Flotilla Passengers Today’s Freedom Riders

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Truthout Staff / Editorial

2011-07-06T154320Z_1949210057_GM1E7761TVR01_RTRMADP_3_GREECE-FLOTILLA

An activist gestures on board the boat “Juliano”, part of a Gaza-bound flotilla, as it departs from Perama port near Athens for a town on the southern Greek coast July 6, 2011. Activists, whose flotilla to challenge an Israeli blockade on Gaza has been confined to Greek ports, vowed on Tuesday to complete their mission but accused Athens of being deaf to appeals to let their ships go. The Juliano will make another attempt to leave Greece on Wednesday, according to activists.

REUTERS/John Kolesidis

It has been widely reported that 25 percent of the activists on the US boat that was to sail in the Gaza flotilla are Jewish. Six of those 35 activists are Truthout friends, many of long date: Chairman of the Truthout Board Robert Naiman and contributing authors Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly, Ray McGovern, Gabriel Schivone and boat leader Ann Wright. Knowing that these friends are putting their lives on the line for what they believe in fills us with pride and anxiety. Our hearts are locked up with their boldly christened boat, The Audacity of Hope.

Some progressives – as well as the Obama State Department see their principled action as a provocation, and Israeli hasbara (propaganda) has pulled out all the stops to portray the flotilla members as friends of terrorists or useful idiots. We know our friends well enough to have complete confidence in their ethos of nonviolence and their acute and worldly intelligence, which would never allow itself to be exploited for ends they did not endorse. Their action is provocative, just as were those of the freedom riders in the 1960’s, designed to show the world that the law is not being enforced – in the present case, international law, which gives Israel neither the right to police Gazan waters nor to prevent that territory – at present arguably the world’s largest prison – from exporting its produce and importing essential supplies.

As of this writing, French ships from the flotilla were in international waters heading for Gaza, The Audacity of Hope is locked up in a boat jail, paralleling the situation of the people of Gaza, and other boats are stuck in Greek port or sabotaged. Some of our friends were detained Sunday for conducting a hunger strike in front of the American embassy in Athens, and again yesterday for sitting on a bench opposite the American ambassador’s residence. The captain of the boat – after having been detained in squalor and charged with endangering the safety of the passengers – has been released on his own recognizance. Everyone is reportedly exhausted, but safe, with some planning to return to the United States in the next two days and others later.

While Israel and the United States may have successfully sabotaged and thwarted the flotilla from reaching its intended destination without a public relations disaster as catastrophic as last year’s armed boarding of the Mavi Marmara and the murder of passengers, including 19-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan, Israel can “win” this confrontation only by lifting its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza. For, as Matthew Fox wrote in “Original Blessing,”

Political movements for justice are part of the fuller development of the cosmos, and nature is the matrix in which humans come to their self-awareness and their awareness of their power to transform. Liberation movements are a fuller development of the cosmos’ sense of harmony, balance, justice and celebration. This is why true spiritual liberation demands rituals of cosmic celebration and healing, which will in turn culminate in personal transformation and liberation.

With extraordinary grace and courage, our friends have participated in such a ritual, and whatever the fate of The Audacity of Hope and the other boats of this year’s Gaza flotilla, they – and those who hear their stories – will return transformed and liberated, will have bent that long arc of the universe just a little bit tighter towards justice for the people of Gaza – and us all.

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Reveling in the Pain of Others: Moral Degeneracy and Violence in the “Kill Team” Photos

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people…. The coldness of the societal monad, the isolated competitor, was the precondition, as indifference to the fate of others…. Regressive tendencies, that is, people with repressed sadistic traits, are produced everywhere today by the global evolution of society…. Everywhere where it is mutilated, consciousness is reflected back upon the body and the sphere of the corporeal in an unfree form that tends toward violence.

-Theodor Adorno

War, violence and death have become the organizing principle of governance and culture in the United States as we move into the second decade of the 21st century. Lacking a language for the social good, the very concept of the social as a space in which justice, equality, social protections and a responsibility to the other mediate everyday life is being refigured through a spectacle of violence and cruelty. Under such circumstances, ethical considerations and social costs are removed from market-driven policies and values just as images of human suffering are increasingly abstracted from not only their social and political contexts, but also the conditions that make such suffering possible. Moreover, as public issues collapse into privatized considerations, matters of agency, responsibility and ethics are now framed within the discourse of extreme individualism. Unexpected violence, aggression and the “’masculine’ virtues of toughness, strength, decisiveness and determination … are accentuated,” along with the claims of vengeance, militarization and violence.(1) The collapse of the social and the formative culture that make human bonds possible is now outmatched by the rise of a Darwinian ethic of greed and self-interest in which violence, aggressiveness and sadism have become the primary metric for living and dying. As the social contract is replaced by social collapse, a culture of depravity has emerged in American society. The spectacle of violence permeates every aspect of the machinery of cultural production and screen culture – extending from television news and reality TV to the latest Hollywood fare. Of course, this is not new. What is new is that more and more people desire spectacles of high-intensity violence and images of death, mutilation and suffering and their desires should no longer be attributed to an individual aberration, but instead suggest an increasingly widespread social pathology.

Death and violence have become the mediating link between US domestic policy – the state’s treatment of its own citizens – and foreign policy, between the tedium of ever expanding workdays and the thrill of sadistic release. Disposable bodies now waste away in American prisons, schools and shelters just as they litter the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. America has become a permanent warfare state, with a deep investment in a cultural politics and the corollary cultural apparatuses that legitimate and sanctify its machinery of death. The American public’s fascination with violence and death is evident in the recent popular obsession with high-octane action films, along with the ever-expanding volume of vampire and zombie films, TV shows and books. We also see death-dealing and violent acts accrue popularity with Hollywood films such as the 2010 academy-award winning “The Hurt Locker,” in which the American bomb disposal expert, William James (Jeremy Renner), repeatedly puts himself at risk in the face of defusing various bomb threats – thus to highlight the filmmaker’s concern with a growing “addiction” to war. As Mark Featherstone points out, there is more represented here than the reckless behavior of immature and hyper-masculine soldiers. He writes, “James takes unnecessary risks and lives for the limit experience…. [H]e feels most alive when he is closest to death … When James … throws the bomb suit away and stands before the bomb with no protection, he puts himself at the mercy of the bomb, the embodiment of the death drive.”(2)

“The Hurt Locker” is only one of a number of serious films that address, if not mirror, a psychological state in which the production of a virulent masculinity now augurs both a pathological relationship with the body, pain and violence and a disdain for compassion, human rights and social justice. The death drive in American society has become one of its fundamental characteristics and, undoubtedly, its most disabling pathology. More than a trace of this mode of aggression and moral indifference now dominates contemporary American life. Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of depravity has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles of violence endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place and set the stage for the emergence of an unchecked regime of torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultra-rich and major corporations, and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery and eliminating all viable public spheres – whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation, or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good.

