UQ Wire: Tin Soldiers And We Are Coming
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Unanswered Questions : Thinking for ourselves.
Tin Soldiers and We are Coming
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 4 May 2004
TO Editor's Note | The following remarks were delivered by William Rivers Pitt on May 4th on the campus of Kent State University, at a ceremony to mark the 34th anniversary of the Kent State Shootings. - TO
This is sacred ground. It was in this place, one of many, that ordinary Americans stepped forward to say no to a government that was sprinting towards disaster. That action was met in this place with deadly force, force that took the lives of those who marched, along with the lives of those who happened to be passing innocently by when the bullets began to fly.
Last night, in the candlelight procession which crossed the campus and ended where those four students died, I was honored to carry the light of Sandy Scheuer, who was killed 34 years ago today. I have a promise for those of you who are here today in her name. I will keep that light I was privileged to hold last night with me for the rest of my days.
I've spent the last several weeks trying to decide what, exactly, to speak about today. For much of that time, I've been stuck. It wasn't that I didn't have anything to talk about. Quite the opposite. There is too much, much too much, that we need to discuss here today. I was stuck. Should I limit my remarks to the events which took place here on this day?
Would I offend those who were there when it happened, those who lost loved ones, if I chose to speak of other things as well? I hope you will forgive me, but I decided that I must do more than mark this time, this place, and the blood shed on this day. I mean no offense. The wheel has come around again, you see. A day when ordinary Americans must stand forth and say no to a government sprinting towards disaster has come again.
I feel, oddly enough, a little like Abraham Lincoln, after Lincoln was given the name of a Mrs. Bixby, who lost five sons on Civil War battlefields. How does one properly react to such news? "I feel how weak and fruitless," Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Bixby, "must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming." That is how I feel standing here today.
I am overwhelmed with grief, not just for those who were killed and wounded on this ground 34 years ago, but for this whole nation, which has so clearly and catastrophically lost its way, again. The essence of that catastrophe? We. Never. Learn.
As managing editor of truthout, I get a lot of email and letters. In the last several months, dozens of these letters have come from the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children and friends of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq. One such letter reads as follows:
"Dear Mr. Pitt, I must share with you the obituary I wrote for my son, Sgt. Evan Ashcraft, who was killed July 24 near Mosul. I often think of the contributions my intelligent, sensitive wonderful son could have made. He had so much potential. He told us that when he came back from Iraq he wanted to help people. He said he had seen so much hatred and death that the only way to live his life was through aid to others. Look at what we've lost. The loss is not just mine, it's the world's loss. Evan will always be alive in my heart. He and all the other victims of this heinous action in Iraq must be more than mere numbers emerging from the Pentagon's daily tally. His death is a crime against humanity" - this is a mother speaking, remember - "and the fault lies with the war criminals who inhabit our White House. Please share his story so that he may come alive to your readers."
Here, again, is that grief from a loss so overwhelming. I have shared the story of Evan Ashcraft with people from one side of this country to the other, because the story of Evan Ashcraft is also our story. In telling this story, I have felt time and again the grief his mother has endured, have felt time and again the grief endured by more than 750 families which have lost loved ones in this invasion, have felt the grief endured by the 20,000 other families who have had loved ones returned to them from this invasion missing an arm, a leg, a face, a future. I cannot speak for these families, or for any of you here, but only for myself when I say that my grief, my sorrow, my horror at all of this has turned to the deepest, darkest rage.
There is a page on the White House's website - right now, at this moment, in May of 2004 - entitled 'Disarm Saddam Hussein.' This page correlates exactly with the information disgorged by George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address. To wit: Iraq is in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agents (for those here without calculators, 500 tons = one million pounds...hide that), 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents, several mobile biological weapons labs, and operational connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. This page also states quite clearly - right now, today, at this moment - that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger for use in a nuclear weapons program.
The vast quantities of anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin, mustard gas and VX, along with the munitions to deliver them, as well as any connections between Iraq and al Qaeda terrorism, have completely failed to show up in the 16 months since they were first described in tones of fearful doom to the American people. The 'mobile weapons labs' - termed "Winnebagoes of Death" by Colin Powell - have been shown to be weather balloon launching platforms sold to Iraq by the British in the 1980s.
