The fall of Ramadi and the criminality of US imperialism


20 May 2015

Nearly a year after the debacle suffered by US imperialism and the regime it imposed during more than eight bloody years of war and occupation of Iraq—the fall of the country’s second largest city, Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a similar collapse has unfolded in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province.

Attempts by the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to dismiss the events in Ramadi as a minor setback are either disingenuous or delusional. As in Mosul, Iraq’s US-trained and armed regular army largely melted away in the face of an offensive by the Islamist guerrillas. And once again, it has left behind large stores of US-supplied weaponry, ranging from dozens of armored cars and tanks to artillery and other armaments and vast quantities of ammunition, all of it now in ISIS hands.

Just as with Mosul, the fall of Ramadi has unleashed a new humanitarian catastrophe on the war-ravaged people of Iraq, with hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians killed and tens of thousands turned into homeless refugees. Those who remain face the threat of violence at the hands of ISIS as well as sectarian reprisals from the Shiite militias that are massing for a bid to retake the city.

This latest debacle has unfolded nearly 10 months into the Obama administration’s “Operation Inherent Resolve,” the title given to Washington’s latest military intervention in the Middle East. It has provoked criticism within ruling circles of US strategy, which has consisted of US airstrikes against both Iraq and Syria, the deployment of nearly 5,000 US ground troops in Iraq and the launching of a $500 million program to train and arm so-called Syrian “rebels.”

There is a growing drumbeat for sending greater numbers of US ground forces more directly into the fighting. The Washington Post published an editorial Tuesday charging that “the US lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’” ISIS. It demands that the administration commit US military units to “work with Iraqi forces on the ground.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal published a column urging “more ground operations by Special Operations forces” as well as the deployment of “Apache attack helicopters and transport planes,” along with an entire brigade “dedicated to improving operational command and intelligence support.”

It is no accident that amid this drive for the escalation of the ongoing US intervention another, thoroughly dishonest, debate has played out in the context of the 2016 presidential election campaign, over whether the launching of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq was a “mistake” or a justified response to what proved “faulty intelligence.”

The immediate impetus for this phony debate has been calls for Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush—and other Republicans—to account for the actions of the younger Bush’s brother, George W. The cynical aim of both the capitalist politicians and media, however, is to erase from the consciousness of the American people the bitter lessons of being dragged into a criminal war of aggression foisted upon them through scaremongering about “weapons of mass destruction” and ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda. Both were fabrications employed to promote a war whose real aim was securing US hegemony over the energy-rich Middle East.

That there is a difference between “faulty intelligence” and lies is self-evident, just as a “mistake” is not the same thing as a premeditated war of aggression, the principal crime for which the Nazi leadership was tried at Nuremberg.

Jeb Bush’s response has consisted in large measure of the undeniable assertion that not only did he and his brother support the war in Iraq, but that so did the Democratic frontrunner, former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, along with virtually the entire US ruling establishment. In short, there are no clean hands; everyone is implicated in a crime of historic proportions.

Nor, clearly, have these crimes stopped with either the end of the Bush administration or the 2011 withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The US-NATO war that destroyed Libya was launched on the pretext of “human rights.” It was necessary, the public was told, to protect the people of Benghazi from imminent massacre. Today, much of Benghazi—and the entire country—has been reduced to rubble by fighting between rival militias. The death toll mounts daily and millions of Libyans have become refugees.

The predatory aims of this imperialist intervention have been further exposed by the recent revelationthat Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, was promoting the Libya policy recommendations of former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, who was in turn working with a group of capitalist investors on schemes to exploit the oil-rich country’s wealth once its government was smashed and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, murdered.

What incredible mayhem and destruction has been wrought upon the Middle East through the last dozen years of US military aggression! Promoted and defended by Democrats and Republicans alike, this criminal bloodletting has been carried out in the service of naked profit interests. Well over a million people have lost their lives, with millions more maimed or driven from their homes.

Entire countries have been destroyed. In the drive to overthrow and assassinate one secular Arab head of state after another—from Saddam Hussein to Gaddafi to Bashar al Assad—the Pentagon and the CIA have deliberately fomented sectarian tensions, pitting Sunnis against Shia in an even bloodier version of the old colonial strategy of divide and conquer. ISIS is the direct product of this process, spawned by the US intervention in Iraq and then strengthened by the proxy war for regime change in Syria, where it and similar Sunni Islamist militias were armed and funded by Washington’s regional allies, under the guiding hand of the CIA.

As one crime and debacle follows another, what is most remarkable is that no one is held accountable. Not only is no one involved fired from their posts—much less tried for war crimes—there are not even serious public hearings held to expose the decisions and policies that produced these disasters.

Every element of the ruling strata and every institution of American society are implicated, from the Bushes, Clintons and Obama to Congress, the profit-hungry corporations, the lying media and an overwhelmingly cowardly and self-satisfied academia.

The impunity they have all enjoyed after each criminal war only paves the way for even greater conflagrations. Preventing such global catastrophes is the task of the American and international working class, which alone can mount a genuine struggle against war and the capitalist system that produces it.

Bill Van Auken

Obama’s paramilitary police


19 May 2015

On Monday, US President Barack Obama travelled to Camden, New Jersey, America’s poorest city, to praise its brutal police department and reaffirm his support for federal programs that have transferred billions of dollars in military hardware to local police departments.

