Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lots of Bad News

"Welcome Home" banners at Camp Lejeune, NC Marine base.

Maybe you've seen the items cited here, but they could easily be overlooked among all the hullabaloo of the campaign.

All of them relate to the military situation that the new president will confront as of January 20.

And all of them, in my view, are gloomy clouds on the new administration's horizon. They point to an American future likely to be marked by more war and a bigger military.

How so? Let's take a look:

First, from Congressional Quarterly comes news that

Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.

The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.

Experts note that releasing such documents in the twilight of an administration is a well-worn tactic, and that incoming presidents often disregard such guidance in order to pursue their own priorities.

"Pursue their own priorities." Sure he will. But these priorities will be pressed from several directions, all pointing toward more war and a bigger military.

One example came last spring, when a retiring army general told Congress about the size and condition of our army. Here's part of what he testified, as reported in the New Yorker:

General Richard A. Cody graduated from West Point in 1972, flew helicopters, ascended to command the storied 101st Airborne Division, and then, toward the end of his career, settled into management; now, at fifty-seven, he wears four stars as the Army Vice-Chief of Staff. This summer, he will retire from military service.

[In April], the General appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and testified that this method of engineering has failed. "Today's Army is out of balance," Cody said. He continued:
The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. . . . Soldiers, families, support systems and equipment are stretched and stressed. . . . Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the all-volunteer force and degrades the Army's ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.

Cody spoke last spring. Last week [0ctober 14], his estimate was echoed by a batch of strategic consultants. The Christian Science Monitor's Gordon Lubold had that story:

Is US fighting force big enough?

Washington - American's armed forces are growing bigger to reduce the strains from seven years of war, but if the US is confronting an era of "persistent conflict," as some experts believe, it will need an even bigger military.

A larger military could more easily conduct military and nation-building operations around the world. But whether the American public has the appetite to pursue and pay for such a foreign-policy agenda, especially after more than five years of an unpopular war in Iraq, is far from clear.

The Army currently has about 540,000 active-duty soldiers and is expected to attain its goal of 547,000 by 2011. The Marine Corps, also tapped to expand, should top 202,000 within the next couple of years. The total American force – including active-duty, reserve, and guard – is about 2.2 million.

John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and a retired Army officer, says in coming years the Army should grow to 750,000 and the Marine Corps to 250,000. Demand for troops is already high, and it won't abate anytime soon even if substantial numbers of troops return from Iraq, he recently said at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.

Meanwhile, the top US commander in Afghanistan has asked for more American troops that the US simply can't produce until more leave Iraq.

"We don't have enough brigades to fight – that is an inconvertible fact," says Mr. Nagl.
If the US is to remain a superpower in a world in which weak nations, not strong ones, are the big threats, then it must expand its forces so it won't again enter a conflict using too few troops, as it did in Iraq, say other experts. America must stay engaged in nations with weak or nonexistent governments to prevent extremism from taking root and threatening the US.

"This is not a prediction of conflicts to come, but a recognition that the potential for stabilization and reconstruction missions remains high," writes Fred Kagan, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here, in a book he cowrote called "Ground Truth." Mr. Kagan and Thomas Donnelly argue for a total force of about 2.8 million, which includes an active Army of about 800,000 and a Marine Corps of about 200,000.

"We may not want these missions, but they might be thrust upon us; and they certainly might appear to a future president as the least-bad outcome," Kagan writes.

Where are all these additional troops supposed to come from? Recruiters haven't been having an easy time in recent years, despite huge budgets for ads and signup bonuses

But not to worry. Now they've gained a crucial ally, as a Pentagon bigwig explained to Robert Burns, military writer for the Associated Press:

For military, bad economy aids recruiting

WASHINGTON—The tough economy could make it easier to sign up soldiers.

Fewer civilian jobs mean less competition for military recruiters.

"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," David Chu, the Pentagon's personnel chief, told a news conference Friday. "I don't have the Dow Jones banner running up behind me here this morning, but that is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance."

For several years, as the Army in particular struggled to meet its recruiting needs, military officials have cited a strong economy as one obstacle to attracting young people looking at their employment options. It is one reason that over the past year the Army and Marine Corps felt compelled to pay more than $600 million, combined, in bonuses and other financial incentives to entice recruits.

