Torture is the Worst Abomination of Man

Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998  ) was a war reporter who continued reporting into her 80th year.  The last war-trip she made was to Central America when, under the Reagan administration, the government in El Salvador and the “contras” in Nicaragua were funded to murder their own citizens.  Gellhorn reported it.  Some of those, compiled, are in a collection of her reporting called The Face of War. (reviewed here) This is an extended excerpt from that essay.

Torture is the worst abomination of man and utterly condemns any government that sanctions it. El Salvador is a member of the United Nations and party to the Charter of Human Rights. Has the United Nations gone out of business? European officials rightly denounce psychiatric torture in the Soviet Union. Why keep obsequiously silent about El Salvador?

“Assassinated.” In 1982, regarded as a good year, better than the preceding three, 5,840 mutilated corpses of men and women, boys and girls, were found, dumped everywhere throughout El Salvador. Of these, peasants were the majority. Few peasants were “captured,” only eight “disappeared” in 1982. The method for peasants is immediate butchery in villages and fields. Peasant refugees tell how the army, or ORDEN, or the National Guard, came into their village, killing, before they stole the animals, looted and burned the houses. This is how refugees are made: an estimated 300,000 outside the country, 200,000 inside it, but the process is never-ending. Peasants are uprooted, killed, because they are Romero Catholics, Catolicos. They believe what their murdered Archbishop taught: misery is not decreed by God, but made by man. This is revolutionary Communism to the Salvadoran government. But then, Jesuit priests are considered Communists and live in danger.

Women, innumerable children, old men crowd into makeshift refugee encampments. They have all seen peasants assassinated. A  sample: a pouter pigeon of a woman who has lived for two years with 1,200 other peasant refugees on the dusty playing fields of the Catholic Seminary. “It was ORDEN. We heard them coming. We ran to hide in the trees. But my daughter was eight months pregnant, she could not run fast enough. They caught her on the path. They cut open her stomach with a machete and pulled out the child and cut it in half. She was 17 years of age. I saw with my own eyes. With my own eyes. Then they stole everything we had worked for and burned our houses.”

We learned that President Reagan was distressed by the photographs of the Phalange’s victims in the Beirut Palestinian camps. He is morally obliged to see the Human Rights albums of assassinated Salvadorans. These people did not die quickly. Many faces are covered in blood below the eyes (” We think they do this with rifle butts.”) Some have been strangled. Some are decapitated, the head beside the corpse. A naked boy, lying on his face, has long deep open stab slashes on his legs. A naked woman, also on her face, is riddled with bullet wounds through the lower half of her body; her nakedness presumes rape but that is commonplace for women. There is a gruesome statuary of eight entwined faceless bodies, burned down to nothing but smooth white fat. I studied specially the photos of those killed this January, the month when President Reagan certified that human rights reform in El Salvador warranted more military aid, although 672 Salvadorans were murdered in that month alone.

We free worlders elect our governments freely, so we are responsible for what they do in our name. If governments were better, wiser, more in touch with real life, citizens would not have to spend so much time educating and restraining them. Nadezdha Mandelstam, survivor of another tyranny, gave the best advice to citizens: “If you can do nothing else you must scream.”

Gellhorn, Martha. The Face of War (Kindle Locations 5256-5259). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.




Official British WW I Journals On Line

The British National Archives has announced that in this 100th year anniversary of the beginning of WW I,  (August), that official journals, required to be kept by each unit, will be put on-line as they are digitized.  These are not personal diaries which, if available, are at the Imperial War Museum, but those kept by officers and adjutants per orders.  It is fascinating, therefore, to see direct, unexpurgated descriptions of the events and conditions.

It looks like they are not browseable as yet.  Searches can be done by unit name or number and much of the work is being done buy crowd-sourcing so by volunteering  to categorize you can read through the section you are assigned.

Those I can see are more like ships’ logs, lists of events and observations day by day.  The one excerpt quoted in several newspapers gives a misleading idea of what will be found, as it is in fact a private diary kept by Capt. James Paterson, First Battalion South Wales Borderers.

“Trenches, bits of equipment, clothing (probably blood-stained), ammunition, tools, caps, etc, etc, everywhere. Poor fellows shot dead are lying in all directions. Some of ours,” he said.

“Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war. I have had a belly full of it.”

“One is very likely to kill one’s own men, and from wounds I have seen since, I am sure some of them were hit like this.”

BBC and NYTimes and the Times of India

WW I Photo cover

Steven Erlanger mentions three recent histories of the war — with many more to come:

The three most prominent books so far have been by Christopher Clark, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” which was quoted at a summit meeting by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; Margaret MacMillan, “The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914”; and Max Hastings, “Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War.” But this is just an early skirmish: Publishers plan many more, including novels and the reissuing of classics like Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.”



Nick Turse with POW Phil Butler in Berkeley

Review of Kill Anything That Moves, here.