Mainstream politicians now call for cutbacks in public funding in order to address the pressing problems of the very deficit they not only created, but gladly embrace, since it provides an excuse either to drastically reduce funding for vital entitlements such as Medicare and early childhood education or to privatize public education, transportation, and other public services, while putting more money into the hands of the rich and powerful. The real deficit here is one of truth and morality. The politics of austerity has now become a discourse for eviscerating the social state and forcing upon cities, families and individuals previously unimaginable levels of precarity, suffering and insecurity. As Rania Khalek points out, conservatives want to “exploit the budget crisis in order to starve government…. The truth is that the economic crisis, sparked by decades of deregulation and greedy financial forms, caused high levels of unemployment that dramatically reduced state and local tax revenues. Add to that years of tax cuts for the wealthy and decades of corporate tax-dodging and you’ve got yourself a budget crisis.”(3) The discourse of “deficit porn” now justifies the shift in public policy and state funding further away from providing social protections and safeguarding civil liberties toward the establishment of legislative programs intent on promoting shared fears and increasing disciplinary modes of governance that rely on the criminalization of social problems.(4)

The broader cultural turn toward the death drive and the strange economy of desire it produces is also evident in the emergence of a culture of depravity in which the American public appears more and more amenable to deriving pleasure from images that portray gratuitous violence and calamity. As mentioned above, exaggerated violence now rules screen culture. The public pedagogy of entertainment includes extreme images of violence, human suffering and torture splashed across giant movie screens, some in 3D, offering viewers every imaginable portrayal of violent acts, each more shocking and brutal than the last.

The growing taste for sadism can be seen in the recent fascination on the part of the media with Peter Moskos’ book “In Defense of Flogging,” in which the author seriously proposes that prisoners be given a choice between a standard sentence and a number of lashes administered in public.(5) In the name of reform, Moskos argues, without any irony, that public flogging is more honest and a sure-fire way of reducing the prison population. Not only is this book being given massive air time in the mainstream media, but its advocacy of corporal punishment and flogging is treated as if it is a legitimate proposal for reform. Mind-crushing punishment is presented as the only choice left for prisoners outside of serving their sentences. Moreover, this medieval type of punishment inflicts pain on the body as part of a public spectacle. Moskos seems to miss how the legacy of slavery informs his proposal, given that flogging was one of the preferred punishments handed out to slaves and that 70 percent of all current prisoners in the United States are people of color. Surely, the next step will be a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch public floggings. This is not merely barbarism parading as reform – it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

As the social is devalued along with rationality, ethics and any vestige of democracy, spectacles of violence and brutality now merge into forms of collective pleasure that constitute what I believe is an important and new symbiosis among visual pleasure, violence and suffering. As I have suggested, taking pleasure in violence can no longer be reduced to a matter of individual pathology, but registers a larger economy of pleasure across the broader culture and social landscape. The consumption of images of human pain as a matter of personal pleasure and taste has given way to representations of human suffering, humiliation and death that circulate across the culture as part of the collective indulgence in gross spectacles that persist in being called entertainment, news and knowledge sharing. What is more, privatized pleasures and violence translate increasingly into forms of structural violence that are mobilized by the death drive and use the spectacles of violence to generate a source of gratification and intense socially experienced pleasure. Amplified sadism and voyeurism are now characteristic of a contemporary society that has narrowed the range of social expression and values to the receipt of instant gratification and the pursuit of pleasure as one of its sole imperatives. As images of degradation and human suffering become more palatable and pleasurable, the body no longer becomes the privileged space of agency, but “the location of violence, crime and social pathology.”(6) Americans now find themselves in the midst of a brutal authoritarianism in which freedom is reduced to the narrow realm of individual needs, narcissistic pleasures and the removal of all forms of social responsibility, particularly those imposed by the government. Sovereignty and governance, under the guise of “personal choice,” are instead produced and defined by the market and the power of large corporations and financial institutions. As decadence and despair are normalized in the wider culture, people are increasingly exploited for their pleasure quotient, while any viable notion of the social is subordinated to the violence of a deregulated market economy and its ongoing production of a culture of cruelty.(7) For all intents and purposes, politics as a matter of public governance is dead in the United States.

How else to explain the insistent demand by many conservative and liberal pundits and the American public at large that the government release the grisly images of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, even though the fact of his assassination was never in doubt? How might we understand the growing support among the American populace for state-sanctioned torture and the rising indifference to images which reveal its horrible injustices? Just as torture is sanctioned by the state and becomes normalized for many Americans, the spectacle of violence spreads through the culture with ever-greater intensity.

Whatever bleeds – now gratuitously and luxuriously – brings in box office profits and dominates media headlines, despite being often presented without any viable context for making sense of the imagery, or any critical commentary that might undercut or rupture the pleasure viewers are invited to derive from such images. Representations of violence and human tragedy now merge seamlessly with neoliberalism’s culture of depravity in which risk and mayhem reinforce shared fears rather than shared responsibilities and a Hobbesian war of all against all becomes the organizing principle for structuring a vast array of institutions and social relations.

As corporate capitalism translates into corporate fascism, prominent politicians such as Sarah Palin, radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and media monopoly moguls such as those who deliver Fox News repeatedly deploy the vocabulary of violence to attack the social state, labor unions, immigrants, young people, teachers and public-service employees. At the same time, the depravity of aesthetics gains popular currency in organs of the dominant media that reproduce an endless stream of denigrating images and narratives of people constrained by the forces of poverty, racism and disability. Their pain and suffering now become a source of delight for late-night comics, radio talk show hosts and TV programs that provide ample narratives and images of poor families, individuals and communities who become fodder for the “poverty porn” industry.(8) Programs such as the reality TV series “Jersey Shore,” the syndicated tabloid TV talk show series “The Jerry Springer Show” (and its endless imitators) and “The Biggest Loser” all exemplify what Gerry Mooney and Lynn Hancock claim is a massive “assault on people experiencing poverty [seizing] on any example of ‘dysfunctionality’ in poor working class communities … [exhibiting] expressions of middle-class fears and distrust, [while] also [displaying] a fascination with poverty and the supposedly deviant lifestyles of those affected – where viewers of moral outrage are encouraged to find the worst and weakest moments of people’s lives also funny and entertaining.”(9) Disconnected from any moral criteria, the search for ever more intense levels of sensation and excitation become the pedagogical and performative force par excellence in shaping the world of entertainment. Within this context, the pleasure of humiliation and violence is maximized and cruelty is elevated to a structuring principle of society.

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What has led to this immunity and insensitivity to cruelty and prurient images of violence? Part of this process is due to the fact that the American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to … images of human suffering.”(10) As Zygmunt Bauman argues, there are social costs that come with this immersion of the culture in staged violence. One consequence is that “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”(11) Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it’s actually happening on the ground. In this instance, unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death becomes banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized, becoming, if not boring, then relegated to the realm of the unnoticeable and unnoticed. An increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture as yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. As the need for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grow, while matters of cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other outlets for seeking pleasure.

