Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Legitimization Of War Crimes And The Protection Of Both War Criminals And Terrorists


The Legitimization Of War Crimes And The Protection Of Both War Criminals And Terrorists

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the major nations of this planet have no intention of abiding by any law that interferes with their desires of the moment. The law is for other people, other nations. (Ed.)


Proposals outlined by Ken Clarke follow lawyers' attempt to obtain warrant for former Israeli minister

The government is proposing to give the director of public prosecutions the power to veto arrest warrants for suspected war criminals in the UK, it was announced today.
The move is an attempt to make it harder for arrests under the law of "universal jurisdiction" and comes after a series of high-profile cases in which Israeli politicians faced arrest in the UK.
An attempt by British lawyers to obtain an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister and now opposition leader, from a London magistrates court late last year prompted the then government to try to change the legal process by requiring the approval of the attorney general. The move provoked outrage from lawyers.
The proposed changes outlined today by the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, instead give the DPP a veto power over arrest warrants. This move has been criticised as risking making Britain "a more attractive destination" for suspects of serious human rights violations.
At present, the UK has universal jurisdiction over certain offences, including war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, torture and hostage-taking. This means a suspect can be prosecuted regardless of where the crime was committed, or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim. The government says it wants to protect the right for anyone to apply to the courts for such an arrest warrant but argues that the current system is open to abuse.
Clarke said: "Our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering. It is important, however, that universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with in this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution – otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy."
However, Daniel Machover, a partner at Hickman and Rose solicitors, said that while the proposed changes were preferable to abolishing private prosecutions in international criminal cases, they were motivated by political, rather than legal, concerns.
"The Tzipi Livni case is the driver. It's purely because of political pressure from Israel," he said.
"There is not a single example of the current system in Britain failing to filter out cases that are an abuse of process. There is simply no need to give the DPP a veto power.
"This proposed reform will send out entirely the wrong message to suspects, making Britain a more attractive destination for such persons – Britain must not become and be seen to have become a 'safe haven' for persons suspected of the most heinous international crimes."
The Jewish Leadership Council said it looked forward to specific legislation to deliver the proposed changes.
"We welcome this significant step towards the correction of a legal anomaly that has been exploited for the purpose of specific political agendas," said the JLC chairman and board of deputies president, Vivian Wineman.

Israel Hails 'Twisted' UK Law Change

Move to prevent "arrest warrants to make a political statement."

Israeli diplomatic officials applauded the new Conservative British government on Thursday for announcing plans to amend the UK’s universal jurisdiction law.

The government of Prime Minister 
David Cameron is moving on this issue, whereas all the previous Labor government did was talk about it, the officials said.
U.K. seeks to change law on war crimes arrests - Haaretz Daily ...
The government is now seeking to change the law in such a way that one government department, the Crown Prosecution Service, evaluate the merits of any case ...

The British government said the planned change to the law was designed to stop “possible abuse by people trying to obtain arrest warrants for grave crimes on the basis of flimsy evidence to make a political statement or to cause embarrassment.”

Announcing plans to bring forward legislation, likely in the new session of Parliament in September, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke reiterated the government’s commitment to changing the universal jurisdiction legislation while upholding international law.

“Our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering.

“It is important, however, that universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded within this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution – otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy,” Clarke said.

Diplomatic officials said that Cameron, Clark and Foreign Secretary William Hague deserved credit for moving efforts to change the law from the “theoretical to the operational level.”

The change in the law – which currently allows private prosecutions on charges of war crimes to be issued bymagistrates in the UK even if the alleged offense was purportedly committed elsewhere and irrespective of nationality – will require the approval of Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer before a warrant or summons can be issued.

“The government has concluded, after careful consideration, that it would be appropriate to require the consent of the director of public prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction,” Clarke said.

Israeli officials pointed out that this still had to be ratified by the House of Commons, but that it was unlikely that the government would not be able to pass the legislation since it was likely to get the support of a number of Labor MPs as well.

