Counterpunch, December 22, 2015
In its endless, candidate-obsessed coverage and discussion of the already seemingly interminable U.S. presidential horse race (the actual presidential election is still more than ten months away), U.S. corporate media fact-checkers, reporters, and commentators have had a field day finding inaccuracies, offensiveness, and absurdities in the statements of the current Republican pack-leader Donald Trump. It’s not hard to do. “The Donald’s” rambling orations and constant Tweets are loaded with transparently false assertions and ridiculous comments, including:
* The claim that Barack Obama lacks a United States Birth Certificate
* The promise to build “a great, great wall on our southern border and…make Mexico pay for it.”
* The claim that Mexico is sending “rapists” to the United States.
* “The concept of global warming was created by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
* The claim that former long-term prisoner of war John McCain isn’t really a “war hero” since he’d been captured by the U.S. enemy during the Vietnam War (Trump made sure to attend college with a student deferment from the Vietnam War draft).
* “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am” (repeat the same parenthetical comment at the end of the previous bullet point).
* “Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!” (just a little racist)
* “Arianna Huffington is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision (one of many examples in which Trump has insulted the looks of a prominent women).
* The ludicrous claim that Trump saw “thousands of people” in New Jersey cheering the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The dominant (“mainstream’) media has had little difficulty showing and noting how and why these and numerous other Trump ejaculations are outrageous. It’s no surprise that a recent New York Times assessment of the presidential candidates’ truthfulness found Trump to be grossly deficient when it comes to veracity. The media’s top political fact checker, Angie Drobac Holan, notes that “Mr. Trump’s record on truth and accuracy is astonishingly poor.” His 76% Falsehood rating (three-fourths of the 70 Trump statements carefully examined by Holan’s Politifact Website came up untrue) is exceeded only by the wacky Republican brain surgeon Ben Carson, who is batting .840 at the inaccuracy plate (by contrast, Bernie Sanders rates 28%)
“The Hatred is Beyond Comprehension”
It’s revealing, however, that the same media has nothing really to offer on the clueless stupidity of something that Trump said in the wake of the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris and a mass shooting carried out by a “radicalized” Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California. I’m referring to Trump’s argument that Muslims should be barred from the United States “until the country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on.”
“Without looking at the various polling data” Trump later elaborated, “it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” Trump said in a statement. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, that have no sense of reason or respect for human life” (emphasis added).
The statement is either incredibly disingenuous or astonishingly foolish. Nobody who is reasonably knowledgeable and honest about the long and ongoing history of U.S.- and Western-imperial policy in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa has any business claiming to find the origins of anti-American and anti-Western terrorism in the Muslim world mysterious.
An “Aerial Traffic Jam” of “One-Sided Massacre” (1991)
“No sense of reason or respect for human life”? Seriously? Among the countless episodes of mass-murderous U.S. savagery in the Muslim world, one that I can never seem to forget occurred a quarter-century ago. I am referring to the epic carnage wreaked by the U.S. military on Iraq’s notorious “Highway of Death,” where U.S. forces massacred tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait on February 26 and 27, 1991. The Lebanese-American journalist Joyce Chediac testified that:
“U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel,’ said one U.S. pilot. On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun…for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely…. ‘Even in Vietnam I didn’t see anything like this. It’s pathetic,’ said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer…U.S. pilots took whatever bombs happened to be close to the flight deck, from cluster bombs to 500 pound bombs…U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions…. The victims were not offering resistance…it was simply a one-sided massacre of tens of thousands of people who had no ability to fight back or defend.” (Ramsey Clark et al., War Crimes: A Report on United States War Crimes Against Iraq to the Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, testimony of Joyce Chediac, emphasis added).
Less than a year after his forces conducted this colossal slaughter, U.S. President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that, “A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right” (emphasis added).
As Noam Chomsky noted in 1992, reflecting on U.S. efforts to maximize suffering in Vietnam by blocking economic and humanitarian assistance to the nation it had devastated after the Vietnam War ended: “No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists. The educated classes know enough to look the other way.”
“A Prodigious Effort”
Uncle Sam was only getting warmed up building its Iraqi and Muslim Body Counts in early 1991. As Sheldon Richman recently noted on CounterPunch:
“It takes prodigious effort to maintain an air of innocence about San Bernardino and Paris, because no one who claims to be informed can plead ignorance of the long history of U.S. and Western imperialism in the Muslim world. This includes the CIA’s subversion of Iranian democracy in 1953, the U.S. government’s systematic support of compliant autocratic and corrupt Arab monarchies and dictatorships, it’s empowering of Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims, and its unconditional backing of Israel’s brutal anti-Palestinian policies. (The savage 2014 war on Gaza killed many noncombatants.)”
“In the 10 years before the 9/11 attacks the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton bombed Iraq while maintaining an embargo, most especially on equipment for the water and sanitation infrastructure the U.S. Air Force had destroyed during the Gulf War. Half a million children died. This was also when U.S. officials promised, then reneged on the promise, to remove U.S. forces from the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia.”
