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Replace Petraeus

Posted on Jun 2, 2009
USAF / Staff Sgt. Bradley A. Lail

By Fred Branfman

(Page 4)

McChrystal was also known for running the worst torture chambers in Iraq at his “Camp Nama,” (“Nasty Ass Military Area”), and forbidding the Red Cross access to them in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The Times fills in the details of the general’s résumé: “An elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein’s former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government’s torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. ... According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. `The reality is, there were no rules there,’ another Pentagon official said. ... The C.I.A. was concerned enough to bar its personnel from Camp Nama that August. ... Since 2003, 34 task force members have been disciplined in some form for mistreating prisoners. ... ” In May of 2006, Esquire interviewed a former Camp Nama interrogator named Jeff: “By his reckoning, at least half of the prisoners were innocent, just random Iraqis who got picked up for one reason or another. Sometimes the evidence against them was so slight, Jeff would go into the interrogation without even knowing their names.”

If McChrystal had little evidence against those he was imprisoning and torturing, it stands to reason he had no more solid grounds to judge those he was assassinating. And it was his teams that were responsible for on-the-ground targeting of the drones that have killed so many civilians. Kilcullen has estimated based on press reports that “over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians.” McChrystal bears much of the responsibility for this.

However, there has been no outside oversight whatsoever of Gen. McChrystal’s activities in Iraq. He killed, assassinated and tortured countless Iraqis for five years with total impunity. Were international law applied to his activities, he might well be investigated for war crimes rather than rewarded for them. Placing him in charge of 58,000 U.S. troops will ensure that such practices will not only continue but be greatly increased.

His tactics are militarily self-defeating as well as morally questionable.  As discussed above, numerous U.S. and Pakistani observers blame such tactics for the growing strength of America’s enemies. The evidence clearly indicates that if Petraeus and McChrystal continue their policies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, the United States could find itself facing its worst crisis since World War II.

Over the longer term, the nightmare scenarios that could ensue include: the Pakistan government falling and one or more of its 60 to100 nuclear weapons landing in extremists’ hands; rogue elements within the Pakistani military or foreign infiltrators getting control of said weapons; instability leading to limited or greater fighting between Pakistan and India, another nuclear power; civil war within Pakistan leading to tens of millions of refugees and casualties, of which the Swat Valley fiasco would be only a foretaste.


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Observers have suggested that the U.S. attempt to gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and remove them from the country, should the government be threatened. According to the Times, “As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. is unable to gain control of the weapons, for the inconvenient reason that “the United States does not know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located. ... American officials have never been permitted to see how much of the [American] money [for nuclear safeguards] was spent, the facilities where the weapons are kept or even a tally of how many Pakistan has produced.”

In the event of the imminent collapse of the Pakistani government and nuclear weapons falling into extremist hands, what would the U.S. do? Invade and occupy Pakistan with hundreds of thousands of troops? That would probably require a reinstatement of the draft and possibly ignite an even wider war. Would we threaten an extremist government with our own nukes?

Preventing such nightmare scenarios should be America’s top priority, and reining in Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal is clearly necessary to doing so. Petraeus should be replaced and McChrystal’s nomination defeated if America is to have any serious hope of avoiding disaster in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

Fred Branfman has covered the CIA and irregular war since the clandestine bombing of Laos. His work has appeared in Harper’s, Playboy, The Washington Monthly, Liberation and The Progressive, among others.

New and Improved Comments

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By SINGLE PAYER, June 5, 2009 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

It is the economy, stupid.
Now the core of this conversation is about the AK-47, OMG!

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By heavyrunner, June 5, 2009 at 12:21 am Link to this comment

It would require a few million U.S troops to attempt to control Pakistan, a huge nation with a population of 170 million. Such an effort would kill a lot of people, but would be completely doomed to failure.

Colonialism won’t work anymore for many reasons.  People are more educated in general.  AK-47s are widespread and are a great equalizer.

The Pakistanis also possess many nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting Baghram or anyplace else U.S. military personnel could disembark for Pakistan. 

Of course, Baghram wouldn’t work anyway because U.S. forces in Afghanistan are supplied through Pakistan, that is, from ships docking in Karachi.  There is no other access route to Pakistan or Afghanistan, so the idea of war against Pakistan is absurd on its face.  The other routes would be through China, India, or Iran.  Forget it.

Petraeus tossed the coin at this year’s Super Bowl.  His uniform needed a sandwich board to display all the medals and ribbons he was wearing.  He looked like he came from a Banana Republic, not the United States of America.

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By Lou, June 4, 2009 at 3:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The falsity of Petraeus’s Iraq “surge” success will become increasingly evident as US troops pull out and all hell breaks loose.

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By ardee, June 4, 2009 at 3:02 am Link to this comment

hippie4ever, June 4 at 2:12 am

I am curious, by what standard do you judge the effectiveness of the use of drone aircraft as successful?