Still, senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that it was too early to say that the new UK government has a more favorable tone toward Israel.

“Cameron is focused completely on internal issues and the economy,” the officials said. “He is really set on setting things straight economically, so the issue of foreign affairs has not yet been high on the agenda. I can’t say that I’ve seen a change,” a senior official said.

Israeli Ambassador 
Ron Prosor characterized the move as a “step in the right direction. He said that this was not a British-Israeli issue, and that the abuse of Britain’s universal law was eroding the judicial system in the UK.

“This decision will put the common sense back into the common law,” he said.

Prosor said that the universal jurisdiction did not only prove problematic for Israelis, but also for British and American officers fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“This is important, and I hope it will help Britain’s involvement in the peace process,” Prosor said.

In a joint statement, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Mick Davis, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council’s executive committee, welcomed the decision.

“We welcome this significant step towards the correction of a legal anomaly that has been exploited for the purpose of specific political agendas. The proposed remedy will rightly protect both the principle and practice of universal jurisdiction in serious international crimes, which is something that our community has always supported.

“We look forward to the rapid publication of specific legislation and further details of the legislative vehicle that the government intends to use to deliver its commitment to bring the matter before Parliament at the first opportunity,” the statement read.
On Tuesday, Clarke had said the government was “urgently” considering how to proceed. It is “unsatisfactory” that an arrest warrant can be issued “on the application of a private prosecutor on the basis of evidence that would be insufficient to sustain a prosecution,” the justice secretary said.

Clarke was responding to a question by Conservative MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord, who asked when the law would be changed.

Offord asked how Britain could play a leading role in the diplomatic world if foreign politicians cannot visit the UK without fear of arrest.

“Of course we must enforce properly in respect of war crimes and other matters of universal jurisdiction where proper cases arise, but I agree that it is not in any sense in this country’s interests that people can be arrested upon arrival on a level of evidence that would not remotely sustain a prosecution, which is why we intend to address this matter and to make an announcement in the very near future,” Clarke said.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been eager to exploit the International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 to arrest Israeli officials visiting the UK on charges of war crimes.

Last December, an arrest warrant was issued for opposition leader 
Tzipi Livni, who was scheduled to speak at a Jewish charity event in London, over her involvement in Operation Cast Lead, when she was foreign minister. She canceled her trip.

In September 2009, an arrest warrant was issued to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was in the UK to speak at the Labor Party conference.

In 2006, Gaza Division commander Brig.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was scheduled to study at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, was warned by an IDF judge that he could be arrested on arrival. He also canceled his trip. Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter also canceled a trip in 2007 (when he was public security minister) out of concern that a warrant might be issued for his arrest.

In 2005, Doron Almog, former OC Southern Command, avoided arrest at Heathrow Airport after being warned not to disembark from his EL AL flight as British detectives were waiting to arrest him for allegedly ordering the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza in 2002.

Before May’s general elections, the Conservatives said they would act speedily to change the law if elected.

After the elections, Hague said he was committed to changing the law, as it was “completely unacceptable” that Israeli officials felt they could not visit.

“This is a country that wants to play a strong role in the Middle East peace process, and for that Israeli leaders and others have to be able to visit the UK. So be in no doubt that we will take action on this, but as part of a coalition, we must discuss with our colleagues how to best to do it,” he said then.

Britain’s outgoing envoy to Israel, Tom Phillips, spoke with Livni on Thursday and updated her on the developments.

Livni welcomed the move.

“This amendment will bring an end to the horrible and twisted [law] that allows individual political activists to cynically take advantage of the legal system to fight the international struggle against terror,” she said.