Under the regime of neoliberal policies, relations and values, profit-making becomes the only legitimate mode of exchange; private interests replace public concerns; and unbridled individualism infects a society in which the vocabulary of fear, competition, war and punishment governs existing relationships. Within an economy of pleasure and commodification, freedom is subsumed by a calculated deficit that reduces agency to a regressive infantilism and degraded forms of gratification. What Leo Lowenthal called “the atomization of the individual” bespeaks a figure now terrorized by other human beings and reduced to living “in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.”(12) This type of depoliticized inward thinking – with its repudiation of the obligations of shared sociality, disengagement from moral responsibility and outright disdain for those who are disadvantaged by virtue of being poor, young or elderly – does more than fuel the harsh, militarized and ultra-masculine logic of the news and entertainment sector. This “atomization of the individual” also elevates death over life, selfishness over compassion and economics over politics. The spectrum of disdain and vulnerability has been extended at the current historical moment to contempt for life itself. Life reduced to “bare life” and the vulnerability it produces elicits imperviousness at best and a new kind of pleasure at worst. Precarity, uncertainty and misfortune no longer evoke compassion but disdain, while simultaneously opening up a space in which vulnerability offers a pretext for forms of pleasure that reinforce a culture of cruelty.(13) But even more so, it produces a kind of dysfunctional silence in American society in the face of widespread hardship and suffering – virtually wiping out society’s collective memories of moral decency and mutuality.

The merging of violence and pleasure has been on full display throughout American history, though images of such depravities have often been hidden. Exceptions can be found in the history of racism and the startling and disturbing images of the public lynching of African-Americans, the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the mass killings at My Lai depicted in photographs of American soldiers relaxing and smiling after the carnage. More recently, a number of photographs have once again surfaced which display grotesque acts of violence and murder by a select group of American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The images released by Rolling Stone magazine in the United States focused on the murderous actions of 12 US soldiers, who decided to kill Afghan civilians allegedly for sport. They used the moniker “The Kill Team” to refer to themselves, aptly registering both the group’s motivation and its monstrous actions. In the five months during which these soldiers went on a murderous rampage in Kandahar Province, writes one reporter, “they engaged in routine substance abuse and brutality toward Afghan locals that led to four premeditated murders of innocent civilians, the ritual mutilation of corpses (some of the soldiers reportedly severed fingers from their victims to keep as trophies) and the snapping of celebratory photographs alongside the deceased as if they were bagged deer.”(14) The soldiers’ actions exhibited their immersion in a death-driven culture that differs only in degree from the one I have been documenting throughout this article. Their actions were neither isolated nor individualized, but reflect their evident belief that killing for sport in such a culture could take place with impunity. Proudly bearing the title “Kill Team” registers “the pure depravity of the alleged crimes.”(15) In one particularly disturbing photo celebrating a kill, one of the soldiers, Jeremy Morlock, is shown posing with the body of Gul Mudin, a 15-year-old Afghan boy. With a grin on his face and a thumbs-up sign, Morlock is kneeling on the ground next to Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing a handful of hair to lift up his bloodied face.

The platoon’s squad leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, was so pleased with the kill that he desecrated the young boy’s dead body by severing one of his fingers. Mark Boal quotes one soldier’s account of the incident: “’It was like another day at the office for him’…. Gibbs started ‘messing around with the kid, moving his arms and mouth and acting like the kid was talking.’” Boal adds, “Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears, [Gibbs] reportedly sliced off the dead boy’s pinky finger and gave it to [the soldier], as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.”(16) Gibbs’ instinct for barbarism appears utterly ruthless and lacking in any sense of ethical consideration or self-reflection – to say nothing of the political and social costs incurred by the US-led mission. The staff sergeant was so intent on killing Afghan civilians that he actually boasted about it, telling one soldier, “Come down to the line and we’ll find someone to kill.”(17) Revealing the depth of his inhumanity, Gibbs reportedly told his soldiers that all Afghans were savages, and talked to his squad about how they might be inventive in killing civilians. In one almost unbelievable scenario, the soldiers considered throwing “candy out of a Stryker vehicle as they drove through a village and shoot[ing] the children who came running to pick up the sweets. According to one soldier, they also talked about a second scenario in which they ‘would throw candy out in front and in the rear of the Stryker; the Stryker would then run the children over.’”(18)

Unlike the Abu Ghraib prison photos that were designed to humiliate detainees, the “Kill Team” photos suggest a deeper depravity, an intense pleasure in acts of violence that are preplanned and carried out with no impending threat, culminating in the sadistic collection of body parts of the slain victims as trophies. The “Kill Team” was after more than humiliation and the objectification of the other; it harbored a deep desire to feel intense excitement through pathological acts of murder and then captured the savagery in photos that served as mementos, so they could revisit and experience once again the delight that comes with descending into the sordid pornographic hell that connects violence, pleasure and death. The smiles on the faces of the young soldiers as they posed among their trophy killings are not the snapshots of privatized violence, but images of sadism that are symptoms of a social pathology in which shared pleasure in violence is now commonplace. As my colleague David L. Clark points out, the smiles on the faces of these soldiers suggest something perverse and alarming. He writes, “This isn’t Hannibal Lecter, after all, but G.I. Joe [and these photos appear as] symptomatic evidence of a certain public enjoyment of violence for the sake of violence, i.e., not the smile of shared pleasures between intimates (one form of the everyday), but a smile that marks a broader acceptance and affirmation of cruelty, killing for sport. Those smiles register a knowing pleasure in that violence and say that it is okay to kill and okay to take pleasure in that killing.”(19)

The “Kill Team” photographs are important because they signify a new register of what can be called a failed sociality. In this instance, the social does not disappear as much as it is overwritten by a sociality of shared violence – a sociality marked not by the injurious violence of the lone sociopath, but instead by a growing army of sociopaths. The “Kill Team” photographs offer a glimpse into a larger set of social conditions in a winner-take-all society in which it becomes difficult to imagine pleasure in any other terms except through the spectacle of violence buttressed by a market-driven culture and dominated by a survivalist ethic. What is it about these photos that reveals the smear of the pornographic, a titillation grounded in maximizing the pleasure of violence? What are the political, economic and social forces bearing down on American society that so easily undercut its potential to raise critical questions about war, violence, morality and human suffering? What forms of responsibility and what pedagogical strategies does one invoke in the face of a society that feeds off spectacles of violence and cruelty? What forms of witnessing and education might be called into play in which the feelings of pleasure mobilized by images of human suffering can be used as “a catalyst for critical inquiry and deep thought?”(20) Rather than being reduced to a mechanism for the cathartic release of pleasure, a society saturated in the claims of violence, war, aggression and poisonous modes of masculinity must serve as an indictment, a source of memory and evidence of the need to imagine otherwise.