Reports of police brutality by Camden cops have nearly doubled since 2011, and last year Camden had substantially more reported brutality complaints than Jersey City, which has four times more people.

“This city is on to something,” Obama declared, referring to Camden.

America’s major news outlets, which function as little more than state propaganda outlets, could be counted on to report the exact opposite of reality. According to the New York Times, Obama used his visit to “crack down on overly aggressive police tactics,” and “limit … military-style equipment for police forces.”

These claims are based on Obama’s announcement that the White House will no longer transfer a small range of highly-specialized military assets to local police departments, including bayonets, .50 caliber rifles and tracked fighting vehicles.

These types of ordnance are, from a military counterinsurgency standpoint, either obsolete or inappropriate. The US Army, for example, has dropped bayonet training for recruits, while .50 caliber rifles are generally not considered anti-personnel weapons. They are used instead to target communications systems, grounded aircraft and radar installations, meaning that no sensible anti-civilian death squad would carry them.

Other restrictions proposed by Obama are almost entirely meaningless. TheTimes reports that the list of prohibited items includes “camouflage uniforms,” but a quick glance at the White House document outlining the proposals notes that the restriction does not include “woodland or desert patterns or solid color uniforms,” i.e., the great majority of US military combat uniforms.

Obama’s order explicitly permits the provision of wheeled armored combat vehicles known as MRAPs, as well as assault and sniper rifles, belt-fed machine guns and military aircraft and helicopters.

In fact, essentially none of the hardware deployed by militarized police during the crackdown on peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri last year falls under the White House’s prohibitions.

Recent deployments of combat weapons by local police forces have been criticized by sections of the military, which chided the unprofessional character with which police handled their weapons while cracking down on mass demonstrations. Monday’s announcement is the administration’s response to such criticisms: the ordinance transferred to local police will now be more closely monitored, and police will be better trained to use it.

In other words, use of combat weapons by the police will be institutionalized, regularized, and made more like the military, not less.

Together with the new police militarization guidelines, Obama announced an additional $163 million in funding for local police forces, with a large share of the funds targeted for training police to use military hardware.

Obama’s announcement was also timed to correspond with the release of a report by his so-called Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which issued a set of non-binding recommendations for local police departments to rebuild “community trust.”

The actual content of these proposals, however, can be seen in Camden, which recently overhauled its police department to implement “community policing” practices, cracking down on minor crimes and responding to opposition with extreme violence. As a result, arrests for minor offenses soared, with citations for broken taillights increasing by more than 300 percent, according to the ACLU. Reports of police brutality also increased sharply.

In his remarks, Obama offered effusive praise for the police, declaring, “The overwhelming number of police officers are good, fair, honest and care deeply about their community, putting their lives on the line every day.”

These remarks were aimed at solidarizing the White House with the police amid a continuing wave of violence directed against the population, giving rise to protests in St. Louis, New York City, Baltimore and other cities. Through the end of April, police killed 392 people in the US, putting them on track to take significantly more lives in 2015 than even the 1,100 they killed last year.

Every year, cops kill more people in the United States than the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq in 2004, at the height of the conflict.

This reign of police murder and violence takes place with the full support of the Obama administration, which has transferred billions of dollars in military armaments to local police, while working behind the scenes with local authorities to acquit killer cops, such as Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Daniel Pantaleo, the killer of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

Even while working to shield cops from prosecution, the White House has helped to coordinate the military/police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and in Baltimore last month.

The ultimate root of the ongoing wave of police violence and the militarization of society is the pervasive growth of social inequality. Camden, with 40 percent of its residents below the poverty line, embodies the disastrous impoverishment of the American working class that has taken place over the past several decades. The fact that Obama chose this city to tout his proposals on more aggressive policing expresses the fundamental reality that the ruling class has no answer to poverty besides ever-greater police repression.

Andre Damon

New torture allegations from Chicago “black site”


By David Brown
16 May 2015

New allegations of sexual assault, torture, and the planting of evidence by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) have come to light as part of ongoing revelations about the department’s “black site” at Homan Square. At least 17 victims have given first-hand accounts since the existence of Chicago’s interrogation site at Homan Square was exposed by the Guardian in February.

According to these accounts, working-class and minority Chicagoans were held for hours and sometimes days in fetid conditions, denied access to lawyers, and physically abused or threatened until they agreed to police demands. In some instances, individuals were forced to participate in petty drug stings or supply the police with off-the-books firearms.

In the latest interview by the Guardian, Angel Perez described his interrogation at the CPD black site. On October 12, 2012, Perez was detained by police after he refused to buy drugs for a sting operation. Without being charged, he was brought to Homan Square for questioning and shackled, bent over a bench. The police threatened to send him to Cook County Jail where they said he would be raped and assaulted by other inmates. According to Perez, an officer then proceeded to sodomize him with what the officer claimed was a pistol.

The officers then took Perez to the bathroom to clean up and he agreed to buy the $170 worth of heroin they wanted for the sting. Perez filed suit detailing his allegations in 2013 and through the courts has acquired video evidence demonstrating that he was in custody despite never being booked, charged, or allowed legal counsel. Since more widespread allegations of abuse surfaced in connection with Homan Square, four other people have joined his lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, two of the plaintiffs, Estephanie Martinez and Calvin Coffey, were forced to relieve themselves after being chained for hours with no access to bathroom facilities. Many of those interviewed by the Guardianreport being chained in rooms smelling of urine and feces.