The claims about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger have been exposed as lies so deep and profound that America stands humiliated before the world. Those lies have also led to a federal investigation into this White House for, basically, treason: Because Ambassador Joseph Wilson - who investigated and discounted the uranium claims in the first place - Because Ambassador Joseph Wilson dared reveal these lies to the public, his wife, Valerie Plame, was exposed as a CIA agent in an act of revenge perpetrated by officials within the Bush administration.
Note well. Wilson blew George W. Bush and his people right out of the water by exposing their Iraq uranium claims as fiction. In response, some members of the administration let it be known that his wife was a CIA agent. There are two vital points to understand in this. One: Valerie Plame was not an analyst, a secretary, or a low-level staffer. Valerie Plame was a NOC, which stands for "non-official cover." It designates an agent operating under such deep cover that they cannot be publicly tied to the American intelligence community in any way, shape or form.
Valerie Plame was a NOC running a network dedicated to tracking any person, nation or group that might put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists. Let me say that again. Valerie Plame was a NOC running a network dedicated to tracking any person nation or group that might put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists. The Bush administration trashed her out after screaming for a year about the dangers of letting weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of terrorists. I heard somewhere that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists was a matter of concern. Like I said: Treason.
The second vital point to understand is this: The Bush administration outed Valerie Plame, deliberately and with intent, as a warning to Joseph Wilson, and to threaten any other insiders who might desire to speak the truth about what this administration has been doing. They did it to shut people up who were saying things they didn't like. As we stand here today, in this place where violence was brought down upon people who were saying things the government didn't like, the parallel is chilling. Our government is once again in the business of silencing its critics by any means necessary. The wheel has come round again.
Make no mistake, and do not be fooled by refashioned rhetoric. We did not go to war to 'liberate' the Iraqi people, as the new rhetoric would claim. We did not go to war to bring democracy to Iraq, as the new rhetoric would claim. That State of the Union speech in January 2003, scant weeks before the invasion, made it very clear why we were going to war. Iraq was an imminent threat to the safety and security of the United States, we were told.
The usage of the words 'imminent threat' has led to some uncomfortable moments for the Bush administration once it became clear that all of their dire warnings were utter balderdash. They have many times denied ever describing Iraq as an imminent threat. The words 'imminent threat' and the administration's denials led to some of the best television I have ever seen. A recent edition of the news program Face the Nation had Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defending the invasion. This is a portion of that interview, and please note that I am reading here from the transcript as best I can:
BOB SCHIEFFER (the host): Well, let me just ask you this. If they did not have these weapons of mass destruction, why then did they pose an immediate threat to us, to this country?
RUMSFELD: Well, you're the--you and a few other critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase `immediate threat.' I didn't. The president didn't. And it's become kind of folklore that that's--that's what's happened. The president went...
SCHIEFFER: You're saying that nobody in the administration said that.
RUMSFELD: Not--if--if you have any citations, I'd like to see 'em.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: We have one here. It says `some have argued that the nu'--this is you speaking--`that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.'
Mr. FRIEDMAN: It was close to imminent.
RUMSFELD: Well, I've--I've tried to be precise, and I've tried to be accurate. I'm s--suppose I've...
Mr. FRIEDMAN (quoting Rumsfeld again): `No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.'
RUMSFELD: Mm-hmm. It--my view of--of the situation was that he--he had--we--we believe, the best intelligence that we had and other countries had and that--that we believed and we still do not know--we will know.
Hovering over all of all of these dire warnings in the months before the invasion was one unifying theme, an image hammered home to the American people day after day after day. Burning towers, innocent people leaping to their deaths. In every way possible, the Bush administration connected the immediate need to attack Iraq with the horror of September 11. We have to get them, they said, because Iraq is connected with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, because Iraq has WMDs which they could give to bin Laden and bring forth a day which makes September 11 look like a picnic by comparison.
Scary stuff, that. But when it became clear that the WMD threats had been grossly overblown, and when no connections could be made between Hussein and al Qaeda, the Bush administration backed away from the 9/11 connection claims as quickly as they had backed away from the 'imminent threat' claims. We never said Iraq and al Qaeda were connected, they complained. Why would anyone ever say we did such a thing?
