Interview with Chris Hedges, my friend takes on Israel’s travel ban, summer reading and heroes on film

When I was in DC at the end of May, I taped an interview on Afghanistan with Chris Hedges. Chris is a Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times reporter and author who has for so many years been a brilliantly dominant force in writing painfully objective, truthful and explosive articles, essays and books on American foreign policy and society. It was my first time getting to spend any substantial amount of time with Chris, as we had the better part of the afternoon together, an afternoon I am very thankful for having had. I basically feel like I got a free graduate seminar 🙂

Here’s the interview:

Here also is Chris’ speech from the previous day at the Lincoln Memorial during the Veterans For Peace antiwar rally:

 

My friend Ariel Gold, who works for Code Pink as their Middle East Campaign Director, is in Palestine to support Issa Amro. Issa is a Palestinian human rights leader who recently was put on trial by the Israeli military. Ariel, who is Jewish and from NY, actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS is a Palestinian led, international, nonviolent effort to change the government of Israel’s well documented apartheid policy towards the Palestinian people; much the same way boycotts were used in the American South to support the Civil Rights movement and all three actions were used against the South African government. I support BDS as well. I strongly urge you to do so too. You can find out how to do so here.

Earlier this year, the government of Israel declared that people who support BDS would be denied entry into Israel. Israel also continued to declare BDS to be an anti-semitic movement, which it is not; claiming that BDS is anti-semitic is about as justifiable as claiming the boycott movements that were utilized against the Jim Crow American South or Apartheid South Africa were anti-white or anti-Christian. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago, Ariel was not denied entry. However, after attending Issa’s trial, a right wing newspaper announced Ariel’s presence to the Israeli government, complaining that the Israeli government was not living up to its promise to ban people like Ariel. Of course, Ariel could be deported, but there is also the danger that members of the often violent communities that compose the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank may identify Ariel and take matters into their own hands. Ariel, true to her self, has not backed down and, showing great courage, is still in Palestine working alongside her Palestinian brothers and sisters. You can read more about this here:

and watch this short video:

 

Peter Van Buren, whose book on his time in Iraq, We Meant Well, got him fired from the State Department has a new book out: Hooper’s War. It is a novel of alternative history, set during an American invasion of mainland Japan. It is an anti-war novel and it is excellent. Peter sent me an advance copy and asked me to blurb it. This was my honest-to-God response after reading it:

“PVB obviously is a scholar and historian both of Japan and America, there is no doubt to that as you read Hooper’s War, a modern day Catch 22 or Slaughter House Five that we desperately need. Peter has obviously been to war, as have I, and his heart has been broken, as has mine. He broke it again, several times in Hooper’s War, I wasn’t sure I had that much left to break. He’s owed a debt of gratitude for this, for bearing such witness and testimony for so many millions who cannot do so for themselves, those who have been so ghastly immolated in our past and current wars and who can only cry out when people like Peter do so for them.”

Peter has done a number of interviews on Hooper’s War over the last several months, but this one, with Scott Horton, is one I very much recommend for Peter and Scott’s deep, thoughtful and moving discussion on war and moral injury. For those who don’t have a full hour or if you only have a few minutes, I recommend beginning the interview at around the 27 minute mark, where Peter defines moral injury and speaks about veteran suicide.

My friend Bill, who runs the blog The Contrary Perspective, recommended B. Traven’s The Death Ship to me. Traven is best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Written eighty years ago, Traven’s prose, style and tone is reminiscent of that generation’s cadre of post WWI ex-pats, of which he was one. The book is an excoriation of the world post-war, of the new establishments and conventions that arose post-war, of the stupidity of the war itself of course, but of the new ways of the world in particular. The resemblances and similarities to today’s world are genuine and rattling. My response to Bill upon completing The Death Ship, with a bit redacted so as to try not and spoil the ending:

“I used to keep all my books, however several years ago I decided to unload my library with the exception of the books that had personal meaning to me or with the exception of the books that caused me to think or kept me thinking. I thought about The Death Ship every day I read it and I’ve thought about it in the days since I finished it. I have a feeling, in a few months, when I make a run to the used book store to sell back my books that The Death Ship will remain behind in my house.

As I write this now, I am struck by the prescient savagery of Traven’s thesis, summarized _______________at the very end of the book. All because of bureaucracy, all because of man-made borders; borders that didn’t exist prior to________, borders that were soon to be erased again _________. The nonsense of it all, the cruelty of it all, and it all still plays out now.

I think you are aware that I was just in Palestine in February and March, where I spent time with people who have been ruined by such borders and their attendant walls. In October, prior to that, I was North Dakota, where to my embarrassment and shame, I spent the first moments of my life, ever, and it is half over, with the Native American community, those people who are the living lineage of 500 years of genocide, but whose more modern history and current lives are dominated by these inventions of borders, treaties, walls, reservations, etc. And, of course, my own time in Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations that had their borders drawn by the West, their people corralled, marshaled, divided and amalgamated.

