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Neo-Nazis, gangs and criminals in the US military

This is an excerpt from my latest op/ed for Al Jazeera.

Investigative reporter Nir Rosen once aptly remarked on the tendency in mainstream Western journalism to downplay unfavourable trends occurring in the context of US military operations abroad: “The big scandals like Abu Ghraib, or the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan, eventually make their way into the media where they can be dismissed as bad apples and exceptions, and the general oppression of the occupations can be ignored”.

A similar sort of argument can perhaps be made with regard to incidents such as the August 7 Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin, perpetrated by Wade Michael Page, a decorated former Army psychological operations specialist and a neo-Nazi. Although any Pentagon-sanctioned explanation of the event would undoubtedly rest on the bad apple assumption, it has occurred to media outlets such as the Christian Science Monitor to question whether the intersection of military training and racist extremism in Page’s case is not in fact indicative of a larger pattern.

Noting that civil rights organisations like the Southern Poverty Law Centre “have warned that hate groups encourage their members to join [the military] for training and experience that they can later use to perpetrate crimes in the United States”, CSM’s Anna Mulrine writes:

“The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division conducts a threat assessment of extremist and gang activity among Army personnel. ‘Every year, they come back with “minimal activity”, which is inaccurate,’ Scott Barfield, a former gang investigator for the Department of Defence, told the Southern Poverty Law Centre in its 2006 report ‘A Few Bad Men’. ‘It’s not epidemic, but there’s plenty of evidence we’re talking numbers well into the thousands, just in the Army’.”

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An Army of One

Chris Hayes

This blog post appeared at Jacobin.

Last weekend, MSNBC host Chris Hayes offered the following sensible explanation for his reluctance to engage in a blanket application of the word “hero” to fallen U.S. military members:

 I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.

As might be expected from a domestic media that finds conscientious whistleblowingmore appalling than the gleeful slaughter of Iraqi civilians, Hayes was assailed for his deviance.

The validity of his point, however, is underscored in Matt Kennard’s forthcoming book on the earthly identity of various candidates for heroic death: Irregular Army: How the War on Terror Brought Neo-Nazis, Gang Members and Criminals Into the US Military.

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Al Jazeera review: The Passion of Bradley Manning

The following is my review for Al Jazeera of civil rights attorney Chase Madar’s new book The Passion of Bradley Manning, just released by O/R Books.

When American civil rights attorney Chase Madar told me he was writing a book entitled The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in US History, I knew right away that Madar was mentally ill, abusing a range of pharmaceuticals and possibly also epileptic.

My diagnosis was confirmed with the book’s release this month. What else would compel a lawyer to suggest that there is “an injustice hardwired within the system of laws itself”?

A studious ignorance

As Madar demonstrates in The Passion, similarly scientific methods of diagnosis have been employed in the case against Manning, the 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst from Crescent, Oklahoma who is accused of transferring hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
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Calling all ultimate missionaries to Israel

Trial of "Hamas terrorists" in IDF military court, one of many exotic activities awaiting the ultimate missionary

I first learned of an intriguing excursion known as “The Ultimate Mission to Israel” in 2009 while perusing an article on the website of the Jerusalem Post.

The article, which outlined Israel’s sudden concern for the fate of UNIFIL despite its repeated targeting of UN personnel and institutions in Lebanon, cited Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as warning that—in the event of a significant gain by Hezbollah in the upcoming Lebanese elections—Israel would no longer “feel the restraints it did in 2006 about attacking Lebanese infrastructure”.

Barak refrained from explaining how the 2006 destruction of much of Lebanon, including apartment complexes, milk factories, bridges, children in the backs of pickup trucks, and approximately 1200 other people qualified as infrastructural restraint. I was distracted from pondering the issue myself by a large advertisement featuring soaring warplanes in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen.

Clicking on the planes, I arrived at an invitation to “explore Israel’s struggle for survival” via the weeklong Ultimate Mission to Israel, which focused on closer-to-home infrastructural threats to the Jewish state. The itinerary included such activities as:

  1. briefings by Mossad officials.
  2. an inside tour of the IAF targeted killings unit.
  3. attendance at a military trial of “Hamas terrorists”.
  4. a “live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory”.
  5. a barbecue.

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Name That Operation

Raining summer or casting lead? (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

As we approach the two-year anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, I have been thinking about potential names for a strike on Iran.

But first a word on the naming process from Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, who was quoted in Haaretz last year registering his distaste for “Cast Lead”. Apparently the loveliness of the operation’s Hebrew name—adapted from a poem about Hanukkah dreidels—gets lost in translation:

The Israel Defense Forces chooses its names by some computer or by some system which I don’t understand. And the truth is that the Hebrew name Oferet Yetzuka sounds lovely. It’s the translation into English which sounds inappropriate”.

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Chileans loot but do not maraud or swarm

Might swarm at any moment.

Let us compare the introductory paragraphs of Reuters news articles concerning the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes of January and February 2010, respectively.

First, a Jan. 18 article on Haiti:

U.S. troops protected aid handouts and the United Nations sought extra peacekeepers in earthquake-shattered Haiti on Monday as marauding looters emptied wrecked shops and desperate survivors began to receive medical care and air-dropped food.”

Now, a Feb. 28 article on Chile:

Chilean rescuers used shovels and sledgehammers on Sunday to find survivors of a huge earthquake in Chile that unleashed a Pacific tsunami and triggered looting by desperate and hungry residents.”

Despite covering the same general topics, the introductions differ in the provenance of their protagonists—which in the case of Chile are Chilean and in the case of Haiti are U.S. troops and the U.N.—and in the fact that desperate Haitian survivors are an afterthought to marauding looters while Chilean looters themselves are merely desperate, hungry, residential and above all a product of the earthquake rather than of any sort of anthropological flaw.

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