May 14, 2009
Yesterday, I was loading salvaged warehouse shelf uprights onto a truck at Cary Towne Center, a mall in Cary, North Carolina. Across the road in the parking lot, I scanned the bumper stickers on a silver Toyota RAV4 L, license plate XZF-7063 (North Carolina). A Ranger Tab. A Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB). Military parachutist wings.
This told me that the owner of the car was a male in the Army infantry, that he was in a theater of combat as an infantryman, that he had successfully completed the Airborne Course in Fort Benning, Georgia, and another sticker I later discovered on the front window indicated that he had served with the 82nd Airborne Division, an airborne infantry division based in Fort Bragg, NC.
Below the 201-file, I see a smaller, white sticker with a whole phrase. I walk over to the car to read it.
“You never forget your first KILL.”
Like that, with the word “kill” in all-cap.
Finally, down near the Toyota icon on the hatchback, I see a fish with JESUS printed inside it.
That same morning, my project manager asked me if I had ever heard of General Stanley McChrystal. I had, I told him — in conjunction with the investigation into the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman in 2004… why did he ask? Because, Joel (my boss) told me, he’s being nominated to be the overall commander for Afghanistan.
So I had been mulling over this thing, and then I had talked on the phone with “Dannie” Tillman, Pat Tillman’s mom, who was incensed that this guy had been caught red-handed in the cover-up of thee circumstances of her son’s death, and then on top of it all I see this array of macho military-cultural bumper stickers alongside the name of Jesus (a gender-subversive pacifist), and about a million alarm bells went off at once.
One can’t be sure where to start in unpacking what people need to know about this guy — Stanley McChrystal, the military-culture that is refracted in his personhood, and the peculiar institutional ecology of that military.
I don’t know Stanley McChrystal. I came in the Army a couple of years before him. We are both named Stanley. We were both in Special Operations. He was an officer; I was enlisted. We both served in A Company 2nd Ranger Battalion, in 75th Ranger Regiment, in 7th Special Forces, and he commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) of which was in a constiuent unit once. Nonetheless, neither of us ever served in these units at the same time. A Company 2nd Ranger Battalion was also Pat Tillman’s company when he was killed in April 2004. So I don’t know Stanley McChrystal, and all I can say about him specifically is based on stuff that I’ve read. But I can say some things that don’t require detailed knowledge of McChrystal’s wherabouts and activities at any given time. Because I am familiar with the ways that military culture is reflected in the individuals who are part of that culture.
We’ll get to McChrystal in a moment. The Killer’s Toyota, the call from Dannie, the whole McChrystal thing… these all made me feel restless. The real kicker is that Obama will probably support this guy; and this at the same time that Obama just placed himself between the ACLU and a bunch of torture photographs from places just like the ones that McChrystal developed and commanded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This evening, as I’m driving home from work, I hear on the radio that Nancy Pelosi has been forced to respond to questions about what she knew subsequent to briefings in 2002 about “enhanced interrogations.” From today’s story by Paul Kane in the Washington Post:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today accused the CIA of “misleading” her on the use of harsh interrogation techniques in the fall of 2002, acknowledging for the first time publicly she knew alleged terrorist detainees were subjected to waterboarding more than six years ago.
Pelosi called for the CIA to release detailed portions of her own September 2002 briefing about interrogation techniques, saying that at that time she was told the CIA was not waterboarding detainees. After weeks of sticking to prior statements that she then was never “briefed” about waterboarding’s use, Pelosi today said her top security adviser was part of a briefing in February 2003 in which he learned interrogators were waterboarding terrorists.
