Who decides what is illegal and immoral? -- As the U.S. national security state slogs into the 21st century, more and more Americans will be struggling with this question. -- Is the nation, or God, or the individual conscience the ultimate arbiter? -- An event occurring tomorrow in Tacoma will raise the question in a way that will attract national attention, UFPPC's Hank Berger observed on Tuesday. ...
TARIQ AZIZ, EHREN WATADA, AND THE BANALITY OF EVIL
By Hank Berger
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
June 6, 2006
Who decides what is illegal and immoral?
As the Iraq war drags on, more and more American minds will be focusing on this question. For Norman Solomon and First Lt. Ehren Watada, it is already an obsession.
Norman Solomon met Tariq Aziz in January 2003 in Baghdad, and his pathetic appearance in court last month has inspired thoughts related Hannah Arendt's famous essay, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which appeared in 1963.
In an essay published Tuesday by Truthout, he wrote about Aziz's similarity to Western politicians: "We might prefer to think that a bright line separates the truly civilized from the barbaric, the decent from the depraved.
"But the man could exhibit a range of human qualities. Reserved yet personable, he could banter with ease. His arguments, while larded with propaganda, did not lack nuance. Whether speaking with a member of the U.S. Congress, an acclaimed American movie actor or a former top U.N. official, Aziz seemed acutely aware of his audience. He would have made a deft politician in the United States.
"We like to believe that American leaders are cut from entirely different cloth. But I don't think so. In some respects, the terrible compromises made by Tariq Aziz are more explainable than ones that are routine in U.S. politics.
"Aziz had good reason to fear for his life -- and the lives of loved ones -- if he ran afoul of Saddam. In contrast, many politicians and appointed officials in Washington have gone along with lethal policies because of fear that dissent might cost them re-election, prestige, money or power."
Arendt's point in Eichmann in Jerusalem was that evil often looks like dutifulness. She showed that apart from gestures made to further his career, Eichman exhibited no anti-Semitism or psychological disorders. He claimed he was only doing his job. "He did his duty . . . he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law," she wrote. Eichman consoled himself with the thought that "he was unable 'to change anything."
Solomon's essay raises the question: What is it, precisely, that prevents our political class from standing up for core American values?
Some Americans, though, can still distinguish right from wrong, and have a keen sense of personal responsibility. First Lieutenant Ehren K. Watada, 28, is one of them.
Tomorrow, First Lt. Ehren K. Watada, 28, will announce his refusal to deploy to Iraq.
The orders that Lt. Watada will be refusing to obey command him to be part of the Stryker brigade that was the focus of last month's protests in Olympia. [See: "National spotlight on Olympia protests," (UFPPC, Jun. 2, 2006); "Protesters mark Pomeroy's 8pm departure for Iraq with die-in," (UFPPC, Jun. 2, 2006); "'I oppose the war because it's illegal': 22 arrested in Olympia Tues. evening," (UFPPC, May 31, 2006); "Sixteen arrested protesting Strykers shipped through Port of Olympia," (UFPPC, May 25, 2006).]
The Watada case raises issues that go beyond the ones Americans are comfortable with involving conscientious objection. Lt. Watada is not a conscientious objector.
A web site called www.thankyoult.org., which was set up by friends and family, carries this statement from Lt. Watada: "I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to watch families torn apart, while the President tells us to 'stay the course.' . . . I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. I wanted to be there for my fellow troops. But the best way was not to help drop artillery and cause more death and destruction. It is to help oppose this war and end it so that all soldiers can come home."
The Honolulu Advertiser reported Tuesday that an attempt of Lt. Watada, from a politically prominent family in Hawaii, to resign his commission in January was denied, in January to resign his commission, and later asked again and was denied.
"Watada faces the possibility of a court-martial, dishonorable discharge and several years in prison if he refuses the war orders," reporter William Cole wrote on Tuesday.
The Ehren Watada case is an opportunity for Americans to debate fundamental questions.
"Who determines what is legal or illegal? Him or our government? Not him," said Robert Arakaki, the 83-year-old president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans group.
