“Turkish-backed forces fighting Kurdish militias in north-east Syria have been accused of committing war crimes, with acts of brutality surfacing on mobile phone footage.
“The UN has warned that Turkey could be held responsible for the actions of its allies, while Turkey has promised to investigate.
“Bearded men shout ‘Allahu Akbar [God is the Greatest]’. One captures the scene on his smartphone and says: ‘We are mujahedeen [holy warriors] from Faylaq Al-Majd [Glory Corps] battalion.’ In the background are the corpses of Kurdish fighters.
“Further away, a group of men plant their feet on a woman’s bloodied body. One says she is a ‘whore’.
‘The gruesome footage is much like that produced by the ultra-violent Islamic State (IS) group.
“Yet the men in this video are not IS militants, but rather fighters for a rebel alliance known as the Syrian National Army, trained, equipped and paid for by a Nato member, Turkey. They are under the command of the Turkish army.
‘The video was filmed on 21 October in northern Syria. The woman beneath the fighters’ feet is Amara Renas, a member of an all-woman unit of Kurdish fighters, the YPJ, a force that played a significant role in defeating IS in Syria.
Notice how the BBC calls the video “brutal” and “gruesome,” words which are not in quotes or alleged. The video is not allegedly brutal and gruesome, it IS brutal and gruesome, says the BBC. Yet they get nervous about calling Turkish jihadist allies war criminals, even though the crimes are very much graphically shown in the brutal, gruesome video.
More importantly than all this, these war crimes are being committed against Kurdish women fighters specifically, and against our Kurdish allies generally. After the mobster-in-chief in the White House unleashed all this.
Not only should he and his administration be impeached and removed for high crimes and misdemeanors, he should also be held personally responsible for these war crimes. Impeachment is certain, but removal is unlikely, and seeing him tried for war crimes is a fantasy.
After all, the last time we had a chief executive who unleashed war crimes (remember Abu Graib anyone?), nothing happened. That president is just sitting around painting pictures of hot dogs while lolling in his bathtub.
Still, there is value in keeping a chronicle of crimes and never forgetting them. This current stain on a house that is never free of stains in some form needs to be remembered and prevented. And we should all start using quotes when referring to executive mansion: The “White” House has been various shades of blood red from its inception.
RIP Amara Renas and all the other unknown women and men and children who fought on our behalf as well as their own. May you haunt our collective memory forever.
“‘On Crimes and Punishments‘ was the first attempt to apply principles of political economy to the practice of punishment so as to humanise and rationalise the use of coercion by the state. After all, arbitrary and cruel punishment was the most immediate instrument that the state had to terrorise the people into submission, so as to avoid rebellion against the hierarchical structure of the society. The problem that Beccaria faced, then, was the simple fact that the elite had complete control of the law, which was a family business and a highly esoteric language that only the initiated could master. The path leading to the rational reform of penal law required a fundamental philosophical rethinking of the role and place of law in society.”
[Yes, the pics are graphic. Look at them. Own them. Be glad they’re in black and white.]
As the 75th anniversary of the launch of Overlord arrives, it’s important to remember that it was just part of a very big picture, the beginning of the end of World War II. Up until that point, it had been a very long, very hard slog. But afterwards you could practically see directly from the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold on 6-Jun-1944 to the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2-Sep-1945. The war now had its expiration date.
No one cheered harder for the faint glimpse of the end than P.o.W.s in Japan, Korea and China. A few of those had survived four years of torture, starvation, beatings, illnesses such as beri-beri and even being bombarded by their own Army Air Force; they were the survivors of Wake Island, which resisted overwhelming Japanese invasion forces between 8-Dec and 23-Dec-1941. Had it not been for Overlord and Manhattan, those men would have died. Instead, they beat the odds thanks to Truman and Ike, Normandy and Trinity. (To quote directly: “Thank God for Harry Truman and thank God for the atom bomb!”)
