Monday, February 27, 2012

Fayetteville NC Observer

Published: 12:00 AM, Sun Feb 26, 2012

Op-ed: Fager - [U.S.] Officials silent on torture

By Chuck Fager

The Iraq war is over, right? And Afghanistan is winding down.

Well, mostly. But a big unfinished piece of their business recently crossed the North Carolina media horizon. It was like a gray cloud marring the sunny vista of homecoming.

The unfinished business was North Carolina's legacy of torture.

The cloud centered about 40 miles north of here, over a company called Aero Contractors, in Johnston County. But its shadow reached to Cumberland County, too.

On Jan. 19, a faculty-student team from the UNC law school released a damning 75-page report on Aero's years-long involvement in the sordid saga of "extraordinary rendition."

That's doublespeak for torture flights.

Aero's torture connections were not exactly unknown; the New York Times had disclosed the basics in 2005. But the new report pulled together stacks of new evidence from national and international sources.

The report showed that planes from Aero regularly took off from Johnston County's airport. Then they picked up CIA snatch teams, who filled them with blindfolded, chained and drugged detainees. These captives were then carried to torture sites in Europe, Africa and Asia.

After torture and imprisonment, often for years, almost all of Aero's unwilling passengers were ultimately released. Their lives and families were shattered, for nothing.

The report included signed affidavits from two men who were taken to torture in Aero's planes. The statements are dry but harrowing. After years of torture and imprisonment, neither was ever charged with terrorism. There are many more like them.

The UNC team delivered the report first to top staff members of Gov. Bev Perdue and state Attorney General Roy Cooper, calling on them to investigate these amply supported charges.

Then they took it to a press conference at the Johnston County Airport. Aero Contractors is still operating there.

Business must be good: their facilities have expanded, with new, higher fences. Behind them the hundred-plus employees repeat a single mantra: "No comment."

At both places the report's backers emphasized that an investigation is urgently needed above all because torture is a crime.

Not "should be"; it is. It's long been a crime under N.C. law, under federal law. And international law, too.

Law and order. Hardly a new or radical idea.

Neither are the calls for an investigation of Aero. They've been raised by protests at Aero for over six years. But previously, few in the media noticed.

Even now, state officials were studiously noncommital with the UNC team. Beyond a polite welcome, it appears their response to the new report is to ignore it and pretend it never happened.

The chairman of the Johnston County commissioners also shrugged it off, saying Aero was just running a flying taxicab service.

Right: "taxis to the Dark Side, if you will," to quote a former vice president much involved with the whole shameful project.

Fortunately, media around the state did better. The UNC report made news in Raleigh, Charlotte and Winston-Salem and on several TV news shows. It even ran in Johnston County's hometown paper.

The UNC report, and the call for a state probe, also made the big time, as the subject of a major piece in the Washington Post.

Appearing in the Post made Carolina's torture connections an international story. And with each news article, the answering silence at the top in Raleigh grows louder, and more embarrassing for those who are concerned with the state's good name.

Nothing dramatic is likely to come from this spate of exposure soon. Yet report by report, brick by brick, a trail to accountability for Carolina's torture connections is being blazed and paved.

That trail may be long; heck, it's long already. And there may be twists in it - including turns toward Fort Bragg, where the infamous "torture migration" of 2002 went from here to Guantanamo and beyond.

But similar paths have been blazed in several other countries where official torture sullied a heritage of law and justice. And many of those finally reached their goal.

Turning points in these struggles typically involved high officials who broke through the wall of silence and denial and demanded the truth be found, exposed, and acted on.

Let's hope Gov. Perdue and Attorney General Cooper find the fortitude to join that distinguished company.

UNC and the media have done their part. Now it's the state's turn.

Chuck Fager is Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville.

NOTE: The UNC Law report is online here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Agent Orange: A Half century Of Pain

Agent Orange.

One of the many terms associated with the Vietnam War that evoke strong and often angry reactions.
Why mention it now, and risk stirring those responses again?
Partly, it's the calendar: August 10 will mark fifty years since the first load of powerful defoliant was sprayed by US forces on the Vietnam landscape in 1961. It was the beginning of what was initially called Operation Hades, then was soon renamed and expanded into Operation Ranch Hand.