Think again, Mr. Arakaki. Think again.
--Hank Berger is a member of United for Peace of Pierce County (WA).
THE URBANITY OF EVIL
By Norman Solomon
June 6, 2006
I've been thinking about Tariq Aziz a lot since the New York Times printed a front-page story on the former Iraqi deputy prime minister in late May. A color photograph showed him decked out in what the article described as "an open-necked hospital gown, with a patient's plastic identification tag on his wrist." He looked gaunt.
The last time I saw Aziz, at a Baghdad meeting two months before the U.S.-led invasion began, he was still portly in one of his well-tailored business suits. If Aziz was worried, he didn't show it.
Now, he's playing a part that U.S. media seem to relish. The Times headline said "Hussein's Former Envoy Gushes With Adulation on Witness Stand," but to sum up the coverage it might have just as aptly declared: "How the Mighty Have Fallen."
The Times reported that Aziz defended Saddam Hussein in his May 24 testimony -- after he was not able to cut a deal with Baghdad's current legal powers-that-be. "At an earlier stage of the trial, American officials said Mr. Aziz had offered to testify against Mr. Hussein on the condition that he be released early, a proposition the Iraqi court and its American advisers say they eventually rejected."
If prisoner Aziz was initially angling for better treatment in exchange for ratting on Saddam, that would be consistent with how he first behaved in the dock.
On July 1, 2004, appearing before an Iraqi judge in a courtroom located on a U.S. military base near Baghdad airport, Aziz said: "What I want to know is, are these charges personal? Is it Tariq Aziz carrying out these killings? If I am a member of a government that makes the mistake of killing someone, then there can't justifiably be an accusation against me personally. Where there is a crime committed by the leadership, the moral responsibility rests there, and there shouldn't be a personal case just because somebody belongs to the leadership."
Trying to extract some positive meaning from the horrors set off by the US war on Iraq, journalists are inclined to return to the well of sorrows recounted in the dragged-out trial of Saddam Hussein and key subordinates in Baghdad. Along the way, the pathetic efforts by Tariq Aziz to disclaim any responsibility for the actions of the regime he served are fodder for big American media guns -- journalistic arsenals much more trained on the deadly crimes of top officials in the Hussein regime than the deadly crimes of top officials in the Bush administration.
As Iraq's most visible diplomat, Aziz was a smooth talker who epitomized the urbanity of evil. Up close, in late 2002 and early the following year, when I was among American visitors to his office in Baghdad, he seemed equally comfortable in a military uniform or a business suit. Serving a tyrannical dictator, Aziz used his skills with language the way a cosmetician might apply makeup to a corpse.
Aziz glibly represented Saddam Hussein's regime as it tortured and murdered Iraqi people. Yet after the invasion, news reports told us, a search of his home near the Tigris River turned up tapes of such Western cultural treasures as "The Sound of Music" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
The likelihood that he enjoyed this entertainment may be a bit jarring. We might prefer to think that a bright line separates the truly civilized from the barbaric, the decent from the depraved.
But the man could exhibit a range of human qualities. Reserved yet personable, he could banter with ease. His arguments, while larded with propaganda, did not lack nuance. Whether speaking with a member of the US Congress, an acclaimed American movie actor or a former top UN official, Aziz seemed acutely aware of his audience. He would have made a deft politician in the United States.
We like to believe that American leaders are cut from entirely different cloth. But I don't think so. In some respects, the terrible compromises made by Tariq Aziz are more explainable than ones that are routine in U.S. politics.
Aziz had good reason to fear for his life -- and the lives of loved ones -- if he ran afoul of Saddam. In contrast, many politicians and appointed officials in Washington have gone along with lethal policies because of fear that dissent might cost them re-election, prestige, money or power.
--Norman Solomon's book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death is being published this month in paperback.
LIEUTENANT DEFIES ARMY OVER 'ILLEGAL' WAR
By William Cole
June 6, 2006
In one of the first known cases of its kind, an Army officer from Honolulu is expected to refuse to go to Iraq this month with his unit, citing what he calls the "illegal" and "immoral" basis of the war, his father confirmed.
