Posts Tagged ‘warfare & conflict’

The Guantánamo Bay Files are just another case in point for the Guardian’s editorial policies. The files spell out the Americans’ suspicions about individual detainees’ involvement with terrorism, their intelligence value and the threat they are considered to pose if released. They give an insight for example into

• Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts
• Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held
• 172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release

The files were shared with the Guardian and US National Public Radio by the New York Times, which says it did not obtain them from WikiLeaks.

For more and extensive information on the Guantánamo Bay Files go to the Guardian website.

Americans snatched Sami al-Hajj from Pakistan, believing him to be an al-Qaida courier and source of information on Bin Laden

Ian Cobain | The Guardian – The Guantánamo Files

Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj speaks after his release from Guantánamo Bay.

An al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network, the files disclose. Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted.

His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was “to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL”.

The file shows that the camp authorities were convinced that al-Hajj was an al-Qaida courier who had provided funds for a charity in Chechnya suspected of having links with Bin Laden.

However, the contents of the file also appear to support complaints made by al-Hajj to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that during his first 100-plus interrogations he was never once questioned about the allegations he faced, and that he eventually demanded that he be questioned about what he was supposed to have done wrong.

Stafford Smith believes the US military authorities were attempting to force al-Hajj to become an informer against his employers.

Al-Hajj was finally released in May 2008.

Call me elitist, but there’s something to the supposed 80/80 rule in advertising and therefore the lack of public intelligence or, more benignly, people’s gullibility or ignorance. Many of my friends seem to fall into the latter categories when they blithely vote for Labor in Australia believing it will give the conservative writing of history a break, only to be disappointed when finding out that history is still treading common ground. (Just think of Gillard continuing the Northern Territority intervention policy or clawing back through attacks on live-saving cures, childcare centre rebates and long-term unemployed the millions lost by not attacking the international super-profiting mining companies).

The great illusion called democracy that strips everything, from education to press bites to politicians’ words, down to a bunch of outright lies and truth distortions is most dangerous at the hearth of the demon’s kitchen: the United States of America. Just think of elections that gave birth to such presidencies as the 4oth (Reagan) or the 43rd (Bush). Elections in America generally are lethal time bombs for hundreds of thousands of innocent people outside the empire.

In that context now think of kooky Miss USA pageant owner and reality TV addict Donald Trump . He already shares with Dubya a history of having bankrupted companies (could he bankrupt the nation too?) and of buffoonesque behaviour (although he might not be as dumb as Bush). Now we can add with certainty that he is equally as as dangerous and lethal to the innocent. Just take this interview with CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley:

Trump: “Somebody said, what would be your theory or what would you do in terms of Libya? I’d do one thing. Either I’d go in and take the oil or I don’t go in at all. We can’t be the policeman for the world.”

Crowley: “You’d just take their oil?”

Trump: “Absolutely. I’d take the oil. I’d give them plemty so they can live very happily. I would take the oil. You know, in the old days, Candy …”

Crowley: “Well, wait, we can’t go …”

Trump: “Candy, Candy, in the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours.”

Sounds like Iraq mark II. And would the dumb American public fall for it again? There’s no way we could say with certainty: “NO”.

The West and in particular the US like supporting dictatorships when they can economically and in terms of strategic power benefit (and those two objective are often synonymous). One way to support dictatorships is to sell them biliions of dollars worth of weapons, and America’s support of Egypt over the last few days has been highlighted in this regard by the Egyptian police’s use of teargas produced in the US. The Ars Technica article below by Nate Anderson looks at what those teargas canisters contain and what the health effects are.

 

A protestor holds a used tear gas canister (Atlantic)

 

If you’ve been watching any coverage of the Egyptian protests, you’ve no doubt seen the tear gas plumes as canisters are shot at protestors—often to be picked up and hurled back moments later. Many of those tear gas containers falling on the bridges and streets of Cairo aren’t local products, however; they come from Jamestown, Pennsylvania, home of Combined Tactical Systems.

Several reporters in Egypt have commented on that fact this week. ABC News ran a story on the gas today in which it quotes a protestor saying, “The way I see it, the US administration supports dictators.”

It’s no secret that Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US foreign military funding, much of which is designated to purchase US-made weapons; it’s just that Americans don’t often see Egyptians holding empty tear gas canisters stamped “Made in USA” up to a TV camera.

 

But what’s in those canisters?

A wide array of shiny new canisters

 

The US government requires most chemical compounds to have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) outlining the ingredients, the risks of contacting those ingredients, and cleanup procedures in case of an accident. Combined Tactical Systems helpfully makes puts these MSDS files on its website.