In what has become a recurring theme in these independently reported allegations, another plaintiff, Juanita Berry, accuses officers of demanding that she give them two handguns “or else they would charge her with aiding the delivery of a controlled substance.” After hours of threats, she agreed and, after an unspecified acquaintance got the officers a gun, she was released without charge.

Another interviewee, whom the Guardian calls Young OG, recounted a similar story. An officer showed him packets of heroin and threatened “it’s going to be yours before the night’s over if you don’t cooperate with us.” OG reported he was released without charge after having a friend leave a gun for the police in a garbage can.

A third man, Brock Terry, claimed to have been secretly held without charge after being caught with marijuana. “Every day they came to ask some questions,” Terry told the Guardian. “Am I in a gang? Who am I with? Who run this? Who run that? Give them a gun and they’ll let me go. That was pretty much the main thing: give them a gun and they’ll let me go.”

The picture painted by those who have come forward is one of unrestrained criminality on the part of the police. The police department has responded to the allegations with pro forma denials. According to a March 1 statement released by the CPD, “The allegation that physical violence is part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever.”

The CPD however, has a long history of the widespread use of torture, with the support of the city’s Democratic Party establishment. The revelations regarding Homan Square followed reporting from the Guardian that showed that one of the top torturers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Richard Zuley, had honed his techniques extracting confessions for the CPD. The Homan allegations depict the same methods of being shackled in stress positions, sexual assaults and beatings that Zuley used against detainees in the so-called War on Terror.

Zuley was far from the first torturer in the CPD. From 1972 to 1991, former police commander Jon Burge was involved in the regular use of torture to extract confessions, sending many innocent victims to jail. Darrell Cannon for example, confessed to a murder after officers electrocuted his genitals with a cattle prod and subjected him to three mock executions. He then spent 24 years behind bars before having his case dismissed on appeal.

The city of Chicago recently authorized a $5.5 million restitution fund to victims of Burge’s torture, with a maximum payout to any individual of $100,000. Absurdly, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed that the fund would “bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.” In comparison to the meager restitution to torture victims, Chicago spent $20 million on the legal defense of Burge and the officials who shielded him from prosecution like former mayor Richard M. Daley.

Far from punishing the perpetrators, the Democratic Party has consistently shielded and rewarded them. Daley, as Cook County’s state’s attorney, refused to prosecute Burge before the statute of limitations ran out. Similarly, Nicholas Roti, the chief of the Bureau of Organized Crime (including the narcotics division) in the CPD, whose department operates in Homan Square, resigned in early March, not in shame over the torture allegations, but in order to become chief of staff for the Illinois state police.

Like Zuley, Burge has a direct connection with US imperialism, having been a military police trainer at an interrogation camp during the Vietnam War, but there is a deeper connection between America’s wars abroad and its increasingly militarized domestic police. The financial interests dictating US foreign policy that demand foreign wars to shore up falling profits also demand savage cuts to the living standards of Americans for the same reason. Neither program, the looting of the Middle East’s oil or the panoply of austerity measures, can be implemented democratically. They demand a brutal apparatus of oppression, which both the Democrats as well as Republicans oversee.

In the lead-up to the April runoff election, neither Emanuel nor his “progressive” opponent, Democrat Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, had any criticism for the CPD regarding the growing revelations of brutality and abuse. In fact, Garcia called for the hiring of 1,000 more officers. Cook County, where Chicago is located, has already received 1,700 pieces of equipment from the military.

Bernie Sanders Troubling History of Supporting US Military Violence Abroad

Why aren’t we talking about Sanders’ foreign policy more?

The presidential candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has excited many liberals throughout the country, but there’s been very little analysis of his foreign policy positions. This past Sunday Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton for her support of the Iraq War, declaring, “On foreign policy, Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq…Not only I voted against, I helped lead the effort against what I knew would be a disaster.” Sanders assertion about Clinton is obviously true, but the difference between the two candidates on war is hardly substantial and his political closet is filled with as many skeletons. Notably he supported NATO’s bombing of Kosovo in 1999, a stance which caused one of his staffers to resign in protest.

In his resignation letter to Sanders, former staffer Jeremy Brecher explained the Clinton administartion’s position at the time. “While it has refused to send ground forces into Kosovo, the U.S. has also opposed and continues to oppose all alternatives that would provide immediate protection for the people of Kosovo by putting non-or partially-NATO forces into Kosovo,” wrote Brecher, “…The refusal of the U.S. to endorse such proposals strongly supports the hypothesis that the goal of U.S. policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.”

Brecher’s note to Sanders closes with a set of rhetorical questions, “Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take? My answers led to my resignation.”

The attack on Kosovo is hardly the extent of Sanders’ hawkishness. While it’s true he voted against the Iraq War, he also voted in favor of authorizing funds for that war and the one in Afghanistan. More recently, he voted in favor of a $1 billion aid package for the coup government Ukraine and supported Israel’s assault on Gaza. At a town hall meeting he admitted that Israel may have “overreacted”, but blamed Hamas for the entire conflict. After a woman asked why he refused to condemn Israel’s actions, he told critics: “Excuse me! Shut up! You don’t have the microphone.”

