This entry was posted on 5/13/2009 4:43 PM and is filed under uncategorized.
When my son was deployed to the Anbar Province of Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps Third Regiment, Fifth Marine in 2004-5 and again in 2006, one of the assigned missions of his unit was to go out on the kinds of patrols that were deliberately designed to draw the insurgents out.
In other words, they would "hump it" (walk), or drive in Humvees down the most dangerous roads in Iraq, in order to draw fire to themselves either through small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, or IED's--the infamous roadside bombs.
I suppose the logic behind such reasoning was that it was a more efficient way to pinpoint the enemy than kicking down doors and arresting all the males between the ages of 16 and 50.
But it was hell on the Marines. As my son put it:
"It wasn't a matter of WHETHER we would be hit or WHEN we would be hit--it was a matter of WHO would be hit."
Every single day, when they gathered up their rifles and 80-90 pound rucksacks and headed out, they knew that one or more of them would either be killed, maimed, or otherwise injured during the course of that patrol.
It takes an uncommon courage to do this every day for months on end, because as my son explained, they were scared to death. All the time. But they did it anyway.
And they are still doing it--on the streets of Mosul and the mountains of Afghanistan.
Every damn day.
I've been watching the torture debate and Cheney Magical History Tour with growing frustration, because the debate I see shaping up between those on the left and those on the right completely ignores the ones in the middle--AMERICAN TROOPS.
Cheney's claim that he and George W. Bush pretty much "kept America safe" for seven and a half years (oh how easy it is to overlook the most enormous act of terrorism on American soil in American history taking place on one's own watch)--is not only bullshit of the highest degree, but it utterly and completely IGNORES the people who really DID keep us safe--the moving targets out on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This was pointed out beautifully on the Tuesday night Rachel Maddow show by Lawrence Wilkerson, a close assistant to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State during the second Bush years.
I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of what he said was this:
"Dick Cheney didn't keep us safe for seven and a half years. The U.S. troops, who presented themselves as MOVING TARGETS (emphasis mine; words his), in Iraq and Afghanistan did, because terrorists who might have committed acts of terrorism on American soil instead turned their hatred and rage toward the 200,000 American troops who were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Many of the insurgents who tried to kill my son and his buddies and three of his cousins and all the other American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were haters who had poured in from Syria, Jordan, Saudi, Yemen, and other places, to join al Qaeda in Iraq--a group who, by the way, did not exist in Iraq before Dick Cheney basically made it possible for them to do so.
They would pour into Iraq, join up with local malcontents, and get immediate, on-the-job training from the U.S. Marines and army troops who drew them out and fought them. When the Marines or soldiers drove them out of an area, they would relocate to another area, and when most of the areas were taken over by American and Iraqi troops, they'd leave and go join the jihad in Afghanistan.
This is my complaint with one of many claims made by the right-wing, that somehow Bush and Co. "kept us safe."
They did not.
In fact, they made us far more at risk than ever before, first, by elevating a ragtag bunch of losers in the valleys of Afghanistan into superpower status every bit as frightening as the former Soviet Union, which empowered them not just in their own eyes, but in the eyes of other sympathizers; then, by invading Iraq, which outraged even moderates and allies among Muslim nations; then, by setting up torture policies.
The photographs of Abu Ghraib have been used repeatedly in terrorist recruitment websites, videos, pamphlets, and so on, to great effect. It was the best way in the world for us to enhance their recruitment techniques.
But what it meant for our troops who were fighting overseas was vicious, ongoing, constant attacks that never ended because the recruitment never ended, and those photographs helped even more than the war in Iraq to make that happen.
Do I think we needed to know that ugliness? Yes, of course. It put a white-hot light on the Bush administration's maggot-riddled underside and led to the reversal of those policies.
Now, there are congressional hearings on the torture memos, Dick Cheney's on his Magical History Tour that amounts to the most gigantic Cover Your Ass campaign in American history, and the 24-hour news cycle can talk of little else.
But just as those on the right can be blinded to the true reality of the uselessness, indeed, the make-worseness of torture as a security measure--blinded by their own innate fear and paranoia and vengefulness--so, too, can those on the left wear blindfolds of self-righteousness, justice, and their insistence in full transparency from this administration no matter what the consequences.
I'm talking, of course, of the decision by Obama not to release the torture photographs.
Blogs are already incensed, accusing Obama of betraying his word, of the press for rolling over, of Bush/Cheney for getting their way, and so on.