Nixon and Kissinger: The Blood Keeps Seeping

I’ve been reading Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers to be reminded again of the tag-team murder duo of Kissinger and Nixon. It isn’t just that, like other sociopaths, their crimes didn’t seem to register with them, but that they acknowledged them and presented them as necessary, patriotic. In a bit of tape from the White House April 25, 1972 Ellsberg quotes this:

President: How many did we kill in Laos?
Ziegler: Maybe ten thousand- fifteen?
Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen…
President: See, the attack in the North that we have in mind…power plants, whatever’s left—POL [petroleum], the docks…And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people. President: No, no, no…I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
President: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want you to think big, Henry, for Chistsakes.

Thus primed, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, to be reminded of their role in the Bangladesh catastrophe of 1971 in Gary J Bass’ opinion piece in the NYTimes today.

…on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating crackdown on the rebellious Bengalis in the east. Midway through the bloodshed, both the C.I.A. and the State Department conservatively estimated that about 200,000 people had died (the Bangladeshi government figure is much higher, at three million). As many as 10 million Bengali refugees fled across the border into India, where they died in droves in wretched refugee camps.

As recently declassified documents and White House tapes show, Nixon and Kissinger stood stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments. This largely overlooked horror ranks among the darkest chapters in the entire cold war.

Blood Telegram2

Bass has just finished a book, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and the forgotten Genocide, which uses recently declassified material from White House tapes and other diplomatic sources to tell us the terrible particulars of US involvement/non-involvement of those years.

…the president and his national security advisor made sure that, despite a long-standing arms embargo (and against the wishes of the State Department), weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies kept flowing to Pakistan. Presaging the Iran-Contra affair, they followed this up by arranging for illegal transfers of advanced fighter aircraft through third countries like Iran and Jordan, crimes which have rarely garnered much attention. These episodes are expertly told and provide context for often forgotten Nixonian crimes and “Watergate” misconduct unconnected with the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters: the secret bombing of Cambodia, the extensive sabotage and spying operations against political opponents, the wiretaps of government employees, and the illegal effort to silence Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, to name a few.

The book is getting the attention it deserves, among others by Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, in the Daily Beast.

The Blood Telegram offers a nuanced yet unflinching look at the juxtaposition of geopolitics and humanitarian crisis. Bass shines a much-needed spotlight on yet another dark corner of modern American history, revealing yet another bloody episode stemming from Kissinger’s crass calculations and Nixon’s embrace of brutal dictators. He even offers a window onto a fascinating and truly frightening episode of apparent role reversal in which Kissinger (who long claimed he regularly restrained his “madman” boss) was braying for war—advocating the U.S. throw its military might behind China in a potential conflict with India and the Soviet Union, risking an all-out nuclear war—while Nixon tried to ratchet down the rhetoric and act as the voice of reason.

And by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker.

Christopher Hitchens completed the first dossier of Kissinger’s crimes against humanity, in 2002 with The Trial of Henry Kissinger. The connivance with the Pakistani military is included, without the granular detail Bass brings, but with plenty more to rouse a fury. Apparently not, however,  among the high pooh-bahs of American culture and politics who seem never to have heard of Gandhi’s call for “non cooperation with evil.”

His 90th birthday celebrations earlier this year were a glittering affair, attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, James Baker, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Susan Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Bloomberg, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, David Petraeus, Barbara Walters, Wendi Deng, plus Tina Brown and Harold Evans.

Did no one even spill a drink on him? Crush his instep? Hurl abuse?

The genocide did occasion the first of the great SuperGroup concerts raising awareness and funds for disaster relief.  The Concert for Bangladesh was properly lauded and imitated following other tragedies in the years after,  though the awareness raised was entirely of those suffering , not at all of those who had taken them to the edge of hell.

Either or both books ought to bring anyone to a flaming shame at the America which has produced such ‘leaders. Share them and your ire with the young folks, too.

[Cross posted at All In One Boat dot org]

Did Gifted Generals Win the War?

Andrew Bacevich, former colonel in the US Army, and now professor of International Relations at Boston University reviews two books about the war in Iraq, and especially two of its generals: David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.  The books do not tell all they might.  Even though Bacevich praises the research of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor in The Endgame, he faults them for not walking their analysis out to where it leads.

“The Endgame” seeks to “provide the most comprehensive account to date” of the events it describes. It achieves that. Even so, where it matters mostthe ­authors come up short.

Future historians may well classify the surge as a myth concocted to perpetuate a fraud. The myth centers on the claim that a strategy devised in Washington and implemented by a brilliant general saved the day. The fraud is that a 20-year military effort to determine the fate of Iraq yielded something approximating a positive outcome. Although “The Endgame”provides an abundance of evidence to demolish the myth, Gordon and Trainor shy away from doing so. With the American public and political elites inclined simply to forget the Iraq war, “The Endgame”provides a rationale for doing just that.

A useful antidote to those trotting out figureheads to claim that the ship is heading in the right direction.

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