Iraq and Afghanistan: The Reckoning

As the third anniversary of the beginning of the military invasion of Iraq approaches on March 19, it is time to take stock of the consequences of that tragic and cruel war. Below are three items.

Before we get to that, it is sobering to recall the almost Pollyannaish hubris of the media in the early days of the invasion in April and May of 2003. On April 16, 2003, assured that things were going swimmingly in Iraq, columnist Cal Thomas took aim at those of us who opposed the war saying, using Biblical language: “All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking.”

Well, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) has done just that. It has compiled a list of what Thomas and his fellow war cheerleaders said then, and the results are perhaps not quite what Thomas had in mind. Read the whole thing.

Item #1: John Murtha’s broadside

US Rep. John Murtha has written “Claims and Facts: The War in Iraq”, where he compiles a comprehensive list of all the lies, exaggerations, and distortions that were used to promote the attack on Iraq, and compares them with the facts. He sent the list to his colleagues in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Here is a sample from his letter:

Saddam-Al Qaeda Connection

CLAIM: “There’s overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there.” — Vice President Cheney, 1/22/04

CLAIM: “The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction.” — President Bush’s UN speech, 9/23/03

FACT: “Sec. of State Colin Powell conceded Thursday that despite his assertions to the United Nations last year, he had no ‘smoking gun’ proof of a link between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and terrorists of al-Qaeda.’ I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection,’ Powell said.” [NY Times, 1/9/04]

FACT: “Three former Bush Administration officials who worked on intelligence and national security issues said the prewar evidence tying al Qaeda was tenuous, exaggerated and often at odds with the conclusions of key intelligence agencies.” [National Journal, 8/9/03]

Weapons of Mass Destruction

CLAIM: “We found the weapons of mass destruction.” — President Bush, 5/29/03

CLAIM: “We know where the WMDs are.” – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 3/30/03

CLAIM: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” – President Bush, 1/28/03

CLAIM: “Evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program…Iraq could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.” – President Bush, 10/7/02

CLAIM: “There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more…Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.” – Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2/5/03

FACT: “A draft report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq provides no solid evidence that Iraq had such arms when the United States invaded the country in March” and none have materialized since. [Reuters 9/15/03]

FACT: On 7/8/03, the Washington Post reported the Administration admitted the Iraq-Nuclear allegation was false. “Revelations by officials at the CIA, the State Department, the UN, in Congress and elsewhere” made clear that the White House knew the claim was false before making the allegation. In fact, “CIA Director George Tenet successfully intervened with White House officials to have the reference” removed from a Bush speech in Oct. of 2002. [W. Post, 7/13/03]

FACT: “Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled chemical weapons program after 1991… Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new chemical weapon munitions was reduced – if not entirely destroyed – during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections.” – Bush Administration Weapons Inspector David Kay, 10/2/03

Read the rest of his letter here.

Item #2: The situation in Iraq

Meanwhile, Patrick Cockburn and Raymond Whitaker of the British newspaper The Independent examine the state of affairs in Iraq. For each of several key indicators, they examine the promises made and compare with the current reality.

Here are the results for just one of their indicators:

The coalition authorities admit that much of the insurgency is fuelled by a lack of economic opportunity. While the occupation has brought more money to some, mainly in Baghdad, life has been made more difficult for most by shortages of water and power, sky-high prices – and the ever-present danger of violent death.


“Our progress has been uneven but progress is being made. We are improving roads and schools and health clinics and working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity and water. And together with our allies, we will help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens.”

George Bush, 27 June 2005


“The Iraqi people are suffering from a desperate lack of jobs, housing, health care and electricity … If you compare this to the situation in the 1980s, you will see a major deterioration of the situation.”

Barham Saleh (planning minister) in ‘Living conditions in Iraq 2004’, a survey by Iraqi authorities and UN

“Although a large percentage in Iraq is connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, the supply is too unstable to make a difference to their lives.”

