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February 13, 2009
We Have Met the Enemy (II)By Greyhawk
(Or "we have met the enemy and he is us, too")
There's much to be gained from dialog with "the enemy" in any conflict. Reporters, however, don't have a monopoly on that dialog. Here, for example, is a story on efforts by US Army Capt. Samuel Cook, operating in Iraq's Salahuddin Province, to "turn" insurgents there into allies.
One man who came in to talk was Sarhan Hassan Wisme, a local legend, described by Cook as "the Robin Hood figure at the height of the insurgency in 2006." Sarhan boasted of having planted more than 200 bombs for attacks on U.S. troops, a claim he later happily repeated to Cook. His other specialty was killing locals who cooperated with the Americans. "The thing that intrigued me about him is that he was not afraid to tell us exactly what he had done to U.S. forces proud of it almost." The Americans had raided his house six times but never caught him.Read the whole thing to learn why Cook didn't shoot him on the spot. But understand that if he had (or if Tom Ricks had decided not to include that story in his new book) we wouldn't have insight into details like this:
During several more meetings in January, Sarhan told Cook his life story. He worked at a fertilizer factory in nearby Bayji, home of a major oil refinery, and obtained some of his bombmaking materials there. He had started attacking the Americans in the spring of 2004, motivated by news of the American abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.Note that he said spring of 2004 - that's when CBS news first broadcast the now infamous abu Ghraib pictures - and not fall of 2003, when the abuse took place, or winter 2004, when a soldier stationed there provided those pictures to Army investigators.
That soldier was then-Specialist Joe Darby, who would describe the abuse in graphic detail years later:
You have to understand, we were the most heavily mortared compound in Iraq. From the day we got there until the day I left, nobody took more mortars than we did. Nobody. We were taking them morning and night. It was just something you got used to. It became normal. After a while, we started having these surreal conversations while the mortars were ﬂying. We’d hear the boom of the launch, and then we’d argue about what size it was while the shit was still coming in.Whoops - once again I used the wrong quote. I meant to cite a description of the horrific naked pyramid inflicted on the prisoners by the sadistic guards at abu Ghraib but instead I've provided Darby's account of the actions of the "freedom fighters". Perhaps most people - like Sarhan Hassan Wisme - are already familiar enough with the torture photos and the story behind them.
Or perhaps not. There are still those among us who - in spite of a media barrage to the contrary - believe those actions were merely the work of rogue night shift guards at the prison camp, and not the result of direct orders from Donald Rumsfeld. Among that number - Joe Darby:
The general in charge of the prison was Janis Karpinski, but that didn’t mean she was ever there. To actually lay eyes on Karpinski took an act of God. She spent all her time in Kuwait or in the Green Zone Palace. She kept her happy ass in the nice, safe places. The only time she’d come by was when a dignitary was visiting. She’d ﬂy in a half hour before they got there, get briefed, lead the tour, and then ﬂy back out. Other than that, she had no idea what was going on. She did nothing but suck dignitary ass. I guess she didn’t like being in an overcrowded, violent prison with constant mortar ﬁre coming in. In the ﬁve months I was at Abu Ghraib, I only saw her twice.Darby's description of some of the night crew:
But most of these soldiers I had doubts about already. Like Sabrina Harman. She was a piece of shit from the day I met her. Before we ever got to Abu Ghraib, when we were still in Hilla, she had this kitten for three days when a dog came and killed it. So Harman decided to dissect it. She said there were no marks on the outside, so she dissected it and found some ruptured organs or something. And then she decided to mummify it. She tried different methods, but all she ended up with was the head. A damned mummiﬁed cat’s head, for Christ’s sake. This rotted-out head with pebbles for eyes. She stuck it on top of a soda can and carried it around with her everywhere. I didn’t give a rat’s ass what happened to her. I just tried to avoid her. Or Ivan Frederick, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the night shift. He and I avoided each other, too. We didn’t get along. Or Charles Graner. He and I got along, but we weren’t friends. Graner is one of those guys, he’s got an overpowering aura about him. People just like him. But if you see the other side, you understand that he’s not someone you want to