Another negative factor: Parents and others who influence the decisions of enlistment-age men and women have, since the outset of the Iraq war, become less inclined to recommend military service.

In announcing that the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force all met their recruiting goals for the budget year ended Sept. 30, Chu said the economic downturn offers new possibilities for recruiters.

"What more difficult economic times give us, I think, is an opening to make our case to people (potential enlistees) that we might not otherwise have," Chu said. "And if we make our case, I think we can be successful."

The military needs any break it can get on recruiting, particularly since it is in the midst of a push to substantially increase the size of the nation's ground forces—a decision driven by an urgent need to reduce the strain on troops and their families from repeated deployments to Iraq.
And one more item. Here are snippets from some reports that will be delivered to the new occupant of the Oval Office about rising military challenges, as leaked to McClatchy Newspapers:

A new National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Pakistan is "on the edge."

Washington - A growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army's reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America's key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as "very bad." Another official called the draft "very bleak," and said it describes Pakistan as being "on the edge."

The first official summarized the estimate's conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: "no money, no energy, no government."

Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document's findings confirmed them to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress. An NIE's conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The NIE on Pakistan, along with others being prepared on Afghanistan and Iraq, will underpin a "strategic assessment" of the situation that Army Gen. David Petraeus, who's about to take command of all U.S. forces in the region, has requested. The aim of the assessment - seven years after the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan - is to determine whether a U.S. presence in the region can be effective and if so what U.S. strategy should be.

The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration's effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.

The Afghanistan estimate warns that additional American troops are urgently needed there and that Islamic extremists who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan pose a growing threat to the U.S.-backed government of Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.

The Iraq NIE is more cautious about the prospects for stability there than the Bush administration and either John McCain or Barack Obama have been, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. will be able to redeploy a significant number of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan anytime soon.

Together, the three NIEs suggest that without significant and swift progress on all three fronts - which they suggest is uncertain at best - the U.S. could find itself facing a growing threat from al Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, said one of the officials.

So where does this leave the US as we look ahead to a new year and a new administration?

Facing a need for more troops – and not just a few more, but hundreds of thousands. Recruiters are counting on the coming depression to fill the ranks. Will it be enough?

And what will all these additional troops face? How about:

Trouble in Iraq. Big trouble in Afghanistan. And the threat of even bigger trouble in Pakistan. (And Iran? Russia? Don’t ask.)

I don’t know about you, but here at Quaker House, this data indicates that we’ll continue to be busy.

But beyond all this, there is yet another important aspect of this situation to consider, namely the impact of the current US financial decline on its international military-strategic standing.

We’ll look at that in another post.

(A reminder: Quaker House depends on your contributions. There is a "Donate Now" link on our home page.)
Photos copyright by Chuck fager.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Struggling to End Domestic Violence &Sexual Assaults in the Military

Working against domestic violence has not traditionally been a program priority for Quaker House. We already have plenty to do with the GI Rights Hotline, the succession of peace events, and Truth In Recruiting.

But living in this military community, some other issues have forced their way onto our agenda. Torture is one. And domestic violence is another.

In the summer of 2002, the first year I was here, there were seven domestic murders and suicides in as many weeks. And as we surveyed the carnage, the reality that these were but the top of an iceberg of family trouble became impossible to ignore.

So we wrote a report on that experience, here: http://quakerhouse.org/DV-Military.htm
And while sticking to our main priorities, we’ve still stayed mindful of the steady toll taken by this "war at home."

In early autumn 2007, Christine Horne (that's her, by the display in our dining room) read our 2002 report and called Quaker House. Her mother, Beryl Mitchell, had been murdered in 1974 by her Green Beret officer father, at Ft. Bragg, when Christine was a child.

Now, as part of her healing, she was coming to Fayetteville to pay a proper tribute to her mother, and the other victims like her. Could we help?