In contrast to the “Kill Team” photos, we have seen images from Libya, Syria and Iran where the murder of young students and other protesters by state militia thugs have been captured on video and circulated the world over. Such images become a pedagogical tool, a critical mode of public pedagogy capable of forms of witnessing that allow people to imagine the unimaginable. What is emancipatory about these images, as Georges Didi-Huberman points out in a different context, is that they work to refuse what he calls the “disimagination machine”; that is, these are images that are “images in spite of all” – bearing witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.(21) These images have ignited massive collective protests against repressive governments. Such images did not feed the basest of collective desires and pleasurable fantasies detached from any real consequences. To the contrary, such images of abuse and suffering have inflamed a society in which a formative culture exists that enables people to connect emotional investments and desires to a politics in which unthinkable acts of violence are confronted as part of a larger “commitment to political accountability, community and the importance of positive affect for both belonging and change.”(22)

America has lost the formative culture that would allow us to contest, challenge and transform the prevailing culture of unbridled individualism, consumerism, militarism and desire for instant pleasure. Both major political parties now impose harsh penalties on the poor, young people, the elderly, immigrants, and other groups considered disposable. We are on the brink of an authoritarianism in which war and violence not only cause unbearable hardship and suffering for the vast majority of the American people, but also produce a larger social pathology in which the actions of the “Kill Team” soldiers who sought out pleasure in the most vile and grotesque acts of violence are symptomatic of something that is becoming normalized and commonplace in American society. This is a violence being waged against democracy and the public good, one that feeds on mobilization of desires and collective pleasures in the face of the suffering of others.

Footnotes:

1. Richard J. Bernstein, The Abuse of Evil (London: Polity, 2005), p. 49.

2. Mark Featherstone, “The Hurt Locker: What is the Death Drive?” Sociology and Criminology at Keele University – Blogspot (February 25, 2010). Online here.

3. Rania Khalek, “Death by Budget Cut: Why Conservatives and Some Dems Have Blood on their Hands,” AlterNet (June 13, 2011). Online here.

4. See, for instance, Loic Wacquant, “Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity,” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).

5. Peter Moskos, “In Defense of Flogging,” (New York: Basic Books, 2011).

6. Paul Gilroy, “’After the Love Has Gone’: Bio-Politics and Ethepoetics in the Black Public Sphere,” Public Culture 7:1 (1994), p. 58.

7. I take up in great detail the notion of a culture of cruelty in Henry A. Giroux, “Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism,” (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).

8. I have taken the term “poverty porn” from Gerry Mooney and Lynn Hancock, “Poverty Porn and the Broken Society,” Variant 39/40 (Winter 2010). Online here.

9. Ibid.

10. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments,” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), p. 149.

11. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments,” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 149-150.

12. Leo Lowenthal, “Atomization of Man,” False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), p. 182.

13. Judith Butler touches on this issue in Judith Butler, “Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence,” (London: Verso Press, 2004).

14. Jim Frederick, “Anatomy of a War Crime: Behind the Enabling of the ‘Kill Team,’” Time (March 29, 2011). Online here.

15. Ibid.

16. Mark Boal, “The Kill Team,” Rolling Stone, (March 27, 2011). Online here.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. David L. Clark, personal correspondence, May 15, 2011.

20. Mieke Bal, “The Pain Of Images,” in “Beautiful Suffering,” ed. Mark Reinhardt, Holly Edwards and Erina Duganne (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 111.

21. Georges Didi-Huberman, “Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz,” trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

22. Clare Hemmings, “Invoking Affect: Cultural Theory and the Ontological Turn,” Cultural Studies 19:5 (September 2005), pp. 557-558.

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More Bucks, Less Bang:

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Ineffective Weapons Disease Infects Another Generation of Weapons

By Dina Rasor, Truthout

In the early 1980s, the Pentagon was in the midst of several new generations of tanks, aircraft and missiles, especially during the Reagan defense budget buildup. It was in one of the hottest times of the cold war and I had many sources tell me that, because of nuclear weapons, there probably wasn’t going to be a land war with the Soviet Union in Europe, so these weapons were just bluff and window dressing. Much of the attitude was that it didn’t matter much if these weapons failed their test and cost too much because they were designed to look tough, but not to actually be used in war.
In many ways, the cold war was perfect for DoD managers of major weapons systems: they could project that their new technically laden weapon could do all types of terrifying things, but they were reasonably sure that they would not be used in a major war. It was the equivalent of saying you had a poker hand of four aces, really only having a couple of queens, but knowing that you wouldn’t have to lay down your hand to verify it. The problem of expensive weapons that didn’t work as advertised led me to edit a book in 1982 entitled “More Bucks, Less Bang: How the Pentagon Buys Ineffective Weapons.” The book reproduced over 30 news articles on various weapon failures with an introduction and final chapter on how the system failed and what to do about it.

Now, it is almost 30 years later and we are seeing signs of the same dilemma facing our next generation of weapons where they are costing more, but doing less than promised. The difference now is that we are currently in several hot wars and struggling through a serious recession. Many of these failing weapons are being introduced into the battlefield even as they are being developed, overrunning their costs and flunking their tests.

I could write numerous columns outlining all the current overpriced and low functioning weapons, but there is a new group of weapons that the DoD has promised to revolutionize warfare for these various wars we are involved. According to Wired.com’s Danger Room, the Pentagon plans to double its unmanned air force. This is in the face of budget cuts and concerns about the overruns and technical problems of the next generation of aircraft, especially the F-35. Unmanned aircraft, better known as drones to the public, have suddenly been elevated to new heights with the spying on Bin Laden’s compound to drone missile strikes in Pakistan. The military’s manned aircraft program is not growing, but the unmanned aircraft is slated to grow from “approximately 340 in FY [fiscal year] 2012 to approximately 650 in FY 2021,” according to the DoD’s Aircraft Procurement Plan 2012-2041.

There are already heated discussions on whether drone warfare works or not from a strategic point of view, but I will refrain from that argument today in order to just look at whether the drones are working as advertised and whether their price is becoming as prohibitive as the manned DoD aircraft.

On June 6, 2011, Bloomberg News reported that Michael Gilmore, the director of the DoD’s Operational Test and Evaluation office, declared that the newest version of Northrop’s Global Hawk “is not operationally suitable.” According to a May 27 report from the testing office, “mission-critical components fail at high rates, resulting in poor takeoff reliability, high air about rates, low mission capable rates, an excessive demand for critical spare parts and a high demand for maintenance support.”

According to Aviation Week, the Global Hawk’s poor performance had a “poor sortie turnaround performance. And, “Effective time on station (ETOS) or the amount of time the aircraft can loiter over a target gathering intelligence, was expected to be 55% but the system achieved only 27%.” There are quality problems with something as simple as nut plates that were breaking, requiring 24-hour cure time to fix the problem, thereby grounding the planes for a day each time these nut plates failed.