“The free world must differentiate between real war criminals, who must be brought to justice, and those who fight terrorism against civilians, including the officers and soldiers of the IDF. This is an important step in the right direction.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

Israelis wanted for war crimes can sleep easier thanks to their friends and admirers in the British Establishment.
Yes, our brand-new coalition government intends providing a safe haven for the vilest of criminals.
When Israel’s ex-foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and other architects of the terror campaign against Palestinian civilians, recently cancelled trips to the UK for fear of being arrested under universal jurisdiction laws on charges of war crimes, it sparked a diplomatic row. Britain’s then foreign secretary-in-waiting, William Hague, an avid Friend of Israel since boyhood, said: “We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country. The situation is unsatisfactory [and] indefensible. It is absolutely my intention to act speedily.”
He found it “completely unacceptable” that someone like Livni felt she could not visit the UK. He didn’t explain how welcoming Livni with open arms was possible “without weakening our commitment to hold accountable those guilty of war crimes”.
Gordon Brown, the then prime minister, expressed his regret over the incident, saying that Livni was “most welcome in Britain any time” – even though she was no longer a government minister in Israel.
Under universal jurisdiction all states that are party to the Geneva Conventions are obliged to seek out and either prosecute or extradite those suspected of having committed grave breaches of the conventions and bring them, regardless of nationality, to court.
“Grave breaches” means willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and other serious violations of the laws of war … the sort of atrocities that have been (and still are) committed wholesale by Israel in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Lo and behold, new Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has announced, just as MPs are about to disappear on their long summer recess, that “it would be appropriate to require the consent of the director of public prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.”
Alerts have gone out from activist groups. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign urges its members to write to their MPs immediately:
This would seriously hamper the work of human rights lawyers in this country who are attempting to bring these war criminals to justice, and would deny the Palestinians yet another chance at justice.
Between September and December 2009, lawyers issued arrest warrants against three Israeli ministers who were planning to visit Britain. Two of them – Livni and Moshe Ya’alon – cancelled their visits as a result. The third – Ehud Barak – had his status upgraded by the then Labour government, so that he could attend the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
If the Government’s plans become law, warrants such as these will become much harder to serve.
Meanwhile, in his report to the UN, Judge Richard Goldstone found masses of evidence of war crimes by Israel in Gaza and has called for individual states in the international community to “start criminal investigations in national courts, using universal jurisdiction, where there is sufficient evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949″.
Hague and Clarke, however, seem determined to make the likes of Livni and Barak and their murderous military henchmen a protected species.
The director of public prosecutions, a supposedly independent figure, is answerable through the attorney-general. The new attorney-general is Dominic Grieve. In 2007 he was in Israel with a Conservative Friends of Israel delegation. He spoke up for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit but his sense of justice apparently didn’t prompt him to mention the thousands of Palestinian civilians tortured and rotting in Israeli jails.
Grieve’s deputy is Solicitor-General Edward Garnier. In February, while still in opposition but warming up for the general election, he and Kenneth Clarke visited Israel as delegates of Conservative Friends of Israel when they could (and should) have gone under a neutral parliamentary flag. They met with deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon and leader of the Opposition Livni. Ayalon is also on the wanted list but was able to visit London after receiving a letter from the Foreign Office promising he would be safe from arrest while in England.
At the height of the Gaza blitz (which killed 1,400 including 350 children, destroyed or damaged 58,000 homes, 280 schools, 1,500 factories, water and sewage installations and 80 per cent of agricultural crops), Hague said in Parliament: “The immediate trigger for this crisis … was the barrage of hundreds of rocket attacks against Israel on the expiry of the ceasefire or truce.”
Wrong. A person in his position should know better than mouth off the Israeli propaganda line. The truce with Hamas didn’t just “expire”. It was violated after six months by Israeli forces, killing six Palestinians in air strikes and other attacks, in order to provoke Hamas. Israel had also failed to deliver its side of the ceasefire bargain, which was to lift the blockade.
While the evidence piles up against Livni and others, the justice secretary assures us that “our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering”. How can that be if universal jurisdiction cases in future are filtered and processed solely by the director of public prosecutions?
The fear is that the director of public prosecutions’ wheels turn so slowly that the birds will have flown before arrests can be made, and the change in the law will simply enable the director of public prosecutions to thwart private efforts to bring to book those criminals the British government regards as friends.
Let’s remember that after the 22-day devastation of Gaza and the mega-deaths and maimings, their friend Livni bragged how she would happily do it again.
Hague, after just two months in the top job at the Foreign Office, is already an embarrassment to English people who yearn for moral leadership in foreign affairs. It was Hague who uttered these words in 2008: “The unbroken thread of Conservative Party support for Israel that has run for nearly a century from the Balfour Declaration to the present day will continue. Although it will no doubt often be tested in the years ahead, it will remain constant, unbroken, and undiminished by the passage of time.”
Undiminished by the passage of crime, too.

