William J. Astore on American Torture

U.S. troops use the “water cure” in the Philippines, 1902

Back in 2009, I wrote a few articles on torture during the Bush/Cheney administration. With Barack Obama elected on a vague platform of hope, change, and transparency, there was a sense torture would be outlawed and torturers would be called to account. Obama did sign an executive order to outlaw torture – which really meant nothing more than that the U.S. would abide by international treaties and follow international law with respect to torture – but torturers were never called to account. The failure to do so has left us with a new president, Donald Trump, who says he supports torture (though his Defense Secretary, James Mattis, does not), and a person nominated to head the CIA who enabled torture and helped to cover it up.

Here are a few points I made back in 2009. We should consider these as Congress debates whether to place the CIA in the hands of a torturer.

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William J. Astore on Gina Haspel: A Torturer at the CIA

President Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Haspel had an important role in the torture regimen approved by the Bush/Cheney administration, and she worked to destroy videotaped evidence of the same. What does it say about the United States that Haspel is now being rewarded both for enabling torture and for covering it up?

As Peter Van Buren writes at We Meant Well, “Unless our Congress awakens to confront the nightmare and deny Gina Haspel’s nomination as Director of the CIA, torture has already transformed us and so will consume us. Gina Haspel is a torturer. We are torturers. It is as if Nuremberg never happened.”

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It’s a Free Country, and the Future of War

Two more anecdotes from my dad’s war letters involve the nature of military life and the future of war. In June 1945 my dad wrote about female nurses assigned to his post at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He noted that:

“The nurses on the Post have been going out with enlisted men. They [the authorities] are trying to stop it by breaking an enlisted man that has a rating & the nurses get fined $75.00. Nurses are commissioned officers & they [the authorities] don’t like officers going with enlisted men. [The] United States is supposed to be a free country so you can see how the Army is. I don’t think the nurses would break the regulation if there were more male officers on the post.”

$75.00 was a lot of money in 1945 (two weeks’ pay, roughly, for the nurses). And busting an enlisted man was a serious punishment as well. Even with the war won in Europe and demobilization already starting, the Army was not about to look the other way when its nurses engaged in almost trivial fraternization.

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William Astore on Ending America’s Cult of the Warrior-Hero

Every now and again I look over my dad’s letters from World War II. He was attached to an armored headquarters company that didn’t go overseas, but he had friends who did serve in Europe during and after the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. Also, he had two brothers, one who served in Europe attached to a quartermaster (logistics) company in the Army, the other who served in the Pacific as a Marine.

Reading my dad’s letters and those from his friends and brothers, you get a sense of the costs of war. They mention friends who’ve been killed or wounded in action; for example, a soldier who lost both his legs when his tank ran over a mine. (His fellow soldiers took up a collection for him.) They talk about strange things they’ve seen overseas, e.g. German buzz bombs or V-1 rockets, a crude version of today’s cruise missiles. They look forward to furloughs and trips to cities such as Paris. They talk about bad weather: cold, snow, mud. They talk about women (my dad’s brother, Gino, met a Belgian girl that he wanted to marry, but it was not to be). But perhaps most of all, they look forward to the war’s end and express a universal desire to ditch the military for civilian life.

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Why the Pentagon Gets So Much Money So Easily

Over at Foreign Policy, there’s a good article on how the Pentagon gets so much money so easily. Basically, the Pentagon complains about lack of “readiness” for war, and Congress caves. But as the article’s author, Gordon Adams, notes, most of the boost in spending goes not to training and maintenance and other readiness issues but to expensive new weaponry:

But the big bucks, according to the Pentagon’s own briefing, will go into conventional military equipment. That means more F-35s and F-18s than planned, a new presidential helicopter, Navy surveillance planes and destroyers, Marine helicopters, space launch rockets, tank modifications, another Army multipurpose vehicle, and a joint tactical vehicle the Army, Marines, and Air Force can all use. Basically, the services will soon have shiny new hardware.

With its $160+ billion budgetary boost over the next two years, the U.S. military will soon have many more shiny toys, which pleases Congress (jobs) and of course the military-industrial complex (higher and higher profits).

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A Trillion Here, a Trillion There, and Pretty Soon You’re Talking Real Money

Though it’s unconfirmed that Congressman Everett M. Dirksen ever uttered perhaps the most famous words attributed to him: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” the sentiment surely needs to be updated for America’s profligate military moment. Replace “billion” with “trillion” and you have the perfect catchphrase for today’s Pentagon.

Consider the following facts:

  1. The F-35 jet fighter is projected to cost $1.45 trillion over the life of the program.
  2. Modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is projected to cost $1.2 trillion, though some estimates suggest $1.7 trillion as the more likely sum.
  3. America’s Afghan War has already cost $1 trillion. Add to that another $45+ billion to support war ops for this year, and perhaps the same amount of spending each year for the next decade.
  4. A low-ball estimate for America’s Iraq War is $1 trillion, but when one adds in veterans health care and similar long-term issues, the cost rises into the $2-3 trillion range.
  5. Each year, spending on the Pentagon, Homeland Security, wars, nuclear weapons, the VA, and interest on the national debt associated with previous military spending approaches $1 trillion.

We’re talking about real money, right?

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