The tear gas grenades and canisters are largely filled with a fuel mixture that burns to disperse the tearing agent. The Model 5220 CN Smoke grenade (PDF), for instance, has a small starter mixture of potassium nitrate, silicon, and charcoal. This in turn in used to light the “CN smoke”—a form of tear gas.

The CN smoke is 71 percent fuel, made up of potassium chlorate, magnesium carbonate, nitrocellulose, and… sucrose. The other 29 percent of the smoke is the tearing agent, chloroacetophenone, which has been around for nearly a century and causes severe irritation of the mucous membranes. (Combined Tactical Systems also sells the commonly used “CS smoke” tear gas version, which is powered by chlorobenzalmalononitrile.)

A tear gas cartridge spec sheet

 

Both kinds of tear gas have a “pungent odor,” according to the MSDS. Those handling them should wear a “full face respirator with organic filter cartridge” and should “wash thoroughly after handling.”

That’s because, as the protestor went on to tell ABC, “Your eyes tear up a lot so you can’t see, and you feel like you’re suffocating. You can actually breathe but you feel like you are suffocating so you try to run, but when you run you inhale more.”

As the MSDS puts it, rather more clinically, the gases cause “tearing of eyes, irritation of respiratory tract and mucous membranes,” and asthma may be “aggravated by exposure.”

This is not a long, profoundly philosophical or sociological essay on the American psyche nor is it a simplistic, generalising reflection on the nature of ‘all’ Americans. This post also does not neglect the role violence based on colonialism, racism, religious fanaticism and material/economic greed has put shame on other nations, from the distant past to the present. All I want to do is is to contrast America’s ideological billboard, describing that nation as the shiniest of all beacons of freedom, democracy and human rights with a small list of facts (and that list is small indeed and by no means representational – there is for example an endless number of social and global justice issues I’m not even touching on).

Here are the facts:

  • since so-called white settlers set foot on what is seen as American soil, it’s people have been involved in 26 wars from colonial times to the present
  • this number does not do any justice to the victims of the military history of the United States that has seen at least 294 extra-territorial and domestic military operations between 1775-2009; apart from a few internal ones, these operations took place in countless countries on the European continent (including Russia), in Asia (including India and China), Africa (from Morocco to Somalia), Central and South America and even Greenland – in other words; there are not many places on this planet that in the last 230+ years have not seen American military operations – always in the name of freedom and democracy of course, but mainly driven by America’s economic and hegemonic interests
  • the above facts do not include the 50+ wars against and massacres of American Indians, military actions in slave rebellions, inter-state and county wars, local feuds, combats with internal paramilitary groups and guerilla forces, interventions against striking workers, riots, ‘disorders’ and ‘miscellaneous’ events ranging from smaller internal wars to the Mormon War, the Texan revolution, American embassy bombings, hostage crises, wars on drugs or the Waco siege (see Timeline of US Military Operations for details)

Without jumping to simplistic conclusions, it surely cannot be coincidental that

  • 40% of Americans own a firearm
  • the US had a homicide rate of 6 per population of 100,000, which is three times higher than that of Canada, four times as high as in Australia, six times higher than Germany and 12 time as high as in Britain and Japan
  • the unofficial figurehead of the unofficial Tea Party, Sarah Palin, tweeted after the passing of the healthcare package: “Commonsense conservatives and lovers of America: Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD”; her website featured prominent Democratic politicians and maps of their districts in the crosshairs of rifle sights; one of those politicians was the US senator Gabrielle Gifford, one of the recent Arizona shooting victims
  • misguided Tea Party patriots, bent on taking back ‘their’ country, are extremely militant and openly violent
  • a country with a history of murdering its presidents has right-wing politicians and Fox News commentators calling Obama, who actually is firmly entrenched in the country’s conservative ruling elite and establishment, a “socialist ideologue”, a Muslim, accusing him of “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” and of “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world views; that these commentators can get away with such baseless propaganda is not surprising in a nation in which 25% of Americans believe or think it to be likely that Obama was not born in the US (and therefore was not eligible to become president) and also believe that he (a nominal Christian) actually is a Muslim; Obama gets 30 death threads a day
  • Fox radio personality Rush Limbaugh called for pressure to: “give [Fox News president Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it”; or that The Washington Times’ Jeffrey Kuhner titled a column “Assassinate Assange” and captioned it with a picture of Assange overlayed with a gun sight and the words “Wanted: dead or alive” with “alive” crossed out

We’re talking here not about a sub-culture of fringe lunatics but about the official America: leading news journalists and leading politicians openly and with impunity promoting the killing of others in their own country and outside of it. All this happens in the same nation that has a long history of hatred, bigotry, aggression, committing colonial and post-colonial atrocities, and inflicting war on other nations and their people. And while there are of course Americans who are peace-loving, tolerant, inclusive and humane, it is hard not to conclude that aggression, violence and hatred are an essential part of the American soul.