 No Chance Iraq Inquiry Will Lead To War Crimes Trial

Two government officials have given evidence to the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry which can only lead to one conclusion: Tony Blair lied to take Britain into an illegal war and he is directly culpable for its consequences, including the deaths of 52 people in the 7 July 2005 bombings, the perpetrators of which were radicalised by their outrage over the Iraq invasion.

They Lied Then, They Are Lying Now, And Chilcott Is Letting Them Get Away With It

Carne Ross was Britain's first secretary to the United Nations when Tony Blair was scheming to bounce the UK into supporting George Bush's illegal war in Iraq. He resigned in Summer 2002, no longer able to tolerate the lies and deceptions he saw being concocted.

Carne Ross is a man with too much to say to mince his words. Britain's erstwhile first secretary at the UN saw a lot of how Britain got into the Iraq war, but his evidence to the Chilcot inquiry went much further, with some very harsh words for the inquiry itself.

The classic establishment inquiry, especially one with "lessons learned" as its highest aim, finds that mistakes have been made but that everyone did their best and no one lied.

Previous Chilcot witnesses have played this game and, while it remains to be seen whether the inquiry will play along, they have rarely been challenged. Ross (not Sir Carne, you will note) is now saying pretty bluntly that people lied before the war and are still lying and that Chilcot is not equipped to deal with it. That's what happens when you let a known whistleblower in.

In a very hard-hitting written statement, Ross has again made clear that he did not see any case for war, either on the basis of the supposed failure of the policy of containing Iraq or based on the threat from its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

On the first point, he is very well-placed to challenge the claims of previous witnesses, having been responsible for negotiating the policy at the UN until the middle of 2002. On the latter, he was less well-placed, although he does say that he saw all the intelligence.

Ross said it was "inaccurate to claim, as some earlier witnesses have done, that containment was failing and that sanctions were collapsing". This claim was made from the first day of the inquiry, by witnesses such as Sir William Patey, who, Ross points out, said that sanctions were "leaking all over the place". In a footnote, Ross says that "this was not the official assessment at the time and is a judgment that is not borne out in the relevant policy documents".
Ah, the documents. Ross rams the point home at the end of his statement when he addresses the inquiry's failings:
"It is striking that in my preparations for this testimony, I found several documents germane to the inquiry whose existence was not revealed by earlier witnesses, including those who authored them. Other documents by certain officials contradicted the testimony they have given at this inquiry and yet these witnesses were not questioned about these contradictions."

Ross uses his statement to reveal the contents of some of the documents that he has seen. But he has also been censored: "I was informed by the inquiry staff that I was not in public session to refer to or reveal the contents of classified documents which I reviewed in preparing my testimony." Two of his footnotes have been "redacted on grounds of international relations".

When it comes to the threat allegedly posed by Iraq, Ross says this was "intentionally and substantially exaggerated in public government documents", notably by the drafters of the September 2002 Iraq dossier.
It happened "in a way that allowed those participating to convince themselves that they were not engaged in blatant dishonesty. But this process led to highly misleading statements about the UK assessment of the Iraqi threat that were, in their totality, lies."

Elsewhere, Ross talks of possible "perjury" by Chilcot witnesses and of "mendacity". These are not the sort of words you are supposed to use at an establishment inquiry.