September 2002: Rumsfeld said he had five or six sentences of "bulletproof" evidence that "demonstrate that there are in fact Al Qaeda in Iraq." Asked "Is there any intelligence that Saddam Hussein has any ties to Sept. 11?, Rumsfeld replied, "You have to recognize that the evidence piles up." Asked to name senior Al Qaeda members who were in Baghdad, Rumsfeld said, "I could, but I won't."
In his February speech to the United Nations, the one in which he revealed the existence of the "Winnebagoes of Death," Secretary of State Powell warned of the "sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network."
In arguing for the Iraq invasion, Bush on March 18 delivered a letter to the House and Senate that said, in paragraph two: "The use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
And then there was May 1st, a little more than one year ago today, when Bush announced the end of "combat operations" underneath the soaring banner which read MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. On that day, Bush proclaimed: "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001. The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of Al Qaeda. "
There are two crucial points to consider here. First, the reality is that, though Saddam Hussein was certainly a bloody wretch, he was also a secular leader who spent thirty years killing every Islamic fundamentalist he could get his hands on. He was particularly fond of killing practitioners of Wahabbism, the sect of Islam practiced by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda fighters. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have been blood enemies for years; bin Laden has called for Hussein's death on many occasions.
The idea that Hussein would arm bin Laden with a pea shooter, much less weapons of mass destruction, is laughable. Saddam Hussein did not last in that neighborhood by being suicidal. Arming Osama bin Laden would have been suicide, because bin Laden would have used those weapons on Hussein. Period. End of story...and never mind the fact that there were no WMDs in Iraq to arm bin Laden with even if he wanted to.
Beyond that is the simple fact that Saddam Hussein, for the last several years, was little more than the Mayor of Baghdad. Vast areas in the north and south in Iraq were totally beyond his control because of the no-fly zones. These, by the way, are the areas where al Qaeda fighters had reportedly been sighted. Those fighters had nothing to do with, and had no allegiance to, Saddam Hussein. A lot of them, in fact, wanted to kill him. To say that Hussein had al Qaeda connections because those guys were in his country at one time is to say that George W. Bush has al Qaeda connections, because they were in America before the September 11 attacks.
The second, and most important thing to consider, is simply this: They used September 11 against you. To this very day, they are using September 11 against you. Deliberately and with intent, they used September 11 to inspire fear and loathing within the populace, in order to gin up support for a war that should not have happened. How many of you know someone who has plastic sheeting and duct tape tucked away somewhere in their home? Those are souvenirs of that fear, delivered to you by the same government that should have stopped the September 11 attacks in the first place. But it happened, one way or another depending on what you believe, and here we are. They used September 11 against you.
I can think of few greater crimes than that which has been committed against us all, and against the world entire, by this administration. Make no mistake, it is a crime. It is a crime, and by God in heaven, there will be a reckoning for it.
And what of the people of Iraq? More than 10,000 of them have been killed in the invasion and occupation. What of the people of Iraq, who did no harm to us and were never, ever a threat to us? Do they pine in the darkness of their nights for the democracy and freedom we promised them? If they do, then woe unto them, because there will be no freedom, no democracy for them. The Hussein bootheel which stood so long on their necks - a bootheel, by the way, marked 'Made in the USA' - has been replaced by another American bootheel worn by Hussein thugs.
Not so long ago, we were told by the Bush administration that it was Hussein loyalists and Ba'athist Party holdouts that were organizing and implementing the attacks against our forces. Now, we are reconstituting Hussein's army to do the fighting for us. Now, we are opening doors of opportunity to Ba'athist holdouts. Now, we are putting a former Hussein general in charge of the besieged city of Fallujah. He returned days ago in triumph to that city, wearing his old Republican Guard uniform. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Here is what the people of Iraq know. There will be no democracy for them, because it has been made clear that this farcical June 30th handover date, which will purportedly mark a new dawn of Iraqi sovereignty, is a crude whitewashing of an ugly truth. Whatever this new Iraqi government will look like, it will have no power to make laws of any kind. It will have no command over the security of Iraq. It will have no power over the foreign troops occupying Iraqi soil.