Brecher’s entire letter to Sanders can be read below. The bombing of Kosovo killed between 489 and 528 civilians.


May 4, 1999

Congressman Bernie Sanders
2202 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC, 20515

Dear Bernie,

This letter explains the matters of conscience that have led me to resign from your staff.

I believe that every individual must have some limit to what acts of military violence they are willing to participate in or support, regardless of either personal welfare or claims that it will lead to a greater good. Any individual who does not possess such a limit is vulnerable to committing or condoning abhorrent acts without even stopping to think about it.

Those who accept the necessity for such a limit do not necessarily agree regarding where it should be drawn. For absolute pacifists, war can never be justified. But even for non-pacifists, the criteria for supporting the use of military violence must be extremely stringent because the consequences are so great. Common sense dictates at least the following as minimal criteria:

The evil to be remedied must be serious.

The genuine purpose of the action must be to avert the evil, not to achieve some other purpose for which the evil serves as a pretext.

Less violent alternatives must be unavailable.

The violence used must have a high probability of in fact halting the evil.

The violence used must be minimized.

Let us evaluate current U.S. military action in Yugoslavia against each of these tests. Evil to be remedied:

We can agree that the evil to be remedied in this case — specifically, the uprooting and massacre of the Kosovo Albanians — is serious enough to justify military violence if such violence can ever be justified. However, the U.S. air war against Yugoslavia fails an ethical test on each of the other four criteria.

Purpose vs. pretext: The facts are incompatible with the hypothesis that U.S. policy is motivated by humanitarian concern for the people of Kosovo:

In the Dayton agreement, the U.S. gave Milosevic a free hand in Kosovo in exchange for a settlement in Bosnia.

The U.S. has consistently opposed sending ground forces into Kosovo, even as the destruction of the Kosovar people escalated. (While I do not personally support such an action, it would, in sharp contrast to current U.S. policy, provide at least some likelihood of halting the attacks on the Kosovo Albanians.)

According to the New York Times (4/18/99), the U.S. began bombing Yugoslavia with no consideration for the possible impact on the Albanian people of Kosovo. This was not for want of warning. On March 5, 1999, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema met with President Clinton in the Oval Office and warned him that an air attack which failed to subdue Milosevic would result in 300,000 to 400,000 refugees passing into Albania and then to Italy. Nonetheless, “No one planned for the tactic of population expulsion that has been the currency of Balkan wars for more than a century.” (The New York Times, 4/18/99). If the goal of U.S. policy was humanitarian, surely planning for the welfare of these refugees would have been at least a modest concern.

Even now the attention paid to humanitarian aid to the Kosovo refugees is totally inadequate, and is trivial compared to the billions being spent to bomb Yugoslavia. According to the Washington Post (4/30/99), the spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Macedonia says, “We are on the brink of catastrophe.” Surely a genuine humanitarian concern for the Kosovars would be evidenced in massive emergency airlifts and a few billion dollars right now devoted to aiding the refugees.

While it has refused to send ground forces into Kosovo, the U.S. has also opposed and continues to oppose all alternatives that would provide immediate protection for the people of Kosovo by putting non-or partially-NATO forces into Kosovo. Such proposals have been made by Russia, by Milosevic himself, and by the delegations of the U.S. Congress and the Russian Duma who met recently with yourself as a participant. The refusal of the U.S. to endorse such proposals strongly supports the hypothesis that the goal of U.S. policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.

Less violent alternatives: On 4/27/99 I presented you with a memo laying out an alternative approach to current Administration policy. It stated, “The overriding objective of U.S. policy in Kosovo — and of people of good will — must be to halt the destruction of the Albanian people of Kosovo. . . The immediate goal of U.S. policy should be a ceasefire which halts Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians in exchange for a halt in NATO bombing.” It stated that to achieve this objective, the United States should “propose an immediate ceasefire, to continue as long as Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians cease. . . Initiate an immediate bombing pause. . . Convene the U.N. Security Council to propose action under U.N. auspices to extend and maintain the ceasefire. . . Assemble a peacekeeping force under U.N. authority to protect safe havens for those threatened with ethnic cleansing.” On 5/3/99 you endorsed a very similar peace plan proposed by delegations from the US Congress and the Russian Duma. You stated that “The goal now is to move as quickly as possible toward a ceasefire and toward negotiations.” In short, there is a less violent alternative to the present U.S. air war against Yugoslavia.

High probability of halting the evil: Current U.S. policy has virtually no probability of halting the displacement and killing of the Kosovo Albanians. As William Safire put it, “The war to make Kosovo safe for Kosovars is a war without an entrance strategy. By its unwillingness to enter Serbian territory to stop the killing at the start, NATO conceded defeat. The bombing is simply intended to coerce the Serbian leader to give up at the negotiating table all he has won on the killing field. He won’t.” (the New York Times, 5/3/99) The massive bombing of Yugoslavia is not a means of protecting the Kosovars but an alternative to doing so.