We did, and the resulting memorial drew extensive media and community response. (See the report in our fall Newsletter at: http://quakerhouse.org/Newsletter-10-2007.pdf.org/Newsletter-10-2007.pdfrhouse.org/Newsletter-10-2007.pdfter-10-2007.pdf )
Unfortunately, the toll of family violence and sexual assault continues: four women soldiers have been murdered in North Carolina in the past nine months.
(They are, from top to bottom below: Maria Lauterbach, murdered in December 2007 at Camp lejeune; Megan Touma, killed in Fayetteville in June 2008; Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse murdered in Fayetteville in July; and Christina Smith, stabbed to death in Fayetteville in October 2008. All four were soldiers, and in all cases, male soldiers have been charged with the crimes.)
And last month, our phone rang again. This time, it was from retired Army Col. Ann Wright. We knew Ann from her participation in our peace rally in 2007.
But Ann was not calling about an antiwar action. She was concerned about the murders of female soldiers. Could we help with a public action about that?
Of course. The outcome was a vigil, luncheon discussion, and wreath-laying memorial, on October 8, 2008. Again the press came out in force. The Fayetteville Observer hit the right note about the vigil, held outside one of the main gates to Fort Bragg:

The crowd hovering outside one of Fort Bragg’s gates Wednesday was a protest of sorts.

But it was not the anti-war kind that Fayetteville sometimes sees.

This was a protest with purple ribbons and signs about soldiers killed by their husbands or boyfriends, not by insurgents.

In a way, it was a protest against the military. But not against the people who serve. Against the military culture that, the protesters think, makes it difficult for a woman in the military to tell her commanders that her soldier husband is threatening her. Against the military bureaucracy that, the protesters think, hides sexual assault complaints and brushes victims to the side.

"I am here to say that our military must address this," said retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the Army and now speaks around the country about violence against women in the service.

The response of an army press spokesman was dismissive:

Fort Bragg officials say the military’s programs to prevent sexual assault and domestic abuse work.

They do? Tell that to the families of the four women who won’t be coming home.

"Nothing could be further from the truth that we don’t attempt to be proactive in reducing domestic violence," said Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman.

McCollum said when soldiers and families come to Fort Bragg they are told about the different places on post they can get counseling. He said soldiers preparing to deploy are briefed about stress and domestic violence as part of the things they receive. Those same soldiers are briefed again before they return to the U.S. and again after they come home.

"They can go to our chaplains, Womack Army hospital and to the Army Community Services," McCollum said. "We are sometimes baffled — why would someone do that and especially with all the help that is available? A divorce is so much easier."

Unfortunately, this statement mainly rebutted assertions that the vigilers hadn’t made. Ann Wright laid out the concerns in an OpEd column for the same newspaper on October 3rd:

In 2002, four Army spouses were murdered here by their military husbands after they returned from Afghanistan. But Fort Bragg, even aside from these infamous cases, has had a "disproportionately high number of domestic homicides, the highest in the country", according to "Murder in the Military," a July 20, 2008 article in this newspaper.

The sad roster of such victims stretches back over the decades. Thus we’ll also be laying a wreath at the grave of Beryl Mitchell, murdered here in 1974 by her Special Forces officer husband.
Rape is a parallel plague. Veterans Administration statistics reveal that one in three women servicemembers are raped or sexually assaulted while in the military. Further, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel recently told Congress that of the reported rapes in the Army in 2007, ten percent were reported by male victims.

Nor are wives the only victims. In 2004 the North Carolina Child Advocacy Center issued a shocking report, "Reducing Collateral Damage on the Home Front," which showed that in a sixteen year period, the rate of fatal violence against children was twice as high in the counties around Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune as in the rest of the state.

In short, however much the Army is doing, it isn’t enough.

Keeping Up the Pressure on Torture

If I seem preoccupied with torture, that's due to two factors above all:

First, Fayetteville-Fort Bragg is surrounded by major components of what I call the "Torture Industrial Complex." So it's hard to ignore.

And second, in my study of this gruesome subject, it's become clear that legitimizing torture is a key step in the creation of a police state.

Anyway, here's another OpEd on the topic that I sent to the local paper.

Fayetteville NC Observer – published Sunday, September 28, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Don’t forget Torture Migration Day
By Chuck Fager

In this military town, much attention is given to important dates in military history: June 6, D-Day; Nov. 11, formerly Armistice, now Veterans Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

Earlier this month, another major anniversary passed, with no notice but of huge importance, especially locally: Sept. 16. Migration Day. Torture Migration Day.

