Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
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Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
July 17th 2006, 1:23 [PST] - On the day after May Day, 2006, after the biggest demonstration by immigrants in US history, another shoe dropped. In the din of the immigration debate, it was hardly heard. But it will be.
Army documents acquired through FOIA by the American Civil Liberties Union were published by Raw Story that quoted Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, then US Commander of Ground Forces in Iraq, telling his subordinates, with respect to interrogation of prisoners, “go to the outer limits.” Here is a snippet of the Raw Story article, just to give readers a flavor of what is to come as these documents – including more photos – emerge:
"These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable."
Last week, the government authenticated that two videos released by the Palm Beach Post in March 2005 were videos that the government was withholding from the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act request. The videos are part of a set that has come to be known as the "Ramadi Madness" videos and were made by members of the West Palm Beach-based Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. The two scenes the government authenticated are called "See Haj Run" and "Blood Clot." They depict scenes of urban battle and persons being captured and detained by U.S. forces.
Among the more than 9,000 pages of Defense Department documents made public by the ACLU today are several investigations detailing cruel and degrading treatment and killings. The investigations include:
* An investigation into the death of a detainee at Forward Operating Base Rifles near Al Asad, Iraq established probable cause to believe that several soldiers assaulted a detainee and committed negligent homicide, and conspired to cover up the death. The detainee died when a soldier lifted him up from the floor by placing a baton under his chin, fracturing his hyoid bone. It appears that the soldiers received written letters of reprimand and counseling.
* A heavily redacted e-mail dated May 25, 2004 shows that a presumed officer or civilian government official was told of three reports of abuse of detainees described as "probably true/valid." One detainee was "in such poor physical shape from obvious beatings that [name redacted] asked the MP's to note his condition before he proceeded with interrogation." Another detainee was "in such bad shape ... that he was laying down in his own feces." These cases seem to have occurred in Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper. The full document is online here.
* An investigation shows a doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations, despite claims he had been beaten and shocked with a taser. The medic confirmed that the detainee's injuries were consistent with his allegations, stating, "Everything he described he had on his body." Yet, the medic cleared him for further interrogation, giving him Tylenol for the pain. There is no indication that the medic reported this abuse.
Sanchez, of course, denied the report on May 5th, reminding people – by way of rebuttal – that the ACLU is a bunch of… (ugh) “lawyers.”
Not exactly an auspicious thing to resurface just as the media is sniffing out the general wind change. And if the chain of command can find some small comfort in compassion fatigue among liberals and plain Islamophobia among others, they will find no place to hide from the one thing that makes Main Street and Wall Street shudder in unison: record oil prices.
On May 9th, William F. Engdahl published “The US’s geopolitical nightmare” in Asia Times. It began…
By drawing attention to Iraq and the obvious role oil plays in US policy today, the George W Bush-Dick Cheney administration has done just that: it has drawn the world's energy-deficit powers' attention firmly to the strategic battle over energy, and especially oil.
This is already having consequences for the global economy in terms of US$75-a-barrel crude-oil price levels. Now it is taking on the dimension of what one former US defense secretary rightly calls a "geopolitical nightmare" for the United States.
The reason the establishment has allowed the Cheney entourage to go as far as it has was that they themselves weren’t sure whether or not it would work. That’s why Democrats co-signed the war… not that they were fooled by “bad intelligence” too. There is a ruling class in the United States. It does seek its long-term interests. It does use the US state to pursue its interests. Those interests are inescapably international. It does recognize the existence of a crisis. It does recognize that energy is a critical substrate within the system it dominates. It is itself caught inside, not operating outside, that system. This is 21st Century Imperialism 101.
The attempt to seize control over Southwest Asia and emplace bases there was not insanity; it was not an Israeli plot; it was not revenge for a purported attempt to assassinate George Bush’s daddy; it was not because Iraq bought some Euros; and it was not to steal oil (though they tried that as an afterthought).
Oil is a means to an end – the valorization of capital. Money goes into the system as “investment” (this is often now speculation, which is a big part of the crisis); it is converted into some kind of commodity- making process that involves machines, raw materials, human labor, and some guys with truncheons and guns to keep everyone in line; the stuff that is made gets sold at a cost greater than the investment.