Let’s combine that quote with another one:
0 292234Z APRIL 04
FM TASK FORCE
TO RUCAACC/USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL//CDR//INFO RUCQAS/USSOCOM PP MACDILL AFB//FL//CDR// RUEPVBT/TASK FORCE
BT [REDACTION] PERSONAL FOR CDR USCENTCOM CDR USSOCOM CDR USASOC
DELIVER DURING NORMAL DUTY HOURS [REDACTION] DO NOT TRANSMIT VIA OPINTEL BROADCAST OPER/OEF// MSGID/GENAMIN/TASK FORCE
SUBJ/P-4 COCERNING INFORMATION ON CORPORAL TILLMAN’S DEATH//
RMKS/SIR, IN THE AFTERMATH OF CORPORAL TILLMAN’S UNTIMELY YET HEROIC DEATH IN AFGHANISTAN ON 22 APRIL 04, IT IS ANTICIPATED HIGHLY POSSIBLE THAT CORPORAL TILLMAN WAS KILLED BY FRIENDLY FIRE. THIS POTENTIAL FINDING IS EXACERBATED BY THE UNCONFIRMED REPORTS THAT POTUS AND THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY MIGHTIN CLUDE COMMENTS ABOUT CORPORAL TILLMAN’S HEROISM AND HIS APPROVED SILVER STAR MEDAL IN SPEECHES CURRENTLY BEING PREPARED, NOT INFORMING THE SPECIFICS SURROUNDING HIS DEATH. THE POTENTIAL THAT HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN KILLED BY FRIENDLY FIRE IN NO WAY DETRACTS FROM HISD WINTESSED HEROISM OR THE RECOMMENDED PEROSNAL DECORATION FOR VALOR IN THE FACE OF THE ENEMY. CORPORAL TILLMAN WAS KILLED IN A COMPLICATED BATTLESPACE GEOMETRY INVOLVING TWO SEPARATE RANGER VEHICLE SERIALS TRAVERSING THROUGH SEVERE TERRAIN ALONG A WINDING 500-600 FOOT DEFILE IN WHICH FRIENDLY FORCES WERE FIRED UPON BY MULTIPLE ENEMY POSITIONS. CORPORAL TILLMAN DISEMBARKED FROM HIS VEHICLE, AND IN SUPPORT OF HIS FELLOW RANGERS AND DEMONSTRATING GREAT CONCERN FOR THEIR WELFARE OVER CARE FOR HIS OWN PERSONAL SAFETY ENTERED THE ENEMY KILL ZONE INTO WHICH BOTH IMPACTED. I FELT THAT IT WAS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU RECEIVED THIS INFORMAITON AS SOON AS WE DETECTED IT IN ORDER TO PRECLUDE ANY UNKNOWING STATEMENTS BY OUR COUNTRY’S LEADERS WHICH MIGHT CAUSE PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT IF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF CORPORAL TILLMAN’S DEATH BECOME PUBLIC.//
DECL/DERI:DRV FROM [REDACTION] /INST-[REDACTION]-//BT
CLASSIFIED BY: [REDACTION]
REASON [REDACTION] DECLASSIFY ON: [REDACTION]
CAVEATS: [REDACTION] TERMS: [REDACTION]
That was a P-4 (“personal for”) Memo from General McChrystal passing along to POTUS (President of the United States) that the phony-baloney story about the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death    could not hold up. The memo was sent less than a week after Pat was killed; and when you read it carefully — if you can understand this bastardized legal-military-publcity-speak — it says not only that the author had been involved in the concealment of the circumstances, that he had himself participated in the fraud as one of the approving-signatories for a Silver Star award with demonstrably false statements about the incident.
McChrystal surely knew Rumsfeld personally; and according to one Rumsfeld biographer, Rummy’s greatest talent was getting away with shit. Not getting caught was an art form for Rumsfeld. Working for a guy like that, you have to stay on your toes, because someone will get sacrificed when someone who gets away with shit all the time suddenly doesn’t.
The Tillman case came into public consciousness alongside the TORTURE scandal at Abu Ghraib. Rummy was busy those days, so the guys on the scene had to handle a few things themselves. If I had been McChrystal, I’d have known by April 29th 2004 (the day of this memo) that an entire battalion of Rangers were due to rotate back to the States in four weeks. I’d have also known — as a matter of some urgency — that virtually every member of 2nd Ranger Battalion knew that Pat Tillman was killed by fratricide. Hundreds of Rangers were about to return to Tacoma, Washington, where they would talk to each other, to their families and friends, and to people in the bars where Rangers drink to “blow off steam.”
If I had been Stanley McChrystal then, I’d have seen some hand writing on the wall; and I’d have constructed the most carefully worded memo I could to cover my own ass.
That’s what you can read above, in that memo. And hey, Rumsfeld is gone; and McChrystal is on the rise.
