Columns

Column: Dispatches from the Edge: Dispatch Awards for The Year That Was

By Conn Hallinan
Friday January 04, 2008

The following are Dispatches’ annual “I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This” Awards. 

 

Psychic Insight Award goes to U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, former commander of the Second Marine Division in Iraq. Members of Kilo Company in his division went on a rampage Nov. 19, 2006 and killed 24 Iraqi civilians. Huck said he never looked into the massacre because it was not uncommon for civilians to be killed during a combat operation. 

“In my mind’s eye I saw insurgent fire, I saw Kilo Company fire,” said Huck during a military hearing this past May, explaining that he could see how “neutrals in those circumstances could be killed.”  

The general did not explain exactly how the eye in his mind works. 

An Honorable Mention in this category went to the pilots of U.S. aircraft and helicopters for their Nov. 16 attack on a group of Iraqis in the town of Taji north of Baghdad. The Iraqis were members of a Sunni militia that had just captured five members of al-Qaeda. According to a military spokesperson, the U.S. pilots detected “hostile intent” from the group—a neat trick considering they were several hundred feet up in the air—and opened fire, killing 50 Sunni militia members and their five prisoners. 

 

The Long Sorrow* Award goes to officials of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq who took members of the Iraqi government and military to visit Northern Ireland in order to demonstrate how building walls between the Catholic and Protestant communities greatly reduced the damage caused by sectarian violence. With Ireland as a template, the Iraqis can now look forward to more than four centuries of inter-communal warfare.  

*The Irish call their 800-plus-year struggle against the English “the long sorrow.”  

 

Great Moments in Objectivity Award goes to Jim Albaugh, chief of defense operations for the Boeing Corporation. Speaking during an air show in Paris this past June, Albaugh urged that U.S. military spending be kept at record levels in order to deal with terrorists and the threat of China. 

“The question is, what happens when we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the supplementals [additional payments used to fund the war] start to dry up?” he asked. 

Boeing is worried about cuts in the $200 billion Future Combat System—lots of high-tech whiz bangs, including robot tanks, helicopters, and planes—in which the company has a major stake. Boeing also may lose $400 million if congressional Democrats block the building of a third anti-ballistic missile site in Europe. 

Lest one think that Albaugh’s view of the world and the need for enhanced military spending is self-serving, the Boeing official said that he was “pretty objective” about the whole thing. 

 

The Entrepreneurship Award to Charlene Corley, owner of C&D Distributors in Lexington, S.C., for her creative approach to spending taxpayer’s money. C&D Distributors charged the U.S. Army $998,798 for two 19-cent washers. The firm has collected $20.5 million over a six-year period.  

 

Great Moments in Irony Award to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Meeting with reporters at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Moscow, she accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of undermining the country’s courts, media and legislative bodies.  

“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” she said. 

The same day that Rice was chiding Putin for amassing too much executive power, a coalition of liberals from the American Freedom Campaign and conservatives from the American Freedom Agenda asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to roll back the enormous power President Bush has amassed. 

The pledge reads: “We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and e-mails without court order, and above all, we do not give any president unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from attack by any president.” 

Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who signed the pledge. Five of the eight Democrats also signed. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and John Edwards did not, but issued statements denouncing torture, wiretapping without warrants, and imprisonment without judicial review.  

Rice’s statement in Moscow brings to mind Lily Tomlin’s remark about the Bush Administration: “No matter how cynical you get, you just can’t keep up with these people.”  

 

Bunker Hill Award goes to Canadian Lt. Col. Jamie Robertson who denounced the Taliban in Afghanistan this past July for refusing “to fight fair,” relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks instead of “directly confronting Canadian troops in combat. 

“After failing to achieve any success…in conventional warfare, the insurgents have resorted to IED [improvised explosive devices] and other terrorist tactics,” said Robertson, deputy director of public affairs operations for the Canadian armed forces. 

Which is kind of the idea behind guerilla warfare, something the Canadian military apparently hasn’t worked out yet. 

Back in 1776, Major General William Howe, who led the British assault at Bunker Hill, expressed similar complaints about the “rabble in arms,” which inflicted over 1,000 casualties on his men. The colonials, on the other hand, thought it was an excellent idea for the British to wear bright red uniforms and stand in long, straight lines out in the open while the rebels got to shoot at them from behind barricades. 

 

The Grinch Award goes to Ronald R. Aument, deputy undersecretary for Veterans Affairs, who opposed giving full veteran benefits to Filipinos who fought with the U.S. Army during the WW II.  

Aument said such benefits would cost $4 billion over the next decade (the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost will be only $1 billion), but the major reason the Bush Administration opposes the benefits is that it would allow Filipino veterans living in the Philippines to have a higher standard of living than most other Filipinos. 

“VA benefits paid to beneficiaries living in the United States, such as U.S. veterans, do not enable those beneficiaries to live higher than the general U.S. population,” Aument told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We do not support the bill because it would disproportionately favor Filipino veterans over U.S. veterans.” 

More than 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Some were captured and imprisoned, while others led a successful guerrilla war against the Japa-nese. The Filipinos were promised full veterans benefits, but the promise was arbitrarily canceled in 1946. 

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the leading Republican on the Committee, said he too was concerned about paying the benefits. “The same benefit paid to veterans in the Philippines would provide income that is almost four times the average household income in that country,” he said. 

The average household income in the Philippines is $4,133, compared to $48,201 in the U.S. The benefits for low-income Filipinos over 65 would be just under $11,000 a year. There are about 20,000 Filipino vets still living, most in their 80s and 90s. 

Merry Christmas from the Bush administration. 

 

The Totally Whacko Award to U.S. Lt. Col. Edward M. Bush III, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, who accused London lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of smuggling “contraband” to prisoners the Bush Administration is holding in the Cuban facility.  

“Contraband items are taken seriously, said Bush III, “They may be used in such a way to conduct harm or self-harm for which the Joint Task Force is liable.” 

The “contraband”? Underpants and Speedo swimsuits. 

Smith denies the charge, saying his job “involves legal briefs, not the other sort.” The lawyer also said he was “baffled” by the Speedo charge. He said his client “is hardly in a position to go swimming, since the only available water is the toilet in his cell.”