War Crimes

Bombing Coot                     Bombed Cot

It’s ironic that that gross old fraudster Henry Kissinger has felt the need to apologise after people were offended by words he spoke decades ago while no penance, punishment or even pique is following the men, women and children that his acts helped to ensure would die. It’s like denouncing someone as a sexist bastard for calling a woman fat after kicking her to death. Or a thief as inconsiderate for not wiping his shoes. The U.S. – and, indeed, U.K. – political culture ensures a certain level of anger can bubble merrily away. When it’s focussed on unpleasant views rather than vile acts it’s easy to contain and won’t spill out to scorch the ruling class.

Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker in Afghanistan, was reported to have been kidnapped by the Taliban on 26th of September, 2010. She died on the 8th of October, with newspapers and networks filing uncritical reports that claimed that she was killed by the exploding “bomb vest” of her captors even as U.S. special forces tried to rescue her. Several days after she died, however, it was revealed that the cause of death may well have been a grenade thrown by her supposed rescuers; a report that was later officially acknowledged. The Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed that misinformation was the result of U.S. soldiers “failing to provide a complete…account of their actions”. He reported that the troops involved had been “disciplined” and said this fact showed “how seriously the US…regard[s] this matter”.

An essay in the Wall Street Journal tried to explain how such mix-ups can occur. The U.S. command rushed out a statement fearing that “news of the incident would spread before they had a chance to go public“, it claimed. A Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged the case wasn’t unique and claimed that false or differing accounts are the result of disorientation: “you have [the]  fog of war, lots of firing, lots of things going on“. What that essay and, indeed, the whole media didn’t say, however, is that these “failures” to provide accurate accounts are miserably common.

In August 2009 NATO’s force in Afghanistan, the ISAF, claimed that four “insurgents” had been bombed in Kandahar. The next day the Associated Press revealed the dead were mostly children of the ages ten to thirteen. NATO grudgingly admitted there were “allegations” that the four had been civilians, and that their reports “may have been inaccurate“. Why does it take widespread press reports to make the military recognise that pre-teen boys are not insurgents?

In December that same year the ISAF claimed that nine “individuals” had been shot after NATO troops “came under fire from several buildings“. They stated that assault rifles, ammo and bomb-making equipment had been found in the village. Multiple accounts, however, from Afghan investigators and UN officials alleged that ten youths had been killed, eight of them schoolchildren. The local headmaster claimed that many of the boys were handcuffed before being executed. The ISAF promised to investigate the claims but only gave a quiet, bland admission that the dead were innocent and fobbed their loves ones off with two thousand dollars each. (See here for my write-up of the vile affair.) How much “fog” does it take to fool you into thinking twelve to eighteen-year-old boys are fighters? How much “confusion” to make you think you’re coming under fire even when you are not? How much disorientation to make one imagine that an arsenal has been discovered even when, considering that nothing more was heard of it, there is no good reason to presume it ever existed?

This February NATO claimed their forces had engaged several insurgents in a firefight in Paktiya and promptly gunned them down. In a room nearby, they said, their troops found the bodies of two women, “tied up, gagged and killed“. An investigation by the Times reporter Jerome Starkey found that once again there had been no firing on NATO’s soldiers. The dead were civilians and, in fact, the women had been killed by NATO troops. He wrote that survivors were then forced to stand outside with their feet bare against the cold while their injured loved ones were denied medical treatment. The ISAF claimed that the idea they had been dishonest was “categorically false” but admitted that the dead had been blameless civilians. How did they merely imagine being fired upon? How did they mistake two women – pregnant women – that they had killed for bodies that may have been dead for hours? How did they innocently regard the corpses of the local police chief, his brother, a district-attorney, and a teenage girl and come away thinking that they had been insurgents?

The propagation of these fictions cannot be reduced to incompetence. Once a bread knife has made one too many unfortunate slips from a loaf towards your heart it is time to recognise that your beloved offspring is not just clumsy but after your savings. The multiplicity of lurid, phantasmagoric narratives are evidence of systematic deception, either tolerated or encouraged by authorities. After another such case, when the ISAF claimed that dead insurgents had been  identified on a biometric database, only to admit that they had all been civilians, a Reuters journalist dropped them a line

Reporter: When you say you were wrong to call the two as known insurgents are you saying they were civilians?

Spokesman: Uh, yes sir.

Reporter: So why were they referred to as such simply for turning up on a database which thousands of people are entered into for a number of reasons?

