“. . . . A time like this demands . . . .
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor ; Men who will not lie.”
Josiah Gilbert Holland, American journalist [1819-91].
Forget it Josh, baby, because in 2004 they are all liars and none of them has a sense of honor. Begin with those who approved the actions of US military torturers and then denied that they did. Descend further to those who slaughter sleeping children and declare they were terrorists. Then look at the creeps who give briefings about Iraq, knowing they are purveying trumped-up absurdities ; and eventually get to the bottom of the sleazy heap by gazing with abhorrence at the hideously self-satisfied, conniving trash of the Pentagon and their malevolent colleagues in the White House. From them all, the falsehoods flow like stinking sewage in a never-ending cascade of calculated foulness.
The mouthpiece in Iraq, Brigadier-General Kimmitt, whose flair for invention and glib misrepresentation never flags, distinguished himself even further last week when denying that US forces massacred people in the western desert of Iraq. During a hideous onslaught that will be forever a blot on the history of the US military, the troops of Bush destroyed an Iraqi hamlet and two score harmless citizens who had been attending a wedding.
Kimmitt stated flatly that there were “no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration.” But he lied. (Has he ever been to a Bedouin wedding in the desert? I have. And there are no leftovers, believe me.) Anyway, his first instinct was to deny there could be evidence that a wedding had been held.
Unfortunately for Kimmitt, and for the last vestiges of belief around the world that the Bush machine might sometimes be trusted to tell the truth, there were two videos taken in the period of the wedding. Associated Press obtained one showing hours of ceremonies and innocent enjoyment on the wedding night ; then an AP camera team shot post-attack scenes showing fragments of musical instruments and decorations. “An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video. Survivors say dozens of missiles were launched late at night after the festivities had ended and that women and children were among those killed, as were the bride and groom.” But was that enough to convince Kimmitt? Of course not. In fact “Brigadier General Kimmitt denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid although he admitted that a “handful of women”–perhaps four to six–were “caught up in the engagement.” “They may have died from some of the fire that came from the aircraft”, he said.”
And that was when I finally lost confidence in the US military. A sad day, indeed, for a former soldier who served alongside many American colleagues.
How can a human being, a citizen and soldier of a supposedly civilized nation, have the crassness, the sheer insensitivity, the moral blankness and lack of compassion to casually shrug off the death of “a handful of women” in such a fashion? Is there a Mrs Kimmitt, one wonders? What does she think of her husband’s dismissive comments about the violent deaths of innocents?
A senior officer speaking for the entire United States military in Iraq has told the world that it’s too bad, but “a handful” of wives, mothers, sisters, guilty of no crime whatever, were killed by US forces because they “were caught up in the engagement”. Caught up?
Kimmitt, you suppurating cur : they were in bed. The “handful” of lives you so casually dismiss–and there were more than six–were not “caught up”. They were slaughtered without pity by US forces. And you and everyone else has lied about the circumstances of their murder ever since. Poor Josiah Holland. He revered all that is best in American life. And, as have so many generations of Americans, he imagined that passage of years could only improve the moral outlook and practices of his countryfolk. He was wrong. He admired : “Men who have honor ; Men who will not lie” ; but this war on Iraq has spawned men and women who are dishonorable and who lie.
There is lying and lying, of course. Recently the chief executive and the top financial whizkid of Shell Oil were forced to resign because they told lies about the company’s circumstances, thereby (just as Enron’s crooks did), pushing up the share price. Once the Securities and Exchange Commission has got enough evidence (and there are several incriminating emails), it is likely prosecutions will follow. Very right and proper, you say. Quite so. But when some other people tell majestic lies, they are not sacked or prosecuted. Take, for example, the Pentagon’s lying twerp, Wolfowitz, one of the most evil figures in the Bush administration.
An exchange between Wolfowitz and the Senate Committee on May 14 shows us what this man is made of. The transcript can be found in the New York Times and on the Australian Broadcasting Company site (www.abc.net.au/am/). It is most revealing:
Senator Reed: Mr Secretary, do you think crouching naked for 45 minutes is humane? Wolfowitz : Naked, absolutely not. Senator Reed : So if he’s dressed up, that’s fine? Let me put it this way : 72 hours without regular sleep, sensory deprivation which would be a bag over your head for 72 hours. Do you think that’s humane? And that’s what this says, a bag over your head for 72 hours. Is that humane?
Wolfowitz: Let me come back to what you said the work–Senator Reed: No, no. Answer the question, Secretary. Is that humane? Wolfowitz: I don’t know whether it means a bag over your head for 72 hours, Senator I don’t know. Senator Reed: Mr Secretary, you’re dissembling, non-responsive. Anybody would say putting a bag over someone’s head for 72 hours, which is sensory deprivation–Wolfowitz : I believe it’s not humane. It strikes me as not humane, Senator.
