Ross Caputi

Reply Sun 21 Apr, 2013 08:11 pm
The inconvenient truth the Pentagon would prefer we didn't see

- It is not photographs of US soldiers mocking Afghan insurgents' bodies that incites violence, but the plain fact of US occupation

Ross Caputi
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 April 2012 20.28 BST

The LA Times released new photos Wednesday of US soldiers posing in a celebratory manner with the corpses of dead Afghan suicide bombers. The photos were provided by a soldier from the 82nd Airborne division who felt that they revealed a "breakdown in leadership and discipline", with the hope that the photos would force the Army to correct this situation.

However, US military officials requested the LA Times not publish any of the photos. The Pentagon statement argued that the photos "do not represent the character and professionalism of the great majority of our troops in Afghanistan" and that the photos "have the potential to indict" all of our troops in Afghanistan "in the minds of local Afghans, inciting violence and perhaps causing needless casualties".

Treating these photos as an isolated incident by a few bad apples is the Pentagon's second favorite response to news of our troops committing shameful acts overseas. This was how they treated the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the rape and murder of A'beer Qassim al-Janabi (a 15-year-old Iraqi girl), the Haditha Massacre, the "kill team" in Afghanistan, the Marines who urinated on dead Afghans, the recent murder of 16 Afghan civilians, and many similar incidents. If we count all the times US officials have claimed that the abhorrent and embarrassing acts of US troops overseas were isolated incidents, the numbers would reveal that this sort of behavior is actually quite regular.

The Pentagon's preferred response to these sorts of incidents is to claim that acknowledging them puts our troops overseas in danger, because news of these incidents could enrage the populations that we victimized and provoke them to attack our troops. Thus, these incidents are better kept a secret.

There are several things that trouble me about this line of logic. First, it implies that the blame for the harm that comes to our troops falls on Afghan insurgents, not on the politicians and generals who sent soldiers to Afghanistan. This rhetorical sleight of hand shifts the blame from the architects of the occupation to the people we are occupying.

More importantly, this type of reasoning reveals just how little we care about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, because Afghan opinion is regarded as an obstacle to be forestalled or overcome. The "white man's burden" is still very much alive in American war culture. Very few Americans question the assumption that we know what is best for Afghans; we don't feel that they have a right to object to what we are doing in their country. So when some Afghans resist and fight back, we consider it to be criminal.

Our goal, then, is to keep Afghans passive, rather than treating them as rational actors and encouraging them to have a voice. If Afghans want something other than what the Pentagon wants, it is deemed irrelevant; and our actions that might enrage them (since, again, they are not rational actors) are best kept a secret.

The Pentagon rhetoric is meant to deflect attention from all the moral questions that American citizens should be engaging in and focus their attention on the plight of our troops. Honest public discourse would address a persistent pattern of brutal and inhuman behavior by our troops and why that sort of behavior is to be expected in this war with all of its ideological distortions and immoral foundations. And it would address the right of Afghans to resist the imposition of our policies in their country, and the callousness of our leaders for putting our troops in harm's way by asking them to violate the rights of Afghans.


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Reply Sun 21 Apr, 2013 08:22 pm
Tarek Mehanna: punished for speaking truth to power

If Mehanna is a terrorist conspirator for advocating resistance to US military occupation, then so am I, a Marine veteran

Ross Caputi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 April 2012 16.27 BST

On 12 April, Tarek Mehanna was found guilty of conspiracy and of giving material support for terrorism and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The prosecution accused Mehanna of translating statements for al-Qaida and of disseminating pro-jihadist material on the internet. Mehanna maintains that he does not support the world view of al-Qaida, though he is unapologetic for supporting the rights of Muslims to defend themselves against their oppressors – in this case, US and British soldiers. The American Civil Liberties Union has said that the verdict against Tarek "undermines" free speech, while the prosecution holds that Tarek was "conspiring to support terrorists" and "for conspiring to kill Americans overseas".

However, if Tarek Mehanna is guilty, so am I. I, too, support the right of Muslims to defend themselves against US troops, even if that means they have to kill them, and I try to give the Iraqi resistance a voice through my website. I have done everything that Tarek Mehanna has done, and there are only two possibilities as to why I am not sitting in a cell with him: first, the FBI is incompetent and hasn't been able to smoke me out; second, the US judicial system would never dream of violating my freedom of speech because I am white and I am a veteran of the occupation of Iraq.

Indeed, Mehanna is being punished for his ideas, and the case against him stinks of a lynch-mob mentality. The Islamophobia that still grips the US has often resulted in a hysterical witch-hunt for "radical" Muslims, of which Tarek Mehanna is the most recent victim. Most Muslims in the US can get by as long as they proclaim their love for this country and keep their mouths shut about American foreign policy, but a Muslim who is vocally critical of US policy is still a very scary thing for many in the US. Mehanna's ideas have been criminalized because they are critical of US policy and advocate for jihad, which, unfortunately, is pitifully misunderstood in the US. In the current political atmosphere, critical ideas are too often equated with extremism, and jihad is equated with terrorism.

Jihad is not synonymous with terrorism, however, and most Americans would be shocked to learn that they share many values with jihadists, such as duty, the importance of self-improvement, and the right to self-defense. Jihad, which literally means "struggle" or "effort", can describe an internal struggle to refrain from sin, an effort to promote Islamic values, or a duty to defend other Muslims when they are under attack. Jihad is not an aggressive war to convert others, nor does it condone terrorism. Yet, jihad is popularly understood in America to be a call for terrorism against infidels.