This is not the story I have to tell right now, but it’s an important preface. Dannie herself has written a stunning book on her own dogged investigations of the Department of Defense, and of her direct encounter with executive power. Boots on the Ground by Dusk, by Mary Tillman (with Narda Zacchino). Time to get that one out and read up before the Senate meets to give their blessing to Stanley McChrystal as the new dominant Militia Chief of Afghanistan.
I said “executive power,” not Bush. Be clear. Obama is cautious and fearful of being torpedoed by the military-paramilitary-clandestine services network. That’s tactical. But he’s also Chief Executive. Executives are loathe to surrender even a scrap of accumulated executive power. Bush took the country into a debacle Iraq. Obama has his sights on Pakistan — nuclear Cambodia, for Vietnam-analogy fans — and the nomination of McChrystal means that Special Operations will run the show (as they did in the early phases of Vietnam).
A simple truth that “leaders” never seem to get. Our actions have tremendous influences; and most of those influences are beyond our control. Instead they just keep on with their insane, grandiose, and lethal meddling.
New Rule: Strive to limit your influence to your actual capacity to control.
We all have a notion of the geostrategic influences. But this public discussion of torture has become so surreal (en-fucking-hanced! interrogation techniques! Sheesh!), and here is this man who ran torture camps in Iraq (I forgot to mention that earlier) who is about to prepare the military infiltration from Afghanistan into Pakistan… nuclear South Asia.
That’s what Stanley McChrystal is being hired for if the Senate confirms. It will; and the cowardice inhering in the institution will be on full display… just as it was when Nanci Pelosi et al were banging the war drums out of abject fear for their careers.
And this man — McChrystal — represents a culture. The gunfighter culture of Special Operations.
There’s a great deal more than gunfighting to that culture — the culture of Special Operations embedded within the larger culture of the Army. Gunfighting is the practical skill that “operators” learn in Special Ops. There were times during my stint with Delta when each one of us in my unit were — on average — firing a thousand rounds of ammunition in a day, and not on full automatic spraying down a range, but reaching for precision and speed at close range and from afar. Fighting with guns is a skill constellation, a form of practical mastery. Cultures also include language, non-lingusitic signs, interpersonal norms, music, ideas, and so on. Practical training is just one aspect of culture; but it’s an important one. If I had trained as intensely to be a carpenter, and if I had become good at it, I would think about carpentering all the time, I would see carpenter’s solutions to a lot of things, and I would carry that skill confidently around with me into my own future. In tought times, even if I had a nice cushy desk job for a few years, I could fall back on being a carpenter.
Same thing is true for a gunfighter. There are thousands of these men out there now, who received a very expensive and well-drilled education in gunfighting. When times get tough, they will fall back on what they know.
Now along with gunfighting, these special operators also acquire other skills. I was a Special Forces medic for a while. I knew how to suture lacerations, pull teeth, deliver babies, count blood cells under a microscope, splint fractured femurs, get rid of belly-worms, and so on. If the stars had aligned at the right time, I might have become a nurse; and the gunfighting would no longer be needed. Other guys learn to operate radios and build antennae, handle explosives, do construction, or identify, operate, and repair small arms.
Gunfighting requires training the mind to compartmentalize, to focus on everyone as potential adversaries, to quickly check the hands of potential adversaries for lethal weapons, and to robotically respond to the presence of weapons by rapidly shooting two rounds into the chest of the identified adversary, followed by one shot to the head if necessary… then immediately return to observing one’s sector.
This kind of extreme, detached instrumentality is part of the psycho-cultural commons in Special Operations; and that’s how McChrystal can — and must — be read. He can and will objectify-to-kill individuals and groups of human beings… on command.
As an officer in the Army, he is part of the cannibal-culture of commissioned upward mobility. He’ll not only seek out opportunities for slaughter as rungs in the ladder to success, he’ll write memos that are the professional equivalent of shark repellant while his peers are being eaten.
Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger — former Special Operatons Command (SOCOM) commander — got the symbolic punishment — a threat to reduce his rank before he retired which was quietly allowed to fade into no action at all. Kensinger survived. He’s a consultant for the government now. But there is a credible rumor that his lawyer will oppose the nomination of Stanley McChrystal to head the Afghanistan theater of the US energy war.
Gunfighter. Shark-swimmer. Torture camp commander.
What cover-ups, like the Tillman case, and running torture camps have in common is that they are both manifestations of a culture of impunity — “exemption from punishment or loss.”