But this is not a local blacksmith making horseshoes down the street and you growing trophy tomatoes on your land for the local market. In fact, an American can now chow down at Ryan’s salad bar and eat a plate of stuff that was grown in Oaxaca, off of plates made in Shanghai, wearing shoes made in Danang, pants made in Tegucigalpa, a shirt made in Lima, socks made in Jakarta, and underwear made in the Marianas (which will have a tag that says “Made in the USA,” because the Marianas are a US possession). This is simple math. If you pay a collection of Southeast Asian “guest” workers in the Marianas $5 a day instead of paying a US worker $7 an hour, to make the same stuff, the pot of money at the end of that valorization process is higher.
(By the way, the main lobbyist for Marianas sweatshops has also been transformed into one of the encroachments for the Bush regime; his name was Jack Abramoff, and he brought down Speaker of the House Tom Delay when he fell from grace.)
So the “virtuous circuit” of capital can now actually be imagined as a twine-ball of commodity shipment lines that runs all over the face of the planet. In reality, most of those lines terminate in the United States. Sure there are plenty that go to Western Europe and Japan, but the really heavy concentration is to the US.
Because of the position of the US dollar as the principle international currency, because it rests in Central Bank reserves all over the world holding “value” for the future (and to defend other currencies from speculative predation), and because poor countries have to pay their perpetual International Monetary Fund debts in dollars, everybody has to get them… dollars. So the largest fraction of commodity production is for ultimate sale in the United States. Selling is how the “virtuous circuit” is completed, and without that…well, things just break down for the class that owns all these productive facilities and has made all these investments.
When we say that oil is a substrate (the layer beneath), we mean it is seen by the capitalist as a cost of production, but the reality is that it is also a form of matter that just happens to contain a lot of highly concentrated, extremely portable combustible energy that powers machines, cars, trains, trucks, automobiles, ships, and airplanes. It is not made (though it is refined). It is mined out of the earth, and its net quantity is finite. (And no, there is no direct calorie-for-calorie, equally concentrated, equally portable substitute… and never will be.)
If we go back now, and take an inventory of our own homes, and see where most of the stuff comes from, the points of origin are not equally distributed around the world. My own quick inventory of thirty items revealed 25 from China, two from Haiti (but I bought them there, when I visited), two from Mexico, and one from Honduras. So as I refine my imagination of the twine-lines on the earth’s surface, I now have a lot of lines extending from China to the US. A lot of US capitalists have very big investments and partnerships in China, and a lot of them make a lot of money retailing Chinese-made products (Wal-Mart, for example).
This creates a problem, when political (and military) power resides in the US state, but these “virtuous circuits” are now extending into many places where the US state does not exercise direct control. The other problem it creates is the obvious one related to oil – that this structure, which cannot be abandoned without a catastrophic impact on the global economy, especially on the ruling class of the US, in stretching its physical geography and continuously expanding commodity production (they call this “growth,” though physically it is extremely destructive… of substrates), is an increasing dependence on a commodity which is also a substrate (oil) that – as a substrate – has peaked and is now entering a permanent decline.
For anyone representing the interests, then, of this ruling stratum, the puzzle that has to be solved is twofold: hanging onto the international political-military power of the US state even though the valorization process extends substantially out of the US (and substantially into China, to be specific), and how to hoard the diminishing supplies of oil until another strategy can be found to resituate ruling class power (actually, it can’t, in my opinion, but that’s another story).
The strategy of Cheney’s Centurions was to kill two birds with one stone: Establish a large and permanent military presence in the biggest global oil patch by repositioning US military forces from their now anachronistic Cold War dispositions, and thereby put the imperial hand on the Earth’s oil spigot as leverage to use against China and others…but especially China.
A friend of mine says that “the difference between theory and practise is practise.” (She’s a Brit, so she spells funny.) This theory of Cheney’s Centurions looked pretty feasible. Rumsfeld plugged in some metrics from his own theories of “network-centric warfare” and even though both the Kissingerian realists and the Democrats groused and huffed for a bit, they themselves were convinced of what used to be an operations planning joke when I was working Special Ops: “It could work.”
But in practise, it didn’t work.
Now the class upon whose shoulders the Cheney Centurions ride is grown restive, and they are figuring out how to send them home with the least disruption, so someone can try and figure out how to un-fuck the mess they’ve made.
Elevating the position and status of Iran, allowing the breakaway of Latin America, building the basis for a resurgent American left along with a growing sector of secessionist-minded libertarians, stimulating around a billion Muslims into a sullen fury, destroying the myth of American military supremacy, degrading the armed forces, de-legitimating the US state itself, and raising the price of oil on top of an historic debt overhang… was not what they’d bargained for.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back, of course, is that $75 price tag on oil. This is more than fear of inflation (the perennial paranoia of neoliberals). It is the reconfiguration of global alliances that is taking place as this flow of dollars is re-routed.