It took a US Senator a long time to wring a grudging admission from Wolfowitz that torture is not humane. But Wolfowitz’s dissembling (to use the word of Senator Reed) goes further than his reluctance to concede the importance or even the relevance of human dignity. Wolfowitz “made numerous predictions, time and time again, that have turned out to be untrue . . . ” said Senator Hilary Clinton. Quite so : just like the predictions, time and time again, of the chief executives of Shell and Enron and so many other companies who lied consistently to the world in order to boost share prices and, of course, their own private hoards of cash, while beggaring their unfortunate shareholders.
Wolfowitz did not lie to improve his financial situation. He lied in order to justify his rabid desire for power and for war.
He publicly sneered at General Shinseki when the then Army Chief of Staff gave as his opinion that “several hundred thousand troops” would be needed to control post-invasion Iraq. (A campaign of vilification and denigration was then mounted against the honorable General Shinseki by Wolfowitz and his followers, some of whom, alas, were and still are wearing uniform.) But Wolfowitz was wrong. Totally wrong. And General Shinseki was right. Now, if Wolfowitz had been a company senior executive who had made a completely incorrect forecast, costing shareholders squillions, do you think for a moment he would still be in a position of responsibility in that company?
Of course not. If Wolfowitz had been comparably inaccurate in corporate life he would have been out on his ear in no time flat. Exposure of his predictions as lies would have reduced the share price, and investors would not have accepted that state of affairs for longer than a New York Heartbeat. Money, after all, is vitally important. But Wolfowitz’s arrogant and erratic predictions affected only lives.
Thousands of lives have been shattered because Wolfowitz’s predictions were lies. They were deliberate lies, because he refused to take into account the assessments and advice of those who knew better than he how to engage in war and cope with its aftermath. He did not only ignore the people whose careers have been devoted to the study of war : he held them openly in contempt, and continues to do so.
It is terrible that the dismal, back-stabbing, Byzantine climate of the Pentagon and, indeed, the culture of intrigue among senior echelons of the armed forces (but not all individuals, I hear, thank heaven), has crippled defense decision-making. The stage has been reached when nothing can be done unless it is thought to have the approval of those considered powerful enough to speak with the Cheney-Rumsfeld voice. This is passed down the line and amplified by Wolfowitz and other creatures of darkness whose influence is macabre and obscene. It is deeply troubling that these civilians are heavily involved in promoting and sidelining military officers on grounds of political and personal loyalty. The word is out in the military : if you want to survive, Do Not Contradict or Question any pronouncement coming from the top.
But who could not contradict or question the pronouncements–the sworn testimony–of Wolfowitz to the US Congress on February 27, 2003, just before the US began to wage war on Iraq? Wolfowitz announced that “These are Arabs [in Iraq], 23 million of the most educated people in the Arab world, who are going to welcome us as liberators. And when that message gets out to the whole Arab world it is going to be [a] powerful counter to Osama bin Laden. The notion that we’re going to earn more enemies by going in and getting rid of what every Arab knows is one of the worst tyrants, and they have many governing them, is just nonsense . . . We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”
Wolfowitz lied. And he was wrong ; wrong ; and wrong again. He has appallingly poor judgment and is manifestly incompetent. He is unfit to hold a position of trust and responsibility. But he remains in the Pentagon. Why?
Probably because his boss is a liar, too. For example, on February 20, 2003, a month before his invasion, Rumsfeld was asked on PBS “The News Hour’ “Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?” He replied : “There is no question but that they [US forces] would be welcomed.” On September 25, when it was obvious that chaos was developing in Iraq, Rumsfeld appeared on Sinclair Broadcasting. Anchor Morris Jones led into a question by saying “Before the war in Iraq, you stated the case very eloquently and you said . . . they would welcome us with open arms.”
This was an accurate and embarrassing observation, so Rumsfeld’s automatic response was to lie. He said “Never said that, never did. You may remember it well, but you’re thinking of somebody else. You can’t find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said.” And, to the eternal shame of the US media, nobody has pressed him about his outrageous mendacity.
He is a proven liar, so there is little wonder he won’t sack his lying deputy for lying. And it goes on up the chain, because the man at the top tells lies, too. In the Bush speech to the Army War College on May 24 he described US torture of prisoners as being committed “by a few American troops who disregarded our country and disregarded our values.” He lied. It wasn’t “a few” ; far from it.
