Iraqi prisoner of war comforting his 4-year-old son at a regroupment in Najaf, Iraq, March 31, 2003.
(World Press Photo of the year, 2003)
(by Rania Khalek via Electronic Intifada)
Following the release of the film American Sniper in theaters across the US, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has warned of a “significant rise in violent hate rhetoric targeting the Arab and Muslim-American communities.”
The ADC believes the threats “are directly linked to the negative media coverage and hateful propaganda launched against the Arab and Muslim communities following the attacks on the Charlie Hedbo offices in France” earlier this month. But the civil rights organization notes that racist threats have intensified in the wake of American Sniper, with moviegoers taking to social media to express their desire to murder Arabs and Muslims after leaving the theater.
Having both watched the movie and read the book on which it is based, I am not the least bit surprised by the incitement it has spawned. American Sniper is brilliant propaganda that valorizes American military aggression while delivering Hollywood’s most racist depiction of Arabs in recent memory, effectively legitimizing America’s ongoing bombing campaigns across the Middle East.
American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history.
Replete with hatred, bigotry and unrepentant bloodlust, Kyle’s book boasts of killing 160 Iraqi “savages” during his four deployments in Iraq following the illegal US invasion and occupation in 2003.
“Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq,” Kyle writes in his book.
“I only wish I had killed more,” he writes, adding, “I loved what I did … It was fun. I had the time of my life.”
“They hated us because we weren’t Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did,” adds Kyle, who goes on to confess, “I don’t shoot people with Korans – I’d like to, but I don’t.” In Kyle’s mind, all Iraqis who resisted the invading US soldiers were irrationally violent religious fanatics.
In stark contrast, Hollywood sanitizes Kyle, humanizing him as a complex, likable and anguished hero.
Following the movie’s debut in select theaters on Christmas Day, author and journalist Max Blumenthal and I were deluged with death and rape threats for tweeting our disgust with Hollywood’s glorification of a mass killer and exposing the racism and lies espoused by Kyle. Although Kyle’s most ardent supporters claim to hate ISIS and al-Qaeda, they often call on these terrorist groups to behead critics of US military aggression.
The movie has since broken box office records, grossing $105 million during its nationwide opening and garnered accolades from across the political spectrum (Vice President Joe Biden said he wept at the Washington, DC premier). In addition, the movie scored six Academy Award nominations.
Frustrated by the glorification and whitewash of a racist mass killer, I posted passages from Kyle’s book on Twitter, highlighting his hateful and homicidal statements and drew attention to the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats the movie was inspiring, all of which I compiled into a Storify that went viral.
While the canonization of Kyle on the big screen is appalling, the movie’s whitewash of the US destruction of Iraq and its racist portrayal of Arabs has proven to be far more dangerous.
The US destruction of Iraq left an estimated one million Iraqis dead, 4.5 million displaced, five million orphaned, some two million widowed and birth defects and cancer rates significantly worse than those seen in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the Second World War. The US war on Iraq also fueled the rise of ISIS. This immeasurable suffering is completely erased from the narrative presented in American Sniper.
In the opening scene of the film a conflicted Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) is perched on a rooftop with an Iraqi mother and child in the crosshairs of his sniper scope. He watches the mother give the child a grenade to throw at a US marine convoy. He reluctantly seeks permission to shoot.
Suddenly the screen cuts to Kyle as a child hunting with his father in Texas. Another scene shows him at church. Next he’s at the dinner table.
“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs,” says Kyle’s father. “Now, some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world … those are the sheep. And then you got predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those who have been blessed with the gift of aggression, and the overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed that live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”
For the rest of the movie Kyle is the sheepdog, the protector, the hero. And Iraqis are the evil wolves he must put down to protect the lives of his fellow “sheepdogs.”