The idea that this really might have something to do with national security is roundly mocked, especially since, initially, the Obama administration planned to accept the federal appeals court ruling on the original ACLU Freedom of Information Act request.
But, as usual, the ones who will really be paying the biggest price for that photo-release--not Bush/Cheney, as so many on the left are certain of--but THE TROOPS...are overlooked.
Guys, these men and women are humpin' it over there for the seventh long year of war, counting Afghanistan. They are humpin' it with gigantic bull's-eyes on their backs. They are deliberately drawing out the terrorists in order to keep them away from our shores.
They are ALSO reaching out to local Muslim populations, building schools, restoring water, conferring with tribal leaders, and trying valiently to get them to see that we are not the enemy; we are not at war with Islam; we are not trying to destroy them.
When my nephew Troy was deployed as a company commander of a Stryker Brigade to the Diyala Province in 2007-8, this is what he did for 15 months.
UNDERSTAND: In Afghanistan, for instance, virtually two-thirds of their population is illiterate. The vast majority of Muslim extremists were "educated" in schools where the only thing they studied was the Koran, and a hostile, poorly-educated local imam's interpretation of it.
These are not people who will understand nuances of timing. They will not understand, for example, that these are OLD photographs taken YEARS ago of torture practices that have since BEEN OUTLAWED.
All they will see is their kinsmen being tortured.
And any good that has been done, any building of schools or clinics or work with agriculture or villagers or anything else--will be wiped off the cultural map.
The footage will run on Al Jazeera for MONTHS. Photos will appear in Arabic and Persian-language newspapers for MONTHS.
They will be up and running on al Qaeda websites within minutes of having been posted by the United States.
I understand completely, the argument of those on the left who feel, as Cenk Uygur says in todays Huffington Post, Obama Makes Terrible Mistake by Not Releasing Pictures that full accountability can only come with their release, that television will only be consumed by what we did, if we can SEE what we did, and how that's important for full justice to take place.
But his argument actually becomes mine:
How many Americans have heard of Bagram Air Base and how we tortured people to death there? A scant few. How many would have heard of it if there were pictures of detainees shackled from the ceiling in a Palestinian hanging or bleeding to death? Pictures are worth a billion words.
You know why? Television! If something isn't on television, it didn't happen. And television producers are obsessed with visuals (makes some sense since it's a visual medium, but their obsession winds up dumbing down the news if there aren't any pictures or video to go along with an important story).
Television has a multiplier effect. The New York Times story on how we beat a man named Dilawar to death at Bagram just sits there and whoever reads it, reads it. And then, it's done. On television stories spread and multiply and get spread to other channels and other mediums. Television doesn't just report the news; it decides what the news is.
But you see, my dear, that is the whole point.
Television does not begin and end with the borders of the United States of America.
You can bet that the televisions all over the Arab world would present these photographs as ongoing abuses taking place RIGHT NOW, and that Obama's word cannot be trusted because, CLEARLY HE IS LYING.
So when he presents his groundbreaking, landmark speech in Cairo, Egypt, next month, nothing he says about a new relationship with the Arab world would be heeded.
Not with the pictures out there.
Releasing this particular set of photographs will not get the practice outlawed. It has already been outlawed.
Releasing these photographs will not lead to congressional investigations. Investigations are already ongoing.
Releasing these photographs will not change anything about the torture debate except for one thing: IT WILL INFLAME THE MUSLIM WORLD at a time when our president is doing all he can to repair that terrible breach left behind by the Bush administration.
Let Dick Cheney crow on all he wants to. He is becoming a charicature of himself and is loathed by three-quarters of the American population. He is not helping his own cause and he is not helping his party. I wish the talking-heads and bloggers would just ignore the son of a bitch. It would give what he's saying far less credence if they did.
But the next time you get all wound up about how suppressing those pictures has absolutely nothing to do with national security, imagine this:
You are a walking bull's-eye, humpin' it down the streets of Kabul or Fallujah, the target on your back painted blood-red, and every time those photographs show up again in the Arab world, your target goes neon, and the threat on your life just increased tenfold.
Put yourself in those desert boots.
Think for a minute about the forgotten men and women in the middle.
Think for a minute past our own circular arguments.
Paint a bull's-eye on your own back, head out into a war-torn street in Iraq or Afghanistan, and see how comfortable you are with all those nice, clean, intellectual arguments then.
These things are never simple. They are always complex and confusing. Give our president credit for realizing that.