Spokesman: I can’t get into that.

There have been aggressive institutional attempts to stop the grisly truth from being revealed. In an article for Harvard’s Neiman Watchdog Jerome Starkey wrote that if you “challenge [NATO]…they will challenge you“. After he had revealed their cover-up of slayings in Paktiya they tried to discredit him, alleging that he was dishonest…

They claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my shorthand record. When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.

Starkey wrote that other journalists weren’t as intrepid as he and his more fearless colleagues. Greedy for access to NATO officials and troops they “accept…spin-laden press releases churned out of Kabul headquarters”. As Medialens have documented, the British press all too often ignores killings or accepts the NATO lies. It is quite plausible that these lies have caused yet further deaths. The careless attitude that must have spawned such tragedies could have been chastened if previous killings had been recognised.
Indeed, we might ask if the murders that a U.S.’s “kill team” are alleged to have obscured simply went unreported or were given a bravura retelling. In Kunar, at the least, it seems that the ISAF’s men escaped with murder. The killers of ten helpless men and boys roam free and the lies keep appearing. That is how seriously they regard this matter.

Churchill once said that if Hitler invaded hell he’d praise the Devil in the House of Commons. If Lucifer had claimed to be a staunch opponent of Marxism you can bet that post-war he’d have been on the Allies’ payroll. After the release of thousands of World War Two documents Professors Richard Breitman and Norman Goda have written a study(pdf) on the curious shenanigans that followed. One chapter discusses the U.S. and U.K.’s employment of Ukrainian collaborationists and murderers.

Mykola Lebed and Stephan Bandera were Ukrainian partisans who’d long fought for their nation’s ethnic purity. After the Nazis occupied Europe their guerrilla force, the OUN, began on-off relations with the Third Reich. They received funding and Lebed was trained by the Gestapo but they were too independent to maintain a firm alliance. “On the one hand, [they] fought German rule,” Breitman and Goda report, “On the other, [they] pursued [their] own ethnic cleansing policies complementing German aims.” “You welcomed Stalin with flowers,” they warned local Jews, “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet.” Bandera was arrested in 1941 but under Lebed the OUN only grew more fearsome: many Jews were killed while hundreds of Poles were massacred.

After the war Bandera was employed by MI6, who began to train his agents and transport them to Ukraine. They saw him as a “bandit type” with a “terrorist background“; “no better or worse than others of his kind“. How encouraging. Lebed, meanwhile, was aligned with the U.S.. They described him as a “well-known sadist and collaborator of the Germans“, responsible for “wholesale murders of Ukrainians, Poles and Jew[s]“. This, apparently, did not preclude him from being a fine employee and they signed him up to fight against the Soviets. He was shielded from demands for justice and flown New York where he worked in intelligence for nearly thirty years. “As late as 1991 the CIA tried to dissuade [investigators] from approaching the German, Polish, and Soviet governments for war-related records [pertaining] to the OUN.” In 1992 they claimed they had no files on the man, which suggests that they were buried very deep or the agency was still quite embarrassed. It’s the soulless realpolitik of the playground. “Him? No, don’t know ‘im mate. Not my type.”

More on this theme…

Operation Gladio and the Nazis

The U.S. cover-up of Unit 731

Mobsters? War Criminals? Just call ‘em anti-Communists

Below I copy in a fascinating memo from General Charles Willoughby[*] – Doug MacArthur’s Chief of Intelligence – which shows the U.S. military’s eagerness to get their hands on Unit 731’s “invaluable” research into “BW” – biological warfare. He reveals the Japanese were sweetened with “direct payments” and “payments in kind” (“food, miscellanious gift items“) and boasts that it was a “mere pittance“. At 150 to 200,ooo yen it was indeed a snip for the U.S., but one might feel that justice for the thousands of Chinese, Manchurian, Russian and, perhaps, British and American victims should be factored somewhere amongst the expenditure. Willoughby goes on to claim that since their pampered captives have revealed so much they might go on to offer findings related to “chemical warfare” and “death rays“.

Bert Roling, a Judge at Asia’s Nuremburg, later said it was “a bitter experience for [him] that centrally ordered Japanese war criminality of the most disgusting kind was kept secret from the Court by the U.S. government“. At the expense of truth and justice the atrocities of one war were forgotten in the cause of those assumed to follow it.