Next we see Kyle as an adult. We watch him fall in love, get married and join the SEALs. Then the Twin Towers fall and he is deployed to Iraq, a narrative that leaves the poorly informed with the impression that Iraq was involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks, the very lie that the Iraq war was predicated on. This false narrative is reaffirmed when al-Qaeda appears in Iraq on Kyle’s first tour in 2003, a revisionist history that conflates indigenous armed resistance to a foreign occupier with a terrorist group that attacked the United States. In a country where 43 percent of Americans still believe that Iraq was connected to the 11 September 2001 attacks, perpetuating this falsehood, even if unintentional, is reckless.
Eventually, we return to the scene in the movie’s opening. Kyle shoots the child to save the Marine convoy. The mother runs towards the felled child, collects the grenade and prepares to launch it in the direction of the soldiers. Kyle shoots the woman dead at mid-launch. The grenade explodes before it reaches the soldiers.
“There was a kid who barely had any hair on his balls, his mother gives him a grenade and sends him out there to kill Marines,” says an agonized Kyle. “That was evil like I’d never seen before.”
This black and white, good versus evil theme continues throughout the movie’s entirety. US soldiers are humanized. They have names and families, fiancées and children. And they return home with deep physical and psychological wounds, whereas the local Arab population, including the women and children, are depicted as terrorists. The only time Arab women and children are innocent victims is when they are being brutalized by scary Arab men, but even they are nameless figures.
(Source: Rania Khalek, “‘American Sniper’ spawns death threats against Arabs and Muslims“. Electronic Intifada. 22 January 2015)
Photograph of a charred corpse, victim of the U.S. military assault on the “Highway of Death“, in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War (Credit: Kenneth Jarecke)
More photos from Highway 80 below (click to enlarge):
Excerpt from Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video
On April 5, 2010 Wikileaks released this leaked video footage from a U.S. Apache attack helicopter. The video shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, driver Saeed Chmagh, and about a large group of other people walking and standing around together, in a public square in Eastern Baghdad in 2007 … and then the helicopters blows them all to pieces with 30mm cannons, because they thought their cameras were weapons.
After the helicopter murders this group, a minivan arrives on the scene and some people attempt to transport some of the wounded to a hospital. These rescuers are then also fired upon, along with the young children they had in the vehicle.
The official U.S. military statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed they did not know how the deaths occurred. They refused to release the video to Reuters, for an investigation of the murders. But unfortunately for the military, Private Bradley Manning released the video to the folks at Wikileaks, who decrypted it and shared it under the name “Collateral Murder”.
For years, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the United States government “really” tortures, or if it is doing something that is supposedly more benign (“harsh interrogation”, “psychological pressure”, etc). However, anyone who takes an honest look at history will have no doubt that the U.S. does torture.
As part of the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, the United States military and CIA captured, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. Common methods of torture in the CIA interrogation centers included:
“Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electric shock (‘the Bell Telephone Hour’) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; the ‘water treatment’; the ‘airplane’ in which the prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.”‘
Military intelligence officer K. Milton Osborne witnessed the following use of torture in Vietnam:
“The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages … The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to … both both the women’s vaginas and men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission.”
This was not limited to Vietnam. The CIA and U.S. military trained thousands of Latin American police and military personnel in torture techniques. Here’s some testimony from a trainee in El Salvador:
“The officers said ‘We are going to teach you … how to teach a lesson to these guerrillas’. The officers who were teaching us this were the American Green Berets … then they began to torture this young fellow. They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took off his fingernails, they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. They took out their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin … They then took his hair off and the skin off his scalp. When they saw that there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him … the next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. “
— Witness testimony from El Salvador, Covert Action Information Bulletin, March 1982
However during the 1960s, in a quest for more effective interrogation techniques, the CIA began funding a large number of psychological-control/torture experiments using human subjects in the United States. These experiments, known by their CIA cryptonym “MKULTRA”, determined that physical pain, while certainly a vital tool, was not actually the most effective method for achieving psychological dominance over an unwilling subject (the ultimate goal of all torture).
What worked better than using physical abuse alone, was to use techniques that were carefully designed to break people down psychologically, making them feel totally helpless and dependent upon the torturer. Shame/degradation, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, heavy doses of pharmaceuticals, and self-inflicted pain were actually found to work better than just ripping someone’s fingernails off and electrocuting their genitals. This is not to say that physical abuse has stopped (as you can see from the photos here), but rather that these physical methods are much more effective when combined with advanced, scientifically tested psychological torture techniques.