I found Tarek Mehanna's sentencing statement eloquent and truthful. I agree with him that much of what the US military has done in Iraq and Afghanistan can be characterized as terrorism, and I support Afghans and Iraqis who fight back against us. What I helped do to the city of Fallujah was terrorism, and I lost two dear friends in that operation, but I cannot hate or begrudge the resistance in Fallujah for killing them. They were only doing what I would have done had a foreign army been laying siege to my hometown. We were the aggressors and the terrorists, and I can see that now, eight years too late.

I agree with Tarek Mehanna that when Muslims attack US troops that have invaded and occupied their country, it is not an act of terrorism. It is simply warfare. Just as when George Washington's army attacked British troops in 1776, it was not terrorism, but warfare. However, such a comparison assumes that there is an objective definition of "terrorism" that is used consistently by Americans. But as Tarek Mehanna pointed out in his sentencing statement, the term "terrorism" is subjective in American discourse, because the term is only acceptable when it is used to refer to what the official enemy does to us.

If there were an objective definition, then the same standards by which we condemn the terrorism of others could be used to condemn our acts of terrorism. We could then say that the "shock and awe" bombing of Iraq killed more innocent civilians than the attacks of 9/11, and was also an act of terrorism. We could also say that what we did to Fallujah was an act of terrorism. But such statements are shocking and unthinkable to Americans.

I'm not afraid to profess my support for Tarek Mehanna, or to advocate for his ideas, because I know the law does not apply equally to all in America. My whiteness and my status as a veteran will protect me. But Tarek was brown and he never made the mistake of enlisting in the Marine Corps, as I did. So he will spend the next 17 years in a prison cell.

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Reply Mon 22 Apr, 2013 08:32 pm
I am sorry for the role I played in Fallujah
As a US marine who lost close friends in the siege of Fallujah in Iraq seven years ago, I understand that we were the aggressors

It has been seven years since the end of the second siege of Fallujah – the US assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more; the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects.

It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did.

The US veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for.

I know, because I am one of those American veterans. In the eyes of many of the people I "served" with, the people of Fallujah remain dehumanised and their resistance fighters are still believed to be terrorists. But unlike most of my counterparts, I understand that I was the aggressor, and that the resistance fighters in Fallujah were defending their city.

It is also the seventh anniversary of the deaths of two close friends of mine, Travis Desiato and Bradley Faircloth, who were killed in the siege. Their deaths were not heroic or glorious. Their deaths were tragic, but not unjust.

How can I begrudge the resistance in Fallujah for killing my friends, when I know that I would have done the same thing if I were in their place? How can I blame them when we were the aggressors?

It could have been me instead of Travis or Brad. I carried a radio on my back that dropped the bombs that killed civilians and reduced Fallujah to rubble. If I were a Fallujan, I would have killed anyone like me. I would have had no choice. The fate of my city and my family would have depended on it. I would have killed the foreign invaders.

Travis and Brad are both victims and perpetrators. They were killed and they killed others because of a political agenda in which they were just pawns. They were the iron fist of American empire, and an expendable loss in the eyes of their leaders.

I do not see any contradiction in feeling sympathy for the dead US Marines and soldiers and at the same time feeling sympathy for the Fallujans who fell to their guns. The contradiction lies in believing that we were liberators, when in fact we oppressed the freedoms and wishes of Fallujans. The contradiction lies in believing that we were heroes, when the definition of "hero" bares no relation to our actions in Fallujah.

What we did to Fallujah cannot be undone, and I see no point in attacking the people in my former unit. What I want to attack are the lies and false beliefs. I want to destroy the prejudices that prevented us from putting ourselves in the other's shoes and asking ourselves what we would have done if a foreign army invaded our country and laid siege to our city.

I understand the psychology that causes the aggressors to blame their victims. I understand the justifications and defence mechanisms. I understand the emotional urge to want to hate the people who killed someone dear to you. But to describe the psychology that preserves such false beliefs is not to ignore the objective moral truth that no attacker can ever justly blame their victims for defending themselves.

The same distorted morality has been used to justify attacks against the native Americans, the Vietnamese, El Salvadorans, and the Afghans. It is the same story over and over again. These people have been dehumanised, their God-given right to self-defence has been delegitimised, their resistance has been reframed as terrorism, and US soldiers have been sent to kill them.

History has preserved these lies, normalised them, and socialised them into our culture: so much so that legitimate resistance against US aggression is incomprehensible to most, and to even raise this question is seen as un-American.

History has defined the US veteran as a hero, and in doing so it has automatically defined anyone who fights against him as the bad guy. It has reversed the roles of aggressor and defender, moralised the immoral, and shaped our societies' present understanding of war.

I cannot imagine a more necessary step towards justice than to put an end to these lies, and achieve some moral clarity on this issue. I see no issue more important than to clearly understand the difference between aggression and self-defence, and to support legitimate struggles. I cannot hate, blame, begrudge, or resent Fallujans for fighting back against us. I am sincerely sorry for the role I played in the second siege of Fallujah, and I hope that some day not just Fallujans but all Iraqis will win their struggle.

• This piece originally ran on stopwar.org.uk


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Reply Mon 22 Apr, 2013 09:41 pm
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