The killing in Hawijah, Iraq of 18-year old Corporal
Jeremy Shank of Jackson, Missouri (population 12,000) merited an article in
the Southeast Missourian. Cpl. Shank was killed on Sept. 6, 2006 and
I was in that part of Missouri when his body came home for burial. According
to the Pentagon, Shank was on a "dismounted security patrol when he encountered
enemy forces using small arms."
Cpl. Shank's death came two years after President George W. Bush greeted then-Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi at the White House, proudly announcing "months of
steady progress" toward a free Iraq, despite persistent violence in some
parts of the country. His death came two weeks after national security adviser
Stephen Hadley acknowledged that the mid-2006 upsurge in violence meant that
the new challenge in Iraq "isn't about insurgency, isn't about terror;
it's about sectarian violence." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki underscored
the point, "The most important element in the security plan is to curb
the religious violence."
So what was the mission of Cpl. Shank while on security patrol, and who were
the "enemy forces" he encountered? Was his mission to prevent Iraqi
religious fanatics from killing each other?
On Sept. 7, 2006, the day after Shank was killed, President Bush in effect
mocked Jeremy Shank's death by drawing the familiar but bogus connection to
"Five years after September the 11th, 2001, America
is safer – and America is winning the war on terror [and] will leave behind
a more peaceful world for our children and our grandchildren."
Not for children or grandchildren of Jeremy Shank.
Put Themselves in Harm's Way?
At the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Rev. Carter
Frey eulogized Shank as one of those who "put themselves in harm's way
and paid the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can have freedom to live in this
country." That was a stretch – a staple of FOX and other "news,"
but, still, a stretch. And I have been asking myself in the year since how many
young men and women like Jeremy Shank have been and will be killed trying to
stop Shi'ite and Sunni from killing one another. A few weeks after Shank's death,
President Bush described "our job" as being "to prevent the full-scale
civil war from happening."
Was/is that the mission? And is it worth what is so facilely called the "ultimate
sacrifice," or the penultimate one – tens of thousand veterans trying to
adjust to life without arm or leg?
Is it quite correct to say they put themselves in harm's way? Or was it their
commander in chief who put them in harm's way? Is it truly possible that he
remains determined to keep treating our young men and women as disposable soldiers
for the rest of his term? And will those in Congress who are supposed to represent
those young men and women go along with that? Former Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright was entirely correct when she insisted in a recent op-ed that the "threshold
question in any war is: What are we fighting for? Our troops, especially, deserve
a convincing answer."
The sacrifices of Shank and his family and others and their families are being
mocked by glib sloganeering.
Today is Sept. 7, 2007, a year and a day since
Cpl. Shank was killed. In a few weeks we will know where the small-town Shanks
of America stand in the priorities of members of the House and Senate. As far
as the president is concerned...well, he does not seem to be very concerned
at all. They should simply smile appreciatively as he presents them with a rubber
turkey, and then populate the backdrop for photo-ops.
More unconscionable still, those Shanks clearly sit low on the priority lists
of those senior generals who command them – generals like the sainted David Petraeus,
smart enough to know the war cannot be won, but not courageous enough to come
out and say it. The Shanks are merely what we used to call "warm bodies"
to throw into the fight.
For many of us with some gray in our hair, we've seen it all before – and, ironically
enough, exactly 40 years ago. What Gen. David Petraeus has set in motion, or
at least condoned, is the massaging of data to justify what his boss, President
Bush, wants to do in Iraq; namely, to keep enough troops "in the fight"
in order to stave off definitive defeat before he and Vice President Dick Cheney
leave office in January 2009. That's what the "surge" is all about,
and Petraeus is smart enough to know that only too well.
Like his apparent role model, Colin Powell, he can bear four stars on his shoulder,
but he must also bear on his conscience thousands of dead and wounded Shanks
as a result of his eagerness to play in the Bush/Cheney charade. A more precise
counterpart to Gen. Petraeus is the late Gen. William Westmoreland, commander
of our forces in Vietnam. The argument over whether or not the "surge"
is working brings back un-fond memories of the deliberate smoke-and-mirrors
approach Westmoreland forced on intelligence analysts in Saigon – and Washington – including
deliberate falsification of the numbers on enemy strength.
It would be tempting to sift through the ample grist of the week and cite,
for example, the demonstrable failure of the surge to meet its stated aim; the
key judgment of the latest National Intelligence Estimate that the current government
in Baghdad "will become more precarious over the next six to twelve months;"
the conclusion of a blue-ribbon group of retired generals that it is necessary
to rebuild the Iraqi police from scratch; the amply justified fear on the part
of analysts in the General Accountability Office and the intelligence community
that the Army will continue to do all it can to water down their assessments;
and, not least, the controversy over the various methodologies being used to
track the security situation in Iraq, including such basics as what incidents
to count and how to categorize them.