Minimizing the consequences of violence. “Collateral damage” is inevitable in bombing attacks on military targets. It must be weighed in any moral evaluation of bombing. But in this case we are seeing not just collateral damage but the deliberate selection of civilian targets, including residential neighborhoods, auto factories, broadcasting stations, and hydro-electric power plants. The New York Times characterized the latter as “The attack on what clearly appeared to be a civilian target.” (5/3/99) If these are acceptable targets, are there any targets that are unacceptable?

The House Resolution (S Con Res 21) of 4/29/99 which “authorizes the president of the United States to conduct military air operations and missile strikes in cooperation with the United States’ NATO allies against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” supports not only the current air war but also its unlimited escalation. It thereby authorizes the commission of war crimes, even of genocide. Indeed, the very day after that vote, the Pentagon announced that it would begin “area bombing,” which the Washington Post (4/30/99) characterized as “dropping unguided weapons from B-52 bombers in an imprecise technique that resulted in large-scale civilian casualties in World War II and the Vietnam War.”

It was your vote in support of this resolution that precipitated my decision that my conscience required me to resign from your staff. I have tried to ask myself questions that I believe each of us must ask ourselves:

Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take?

My answers led to my resignation.

Sincerely yours,

Jeremy Brecher

Michael Arria is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBCFollow @MichaelArria on Twitter.

Drone warfare in Good Kill

And a roundtable interview with writer-director Andrew Niccol and actor Ethan Hawke

By David Walsh
13 May 2015

Good Kill opens in theaters in the US on May 15 and will also be available fromvideo on demand. This comment and interview originally appeared September 26, 2014 as part of the coverage of the Toronto film festival.

* * * * *

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol

Drone strikes carried out by the US military and CIA have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. The barbaric strikes, which have increased sharply under the Obama administration, are illegal under international and US law and amount to war crimes.

According to Reprieve, the British human rights organization, “To date, the United States has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—all countries against whom it has not declared war. The US’ drones programme is a covert war being carried out by the CIA.”

Good Kill

An April 2014 article in Rolling Stone observed, “The people of Yemen can hear destruction before it arrives. In cities, towns and villages across this country, which hangs off the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the air buzzes with the sound of American drones flying overhead. The sound is a constant and terrible reminder… Over half of Yemen’s 24.8 million citizens—militants and civilians alike—are impacted every day.”

New Zealand-born writer-director Andrew Niccol has taken on the subject of drone warfare, with mixed but often intriguing results, in Good Kill, featuring Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz and January Jones.

Major Thomas Egan (Hawke) is a former fighter pilot and Iraq war veteran, now operating drones over Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere from a trailer on a US Air Force base near Las Vegas. After killing people by remote control 12 hours a day he returns to his house and family in the tidy, slightly unreal suburbs. “Now I’m going home to barbecue,” he explains sardonically after one murderous shift.

Good Kill

His superior, Lt. Col. Jack Johns (Greenwood), is resigned to the endless conflict: “Don’t ask me if it’s a just war. It’s just war.” Two of the four-member team parrot, in an especially vulgar fashion, the US government line, something to the effect that “the ‘terrorists’ hate us because of our freedom and our way of life.” The fourth member, Airman Vera Suarez (Kravitz), is different. She comes to see through a good many of the lies.

The film is set in 2010 and centers on the stepping up of drone strikes by the Obama administration and the transfer of control of the attacks to the CIA, represented by a disembodied voice (Peter Coyote) from “Langley [Virginia].”

The atrocities accumulate. The crew, aiming for a bomb factory, kills two children. “Keep compartmentalizing,” Egan is told. But “I pulled the trigger,” he responds. The CIA, once it takes over, begins ordering “signature strikes,” i.e., bombings based on what US officials believe to be suspicious behavior or simply on the association of the intended victims at some point or another with alleged “terrorists.”

Good Kill

When a strike goes wrong, the CIA official blandly tells the crew, as the US government repeats to the public, “No one regrets the loss of innocent lives more than us.” After one deadly bombing, he orders a “follow-up,” the notorious “double tap,” in other words, a strike on those responding to the first attack. “In our opinion, it’s proportionate.” He explains, “preemptive self-defense is ordered by the administration.” The voice and the commands it gives are coldly monstrous.

Following this attack, Suarez leans over and asks, “Was that a war crime, sir?” She suggests “that’s what terrorists do,” and points out bitterly that this is apparently what “they now give Nobel Peace prizes” for.

In a later scene, the CIA orders the bombing of a group of men near a market. Johns asks incredulously, “You want us to kill a crowd?” The men, he is informed, represent “an imminent threat.”

There is a good deal of this, quite powerful material. As the film’s publicity suggests, Egan starts “to question the mission. Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Is he fighting a war without end?” It becomes increasingly difficult for him to carry on, both at work and at home.

In perhaps Good Kill ’s most moving sequence, out in the backyard at home, Egan asks his wife, Molly (Jones), “You want to know about my job?” He proceeds to describe how he and his crew blew up a house, although the supposed Taliban official was not there. “I watched as neighbors started carrying bodies,” then we “blew up the funeral.” A tear runs down her cheek and she puts her head on his shoulder.

There are weaker sides to the film too. A subplot about Egan’s desire to return to flying actual warplanes is not especially compelling. The crisis in the Egans’ marriage that develops, while no doubt—or perhaps precisely because it is—based on the real-life accounts of military personnel, has something a little formulaic and predictable about it.

