Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Guglielmo Olivotto

Stories are never simple, especially those stories that deal with large, real-life conflicts. The story of the riot at Fort Lawton in 1944 and the death of Italian POW Guglielmo Olivotto in that incident, exemplify this principle of complexity. Since I do not have the book written years afterwards about this incident, I can't comment definitively on it. But an article in the Village Voice with another take on it needs to be considered. In that article, from April 22, 2008, Tony Ortega writes about Anthony DeCesare's response to the pardon of the African Americans convicted of the crime, two of whom were convicted of killing Olivotto. DeCesare, who served in the American military until he was wounded in North Africa and then ended up in the military hospital at Fort Lawton, saw the results of the riot--a riot he says (and Hamann confirms) was initiated by African Americans soldiers drinking the night before being shipped out to the Pacific, and one which ended up with dozens of Italian POWs landing in the hospital beside him, suffering from wounds inflicted by their attackers who were armed with clubs and knives. And the most important thing he heard the night of the riot was the admonition by a medical officer to the POWs: "You patients, you haven't seen anything. Any of you talk, you're going to get court-martialed." Which is to say that even on the night of the riot, the Army was beginning to cover up the truth.
The other thing that comes from the article is that the prosecutor for the Army, the one who mishandled the case and suppressed evidence, was none other than Leon Jaworski, the man who went on to become the prosecutor at Nuremberg and at Watergate. How strange that a distinguished career could be launched by a case that, according to Hamann, was so badly mishandled. Or perhaps it's not so strange.
What does stick in the craw, however, is that those who launched a riot should be exculpated, and indeed, posthumously honored, while the victims of that riot, including the man who was lynched, were simply buried beneath the story as incidental elements in a disturbing distortion of justice. I will have more to say about this nearly forgotten incident when I've had a chance to read Jack Hamann's book. For those interested in the recollection of one of the few men still alive who was there, check out the Village Voice: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-04-22/news/raw-deal/.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Double Injustice from WWII

This morning I received information about a ceremony that recently took place in Seattle WA to formally repair the injustice done to African American soldiers in the latter days of WWII. Forty-three of them were court-martialed for the 1944 lynching of an Italian POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, during a riot at Fort Lawton, after which 28 African American soldiers were convicted and sentenced to as many as 25 years in prison.

Then in 2005, Jack Hamann wrote a book about the case, "On American Soil," in which he showed that the soldiers had been wrongly accused and convicted. The court-martial proceeding was deeply flawed, the prosecutor had held back critical evidence, and it was probable that a white Army policeman had killed Olivotto (see Nicole Brodeur, Seattle Times, 7/22/08.) An Army investigation confirmed these flaws in the case and led to the ceremony in Seattle: all the soldiers received apologies and honorable discharges, and their families were brought to Seattle for the ceremony.

But what about Guglielmo Olivotto, the forgotten man, the man who died? According to Brodeur, he was a reluctant warrior in Mussolini’s army who served as a truck driver in North Africa where he was captured in 1943. Like some 50,000 of his countrymen, he was shipped to the United States for internment. It was because of this that he ran afoul of the African American soldiers at Fort Lawton—themselves the victims of such prejudice during WWII that they were kept in segregated units and separate barracks. Already resentful over this mistreatment, they then saw Italian POWs at Fort Lawton—the enemy—treated very well: they were allowed to leave the base, eat and drink and dance with host Italian American families and clubs, and even date American girls who found them charming. These privileges were reserved only for those Italian POWs who declared their allegiance to the Allies (Italy’s government did the same in September 1943), but not everyone could know that. Resentment flared into a riot between African American soldiers and the Italian POWs at Fort Lawton in August of 1944, and resulted in the African Americans court-martialed and Guglielmo Olivotto lynched. He was buried in the fort’s cemetery, with a broken-column headstone—columns intentionally constructed as broken to signify a life cut short.

The column would not be the only memorial to Olivotto. Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, who had studied in Italy, decided that Olivotto, too, deserved commemoration: “There’s something undone; Olivotto is the lost person in the story.” So on July 24, in his school’s St. Ignatius Chapel, Sundborg was to conduct an Italian mass in Olivotto’s honor. “He was one soldier in a war who suffered a tragic end,” Sundborg said. “And he should not be forgotten.”

