Ten years ago on March 20, Washington brought the long plague of invasion, occupation and mass murder to the Iraqi people. The least the Iraqis deserve is a moment of reflection.
The unholy trinity of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, a bought-off, embedded, corporate journalism culture and private defense contractors have now killed some 120,000 civilians, a hazy estimate that, according to some estimations, may actually be 10 times that number. The initial invasion saw cluster bombs, white phosphorus, highly carcinogenic depleted uranium and a new kind of napalm — what we might call weapons of mass destruction — dropped in dense urban areas.
As much as $1.7 trillion was spent, a number that will double when paid with interest, and about half a trillion dollars is still owed to veterans. For context, the United Nations estimates that $30 billion a year would end world hunger.
The occupation actually introduced al-Qaida for the first time into Iraq. Women’s rights and access to basic social services under the occupation have been set back centuries.
Security forces routinely torture inmates in what is now widely called a failed state. Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among U.S. military personnel is suicide. On average, 18 U.S. military veterans kill themselves daily, according to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
In Iraq, the 10th anniversary of the occupation was marked by another bloodbath: 65 people died and more than 240 were seriously wounded in Iraq’s bloodiest single day of the year.
In just the past month, we learned how the U.S. exported leadership and tactics from its dirty wars in Central America to Iraq in the mid-2000s. Programs endorsed at the highest levels used “all means of torture to make detainees confess … using electricity, hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails.” Interrogation rooms were stained with blood; children in extreme stress positions were beaten until their bodies became discolored.
The U.S.-trained Iraqi Special Operations Forces, also known as the “dirty brigade,” carried out summary executions, searches and kidnappings closely echoing the U.S.-trained death squads in Cold War-era El Salvador and Guatemala.
Despite all this, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently informed the press that the war on Iraq was a “balanced decision,” the right thing to do. (in.reuters.com, March 15) Dick Cheney said, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it in a minute.” (thetimes.co.uk, March 14)
The inability to learn lessons from the U.S.’s catastrophic failed interventions points to a toxic psychosis at the heart of empire that can’t be negotiated or reformed. It must collapse entirely. When U.S. sanctions in Iraq killed more than half a million children, a higher number than those that died in the bombing of Hiroshima, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded, “We think the price is worth it.” (fair.org, Nov. 1, 2001)
Here, Albright, Blair and Cheney only voice a casual murderousness universally shared among the imperial class. Obama himself publicly defends the precision and humanity of drone warfare, though his administration has claimed it can’t officially confirm the existence of the program because that would be a security threat. In other words, the U.S. does whatever the hell it wants to, no questions asked. Especially not from the families of the Pakistani children killed collaterally.
Washington’s post-9/11 state of permanent war also accompanies a creeping authoritarianism at home. The National Counterterrorism Center and National Security Agency continue to coordinate broad surveillance on communications in contravention of the law as the CIA conspires with the New York Police Department to spy on ordinary Muslim shopkeepers, cab drivers and students across the Northeast.
The FBI was recently caught coordinating plans to monitor nonviolent Occupy protests, collaborating with banks, local police and college administrators. Maybe more disconcertingly, the use of drones in the post-9/11 era signals moves to institutionalize war as a permanent feature of ordinary life.
The U.S. is not officially at war in six predominantly Muslim countries, but is actively employing military drones in them. U.S. special ops forces are now deployed in at least 97 countries, around 50 percent of the world, a number that increased dramatically under Obama. And there is no endgame, because the endgame is what exists now: a state of imposed globalized control, enforced by history’s most violent military empire.
John Brennan helps illuminate the strings pulling the puppets of our foreign policy establishment. An outspoken proponent of Bush-era torture and wiretapping, also known as Obama’s “assassination czar” and drone program architect, Brennan was recently rewarded with the CIA directorship. Before his time at the CIA, he made $760,000 a year as CEO of a private intelligence contractor called The Analysis Corporation, after which he raked in $30,000 for an hour’s worth of work a week as chairperson of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the industry mouthpiece for private war contractors.
The cruelty of our country’s corruption begins with the corporations that profit from corpses and ends with cluster bombs and child torture. Through it all, the silence of the youth, society’s wellspring for future hope, makes us all guilty.
War waged in our name, with our money and labor, is the greatest affront to humanity imaginable. The struggle for peace in the end thus becomes a struggle to prove our worth as human beings.
Prashanth Kamalakanthan is a junior at Duke University in Durham, N.C.