On Sept. 16, 2002, a conference began at the Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg. At the session, the staff of the rapidly filling detention camp at Guantanamo were treated to detailed "demonstrations" of the Special Forces’ SERE techniques.

SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It’s the part of Special Forces training where aspiring operators are "captured" and then abused, under controlled conditions, to see how long they can resist breaking down and signing false confessions.

Reports are that the techniques, which grew out of the abuse of U.S. prisoners of war in the Korean War, can include waterboarding, religious assaults, sensory and sleep deprivation, and extremes of heat and cold. Reports also say they are extremely effective at breaking down the trainees’ will to resist, usually quickly.

The goal of the Bragg demonstration, according to Army investigators and the important new book, The Dark Side, by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, was to show the Guantanamo officials how to get their prisoners to talk. Until then, the complaint was that the hundreds of detainees there were producing very little useful information.

From that fateful Sept. 16 meeting here, the SERE techniques, say investigators, "migrated" to Gitmo. And then to Afghanistan and Iraq, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. And then to the "black sites" operated by various OGAs, or Other Government Agencies — read CIA.

With this "migration," evidently many detainees started to talk, and didn’t stop.

That’s not surprising because these techniques really are not about interrogation. They’re about torture. So yes, those subjected to them talked. And talked. They spewed reams of "confessions" and detailed "intelligence."

But over time, as numerous investigations have shown and Jane Mayer’s book chillingly summarizes, little of this "intelligence" has proven authentic or useful.

And hundreds of the detainees, after such abuse, were released without charges — because they had no involvement with terrorism.

That is, they were not only innocent, they also were ignorant of the details of terror. Their confessions were mostly fabricated, to get the torture to stop.

Also in The Dark Side, Mayer recounts that numerous administration officials — solid anti-terror conservatives and high military officers — came to see this "migration" as a tragic wrong turn and tried to stop it.

Without success.

There are many reasons to deplore the torture migration that was launched Sept. 16, 2002. Some, such as respect for the Geneva Conventions, the Constitution, U.S. federal anti-torture laws, and God, can be dismissed as the cavils of bleeding hearts such as myself.

But others come from battle-seasoned military leaders.

One of these was former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili. He said that such practices "fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world."

That’s right: torture or "enhanced interrogation" by U.S. authorities endangers American troops.

This is "the Golden Rule" argument: if it’s OK for the U.S. to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners — that makes it OK for our adversaries to do the same to our forces. "Do unto others ..."

Shalikashvili also states what can be called "the Bad Seed" argument:

Remember all those hundreds — more like thousands — of released detainees who weren’t part of al-Qaida or other terror groups when they came in? Whose side do you suppose they’re on now?

Right again: Torture helps recruit new terrorists and sympathizers. Which means, torture not only increases risks to our soldiers. It also endangers our national security.

While I hope the tide is beginning to turn against torture and so-called "enhanced interrogation," it’s clear that this matter is far from over. The efforts to root it out will likely take years.

So while those efforts continue, I propose we add Sept. 16 to the calendar of unhappily memorable days on the military history calendar.

Torture Migration Day.

Let it not be forgotten.

And may it never happen again.

Dodging a Bullet – For Now

Private Jeremy Hinzman was one of the first soldiers I worked with after arriving at Quaker House at the end of 2001. He filed an application for conscientious objector status, which was turned aside, and he was deployed to Afghanistan. Several months after his return, in December 2003, he was ordered to head for Iraq.

Instead, he, his wife and infant son went to Canada, where they have been fighting ever since to stay. Last summer, a second child, a daughter, joined their family.
We’ve published numerous reports in our newsletters on this struggle. In sum, Jeremy has lost all his legal battles, and was issued a deportation order, to leave Canada on September 23, 2008.
But with one day to go, Jeremy won a round, as the newsclip below indicates. So this story is far from over.