Neither should the injustices, and they are many. To begin with, the injustice that virtually defines the activity we describe as war: the sanctioned murder of both combatants and innocent civilians alike. Second, the injustice that African Americans were compelled to live with in a United States military that still, in a war ostensibly fought for the “four freedoms,” denied those freedoms to those with black skin. And third, the injustice suffered by all those with a perceived connection to the nations the U.S. was fighting—a category that includes not only the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned in by-now well-known internment camps, but also the enemy aliens of Japanese, Italian, and German descent, who were interned even earlier in a program that to this day remains a “secret story” (see www.segreta.org) to most Americans.

With the Army’s apology and Father Sundborg’s mass in Seattle, we can add two more categories of “almost-forgotten” injustices—the lost life suffered by an innocent, reputedly shy and retiring Italian prisoner, and the lost lives of those who proved to be simply too convenient as scapegoats to blame for his death.

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hussein in Yarmulka

Among the dismaying news items from yesterday, July 23, were these two:
1) a photo of presidential hopeful Barack Obama at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, wearing a yarmulka—the skull cap worn by Jewish men on occasions deemed culturally or spiritually significant;
2) an interview on NPR with distinguished Israeli historian, Bennie Morris, concerning the op-ed piece he wrote in the July 18 New York Times predicting that “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.”

Consider the Morris prediction first. Despite all the talk about a new effort by the United States to engage Iran diplomatically, the war threats from Israel have never really ceased. Coming from Bennie Morris—a historian who was among the first to publicize the true story of the 1948 ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Israelis, including the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin, and so one who knows intimately the grave crimes committed by his country—this was grim news indeed. So were his reasons for why Israel cannot count on diplomacy to stop the Iranians from “getting a nuclear weapon,” and the reasons why Israel is certain that Iran with a nuclear weapon would mean an Iran which would drop a nuke on Israel. Simple, said Morris: “the Iranians are not rational people.” They are controlled, he said, by religious zealots who are irrational; they “threaten Israel with destruction every day.” Here, once again, we have the purposeful distortion of what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, which was not so much a threat as a prediction: “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”—and one that Iran scholar Juan Cole says “does not imply military action or killing anyone at all.” By contrast, it is Morris’ article that contains the real threat, for what he concludes it with is this: Iran should hope that Israel’s conventional strike succeeds, for though it would mean “thousands of Iranian casualties and international humiliation,” the alternative—Israel being forced to use its nuclear weapons on an Iran that did succeed in building its own nuke—“is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland.”

Isn’t this rich? Here we have an Israeli scholar who has researched the international crimes his nation has committed and continues to commit. He also must be aware that his nation is controlled by a Zionist ideology which is nothing if not zealous, racist, and ruthless in its admission that in order for it to survive, it must rid Palestine of all Palestinians, and perhaps Iran of all Iranians. He also must know that his nation is animated by a sense of its own superiority—that is, the superiority of even a single Jewish life over the lives of thousand of Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims—indeed, a nation whose leaders have routinely referred to Palestinians as insects or worse. Finally, he clearly, in the very op-ed piece under discussion, threatens Iran with a nuclear holocaust. And he is calling the Iranians “irrational.” He is saying that the Iranians are so “irrational” that they cannot be trusted with a single nuclear weapon (ignoring the fact that the best U.S. evidence indicates that the Iranians gave up their nuclear program in 2003).

'But doesn’t Israel have nuclear weapons itself?' asked the NPR interviewer. “Yes,” said Morris, “but they have never threatened anyone with their use.” In other words, unlike the irrational Iranians, the Israelis are MORAL people; they would NEVER use nuclear weapons, or even threaten to use them (again, forgetting his own words). But wait: who has been at war for virtually its entire existence as a nation? Who has attacked and continues to attack a population with virtually no weapons, and certainly none comparable to the American-supplied planes, tanks, rockets, and ships possessed by armed-to-the-teeth Israel? Who has just written an entire essay that is essentially a threat of nuclear destruction? And from the other side, who has Iran ever attacked in modern times? No one, unless we call Iran’s defending itself from Iraq’s aggression in 1980 an “attack.” No, what Iran has done is make the supreme error of taking over its own oil fields. It has made the supreme error of getting rid of its U.S.-backed and-created dictator, the Shah. It has made the supreme error of telling the western powers, including Israel, that it doesn’t need them and their exploitation. And in the lexicon that pertains today in Israel and the United States, that translates into that dread word: “irrational,” which justifies not only a pre-emptive strike, but a nuclear holocaust.