This “Block 30” of Global Hawk drones have already been used to fly over the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan to take thermal images of the damaged plant, and have been used in surveillance missions over Libya. The Global Hawk is a “remotely piloted spy plane that can fly at high altitudes – up to 60,000 feet – to evade easy detection. Its primary role is to take pictures, while also picking up enemy communications signals and electronic signals like those from a nuclear detonation,” according to an article from The Hill.It has been cited as the replacement for the cold war manned U2 airplane. The report that Gilmore released on the testing is highly critical and blunt for that office and has 16 recommendations to improve the Global Hawk, including upgrading the communications systems and boosting its all-weather capabilities.

The problem with looking at the recommended fixes is that the Global Hawk production costs have already overrun by at least 25 percent. The unit cost has been pegged at $113.9 to $161 million each. When you count the cost of research and development and the construction of the facilities to build it, each Global Hawk has risen to an astounding $173.3 million, rivaling many of the DoD current manned aircraft. To give it perspective, the estimate of the much-maligned F-35 is now put at $133 million each (with an equally astounding life-cycle cost of one trillion dollars.) There are threats to cut down the amount of F-35s and replace a percentage of them with current fighters.

However, even though this testing report was issued on May 27, 2011, there are assurances that the Global Hawk’s problems can be fixed and that the program will survive and the weapon will work. While Gilmore has revealed serious problems in the testing, the head of Air Force testing, Maj. Gen. David Eichorn puts a softer spin on the bad news. According to Aerospace Daily, Eichorn said that he found the system to be “effective with significant limitations … not suitable and partly mission capable.” He went on to explain his softer version of the operational tests: “I was much more comfortable with the shade of gray in this case rather than the black and white of is it effective or not.”

The pressure will be on to put in some fixes, retest the drone and quickly declare a victory to get it out in the field. Several corporate watchers say that the Global Hawk will survive this because the original Predator drone had major operational test problems, but there were enough fixes to make it effective in the field. Philip Finnegan of the Teal Group, an industry consulting group, told The Hill, “The Predator/Reaper suffered from serious criticism from testers early on, but it came back and is now very effective and I would anticipate that the Global Hawk would solve its problems.” There are still questions whether the Predator or Reaper have truly solved their testing problems because of the circle-the-wagons mentality by the Air Force and the DoD when a weapon is questioned. I am glad that Mr. Finnegan was willing to talk for free to The Hill, because the Teal Group’s white paper on unmanned aircraft costs a whopping $1,895.00 for a copy – sort of in line with the Pentagonal costs of weapons.

To help ensure that the Global Hawk survives any DoD cuts, the June 7 email issue of Politico’s Morning Defense had several Northrop ads sprinkled through the text including:

    A message from Northrop Grumman: The newest and most capable Global Hawks, Block 40, have started arriving at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. Block 40 provides affordable, state-of-the-art wide area surveillance sensor for the future.
    [and]
    The employees of Northrop Grumman salute the men and women of the U.S. Air Force and citizens of North Dakota on arrival of the first RQ-4 Global Hawk to Grand Forks Air Force Base. This milestone marks the activation of the second Global Hawk main operating base, bringing expanded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to our troops. Global Hawk is the world’s preeminent high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, capable of flying above 60,000 feet for more than 32 hours and having already flown more than 43,000 hours in combat.

There was no mention of the severe test results that were in the press only the day before. Northrop has been running positive ads on Global Hawk in Politico’s Morning Defense since April, including extolling its virtues in combat. Since the DoD would have briefed Northrop on its results, I have no doubt that Northrop knew that the bad news was coming and wanted to soothe the problem with ads that predicted great successes for their drone.

Despite all the problems, the Global Hawk most likely will be approved for full production, despite the poor operational tests.

Inside Defense gave several reasons the Global Hawk will succeed in a June 6, 2011, story:

    Tom Christie, who headed the Pentagon’s weapons testing shop from July 2001 to 2005, when the Global Hawk Block 10 variant was being operationally assessed, doubts that the new report will impede Pentagon plans to proceed with full-rate production of the Block 30 variant.

    “Once again, we have a system that has failed to meet effectiveness and suitability requirements – but one that no doubt will probably proceed post-haste into full production and deployment,” Christie said. “In fact, the Global Hawk has been deployed for years prior to any semblance of realistic OT&E [Operational Test and Evaluation].”

    Last year, the Pentagon flagged the Global Hawk program for running afoul of statutory cost-growth thresholds for a third time. The Pentagon has spent $7.7 billion of a projected $13.9 billion to develop and acquire Global Hawk systems. The program has already breached “significant” cost growth thresholds, and on two occasions – including last June – exceeded “critical” cost growth levels, prompting the Pentagon to restructure the program and certify it as essential to national security.

    Later this month, Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive, is scheduled to convene the high-level Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) to consider whether to proceed with full-rate production of the Block 30 variant. As part of that review, the Pentagon plans to restructure the program, breaking out elements of the Global Hawk program into subprograms.

    This DAB meeting is expected to be a culminating moment for a program that has been under close scrutiny for more than a year, including an internal Pentagon review last summer and an Air Force-directed blue-ribbon panel set up in December.

    On April 6, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley revealed that the Pentagon was cutting the Global Hawk procurement objective from 77 to 66, a 14 percent decrease (DefenseAlert, April 21).

Here, based on my experience, is how the Air Force and Northrop will save face on this failing program and get it through, even during these tough budget times.

Many of the problems listed above are failures by Northrop to have Global Hawk do its mission and to be maintainable (remember the nut plates that broke and needed 24 hours to fix). In a realistic world, not the world of military procurement, Northrop would be expected, under their fixed-price contract, to fix these serious problems on their own dime and lose any incentives built into the contract. However, since this would be at a high cost to Northrop, the Air Force will probably declare that the fixes of these problems are actually changes requested by the government and will put in Engineering Change Orders and other government “requests” for changes (not to be called fixes anymore). This will allow the defects of this drone to be fixed at government cost, not Northrop’s cost because the government initiated the fixes. This will raise the baseline of Northrop’s fixed-price contract (called rubber baseline in the trade), nourish the contract and lessen the specter of having overruns, all because the government will now pour more money into the drone. With these fixes, the Air Force, once embarrassed, will make sure that the drone passes the next set of operational tests by tricks in the scoring of what is a failure and is not a failure. It has been a common practice for over 40 years for services to manipulate test data to make sure that a troubled weapon passes the operational tests and goes into full production.

I helped pass the law in the 1980s to set up an independent test office in the DoD, the office that Gilmore now heads. Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas read an article that I wrote about cheating on weapons testing and urging for an independent testing office, and sponsored a bill to create an independent testing office. We were successful in getting the office established, but there was much resistance in the DoD to give it enough funding and to find tough leaders of the office to insist on hard-nosed testing. One of the directors, Thomas Christie did try to fight the bureaucracy while he was head of that office, but the institutional DoD and the military services fight any bad news coming out of the office.

