need to find a way to continue peace and unity in more normal, less extraordinary times, beyond the moment of fusion. For eventually the excitement fades and we remember all our irritations, our gripes and our fears. To bring peace into daily life is the need upon which the future of the human race may well depend.
Annbjørg Lien from Norway joins Catriona Macdonald from Shetland, Liz Carroll and Liz Knowles from America, Mairead ni Mhaonaigh (Altan) from Ireland and Emma Härdelin from Sweden to assemble in Glasgow to celebrate each of their region’s musical traditions and launch their first and long-awaited CD and DVD “Live in Norway”. On the 22nd of January 2007, the String Sisters go back to where it all started: at Celtic Connections in Glasgow.
Band: Tore Bruvoll, guitar, Conrad Ivitsky: doublebas, James Mackintosh: drums and percussion, David Milligan: piano
Jason Leopold at Truthout is reporting that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (best know for his role in allowing hundreds of New Orleanians to die) advised the CIA that it was legal to use torture techniques on Abu Zubaydah:
Chertoff, according to intelligence sources who spoke to Truthout, was briefed about the videotaped interrogations. Chertoff told former CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that an August 1, 2002, memo widely referred to as the “Torture Memo” put the CIA on solid legal ground and that its agents could waterboard a prisoner without fear of prosecution. The memo was written by former Justice Department attorney John Yoo.
Leopold also has a source who states that CIA acting General Counsel Rizzo authorized the destruction of videotapes of this interrogation, contrary to the New York Times’ account:
An intelligence official told Truthout that the CIA’s Muller and Rizzo feared that the Justice Department’s issuance of a new legal opinion defining torture in broader terms than Yoo’s August 2002 memo would expose its agents – specifically those who interrogated Abu Zubaydah – to prosecution and so Rizzo had approved the destruction of the videotapes. That reported approval followed publication of The Washington Post story exposing the CIA’s secret prisons, and the new legal opinion defining torture. Last week, The Times reported, however, that Rizzo did not give a top spy in the agency’s clandestine division final approval to destroy the videotapes. Whether Rizzo did or did not approve destruction of the videotapes is one of the questions Congress said it was determined to get answers to.