Originally published at Moral Low Ground
I recently got into an intense, yet respectful, Facebook debate with a US military attorney who is prosecuting Guantánamo Bay terrorism suspects. He also happens to be an old high school classmate.
I won’t mention his name here, because I don’t think he’d like that, and I respect him as a human being. He doesn’t even use his real full name on Facebook. He’s a decent, honest family man who lived a couple blocks from me growing up in the Jersey ‘burbs. My dad and his dad used to hang out when they were in high school.
Like I said, my old friend– let’s call him Creighton– is a good guy. But as a GITMO prosecutor, he’s been placed in a position where he’s been forced to defend the indefensible; namely, the deliberate wrongful imprisonment of innocent men and boys, torture and a system of military ‘justice’ that is anything but just. I know he’s involved in these cases because I read all about it in charge sheets for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker whose case was thrown out of court because the convening authority for the Guantánamo military commissions admitted that he’d been tortured.
Anyway, Crieghton is probably the perfect choice to try terrorism suspects. He’s unconditionally wedded to the notion that the United States is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known. His hyperpatriotism and his defense of America’s atrocities is the stuff of legend on my Facebook wall– even the Tunisian shopkeeper down the block from my house shakes his head and asks me “who is this guy and why are you friends with him?”
I’m friends with Creighton because as I’ve already said twice, he’s a stand-up guy. Back in the day, I viewed him as the very embodiment of honor, and I suspect nothing much has changed. He’s not the only member of Jonathan Dayton Regional High School’s Class of 1992 to achieve success in patriotic endeavors; my best buddy (and fierce running rival, although he always beat me in those days) from our state sectional championship track team is a naval doctor and another old pal shocked the hell out of me when I saw him on a Fox News panel a few years back bashing President Obama’s pitching ineptitude. We used to have long conversations about the Mets (they were really good back then); now he pals around with Sarah Palin and won’t even acknowledge my existence. To reason is treason for some folks, apparently.
These guys all defend, if not support, US war crimes and atrocities around the world. They also know I have dedicated my life to exposing and fighting said crimes. But with the exception of the Palin-loving Fox panelist, we still get along just fine. Saw both of them at our 20-year reunion last year. Nary a word on politics slipped our lips.
But earlier this week, on Pearl Harbor Day, Creighton posted the following Facebook status:
“Remember the 2,402 who were killed at Pearl Harbor. Remember the 2,976 who were killed on 9/11. Remember there is evil in this world, and the United States has always sent its best sons and daughters to fight it. Remember our mere presence around the world keeps millions of people safe in their homes. If you ever hear someone talking badly about the United States, punch them right in the mouth.”
Strange words, that last part, coming from the mouth of someone who claims they’d die to protect my right to dissent… But I took the bait. I responded:
“Let us also remember the more than 800,000 Japanese civilians slaughtered by indiscriminate US bombing, including the unnecessary waging of the world’s only nuclear war, or the more than 100,000 innocent Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis (add 15 more to that tragic toll), Somali and Libyan men, women and children who have died” as the US has lashed out in retaliation for 9/11.
And then I wrote this, the central assertion to my argument about the United States and its role in the world:
“Over the past half-century, no other force on earth has killed more innocent people outside its own borders than has the United States government, and by extension, its military.”
Always the consummate prosecutor, Creighton then wrote that he “rejects my factual supposition.”
Being that “we don’t do body counts” or “waste our beautiful minds” with the ghastly realities of war and empire, proving this assertion with precise numbers is all but a mission impossible. But there’s always the magic of deduction. I’ve engaged in this debate enough times to know the speediest way to end it is to simply ask, “well then tell me a country or force that’s killed more civilians over the past half century?”
Crieghton answered Germany and the USSR. Germany, which was blasted more or less into everlasting pacifism in World War II, hasn’t shed much blood since 1945. And the Soviets were involved in two foreign bloodbaths during the period in question, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of uppity Czechoslovakia (around 100 killed) and the 1979-89 Afghan war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed by all sides.
Over the past 50 years, the United States has attacked, invaded or occupied the following sovereign nations: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Haiti again, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia again, and Libya again. Millions of innocent men, women and children have been killed, maimed, orphaned, widowed, horrifically poisoned (sometimes for generations yet to be born) or rendered homeless by US bombs, bullets and bombast. Tens of millions, if you count proxies– the US has supported nearly every single right-wing dictatorship (including the monsters Franco, Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot), has bankrolled and armed the armies of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Guatemala, Pakistan, Indonesia, East Timor, Argentina, Iraq, West Papua, Croatia, Palestine and elsewhere. Washington has also overthrown or helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in numerous nations including Guatemala, Iran, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.
On this last point, Creighton questioned the legitimacy of the democratically elected governments overthrown by the CIA or other US instruments.
“Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in his elections. Was he democratically elected?” he pointed out, surely the low point of the entire debate. I tried to explain to him that Sukarno was the hero of Indonesia’s independence movement, that Jacobo Arbenz and Salvador Allende were beloved reformers in Guatemala and Chile, respectively, and that Mohammad Mossadegh was the most popular leader in Iranian history before a CIA coup ousted him so America and Britain could continue plundering that proud nation’s oil wealth. But trying to get Americans like Creighton to see the error of their country’s ways is a Herculean task akin to getting a deaf man to understand a Beethoven symphony.
It was time to move on to genocide, about which Creighton wrote that he “100 percent unequivocally rejects” the assertion that the conflicts I listed were, in fact, genocides or that the US is culpable in any of them.
I asserted that a nation which produces manuals teaching foreign military officers how to kidnap, torture, kill innocent civilians and subvert democracy (see: US Army School of the Americas, aka ‘School of Assassins’) is certainly capable of backing genocide.
“I reject your characterization of the manuals,” retorted Creighton, “but there’s nothing wrong with training our allies.”
I then proceeded to post links to US-authored torture and murder manuals, including KUBARK and Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, which advocate, among other nastiness, the deliberate torture and murder of innocent civilians. I also posted the story of Dan Mitrione, a CIA operative who taught officials from Uruguay’s dictatorship how to torture dissidents by demonstrating on kidnapped homeless people. “A premature death means failure by the technician,” Mitrione wrote, foreshadowing the Bush-era CIA attorney Jonathan “if the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong” Fredman.
Creighton had nothing to say about that.
After a thread of more than 60 back-and-forth comments, I once again challenged Creighton, or anyone else who might be observing our debate:
“So, can you name a country or force that has killed more civilians outside its borders than the United States in the past 50 years?”
I imagine Creighton knows I’m right about this. I wish I wasn’t, but there’s no denying it.
I know the truth– that his beloved United States military has more foreign blood on its hands than any other organization on earth– can be difficult, even painful, to swallow. But swallow it we must. We must digest it and let it nourish our national psyche so that future generations of Americans might choose more peaceful tomorrows.
I’m not holding my breath, but there’s always hope, even for the Creightons of the world. For in the final cut, Creighton is a good man, a Christian man with young children of his own. Does he ever stop and wonder, I wonder, how it feels to watch your own beloved flesh and blood blown to bits of bloody flesh by a ‘precision’ airstrike?
It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to imagine Creighton might one day come to his senses and join the ranks of Col. Morris Davis, Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr and Capt. Carrie Wolf, all of whom resigned or requested transfers over concerns about “rigged” military commission trials and torture at GITMO. A resignation would probably be career suicide, although it would go a long way towards “saving” his “everlasting soul,” to borrow his spiritual vernacular.
Creighton, if you’re reading this, and I suspect you are, here’s some inspiration to guide you towards the light.