The officer, 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada, 28, son of former state campaign spending commission executive director Bob Watada, is believed to be one of the first military officers to publicly take steps to refuse his deployment orders.
"My son has a great deal of courage, and clearly understands what is right, and what is wrong," Bob Watada said yesterday. "He's choosing to do the right thing, which is a hard course."
Watada declined further comment until a news conference planned for 11 a.m. tomorrow at the state Capitol. His son is with a Stryker unit out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and is expected to participate by teleconference.
Jeff Paterson, a former Kane'ohe Bay Marine who refused to board a transport in 1990 heading to the Gulf War and now works as an anti-war activist with the organization Not In Our Name, said a second news conference will be held in Tacoma, Wash.
On the Web site www.thankyoult.org., which Paterson said was created by friends and family, the "Lt." is quoted as saying: "I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to watch families torn apart, while the President tells us to 'stay the course.' . . . I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. I wanted to be there for my fellow troops. But the best way was not to help drop artillery and cause more death and destruction. It is to help oppose this war and end it so that all soldiers can come home."
Ehren Watada apparently sought in January to resign his commission, and later asked again and was denied.
Watada, who is not seeking conscientious objector status, but rather has moral objections to the Iraq war, faces the possibility of a court-martial, dishonorable discharge and several years in prison if he refuses the war orders.
According to the GI Rights Hotline, a conscientious objector has a deeply held moral, ethical, or religious belief that it is wrong to kill another human being in war.
Some service members discover that opposition after joining the military, and are discharged, the organization said.
Watada doesn't qualify as a conscientious objector because he does not oppose all wars.
Watada graduated from Hawai'i Pacific University in 2003, joined the Army shortly after, went to Officer Candidate School, and incurred a three-year obligation.
The Hawai'i man is with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry, at Fort Lewis. The unit is part of a larger 3,600-soldier Stryker brigade combat team similar to a unit being developed in Hawai'i with about 300 eight-wheeled armored vehicles.
The Fort Lewis brigade is heading to Mosul in northern Iraq, and the soldiers are expected to leave this month and into July.
At a farewell ceremony on Friday, I Corps and Fort Lewis commander Lt. Gen. James Dubik, a former Schofield Barracks commander, said that of 299 million people in the United States, only 2.3 million serve in uniform to defend the nation, the Olympian newspaper reported.
"Less than 1 percent of the nation is carrying 100 percent of the burden of this war," Dubik said.
But in a sign of increased opposition to the three-year-old Iraq war, anti-war activists demonstrated at the Port of Olympia after Stryker vehicles drove there for shipment, the Olympian reported.
Police used pepper spray on about 100 activists, and 22 people were arrested in one of the more volatile confrontations, the newspaper said.
Paterson, 38, who in 1990 alleged that the Gulf War was about profits and oil in the Middle East and sat down on the tarmac at Kane'ohe Bay instead of boarding a transport, said he's not sure of the number of Iraq or Afghanistan war objectors.
Cases that resulted in court-martial include a Navy sailor sentenced to three months of hard labor for refusing to board a ship headed to the Persian Gulf, a specialist in the National Guard given 120 days in a stand against fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a soldier sentenced to 15 months for refusing to deploy to Iraq a second time.
Robert Arakaki, the 83-year-old president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans group, who saw combat in Italy in 1945, yesterday said Watada "owes the country a lot."
There "should be some kind of good explanation" for why Watada wants out, he said, and Arakaki takes issue with claims of an immoral and illegal war.
"Who determines what is legal or illegal? Him or our government? Not him," Arakaki said.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Jack Miller, past president of the Hawai'i chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said "there's always been the problem of following orders. This time is no different."
"Being a Vietnam veteran, we went through this," said Miller, 72. "The rest of the load had to be shared by those willing to follow orders and serve their country."
Dependable, loyal officers are needed, and "if one doesn't fit that qualification, a bad apple will contaminate the barrel. He (Watada) should be punished in some way," Miller said. "You don't want someone over there in Iraq who's not going to willingly follow orders. That's dangerous."