The name came from the color of the label on thebarrels; other defoliant ”Agents” used were coded Blue, White, Purple, Pink, and Green. But Agent Orange made up sixty per cent of the sprays.
The idea was that by withering the jungle, Agent Orange would deprive Ho Chi Minh's guerillas of cover. And by withering crops, it would help move rural farmers into towns under the control of the South Vietnamese government.
Over the ten years of Operation Ranch Hand, planes and trucks sprayed some 20 million gallons of such defoliants across parts of Vietnam that added up to an area as large as Massachusetts.

Yet Agent Orange is not only about the painful past. It remains a present specter hanging over many of those who served in the Vietnam War -- and the generations since.

Hundreds of thousands of US troops camped, marched and fought their way through areas heavily sprayed with it. Airmen and sailors handled thousands of barrels of it. And soon after their return home, many veterans began experiencing illnesses, often fatal, that they believed were related to that exposure.
They had good reason for their fears. Most of the defoliant chemicals were contaminated with dioxin, one of the most potent toxic chemicals around. Dioxin has been linked to diabetes, spina bifida and other birth defects, along with various cancers and nerve disorders.

In the US, dioxin made national news in 1978. The Love Canal area of Niagara Falls, New York was found to have been built on a toxic waste dump laced with dioxin.

Surveys showed that as many as half the children born in the neighborhood suffered birth defects or serious childhood illnesses and cancer. Afteryears of local denial, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency there. More than 800 houses were demolished and the families relocated. Love Canal resulted in creation of the federal Superfund program, aimed at cleaning up such toxic sites.

As Love Canal showed, the effects of Agent Orange use in Vietnam were not limited to those who had served there. Among their children, and now grandchildren, there have been higher rates of birth defects and other congenital conditions.
The struggle of these veterans and their families for recognition, treatment, and compensation for Agent Orange-related conditions has been a lengthy and often bitter one. Nor is it over.

But what about the people of Vietnam, who have had to live with the legacy of Agent Orange at close quarters?

Dioxin is a long-lasting toxin. After the rain washes it off the plants, it settles in the soil and the sediment of rivers. There it enters the food chain via fish and ducks, frequent items in the Vietnamese diet.
Their government estimates that up to five million of its people were exposed to long-lived toxic elements of Agent Orange, with up to three million suffering physical symptoms. Many are children and grandchildren of the war generation.

The Vietnam War ended thirty-six years ago. The U.S. Established diplomatic relations with Vietnam sixteen years ago. In 2010, trade between the two nations totaled nearly $19 billion dollars.
In this state of relative amity, Vietnamese support groups have visited the U.S., seeking help from private groups and Congress, and filing lawsuits against the manufacturers.

The lawsuits did not succeed. But their lobbying efforts may have begun to show results. In June, a joint U.S. And Vietnamese government cleanup project waslaunched at the site of the Da Nang airfield, where large quantities of Agent Orange were stored. Da Nang is one of dozens of "hot spots" in Vietnam where wartime toxic contamination lingers at high levels.
Such cleanup efforts have a long way to go -- as does the work of coping with the impact of Agent Orange on US veterans and families.
It has been fifty years since Operation Hades began. For both its American and Vietnamese victims, there has recently been some positive steps taken. But the story of Agent Orange is far from over.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A New Stage in Local Work Against Torture

I've mentioned here before, I think, about how I've been visiting and bearing witness at the monthly Johnston County Commission meetings here in North Carolina, for more than two years now.

Their Johnston County airport is home to Aero Contractors, of "torture taxi" infamy. More on Aero here.
(The company is still going strong BTW.)

This is a very conservative area, and the Commissioners are all Republicans, who usually run without opposition.
Well, something remarkable has happened there, and it came into clear focus during and after last Monday's meeting with the Johnston County Commissioners (JCC).

A colleague who has been there often with me agreed that we seem to have reached a new stage there,
which should offer some new opportunities, and perhaps this "case study" could be of some use to other accountability workers in other parts of the country.

The nub of it is that after two-plus years of monthly visits and careful, polite but pointed colloquies, we appear to have established a high degree of rapport there. Such that when I came in last Monday, some of the commissioners smiled and called me by name, and made cordial small talk. And when the time came to speak, they were both interested and friendly. None seemed to bridle at my clear statements against torture and the JC connections to it.

At the end, it was as if we were leaving a party with old friends. (Actually, it was a bit dis-orienting.)

One Commissioner, who has in the past been very hostile, even said that he had decided the Afghan war was awful and the US should bring all the troops home now and that he was ready to "be a pacifist like Fager."