get too close to. He’s manipulative. He has multiple personalities. He can be this religious guy, talking about God and the way things are supposed to be done, but he’s also got this very, very dark, evil side. We were talking in Hilla one time, before we got to Abu Ghraib. I’d been walking around smoking a cigarette, and he was working the gate to our compound, so I was talking to him for like ten minutes, and he was telling me about when he thought his wife was cheating on him. He said that he found himself across the street from their house, up on a hill, with a loaded riﬂe trained on the door, just waiting for them to come out. I said, “What happened?” and he said, “They never came out.”On a side note, Lynndie England - perhaps the most familiar of the accused abu Ghraib guards - has told the cat's head story, too:
Not long into their stay, two of the soldiers appeared at the base one day with animal carcasses. They'd found a dead goat and a dead cat somewhere and started slicing them up. Someone took a photo of a soldier pretending to have sex with the goat's head. "Then they cut off the cat's head and shoved it on the top of a soda bottle," England says."I still didn’t think it would be as big a deal as it turned out to be." Darby said of turning a handful of dirtbags over to the Army's Criminal Investigation Division. "I thought they would be taken off duty and tried, but I didn’t think the world would ever hear about it. I never thought it would explode the way it did."
What Darby didn't know was that one of the Soldiers - Ivan Frederick, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the night shift - was going to blackmail the Army in hopes of avoiding prosecution.
"The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," he said. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case."Ultimately Frederick would enter a guilty plea and spend three years in prison for his part in the abuse. Meanwhile, in addition to an increase in "insurgent" recruits there were other immediate results of the CBS broadcast of his photo collection:
You’ve also spent some time downrange. Where were you from January 2004 to January 2005?Elsewhere:
At the beginning of May, the spotlight of national publicity had swung completely away from Fallujah and onto the Abu Ghraib scandal. The prison abuse story also pushed Sadr's rebellion to the back pages. MajGen Dempsey had backed Sadr and his bruised militia into a corner in Najaf. Instead of arresting him, the Iraqi politicians agreed to let him go free. The reason they gave was that the Coalition could ill afford to make him a martyr at a time when the Arab press was showing the Abu Ghraib pictures as proof that Americans were the oppressors in Iraq. Sadr was allowed to leave Najaf and resume his plotting, with the warrant for his arrest abated.And...
Twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Berg, a friendly Californian - part entrepreneur, part youthful wanderer - was traveling by himself in Baghdad when he disappeared in mid-April. In mid-May, the terrorist Zarqawi posted a video on his web site, Al Ansar. The grainy pictures showed a bearded and gaunt Berg, clad in an orange prisoner jumpsuit, sitting in a white plastic chair in front of a beige wall. Five men clad in black, with facemasks and green chest vests holding AK clips, stood behind Berg as Zarqawi proclaimed retaliation for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Then shouting "God is great!" Zarqawi drew a long knife and leaped upon Berg. There was a scream, and a few seconds later Berg's severed head was placed on his bloody torso. The gory videotape made the prime-time news on Al Jazeera.And to all that we can now add
Sarhan boasted of having planted more than 200 bombs for attacks on U.S. troops, a claim he later happily repeated to Cook... He had started attacking the Americans in the spring of 2004, motivated by news of the American abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad....as did many others. US deaths in Iraq skyrocketed "post-abu Ghraib", and not until the surge operations did they return to pre-April 2004 levels. But prior to (and even throughout) the surge, US domestic pressures in response to the increasing violence in Iraq would lead many to demand withdrawal - and many more to anticipate it:
In January 2007, he had affiliated with al Qaeda after hearing its local mufti speak about the need to unify because the Americans were retreating from Iraq, and the insurgency had to stand as one to oppose the inevitable Persian attempt at domination."He" in this case being Sarhan Hassan Wisme, the "Robin Hood" who was motivated by abu Ghraib.
"I still have a lot of bad feelings toward the press." Joe Darby says.
Posted by Greyhawk / February 13, 2009 10:24 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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