Carne Ross on how the Iraq Inquiry let Tony Blair off the hook

The Iraq War Was Not A Solution To The Terrorist Threat But The Cause Of Its Dramatic Increase

Baroness Manningham-Buller, head of the British secret service at the time, tells Chilcot the unnecessary war in Iraq led to a huge increase in the threat of terrorism, as a whole generation of young people were radicalised by their outrage over the invasion.

Baroness Manningham-Buller said the terrorist threats resulting from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left MI5 "swamped"

The invasion of Iraq "substantially" increased the terrorist threat to the UK, the former head of MI5 has said.

Giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller said the action "radicalised" a generation of young people, including UK citizens.

As a result, she said she was not "surprised" that UK nationals were involved in the 7/7 bombings in London.
She said she believed the intelligence on Iraq's threat was not "substantial enough" to justify the action.

Baroness Manningham-Buller said she had advised officials a year before the war that the threat posed by Iraq to the UK was "very limited", and she believed that assessment had "turned out to be the right judgement".

Describing the intelligence on Iraq's weapons threat as "fragmentary", she said. "If you are going to go to war, you need to have a pretty high threshold to decide on that."
Baroness Manningham-Buller, head of the domestic intelligence service between 2002 and 2007, said the terrorist threat to the UK from al-Qaeda and other groups "pre-dated" the Iraq invasion and also the 9/11 attacks in the US.

However, she said the UK's participation in the March 2003 military action "undoubtedly increased" the level of terrorist threat.

A year after the invasion, she said MI5 was "swamped" by leads about terrorist threats to the UK.

"Our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam," she said.

MI5 did not "foresee the degree to which British citizens would become involved" in terrorist activity after 2004, she admitted. "What Iraq did was produce fresh impetus on people prepared to engage in terrorism," she said. "If you want me to produce evidence, I can do that."

Baroness Manningham-Buller was part of the government's Joint Intelligence Committee before the war, which drew up the controversial dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in September 2002.

The dossier stated the weapons could be activated with 45 minutes of an order to do so.
Asked about the dossier, she said she had very limited involvement in its compilation but it was clear, with hindsight, that there was an "over-reliance" on certain intelligence.
She added: "We were asked to put in some low-grade, small intelligence into it and we refused because we did not think that it was reliable."

She said MI5's responsibility was to collect and analyse intelligence and to "act on it where necessary" to mitigate terrorist threats but stressed it was not her job "to fill in gaps" in the intelligence.

A year before the war, the former MI5 chief advised Home Office officials that the direct threat posed by Iraq to the UK was "very limited and containable".

In a newly declassified document, published by the inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller told the senior civil servant at the Home Office in March 2002 that there was no evidence that Iraq had any involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

While there were reports of links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, there was no intelligence to suggest meaningful co-operation between the two.

In that letter, she said the possibility Iraq might use terrorist tactics to defend its own territory in the event of an invasion could not be ruled out.

But she stressed Iraqi agents did not have "much capability" to carry out UK attacks, adding her view of this never changed.

Herald Scotland
Calls for another inquiry into the release of Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi have been led by four US senators, who earlier this week met Prime Minister ...
Worse than a lie, rather than face certain impeachment, on Aug. ... The Center for Public Integrity claims that President George W. Bush "made 234 false ...

By Jamal Abdi

July 23, 2010 "Huffington Post" -- Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a measure that would green-light an Israeli bombing campaign against Iran. The resolution, H.Res. 1553 (in full below), provides explicit support for military strikes against Iran, stating that Congress supports Israel's use of "all means necessary" against Iran "including the use of military force". US military leaders have warned that strikes could be catastrophic to US national security interests and could engulf the Middle East in a "calamitous" regional war.

Nearly a third of House Republicans have signed onto the resolution, which has been publicly discussed and circulated by its lead sponsor, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), for months. The National Iranian American Council is leading calls to oppose the measure, urging those concerned to demand that House Republican Leader John Boehner denounce the resolution.
The introduction of the measure coincides with a pattern of renewed calls for military strikes that have escalated since President Obama signed "crippling" Congressional Iran sanctions into law. Neoconservatives who were instrumental in orchestrating the Iraq War, such as Bill Kristol, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, have led the stepped up calls for military action.