So now I have Traven’s other book’s on my list to look for when I step into used books stores :)”

Finally, Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary on our drone killing program National Bird is available on Netflix. I am mentioning this because I want you to watch it. Not just as it is so well done, so important, and because Sonia does such an admirable and honorable job in informing us of the reality of the brutal, criminal and senseless killings we are conducting with our flying robots against thousands and thousands of innocent people, every day, but also because Sonia documents so very well the lives of three people who were involved in the drone program AND WHAT THEY DID ABOUT IT. One of them, Lisa Ling, has become a friend of mine these last few years, and a hero of mine. So if you haven’t seen it, please give National Bird a viewing, even if you know about the drone program, you’ll see what three courageous people did about something they knew was wrong.

Wage Peace.

 

 

The Lies Don’t End: Afghanistan and Palestine

Just a short post with links to interviews I did on the war in Afghanistan with The Real News Network and on the occupation in Palestine with Scott Horton. The transcript for the interview with TRNN is included at the bottom of this post. Also, the trailer for the documentary feature on the Veterans For Peace delegation to the popular resistance in Palestine is pasted below, please give it a watch. Wage Peace!

TRRN interview: 

5/3/17 – Matthew Hoh, a military veteran and diplomat who resigned his State Department post in protest of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, says the 16-year Afghan war won’t end until the U.S. drops its strategy of sporadic escalation and insistence on Taliban surrender, with Afghan civilians suffering the worst consequences – TRRN

Scott Horton interview:

04/19/17 – Matthew Hoh on his experiences protesting for human rights in occupied Palestine – The Scott Horton Show

Matthew Hoh, a Marine veteran and former State Department official, discusses his recent activism on Palestinian rights issues; the common myths recited to Americans to keep them from learning the truth about Israeli apartheid; the new generation of Palestinian and American non-violent activist leaders; and why Gaza is shaping up to be one of history’s greatest human catastrophes.

Finally, here is the trailer for the documentary film Chris Smiley is producing on the recent Veterans For Peace delegation to the Palestinian popular resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:

Transcript for TRNN interview on Afghanistan:

Aaron Maté: It’s “The Real News,” I’m Aaron Maté. The 16-year war in Afghanistan is deadlier than ever. A new US government report says, “Last year was the worst so far for Afghan civilians and soldiers. A recent Taliban attack killed more than 160 Afghan recruits and the violence could grow as the spring fighting season begins. In a recent visit, Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said he expects a tough year ahead.James Mattis: And I’d say that we’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission. 2017’s going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood and will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.Aaron Maté: The White House is now considering a request for more US troops. At a hearing earlier this year, the US commander in Afghanistan, said he needs several more thousand.John McCain: How many more do you need to get this stalemate reversed?General Nicholson: Mr. Chairman, I have adequate resourcing in my counter terrorism mission. In my train, advise and assist mission however, we have a shortfall of a few thousand.Aaron Maté: So with the potential of more US forces, what is next for this never-ending war? Well joining us is Matthew Hoh. He served as a Marine in the Iraq war and later resigned from the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of US policy there. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, welcome.

Matthew Hoh: Hello and thank you for having me on.

Aaron Maté: Thanks for joining us. So talk to us about what is now being considered. There’s about 9000 US forces on the ground in Afghanistan right now. The White House is considering adding what is said to be a few thousand more. What do you make right now of the current US strategy?

Matthew Hoh: The policy and the rhetoric for the Americans in Afghanistan have remained the same. Basically, since the Americans and NATO have started the military escalation of the war, which predates the Obama escalation. I mean, this goes back to the NATO escalation in Afghanistan, which begins about 2005, 2006, which if people remember, is when President Karzai was being criticized for being only the mayor of Kabul and for the humanitarian interventionists out there are the folks in the western part of the world who wanted to see democracy flourish, who felt that we had to prove that the Western way was the right way, that couldn’t be allowed.So what you had in 2005 was this escalation of the NATO presence in Afghanistan and that’s when you really start to see the insurgency start to re-flourish the Taliban, rather than reentering forcibly into Afghanistan in many cases being pulled back into Afghanistan. And so, much of what we’re seeing Aaron is the same rhetoric, the same policies, the same type of things we’ve seen over and over again on the American side, on the NATO side of, “We’re going to send in more troops, more money, we’re going to help the Afghans build, we’re going to help them stand up,” but the reality is, is that we’re just fueling the same type of corruption. We’re keeping the same warlords and drug lords in place and we’re seeing the conflict continue to grow because all we’re doing is continuing the bloodshed.