“From the air Americans routinely kill noncombatants in Syria and Iraq, most recently this week, when ‘at least 36 civilians, including 20 children, in a village in eastern Syria’ were reportedly killed, according to McClatchyDC….Things like this happen all the time. The U.S. attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was especially egregious against this background of war crimes….The U.S. government has conducted war by remote-controlled drones since 2001 in a variety of places, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.”
“A Price Worth Paying”
Five years after “the Highway of Death,” Bill Clinton’s U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S.-led economic sanctions imposed after the first “Persian Gulf War” (a curious term for a one-sided U.S. assault) was a “price…worth paying” for the advancement of inherently noble U.S. goals. “The United States,” Secretary Albright explained three years later, “is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”
In the Streets of Fallujah
In a foreign policy speech he gave to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs on the eve of announcing his candidacy for the U.S. presidency in the fall of 2006, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama had the audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens supported “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah.” It was a spine-chilling selection of locales. In 2004, the ill-fated city was the site of colossal U.S. war atrocities, crimes including the indiscriminate murder of thousands of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city by the U.S. military in April and November. By one account:
“The U.S. launched two bursts of ferocious assault on the city, in April and November of 2004… [using] devastating firepower from a distance which minimizes U.S. casualties. In April…military commanders claimed to have precisely targeted…insurgent forces, yet the local hospitals reported that many or most of the casualties were civilians, often women, children, and the elderly… [reflecting an] intention to kill civilians generally…. In November… [U.S.] aerial assault destroyed the only hospital in insurgent territory to ensure that this time no one would be able to document civilian casualties. U.S. forces then went through the city, virtually destroying it. Afterwards, Fallujah looked like the city of Grozny in Chechnya after Putin’s Russian troops had razed it to the ground” (Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire, New York, 2005).
U.S. deployment of radioactive ordnance (depleted uranium) in Fallujah also helped create a subsequent epidemic of infant mortality, birth defects, leukemia, and cancer there. But, of course, Fallujah was just one especially graphic episode in a broader arch-criminal invasion that led to the premature deaths of at least one million Iraqi civilians and left Iraq “a disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory” (Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch.com, January 17, 2008).
The Pentagon’s near leveling of the city was consistent with its early computer program name for ordinary Iraqis certain to be killed in the 2003 invasion: “bug-splat” As it turned out, Uncle Sam’s petro-imperial occupation led to the death of at least 1 million Iraqi “bugs” (human beings). According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in December 2007, “Iraq has been killed…the American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century” (Current History, December 2007).
The Most Extensive Terrorism Campaign of All Time
Chomsky has recently and rightly called Barack Obama’s targeted drone assassination program “the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen.” The program “officially is aimed at killing people who the administration believes might someday intend to harm the U.S., and killing anyone else who happens to be nearby.” As Chomsky ads, “It is also a terrorism generating campaign – that is well understood by people in high places. When you murder somebody in a Yemen village, and maybe a couple of other people who are standing there, the chances are pretty high that others will want to take revenge.”
Given the remarkable geographic scope of the cowardly U.S. drone war, Obama’s terrorism campaign has spread jihadism across vaster terrain than any tool or tactic to date. George W. Bush may have Obama beat on total body count in the Muslim world. But Obama takes the prize when it comes to the geographic scope of jihad-fueling U.S. terrorism – and when it comes to instilling a ubiquitous sense of fear of instant mass death from the sky across much of that world.
“Pure Evil”: Nightmares That Remind
It isn’t just about body counts and science fiction-like technologies of mass murder. The natural desire for revenge among many in the Muslim world draws heavily on the hideous and perverse humiliation and torture that racist U.S. forces have carried out in that world. A remarkable teleSur English essay by Vincent Emanuele, a former U.S. Marine veteran of America’s arch-criminal Iraq invasion and occupation, is titled “I Helped Create ISIS.” By Emanuele’s account of his enlistment in an operation that gives him nightmares more than a decade later:
“I think about the hundreds of prisoners we took captive and tortured in makeshift detention facilities staffed by teenagers from Tennessee, New York and Oregon. I never had the misfortune of working in the detention facility, but I remember the stories. I vividly remember the marines telling me about punching, slapping, kicking, elbowing, kneeing and head-butting Iraqis. I remember the tales of sexual torture: forcing Iraqi men to perform sexual acts on each other while marines held knives against their testicles, sometimes sodomizing them with batons.”
“However, before those abominations could take place, those of us in infantry units had the pleasure of rounding up Iraqis during night raids, zip-tying their hands, black-bagging their heads and throwing them in the back of HUMVEEs and trucks while their wives and kids collapsed to their knees and wailed. Sometimes, we would pick them up during the day. Most of the time they wouldn’t resist. Some of them would hold hands while marines would butt-stroke the prisoners in the face. Once they arrived at the detention facility, they would be held for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Their families were never notified. And when they were released, we would drive them from the FOB (Forward Operating Base) to the middle of the desert and release them several miles from their homes.”
“After we cut their zip-ties and took the black bags off their heads, several of our more deranged marines would fire rounds from their AR-15s into their air or ground, scaring the recently released captives. Always for laughs. Most Iraqis would run, still crying from their long ordeal at the detention facility, hoping some level of freedom awaited them on the outside. Who knows how long they survived. After all, no one cared. We do know of one former U.S. prisoner who survived: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.”