Most significantly, the recurring presence of a Taliban-rapist character is an obvious concession to the official propaganda campaign. Opposition to the horrendous war crimes committed by US imperialism is not predicated on support for Islamic fundamentalism or any of the regimes the American government sets out to bring down. Dealing with these reactionary elements is the responsibility of the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemeni people; it cannot be subcontracted to the US government, military and CIA, which have, in many cases, incited and funded such movements or regimes.

Writer-director Niccol’s invention of this Taliban “bad guy” in Good Kill forms part of the rationale for arguing, as he did in the round table interview included below, that US drone warfare has certain “beneficial aspects.”

Nonetheless, it’s to his great credit that Niccol (the writer of The Truman Show and writer-director of Gattaca, S1m0 ne and In Time ) undertook this project, in the face of considerable odds. This is the first major US feature film that has attempted to represent this criminal policy and its consequences both for the targeted populations and for the American people, even if the filmmakers (also see below) are not inclined to work out the full implications of their own effort.

A conversation with Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke

I participated, along with a number of other journalists, in a roundtable interview in Toronto September 9 with Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke. The following is a slightly edited version of that conversation:

Journalist 1: Was it [Good Kill] hard to get made?

Andrew Niccol at the 2014 Toronto film festival [Credit: WireImage/Getty]

Andrew Niccol: Yes. It’s hard to make a military movie without the support of the military. So it means that all of the machinery you have to come up with yourself. I had drone consultants who I would speak to, and I was very lucky to get those ex-drone pilots.

Journalist 1: So did you approach the US military, and they presumably said, ‘No, thanks’?

AN: They just said no. They were polite, but they politely declined.

Journalist 2: In the film, there are “signature strikes.”

AN: This is well documented. I didn’t make up the language, that’s the language of the CIA. To go, as the character says, from a “personality strike” to a “signature strike.” All that means is, if you’re standing next to a terrorist, you’re most likely a terrorist, so you’re fair game. That’s your signature.

Journalist 3: There is a parallel between his [Egan’s] home and his work. Was there an attempt to show how detached we are from the consequences?

AN: This is the new reality for our pilots, our soldiers. They have this schizophrenic life. We’ve never asked soldiers to do this before in the history of warfare, to go to war from nine to five, and then go home. You have no decompression time, you’re going to get up the next day and do the same thing again. So what that does to a pilot’s psyche is unimaginable to me.

Journalist 1: Did you talk to drone pilots who had done what Ethan portrays in the film?

Ethan Hawke at the 2014 Toronto film festival [Credit: WireImage/Getty]

AN: Yes.

Journalist 1: And what sort of effects did they say it had on them?

AN: There’s an interesting aspect to it. I spoke to one sensor operator [who works in tandem with the pilots] who definitely has PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and admits it.

There are others who almost feel ashamed admitting that they’re affected by it. They claim that they can compartmentalize. There are younger drone pilots who would use a joystick, perform their mission over Afghanistan, they’re obviously not in Afghanistan, which is another point, then they go back to their apartments in Las Vegas and play video games at night. How do you possibly separate the two? I couldn’t do it. Then you’re really desensitizing yourself to war.

Ethan Hawke: What’s interesting to me is that this film is about something real. Perhaps the next movie Andrew and I will do together will be a video game. That’s where it’s going.

I’m always very interested in where movies are going, where they will be 30 years from now. And where warfare will be. Will all major countries have drones? Will Obama be scared to walk out of his house? Where is this game going?

No one is talking about these issues. I think it’s a very good moment when Zoe [Kravitz] says, ‘So, they’re handing out [Nobel] peace prizes for this now?’ A very good moment.

David Walsh: I think it’s important you’ve raised these issues. The scene where the CIA official says, ‘These operations never happened,’ that’s an acknowledgement that these are criminal activities, that these are illegal activities.

AN: It’s not necessarily that. The military will say that it’s ‘national security.’

DW: They say that, but your film, whether or not you’ve worked out all its implications, is saying these are or may be criminal activities.

AN: It’s well documented that the US has struck funerals intentionally. For me, that’s a step over the line. Of course, they justify it by saying, ‘Who goes to a terrorist’s funeral except other terrorists?’ For me, that’s beyond. Also, to strike first responders, something the IRA used to do, that Hamas does, is beyond the pale for me. That’s too much.

I try to tread a straight line, because there are also beneficial aspects to the drone program. The fact that they are so precise, we’re not carpet-bombing people any more. If we get the right address, and hit a legitimate target, I understand that.

If you look at ISIS, for instance. There’s probably nobody sitting here that would say that the guy who beheads somebody, if you get the right guy…would you not order a drone strike on him?

DW: But who created ISIS? Who incited Islamic fundamentalism for 50 years, going back to the Muslim Brotherhood?

AN: Right. That’s the other thing that really interests me; Afghanistan is the US’ longest war, 13 years. Vietnam was 10. The Iraq war was eight.

DW: Now there’s a new Iraq war.

AN: Exactly, there’s a new one coming. When are we going to decide that we shouldn’t be in that part of the planet? Or are we ever going to decide that? Is this going to be an endless war? It’s a very complicated question and I don’t have the answer, but at least we will discuss it, which I think is important. To know what’s being done in your name is important.