I think this comment was somewhat in jest (but not entirely: it was sparked by his mention of the awful killings in the wake of the Quran burning in Florida. He didn't seem able to decide which was more awful.) Yet this came from a former Commission Chairman who once told us torture was just fine (as long as the US did it), and that he loved to watch "24."

One other telling statement was from the current Chairman, that if "we gave them something they could do something about, they don't mind acting and doing."

I think this is important because they used to say they WOULDN'T do anything about this, period, no matter what. And while what the Chairman said could be partly another form of an old excuse, I think there's more involved: suppose some of them have heard our cries, and have come to feel that torture IS wrong, and something bad MIGHT be happening at their Johnston County airport?? What in practical terms could they do about it?

The answer is not as easy as it might seem from our perspective ("Investigate Aero!" has been our refrain.) That's because as a practical matter, the county airport largely runs itself, makes its own money. AND it deals with agencies (Aero/CIA) which dwarf the resources of the JCC, and could produce instant blowback if the JCC tried to mess with them directly.

So I sensed a certain subtext to the comment, almost a plea, maybe like this: "We really have much less power than you think, even in our own county; so what else might we do?"

Considering how effective the Torture Establishment has been in closing down the courts, stopping the White House from closing Gitmo or pursuing any accountability, etc., etc., such a sotto voce plea seems quite credible to me.

If some at JCC are starting to question the rightness of torture and Aero's involvement, they must also be feeling trapped: the power structure of which they are a relatively minor, low-level part, is committed, all the way to the top, to upholding the torture system. This is true informally as well as officially: the big local churches, the area banks, all their political cronies, the people they socialize with, have all accepted it. So if our two-plus years of preaching has sown any doubts, how do they get out of this web, this quicksand?

Please don't anybody think I am suggesting that we now give the JCC a pass because they have recently been cordial and friendly to me. Not at all. It's just that we're now at a place where it seems we could present ideas and get a real hearing, and have a real conversation about them. And we've been asked for some options to our traditional "investigate Aero" slogan; so let's step up. (And BTW, I'm still all FOR getting Aero investigated, one way or another.)

They have also shown that they can step outside the box, at least a little. Last month I was at the March JCC meeting, but did not get to speak, because the room and the hallway outside was jammed solid with NRA supporters, up in arms (figuratively, this time) because the JCC was considering a very minor restriction on how close to homes people could fire their weapons.

I stood outside and heard all the stuff about the Second Amendment and fighting crime and the first step toward tyranny, yada yada, some of it from some pretty creepy-looking folks. But after listening carefully and making some adjustments, the Commission faced them down and adopted the restriction unanimously.

During these two-plus years, the visits were often uncomfortable for me; the Commissioners were hostile for a long time. More than once I was angrily denounced by other local folks, and once came close to getting beat up.

That seems to have changed, at least with the Commission members. So in this more open environment, what else can we as accountability activists think of to suggest to them? It looks like a new opportunity is open. How do we make the most of it?

And are there other local authorities where some kind of ongoing witness of dialogue could be undertaken?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Visit To America

Last Monday night in SmithfIeld, North Carolina I spent two hours in the hallway outside the session of the Johnston County Commission. The chamber itself was packed, and the hall around it bulged with 50-75 more folks, mostly SRO.

I was there to talk about torture. Johnston County's airport is home to a notorious CIA front company that makes "torture taxi" flights. You remember, the ones where people are kidnapped and taken to very bad places and have evil things done to them for years, after which most are released without being charged with anything, all courtesy of us US taxpayers.

(Oh, did you think that unpleasantness was all over with, Citizen? Sorry; the company's still in business in this dawning spring of 2011-- in fact it's growing. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.)

Anyway, I've been visiting the Commission's monthly meetings for more than two years. They have a public comments at the close of their sessions, and I take my turn, to remind them about the company, and urge them to take action to end their county's complicity with war crimes.

Very politely, of course; but persistently. So far, they have declined to heed this advice; but they listen, and I'm still trying. That makes me perhaps an optimist or perhaps a fool. (We report, you decide.)

Most Commission meetings deal with humdrum zoning changes--a convenience store here, a used car dealer there-- and the typical turnout is no threat to American Idol TV ratings.