Judge grants U.S. deserter's last-ditch effort to stave off deportation
Canadian Press -- 4:10 PM Monday September 22, 2008
TORONTO — A high-profile American deserter has won a last-minute stay of deportation.
A [Canadian] Federal Court judge says Jeremy Hinzman can stay in Canada for now. Hinzman was due to get the boot to the U.S. Tuesday morning, where he would face prosecution for fleeing to Canada rather than deploying to Iraq. Ottawa has refused his family's application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The 29-year-old Hinzman, his wife and two young children asked for the stay while the courts decide if they will review that decision.
His lawyer argued today that deserters who have been publicly critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have received harsher punishment.

Good news for Psychologists, and their Clients

Among the many shocking realities that emerge as one studies the evolution of the US torture system, one of the most shocking to me was to learn of the deep, and decades-long involvement of psychologists in the process.

And not just a few obscure practitioners here and there – this roll of shame included presidents of the American Psychological Association. (An eye-opening summary of these facts is here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0807/S00253.htm )

Professor Alfred McCoy of the University of Wisconsin has also detailed the history in his indispensable book, A Question of Torture: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805082484/sr=1-2/qid=1223767994/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1223767994&sr=1-2&seller=

But in late September, there was finally a piece of good news on the psychological front. This release tells the story:

American Psychological Association Members Pass Historic Ban on Psychologist Participation in U.S. Detention FacilitiesWednesday, September 17, 2008Today, the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a referendum banning participation of APA member psychologists in U.S. detention facilities, such as Guantanamo or the CIA’s secret "black sites" operating outside of or in violation of international law or the Constitution.Dan Aalbers, one of the referendum’s authors, stated: "This is a decisive victory for the membership of the APA and for human rights advocates everywhere. This new policy will ensure that psychologists work for the abused and not the abusers at places like Guantanamo Bay and the CIA black sites. We expect that the APA’s leadership will immediately take action to ensure that psychologists are removed from the chain of command at places where human rights are violated or said not to apply."

More on this at the blog of Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychoanalyst who was at the UNC Torture Symposium last week, and has been a strong anti-torture activist in the APA:http://psychoanalystsopposewar.org/blog/2008/09/17/apa-members-change-associations-interrogations-policy/

The Greening of Quaker House

At Quaker House, we’re an outpost of peace witness, not an environmental demonstration project. But in all the repairs and renovations of the past few years, we’ve tried to do our bit to moderate our carbon footprint. Here are some of the changes we’ve made:

– In 2003, when we had to replace our HVAC system, we paid extra to get a system rated at 93 per cent efficiency.
– In 2007 the old water heater went kaput, and we replaced it with a tankless model, which saves energy and water. It turned out to be one of the first tankless heaters installed in the city!
– All but a few of our incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with low-energy flourescents.
– Our new toilets are low-water usage types.
–We installed more storm windows and beefed up the insulation in our attic, to save energy in both summer and winter.

As we said, our main mission here is peace work. And while none of this is radical, we think the combination is significant. And we’ll be watching for other ways to enhance this effort.

Read Our Latest Newsletter!

Our Quaker House newsletter for early Autumn is now uploaded on the newsletter page, here. It features a review and report on two new books, which strike very close to home for us: The Dark Side, by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, and Never Surrender, by retired army General William G. "Jerry" Boykin. (That's him, with the flag, in a Fayetteville megachurch.)

Mayer’s book brings together the pioneering work she has done over the years since 2001, lifting the curtain on the developing U.S. government-sponsored torture program. Much of the supporting apparatus of this "Torture Industrial Complex," is located around the Ft. Bragg-Fayetteville area. We have been actively joining in protests aimed at exposing and dismantling this apparatus.

Boykin’s role in this project is still shrouded in secrecy, but it was likely significant. He served as a founding member and then commander of the fabled, super-secret, Ft. Bragg-based Delta Force, and later in a very high Pentagon position involved with missions targeting suspected jihadist leaders in Iraq and elsewhere. He describes a number of his combat missions in the book.

Boykin also attracted public attention for giving fiery, controversial sermons in uniform to large churches, hailing the divinely-sanctioned American role in leading the fight against evil in Islam, and declaring that our current chief political officeholders were placed in office by special divine intervention. In Never Surrender he tells his side of the story.

Boykin returned to Fayetteville to rally the troops in this ongoing apocalyptic battle. As the newsletter tells in detail, we were there, watching and reading and listening.

There’s more in the issue. Check it out.

