Monday, September 23, 2013

A Psalm for the Prisoners in Guantanamo

The following is from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. This 88th psalm is taken from the New Revised [English] Standard Version.
1  O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2   let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

3   For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4   I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5   like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6   You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7   Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

8   You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9   my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10   Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11   Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12   Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13   But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14   O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15   Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16   Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
17   They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
18   You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
When I read this, I thought immediately of the Guantanamo detainees, shuttered away from humankind, terribly far from family and friends, subject to beatings, force-feedings, endless interrogations, profound isolation, sleep deprivation, forced drug injections, emotional abuse. While the poet appears to have written the psalm to express the desolation that can overcome any human being borne down by the suffering of human life and loss, it appears specially apposite to the condition of the detainees, still locked in indefinite detention, prisoners of an arbitrary, capricious and cruel regime.

And we, this society as a whole, is to blame for their suffering, by failing to stand witness, for failing to demand human decency stand before one's own tremulous fears. May any deity that be forgive us our weaknesses.

May this prayer reach the God of those who despair in the US prison meant to symbolize the supposedly omnipotent reach of the US war machine.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

US Covered-Up for Decades the Largest Use of Biological & Chemical Weapons in History

Crossposted from The Dissenter/FDL

There are many reasons why one should oppose the military action against Syria being planned by the Obama administration. But given that the action is being trumpeted as a righteous response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, there is one reason to oppose the U.S. action that carries with it more than the usual amount of painful irony.

It is difficult to know how to introduce this subject, as it is so dark and evil, and the U.S. population has been lied to for so long about it, that I fear the initial reaction very likely can only be shock and denial. And yet, the crimes to which I am about to refer are quite well documented, and were themselves the focus of a Congressional bill in 2000 directing the National Archives to specially search for and release the relevant documentation. The deaths involved are said to approach half-a-million souls, and the injuries of many are still ongoing.

Kept "Top Secret" in "Intelligence Channels"

Here, in summary, are the primary facts. As you read this, remember that the U.S. government not only amnestied those involved in the following war crimes, but paid them for the information they could provide, and in some cases hired them. The decision was made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, and possibly the new CIA and the new president, Truman. The idea for the deal was prompted by General Douglas MacArthur, military doctors at Ft. Detrick, and officials in the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service. It was famously decided that all that you are about to read now would be kept as "top secret," not to be released outside "intelligence channels." And it wasn't... for about 35 years.

From the time the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Manchuria (in the early 1930s) until the end of World War II, its special Unit 731, and dozens of associated units, engaged in wide-scale lethal experiments on biological and chemical warfare, including the use of poisons for assassination purposes and the wide-scale use of herbicides. These experiments were conducted on thousands of prisoners, estimates ranging from 3000 to 20,000 POWs and civilian prisoners. The exact number may never be known.

Many of these prisoners were experimented upon without anaesthesia and by way of vivisection. The prisoners at the central Unit 731 facility at Pingfan in Manchuria were incinerated in crematoria after the military doctors were done with them. As I recently was able to derive by research into Soviet documents, some of the prisoners -- called "marutas" or "logs" by Japanese researchers and military officials -- sent for lethal experimentation by Unit 731, Unit 100, and like facilities were military or intelligence agency prisoners who could not be trusted to remain silent about the torture they had received from Japanese interrogators.

As did the Nazis, Japanese researchers conducted experiments on malaria, syphilis, and on freezing. (Japanese and German collaboration on these programs was likely closer than previously thought.) Male prisoners were forced to rape female prisoners in order to inoculate them with venereal disease. Other prisoners were forced to stay outside in sub-zero temperatures, as part of Japanese military frostbite experiments. Some prisoners were tied to stakes and had munitions loaded with bacteria exploded nearby them, the shrapnel embedding itself in their exposed skin. Other prisoners were tricked into taking food or medications that had cyanide, hallucinogenic substances, and opiates.

Though the US government specifically denies it, some of the prisoners were also US POWs held at Japan's Mukden POW camp, and possibly other camps as well. (An academic book on the subject was published by Naval Institute Press a few years ago.)

Large-scale Use of Biological Weapons in War Was Covered-Up

But the experiments were only part of the crimes, as the Imperial Army implemented the use of the bacteriological weapons against the Chinese and Soviets during World War II, killing, according to recent estimates, somewhere between a quarter and half-a-million people with plague, typhoid, and other diseases, and leaving others injured for life. Japan bombed cities with specially constructed bacterial bombs, as part of a plan that included well-poisonings, the release of infected rats and fleas (bred specially for the purpose), and other forms of mass inoculations.

After World War II and the blanket amnesty for all the BW researchers, who were led by Kwantung Army Lt. General Shiro Ishii, British and Canadian researchers have alleged that some of the Japanese personnel were utilized in a campaign of biological warfare by the United States during the Korean War. The issue is still hotly debated today, and the U.S. still keeps secret today many documents related to that war.