I always think back to 1989, when as a newspaper reporter, I was privileged to meet just 11 of the Wake Island survivors, who gathered fairly often for small-scale reunions. That year, while working as a reporter who occasionally wrote some features about WWII vets, I got a call from a friend of mine, Marie Smith, (who had kept me sane during my cursed four months while we worked at <shudder> Wal-Mart), to tell me about an upcoming gathering of Wake Island survivors and their wives at the house of her and her husband John. These people were at that point closer than family, bound forever by what happened on a tiny atoll in the middle of a vast ocean.
The article below is what I wrote at the time, but there are two caveats: First, I apparently misspelled some names. I’ve corrected this at the bottom of this post with their bios. And second, this represents nowhere near everything I was told that day. I felt like an eavesdropper, someone who could watch and hear them, but who was so far removed from their time and experience that comprehension was impossible.
In 2016, the daughter of Tony Schawang of Falls City, NE, the man into whose soybeans Braniff 250 fell in 1966, told me an anecdote about her father, who landed on Omaha Beach 75 years ago. She said she once asked him about that day and he said, “Girlie, you don’t need to know anything about that kind of thing.” He was right.
A photographer took Tony’s picture the morning after the Braniff crash. He looks shell-shocked. I could only imagine the horror of seeing 42 dead people and a crashed airliner fall to earth in front of you. But after finding out that Tony had already seen way worse in 1944 made that picture clearer, more understandable. That’s a thousand-yard stare he has in that 1966 photo. I will now always wonder if he was seeing the wreckage of Braniff 250 … or the wreckage of Omaha Beach. Or a bloody mashing together of both. (As much as I respect Mr. Schawang, as the photos above attest, I disagree. We should always know, and see, the consequences of war.)
Now that we’re older, we can understand, and value, more of the meaning and reality of all this, but those Marines and their wives (and Tony Schawang) are now gone. We can’t have conversations with them just because we’re older and wiser and can now listen to them. They’re lost to history … and we’re much the poorer for it.
What do I now know? Don’t put D-Day in service to American (or British) exceptionalism or nationalism or patriotism, and don’t “thank” a veteran for his/her “service.” Man up, grow up and face up to the reality that no one wanted to “serve” us on the cold Normandy sand. They wanted to simply survive. The hard truth is that D-Day (and Wake Island) represented a failure. A failure to confront, contain and eliminate human anger, violence, and hatred in service to nationalistic ideologies in Japan, Germany and Italy. The failure to do that consumed, between 1914 and 1945 upwards of 150 million lives around the world. WWII soldiers HAD to “serve” at Omaha Beach because WE failed to protect THEM.
Instead of “Thank you for your service,” try, “We’re sorry you had to expend your blood, sweat, tears and toil to clean up our monumental failings.” Every time you meet one of the dwindling numbers of WWII veterans (and those of all the other magnificent little American wars we’ve fallen into), keep your mouth shut and your brain focused on peace. These “Greatest Generation” folks answered the bell and won the fight. We might not be as blessed next time.
Here are the original two Wake Island articles:
Memory Of WWII Still Vivid For Vets (Part I of the Wake Island Story)
‘Considering the power accumulated for the invastion of Wake Island and the meager forces of the defenders, it was one of the most humiliating defeats the Japanese Navy ever suffered.’ —Masatake Okumiya, commander, Japanese Imperial Navy
By Steve Pollock The Duncan (OK) Banner) Sunday, August 13, 1989
MARLOW – It all came back to them this weekend – the stark terror of facing death while kneeling naked on a sandy beach the stinking hold of the prison ship; the brutality of the Japanese; the obliteration of youthful innocence.
They fought and bled for a two-and-a-half-square-mile horseshoe of an atoll in the midPacific called Wake Island. They were United States Marines and they did their duty.
There were 10 [sic] men of that Wake Island garrison at the Marlow home of John Smith this weekend. With Smith, they talked, drank and smoked their way through the weekend, laughter masking deeper emotions of brotherhood, camaraderie and painful memories.
In the Smith kitchen, their wives continued the latest of an ongoing series of therapy sessions, attempting to exorcise some of the demons of the last 44 years of their lives with the hometown heroes.
In 1941, with war inevitable, the U.S. government began construction of a series of defensive Pacific Ocean outposts, including Wake, designed to protect against Japanese aggression. They were a little late.
Little Wake atoll, with some 1,616 Marines and civilians huddled on its three islands, was attacked at noon, Dec. 8, 1941, several hours after Pearl Harbor.
The Marines knew war was possible, but “didn’t think the little brown guys had the guts to hit us,” one of them said.
Jess Nowlin’s hearing aid battery is getting a little weak as the afternoon wears on, but his memory and sense of humor are still sharp.
He said the Marines were going about their business when they heard the drone of approaching aircraft.
“We thought they were B- 17’s out of Pearl coming in to refuel. They weren’t. They broke out of a cloud bank at about 1,800 feet, bomb bay doors open. They tore us up,” Nowlin said.
The Japanese attacked from sea and air, but the Marines held out until Dec. 23; only 400 remained to defend 21 miles of shoreline from 25 warships and a fleet of aircraft. Surrender was inevitable.
Through a haze of cigarette smoke, Robert Mac Brown, a veteran not only of World War II, but of Korea and three tours of duty in Vietnam, remembers the post-surrender scene on the beach.
“We were stripped naked and they hog-tied us with our own telephone wire. A squall came through, but lasted only about 10 to 15 minutes. One of my clearest memories of the whole operation is of watching the water run down the bare back of the guy in front of me,” Brown said.
Japanese soldiers lay on the sand in front of the prisoners, swinging machine guns back and forth. The click of rounds being loaded into chambers was ominous. Fingers tightened on triggers.
“There was an argument between the landing force commander and a guy with the fleet. They screamed at each other in Japanese, arguing about whether to kill us or not,” Brown said.
The Marines made their peace and prepared to die.
The argument to make prisoners of the Marines and civilians won the day. The prisoners were allowed to grab what clothing they could to cover themselves.
And then a living hell began which would only be ended by the birth of atomic stars over southern Japan nearly four years later.
Taken off the island on small ships, the prisoners were forced to climb up the side of the Nittamaru, a former cruise ship pitching about on rough seas.
As the men walked back through the ship and down to the hold, the crew beat them with bamboo sticks, in a gauntlet of brutality.
Packed in the stinking hold, several hundred Marines and civilians had only one five-gallon bucket per deck to hold human waste. For the 14 days of the Nittamaru’s passage from Wake to Shanghai, they could barely move.
The cold of Shanghai was felt through their thin tropical khaki. It was January 1942. Robert Brown was to have married his girl on January 12. She married someone else.
“I thought you were dead,” she later told him.
From Shanghai, through Nanking, Peking, Manchuria and Pusan, Korea, the group journeyed in packed cattle cars to their eventual destination, a coal mine on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, where they dug in the shafts alongside third-generation Korean slave labor.
They were slaves themselves until August 1945.
“Thank God for Harry S. Truman and the atomic bomb,” several survivors said, as the others echoed that prayer.
They went home to heroes’ welcomes, but the public ”’never fully appreciated or understood what we did,” Nowlin said.
They’re much older now — in their 60’s and 70’s — and it was a family reunion of sorts; they claim to be closer than brothers. They don’t miss their “get-togethers” for anything in the world; Robert Haidinger traveled from San Diego with a long chest incision after recently undergoing a major operation.
As they gazed through the Oklahoma sunshine, they didn’t see the cow bam beyond the lovegrass rippling in the August breeze; it was a Japanese destroyer was steaming close in to end their lives all over again.
“It was awful, terrible; I wouldn’t have missed it for anything; you couldn’t get me to do it again for a billion dollars,” Nowlin summed it up.
The men: Tony Obre [sic], Fallbrook, Calif; Robert Haidinger, San Diego, Calif.; Robert Murphy, Thermopolis, Wyo.; Dale Milburn [sic], Santa Rosa, Calif.; George McDaniels [sic], Dallas, Texas; Jess Nowlin, Bonham, Texas; Jack Cook, Golden, Colo.; Robert Mac Brown, Phoenix, Ariz.; Jack Williamson, Lawton; Paul Cooper, Marlow, and John Smith, Marlow.
The cost of the defense of Wake Island, from Dec. 8 to 23, 1941: Americans: 46 Marines, 47 civilians, three sailors and 11 airplanes; Japanese: 5,700 men, 11 ships and 29 airplanes.
Wives Cope With Husband’s Memories (Part II of the Wake Island Story)
By Steve Pollock The Duncan (OK) Banner Sunday, August 13, 1989
MARLOW – It all came back to them this weekend – fists lashing out during nightmares, the traumatic memories, the attempts to catch up on lost time.
The wives of 10 Wake Island survivors met in Marlow with their husbands this weekend for reasons of their own.
“We go through therapy every time we get together. We help each other with problems,” they said.
The wives: Florence Haidinger, Maxine Murphy, Opal Milburn [sic], Irene McDaniels [sic], Sarah Nowlin, Betty Cook, Millie Brown, Jo Williamson, Juanita Cooper and Marie Smith.
They did their own bit during World War II: The Red Cross, an airplane factory in Detroit, North American Aviation in El Segundo, Calif, Douglas in Los Angeles, the Kress dime store.
They married their men after the long national nightmare was finished, and their lives became entwined by one event: the Japanese attack on Wake Island Dec. 8-23,1941.
Since the first reunion of Wake survivors and their spouses in 1953, these women have been like sisters.
“We love each other, we’re closer than family,” Jo Williamson said.
In Marie Smith’s kitchen, therapy was doled out in a catharsis of talk little different from that of the men gathered on the patio. Talk is said to be good for the soul; these women heal great tears in theirs every time they see each other.
According to the wives, the men came home from the war, married, had children and tried to pick up where they left off.
They wanted to take care of their families and try to catch up. They were robbed of the fun times of their late teens and early 20’s, the women unanimously agree.
“They have also lived every day as if it were their last,” Sarah Nowlin said.
The men needed some help after their harrowing battle and brutal three -and-a-half-year captivity.
According to the women, doctors never realized therapy was in order: “They never got anything.”
One man lashed out with his fists during nightmares; after a few pops, his wife learned to leave the room. Another would slide out of bed and assume a rigid posture on the floor, arms and legs folded. Yet they have all been gentle men.
“I’ve never seen my husband harm or even verbally abuse anyone,” a wife said Reunions such as this help the men and women deal with life as they age. The youths of 16-22 are now grandfathers and grandmothers in their 60’s and 70’s.
Life today is a bit baffling to them.
Extremely proud of their men, the women have no patience with draft dodgers, flag burners, Japanese cars or foreign ownership of America.
They didn’t agree with the Vietnam war policy, but duty to country should have come first, they said.
“I didn’t want my son to go to Vietnam, but I would have been ashamed of him if he hadn’t,” one said.
The issue of flag burning stirs violent protest and emotion in the group: “Made in America”’ labels are on everything they buy.
And the younger generation does not enjoy the women’s confidence: “I don’t think they could do what we were all called on to do,” they agreed.
And as Marlow afternoon shadows grew longer, the women of Wake continued to cleanse their souls.
Updated bios (confirmed via findagrave.com):
• Cpl. Robert Mac Brown, USMC, Phoenix, AZ. Birth: 1-Feb-1918. Death: 21-Sep-2002 (age 84). Buried: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.
• Sgt. Jack Beasom Cook, USMC, Golden, CO.
Birth: 18-Jun-1918, Okmulgee, OK.
Death: 20-Nov-1999 (age 81).
Buried: Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, CO.
• Sgt. Paul Carlton Cooper, USMC, Marlow, OK.
Birth: 30-Oct-1918, Richardson, TX.
Death: 18-Sep-1994 (age 75), Marlow, OK.
Buried: Marlow Cemetery, Marlow, OK.
• Cpl. Robert Fernand Haidinger, USMC, San Diego, CA. Birth: 24-Nov-1918, Chicago, IL. Death: 7-Mar-2014 (age 95). Buried: Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, CA.
• PFC Robert Bruce “Bob” Murphy, USMC, Thermopolis, WY. Birth: 5-Oct-1920, Thermopolis, WY. Death: 5-Feb-2007 (age 86), Hot Springs County, WY. Buried: Monument Hill Cemetery, Thermopolis, WY.
• Pvt. Ival Dale Milbourn, USMC, Phoenix, AZ.
Birth: 23-Jul-1922, Saint Joseph, MO.
Death: 18-Dec-2001 (age 79), Mesa, AZ.
Buried: Skylawn Memorial Park, San Mateo, CA.
• PFC George Washington “Dub” McDaniel, Dallas, TX.
Birth: 23-Dec-1915, Stigler, OK.
Death: 14-Jul-1993 (age 77).
Buried: Stigler Cemetery, Stigler, OK.
Is corporate power absolute yet? Or just overwhelming? Maybe … it’s just … mestastizing? There’s a fascinating documentary over at Deutsche Welle:
“The Wallonia region in Belgium triggered a Europe-wide crisis in the fall of 2016 by refusing to sign the CETA free trade agreement with Canada, as millions of EU citizens took to the streets to protest against the agreement. The CETA negotiations had turned the spotlight on the system of private arbitration courts. … Many states whose sovereignty is threatened are now finally waking up to the danger. But is it perhaps already too late to do anything about the seemingly over-mighty corporations?”
“Since January of 2001, over 3,000 undocumented migrants have died within the Pima County OME jurisdiction. The information presented is stark and perhaps unsettling. However, both Humane Borders and the Pima County OME believe that the availability of this information will contribute to fulfilling our common vision.”
Immoral, indecent, inhumane. There is no slippery slope; this country is on a well-trodden path dating back at least to 1492. There is also no false equivalency. We are running concentration camps and human beings are dying. [Full Stop]
Details are in the OIG report to DHS. Full report is here.
And then Primo Levi pegged the inevitable results of such greed, hypocrisy, selfishness … and our addiction to those three destructive forces:
“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.”
And the college students of the White Rose in Munich, 1942, in a pamphlet that would lead to their executions, also outlined how it’s impossible to have rational, intellectual discourse with those who have devoted themselves to irrational, anti-intellectual rot:
“It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with National Socialist Philosophy. For if there were such an entity, one would have to try by means of analysis and discussion either to prove its validity or to combat it. In actuality we face a [different] situation. At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one’s fellow man.”
The White Rose Society, 1942
No. You cannot argue with Fascists or Nazis or ignorant nationalists. Rational arguments won’t win over irrational people.
“The whole world is watching what we do here. We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.”
The story of the United States of America joining the long and black list of nations who abuse and torture prisoners and then invent all sorts of justifications for it is dribbling out slowly. «A new article in Newsweek» is one of the best I’ve seen so far at laying out both the nitty-gritty and some of the bigger cultural issues at play.
The article centers on the story of Ali Soufan, one of the FBI’s top experts on Al Qaeda who also ‘had a reputation as a shrewd interrogator who could work fluently in both English and Arabic.’ It was Soufani who successfully discovered both the Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot and the identity of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (one a preventive and one a prosecutorial piece of detective work) within the rule of law, without using torture:
“Last week Soufan, 37, now a security consultant who spends most of his time in the Middle East, decided to tell the story of his involvement in the Abu Zubaydah interrogations publicly for the first time. In an op-ed in The New York Times and in a series of exclusive interviews with Newsweek, Soufan described how he, together with FBI colleague Steve Gaudin, began the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. They nursed his wounds, gained his confidence and got the terror suspect talking. They extracted crucial intelligence—including the identity of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the architect of 9/11 and the dirty-bomb plot of Jose Padilla—before CIA contractors even began their aggressive tactics.’ … “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these [aggressive] techniques were effective,” he says. “We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way. ” [Emphasis added.]
What did ‘the right way’ look like?
“As the sessions continued, Soufan engaged Abu Zubaydah in long discussions about his world view, which included a tinge of socialism. After Abu Zubaydah railed one day about the influence of American imperialist corporations, he asked Soufan to get him a Coca-Cola—a request that prompted the two of them to laugh. Soon enough, Abu Zubaydah offered up more information—about the bizarre plans of a jihadist from Puerto Rico to set off a “dirty bomb” inside the country. This information led to Padilla’s arrest in Chicago by the FBI in early May. ”
But Bush/Cheney and the CIA didn’t want ‘the right way,’ followed (it was too calm and too much namby-pamby ‘police action’ for them) and manufactured, through the compliant devices of the likes of John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the means to ramp up torture. And the only objections that seemed forthcoming appear to have been centered on the potential political blowback, not on the inhumane, immoral, and illegal acts being undertaken:
“Pasquale D’Amuro, then the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism … and other officials were alarmed at what they heard from Soufan. They fretted about the political consequences of abusive interrogations and the Washington blowback they thought was inevitable, say two high-ranking FBI sources who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. According to a later Justice Department inspector general’s report, D’Amuro warned FBI Director Bob Mueller that such activities would eventually be investigated. “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this,” D’Amuro said, according to one of the sources. ”
The issue, as usual, follows America’s cultural fault lines. There are (hopefully a minority) Americans who, in this case, are so steeped in fear and anger that they have no problem using any means necessary, including those of history’s worst human offenders as well as contemporary terrorists, in order to feed that fear and anger. The fault lines not only run through society, but through all government service as well:
“… in early 2002, Soufan flew to Guantánamo to conduct a training course. He gave a powerful talk, preaching the virtues of the FBI’s traditional rapport-building techniques. Not only were such methods the most effective, Soufan explained that day, they were critical to maintaining America’s image in the Middle East. “The whole world is watching what we do here,” Soufan said. “We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.” As he made these comments, about half the interrogators in the room—those from the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies—were “nodding their heads” in agreement, recalls McFadden. But the other half—CIA and military officers—sat there “with blank stares. It’s like they were thinking, This is bullcrap. Their attitude was, ‘You guys are cops; we don’t have time for this’.” ”
Americans on one side committed to the rule of law and cognizant of the possible price that has to be paid to follow it; on the other side those who would jettison it when the going gets rough and their fear and anger get control of them. The same is true in the general society. There are Americans who are so fearful and anger that they stock the house with guns and loudly tell anyone who will listen that ‘if anyone tries to break in their house, they’ll blow ‘em away!’ and then tries to pass laws that arm teachers (ostensibly to prevent more Columbines) and carry guns into restaurants and so on and so on. There are Americans who accept that life is sometimes dangerous and short and that if something happens the police are there to ‘protect and serve.’ And then get on with their lives.
Meanwhile, the torture story goes on. The documents being examined tell the story about how our nation willfully abrogated the rule of law and committed acts for which we prosecuted and executed or jailed perpetrators in other nations within our living memory. And the perpetrators, like many Germans and Japanese of the 1933-45 period and communists of the Soviet and People’s Republic periods, will probably never be brought to heel for what they’ve done. Especially if they think like Torturer James Mitchell:
“Although Soufan declined to identify the contractor by name, other sources (and media accounts) identify him as James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist who had worked on the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training—a program to teach officers how to resist the abusive interrogation methods used by Chinese communists during the Korean War. Within days of his arrival, Mitchell—an architect of the CIA interrogation program—took charge of the questioning of Abu Zubaydah. He directed that Abu Zubaydah be ordered to answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques. One day Soufan entered Abu Zubadyah’s room and saw that he had been stripped naked; he covered him with a towel. The confrontations began. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan says. But that didn’t matter, the contractor shot back: “Science is science. This is a behavioral issue.” The contractor suggested Soufan was the inexperienced one. “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” Mitchell told Newsweek, “I would love to tell my story.” But then he added, “I have signed a nondisclosure agreement that will not even allow me to correct false allegations.” ”
How convenient. And how very … American. And human. And disgusting.