Staffan de Mistura, UNDP representative, May 2005


5.2 average number of hours of electricity in Baghdad homes

Item #3: Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib habeas corpus abuses

The quirky program This American Life had an excellent episode called Habeas Schmabeas (program #310 broadcast on March 10, 2006 and which can be heard online) on how the Bush administration has trampled all over habeus corpusrights with its prisoners in Guantanamo. The program notes say:

The right of habeus corpus has been a part of this country’s legal tradition longer than we’ve actually been a country. It means the government has to explain why it’s holding a person in custody. But now, the war on terror has nixed many of the rules we used to think of as fundamental. At Guantanamo Bay, our government initially claimed that the prisoners should not be covered by habeas – or even by the Geneva Conventions – because they’re the most fearsome terrorist enemies we have. But is that true? Is it a camp full of terrorists, or a camp full of our mistakes? Reporter Jack Hitt unveils everything we know about who these prisoners are. In interviews with two former detainees, he finds out the consequences of taking away habeas, for them and for us.

The details revealed by the show are shocking, especially for those who accept at face value the administration’s assertions that these people are dangerous terrorists.

Of 517 case files examined, only 5% were “scooped up off the battlefield,” as asserted by Bush. The rest were handed over to the US by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance, or were handed over to the US to claim the bounty of $5,000-$10,000 that was offered. Remember that this is a huge sum to the poor people of that region and it would be very tempting for people to hand over their personal enemies, or even just strangers, in return for the money. The people detained are ordinary people – farmers, teachers, taxi drivers – who describe how they were turned over to the US for the bounty.

In fact only 8% of the detainees have been classified by the Pentagon as having any connections to al Qaida and only one or two dozen at most are believed to have any useful information.

In interviews with a few of the captives whom they got access to, the radio program describes the abusive conditions under which these people are held, ranging from sensory deprivation to attempts to make the prisoners feel abandoned by their families (by withholding their letters or redacting those parts from their children saying they missed them) to depriving them of any kind of normal routine to outright torture. It also describes the bogus hearings that the Bush administration has conducted to sidestep the requirements of habeus corpus.

Meanwhile, Salon reveals the latest photos and videos from the other atrocity that is Abu Ghraib. As the article says:

Although the world is now sadly familiar with images of naked, hooded prisoners in scenes of horrifying humiliation and abuse, this is the first time that the full dossier of the Army’s own photographic evidence of the scandal has been made public. Most of the photos have already been seen, but the Army’s own analysis of the story behind the photos has never been fully told. It is a shocking, night-by-night record of three months inside Abu Ghraib’s notorious cellblock 1A, and it tells the story, in more graphic detail than ever before, of the rampant abuse of prisoners there. The annotated archive also includes new details about the role of the CIA, military intelligence and the CID itself in abuse captured by cameras in the fall of 2003.

I have written before about the undermining of habeus corpus in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ The right to habeus corpus is embedded in the US constitution, in article I, section 9, paragraph 2, under the heading “Powers forbidden to Congress” where it says:

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Clearly the drafters of the constitution valued habeus corpus so highly that they deliberately embedded it in the constitution and allowed it to be suspended only under the most extreme circumstances, when the nation itself was in danger of disintegrating. Does anyone really believe that we are in a situation of “rebellion or invasion”? Look out of the window. Any sign of “rebellion or invasion”? Any foreign troops taking over key installations and intersections? Any mobs rampaging the streets (other than for early-bird specials at department stores)? Only those who have been made paranoid by the relentless and cynical fear-mongering of this administration and its hangers-on can possibly take such a charge seriously.

There are so many outrages here, such as the denial of habeus corpus and the denial of basic legal and human and civil rights to people who are being detained indefinitely.

But one outrage we must not overlook is why the major mainstream media are not interviewing and broadcasting widely the stories of those who have been released from Gunatanamo so that more people are aware of these actions of their own government.

As Paul Craig Roberts (former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Reagan administration) points out: “Habeas corpus is essential to political opposition and the rise and maintenance of democracy. Without habeas corpus, a government can simply detain its opponents. Nothing is more conducive to one party rule than the suspension of habeas corpus.”

Roberts then asks: “What has become of the American people that they permit the despicable practices of tyrants to be practiced in their name?”

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