EH: With the so-called “war on terror” you really get into Orwellian territory, because who’s defining what freedom is and freedom for whom? The people there certainly don’t feel free.

I have a brother who’s in the military, and my mother was in the Peace Corps and she works in Bucharest fighting racism against gypsies, trying to get kids in school. One of the things she often talks about is that if you just took all that money, and you just taught all the kids over there, you’d end terrorism so much sooner than by bombing them. That’s the kind of peacenik dialog that a lot of people don’t want to hear.

AN: When you speak of the “war on terror,” we are terrorizing to achieve those aims. In Waziristan [in northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan], people won’t gather together in groups, even for town hall meetings, because it could be perceived that they’re plotting against Western interests.

So when Ethan’s character talks about people being afraid of blue skies because that’s when the drones fly, it’s true. People don’t want to step outside, they don’t want to rescue people from a strike… They don’t show up, because they’re afraid they’re going to be hit again.

DW: That raises the question, is it about “terrorism,” or is it about terrorizing an entire population?

AN: Right.

EH: Or holding an entire population guilty for what a few have done, which is oftentimes what people there do to us as well.

AN: Every time you kill one terrorist, if you give birth to ten more, it’s surely counterproductive.

DW: Can I ask, is it difficult to make critically minded films? Is there something emerging, or is it just as difficult as ever?

AN: Oh, it’s probably more difficult. Ethan and I were just discussing Gattaca[1997 science fiction film, written and directed by Niccol and starring Hawke], we couldn’t get that made today at a studio. No way.

EH: No way. You couldn’t even begin to try. It wouldn’t matter who was involved in it.

Journalist 1: Why is it so difficult?

AN: It’s so much easier to make money, big money, by making comic books.

EH: It started with Jaws [1975]. Much has been written about this. They’ve learned how to inundate and saturate… It’s funny, these Transformer movies make a ton of money, and I’ve never met anyone who liked one. There’s a case to be made about the power of advertising, and the power they have to create this sense that this is what we’re supposed to see.

There’s an essay by [Czech writer Milan] Kundera, in which he says during his lifetime he witnessed the birth of an art form and then he saw it eaten by big business. He makes a joke that what qualifies for an art film today is far inferior to what qualified as an art film in 1960.

In 1960, they were pressing the boundaries of realism and storytelling; it was a thrilling art form. Whereas literature has found avenues for this. The film industry hasn’t found a place… I’m a dramatic actor so I’ve almost been feeling run out of the business over the last ten years because there are action movies and there are thrillers. Most studios don’t make dramas any more. They’ll make a drama if they think it might win an Academy Award, if you have [Steven] Spielberg directing it or something.

DW: And yet when I go to the movies, I don’t find a lot of satisfaction in the audience itself.

EH: I don’t either. They all leave the movie unhappy. You don’t feel good after. I have to try to do enough things that make money so that if Andrew wants to hire me for this he can. If Andrew could get the guy who was in the last Marvel [comic] movie in it, he would get more money.

Journalist 1: Have you been offered one of those?

EH: I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen. They’ve offered things here and there. When I was younger, I was incredibly cocky and I thought those offers would always come. If you don’t make people money, they don’t like you.

Projects like this are worth trying. There’s so much pull toward mediocrity your whole life. Everybody just wants you to follow the rules and cash out. It’s worth it to try. We showed the movie at Venice [the film festival] and it was way more work than anybody wanted it to be, but this is the movie Andrew wanted to make and it exists, and it’s hard to get people to want to talk about serious subjects. It’s a lot of work.

There’s a great pull…if Andrew would just use his imaginative mind to have it be, instead of a drone pilot, [someone] who could fly himself and have super-powers… My point being that I feel very blessed and grateful, and I believe at this moment in my life, I believe again, that it’s worth trying. Sometimes the world beats you down, and you feel like nothing could ever work.

Journalist 2: I don’t know if all the drone pilots are in Nevada. Could you tell me something about Las Vegas?

AN: There’s a very practical reason why the military put a military base near Las Vegas. The reason they do it is because the mountains near Vegas look very much like Afghanistan. And that’s how they can train. Also, when you are driving to Vegas from Los Angeles, they actually use your car just for fun, in practice, just to follow it. You can’t see the drone, but they can see you.

Seymour Hersh exposes official lies about Bin Laden killing

By Niles Williamson
12 May 2015

Nearly four years since the US Special Forces raid that resulted in the murder of Osama bin Laden, an extraordinary political exposure by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published Sunday in the London Review of Books has torn the mask off the official narrative by the US government.

The wealth of details laid out in Hersh’s article calls attention to the reality that nothing that any government official says on the record can be taken as the truth, and that the mainstream media operates as an echo chamber for official lies. Hersh asserts that the accounts given by President Barack Obama and members of his administration “might have been written by Lewis Carroll,” author of Alice in Wonderland.

