Imagine if, on the day in early April when Jiverly Voong walked into the American Civic Association Building in Binghamton, New York, and gunned down 13 people, you read this headline in the news: “Binghamton in shock as police investigate what some critics call ‘mass murder.’” If American newspapers, as well as the TV and radio news were to adopt that as a form, we would, of course, find it absurd. Until proven guilty, a man with a gun may be called “a suspect,” but we know mass murder when we see it. And yet, in one of the Bush administration’s lingering linguistic triumphs, even as information on torture programs pours out, the word “torture” has generally suffered a similar fate.
The agents of that administration, for instance, used what, in the Middle Ages, used to be known bluntly as “the water torture” — we call it “waterboarding” — 183 times in a single month on a single prisoner and yet the other morning I woke up to this formulation on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition: “…harsh interrogations that some consider torture.” And here’s how Gwen Ifill of the News Hour put it the other night: “A tough Senate report out today raised new questions about drastic interrogations of terror suspects in the Bush years.” Or as USA Today typically had it: “Obama opened the door for possible investigation and prosecution of former Bush administration officials who authorized the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that critics call torture.” Or, for that matter, the New York Times: “…the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding and other techniques that critiques say crossed the line into torture…”
Torture, as a word, except in documents or in the mouths of other people — those “critics” — has evidently lost its descriptive powers in our news world where almost any other formulation is preferred. Often these days the word of choice is “harsh,” or even “brutal,” both substitutes for the anodyne “enhanced” in the Bush administration’s own description of the package of torture “techniques” it institutionalized and justified after the fact in those legal memos. The phrase was, of course, meant to be law-evading, since torture is a crime, not just in international law, but in this country. The fact is that, if you can’t call something what it is, you’re going to have a tough time facing what you’ve done, no less prosecuting crimes committed not quite in its name.
There were two important hearings regarding Afghanistan on the Hill last week — in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ (CPC) third forum examining the war. Both raised critical questions about the current strategy of escalation — questions Congress should take to heart as it considers the $83 billion war supplemental in coming weeks.
Senator John Kerry — who as a young Vietnam veteran famously asked the Foreign Relations Committee, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” — now chaired that same committee’s hearing titled “Voice of Veterans of the Afghan War.” He said in his opening statement that he “would not compare all of our conflicts to the Vietnam War…. [That] does not mean, however, that there are no parallels between the two wars.” The hearing bore out some of those parallels.
There was a diversity of opinion among the four veterans and retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich as to whether sending more troops is the right thing to do. But there was also something they held in common: their connection to this war — its stakes, costs, and consequences — is very personal (in the case of Bacevich his personal connection comes not only from having served in Vietnam but also losing his son in Iraq.)
Retired Corporal Rick Reyes was the most vocal of the Afghanistan War veterans in opposing escalation. He spoke of his determination — and that of his fellow Marines — to “fight the enemy” following 9/11. But Reyes said that instead they were “sent to fight an enemy we could never see. The entire time we were there, we were chasing ghosts.”
This past week I covered the bold testimony of Ret. Cpl. Rick Reyes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drawing the comparison between Reyes’s anti-war testimony and a young John Kerry alerting the nation to the horrors of the Vietnam War 38 years ago. I certainly wasn’t the only one to connect the dots between Vietnam and the current quagmire in Afghanistan, as you can see from this video with excerpts of Andrew Bacevich’s testimony.
Bacevich, a retired Colonel who served in Vietnam and is now professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, has become one of the most vocal critics of the “Long War,” as Defense Secretary Robert Gates dubbed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paraphrasing General Bruce Palmer’s account of the Vietnam War, Bacevich said that our country is once again “mired in a protracted war of an indeterminate nature, with no forseeable end to the US commitment.”
The Long War, as Bacevich exclaimed, has become the second most expensive war in US history (second only to WWII). Now that we our facing trillions in debt, Bacevich urged Congress to question the reasons for escalation in Afghanistan. “We just urgently need to ask ourselves whether or not the purposes of the long war are achievable, necessary, and affordable,” Bacevich claimed, “and Afghanistan is a subset of that longer set of questions.” Congress needs to address questions of cost before they vote on President Obama’s $83 billion war funding bill in the coming weeks. And the most direct way to follow Bacevich’s lead and confront Congress is by calling your Representatives as soon as possible, urging them not to vote until we have more oversight hearings like these, and more questions answered.
What happened today in Washington was, as Senator Russ Feingold called it, “historic.” Thirty-eight years nearly to the day when a young John Kerry shocked the nation with his fiery anti-Vietnam war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rick Reyes, a former US Marine Corporal, delivered an equally puissant testimony in which he expressed his disenchantment with the war in Afghanistan. How appropriate Kerry should be sitting directly across from Reyes as Committee Chairman, listening as Congress heard one of the first major voices of dissent on this war.