Engdahl explains the significance of the little understood Shanghai Cooperation Organization:
The latest developments surrounding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Iran further underscore the dramatic change in the geopolitical position of the United States.
The SCO was created in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, by Russia and China along with four former Soviet Central Asian republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Prior to September 11, 2001, and the US declaration of an "axis of evil" in January 2002, the SCO was merely background geopolitical chatter as far as Washington was concerned.
Today the SCO, which has to date been blacked out almost entirely in US mainstream media, is defining a new political counterweight to US hegemony and its "unipolar" world. At the next SCO meeting on June 15, Iran will be invited to become a full SCO member.
And last month in Tehran, Chinese Ambassador Lio G Tan announced that a pending oil and gas deal between China and Iran was ready to be signed.
The deal is said to be worth at least $100 billion, and includes development of the huge Yadavaran onshore oilfield. China's Sinopec would agree to buy 250 million tons of liquefied natural gas over 25 years. No wonder China is not jumping to back Washington against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. The US had been trying to put massive pressure on Beijing to halt the deal, for obvious geopolitical reasons, to no avail. Another major defeat for Washington.
Iran is also moving on plans to deliver natural gas via a pipeline to Pakistan and India. Energy ministers from the three countries met in Doha recently and plan to meet again this month in Pakistan.
The pipeline progress is a direct rebuff to Washington's efforts to steer investors clear of Iran. Ironically, US opposition is driving these countries into one another's arms, Washington's "geopolitical nightmare".
Peter Kiernan, an energy consultant, puts it bluntly:
[N]eo-conservative expectations that post-Saddam Iraq's oil could be used as a weapon to lower oil prices, undermine Saudi Arabia and Iran, and bust the OPEC cartel wide open have not been realized. Iraq's deteriorated security environment has played on oil-market fears that have contributed to higher oil prices. Iraq is producing less oil than it did before the invasion, leaving the market share of the region's two big oil powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, unchallenged. And both those states are also enjoying near-record-level revenues. The grand dream of an Iraqi oil boom fueling transformation in the Middle East has gone bust.
“We are aware what is going on in the world,” said Vladimir Putin recently. “Comrade wolf knows whom to eat; he eats without listening, and he's clearly not going to listen to anyone… Methods of force rarely give the desired result, and often their consequences are even more terrible than the original threat.”
Lest anyone grow giddy over these developments… or complacent, I would remind readers that this does not present us with a resolution, but with an immanent re-formulation of the problem. First, I will note that those elites who are alarmed will inherit the same contradictions faced by the Centurions. Finally, I will note that a “middle class” in crisis is a dangerous beast, and we now find the country that I live in expressing an ominous outburst of xenophobia. Bush’s recent deployment of the National Guard to the US-Mexican border – while serving to take the public’s eye away from other matters for a moment – was also his capitulation to the demands of fascists.
Many people had never heard of Jim Gilchrist until he was given a platform on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. Dobbs, himself a relentless purveyor of racial paranoia against Hispano-Latinas, brought Gilchrist — the Minutemen’s founder — on his CNN program as an unopposed guest. The Minutemen are a motley collection of weekend vigilantes who started hanging around the Arizona-Mexico border with binoculars and rifles, and whose speech is littered with the memes of white supremacy.
What few realize is that “On April 20, 2006, Gilchrist and the Minutemen Project issued a public ultimatum to Bush to ‘declare a state of emergency and deploy the National Guard and military reserves (and begin building a border security fence) by the 25th of May.’ If the President refuses to do so, ‘on Memorial Day weekend, we’re going to break ground and we’re going to start helping landowners (along the US-Mexico border) to build a double layer security fence along their properties, because the federal government refuses to protect them’.” (Quote from Wikipedia)
Gilchrist ordered the President of the United States to deploy the National Guard, and Bush did it. With Dobbs, Gilchrist was legitimated. Dobbs legitimated him, and CNN legitimates Dobbs.
What this tells us is that the US is not immune to real fascism, which historically is a phenomenon of a “middle-class” thrown into deep economic crisis.
Bush and Cheney are failing, but the conditions they have created, and those created by longer-term secular trends, are nothing about which to be complacent. The dangers we face in our next period could be even worse than those of the Centurions.
It was after Giap defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu that the Vietnamese faced their most terrible war – one that would kill 3 million Southeast Asians and render vast swaths of land poisonous for generations.
There are miles to go.