Hawkish former Bush Administration official John Bolton recently laid out the game plan to prod Israel into attacking Iran, arguing that outsiders can "create broad support" for a strike by framing it as an issue of Israel's right to self defense. Supporters for military strikes, Bolton says, should "defend the specific tactic of pre-emptive attacks" against Iran. He urges that Congress can "make it clear" that it supports such strikes and that "having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama's likely negative reaction to such an attack."

In spite of enthusiasm from the neocons, top US military leaders have warned of the many dangers of military strikes against Iran. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued, "Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. In fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels." Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has expressed his own serious reservations about an attack, stating, "Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. In an area that's so unstable right now, we just don't need more of that." General David Petraeus has warned that a strike on Iran would be utilized by the Iranian government to unite it's otherwise divided populace.

Simulations have been conducted over the past year to assess the outcome of a preemptive military strike against Iran. One such simulation, by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, found that strikes would draw the US into the conflict that would engulf the region into war, and would enable Iran to use the attacks as an opportunity to unite the Iranian people and dismantle its opposition. The simulation also found that the strikes could not destroy Iran's nuclear program but merely set it back a few years.

An Oxford Research Group report released recently reinforced those findings and also warned that an Israeli attack would be disastrous and would be unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear program. Instead, the report concluded attacks could convince Iran to withdraw from the international Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and to aggressively seek to develop nuclear weapons.

Iranian activists have urged that even raising the specter of war undercuts the opposition in Iran. "The mere fact that Obama didn't make military threats made the Green Movement possible," noted Akbar Ganji. "A military attack would destroy all of that."

Iran Resolution

Dick Cheney Doesn’t Have A Pulse (Plus Other Pearls on The Tree)

July 22, 2010

[Note for TomDispatch readers:  If you have a moment, check out my latest piece, "Advice for General Petraeus on the Rules of Engagement: It's Neither/Nor, Not Either/Or."  It appeared Tuesday at Juan Cole’s invaluable Informed Comment website as part of my minuscule campaign to get word out about my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. You can check out the first reviews of the book by clicking here.  The next TomDispatch piece will be posted Monday on a slightly slower summer schedule.] 

Consider a strange aspect of our wars since October 2001: they have yet to establish a bona fide American hero, a national household name.  Two were actually “nominated” early by the Bush administration -- Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old private and clerk captured by the Iraqis in the early days of the American invasion and later “rescued” by Army Rangers and Navy Seals, and Pat Tillman, the former NFL safety who volunteered for service in the Army Rangers eight months after 9/11 and died under “enemy” gunfire in Afghanistan. 

Both stories were later revealed to be put-up jobs, pure Bush-era propaganda and deceit.  In Lynch’s case, almost every element in the instant patriotic myth about her rescue proved either phony or highly exaggerated; in Tillman’s, it turned out that he had been killed by friendly fire, but -- thanks to a military cover-up (that involved General Stanley McChrystal, later to become Afghan war commander) -- was still given a Silver Star and a posthumous promotion.  Members of his unit were even ordered by the military to lie at his funeral, and he was made into a convenient “hero” and recruitment poster boy for the Afghan War. Both were shameful episodes, involving administration manipulation and media gullibility.  Since then, as TomDispatch regular and retired lieutenant colonel William Astore points out, U.S. troops as a whole have been labeled “our heroes,” but individual heroes have been in vanishingly short supply. 

In fact, the only specific figures who get the heroic treatment these days are our military commanders.  They tend to be  written about like so many demi-gods (until they fall).  General McChrystal, before his ignominious nosedive, was presented in the press (with the Tillman incident all but forgotten) as a cross between a Spartan ascetic and a strategic genius (with the brain of a military Stephen Hawking).  Present war commander General David Petraeus regularly receives even more fawning media treatment and seems to be worshipped in Washington these days as if he were not only “an American hero,” but a genuine military god (as well as a future presidential candidate).  Yet, in the way they’ve been treated, both of these figures seem closer to celebrities than heroes in any traditional sense. 