Aaron Maté: Okay Matthew, so if the US wanted to seriously change course, what would some tangible options be? There have been some fitful attempts at something resembling a peace process, including negotiations with the Taliban, or indirect negotiations, but those never seem to pan out. And part of the conventional thinking on that is that the Taliban isn’t seriously interested in an accommodation because they are doing well.

Matthew Hoh: Well that’s been a complete and total lie on behalf of the American government and I think that’s very clear now in late … I mean that’s part of the reason why I resigned. I mean, my story is a minor story. I was a US State Department officer in Afghanistan, I was a mid-level one but part of my … When we were approached by Taliban surrogates my instructions from the embassy was, “Do not talk to them. Negotiation is not what we’re here for.” It is now certainly clear that what General Petraeus did in Iraq say, was not to negotiate peace in Iraq, was negotiate an exit for the Americans in Iraq, was to negotiate a retreat. A way to get President Bush right out of Iraq. The same thing is true for what he did for McChrystal, was going to do for President Obama in Afghanistan; escalate the war, make it look good enough for the Americans to withdraw and then blame it on the Afghans that they couldn’t handle it. Same with the Iraqis. In our case, was there was no interest in negotiations on the Americans’ part and this has been shown over and over again. If you look at various press from the Middle East from Western Central Asia, you can see that throughout 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, there were overtures. 2011 even. There were overtures by the insurgency to negotiate. The American media, unfortunately, never really picked up on this. Most importantly though, and there are other figures too who were commenting on this from the United Nations. Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was the UK and the NATO senior diplomat in Afghanistan has spoken about this, a complete absence, a complete lack of desire on the part of the Americans for anything resembling peace, only wanting victory, only wanting a military win in Afghanistan, only demanding surrender from the insurgency. But most importantly, most recently, at the end of 2016 the New York Times reported on the Norwegian attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. It lasted for three years, from 2007 up until 2011 when the United States put 100,000 more American troops into Afghanistan and escalated the war dramatically. Said, “We’re not going to negotiate. We’re going to beat you. We’re going to force you to surrender.” The Norwegians actually met with Mullah Omar. Up until last year there was no indication that no Western or no non-Muslim had ever met with Mullah Omar. Now we learn that Norwegians had actually met with him to discuss peace in the years up to the American escalation of the war and Americans had no interest. My government, your government, our government … had no interest in talking about peace in Afghanistan. We only wanted a military victory.

Aaron Maté: Is the current approach of relying so heavily on the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, is that sustainable? Because already in the first six weeks of this year, according to that report that we talked about, more than 800 Afghan forces have been killed and every year about one third of the Afghan military and police desert their post, which is a dynamic very similar to what happened in Iraq before the time that Isis took over control of towns like Ramadi and Mosul. They would do so in part because the Iraqi military just fled.Matthew Hoh: I think it’s sustainable as long as the American Congress continue to spend three and a half, four billion dollars a year propping up the Afghan military, that’s what we’re doing right now. So as long as we continue to do that, it’s sustainable because the Afghan economy has nothing else. There is nothing else in the Afghan economy. Of course, with the exception of the Afghan drug trade, with the exception of the opium trade. So as long as that’s continuing, there will be people who are desperate enough to go into the military or into the police services or into the intelligence services but as you said Aaron, 1/3 of them are getting into it and realizing that, one, “I don’t want to die for this.” But there’s another part of why they’re also leaving. Part of it is, “I don’t want to die for this, it’s not worth it.” The other part is what they’re seeing. What they’re seeing is obscene.One of the reports that came out recently from the United Nations is the prevalence of torture that is used by the Afghan security forces across the board, whether it be the Afghan army, the Afghan intelligence or the Afghan police forces, torture is so widespread in use by the Afghan security forces. It is used by every branch of the Afghan security forces and it is used on a common and routine basis. Anywhere from 25 to 50% of detainees are reporting torture being used against them by various branches of the Afghan security forces. So many of these recruits, many of these Afghan recruits who are entering and then leaving the Afghan security forces, certainly are doing it because they say, “Hey, I don’t want to die for this corruption. I don’t want to die for these drug lords and warlords ultimately who I’m working for on behalf of the Afghan army.” But a lot of them are also leaving Aaron, I believe, because of what they’re seeing.

Aaron Maté: Finally Matthew Hoh, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor. Can you talk about this strange dynamic we have where there are elements of the Pakistani government that support the Taliban inside Afghanistan but at the same time, Pakistani military getting huge amounts of support and aid from the US every single year. So can there be a solution to the Afghan war without a serious change in policy inside Pakistan?