The New York Times reported on May 25 that “An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse . . . The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003 . . . The Army summary is consistent with recent public statements by senior military officials, who have said the Army is actively investigating nine suspected homicides of prisoners held by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in late 2002. But the details paint a broad picture of misconduct, and show that in many cases among the 37 prisoners who have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army did not conduct autopsies and says it cannot determine the causes of the deaths . . . .”
This is an official military report, and the military commander-in-chief is a man who stated flatly that only “a few troops” were guilty of torture. (Let’s forget the word “abuse’: it is yet another attempt to disguise the unpleasantness of truth.) Bush is a disgrace. As disgraceful, indeed, as those who relished torturing helpless captives, at least 70 percent of whom, as the Red Cross recorded formally in its report to the Pentagon months ago, were not guilty of any crime atall. (Which is borne out by the hasty release of hundreds of prisoners from the hell of Abu Ghraib without any explanation of why they had been kept there.) And as disgraceful as the Marines who treated prisoners barbarically in June 2003 at Camp Whitehorse where, as reported by the Los Angeles Times on May 22, “one of the detainees died after he was left disabled and naked under a scorching sun”. He was “disabled’ by torture inflicted by Marines, but even after a whitewash report of the Whitehorse atrocities there had to be charges of misconduct against eight marines, which shows that the affair must have been REALLY bad. The treatment of prisoners by this unit was criminal. But not as wicked as the attack on the wedding party by Marines on May 19.
The Marines’ song goes:
“From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land and sea . . .”
And now they can include the wedding party massacre of May 2004 in their battle honors.
“Soon American soldiers came [after the aerial rocketing and bombing that killed most people]. One of them kicked her to see if she was alive, she said. “I pretended I was dead so he wouldn’t kill me,’ said Shihab. She said the soldier was laughing.” (This was carried by Fox News, of all outlets, on May 24. OK; so we despise Fox News, which is usually a sick joke, but at least they had the decency to put the report on their website.) There is no intention on the part of US occupation forces to permit a proper investigation of the circumstances in which over forty people were killed in their attack. The senior Marine commander involved, Major General Mattis, has already pronounced the verdict : “I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my men.” Not even if they kick women. Not even if they kill kids. There will be no apology or punishment for atrocities, even when proved. The Marines have come a long way from the shores of Tripoli.
The Pentagon will continue to deny that this savage attack on civilians was other than justified. There is a precedent for attacks on wedding parties (there was a particularly horrible one in Afghanistan, which is a well-documented war-crime), and for lying, too. In fact just as I wrote these words a news alert came up about a comparable incident 35 years ago, in the time of the evil Nixon. In a hellish echo of what is being attempted by the current administration concerning covering up war crimes, the New York Times of May 27 reported Nixon-era telephone transcripts that reveal the extent of deceit within his Cabinet. “In their conversation on Nov 21, 1969, about the My Lai massacre, Mr [Defense Secretary] Laird told Mr Kissinger that while he would like “to sweep it under the rug,” the photographs [of the My Lai atrocities] prevented it. “There are so many kids just laying there; these pictures are authentic,” Mr. Laird said.” If it had not been for the photographs, there would have been energetic action to deny the whole thing.
It’s all horribly familiar. When found out in illegal barbarity : lie. If that doesn’t work, then try to cover up. Meanwhile, in a wholly cynical attempt to deny responsibility for war crimes, just declare “I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my men”, at which loyal statement most of the American public will instantly place their hands on their hearts and with tears in their eyes shriek : “We’ve got to support Our Boys!”. Then, if there is just no alternative to holding a court martial, keep the whole charade focused on as low a rank as can be contrived and punish the guilty barbarian with a bag of cookies and two weeks’ leave. Who cares, anyway?–It will all blow over.
After all, who is concerned about the deaths of a bunch of forty desert ragheads, be they male or female, young or old? Torture and killing of Iraqis are considered by brainwashed troops and millions of other Americans to be justifiable payback for 9-11. To them, these people don’t matter. “A handful of women”, in Kimmitt’s contemptuous phrase, can be killed without mercy, qualm or retribution, and there is not one US figure in or out of uniform who is ever going to be punished for this war crime. Nobody will be held accountable. Such are the depths to which the Bush administration has sunk.
The lies of Kimmitt will become truth. The crazed fascist Limbaugh (and remember his talk show is the only one that is given so much time on US armed forces’ radio) and many other zealots will attempt to portray the massacre as a vital action in the “war on terror’ instead of admitting it to be a vile atrocity that stinks in the nostrils of the civilized world.
In the words of Josiah Holland, a true American patriot, the country needs “Men who have honor; Men who will not lie”. But it does not have them in the right places. There are none to be seen or heard in this administration because they have been sacked or silenced. The way to success in the Bush machine is to lie. And the liars are winning. They always do.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com