For example, one of the MKULTRA subprojects most relevant to the torture camps of today (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, etc.) is Project ARTICHOKE, which was described by the CIA as follows:
The goal of ARTICHOKE was to find answers to the question:
“Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?”
— De-classified 1952 Project ARTICHOKE memo
I’ve been reading a book recently, called A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, by Alfred McCoy, which is talking about the history of the CIA’s torture techniques — how they were developed, where they have been applied, and what legal/political issues have arisen as a result. McCoy points out that when people talk about MKULTRA, they often focus on the fact that government agents dosed people will LSD and other such things, that just sound weird or crazy, for example:
“[…] There were at least three CIA safe houses in the Bay Area where experiments went on. Chief among them was 225 Chestnut on Telegraph Hill, which operated from 1955 to 1965. The L-shaped apartment boasted sweeping waterfront views, and was just a short trip up the hill from North Beach’s rowdy saloons. Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients to the apartment served up acid-laced cocktails to unsuspecting johns, while martini-swilling secret agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed, some disguised as electrical outlets.
To get the guys in the mood, the walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The agents grew fascinated with the kinky sex games that played out between the johns and the hookers. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action […]”
This is certainly disturbing: federal agents dosing San Francisco residents with LSD, without their knowledge, and then having them enact bondage/rape/torture … watching through a one way mirror, chugging martinis, in order to develop more effective torture techniques … It lays waste to the claim that they are concerned with “protecting” the public. The people that were doing it certainly didn’t have any illusions that this was what they were up to:
“… it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and bidding of the All-highest?”
— 1971 letter to MKULTRA overseer Sidney Gottlieb, from George Hunter White, who oversaw the Operation Midnight Climax experiments
But while the things that were done during Operation Midnight Climax were horrible, they become even more repulsive when viewed in the wider context of all of the MKULTRA experiments, and the overarching ends towards which Midnight Climax was aiming.
Even here, in what are are often referred to as “LSD experiments”, the air of a torture chamber is clearly present. The bondage porn, photographs of tortured women on the walls to “get the guys in the mood” … men watching from behind two-way mirrors at the torture scene inside, which they are directing …
The solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, humiliation (being rubbed in feces, etc.), threats of violence against loved ones, and other forms of psychological torture employed today at places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (which are combined with traditional methods like rape, electrocution, beatings, etc.), are all elements of a torture system designed — with funding from the CIA and military — in the science labs of U.S./Canadian universities, in mental hospital electroshock chambers, and in covert experiments on civilians such as Operation Midnight Climax.
The techniques developed during these experiments were later integrated into the CIAs KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual and other training programs, and are still being used by the U.S. and fascist police forces around the world.
“The frequent screams of the patients that echoed through the hospital did not deter Cameron or most of his associates in their attempts to depattern their subjects completely.”
— Ewen Cameron‘s psychological torture/control experiments done as part of MKULTRA
Federal officials were aware that these experiments, and their desire to torture people, would be repulsive to the public; so they took active steps to hide the existence of these programs from them, and continued the programs with the full knowledge that they were unethical and illegal:
“The concepts involved in manipulating human behavior are found by many people both within and outside the Agency to be distasteful and unethical. […] Public disclosure of some aspects of MKULTRA activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion.”
— John Earman, CIA Inspector General
“While I share your uneasiness and distaste for any program which tends to intrude upon an individual’s private and legal prerogatives, I believe it is necessary that the Agency maintain a central role in this activity.”
— Richard Helms, CIA Deputy Director of Plans
We should never fall into the trap of believing that when some horrendous example of U.S. torture is leaked to the public, that it is just a problem caused by “a few bad apples”. The system used by the Bush and Obama administrations is simply the “state of the art” in torture technique, based on decades of careful experimentation. The use of torture by the U.S. government is nothing new. What is new is the techniques and strategies they are using, and the way they talk about torture.