Perhaps this catches something essential about America’s unending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and also what used to be called the Global War on Terror but now has no name.  Like the drone pilots who sit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, killing peasants and terrorists 7,000 miles away and to whom  new standards of “valor” are now being applied, most Americans are remarkably detached from the wars our “all volunteer” military force (and its vast contingent of for-profit mercenary warriors) fight in distant lands.  Our forces have become generically heroic, but no one cares to look too closely at the specifics of these bloody, dirty wars that will never end in victory, not close enough to end up with actual heroes.  Our “heroic” troops have no real names, any more than the wars they fight, and so individual heroics are perhaps beside the point.  (Check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which William Astore discusses heroism and the military by clicking here, or to download to your iPod, here.)  Tom

“Our American Heroes”
Why It’s Wrong to Equate Military Service with Heroism

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved reading accounts of American heroism from World War II.  I remember being riveted by a book about the staunch Marine defenders of Wake Island and inspired by John F. Kennedy’s exploits saving the sailors he commanded on PT-109.  Closer to home, I had an uncle -- like so many vets of that war, relatively silent on his own experiences -- who had been at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, and then fought them in a brutal campaign on Guadalcanal, where he earned a Bronze Star.  Such men seemed like heroes to me, so it came as something of a shock when, in 1980, I first heard Yoda’s summary of war in The Empire Strikes Back.  Luke Skywalker, if you remember, tells the wizened Jedi master that he seeks “a great warrior.” “Wars not make one great,” Yoda replies.
Okay, it was George Lucas talking, I suppose, but I was struck by the truth of that statement.  Of course, my little epiphany didn’t come just because of Yoda or Lucas.  By my late teens, even as I was gearing up for a career in the military, I had already begun to wonder about the common ethos that linked heroism to military service and war.  Certainly, military service (especially the life-and-death struggles of combat) provides an occasion for the exercise of heroism, but even then I instinctively knew that it didn’t constitute heroism.
Ever since the events of 9/11, there’s been an almost religious veneration of U.S. service members as “Our American Heroes” (as a well-intentioned sign puts it at my local post office).  That a snappy uniform or even intense combat in far-off countries don’t magically transform troops into heroes seems a simple point to make, but it’s one worth making again and again, and not only to impressionable, military-worshipping teenagers.
Here, then, is what I mean by “hero”: someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place.  Heroes, of course, come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors, most of them looking nothing like John Wayne or John Rambo or GI Joe (or Jane).
“Hero,” sadly, is now used far too cavalierly.  Sportscasters, for example, routinely refer to highly paid jocks who hit walk-off home runs or score game-winning touchdowns as heroes.  Even though I come from a family of firefighters (and one police officer), the most heroic person I’ve ever known was neither a firefighter nor a cop nor a jock: She was my mother, a homemaker who raised five kids and endured without complaint the ravages of cancer in the 1970s, with its then crude chemotherapy regimen, its painful cobalt treatments, the collateral damage of loss of hair, vitality, and lucidity.  In refusing to rail against her fate or to take her pain out on others, she set an example of selfless courage and heroism I'll never forget.
Hometown Heroes in Uniform
In local post offices, as well as on local city streets here in central Pennsylvania, I see many reminders that our troops are “hometown heroes.”  Official military photos of these young enlistees catch my eye, a few smiling, most looking into the camera with faces of grim resolve tinged with pride at having completed basic training.  Once upon a time, as the military dean of students at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, I looked into such faces in the flesh, congratulating young service members for their effort and spirit.
I was proud of them then; I still am.  But here’s a fact I suspect our troops might be among the first to embrace: the act of joining the military does not make you a hero, nor does the act of serving in combat.  Whether in the military or in civilian life, heroes are rare -- indeed, all-too-rare.  Heck, that’s the reason we celebrate them.  They’re the very best of us, which means they can’t be all of us.