It’s one of the sicker jokes of our recent history that Unit 731 is best known for the infamously noxious Chinese film, Men Behind The Sun. The violence that it portrays is – in the West, at least – more notorious than the horrors it was based upon. While the Japanese program of human experimentation differs from the Holocaust in scope and intention it’s not entirely unlike the final solution being eclipsed by the reputation of The Night Porter. This, from what I’ve read, isn’t all that accidental.

Unit 731 was established in the 1930s to conduct chemical and biological research. It was the headquarters of many other giant units, based around China, Manchuria and Singapore. Under General Shirō Ishii, a Japanese officer and scientist, its programmes largely centred on human experimentation. In gigantic labs of awful, clinical indifference prisoners were infected with disease, exposed to intense cold or chopped apart while still alive. In the midst of pain and death they were carefully studied. The sick rigor of the Japanese inquiry is borne out by just how influential their findings remain. Dr Yoshimura Hisato’s torture of frozen captives[1], for example, now informs our research into frostbite[2].

The Unit also carried out biological weapons research. Captives were infected with spores inside laboratories, and attacks were launched against Chinese villages and towns. Tainted rats and fleas were spread[3] and it’s claimed that poisoned sweets were distributed[4]. Their victims weren’t treated like lab rats – those tests are regulated. This was a dearth of fellow feeling.

After the war, and the odd speculative news report, Ishii was arrested by U.S. intelligence agents. Sheldon Harris writes, in his Factories of Death[5]

Ishii was permitted to live in style at his Tokyo residence and was considered under house arrest. He was not transported to the prison where the principal war criminals were held.

Indeed, Harris claims that the U.S. suppressed the evidence of Ishii’s guilt, leaning on Ralph Teatsworth, the United Press Association’s bureau chief.

Several investigations were launched into Unit 713 but in contrast with the coming trial of Nazi doctors they weren’t undertaken with an eye on justice. Tsuneishi Keiichi writes that [6]

…not one of the members of Unit 731 who returned to Japan was tried as a war criminal. Instead…unit officers were asked to provide information about their wartime research, not as evidence of war crimes, but for the purpose of scientific data gathering. In other words, they were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for supplying their research data.

The first…two reports contained information on the unit’s bacteria bombs, but did not address the subject of human experimentation or the trial use of biological weapons. Kitano Masaji…was instructed by Lt. Gen. Arisue Seizo, the Japanese chief of intelligence, that he should not talk about “human experimentation and biological weapons trials”…In other words, until that time, these two subjects had been effectively concealed.

At the end of 1946, however, the U.S. caught wind that Russia was planning to try cases involving human experimentation and biological weapons. Two further reports were produced to deal with the claims. One, by Dr Edwin Hill and Dr Joseph Victor, discussed the information that the Unit had acquired; information that “could not [have been] obtained in our…laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation”. Hill hoped that the scientists he’d bought this information from “w[ould] be spared embarrassment”.

He needn’t have worried. An internal memorandum claimed “any ‘war crimes’ trial would completely reveal [their] data to all nations” and, thus, “publicity must be avoided”. In a lengthy article for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Jonathan Powell revealed the fruits of some of this data[7]

U.S. biological warfare experts learned a lot from their Japanese counterparts. While we do not know exactly how much this information advanced the American program, we have the Fort Detrick doctors’ testimony that it was “invaluable”. And it is known that some of the biological weapons developed later were at least similar to ones that had been part of the Japanese project. Infecting feathers with spore diseases was one of Ishii’s achievements and feather bombs later became a weapon in America’s biological warfare arsenal.

While the U.S. did its bit to cover up the Unit’s crimes Japan was never going to admit its armed force’s misdeeds. Its programmes have hardly been recognised since. Some of the criminals oozed into a peaceful retirement; others became widely respected professionals. Masaji Kitano became a director for the profitable pharma company, the Green Cross. Hisato was made President of the Medical Faculty of the University of Kyoto. General Shiro Ishii died a calm, quiet death in total freedom. I’ll bet Mengele would have kicked himself if he’d known. If only he’d done more research into biological weapons he might have been immune rather than a morality tale.

There’s a decent documentary on Unit 731 on youtube (1, 2, 3, 4). I wrote on the Allies’ employment of German fascists here. Some notes on human experimentation are here, here and here.