I believe they are very successful in turning large segments of the population against our efforts there.

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By hippie4ever, June 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment

Petraeus is a technical general trying to wage a technical war. An unruly civilian population requires the use of ground soldiers and results in violence and loss of life. He isn’t as good handling these messy situations, but who is? I don’t envy him his job and don’t blame the general for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld.

The drones, according to BBC correspondents, do appear to be making a difference against the Taliban, but also against many defenseless civilians. The Pentagon lies that they are becoming more accurate as time goes on. Even so, this no doubt will be the warfare of the future: machines against man. What a great surface Afganistan is: room for lots of armament testing.

Not to mention all the cheap heroin useful in sedating the American public over the next decade.

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By Dominick J., June 3, 2009 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Petraeus is only popular to those loyal to Bush and Cheney, like the whole Conservative party.  Obama is trying to keep things at an even keel which makes him even more wrong to keep our troups there.
Petraeus is a war person.  It’s in his gut, what he needs is to be brought down a peg or two…

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By samosamo, June 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment

““aura of success resulting from reduced violence in Iraq”“.

Wow, what an accomplishment!

Totally unimpressed!

But why just petraeus? Why not any upper level officer that wants to continue this imperial ‘war’ for the military industrial congressional complex?

Oh, forgot, obama bush is still impressed with this farcical waste of time, money and resources, should have known.

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By taikan, June 3, 2009 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

Obama, like Bush before him, makes the mistake of viewing, and therefore treating, the Taliban and Al Qaeda as military entities rather than as criminal gangs.  By doing so, our government has given to the Taliban and Al Qaeda a legitimacy in the eyes of the local populace that they do not deserve.  That, in turn, has helped the Taliban and Al Qaeda to obtain new recruits and other forms of support.  Treating them as criminals, on the other hand, would encourage the local populace to distance themselves from both groups.

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By xyzaffair, June 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey, McChrystal can win this one.  Just give him time to build up the Afghani army…or was that the Iraqi army…or the South Vietnamese army…?

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By Folktruther, June 3, 2009 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

Truthdig deserves credit for printing this important article that states a few geo-strategic home truths.  But of course it is not Pretraus to blame but Obama, or whoever does his military thinking, proably Biden.  The US imposition into Pakistan by Obama was a WORSE blunder than the original one into Afghanistan by Bush.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, June 3, 2009 at 5:23 am Link to this comment

Might as well Replace all in Congress Too.
I had to tip my hat to Petraeus during one of his subsequent hearings before Congress when he actually turn the tables on them and what they had allow happen.
Lets get this straight- Petraeus and all others in Command are merely Soldiers with more glitter,then the others. Had the Congress done it’s job as the Second Branch of Gov’t- required Real documentation and evidence to support Cheney’s Claims and Decisions (since W knew only “basically” what was ever going on), We would not be in either on of these Cluster fucks Now!
The Bush Admin AND CONGRESS handed all these men the fiasco of an Impossible mission. How many Empires have been laid to waste on the sands of Afghanistan- The English, the Russians….Didn’t Alexander the Great have some problems with controlling that region too?
I refuse to put a pelt and horns on these mere soldiers to be used as the Scapegoats for the Politicos who should have studied history- at least the reports they were given before signing onto either damn War.Is Petraeus,McChrystal or even Gates, or any other, the idiots who Ordered Boots on the Ground to begin with- NO.They are just the ones expected to clean up the mess the Exec and legislative branches created….AGAIN (who decided to covertly help the ‘freedom fighters’ against the Russians in the ‘80’s then left the afghani population to be victimized by them?)
These men have been handed a backward ass Tribal mayhem and expected to create a functioning peaceful Democracy.The Sanest person can begin to do the most insane things when in an insane environment- any surprise they’re efforts have failed? The entire region is a psyche Ward and always has been.As far as I’m concerned they should have been Walled off and left to their Stone age mentality Centuries ago.

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By ardee, June 3, 2009 at 3:13 am Link to this comment

I do not know the General’s political aspirations but I do know an impossible task when I see one. The way to successfully combat Islamic extremism is not with military intervention. Extremism takes root among the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised.

It was my impression that Petraeus was overseeing an alteration of strategy that encompassed more and more responsibility on Afghani and Pakistani participation in their own defense from extremism. What happened to it I wonder?

One might spend futile time berating the Generals but the real criticisms are twofold;
Our Commander in Chief sets the goals , and the electorate decides who that CinC will be.

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By Mary Ann McNeely, June 2, 2009 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

Petraeus will eventually be the Republican presidential candidate.  It’s only a matter of time and to what extent he will debase himself to be the far right standard bearer.  The Democrats will court him also but, like Eisenhower, he’ll go Republican.

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