The Global Hawk test report was stronger than usual, but it probably won’t help fix all the problems, keep the government from paying for Northrop’s mistakes or make sure that this weapon is truly effective in the battlefield, even during an active war. Even having an independent testing office in the DoD won’t guarantee that; even when problems are made public, things will change.

Northrop will marshal its supporters in Congress and in the DoD to help them look good so that the DoD program managers will also look good and everyone will be happy. The drone programs are headquartered at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and the Dayton Daily News helped tout that base’s future in a May 19, 2011, story headlined “Pentagon plan for drones may secure WPAFB future,” outlining how this base is “Ohio’s largest single-site employer with more than 27,000 workers …”  The district that has the bedroom communities for Wright Pat and has the base literally on the border of the district is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s district, which means that there will be a heavy hitter to make sure that the drone programs make full production and are well funded despite any bad testing news or critical cost overruns.

In the eyes of most involved in this program, everyone will win except the taxpayers who will have to pay more for a flawed weapon and the troops that will be relying on the data or lack of data that the drone is supposed to capture.

So, what is the solution here? I worked for years to make sure that there was independent review of weapons testing, but the bureaucracy has dulled its impact. The DoD just released two studies that showed that testing of a weapon does not cause delay or overrun, but that fixing the problems found in testing caused by bad management is a main reason for delay and overrun. So, the testing isn’t the problem; fixing the mistakes is a big problem.

Once again, this is such a huge problem that any small-slice solution will be quickly deformed by the crushing power of the forces that want to keep the weapons’ money flowing. I believe that this system won’t change until we successfully get rid of the overwhelming problem of self-dealing: where people in this system have personal monetary stakes in these weapon systems proceeding through the system. One of the biggest problems is the revolving door among the military, Congress and the industry. In my past column, “The Buying and Selling of the Pentagon (Part II),”  I take each group, the Congress, the military and the defense contractors, and put in very strict restrictions that forces a decision: if they want to be a part of the system that buys weapons for our troops, which puts them in a very special category, then they have to sacrifice for their country, as our troops have had to sacrifice.

These solutions are not easy, but I don’t believe that we can solve problems like the Global Hawk without drastic action.

13-25

Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Naiman, Truthout

053111naiman_story

Hasna el Ryes, a Gaza resident waiting to cross into Egypt, leaves the border terminal after getting an entry stamp in her passport on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in Egypt, May 28, 2011. Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived by the busload to pass through the reopened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of an Israeli blockade after years of deadlocked peace talks. (Photo: Holly Pickett / The New York Times)

There was a slogan on the streets of Seattle: “This is what democracy looks like.” You can’t love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It’s a package deal.

Likewise, you can’t claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It’s a package deal.

On Saturday, at long last, the Egyptian government “permanently opened [3]” the Egypt-Gaza passenger crossing at Rafah. A big part of the credit for this long-awaited development belongs to Tahrir. It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.

In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government – an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.

Mubarak had a deal with the US government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the US to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt’s stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt’s rulers that subservience to the US on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the US line on Israel-Palestine anymore.

The Mubarak regime also had a domestic motivation for enforcing the blockade: it saw Hamas as a sister organization of Egypt’s then semi-illegal opposition Muslim Brotherhood and it saw enforcing the blockade as a means of denying Hamas “legitimacy,” figuring that more “legitimacy” for Hamas would mean more “legitimacy” for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, thereby threatening Mubarak’s iron grip on Egypt’s politics.

But, of course, post-Tahrir developments in Egypt threw that calculation out the window: the post-Mubarak government in Egypt has reconciled with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a de facto partner in the present interim government and is expected to do well in September’s parliamentary elections. It would be absurd for the Egyptian government to try to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to isolate its sister Hamas, when the Muslim Brotherhood is a de facto part of the Egyptian government and the role of the Brotherhood in running Egypt is likely to increase.

There are other considerations. Egypt’s government has seen how Turkey’s influence in the region has grown dramatically as a result of its “no problems with neighbors” policy. Now Egypt is saying: “I’ll have what she’s having,” and moving to normalize relationships in the region, just as Turkey has done.

The opening of the Rafah passenger crossing will mean that women, children and the elderly from Gaza will be able to travel freely to Egypt and, through Egypt, almost anywhere else in the Arab world. Adult men will have to get Egyptian visas, a process that currently can take months.

But – although it is virtually certain that some will try to claim otherwise – the opening of Rafah does not mean that the siege of Gaza is over.

Rafah is a passenger crossing, not a cargo crossing, as The Associated Press noted in reporting on the opening of Rafah. Gaza’s cargo crossings are still controlled by the Israeli government.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha reports that, since 2005, “goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.”

In general, the Israeli government does not allow construction materials (cement, steel and gravel) into Gaza. Since January, about 7 percent of what entered monthly prior to June 2007 has been allowed in for specific projects.

The Israeli government prevents regular travel for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, even though according to the two-state solution, which is the official policy of the US, Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be one entity.

Exports from Gaza are generally prohibited by the Israeli authorities.

Palestinians in Gaza cannot farm their lands in Israel’s self-declared “buffer zone” along the northern and eastern borders with Israel, estimated to contain nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land.

The Israeli government does not allow Palestinian fishermen to fish beyond three nautical miles  from Gaza, although under the Oslo Accord, they are supposed to be able to fish for 20 nautical miles from Gaza.

Thus, more pressure is needed on the Israeli government – and the US government, which enables Israeli policies in Gaza – to lift the blockade.

And that’s why it’s so important that another international flotilla is sailing to Gaza in the third week of June, to protest the blockade. It’s time to open all the crossings, not just Rafah.

13-23

The Psychological Implosion of Our Soldiers

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Report

US Army Specialist Lateef Al-Saraji, a decorated combat veteran, came back from the occupation of Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Saraji joined the military because he wanted to serve his country. He served well as a linguist and translator working under secret clearance with military intelligence, according to a letter of recommendation written by his commander following his tour in Iraq, “This letter is to inform you of my endorsement of SPC Alsaraji’s superlative performance and vital contributions to the command during our recent 15-month extended combat tour in Iraq.” Saraji is also a three-year trustee with American Legion Post 42 in Gatesville, Texas.

PTSD is often routed in one event, but more often, with the two ongoing occupations, it is rooted in multiple traumatizing events. While in Iraq, Saraji was horrified by discovering headless bodies of suspected spies caught by the Iraqi resistance, which were thrown in a canal near the building where he was based “so we would see them. I still have nightmares over the bodies in the water, all blue and foul-smelling,” he wrote of his experience.

When he got back to the US, it took him several months to get an appointment with a counselor on his base, who then referred him to an off-base psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with severe PTSD.

In an email to Chuck Luther, the founder and director of the Soldier’s Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors,” Saraji wrote that he “felt that the Army did not care about me and my superiors did not seem to care. On July 1 [2009] the psychologist, Dr. Leach, wrote a letter recommending I have 2 weeks off.”