Still, even if elevating our troops to hero status has become something of a national mania, is there really any harm done?  What’s wrong with praising our troops to the rafters?  What’s wrong with adding them to our pantheon of heroes?
The short answer is: There’s a good deal wrong, and a good deal of harm done, not so much to them as to us.
To wit:
*By making our military a league of heroes, we ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down.  In celebrating isolated heroic feats, we often forget that war is guaranteed to degrade humanity.  “War,” as writer and cultural historian Louis Menand noted, “is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers.”
When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of their destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior.  Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities.  They don’t, for instance, dig bullets out of pregnant women’s bodies in an attempt to cover up deadly mistakes.  They don’t fire on a good Samaritan and his two children as he attempts to aid a grievously wounded civilian.  Such atrocities and murderous blunders, so common to war’s brutal chaos, produce cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans who simply can’t imagine their “heroes” killing innocents.  How much easier it is to see the acts of violence of our troops as necessary, admirable, even noble.
*By making our military generically heroic, we act to prolong our wars.  By seeing war as essentially heroic theater, we esteem it even as we excuse it.  Consider, for example, Germany during World War I, a subject I’ve studied and written about.  Now, as then, and here, as there, the notion of war as heroic theater became common.  And when that happens, war’s worst excesses are conveniently softened on the “home front,” which only contributes to more war-making.  As the historian Robert Weldon Whalen noted of those German soldiers of nearly a century ago, “The young men in field-grey were, first of all, not just soldiers, but young heroes,Junge Helden.  They fought in the heroes’ zone, Heldenzone, and performed heroic deeds, Heldentaten.  Wounded, they shed hero's blood, Heldenblut, and if they died, they suffered a hero’s death, Heldentod, and were buried in a hero’s grave, Heldengrab.”  The overuse of helden as a modifier to ennoble German militarism during World War I may prove grating to our ears today, but honestly, is it that much different from America’s own celebration of our troops as young heroes (with all the attendant rites)?
*By insisting programmatically on American military heroism, we also lay a firm foundation for potentially dangerous post-war myths, especially of the blame-mongering “stab-in-the-back” variety.  After all, once you have a league of heroes, how can you assign responsibility for costly, debilitating, perhaps even lost wars to them?  It’s just a fact that heroes don’t lose.  And if they’re not responsible, and their brilliant, super-competent leaders (General “King David” Petraeus springs to mind) aren’t responsible -- then it’s only a small step to assigning blame to weak-willed civilians and so-called unpatriotic elements on the “home front,” especially since we’re not likely to credit our enemies for much.  By definition, cravenly hiding among civilians as they do, our enemies are just about incapable of behaving heroically.
Of Young Heroes and Front Pigs
In rejecting the “heroic” label, don’t think we’d be insulting our troops.  Quite the opposite: we’d be making common cause with them, for most of our troops undoubtedly already reject the “hero” label, just as the young “heroes” of Germany did in 1917-18.  With the typical sardonic humor of front-line soldiers, they preferred the less comforting, if far more realistically descriptive label (given their grim situation in the trenches) of “front pigs.”
Whatever nationality they may be, troops at the front know the score.  Even as our media and our culture seek to elevate our troops into the pantheon of demi-gods, our “front pigs” carry on, plying an ancient and brutal trade.  Most simply want to survive and come home with their bodies, their minds, and their buddies intact.  Part of the world’s deadliest war machine, they are naturally concerned first about saving their own skins, and only secondarily worried about the lives of others.  This is not beastliness.  Nor is it heroism.  It’s simply a front pig’s nature.
So, next time you talk to our soldiers, Marines, sailors, or airmen, do them (and your country) a small favor.  Thank them for their service.  Let them know that you appreciate them.  Just don’t call them heroes.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular, teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.  He welcomes reader feedback at Check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which Astore discusses heroism and the military by clicking here, or to download to your iPod, here.
Copyright 2010 William J. Astore

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