[1] Eckhart, Man, Medicine, and the State (pg. 189)

[2] Just try googling “Studies on the Reactivity of Skin Vessels to Extreme Cold

[3] Harbin and Kattoulas, Time, “Black Death

[4] Michael Brockhoff, Unit 731: Nightmare in Manchuria

[5] Harris, Factories of Death (pg. 243)

[6] Tsuneishi, Z-Net, “Unit 731 and the Japanese Imperial Army’s Biological Warfare Program

[7] Powell, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “A Hidden Chapter in History

Another for the scrapbook…

This essay by Peter Maass is worth revisiting in the light of Wikileaks’ disclosures. In 2005 he interviewed American advisers to Iraq’s “Special Police“…

A few minutes after the interview started, a man began screaming in the main hall, drowning out the Saudi’s voice. “Allah!” he shouted. “Allah! Allah!” It was not an ecstatic cry; it was chilling, like the screams of a madman, or of someone being driven mad. “Allah!” he yelled again and again. The shouts were too loud to ignore. Steele left the room to find out what was happening. By the time he returned, the shouts had ceased. But soon, through the window behind me, I could hear the sounds of someone vomiting, coming from an area where other detainees were being held, at the side of the building.

Earlier I spoke briefly with an American counterintelligence soldier who works at the detention center. The soldier, who goes by the name Ken — counterintelligence soldiers often use false names for security reasons — said that he or another American soldier was present at 90 percent of the interrogations by the commandos and that he had seen no abuse. I didn’t have an opportunity to ask him detailed questions, and I wondered, in light of the beatings that I had seen soldiers watch without intervening, what might constitute abuse during interrogation. I also wondered what might be happening when American soldiers weren’t present.

The reality of these prisons – where technology, imagination and human malice were and are united with a bloodlust that transcends the minds of filmmakers – is undeniable. For years they’ve known of this abuse and we’ve had every reason to. Hell, it should have been predicted long before the invasion. As Maass noted, torture is hardly foreign to U.S. “counterinsurgencies”…

The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, with which it has often been compared, but El Salvador, where a right-wing government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency in a 12-year war beginning in 1980. The cost was high — more than 70,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, in a country with a population of just six million. Most of the killing and torturing was done by the army and the right-wing death squads affiliated with it. According to an Amnesty International report in 2001, violations committed by the army and associated groups included “extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings, ‘disappearances’ and torture…. Whole villages were targeted by the armed forces and their inhabitants massacred.”

James Steele, he who was interrupted by the screams of the abused, advised the army’s special forces in El Salvador. Steven Casteel, who’s helped out Iraq’s savage interior ministry, also worked there before serving in Columbia. There, the U.S. backed the murderous vigilantes Los Pepes. There’s a long tradition here, quietly re-establishing itself with each inglorious “intervention”. This, it seems, is what to expect from a superpower’s armed forces. Take it or leave it. Or, at least, try to make sure it needn’t leave the confines of its own damn borders.

“This won’t help a bit…”

The U.S. has “oh, gee, sorry!“-d for its 1940s program of infecting Guatamalans with syphilis and gonorrhea. The poor folks were tainted without their consent or even knowledge and, its claimed, were goaded into passing the diseases on. In a truly damning paper(pdf) Susan Reverby exposes the American physician’s gruesome practices…

On the women inmates…the inoculum was inserted after needles were used to abrade the women’s forearms, face or mouth. With the men, the inoculation was often much more direct…A doctor held the subject’s penis, pulled back the foreskin, abraded the penis slightly just short of drawing blood by scraping the skin with a hypodermic needle, introduced a cotton pledget (or small dressing) and dripped drops of the syphilitic emulsion onto the pad and through it to the roughed skin on the man’s penis for at least an hour, sometimes two.

In other studies of prophylaxis at an army barracks, the men were allowed to have sex with uninfected prostitutes, then had the syphilitic inoculum put into the meatus of their penis, told to urinate an hour later and apply differing kinds of chemical prophylaxis.42 In still other studies, the inoculum was placed on the cervix of prostitutes before they were allowed to have sex with the prisoners.

Without the vaguest desire to seem monomaniacal this affirms one o’ this weblog’s themes: the truth of conspiracies. Reverby informs us that the researchers involved had moral qualms but smothered them, believing, presumably, that it was all for a higher good. It’s also a lesson in the danger of staring so hard at your ultimate goal that you lose focus on what’s in between. This was just one of a series of medical machinations: in Tuskegee, poor black croppers, infected with syphilis, were researched on but never cured or even told of their disease. The rights of the subject – yes, whatever blasted species – shouldn’t be forgotten just ‘cos they won’t sabotage the test.