Last Monday night was different. The TV news truck outside was my second clue; the jammed parking lot was the first. I figured they hadn't all come to listen to me. And once I saw the abundance of NRA caps and tee shirts, I hoped not, and
began to think that perhaps mailing in this month's comments might be the better part of valor. But I stayed, waiting to see.

The crowd had gathered because the Commission was considering a rather minimalist ordinance aimed at slightly reining in the wild shooting that goes on in many places in this once almost entirely rural, gun-oriented county. Their uncaged, free range shooting tradition is becoming a problem because a steady stream of suburbanites is moving in, spilling over from the nearby Triangle region.

Along with these newcomers have come plenty of reports about stray bullets crashing through windows, semi-automatic bursts splitting the night, and other unsettling and dangerous incidents, producing hundreds of alarmed calls to the Sheriff's office. But deputies say they had no regulatory leg to stand on.

So the County Commissioners had to do something. Now, they are all conservative Republicans, who are not about to take anybody's guns away. In fact, everybody who spoke Monday swore fealty to the Second Amendment, sacred gun rights and yada yada. Besides which, the county attorney read out a long list of exceptions just added to the ordinance, which to this layperson's ear made it sound as if its mild restrictions only applied during weeks without a Tuesday in them.

Still, amid this overwhelmingly unsympathetic crowd, the ordinance did have a few fans. Early on a young woman spoke passionately of how her husband was killed by somebody's accidental gunshot about a year ago; "my little boy will never know his daddy." Then there were locals who didn't appreciate having to offer kevlar along with baked beans at backyard barbecues. Another couple described the young hotshots who blew thru many of the big clips at a homemade "range" right next door every weekend, waving the guns in all directions.

All three of these speakers, even the bereaved widow, were avowedly "pro-gun," probably loved the cowboy president from Texas. None of which carried any weight with the crowd in the hallway.

One opponent told the Board he had been a scout in Iraq, was wounded in combat there, and warned that the Commission mustn't get in the way of the needed gun training for the 1 per cent like him who make life safe for the rest of us. (You got that? He got a round of applause.)

He was countered by a Korean veteran who also loves his guns, yet dared to speak up in favor of the ordinance after his grown daughter acquired an unplanned bullet hole in her new porch. He spoke firmly, while many in the crowd murmured their unease.

And right behind him was a hardliner who said a flat NO! to any new gun regulations at all, period. (LOUD applause.)

And on it went, till the Commission Chairman patiently said the Commissioners had heard enough and were ready to vote.

They didn't waste time either: the ordinance passed unanimously.

At this the crowd surged from the room, into the hallway and out the door, with much talk about running against the commissioners (who are usually re-elected without opposition). This was my opportunity to slip in behind them and get a seat, torture updates in hand, ready for my cameo.

But when the smoke has just about cleared, the Clerk spots me and says the Board had adjourned the meeting, and I notice that at least three of the seven Commissioners are halfway out the door.

Several others are quite apologetic when they see me, saying they were looking for me but didn't see me. No surprise, given the wall-to-wall crush. After an evening like this one, I might have offered a spell of almost-comic relief, with my novel focus on rendition, torture, and other easy-to-ignore matters.

But I say, no problem. And I mean it quite sincerely. They saw that I came; I'll put the updates in the mail, and be back next month, God (and the NRA) willing.

Am I sorry that the now-vanishing defenders of the iconic gun rights missed the chance to hear me expounding, however briefly, on some other human rights?

Only the tiniest bit. Call me chicken if you want, but hey -- kevlar just makes me look fat. Or fatter. Whatever.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DADT Repeal: Its Double-Barreled Significance

Ahem, Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming today. I have a statement from the Director for you regarding the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Then we'll be happy to take your questions and comments.

Statement by Chuck Fager, Director of Quaker House, Fayetteville NC, on the repeal of DADT:

I've been calling for repeal of DADT for some time, and welcome it.

This change has two important effects, I think:

First, it will enable thousands of present and future soldiers to pursue their careers on their merits, which is only as it should be.

Second, beyond these individual cases, repealing DADT strikes an important blow to the identification of war with masculinity, with heterosexuality, with America, and all three with God.

This identification is idolatry, pure and simple. But it is all too widespread in American Christianity, and it is way past time for it to be broken up.

Ending DADT will move that breakup forward.

Thanks be to God, the Congress, and the White House.

(And a special thank you to the one reporter who actually did call, and keeps this from being 100 per cent self-indulgent.)