Election Talk Across the Pond

Another piece of commentary dealt with the 2008 election, and was published across the pond, in a British Quaker weekly, The Friend, of London, in its August 8, 2008 issue.
Here’s a slightly edited version:

Qpinion - - Dismal predictions: a commentary on the US election

In the US, it’s the season for election predictions, so here are mine.

Not about the horse race. We all read the same polls and I have nothing to add.

And not about endorsements: make up your own minds, Friends.

Instead, this forecast is about some post-election developments, events I consider highly likely, regardless of who is inaugurated next January.

Three such developments, to be exact. First the list, and then the explanation.

One: The war-swap. We’ll start getting out of the ‘bad’ war (Iraq) to make more room for the ‘good’ one (Afghanistan).
Two: A return to conscription, on the salami plan - a slice at a time, disguised as ‘national service’.
Three: The torture transition: It will appear to be ‘stopped’, but behind the scenes will gain acceptance as a ‘last resort’ tactic of American statecraft.

No doubt the rhythm and character of these events will differ depending on the election outcome. But that said, I still see them looming on the horizon after the campaign hoopla dissipates.

Why? Because of a maxim which sums up many years of experience, observation and study, namely: in the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

For me this principle manifested in 1964 - my first election. One candidate told us he would not send American ‘boys’ to Vietnam to do what those ‘boys’ should do for themselves, as his rival threatened.

As one of those American ‘boys,’ I said, "That’s for me!" I wasn’t alone: that candidate was swept into office, winning all but four states.

But within a year of his huge landslide victory, this same president had us in exactly the war he’d promised to avoid. The war lasted ten years, and it was just as bad as - nay, worse than - we had imagined.

In 2008, this principle is galloping toward re-verification in the current contest. Look closely and you will see that both candidates are in substantial agreement on each of these matters.

There’s not much mystery as to why. The momentum of our military industrial complex is massive, pervasive, non-partisan - and it hates failure.

Iraq has become the template and archetype of military failure; so we are being prepared to trade it in for a promised victory in Afghanistan. This ‘forgotten war’ has been sold much more successfully, not only to Americans but to many other governments as well.

Nevertheless, the transition will be difficult, because in truth the US combat forces are desperately over-stretched worldwide. The gap between supply and demand is huge and growing. (See the chart at left) Shifting some divisions from Iraq will hardly close the gap. The relentless demands of imperial adventurism, even without Iraq, require a massive rise in US troop strength. And both major candidates are promising such expansion.

Where will such an increase come from?

Recruiting, contractors, immigrants - none has filled the gap.

Enter the draft - renamed, repackaged and with the usual unobtrusive escape hatches for the more affluent.

As for torture, I fully expect the new president to denounce it and pledge that the US will not let it happen again.

But then I also expect we will be told that we must look ahead, there’s no time for recriminations, so there will be no penalties for those who created our gulags; nor, beyond symbolism (closing Guantanamo?), will the system be dismantled or even closely examined.

In other words, this most repulsive of weapons will be put on the shelf - but kept handy for use the next time a ‘ticking bomb’ scenario or some other temptation of power becomes irresistible. Torture will be rejected rhetorically, but accepted as precedent.

I find this last prospect the most odious on this gloomy list.

Let’s hope I'm mistaken. And hey - I’m a Christian, so I do believe in miracles.

But short of that, the rule still applies: In the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

I don’t see that changing this year.

Speaking Against Torture -- A Continuing Series

For part of the period of renovations, I was able to travel in Europe, speaking about torture. One outcome of that journey was a commentary published in our local daily paper, the Fayetteville Observer.

The Observer has editorialized strongly against torture, not once but several times. This is remarkable in itself; it’s more remarkable because of the paper’s military locale; and it’s downright distinguished given the stony silence on this subject in the editorial columns of larger papers in this state.

So kudos to them for speaking the truth. And below, slightly edited, is my first OpEd chiming in:

Fayetteville NC Observer– Thursday, July 10, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Torturers may see justice
By Chuck Fager

What are the chances that those responsible for torture in the so-called U.S. "war on terror" will escape punishment?

According to Dick Marty (that's him below), right now the chances are good.

