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March 29-April 4, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Pale Rider

By Peter Byrne


And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with pestilence, and with the wild beasts of the earth.
—The Apocalypse of John, Revelation

On Nov. 19, 2005, according to Time magazine, death visited the Iraqi hamlet of Haditha. After a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine, the surviving soldiers slaughtered 15 unarmed Iraqis, including seven women and three children, who were sleeping in nearby houses. Pajama-clad adults died using their bodies to shield screaming children from American bullets fired My Lai-style.

Last week, Iraqi police accused U.S. troops of murdering two children, an infant, an elderly woman and seven men near the city of Balad. The victims were found handcuffed, shot in the head. Every day brings news of scores of Iraqis kidnapped, tortured and executed by gun and garrote and dumped into mass graves. Civil war is raging, but it looks superposed with Pentagon-controlled counterinsurgency and assassination campaigns.

The good news is that former Iraq war-lovers in America's corporate board rooms—whose opinions are reflected in the writings of such neoconservative columnists as George Will, William F. Buckley and William Kristol—are turning against the war because it is unwinnable and, incidentally, about to bankrupt the United States treasury.

The bad news is that is darkest before the dawn of imperialist defeat: The civilian murder rate in Iraq is reminiscent of the civilian assassination campaign America waged against the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War because U.S. forces could not defeat them by conventional military methods. I am talking about the Phoenix Program, a covert intelligence and assassination bureau run by the CIA and the Pentagon that targeted civilians. Media exposure of the Phoenix Program helped to turn American public opinion against the war; today, there is little reason to doubt that it has been reborn in Iraq and elsewhere.

Phoenix was modeled on Project Pale Horse—a CIA-funded "black op" aptly named after a passage in the Bible that used Navy SEALs and Green Berets in Vietnam to lead indigenous teams of killers in detaining, torturing and murdering grassroots political leaders, and anybody else that the U.S. high command disliked. According to congressional investigations of Phoenix in the early 1970s, Vietnamese mercenaries and U.S. special operations forces selectively terminated more than 21,000 South Vietnamese civilians—so-called terrorist suspects—during the war.

Then, like today, our country sanctioned incarceration of noncombatants without due process in defiance of international law. Then, like today, we routinely tortured and murdered nonwhite people, including those "suspected" of desiring to free their country from foreign domination. Then, like today, we set children on fire, deliberately poisoned the environment and accomplished nothing but ensuring our own military defeat in a war of aggression based on lies and business opportunities.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that American commanders in Iraq are boning up on covert counterinsurgency techniques from the Vietnam days. Although normal people find operations like Phoenix to be repugnant, military minds are inclined to view the program as a success which was undermined by Congress. Not only has the spirit of Phoenix been reborn in the Middle East, it is globalized.

Hellfire missiles fired by Predator drones are raining on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. In Pakistan, on Jan. 14, a CIA-controlled Hellfire exploded 17 people, mostly women and children. According to Defense Department information available at GlobalSecurity.org, Joint Task Force Aztec Silence is assigned to "find, track and interdict" its enemies inside the Pentagon's largest shooting gallery: North Africa. On March 11, 2004, U.S. special forces killed 43 "terrorist suspects" in Chad. And those are the murders we know about.

U.S. special forces, composed of assassination-trained Rangers and SEALs, are conducting "a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations" in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia. We fear Africa because of "its potential to become the next front in the global war on terrorism" due to the continent's endemic "war, poverty, disease, corruption and lack of education."

According to its own sources, the Pentagon is ready to provide "timely unconventional military options . . . from the sweltering deserts of Africa . . . to the frozen fjords of Norway." Did anyone ask the Norwegians, I wonder?

But, just like in Iraq, our military in Africa is terminally incompetent. Two weeks ago, U.S. Navy vessels patrolling off the coast of Somalia shot at "pirates" who turned out to be Somalian soldiers patrolling their own coast.

Pale riders, go home.


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