Rather than his commander, Sgt. First Class Duncan, follow the recommendation of Dr. Leach, Saraji was accused of going absent without leave and told he would not be given the two weeks off, along with being written up.

“I got too depressed,” Saraji wrote of his experience. “I thought everyone would be better with me dead. I was going to kill myself. I drank ¾ gallon of Bacardi 151, took some pills and was going to shoot myself. I was depressed and tired of the racism and prejudice that I was receiving. I was talking on the phone with the Chaplain and he heard me cock my gun.”

Luckily, very shortly thereafter three officers appeared at his door and took him to nearby Fort Hood, where he was admitted to a psychiatric unit for a week. From there he was transferred to a facility in Wichita Falls, Texas, for three weeks, where he was jumped by five soldiers who harassed him and called him a “towel head” and “sand nigger.” He was moved to a different floor of that hospital, but wrote, “I was afraid for my safety so I tried to run away from the hospital.”

Saraji returned to Fort Hood, only to find Sergeant Duncan writing him up yet again. According to Saraji, when Sergeant Duncan learned Saraji had nearly attempted suicide, he coolly told Saraji that he should go kill himself.

Luther, a former sergeant who served 12 years in the military and is a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, where he was a reconnaissance scout in the 1st Cavalry Division, is appalled by Saraji’s treatment by his superiors.

Saraji’s is but one of 20 other cases Luther is working on, in hopes of avoiding yet another disaster like the one that occurred on November 5, when Major Nidal Hasan, suffering from a combination of secondary trauma and dealing with major ongoing harassment for being a Muslim, went on a shooting spree that killed 13 soldiers and wounded dozens more.

“The ground has been laid for another crisis, another shooting … it’s volatile here, nothing has been resolved,” Luther told Truthout from his home in Killeen, Texas, on the outskirts of Fort Hood. “The average Joe on the street thinks things are resolved here, but they are anything but resolved. We are primed to have more soldier-on-soldier violence if something doesn’t change right away.”

Luther explained to Truthout that while he has had success with the base commander at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, addressing all the issues Luther has brought to his attention, “these lower-down folks are doing what they want to do anyway. I have 20 cases like his on this base alone. Fort Hood is not good right now. It’s only a matter of time, if they don’t fix these problems and fix them quickly, either Duncan was about to end up injured, or Saraji was going to injure himself. These lower-level commanders continue to intimidate and harass these soldiers, even soldiers who want to be deployed.

Saraji had even offered to go back to Iraq. This is not a guy who is questionable. When you go find these guys getting kicked out for misconduct – you’ll find that prior to this you had commanders pushing them, punishing them, and harassing them, then they break.”

Dr. Kernan Manion is a board-certified psychiatrist who was hired last January to treat Marines returning from the occupations who suffered from PTSD and other acute mental problems born from their deployments. Working for a personnel recruiting company that was contracted by the Defense Department, NiteLines Kuhana LLC at Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, Manion not only quickly became all too familiar with the horror stories soldiers were telling him during their therapy sessions, but he became alarmed at the military’s inability to give sufficient treatment to returning soldiers, and even more so at their reports of outright abuse meted out by some commanders against lower-ranking soldiers who sought help.

Manion told Truthout that last April two Marines urgently sought his help soon after the clinic opened at 7 a.m. They told him, ‘One of these guys is liable to come back on base [from Iraq or Afghanistan] with a loaded weapon and open fire. ‘

This episode is just one that is indicative of pervasive and worsening systemic problems afflicting a military mental health care system that is not only overburdened, overstressed, understaffed and ill-equipped, it is exponentially worsened by its being administered by career military with rank, but who are ill-trained to provide the complex psychiatric expertise necessary to effectively treat psychologically impaired soldiers from both occupations.

Manion explained to Truthout that upon returning home, troops suffering from myriad new-onset deployment-related mental health problems were flooding the available resources, and when they did come they had to bear the brunt of pervasive harassment and oftentimes outright psychological abuse from Marine Corps superiors who refused to acknowledge the validity, much less the severity, of their problems.

“I saw previously strong Marines, people who were now very fragile, deeply weary and broken by one, two or often more deployments, come back and be squashed by their commanders – who told them they were “goddamn losers,” Manion told Truthout, “I felt like I was witnessing child abuse. These courageous and fit men go through boot camp, and combat and the incredible duress inherent in deployment, and then you come back and your midlevel command says this to you, and there is a tremendous amount of resentment that builds up there.”

According to Manion, doing psychotherapy with soldiers returning with this type of severe complex combat-related psychological trauma “is the psychological equivalent of neurosurgery.”

“Yeah, of course people need symptom relief from things like insomnia and irritability (some of these guys have been averaging only about two hours of sleep a night for over a year, is it any surprise that they self-medicate with alcohol?). But really, I find these guys coming to me because they are in an utter state of interpsychic chaos and turmoil, because too many things are going on simultaneously to sort out,” Manion explained to Truthout, “And too many powerful emotions that simply comprise turmoil – anger, anxiety, sadness, shame and hurt, overwhelming them.”

Manion described what he sees happening with returning soldiers as their being in “a state of psychic implosion – someone that is literally having a psychological meltdown. It’s like having your motherboard shut down. Just like a computer motherboard shutdown, the internal psychological apparatus, the mechanism itself, fries, it shuts down. There’s currently simply no terminology in the APA [American Psychiatric Association] literature for this. When you’re dealing with cumulative stress from constant guardedness because of continuous exposure to danger – multiple firefights, patrols, losses of buddies and utter exhaustion from deployment – and then you have family problems, and relationship problems, and then on top of all of that you have commanders telling you you’re nothing but a worthless piece of shit, you simply can’t think straight anymore, and who could be expected to. We need to name that – this is psychological implosion – what we’re talking about here is meltdown. When you have overloaded circuits that are frying the fuse box, you don’t put in a higher capacity fuse, you have to unload the circuits.”

Manion continued to warn his superiors of the extent and complexity of the systemic problems, and he was deeply worried about the possibility of these leading to violence on the base and within surrounding communities.

Rather than being praised for his relentless efforts to address these concerns, Manion was fired by the contractor that hired him. While a spokeswoman for the firm says it released Manion at the behest of the Navy, the Navy preferred not to comment on the story.

Manion told Truthout that while working at Camp Lejeune, he was deeply concerned with the fact that he was seeing an inordinate number of Marines grappling with overwhelming suicidal or assaultive impulses, and felt, like others, that this was clearly indicative of the residua of extreme combat stress.

The proof was already available – in 2008, according to the Marine Corps, at least 42 Marines committed suicide, and at least 146 others attempted to do so.

Manion, who was already concerned about the increasing likelihood of violence among post-deployment Marines at Camp Lejeune, charged that medical officials at the Deployment Health Clinic where he worked simply refused to study and discuss violence among these returning Marines and work on a coherent response. Authorities at Camp Lejeune, according to Manion, did little planning to improve the handling of troubled Marines in most desperate need of treatment for their PTSD.