Matthew Hoh: Well none of these wars. Whether they be in Asia or Africa or the Middle East or the Americas or wherever will stop until the Western world, in particular the United States, as well as Russia, stops exporting arms as well as stops funneling money into these conflicts. Pakistan, this is probably maybe one of the heights of absurdity and the heights of obscenity, because we do. We don’t have as many troops in Afghanistan as we once did and we’re certainly not taking a little [inaudible 00:10:38] as we once did, but we did for many years. We were having our young men and women being killed by the people who were being funded and trained by the military that we were giving billions of dollars in assistance and aid and intelligence and support and who are generals were going out for cocktails with them, Washington DC, with their generals and above the surface there was some cat-fighting going on and maybe when Admiral Mullen left office he said some nastiest things about the Pakistanis but for the most part, they got along. But yes, there is this very real and the word “obscene” keeps coming to mind because I’m not sure how to describe it, but that is what we’re dealing here with Aaron. We’re dealing with this conflagration, this unholy mixture of the arms industry, of these politicians, of these generals, who are willing to trade various interests in order to get their way, in order to see their career ambitions fulfilled, in order to see the maps on the board colored the way they want. And so if that means young men and women from Florida, Arkansas get killed in a country 9000 miles away by a bomb-maker who was trained by an intelligence operative who is funded by money appropriated by the U.S. Congress, but if that means that that country is then going to buy our F-16s, then so be it. Because they’re not going to buy, you know, MiG-31s from the Russian then. I mean this is the reality of what happens in Washington DC.

Aaron Maté: Matthew Hoh, former US Marine and State Department official, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, thanks.

Matthew Hoh: Thank you Aaron.

Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on “The Real News.”END

The Afghanistan Quaqmire and the Individual Costs of War

I did an interview with Scott Horton a couple of weeks back on Afghanistan and then the United States dropped the largest non nuclear bomb ever to be used against life in the history of mankind a couple of days later.

I know the district it was used in. I was close to Achin in 2009, maybe just a couple dozen miles away, but never in that district. Our media, the same media that drones on about Afghanistan repeating the same absurdities about the war, year after year, for 16 years now without self awareness, implies the area was near barren, desert like almost, a warren of just caves and tunnels, but that district is far from being empty of life, far from being devoid of parents and children, sisters and brothers, lovers, aunts and uncles, teachers, neighbors, and all the other sundry living beings that inhabit your own heart, your own soul and your own memories.

Like most of eastern Afghanistan, Achin’s mountain and river valleys are farmed upon and trafficked through, and as many as 100,000 people live in Achin. How many were killed, incinerated, melted and immolated in that super heated air burst from the Mother of All Bombs? We will not know any time soon enough. The US and Afghan governments are not reporting anything other than the typically specious body counts of dead ISIS fighters. Journalists from Reuters who visited the site reported no bodies, but such bodies, the bodily remains left that had not been incinerated by the fire ball created by the blast, would have been collected and buried by surviving local Afghans, or collected and disposed of by American and Afghan troops to hide their murders. That has certainly been done enough times during these wars and previous wars, I’m sure, if necessary, it was done again.

And the notion that the bomb was used against the tunnels? The lies just don’t stop in these wars, or in any wars. You don’t use a bomb that detonates above ground against a tunnel system. You use a weapon that will penetrate through the dirt, that will detonate below the surface to break apart the tunnels and cause them to collapse. Those journalists from Reuters found the tunnels intact, as they would from the MOAB blast, because the MOAB detonates above ground and would have had no effect on a tunnel system, no matter what our government and military says in their lies to us after they kill people. That bomb explodes above the surface, it is meant to kill people who are out in the open, people who are unprotected, and who are vulnerable; its purpose is simple: to punish people. There is no other reason for it. An American soldier was killed not far from there recently. We dropped the largest bomb ever to punish them. That is war. That is who we are as a people. Accept it.

Below is my interview with Scott, where we speak about Afghanistan and where we also speak about the costs of war to those who wage it. Not looking for any pity or sympathy here. The pain I experience is just, I think many of those who share in such guilt and who know the anguish of those in Achin and in all those places around the world, so many places, where the men, women and children cannot scream because of the oxygen snuffing heat, fire and pressure of our bombs, will agree.

More importantly, below that is a letter from my friend Kadir. Kadir fought with the Mujahadin in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. He’s since lived in Michigan, but has always fought for his country and his people, has always fought against Afghanistan’s occupation and for Afghanistan’s peace. Below is the heartbreaking text of a letter he wrote after the United States dropped that bomb on the people of Achin. Please read it.

Interview with Scott Horton

Letter from Kadir:

Short video interview and two long radio interviews

Here’s a short appearance from al-Jazeera America and a long clip from the great Scott Horton’s show:

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 9.16.36 PM

 

http://scotthorton.org/interviews/2014/09/14/091414-matthew-hoh/

Also, here’s an interview with Magaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of Clearing the Fog Radio:

http://clearingthefogradio.org/monday-sept-15-on-isis-syria-and-iraq-us-on-the-wrong-path/