Very good, in f

And Dick Marty should know. He’s the Swiss equivalent of a U.S. senator — and the chief anti-torture investigator for The Council of Europe, that continent’s official human rights monitoring group.

Marty produced two groundbreaking investigative reports that disclosed loads of hidden details about illegal U.S. torture flights to and across Europe. They also named Poland and Romania as the sites of similarly unlawful secret U.S. prisons.

The CIA shrugged off Marty’s reports, and they got little notice in the U.S. But elsewhere they are recognized as landmarks, and haven’t exactly burnished the U.S. image abroad.

I visited Europe last spring, giving talks to church groups, urging international action to stop torture. While there, I sought an appointment with Dick Marty. Having done investigative reporting myself, I wanted to give him props for a superb job, and talk about how he pulled it off.

More important, I hoped to get his candid view about the road ahead. I interviewed him in Lugano, his home town.

Knowing what he knows, I asked, is there any way to stop the perps from skating into the sunset on rollerblades of impunity?

Pardon the amateur crime-fighter argot, but it fits. Before Marty was elected to the Swiss parliament, he was a tough prosecutor who bested mobsters and drug barons in his home canton of Ticino, which adjoins Italy.

Marty’s English was limited, but his response was unmistakable: "That’s exactly the right question to be asking," he said.

After that, he didn’t have much immediate encouragement to offer. But then, he’s not in the optimism business.

Sure, he agreed, torture is already outlawed under both international and national laws. But, he added, at a secret NATO meeting in Athens in late 2001, the U.S. demanded and got assurances from all other member nations of impunity for its military and intelligence agencies, for any actions related to the "war on terror" on their territories. Several non-NATO nations, such as Ireland, later signed on as well.

Meanwhile, in U.S. courts, repeated assertions of the doctrine of "state secrets" have thus far stymied efforts, even by certifiably innocent torture victims like Khaled El Masri, to gain any redress.

So right now, it looks pretty well sewn up: tough luck, torture victims. And as for us lily-livered lovers of the Bill of Rights, better luck next time.

But that’s the short-term view. Marty wasn’t suggesting I go home and give up. "This will be a long work," Marty said. "It will require patience and determination."

Which means that the current forecast for torturers may be sunny, like Fayetteville weather. But that can change.

How? In a lot of ways, mostly a bit at a time. Public pressure could continue to build, investigations begin, half-hearted at first, but picking up steam as the depth of the problem became clearer.

And eventually, prosecutions — most likely these would start outside the United States. (Reliable reports are that cases are already being prepared in several countries, to surface in January.) And maybe a different U.S. president might just decide to keep out of their way.

Where would such a buildup of public pressure in the U.S. come from?

Believe it or not, the most likely place is American churches.

That’s what happened, by the way, in the most famous anti-impunity case so far: the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. That bust took 10 years of persistent work, and the Catholic Church was a major factor.

There are already several inter-church, anti-torture coalitions at work in the U.S. And they include more than the usual liberal suspects. An evangelical conference against torture is planned for Atlanta in September.

I’ll be there. I figure it’s the least a follower of Jesus could do.

Any other Fayetteville Christians care to come along?

We can send Dick Marty a postcard.

How do you say "patience and determination" in Swiss-accented Italian?

Return of the Exiles

The highlight of the summer here was not a dramatic peace action, but something much more homely: moving back into Quaker House.
"Exile" in this case was a house across town, to which we moved in mid-April, so that extensive renovations could begin on Quaker House. And in late July, we returned.
The pre-renovation house is shown here, upper left, with the old (very leaky) roof and blue-grey paint job.

Having to pack up completely and move out, then completely move back in, all in the space of five months, was a traumatic experience for me as a resident and staffer. I’m immensely grateful to the dedicated board members and friendly volunteers who helped to make it possible.

The renovations, long overdue, were aimed at fixing many neglected problems, such as dangerously obsolete wiring, foundation work, new coats of paint inside and out. The overall goal was to get the house in shape for another generation or more of service for peace.
The "New" house, with its organic (and watertight) cedar shingle roof, and the new deep green paint, is below.

The work was made possible by generous gifts from many donors, and again to all of you we say THANK YOU, and pledge that your investment will yield strong returns of continued witness and service.