The national evidence was clearly apparent; those who were not getting necessary care were killing themselves and other soldiers in startling numbers. Manion remained deeply committed to confronting the ongoing reported harassment from their superiors of Marines who were seeking mental health care.

Despite being warned to essentially stop making trouble by the national director of the contractor he worked for in June, Manion felt compelled to continue with his appeals because he was not seeing the changes necessary to prevent the already bad situation from deteriorating further. Because of even more flagrant offenses, on August 30 he appealed urgently to multiple military inspectors general in a written complaint warning of an “immediate threat of loss of life and/or harm to service members’ selves or others” if conditions did not improve.

Manion complained of a “complete disregard for … implications for patient safety and well-being” and said the officials at Camp Lejeune had ignored “repeated overt and emphatically stated concerns about the very safety and overall welfare of the affected patients.”

Finally, Manion warned his superiors that the lives of “many patients” were imminently at risk, concerning a disruption in care that would result from a decision that his superiors made that would prohibit him from seeing his patients.

Four days later, Manion, with 25 years of experience as a psychiatrist who specializes in PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and with an investigator from the inspector general’s office just having arrived, was fired on the spot by the contractor and escorted out of his office by an armed MP.

His warnings, like those at Fort Hood, went unheeded at Camp Lejeune.

When Manion heard the news of Maj. Nidal Hasan’s shooting rampage, “I thought, ‘That could just as easily have been right here at Camp LeJeune. We are dealing with people who are fried, who are ready to snap.’”

Was Manion surprised when he learned that Hasan was a psychiatrist who had been treating traumatized soldiers?

“Did he snap because of all the stuff he heard?” Manion replied. “I myself came back home some nights so overwhelmed and even tearful at what I’d heard from these guys. It’s possible. I wondered, ‘What was available for him for his support?’ We had no support structure in place for those providing treatment. I look at the mental health care work at Camp LeJeune, and people there and probably throughout the system really do not understand the absolute necessity of taking care of the treaters. I had good therapists come into my office and break down in tears because of the immensity of the stories they were hearing.”

Manion holds deep concern for the future of both the soldiers themselves as well as those who treat them.

When asked if he thinks the military will incorporate the changes necessary to rectify these problems, Manion took a long, deep breath before answering.

“It concerns me greatly. How ignorant can we be that we can’t learn from the immediate past and the present? How ignorant can we be that we’re still not understanding the immensity of PTSD, of this overall state of psychological implosion?”

The doctor added, “If not more Fort Hoods, Camp Liberties, soldier fratricide, spousal homicide, we’ll see it individually in suicides, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, in formerly fine young men coming back and saying, as I’ve heard so many times, “I’m not cut out for society. I can’t stand people. I can’t tolerate commotion. I need to live in the woods.” That’s what we’re going to have. Broken, not contributing, not functional members of society. It infuriates me – what they are doing to these guys, because it’s so ineptly run by a system that values rank and power more than anything else – so we’re stuck throwing money into a fragmented system of inept clinics and the crisis goes on. It’s not just that we’re going to have an immensity of people coming back, but the system itself is thwarting their effective treatment.”

Speaking both to the problems he saw at the Deployment Health Center at Camp Lejeune and the effects of these rippling into the future, Manion said, “If we’re going to respond to the immensity of people coming back who are broken, we need clinics run by people who know what they are doing. From my perspective we had a program run by folks who didn’t have the expertise they needed to run it. They seemed to me to be turning a blind eye to a philosophy in the Marine Corps that treats psychological impairment or woundedness as though you are of weak character.”

The warnings of Luther and Manion have already proved prophetic.

On November 22, Killeen police reported that a 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier, Army Specialist David Middlebrooks, was stabbed to death. The next day, 22-year-old Joshua Wyatt, another Fort Hood soldier, was shot to death in his residence. The killers of both soldiers are alleged to be Fort Hood soldiers as well.

Yet killings involving Fort Hood soldiers have been commonplace in recent years, even prior to the mass killing on November 5. In the years leading up to that event, soldiers from Fort Hood were involved in the deaths of at least seven people in the previous five years alone, several of these incidents being soldier-on-soldier violence. Taking one of these as an example, in September 2008, Specialist Jody Wirawan fatally shot 1st Lt. Robert Fletcher. When Killeen police arrived, Wirawan proceeded to commit suicide.

In addition, Luther told Truthout that at least two soldiers at Fort Hood have attempted suicide since the massacre on November 5.

And the killings are not limited to Fort Hood.

Less than 12 hours after Maj. Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree, Camp Lejeune officials discovered the body of one Marine and took into custody another Marine, Pvt. Jonathan Law, who was accused of killing his colleague. Law, who had served a seven-month tour in Iraq, was also suffering from self-inflicted wounds when arrested.

In upstate New York in the town of Leray, on the outskirts of Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, between November 29 and 30, soldiers Waide James, 20, and Diego Valbuena, 23, were murdered by Joshua Hunter, another Fort Drum soldier, according to Jefferson County Sheriff John Burns.

Both victims died of multiple stab wounds.

On September 29, after being refused any assurance that the patients who were in his care were OK, accounted for and being taken care of, being worried about his patients, and five weeks before the massacre at Fort Hood, Manion sent a letter to President Barack Obama, as well as copies of the letter to Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Sen. Richard Burr, and Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, among several others, including the secretary of the Navy, and the commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

Manion’s letter stated, “Frankly, in my more than twenty-five years of clinical practice, I’ve never seen such immense emotional suffering and psychological brokenness – literally, a relentless stream of courageous, well-trained and formerly strong Marines deeply wounded psychologically by the immensity of their combat experiences.”

The letter went on to explain how he had, over the previous six months, raised serious concerns “about several very dangerous inadequacies of the clinic’s [at Camp Lejeune] operations as well as recurring incidents of significant psychological abuse (by their commands) of Marines who were seeking our care.”

The doctor expressed his larger concern to President Obama that his experience at Camp Lejeune “represents a more pervasive problem at Camp Lejeune and perhaps even throughout the institutional culture of the military.”

Seeing the clear potential for the impending disaster of soldier-on-soldier violence as a result of untreated PTSD, Manion’s letter continued with a sense of urgency:

“Mr. President, given what I’ve witnessed and personally experienced, I think that, beyond the immediate issue of my firing and my patients’ care, it’s vital that these flaws be named and examined. Please know, I am not a publicity seeker; I’m not pitching a product; and I’m not trying to rise in rank, power or compensation. I’m not even trying to restore my employment in government service. I have no agenda but to speak my truth on these matters and to confront these issues so as to ensure that these men and women receive the best of mental health treatment services that they’re truly entitled to.”

With President Obama’s recent announcement to send an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, concern for the already immense mental health crisis is increasing. Now, more than ever before, the US military needs a comprehensive health plan initiative to meet the radically different psychological implosions that are occurring due to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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