And in another vein, a few days ago a Friend wrote:

Chuck, Am I the only Quaker who is conflicted about this legislation to eliminate Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell so that it will be easier to recruit and keep non heterosexuals for the US military machine?

My reply, which I'd like to share:

I haven't heard from any other Quakes about this recently, but I expect you're not alone. Indeed, I feel some of this ambivalence too, but come out clearly in favor of repeal.

Sure, I'd prefer that nobody signed up. But beyond the matter of respecting personal choices, and believe me, some people (gay & straight) really love being in the military - there looms the issue of the military as one of the major cultural (and religious) bastions and icons of American homophobia.

Breaking through that, in my view, has implications far beyond whether a few thousand LGBT folks get to sign up openly. It punches a gaping hole in the institutional support system for religious and cultural systems that identify masculinity with war, hetero with masculinity (yes, I think this is 99% about males), America with both, and God with all three. To me this is a big freaking deal.

So I can understand your ambivalence, but at the end of the day for DADT, all I can say is:

Onward Christian LGBT soldiers. In Quaker parlance, if thee feels thee must wear that sword, then wear it as long as thou canst, and as what thou really are: out and proud. Be ALL that thou can be.

But one thing more: when thee has second thoughts about WAR, as distinct from being gay, give us a call at the Quaker House GI Rights Hotline, 1-877-447-4487. We've been there for you during DADT, and we'll be there after it's gone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Female GI Likely Homicide Victim

The Good News is: it's been awhile since a female GI from Ft. Bragg was murdered by her peers.
The Bad News: It's apparently happened again.
The Predictable additional bad news: looks like another Army coverup has been in pl

Fayetteville NC Observer - November 17, 2010 .

Murder in Iraq? -- Soldier’s death not an accident

By John Ramsey, Staff writer

The death in July of a Fort Bragg paratrooper in Iraq was originally considered an accident, but investigators say they’re now treating it as a homicide.
Spc. Morganne Marie McBeth, 19, died in Asad, Iraq, on July 2, according to Army news releases that first announced her death.
Investigators were first told the death was accidental, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, also known as CID.
“However, as the criminal investigation progressed, our special agents came to disbelieve the report of an accident,” Grey said in an e-mail response to questions. “We take the death of this soldier very seriously and are investigating it as a homicide.”
McBeth deployed to Iraq in August 2009 as a combat medic assigned to the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. During its yearlong deployment, none of the brigade’s soldiers died in combat.
McBeth’s parents, Leonard and Sylvia McBeth of Fredericksburg, Va., said they’re frustrated that authorities have been slow to charge for their daughter’s death.
Sylvia McBeth said she’s now been told three different stories about how their daughter died.
The first soldiers who notified the McBeths told them that Morganne McBeth had accidentally stabbed herself while playing with a knife in a tent.
Later, they were told she was tossing a knife against a board with two other soldiers. The knife got lodged in the board, and one of the soldiers accidentally stabbed McBeth when pulling out the knife.
Finally, Slyvia McBeth said, investigators told them she was murdered. The suspects were friends of McBeth’s, Sylvia said.
Sylvia McBeth said investigators told them one soldier will be charged with murder, conspiracy and obstruction of justice while another will be charged with conspiracy and obstruction.
Those soldiers may be at Fort Bragg.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team returned to Fort Bragg in August.
An 82nd Airborne Division spokesman confirmed that no arrests have been made and directed all other questions about the investigation to CID.
“As far as we know, these individuals are not arrested, they are not charged with any crime. They told us they are not a danger to anybody or themselves and they are not a flight risk,” Sylvia McBeth said. “We don’t know what the problem is, why they’re not being charged or why they’re not being held accountable for what they did.”
She said investigators haven’t updated the family in more than two months. That’s why she and her husband decided to start talking to reporters.
McBeth said she spoke to her daughter days before her death. She said McBeth was unhappy with her unit and planned to seek another assignment after the deployment ended.
McBeth joined the Army on July 9, 2008, and had been stationed at Fort Bragg since Feb 25, 2009.
Sylvia McBeth said investigators told her that her daughter was able to give a full statement to military police before she died. She said she hasn’t been told what her daughter said, except that there was some type of struggle.
Grey, the CID spokesman, said family members are kept in the loop on investigations, but for investigative purposes he couldn’t discuss details of what they were told.
He said the first death notification to the family would have come from Army notification officers, not crime investigators. Grey said he has no way of knowing what those soldiers told the McBeth family.
As the criminal case progressed, Grey said, the reports to family members would have changed to reflect new findings.
“Keep in mind that only at the conclusion of the investigation will there be conclusive findings based on final lab results, witness statements and other issues that significantly affect a death investigation of this importance,” Grey said.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wikileaks & Torture: Hold The Mayo?