The crimes of Unit 731 and assorted entities, the U.S. amnesty of those involved, and collaboration with Ishii and others in collecting the "scientific" information taken from the murder of thousands, would have remained secret forever, had it not been for the conscience of a few of those Japanese scientists and technicians involved who came forward to talk to Japanese researchers in the mid-1970s. In America, the revelations were due to the tireless work of journalist John W. Powell, who used FOIA extensively to document the case of the U.S. cover-up, publishing in 1981. Even so, the subject has never entirely entered the mainstream of U.S. consciousness.

Japan's Use of Chemical Weapons in China

[This section on chemical weapons has been augmented from the original posting, taken from a 9/11/13 version of this article posted as a diary at Daily Kos.]

The crimes of the Japanese Imperial Army were not limited to bacteriological weapons. They also used chemical weapons extensively in China from 1937 until 1945, according to declassified US records. None of the Japanese military hierarchy tried after the war for war crimes were charged with use of chemical or bacteriological weapons. Those involved were protected by the U.S. military and amnestied for any crimes. The knowledge of the weaponry involved, including that derived through lethal experiments, was sent to Ft. Detrick, the CIA, and other "intelligence channels."

If anything, the size of the chemical war and the damages and fatalities wrought thereby are even more secret today than Japan's biological weapons program. A diligent search finds very, very little published in English on this issue. One prominent exception is Yuki Tanaka's article, "Poison Gas: the Story Japan Would Like to Forget," in the October 1988 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Japanese researcher also unearthed evidence of the cover-up of the CW war crimes at the trials of Japanese Imperial officers after WWII, noting that because chemical warfare and bacteriological warfare were linked in the same treaties that banned them, to prosecute on chemical warfare experiments and tests would have been "difficult to bring up... while covering up the use of bacteriological warfare."

There's no question the U.S. knew of such crimes, as Col. Thomas Morrow, who worked for the International Prosecution Section of the Tokyo war crimes department sent two different memos to the Chief Prosecutor on exactly this subject, detailing the use of specific poison gases, and a discussion of casualties. But Morrow was unexpectedly sent back to the U.S., and his reports classified and put away for decades.

The scope of the chemical war unleashed in China can be ascertained by the damage left afterward. According to Nationalist Chinese sources in Taipei, approximately 700,000 chemical munitions were left abandoned in China after World War II. The Chinese government says that approximately 2,000 people still die each year from encounters with such ordinance. An ongoing clean-up of the chemical mess, in part paid for by Japan, is still ongoing in 2013.

Discoveries regarding the scope of the chemical warfare experiments and operational use of the weapons are still ongoing. A 2005 article in the UK Independent announced the discovery of a huge Japanese chemical weapons plant "20 miles south-east of Hulun Buir city in the far north of Inner Mongolia." Covering approximately 40 square miles, a Chinese researcher said, "It may be the largest and best-preserved gas experiment site in the world. We've found more than a thousand pits that were used for experiments, as well as trenches and shelters for people and vehicles."

When recently, for a longer article I am writing relating to this subject, I asked DoD for official response to these issues, the DoD spokesperson referred me to Ft. Detrick's public affairs office. The official at Ft. Detrick said they had no knowledge of these events and could not comment, all relevant material having been sent to the National Archives years ago. Meanwhile, a former official at Ft. Detrick confirmed to me a statement that he made to historian Sheldon Harris in 1999 concerning the destruction of records on Unit 731 at Ft. Detrick occurring as late as 1998. I'll have more to say about that in the future, but meanwhile those interested can pursue the matter at this link from the Congressional Record.

U.S. Record Makes It Impossible to Trust Their Statements on Chemical or Biological Warfare Dangers

The final point concerns the relevancy of the material above with the aims of the U.S. government to bomb Syria for the purported use of chemical weapons. The argument is simple. The actions of the U.S. government for decades on the matter of biological and chemical weapons demonstrate that it cannot be trusted on this matter. The government was intimately involved with cover-ups on the use of these weapons. Their cover-up is likely still ongoing.

Recently, the Washington Post published an article by Joby Warrick on possible dangers from Syrian use of biological weaponry. The story is specious on its own account, but it is also telling that Warrick never refers to any of the facts I've related above about the U.S. history with Unit 731.

Furthermore, as awful as the material involved here is, it must be assessed in the context of other U.S. criminal activities associated with biological and chemical warfare, from the lies told about WMD, leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to experiments done on U.S. citizens, to the facilitation of chemical weapon attacks by other countries, e.g., Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Certainly, the videos released on the Internet, most lately with the imprimatur of Congressional Intelligence committees, contain scenes of ghastly deaths that are frightening to watch. The constant bombardment of propaganda from media and government sources, not least supposed "liberal" or "progressive" politicians, is meant to achieve a sense of urgency and fear in the population that will allow at the least acquiescence towards the military's new war actions in the Middle East.

I hope that bringing up the history of the United States in relation to the largest operational use of biological and chemical weapons in history will give pause to those who are otherwise credulous of U.S. intentions. The record is clear: the U.S. has lied and covered-up when it comes to biological and chemical weapons, and government sources cannot be trusted, certainly not when the bulk of their information is kept secret from the public.

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