Here is what the people of Iraq know. They have seen the gruesome pictures of fellow Iraqis tortured and humiliated at the hands of their American captors in the Abu Ghraib prison, which was for so long a home to torture by the hand of Saddam Hussein. They have seen the pictures of men forced to masturbate in front of each other, forced to simulate sexual acts upon each other, forced to stand naked with electrodes attached to them, forced to endure attacks by dogs. The American media has made much of these photos, but there is a darker aspect to them which has not been examined properly, an added layer of humiliation which must be understood.
The Iraqis who were tortured were Muslims, and the humiliations they endured were specifically intended to strike to the heart of their faith. This was not just physical torture, but spiritual torture as well. The Muslim prophet Mohammed outlawed homosexuality, and so these men were forced to pantomime homosexual sex upon each other. According to Islam, the saliva of a dog is Najis, or impure, and any place on the human body or clothing touched by this impurity must be cleansed immediately, and so a dog was sicced upon these men.
Here is what the people of Iraq know: These grave humiliations were not accidents. The investigation into the Abu Ghraib torture is also looking into thirty - thirty - similar cases as bad or worse which have taken place over the last year. Not only were the bodies of Iraqi people tortured, but their very souls were tortured as well. Their God, and their religion, with deliberation and intent, was spit upon. Combine this with the siege of Najaf, holiest of cities for Shi'ites around the world, and you have before you an openly deliberate attempt not only to take possession of the nation of Iraq, but to undermine and offend the most fundamental religious underpinnings which define the very lives of the people there.
This is what the Iraqi people know, and so they fight. If your home, your country, your religious faith were under deliberate assault, would you do any less? I'll tell you this much. If Canada were to lose its mind and invade Maine to 'liberate' its people, and to grab Maine's timber resources as a nifty little side bonus, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd be on a train to Portland with a rifle in my hand. You can bet on one other thing as well: The Canadian press would call me an 'insurgent.' They might even call me a 'terrorist.' But in truth, I'd be a patriot, willing and ready to lay down my life to hurl back across that border any invader who would dare attempt to take my country away from me.
How dare I say such a thing in the light of day. How dare I use the word 'patriot' in the same sentence in which I describe the people who have killed more than 750 American soldiers. I will dare much in the name of truth, because I have read the letters from the family members of those American dead, I know the name of Evan Ashcraft and too many others, and in singing his song I must speak of these things. My grief for this loss is overwhelming, but I cannot in my grief sidestep the facts. The Bush administration has taken to labeling anyone on earth who would raise arms against this insane global aggression as 'terrorists.' If you're not an American, you're a terrorist...and according to certain portions of the Patriot Act, a good many Americans are also terrorists. Some of you here are terrorists. Welcome to the club.
The truth is that it is all too convenient to use tricks of language to blame Iraqi 'terrorist insurgents' for the deaths of all those Americans. Trade places with them, however, and face an invading army commanded by leaders whose goals and motives are fully criminal, face an invading army that would kill and torture and humiliate, and think about what you would do. Language is a funny thing. It can be used to reveal, and to disguise. Even today, 34 years later, you can find a similar argument right here. Were the people shot down here insurgents? Were they terrorists? Were they patriots?
There is language, and there is truth. The truth, for me, is this: Those who fell here on this day were patriots, and the wheel has come round. The truth, for me, is this: I blame George W. Bush for our wretched estate today. I lay the bodies of our dead, and all the Iraqi dead, at the doorstep of this White House. This war, conceived in darkness and doomed to fail from the beginning, has been lost. All we are doing now is stirring the ashes. We. Never. Learn.
The truth, for me, is this: We have gathered here today to mourn the loss and celebrate the lives of those who fell here 34 years ago. This is sacred ground. 34 years ago, some very ordinary Americans rose up to strike a blow against a disastrous war, and the price paid for this decision to speak up and speak out was fearful and mortal. The wheel has rolled, and has come around once more.
We must rise again on this sacred ground, we must enter again into the valley of the shadow of death, and we must fear no evil, because this must be stopped, and we must be the ones to stop it. Patriots once marched here, and must march here again. We. Must. Learn.
This is your wake up call, Mr. Bush. Your 15 minutes are just about over. Tin soldiers and we are coming.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'
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