“Amazingly, the ability to dehumanize the Iraqi people reached a crescendo after the bullets and explosions concluded, as many marines spent their spare time taking pictures of the dead, often mutilating their corpses for fun or poking their bloated bodies with sticks for some cheap laughs. Because iPhones weren’t available at the time, several marines came to Iraq with digital cameras. Those cameras contain an untold history of the war in Iraq, a history the West hopes the world forgets. That history and those cameras also contain footage of wanton massacres and numerous other war crimes, realities the Iraqis don’t have the pleasure of forgetting.”
“Unfortunately, I could recall countless horrific anecdotes from my time in Iraq. Innocent people were not only routinely rounded-up, tortured and imprisoned, they were also incinerated by the hundreds of thousands, some studies suggest by the millions….Only the Iraqis understand the pure evil that’s been waged on their nation…”
“….The warm and glassy eyes of young Iraqi children perpetually haunt me, as they should. …My nightmares and daily reflections remind me of where ISIS comes from and why, exactly, they hate us. That hate, understandable yet regrettable, will be directed at the West for years and decades to come. How could it be otherwise?” (emphasis added)
“You Haven’t Begun to see…the Things Done to Children”
The award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh told the ACLU last year about the existence of classified Pentagon evidence files containing films of U.S. soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys in front of their mothers behind the walls of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. “You haven’t begun to see [all the]…evil, horrible things done [by U.S. soldiers] to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run,” Hersh told an audience in Chicago in the summer of 2014.
The United States tries to do its best everywhere.
“Humility and Restraint”
Why Do They Hate Us?! It’s an idiotic and childish question, as moronic as anything “The Donald” ever says. The media doesn’t call Trump him on this one, however, for a very simple reason. It is itself deeply complicit in selling the “American exceptionalist” myth of the United States as a noble and benevolent force in the world and therefore in regularly and systematically denying the savage and criminal behavior of the American Empire abroad.
“We lead the world,” presidential candidate Obama explained eight seven years ago, “in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good…. America is the last, best hope of Earth.” Obama elaborated in his first Inaugural Address. “Our security,” the president said, “emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint”—a fascinating commentary on Fallujah, Hiroshima, the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia, the “Highway of Death” and more.
Within less than half a year of his Inauguration, Obama’s rapidly accumulating record of atrocities in the Muslim world would include the bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives in Bola Boluk were children. “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament,” the New York Times reported, “the governor of Farah Province…said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed.” According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, “the villagers bought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor’s cried, watching that shocking scene.” The administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge U.S. responsibility.
Reflecting on such atrocities the following December, an Afghan villager was moved to comment as follows: “Peace prize? He’s a killer…Obama,” the man added, “has only brought war to our country.” The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late night raid.
A “Mainstream” Orwellian Triumph
“We are good…We use our power with decency, humility, fairness, and restraint.” Every modern U.S. President (none perhaps with more audacity than Barack Obama) and Secretary of State (including Hillary Clinton) has said and still routinely says things along the same psychotic and nationally narcissistic lines. They do so without facing any more criticism from U.S. “mainstream” media than Soviet rulers faced from Pravda, Izvestia, and Soviet state television when they described their nation and its Eastern European satellites as “great socialist people’s democracies.” U.S. media elites, being members of the properly “educated classes….know enough to look away” from the reality of what Uncle Sam does in and to the world.
No wonder so many US-of-Americans are befuddled by the anger the U.S. evokes around the world (particularly in the Muslim world), darkly clueless when it comes answering the pathetic question “Why Do They Hate Us?” In the US, and indeed across much of the West, “mainstream” media and in the reigning intellectual culture the record of ongoing US criminality is airbrushed out from official history and the mass culture even as it occurs. It is instantaneously tossed down George Orwell’s “memory hole.” As Harold Pinter noted in his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, dominant Western cultural authorities behave as if US imperial violence does not exist and never has. “Even while it was happening,” Pinter said, it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” Pinter was speaking of the Cold War era. Nothing has changed in this regard since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s very much the same today.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair once noted in an oft-quoted statement, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” No doubt, some of the talking and writing media heads enlisted in the project of airbrushing Uncle Sam out of the global criminal record (no small act of distortion and deletion) know very well that “good” Washington’s role in the world is very different than what they report. They also know that telling even small truths about US imperial arrogance and criminality could cost them their jobs and future employment prospects. It is difficult to get a reporter to reveal his or her understanding of the real US role in the world when his or her salary depends on that reporter not revealing that understanding.
Millions of Americans are consequently left in a dangerously childish state of abject ignorance about the actions and evil of “their” nation’s military in the Muslim world and elsewhere and thus about the origins of anti-American Islamic jihad and terror abroad and at home. Whether “the Donald” himself is one of those millions is an open question, though there is reason to suspect that he knows better. The bigger issue is that he and the rest of the presidential candidates of both parties – “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904) – will never be corrected by a corporate US war media that no more deserves the title “mainstream” than did Soviet state media in its day.