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.

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