I shall resist the temptation. Rather, I believe it will be much more instructive
to show that this kind of thing has happened before within the lifetimes of
half of us; that it was an unconscionable performance on the part of Gen. Westmoreland
and his Pentagon bosses, and that thousands more Shanks – not to mention Vietnamese – died
as a direct result of the dishonesty.
My flashback was occasioned by press reports yesterday
that senior Army officers in Baghdad were trashing the conclusions of the National
Intelligence Estimate and the GAO analysis on grounds that they employed "flawed
counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency."
Speaking of flawed counting methodology, someone has inserted into the president's
mouth the claim that:
"Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500
al-Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of
Finally, some good news! But wait. As a homework assignment, I invite readers
to look up what has been said previously about how many al-Qaeda fighters may
be in Iraq. Then do some arithmetic and try to calculate how many of them may
now have been killed more than once.
Falsifying the Data
It was exactly forty years ago that my CIA analyst
colleague Sam Adams was sent to Saigon to have it out with the Army intelligence
unit there. After several months of exhaustive analysis, Sam had connected a
whole bunch of dots, so to speak, and concluded that there were more than twice
as many Vietnamese Communists under arms as the Army had on its books. Bewildered
at first, Adams quickly learned that Westmoreland had instructed his intelligence
staff to falsify intelligence on enemy strength, keeping the numbers low enough
to promote the illusion of progress in the war.
After a prolonged knock-down-drag-out fight, then-CIA director Richard Helms
decided to acquiesce in the Army's arbitrary exclusion from its enemy aggregate
total paramilitary and other armed elements numbering up to 300,000. These categories
had been included in previous estimates because they were a key part of the
combat force of the Communists. The Adams/CIA best estimate was total Communist
strength of 500,000.
The doctored estimate went to the president and his advisers in November 1967,
just two months before the countrywide Communist offensive at Tet in late January/early
February 1968 proved – at great cost – that Adams figures were far more accurate
than the Army's. Years later, when Adams and CBS exposed this travesty, Westmoreland
sued, giving Adams his day in court – literally. Subpoenaed documents and the
testimony of Westmoreland's own former staff in Saigon established the accuracy
of Adams' charges, and Westmoreland withdrew his suit.
Right up until his premature death at age 55, Sam Adams could not dispel the
remorse he felt at not having gone public with his findings. He believed that,
had he done so, the entire left half of the Vietnam memorial would not be there,
because there would be no names to carve into the granite for the last few lingering
years of the war.
More recently, Daniel Ellsberg expressed great
regret that he did not disclose earlier deceptions, as well as those witnessed
during 1967-68 when the administration of Lyndon Johnson worked up plans to
expand the ground war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam – right up to the
Chinese border, perhaps even beyond.
Early in 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress and congratulated
himself on the "great progress" being made in the war. What Congress
did not know, but Ellsberg did, is that the war was going poorly, and that Westmoreland
was on the verge of getting President Johnson to agree to sending 206,000 more
troops for a widening of the war that threatened to bring China in as an active
Leaks to the New York Times put the kibosh on those plans. One patriotic
truth teller leaked the 206,000 figure, which the Times published on
March 10, 1968. Emboldened by that, Ellsberg himself told the Times about
the suppression of the accurate 500,000 count of Vietnamese Communists under
arms, the Donnybrook between CIA analysts and their fettered counterparts in
Saigon, and other information about the games Westmoreland was playing. The
Times used those materials for major stories on March 19, 20, and 21.
On the 22nd, President Johnson announced that Westmoreland would
be leaving Vietnam to become chief of staff of the Army, and the general was
told there would be no change in strategy to expand the war.
Things like that can happen quickly.
On March 25, 1968, Johnson complained to a small gathering of confidants:
"The leaks to the New York Times hurt us...We have no support
for the war...I would have given Westy the 206,000 men."
Moral to the story: patriotic truth telling can prevent wider wars. Please
take heed, those of you privy to plans for expanding the war in Iraq into Iran
There will be lots of spin in Washington these
next few weeks, and "hope" will be the byword. In his August 28 speech
on Iraq, the president set the tone:
"All these developments are hopeful – they're hopeful for Iraq, and
they're hopeful for the Middle East, and they're hopeful for peace"
Bush goes on to mention that Gen. Petraeus will be heard from shortly. Indeed,
over the past several weeks, the president has been punctuating virtually every
other public sentence with "Gen. Petraeus" or "David." It
is as though Bush is expecting what might be called a "Petraeus ex machina"
to extricate himself from the deep hole Cheney and he have dug together.
The spinning will only succeed if Congress is blinded by the nine rows of campaign
medals and ribbons on Petraeus' chest, forgets about the Shanks in our Army
and Marines, and allows itself to be taken in by the new Westmoreland.
Ray McGovern served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the sixties.
He was then a CIA analyst for 27 years and is cofounder of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity. He works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of
the ecumenical Church of the Saviour.
A shorter version of this article has appeared on Consortiumnews.com.