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Will Pitt: The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

William Rivers Pitt: The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 26 September 2006

I was flipping through the channels on my television a few days ago to see if there was a baseball game on somewhere. When I got into the 20s on the channel numbers, I did what I always do: I started punching the change-channel button with vigor so as to be spared the standard gibberish that always comes on the screen whenever I accidentally light on one of the cable news channels.

Of course, I wasn't fast enough. I don't know if it was CNN or MSNBC or Fox or what, but sure enough, the some Republican shill appeared before me speaking the same tired line of nonsense. "We're gonna secure and protect America ..." was what I heard, just for a second, and then he was gone in a flurry of button-pounding, because I've heard too much of that noise already.

Secure and protect America? Yeah, bang-up job these folks have done so far.

"Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat" read the headline a few days ago. It seems the invasion and occupation of Iraq has spawned a new generation of radicalized men and women willing to die for the privilege of taking American soldiers, or you, or me, with them.

The information contained in the newest National Intelligence Estimate, considered to be the most authoritative report on the subject, was so unutterably damning that even the White House was forced to cede the point. "It assesses that a variety of factors, in addition to Iraq, fuel the spread of jihadism," said administration Tony Snow to reporters, "including longstanding social grievances, slowness of the pace of reform, and the use of the Internet."

One significant factor adding to the explosive extremism in Iraq is the fact that the use of torture has grown exponentially across that nation. Manfred Nowak, the UN special investigator on torture, stated last week that torture in Iraq is "totally out of hand," and is worse today than under the regime of Saddam Hussein. We hear this while the Bush administration and its Congressional allies push for a broader mandate to torture anyone they deem fit for the waterboard or the electrode.

"That means something," said Nowak, "because the torture methods applied under Saddam Hussein were the worst you could imagine. You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are actually abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed. It's not just torture by the government. There are much more brutal methods of torture you'll find by private militias."

The Bush administration tells us, as ever, that winning the war is the key to defusing terrorism in Iraq and around the world. Fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, right? Unfortunately, our efforts towards this end today are as catastrophically flawed as the basic ideas behind the invasion and occupation.

One of the most dangerous moments for any army comes when it succumbs to the "bunker mentality," i.e., digging in behind walls and fences and forts while the forces to be opposed are allowed to range free across the countryside. We have seen the beginnings of this in the fortification of Baghdad's "Green Zone," where American troops hunker down behind concrete and razor wire while the city beyond spirals into chaos.

The "bunker mentality" is about to envelop all of Baghdad. American forces are in the process of sealing the city behind a ring of reinforced checkpoints, berms, trenches, barriers and fences. This has been tried already in the blood-soaked towns of Samarra and Fallujah, and both times, these efforts failed.

Another grim signal that this administration and its Iraq offensive have significantly undercut America's safety can be found within the armed forces itself. Senior Army officials have begun hinting that the size of the Army may be expanded by some 60,000 soldiers, an expensive proposition that has been consistently opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the last several days, one Army brigade has been rushed back to Iraq a month earlier than planned, while another has had its rotation home delayed by six weeks.

"The reason senior Army leaders want to go to a bigger Army," reported ABC News on Monday, "is that they are worried about their ability to fight future threats. One official told ABC News, other than the troops now in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are only two to three combat brigades - that's 7,000 to 10,000 troops - who are fully trained and equipped to respond quickly to a crisis. 'If we keep forces in Iraq too long, we risk running into a situation where the force begins to break,' said former US Army officer Andrew Krepenevich."

For the record, 2,703 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Sixty-one have died during the month of September, amounting to just a bit more than two per day. Twenty thousand soldiers have been wounded, with the most common form of debilitation being brain injuries. Some of these brain injuries come from direct impact from a bullet or shrapnel, but most are caused by explosions that cause the brain to be shaken violently within the skull and helmet.

The Bush administration, its officials in the Pentagon and the Republican Congress have responded to this trend by slashing funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

We're gonna secure and protect America, said the man. We will torture with impunity and gather from those agonies great swaths of useless and false information. That useless information will be spread far and wide by the Bush administration as it scrambles to prove that it knows what it is doing while a midterm election showdown looms. Americans will be made to tremble with fear, fulfilling the greatest desire of any living terrorist. Our leadership, in effect, does their work for them.

Meanwhile, these actions fuel the very extremism our "War on Terror" is supposed to thwart, putting the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, as well as you and me, at greater risk. Trenches, walls and barbed wire are erected around Baghdad, serving perhaps as a hint of what to come on the American mainland. How long will it be before the "bunker mentality" takes over on our streets and cities? The Army, in the process, is falling apart.

History does not blink. Future generations will look to these times and learn what it looks like when a great nations falls to tatters, one brick at a time. Matters are not yet beyond recovery, not yet, but we are close to a precipice deeper and more deadly than our worst imaginings. Few options remain available to us, a change of leadership being the most obvious among them. We are almost out of turns.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally 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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