White House photo-op of Situation Room during operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden

Among the claims exposed as fabrications are that the CIA torture program contributed to the discovery of bin Laden’s hideout; that the raid was carried out without the knowledge of the Pakistani government; that the Special Operations team intended to take bin Laden alive, and only killed him after he resisted; and that bin Laden was given an Islamic burial at sea from the carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Hersh writes that the 2011 operation to kill bin Laden was initiated in August 2010 after a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer walked into the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to give the CIA bin Laden’s location in return for the $25 million bounty the US government had placed on the Al Qaeda leader’s head in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In its broadcast Monday night, NBC News said that it had independently confirmed that Pakistani intelligence sources had given bin Laden’s location to the CIA in 2010—perhaps the most important claim made in Hersh’s report, and a devastating refutation of the official Obama administration cover story.

The Al Qaeda leader’s location was not discovered via the CIA’s torture program, as depicted in the propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty. This claim and the film were used to bolster public support for the CIA’s illegal operations and further reinforce the Obama administration’s concocted narrative about the killings.

The walk-in told the CIA that bin Laden had lived with several of his wives and children undetected in the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan from 2001 until 2006 when his location was betrayed by local tribesman bribed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

Bin Laden was then transferred to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was held as a prisoner of the ISI. The residence was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy and a 15-minute helicopter ride from Tarbela Ghazi, an ISI covert operations base.

Bin Laden’s location in a headquarters town of the Pakistani military, crawling with security agents, has always been the weakest link in the official US narrative of the operation that killed the Al Qaeda leader. Hersh’s account provides a far more convincing explanation of why bin Laden was in Abbottabad—he was being held under house arrest by the Pakistani authorities while they discussed his fate with their American paymasters.

According to the retired US official interviewed by Hersh, Saudi Arabia was financing bin Laden’s upkeep in Abbottabad and worried that if the American government discovered that he was being held by the ISI they would force him to give up the details of the Saudi monarchy’s support for Al Qaeda. The Pakistanis in turn worried that the Saudis might provide the US with information on his location, sparking a conflict with the US. These relationships demonstrate the fraud of the “war on terror,” since bin Laden was being housed and financed by two of the leading US allies in the alleged struggle against Al Qaeda.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has longstanding ties with Al Qaeda, and members of the Saudi monarchy—likely with the knowledge of sections of the US state—financed and supported the hijackers who participated in the September 11 attacks.

Hersh’s source makes absolutely clear that it was the intention of the Obama administration from the outset to kill bin Laden, and that this was enthusiastically supported by all concerned, the Pakistanis and the Saudis, for the time-honored reason that “dead men tell no tales.” The raid against bin Laden’s compound, blessed by the ISI, was nothing less than a hit ordered by Obama, the executioner-in-chief. The informant had told the CIA that bin Laden was in poor health and would not put up any resistance.

The retired official stated that the operation against bin Laden “was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.” A former Seal commander told Hersh, “We were not going to keep bin Laden alive—to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, ‘Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.’”

The Obama administration has maintained since the assassination that killing bin Laden was seen only as a last resort, and that the primary mission was to capture him alive.

According to Hersh, the US commandos moved into the compound unopposed. There was no firefight as claimed by US officials. Using explosives to blow open steel security doors, the Special Forces operatives methodically made their way to the third-floor rooms where bin Laden was living. The Al Qaeda leader retreated to his bedroom where two of the Navy Seals opened fire with their automatic rifles, cutting his body to pieces. The commandos did not shoot in self-defense, the gravely ill bin Laden never reached for an AK-47, and he never tried to use one of his wives as a human shield.

Hersh writes that “a carefully constructed cover story would be issued” following the killing of bin Laden, in part to avoid revealing the role of the Pakistani state in providing the US with information about his location. A week after the killing, “Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border…. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests….”

The White House decided to announce bin Laden’s assassination on the night that it happened, however, in part due to the fact that a US helicopter had crashed in bin Laden’s compound, making the operation impossible to hide. The announcement—which Hersh describes as a “series of self-serving and inaccurate statements”—also provided the White House with an opportunity to rally support for the expansion of militarism abroad and the assault on democratic rights within the US.

The claim that bin Laden’s body was subsequently given a proper Islamic burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson is also exposed as a lie. Instead, what remained of bin Laden’s bullet-riddled body, including his head, which is described as having “only a few bullet holes in it,” was unceremoniously tossed into a body bag. On the commandos’ helicopter trip back to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, pieces of the body were dropped over the Hindu Kush mountains.

Hersh has come under immediate attack from the mainstream media for his reliance on anonymous sources. Such criticism means little coming from a media that relies consistently on anonymous government and intelligence sources to push the official line in the “war on terror” and in support of US provocations from Ukraine to the South China Sea. In the eyes of the government stenographers in the corporate-controlled media, Hersh’s main sin is that he uses anonymous sources to challenge the official narrative rather than regurgitate it.

Based on the historical record, Hersh is a far more reliable witness than the innumerable millionaire anchor-persons and pundits who serve as apologists for American imperialism. He was the first journalist to expose the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. In 2013-2014, he published two devastating exposures of the US claims that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, demonstrating that it was far more likely that the US-backed “rebels” were responsible.

It is far from certain that Hersh has provided the final accounting of the events that led to bin Laden’s death. While it relies chiefly on the account of a single anonymous retired senior intelligence official corroborated by other unnamed intelligence officials in the US and Pakistan, his narrative is a far more robust and believable story than the account spun by the propaganda of the Obama administration and the corporate media.