The son of Mexican immigrants who joined the Marines to escape a violent gang life in Los Angeles, Reyes served as an infantry rifleman in Afghanistan and Iraq. He upheld his duty to serve our country honorably, and immediately after 9/11, he was deployed to Afghanistan “with the conviction of fighting for justice and the American way.” All of that changed when Reyes realized US military forces faced the impossible task of fighting militant Taliban members who blended in with the local Afghan population, routinely resulting in the injuries or deaths of innocent civilians.
Everything we have all worked toward in our Rethink Afghanistan campaign — interviewing experts, airing debates, passing around parts of the documentary, and signing the petition for Congressional oversight hearings — is starting to pay off. Thanks to your efforts, we were able to bring Rick Reyes, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, to Congress’s attention.
Reyes, a former Corporal in the US Marines of unquestionable military experience and patriotism, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Reyes was powerful and truthful as he expressed serious discontent with the current mission in Afghanistan, telling Congress, “Sending more troops will not make the US safer, it will only build more opposition against us.” It is fitting then, that Reyes sat across from committee Chairman Senator John Kerry, considering yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of when Kerry sat before the same committee, electrifying the nation with his account of the Vietnam War.
Reyes’s testimony raises critical concerns that Congress must address before approving a massive supplemental war funding bill in the next few weeks. Let’s work to halt this war funding bill by calling our Representatives, and urging them not to vote for it until all the questions raised in these hearings have been answered. If you’re not sure who represents you, find out here.
We couldn’t have brought Reyes to Congress’s attention without you. Help us by making a donation of $20, $30, $50, or even $100 to this campaign today, so we can continue making your voices heard in Congress. Your support is paramount to continue the work we’re doing; clearly it’s having an impact! As Reyes told Congress, “I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer.”
We bring you Cost of War, part three of our Rethink Afghanistan documentary, which delves into the financial costs of this broadening war.
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn’t made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Watch Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, military and foreign policy experts, leading economists, and many more explain just how much the war in Afghanistan will cost us over how many years. View both the trailer and full segment of Cost of War, part three of the Rethink Afghanistan documentary.
Last week, we delivered a petition to Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Howard Berman, demanding oversight hearings. These hearings could raise the critical questions about costs and many other issues. Now, we want to know what questions you would ask in such hearings. Would you want to know how exactly the war is weakening the U.S. economy? What about whether more troops can solve Afghanistan’s problems or the escalating instability in Pakistan, subjects explored in parts one and two of this documentary?
Record your questions on your webcam and send them to us! Simple instructions for doing this can be found here. It’s easy!
Post your video to our Facebook page! Go to our Facebook page, click in the “Write something” box, and then click the video link.
We must urge Congress to raise key questions about this war at once. As FireDogLake blogger Siun recently wrote, “Once again we are planning a surge with no exit plan and a continued lack of concern for the most basic protection of the civilians in the land we claim to liberate.”
WASHINGTON, Mar 28 (IPS) – The argument for deeper U.S. military commitment to the Afghan War invoked by President Barack Obama in his first major policy statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan Friday – that al Qaeda must be denied a safe haven in Afghanistan – has not been subjected to public debate in Washington.
A few influential strategists here have been arguing, however, that this official rationale misstates the al Qaeda problem and ignores the serious risk that an escalating U.S. war poses to Pakistan.
Those strategists doubt that al Qaeda would seek to move into Afghanistan as long as they are ensconced in Pakistan and argue that escalating U.S. drone airstrikes or Special Operations raids on Taliban targets in Pakistan will actually strengthen radical jihadi groups in the country and weaken the Pakistani government’s ability to resist them.
17,000 or 21,000 more US troops will not protect Americans against Al Qaeda attacks.
The Obama plan instead will accelerate any plans Al Qaeda commanders have for attacking targets in the United States or Europe. The alternative for Al Qaeda is to risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. A terrorist attack need not be planned or set in motion from a cave in Waziristan. The cadre could already be underground in Washington or London. The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.
President Obama is right, at least politically, to take very seriously the threat of another 9/11 from any source. Besides the suffering inflicted, it would derail his agenda and perhaps his presidency. This is all the more reason he must understand that by repeatedly threatening to “kill Al Qaeda” he is provoking a hornets’ nest without protection against a devastating sting.
Rethink Afghanistan Director Robert Greenwald is currently in Kabul. Here is his account of the intense security:
It’s hard to put into words many things about Kabul, where I’ve been interviewing members of the Afghan parliament, women’s advocacy groups, and former Taliban members who want to negotiate peace.
One of the most sobering things I’ve seen is how security takes over your daily life, and this footage of the front of the hotel tells it all. Guards with machine guns patrol everywhere–the face of a conflict brought home.