The sad part of all this is that Barack Obama has made irrational statements agreeing with such propaganda. As I noted in a previous blog, Obama, groveling before the rabidly pro-Israel minions at the recent AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, said:

“Now, there's no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and stability of the region than Iran…. The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”

Then yesterday, he continued his groveling, attending sit-downs with no less than half a dozen Israeli leaders, topping it off with his yarmulka-enhanced photo op at the Wailing Wall. This is truly disturbing stuff. For it not only indicates the lengths to which Obama now seems willing to go to demonstrate his fealty to Jewish Americans and the money they contribute to Democratic Party candidates, but also his fear of the concerted power of Jewish-controlled opinion in the United States and the West. This is a serious situation indeed. For where Obama has been at great pains to downplay what would seem to be his logical concern for his own people in his own country—the African Americans who are supporting him almost universally and who need his help—he does public prostrations meant to announce in bold type his willingness to “go to the wall” on behalf of a foreign nation that has been at the center of international conflict for its entire existence, and now threatens a neighboring nation with a nuclear holocaust.

Any hope, therefore, that an American president would finally take a look at history and conclude that the United States places itself and all its people in peril by supporting a nation that condemns entire peoples and religions to sub-human status, must be abandoned. Absent growing outrage from Americans themselves, and that includes condemnation of the powerful forces in this country, like AIPAC and other Jewish organizations, which exist to bludgeon politicians into undying support for Israel regardless of its actions or its threats, we can expect more of the same, with the consequent rising frustration and hatred from Arab and Muslim nations.

What a terrible irony for a man whose middle name is “Hussein.”
Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Know How to Win Wars

Not content with crowing about his macho credentials once, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, on July 18 in Albuquerque, blared out his assertion twice:

“ I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars.”

If this were not so alarming, it would be funny. I mean this is the guy who got shot down over North Vietnam on one of his first combat missions, spent the rest of the war as a POW, and may well have provided information to the enemy about American strategy and tactics. Worse, this was not McCain’s only mishap: before he got to Vietnam, he crashed his airplanes no less than 4 times. One, on the deck of the aircraft carrier Forrestal, occurred when he “wet-started” his A4E Skyhawk while awaiting takeoff and “caused a jet of flame to strike the Phantom F4 immediately behind him. That caused a Zuni rocket to ignite and launch, starting a chain of events that killed at least 164 men” (from George Giacoppe, splinters-splinters.blogspot.com, June 30, 2008).

So here we have a “hot-dog” Navy pilot, who seems to have escaped several courts-martial for reckless behavior while flying because of his father’s position in the Navy, who then becomes a “hero” because he is shot down over North Vietnam. It is presumably this “heroic” status as a POW (he would have had a great deal of time to think), and all those crashes which taught McCain “how to win wars.” Of course, the United States cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim a win in Vietnam, but that’s another matter.

But let’s look at the war McCain claims in his win column—the war in Iraq, now going so swimmingly because of the surge which McCain backed. To begin with, this is not and never has been a “war.” No war was ever declared. The United States simply imposed an arbitrary deadline for the president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, to get out of his country. When he did not, the U.S. invaded, first with a rain of bombs and missiles, then with a ground invasion. It is now accepted by almost everyone that the justification for invading Iraq—the famous WMD Saddam supposedly had—was a blatant lie. So this aggression, which McCain claims as a war he knows how to “win,” was illegal from the beginning. According to international law, such aggression is a crime against humanity, the supreme crime of all the crimes a nation can commit.

The occupation which followed the U.S. invasion was also a crime. It has resulted in an estimated 1 million Iraqi deaths, the destruction of an entire country including its infrastructure, the exile of more than 2,000,000 Iraqis (out of a population of 26,000,000) who could not survive the civil war the invasion and occupation unleashed, and the displacement of at least 2,000,000 more within the country. The entire nation has gone from the richest Arab nation in the Middle East with an almost universally educated populace to a third-world basket case: spotty electricity, polluted water, hospitals and schools hardly functional. Its oil production, once second only to that of Saudi Arabia, has been since the invasion in a state of almost complete disrepair. Recent agreements, signed with U.S. and European oil companies, guarantee that most of the revenue from Iraqi oil will be stolen by the West rather than supporting the Iraqi people themselves. As to the surge, its most visible sign is the ethnic segregation of a population which used to live in totally mixed neighborhoods. Huge blast walls, similar to those in Israel, line most of Baghdad’s streets. And the real success of the “surge” has been the paying off of the Sunni population which comprised most of the insurgency. Sunni leaders and their soldiers now get weekly salaries courtesy of the U.S. Government, a payoff which is apparently cheaper than financing the fight against them.

