Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

So the Obama administration has taken the rather unusual step of firing General David McKiernan, replacing him with General Stanley McChrystal. Reuters outlines what most see as the reason for the switch:

McChrystal is a former commander of special operations forces attuned to the style of counterinsurgency combat that the Obama administration has adopted as its strategy to thwart the Taliban and other militant groups...

McKiernan has pushed for an additional 10,000 troops in 2010, a proposal that appeared to run afoul of Gates who has expressed a reluctance to boost the force level beyond 68,000 troops... (link)
But General McChrystal has a rather dubious service record and it will be interesting to see if the media picks up on it.

Perhaps most seriously, General McChrystal appears in a 2006 Human Rights Watch report on detainee abuse in Iraq. One section of the report is devoted to a detention and interrogation facility run by Task Force 121, a CIA and military team which was involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein in his spiderhole. Many allegations of prisoner abuse arose from goings-on at the facility, whose site at Baghdad Internatiol Airport was off-limits to the Red Cross. HRW says "abusive treatment was a regular part of interrogations" at the site.

According to HRW, Task Force 121's "targets have included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, but also hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees." General McChrystal, then commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, is said to have visited the facility a numerous occasions.

McChrystal seems to have given assurances to personnel at the site that neither the Red Cross nor any other inspectors would come to investigate the task force's activities:
Jeff [pseudonym for a soldier] explained that the colonel told them that he “had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.” Jeff did not question the colonel further on how these assurances were given to those in command in Camp Nama.

He explained that they were told: “they just don’t have access, and they won’t have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators.” ... (link)
The general seems to have a penchant for public relations, as when he fielded questions on the US miltary's attack on Al-Jazeera's Baghdad office which was rocketed despite American assurances that they would not target it as they had the Kabul office in 2001:
The offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad were hit directly by fire, killing their reporter, Tariq Ayoub.

Major Gen. Stanley McChrystal responded to inquiries about the deaths by saying, ''We are at war.'' ''Our forces came under fire, they exercised their inherent right of self defense.'' ... (link)
Anti-war.com shows McChrystal piling on the charm:
At the Pentagon briefing on Saturday afternoon, a reporter asked General Stanley McChrystal and Pentagon Spokesperson Victoria Clark about a report by General Franks that the US was currently holding 1,000-2,000 Iraqi prisoners. "What happened to the other Iraqis who surrendered?" General McChrystal mumbled, and then said "They must have run off." No follow-up question was asked... (link)
And Norman Soloman and Lisa Finnegan offer some further useful insights into McChrystal's ability to spin a good tale. Writing on the early stages of the war on Iraq:
U.S. Army Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went even further when he told journalists that the United Statees has achieved "unprecedented precision" that enabled it "in most cases, to his exactly what wer are trying to hit, and scale the munitions appropriately to the task...

[Yet] Marc Garlasco, a U.S. intelligence official during the war, who went to work for Human Rights Watch after he left the intelligence community, told the New York Times that the precision-bombing shock-and-awe campaign was an "abject failure." "We failed to kill the HVTs (high value targets) and instead killed civilians and engendered hatred and discontent in some of the population. [Lisa Finnegan and Norman Solomon, No questions asked, Greenwood Publishing (2006), p. 112. (See google books)]
And as we see in this excerpt from Stan Goff, McChrystal was involved in the Pat Tillman fiasco:
At the highest levels, there was a decision to be made about how far one could get away with the lie [re: Pat Tillman's death] in the short term, and hide their own complicity in case the lie was exposed in the long term.

On April 29, Major General Stanley McChrystal - commander of the task force that the Rangers served in Afghanistan, and head of the most secretive joint-service force in the US military - sent a memo to John Abizaid, telling him to warn everyone all the way to Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush, an investigation "will find that it is highly possible Cpl. Tillman was killed by friendly fire... I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public."

No reference to telling the truth... "which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public." ... (link)
This memo was sent the day after McChrystal had approved Tillman's Silver Star citation which proclaimed the fiction that Tillman had died in combat, not by friendly fire as was in fact the case. So, while the truth might later prove an "embarrassment," in the meantime the military would use Tillman's memory in their propaganda to recruit more cannon fodder.

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