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Candide’s Latest: Monday, August 28, 2006
Where Murder Is Excused

Civilians in their scopes, too.

A few bad apples or a whole rotten orchard?The standard disclaimer about U.S. troops raping and murdering civilians is that it’s a rare occurrence, part of war’s horrors, exceptions to the rule of law. And the application of the rule of law, as we all know in these days of Ringley’s Bush & Cheney Circus, has been a three-ring success, right? The Washington Post answers the question: “The majority of U.S. service members charged in the unlawful deaths of Iraqi civilians have been acquitted, found guilty of relatively minor offenses or given administrative punishments without trials, according to a Washington Post review of concluded military cases. Charges against some of the troops were dropped completely. Though experts estimate that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of U.S. forces, only 39 service members were formally accused in connection with the deaths of 20 Iraqis from 2003 to early this year. Twenty-six of the 39 troops were initially charged with murder, negligent homicide or manslaughter; 12 of them ultimately served prison time for any offense. […]Top military officers, military lawyers, experts and troops say the number of homicide cases prosecuted probably represents only a small portion of the incidents in which Iraqi citizens were killed under questionable circumstances. Officials also say privately that some cases have not been investigated thoroughly because there has been a tendency to consider Iraqi civilian deaths an unintended consequence of combat operations.” In other words, Iraqis’ lives are worth three-quarters of the value of, say, a Kevlar vest or a helmet, or Pfc. Johnson Triggerhands’ latest ipod.

It’s turning out to be the Coalition of the Untainted: now Canada is joining the ranks of countries willing to send troops to Lebanon, to fill the holes created by the old standard expeditionary forces no longer available—no longer wanted, and rather feared, in the Middle East: The United States, Britain, Australia. Canada, extended in Afghanistan, might send up to 1,200 troops, bumping up the contingent in south Lebanon past the 10,000 mark now that several European nations have set aside their squeamishness and foreign policy by proxy and put their boots where their Louis Vuitton were. But what on earth is Jesse Jackson doing in Syria? If the Bush administration won’t talk to anyone it doesn’t like, somebody has to. “Syria has declared itself ready to resume the peace process with Israel whenever the Israeli government is ready and backs efforts to swap abducted Israeli soldiers for Arab prisoners held by the Jewish state,” Beirut’s Daily Star reports. “Peace talks with Syria have been frozen since January 2000 over the thorny issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.” But while Jackson is mediating with Syria, Russia is actually courting it—and evoking images of Soviet advisers in Syria throughout the cold war. In other words, Russia is “staging a comeback” in the Middle East through Syria, argues Konstantin Eggerts. Before George W. Bush demands that the bombing of Russia begin in five minutes, as Ronald Reagan once did, Jeffrey Sachs, who normally writes about poverty (making the poverty of Bush’s ideas fair game), asks that the warmongers take a vacation: “When Bush paints the Middle East as a struggle of good versus evil, or terror versus freedom, he abandons politics. When Israel attempts vainly to defeat Hizbullah, it tries to avoid painful but necessary political compromises over disputed territory,” Sachs writes. “The problems of the Middle East are much more about politics and culture than about terror versus freedom. Part of the problem is Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank as well as, possibly, a piece of Southern Lebanon. Until Israel agrees to return to the 1967 borders with minor modifications, and to end its political control over millions of West Bank Arabs, unrest will continue.” The big winner so far in the Middle East however isn’t Hezbollah, it isn’t Syria or Russia or Bush’s illusions, but Kofi Annan, who lands in Beirut today. Annan has managed what Sachs argues for: negotiated solutions. His next stop may have to be Turkey, site of a bomb blast on a bus in a tourist resort. Twenty one injuries, no deaths. But Hezbollah leader Nasrallah is trying to give Annan a run for his good publicity: here comes Nasrallah, regretting the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers that led to war. "We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Nasrallah told Lebanon's New TV channel. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."

It’s all in how you paint the violence in Iraq: July’s death toll was the highest single-month tally in three years. So the Pentagon’s spinners got together and decided to adopt Bush rules of statistical engagement. As long as August’s figures go down, no matter how much, paint the picture as all rosy and bright again—as an unqualified improvement. And so the Pentagon has, with success splattered all over the Los Angeles Times’ front page: “Deaths Drop in Iraqi Capital.” This in a 24-hour period when 80 people and 6 US troops were killed, and in an article that doesn’t once mention the actual national death toll for August (only Baghdad). It parrots a Pentagon news release and lists qualifiers. And before the ink was dry on the Times’ broadsheets, a suicide bomber had blown himself up, targeting Iraq’s interior minister. Sixteen dead, though the minister survived.

In Other Worlds

Yes, it was a badly timed skit about a plane crash, no, it wasn’t tasteless, and it was mildly funny in an otherwise stiff evening of television bores: “The pre-recorded opening segment began with Emmy host Conan O'Brien boarding a private plane to Los Angeles. Asked by a stewardess if he was nervous about hosting the show, O'Brien answered: "Nervous? What could possibly go wrong?" The plane then shook and pitched violently, sending O'Brien out of his seat and seeking shelter in an overhead baggage compartment. The skit didn't show the plane crashing. Instead, it cut to O'Brien emerging from the ocean onto an island resembling the one in the TV series Lost, where he meets a cast member.” It would have been even funnier if “Lost” or Survivor” was set in south Lebanon, and the cast members were, instead of that idiotic mix of races one of those shows is planning for the new season, a mix of Hezbollah, Israeli, Lebanese Christians, Syrians and, of course, Canadians. Must have Canadians (and if they’re not available, then Belgians).

While the JonBenet voyeurism continues, Rosa Brooks focuses on the real perversion: the sexualization of young girls, right under our retail noses: “In our hyper-commercialized consumerist society, there's virtually no escaping the relentless sexualization of younger and younger children. My 26-month-old daughter didn't emerge from the womb clamoring for a seashell bikini like Princess Ariel's — but now that she's savvy enough to notice who's prancing around on her pull-ups, she wants in on the bikini thing. And my 4-year-old wasn't born demanding lip gloss and nail polish, but when a little girl at nursery school showed up with her Hello Kitty makeup kit, she was hooked.” Here are some of the things she found in stores: “First, we darted into Abercrombie & Fitch, joining a gaggle of preteens checking out the T-shirts. Perhaps a slinky pink number that coyly declared "The Rumors Are True"? Or maybe the masculine gray one emblazoned with "Something About You Attracts Me — I Wish I Could Put My Finger On It"? Well, no thanks. We headed toward Limited Too, where we found thong-like underwear sized for 7-year-old girls. My 4-year-old was entranced: "Mommy, those underpants have no walls!"”

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