Our local paper published this piece today. Feel free to pass it on if you are so moved.
Fayetteville NC Observer –Thursday November 4, 2010
Op-ed: An order of war news, hold the mayo
By Chuck Fager
Fayetteville NC

Tom Ricks was a heckuva war reporter in his Washington Post days. He's
the furthest thing from a peacenik, but his book, "Fiasco," told the awful truth about the Iraq occupation's disastrous early years, and earned him mountains of respect.

Now he runs his own influential blog, "The Best Defense," where he's still telling it like he sees it.

And what Rick saw in the big Wikileaks document release [about the Iraq War] was, in a word, "crap."

"Maybe I'm going soft," he wrote recently, "but the Wikileaks dump kind of makes me ill."

Why? "If the leaks brought great revelations," he wrote, "I might think
differently, but so far I don't think I have been surprised by a single thing I've read."

But that's too mild. Tom's ultimate verdict is that "adding mayonnaise doesn't turn chicken [poop] into chic
ken salad. Here's my test: Tell me one thing we didn't know last week that we know now about the Iraq war."

Well, I hate to differ with one of my war reporter heroes, but here I have to stop and ask: Just who is included in this "we" you're talking about, Tom? Who knew all this already?

No doubt war-weary veteran reporters such as Ricks know tons more about what's happened "dow
nrange" than I ever will.

But I have been paying attention these last eight years. And since the Wikileaks cascades, I've learned many things I didn't know before. To judge by the reaction of informed observers in many places, a lot of other people learned things, too, beyond what Ricks shrugged off as an "Iraqi version of a dog bites man story."

Here's a short list of some items this other "we" just learned, from the Wikileaks disclosures:

-- That U.S. forces were keeping detailed track of civilian casualties, even while loudly denying it. Which makes the denials a pack of lies, Tom. (OK, there were lots of such packs.)

-- That these civilian casualties were much higher than previously reported. So much higher that eve
n the Iraq Body Count, always very conservative in its estimates, is adding more than 15,000 to its total. Is that truly a so-what, Tom? Fifteen thousand extra dead civilians, and counting?

-- Then there's the documentation of massive torture and murder of civilians, not by insurgents but by U.S. "allies," including many women and children. And that U.S. commanders turned the victims over wholesale to Iraqi units notorious for such barbarous savagery.

-- More, we learned that this neglect of torture was a matter of policy, with top-down instructions for U.S. troops to ignore the carnage.
But wait a minute - could that mean it wasn't just a few low-rank "bad apples" such as the hapless Lynndie England and the sadistic Charles Graner, who were responsible for "abuses"? Really? Did Ricks know that, too?

Which brings us to the subject of power drills. No doubt Tom was aware of their deployment as instrum
ents of torture and murder.

Actually, I knew about them too, since the months of 2005-06 when I monitored dozens of obscure news reports every night for news of my doomed hostage friend, Tom Fox. I recall that particularly, because it was also when the Pentagon was consistently denying that there was a civil war raging around Baghdad.

But those were the bad guys, right? The ones our forces were there to stop? Only now I learn that the power drills were widely in use by U.S. "allies" against thousands of Iraqis, mainly civilians.

OK, I admit it: homicide-by-power drill gives me the creeps. Maybe I'm going soft.

If so, that Wikileaks video of the laughing helicopter massacre had something to do with it. Sure, people get killed in war, and trigger judgments are often split-second. But face it - the laughter is what pushed that video past horrible to shameful.

So maybe the U.N. torture investigator's call for a U.S. investigation of all this is just showboating. But then again, maybe not.

Ricks worries that "great newspapers are getting played" by all the Wikileaks fuss. And no doubt many documents do no more than confirm the adage, "War is hell."

But that chestnut can be a truth, or it can be an excuse.
For my part, dismissing the new hellish depths Wikileaks exposed sounds more like an excuse. No amount of mayonnaise will sweeten that verdict.

And by the way, what does mayonnaise do to a power drill?

Chuck Fager is director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC.