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BRIAN CLOUGHLEY : Medals for Murder

Wailing Widows and Hi-Tech Bombardiers

Medals for Murder

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

On the internet there have been photographs going round of a row of puffy-faced North Korean generals with flabby chests covered in medals.  Their decorations are absurd, of course, because none of these chubbies has heard a shot fired in anger. And western propaganda machines are understandably publicizing the pictures at this time of tension with the regime of pot-bellied, moon-faced and deranged President Kim Jong Un.  But it’s unlikely that the North Koreans will publish photographs of the equally generous medal-chests of American or other nations’ generals, if only because they’ve got no sense of humor.

Have you ever wondered how many medals have been awarded to foreign soldiers in Afghanistan who have been fighting America’s Longest War?  We can’t establish the exact number, because we’ll never know how many soldiers have endured service in that God-forsaken hellhole.  But given average annual strength over the past few years of about 40,000 foreign troops, each having a six-month tour of duty, it’s getting on to half a million national medals. Then there is the other medal awarded to everyone for having been there:  the International Security and Assistance Force Medal. Add half a million.  So that’s at least a million little circles of metal attached to ribbons that are pinned on the chests of all these military people.

What’s the point of  all these shiny gongs?  What are they supposed to signify?   I don’t disapprove of medals as such, because some are indicative of honorable military service, usually in dangerous and horrible circumstances, and in a number of cases they are awarded for great bravery.  It is pleasing that the new Secretaries of State and Defense in Washington have medals — not that their experience and courage deterred a bunch of pathetic chair-bound dummies from trying to block their appointments.  And they are proof that at least some metal is awarded for mettle.  So don’t get me wrong about medals.  After all, I’ve got ten, and they look very pretty and I like wearing them on ceremonial occasions. Six of them, however, are just glitter garbage, handed out for having done nothing in particular.

But some medals are awarded for propaganda purposes, and if you think back to the dishonorable and disgraceful way in which some US senior officers — very senior officers indeed — told deliberate lies about the award of a posthumous bravery medal to Pat Tillman, then you wonder about military integrity.

You might not remember the Pat Tillman affair, so please allow me remind you what happened on the death of this American football player who joined the Army Rangers rather than take up a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals.  After his death in Afghanistan in April ten years ago there was a memorial service at which his family “were told that he was killed while running up a hill in pursuit of the enemy. He was awarded a Silver Star for his courageous actions. A month and two days after his death, the family learned that Pat had been shot three times in the head by his own troops in a ‘friendly fire’ incident.”   Make no mistake:  Pat was a brave man.  He deserved a medal for courage because he exposed himself to deadly danger when he stood up and shouted to his panicking comrades to stop firing because there wasn’t an enemy within miles.  But a gang of despicable and dishonorable generals used his status and bravery as a propaganda tool for their own putrid purposes.  It’s like the repulsive fraud about Private Jessica Lynch during the invasion of Iraq — and countless other tawdry deceptions.  The farcical Lynch affair was the stage-managed rescue of a 19-year old supply clerk who was in a convoy that got lost and was shot at by Iraqi troops. She was slightly wounded and the Iraqis took her to a hospital where she was looked after very well (“The nurses tried to soothe me and return me,” she said, later.)  There were no guards, and she was in no danger.  But the hospital was assaulted by dozens of US special forces especially for propaganda purposes, which no doubt earned everyone concerned a few more chest-chinking bits of metal.  She got six of them.  And as she told the US Congress in April 2007:  “I am still confused as to why they [the US army] chose to lie and tried to make me a legend.”  It all stinks, of course;  but so long as the medals keep coming, who cares?  And who cares about what’s been happening in Afghanistan, the land where medals outnumber soldiers, and soldiers die for nothing?

And not only soldiers die for nothing in Afghanistan.  The New York Times reported in February that two Afghan kids gathering firewood  “were killed by weapons fired from a NATO helicopter,” causing the commander in Afghanistan, US General Joseph Dunford, to “offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed.”  But do you think the killer pilot will wear his medals with pride?  And might General Dunford ever wonder,  as he dons his uniform jacket, heavy with badges and blazonry, and rigid with rows of ribbons, if he truly deserves the medals he got at the time that two seven year-old Afghan boys were blasted to ragged gobbets of blood-gushing flesh by a missile from one of his hi-tech gunships?

Every time I learn of a soldier being killed in Afghanistan I think of his family — probably because I’m an old soldier and once had to go to the house of an army widow who didn’t know she was a widow until I told her.  That was a long time ago, but I wonder, now, what a young army major (or whatever) thinks when he forms up to the front door of a doomed family and rings the bell and lifts his chin and squares his shoulders and delivers the sentence of death —  but I also think of the weeping Afghan army widows who face lives of despair and hopelessness. (There is never a word in the Western media about the many, many thousands of them.)   And I think of Afghan family compounds where loving parents are told to their frantic anguish that their tiny boys have vanished forever because some bungling foreigners imagined they were terrorists.  Who deserves medals for killing kids?

In our celebrity-worshipping age, in which not much matters to countless millions of people except Oscars, Nascars and shrieking excitement at rah-rah sport, it’s difficult to come to terms with reality.  Which is one reason why handing out medals is so important to those who want to manipulate people in the cause of war.  They’re the cheer-breeders.

One of the most bizarre pieces of news to hit the media recently concerned the decision by the Administration in Washington to award a bravery decoration to government workers who from armchairs direct drones to kill supposed enemies and in the process slaughter totally guiltless people from time to time.  I have to say that when I first read the report I thought it might be an amusing if somewhat sick spoof dreamed up by London’s Private Eye magazine or the satirical online site, The Onion.  Alas: not so.  This grotesque report was no sardonic send-up;  it was perfectly serious official notification that the United States of America approves of and conducts assassinations. Further, the Land of the Free,  the World’s Greatest Democracy, was announcing to the world that its uniformed minions who kill kids by mouse-tap deserve medals for displaying courage.

Drone drivers are honored by the newly-invented US Distinguished Warfare Medal, which ranks above the Bronze Star which is awarded “for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone.”   But how can there be heroism involved in controlling drone strikes?  And how does an air-conditioned screen-studded hi-tech parlor behind massive security walls count as a combat zone?

It seems that Defense Secretary Hagel may be able to cancel the bizarre decision to award gallantry medals to switch-flicking mouse-tappers. But the very fact that the medal was created at all is a sad commentary on the state of decorations and the degradation of Democracy.

Drone operators have killed 400 civilians in their strikes in Pakistan alone. We’ll never know how many ordinary citizens they’ve killed in Afghanistan or Yemen or other countries into which the CIA and the US Air Force propel their savage explosive daggers.

Over western Pakistan the terror drones drift soundlessly in the sky, and sometimes they twinkle in reflected sunlight;  and when villagers see them they freeze in fear.  Might there be someone in their village who has had a CIA-supplied micro-chip planted on them?  Perhaps a chip-stuck truck came into their village that morning, and the spark-eyed mouse-tapping Controllers in their armchairs are waiting for activation.  Maybe one of their neighbors hates them and has told someone-who-knows-someone that they support a terrorist.  (That’s a popular means of local eradication.)  But there’s no point in villagers fleeing their homes, because they might run in the wrong direction.  They might seek refuge, these terrified families,  in compounds identified as “hostile” by the hi-tech Controllers. Then — BLAMMO!

Shrieking terror.  Blood-gushing shredded corpses.  Wailing widows.

And Distinguished Warfare Medals all round.  For murder.

Brian Cloughley’s website is www.beecluff.com

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AMBASSADOR MUNTER: A MAN OF CONSCIENCE AND A FRIEND OF PAKISTANIS

A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out

 

America’s former ambassador to Pakistan talks about his battle with the CIA over drones. Tara McKelvey reports.

  • Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, looked suntanned, but not rested, as he sat in a Foggy Bottom bar a few blocks from the State Department on a fall evening. He placed an Islamabad Golf baseball cap on the table, a souvenir from a decades-long career that had recently ended in a public flameout.

Former Ambassador Munter

Former Ambassador Cameron Munter testified on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sept. 23, 2010. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” 
― Martin Luther King, Jr.A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out

America’s former ambassador to Pakistan talks about his battle with the CIA over drones. Tara McKelvey reports.

Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, looked suntanned, but not rested, as he sat in a Foggy Bottom bar a few blocks from the State Department on a fall evening. He placed an Islamabad Golf baseball cap on the table, a souvenir from a decades-long career that had recently ended in a public flameout.

 This past May, it was announced that Munter would be leaving his post. At the time, a State Department spokesman said he had made “a personal decision” to step down. But a few weeks after the announcement, The New York Times—in an article about counterterrorism policy—quoted one of Munter’s colleagues saying the ambassador “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”

That didn’t sound like the man I had met several months earlier at a party in Washington—back then, he seemed to relish his job as ambassador. I wondered why Munter’s colleague had said that, and I also wanted to know why he had resigned. He agreed to meet me at a bar to tell his side of the story, explaining that the Times had been wrong about him. It made him sound like a softie, he said, a mischaracterization that he wanted to correct.

Munter—who grew up in Claremont, Calif.—was no stranger to geopolitical hot spots even before he took the Pakistan job. He had been ambassador to Serbia from 2007 to 2009 and later served as deputy chief of mission in Baghdad.

It was Richard Holbrooke, then serving as special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, who initially approached Munter about the ambassadorship to Pakistan. He arrived in Islamabad in October 2010; less than three months later, Holbrooke was admitted to a Washington hospital for heart surgery, and two days after that he was dead. “I miss him every day,” says Munter. “The only reason I took that damn job is because he talked me into it, and then he died.”

Holbrooke had handed off an important but tough assignment. For months, the Obama administration’s relations with Pakistan had been in steady decline. Instead of diplomacy, Washington was increasingly employing brass-knuckle techniques, such as threatening to cut back on aid. “When I get calls from the White House, they say, ‘Dial up the pain,’” Munter tells me. “In Islamabad, they don’t respond well to dialing up the pain.”

Soon, Americans and Pakistanis were fighting over the drone program, a contentious issue they had previously worked together on. And this would also become a major source of tension between Munter and Washington officials.

“The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.”

It wasn’t that Munter was against drone strikes. “We prevented major attacks,” Munter tells me. “To me, that’s my job, and I’m proud we did it.” He also thinks allegations that drone strikes kill civilians are trumped up. “We have people who bring us the bodies of little girls,” he says, stretching out his arms as if he were carrying a small corpse, “and say drones killed them. They’re making it up, or they’re willfully believing lies.”

images-8What Munter did want, however, was a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “What they’re trying to portray is I’m shocked and horrified, and that’s not my perspective,” he said, referring to The New York Times article. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”

“What is the definition of someone who can be targeted?” I asked. “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” Munter replied. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

Munter wanted the ability to sign off on drone strikes—and, when necessary, block them. Then-CIA director Leon Panetta saw things differently. Munter remembers one particular meeting where they clashed. “He said, ‘I don’t work for you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t work for you,’” the former ambassador recalls. (George Little, a former CIA spokesman who is now at the Pentagon—where Panetta is currently serving as Defense secretary—disputed this account. “I’ve heard these rumors before,” he said. “That’s exactly what this is: rumor. [Panetta] has had productive relationships with Ambassador Munter and other ambassadors with whom he has worked.”)

The question of whether Munter should have had the ability to stop drone strikes was complicated. According to National Defense University’s Christopher Lamb, an ambassador has top authority at an embassy and should therefore be informed of CIA plans for covert action. And there is certainly precedent for this procedure. It is also true, however, that ambassadors historically have rarely objected to such operations when they are told about them.

That made what happened in March 2011 all the more extraordinary. That month, the CIA ordered a drone strike against militants in North Waziristan. Munter tried to stop the strike before it happened, but, according to the Associated Press, Panetta “dismissed” Munter’s request.

The timing of the strike was noteworthy: it was the day after CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had shot two Pakistani men, was released from a Lahore jail. The fact that Davis had been detained for weeks reportedly angered the CIA. “It was in retaliation for Davis,” a former aide to Munter told the Associated Press, referring to the strike. (The CIA did not respond to my request for comment.) In the end, the strike killed at least 10 militants, and reportedly 19 or more civilians. And Munter wasn’t the only one who was upset. So were the Pakistanis: Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Army chief, said the men had been “callously targeted.” Rumors circulated that some of them were spies for the military, risking their lives to help fight the Taliban.

Following the strike, President Obama set up a more formal process by which diplomats could have input into these strikes. “I have a yellow card,” Munter recalled, describing the new policy. “I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”

It was a limited victory for Munter, but his relationship with Washington remained difficult. Munter says he got along with Panetta’s successor at the CIA, David Petraeus. Still, with Holbrooke gone, the ambassador lacked powerful allies in the administration, and even his friends used the word “arrogant” to describe him. Moreover, he did not get high marks as an administrator: an inspector-general report criticized the management of the Islamabad embassy, calling it “controlling.”

Yet insiders and outsiders agree that the main reason for his demise was not his personality, bossy or otherwise, but the fact that he was off message. “Munter’s argument was that it would be much better to engage Pakistan diplomatically rather than just to rely on pressure,” says Vali Nasr, who served as a senior adviser to Holbrooke and is now at Johns Hopkins University. “The real issue was that he was not on the same page as Washington.”

During our interview, Munter criticized the way White House officials approached Pakistan. “They say, ‘Why don’t we kick their ass?’ Do we want to get mad at them? Take their car keys away? Or look at the larger picture?” He leaned back in his chair and recalled his last National Security Council meeting: “The president says, ‘It’s an hour meeting, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan for 30 minutes and then Pakistan for 30 minutes.’ Seventy-five minutes later, we still haven’t talked about Pakistan. Why? Because Pakistan is too fucking hard.”

– See more at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/20/a-former-ambassador-to-pakistan-speaks-out.html#sthash.nXmHWDVc.dpuf

Nov 20, 2012 4:45 AM EST

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