Elsewhere, Nafeez Ahmed writes on the U.S.’s long campaign in Guatamala…

In other documents, the US noted that the democratic revolution of 1944 had contributed to “a strong national movement to free Guatemala from the military dictatorship, social backwardness, and ‘economic colonialism’, which had been the pattern of the past”.

So in 1954, the US and British teamed up to violently overthrow Arbenz’s reformist democratic administration, and installed Col. Castillo Armas. To keep the new, illegitimate, counter-democratic dictatorship in power required extensive ‘force projection’, in particular the creation and support of a lethal network of government-backed right-wing death squads whose sole task was to slaughter peasants into submission.

The Guatamalan coup deserves to be notorious. It was quite extraordinary: in medical terms equivalent to “curing” a healthy patient with a dose of ebola. In fact, lots of modern interventions can be seen as more like viruses than antidotes.

This will seem familiar to anyone who’s taken note of the ISAF’s cruel deceit inside Afghanistan. It fits the tried-and-tested formula of massacres. Soldiers meet civilians; soldiers kill civilians; army claims civilians were really violent insurgents; people who were at the scene refute them. And nobody cares…

There were stark differences between the American military’s description of the raid and the one supplied by villagers.

The Iraqi police said the raid started about 1 a.m. Wednesday, with at least four American helicopters providing support. Major Phillips said the troops came under fire as they approached the suspect’s house and shot back, killing four suspected insurgents — he said he did not know their ages — and wounding three others. Two residents of the village who came out of their homes with weapons were also fatally shot by the troops, he added.

Local residents described a far different scene, one of chaos and fear as American soldiers and Iraqi security officers moved through the area in the darkness. They accused the Iraqis of firing indiscriminately, often at people who represented no threat.

Iraqi officials state the victims were civilians and sources claim they were as young as 10 and old as 85. They’re unlikely to get justice. Even if they do it’s meager comfort as they’ll never get a chance to live again.

Weeks ago the media were lauding President Obama’s boast that the “[U.S.] combat mission in[side] Iraq ha[d] ended“. The news often seems to be to truth what pro-wrestling is to competitive sports. Oh, yes, it’s all impressive but — it isn’t a sport. As for the armed forces -well – it has shown scant regard for truth. Then again, its missions have been starkly opposed to it. It might be seen as the unspoken foe.

Via Chris Floyd, who you must read on Christine O’Donnell. (Or I’ll hunt you down. Yes, you behind the laptop screen.)

From Downing Street on Tuesday morning came a deep, almost subterranean rumbling.

Was it the Underground? Was the plumbing playing up again? Or had it come from the direction of little Florence Cameron’s nappy? No. It was simply Henry Kissinger paying a call.

Mr Kissinger, whose voice is even deeper than Ruth Kelly’s, dropped in on the Chancellor, George Osborne for a private meeting.

Happily the papers have informed me that the Bilderberg “boil[s] down to a group of willy-waggling old men” and so I’ve no need to feel anxious when our nation’s Chancellor get pally with a lying, guileful and murderous powermonger. Why, they’re probably just talking about – ooh, I dunno – golf.

Here’s a coupla reads for you: Greg Mitchell on Alyssa Peterson…

“Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

“The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: “She said that she did not know how to be two people; she … could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.”

She was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. “But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle…”

…and Kate Allen on Iraqi jails…

[T]he sadistic mistreatment of prisoners supposedly in Iraqi official care has been a feature of the entire post-Saddam period, and in many ways the savagery of the abuse has rivalled that of the dictatorial Saddam years.

A new report from Amnesty International details some of this abuse. Methods include: rape or the threat of rape; beatings with cables and hosepipes; prolonged suspension by various limbs; removal of toenails with pliers; electric shocks to the genitals; piercing of the body with electric drills; asphyxiation with plastic bags; being forced to sit on broken bottles. Add to this vicious beatings and imprisonment for months or years – sometimes in secret prisons, generally without access for family or lawyers and invariably without formal charges being brought – and you get some idea of the degraded nature of Iraq’s response to the security threats it faces.

When Maliki was charged with torture he described the claims as “lies“; “a smear campaign by…foreign embassies and the media“. U.S. forces could have told him that it’s best to zip yer lip and bin the evidence. Now, with hundreds of accounts from NGOs and the UN, his denials look emptier than a Christian Scientist’s medicine cabinet.

Charge into a country in the midst of bullets, gas and bombs; knock the power structure out and rule with violent disregard…Well, you’re hardly laying down foundations for liberalism. It’s a bit like pouring salt on weeds and claiming flowers will grow.

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