McChrystal ran Task Force 6-26, which became temporarily famous after the killing of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, a boogyman figure cultivated by the US military and media complex. What made TF 6-26 infamous was their activity in Camp Nama, Iraq: torture. Massive, systematic, sustained torture, by special operators, under the supervision of Stanley McChrystal, this deceptively soft-spoken officer.
The camp in Baghdad was used almost exclusively for the torture of detainees. The torture went on before, during, and after the scandal at Abu Ghraib. Detainees were killed by their torturers, members of the most elite units in the US armed forces. Almost in celebration of the activity of the camp, placards were hung that said, “No Blood, No Foul,” meaning if you don’t make them bleed, you can’t be charged with the crimes you are committing.
Impunity. McChrystal represents a culture of impunity.
Pelosi does, too. Be honest.
I keep coming back to that idea that culture, personhood, and nature are all reciprocally influenced. What kinds of persons will emerge from a culture of impunity, a culture of gunfighting, a culture of the most extreme kind of probative masculinity?
Here’s where I get to the evolution of Special Ops culture, and of military culture generally, and the bumper stickers on the car at a Cary mall suggesting a weaponized Jesus.
The reports of abuses inside Camp Nama were said to have outraged even seasoned CIA, FBI and DIA investigators accustomed to dealing with non-cooperative and hostile detainees, and to have provoked a culture clash between agencies and groups involved with the facility. By early 2004, one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s top aides, Under-Secretary for Defense Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, ordered a subordinate, DIA head Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby to “get to the bottom” of any misconduct [an order for public consumption in the wake of serial scandals, since Cambone was himself am early torture advocate].
By June 25, 2004, Admiral Jacoby wrote a two-page memo to Cambone, in which he described a series of complaints, including a May 2004 incident in which a DIA interrogator said he witnessed task force soldiers punch a detainee hard enough to require medical help. The DIA officer took photos of the injuries, but a supervisor confiscated them, the memo said. The memo provoked an angry reaction from Mr. Cambone. “Get to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable,” Mr. Cambone said in a handwritten note on June 26, 2004, to his top deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. “In particular, I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF 6-26.”
According to the NYT article, General Boykin had earlier said (on March 17) through a spokesman that he told Mr. Cambone he had found no pattern of misconduct with the task force. The article does not provide further detail on Boykin’s response to the investigation after Cambone’s and Jacoby’s intervention in June, 2004. [from Wikipedia]
Boykin. Readers may not remember this guy, but when he was Deputy Commander of Delta, I was assigned there, where we we occasionally hectored into attending one of “Jerry” Boykin’s “prayer breakfasts.” Boykin is a weaponized Jesus advocate, a dispensationalist zealot who considers himself one of God’s martial instruments in advance of the Rapture.
Now here is a strange and disturbing twist in the evolution of Special Ops culture. When I was there, some years back now, we were mostly reprobates — hyper-profane macho drunks a lot of us — with no time for religion. Over time, reports are indicating, the End Times Weaponized Jesus religion has gained a lot of ground in Special Operations and in the military generally. So now we are growing a culture wihtin the military that doesn’t obey rules (impunity), that kills to prove masculinity, and that fuels bloodlust with a crackpot philosophy that tells them killing Arabs, et al, is a deliverance of God’s justice.
If you believe that cultures mix, and sometimes badly, wait until we see the fruition of this hybrid of gunfighter practice with rapturite ideology.
Stanley McChrystal is mixed up in all this, and not necessarily as a proselytizer. He’s just mixed up in it, because this tendency in the military and his personal career happen to correspond in time and space. What both of them are is killers. They have made professional careers out of killing, and their units were not the little Special Forces A-Detachments with their peculiar linguists and trainers. These guys — Boykin, McChrystal — worked in “direct action” units. Rangers. Delta. JSOC. Direct action is another euphemism. It means destroying something, someone, someones.
Now it seems we are training a generation of people to torture; and I wonder if the crazy ideas are leading people to torture others, or if torturing others is the perverted origin of the penchant for male death-cult thinking.
The practice in question here, finally, is torture.
That’s where Boykin and McChrystal collaborated in Iraq. A torture camp.
That’s what has Pelosi on the spot now, too. Or the CIA. Or both.
What does torture say about us; and what does what we say about torture say about us?