This is the war McCain “knows how to win.” It will “only” cost the United States, when it is done, something in the area of 2 trillion dollars, a military crippled by the strain, a reputation as a decent nation in tatters, and the lifeblood of more than 4,000 men and women (not to mention the thousands crippled in various physical and mental ways for the rest of their lives.) It will also make the world, and America itself a more dangerous place for all Americans.

And all this for a lie.

In the face of all this, one can only work and pray and organize to prevent “Hot Dog” McCain and his ilk from ever ever getting the chance to teach us “how to win” more such lovely wars.

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kill All the Lawyers

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part II, we find Dick the butcher, one of the rebel followers of Jack Cade, uttering these lines:

“The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” (IV.ii.83-84)

Especially after listening to Congressional hearings featuring such legal eagles of the Bush Administration as John Yoo, David Addington, Alberto Gonzalez, Jim Haynes, and most recently Douglas Feith, the lines seem uncannily appropriate to our time. Each lawyer has taken the stand in his turn and, like that other legal eagle, former President Bill Clinton, chosen denial and obfuscation and parsing of words as the means to escape all culpability. In Clinton’s case, though, the offense involved fellatio in the Oval Office—a rather crude offense, but not one that endangered the Republic. In the case of Yoo, Addington, Gonzalez, Haynes and Feith, by contrast, the offenses amounted to supplying the legal justification for war crimes, most notably the torture that now almost everyone agrees took place at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and probably numerous other “black sites” around the world. Such torture subverts not only several treaties to which the United States is a signatory—the Geneva Conventions, the Torture Convention of 1984—but also the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and the policies for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual.

All these lawyers, of course, argue either that they were just doing the job their client, the President of the United States or, in some cases Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld asked them to do; or that they were endeavoring to “protect the security of the nation.” In order to do this, they argue, they had to find a way to extract vital information from “the bad guys” captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Thus they argued in memo after memo, and in meeting after meeting, that since this was not a regular war, the rules governing prisoners of war (POWs) did not apply; or that even if they did apply, these particular “bad guys” were not regular, uniform-wearing troops but were “enemy combatants” (i.e. terrorists) and undeserving of the protections offered by the Geneva Conventions. Yoo and his boss Jay Bybee—another legal eagle now rewarded with a lifetime position as a federal judge—took a slightly different tack. They argued that the Geneva rules governing torture were outdated, having defined torture much too broadly. They then “tortured” torture to refer to only that kind of treatment which led to injury equivalent to “organ failure or death” or long-term psychological damage.

What resulted from all these coordinated attempts to justify “taking the gloves off” was torture. Prisoners were hooded for long periods, shackled to the floor like dogs, kept standing for long hours until their ankles swelled to excruciating size, sexually humiliated in a host of ways, frightened with dogs, religiously tormented, and waterboarded. All these methods (18 of them were outlined in Haynes’ December 2, 2002 memo to his boss, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld), both alone and in combination, were meant to reduce a prisoner to total hopelessness, misery, disorientation, de-personalization, and psychosis, the aim being to force him to reveal what he knew about future terrorist plans or the whereabouts of superiors.

The astonishing thing about all this—especially as it is laid out in numerous books and articles like Philppe Sands’ recent Torture Team—is that where usually we expect the military to be pushing for tougher measures in war and civilians in the Justice Department to be reigning them in with legal objections (as happened in World War II regarding internment of civilians), here the opposite occurred. In 2002 it was civilian appointees in the Pentagon, the Department of Justice and the White House who argued ferociously for extreme interrogation methods, and Pentagon lawyers, usually in the Judge Advocate General’s office, who objected to the violations of U. S. laws and military traditions. In short, instead of trying to reign in the hawks in the military, the Bush Administration let loose its own Chicken hawks. It was these civilian policy makers who badgered and bullied and, most often, simply cut the military lawyers out of the decisional loop entirely. And indeed, what Philppe Sands, himself an English barrister, concludes is that in the Bush Administration, policy ruled. The policy was set by civilians, by Bush himself, by his Machiavellian Vice President Cheney, and by all the sycophants, mostly lawyers, who followed and sought to please their clients by offering advice they wanted to hear. In Sands’ words:

“The legal advice was fitted around the policy” (Sands, p. 226)

If the policy was war in Iraq, the lawyers found ways to justify it. If the policy was torture, the lawyers found ways to disqualify prisoners from protections against it, or found ways to define torture so narrowly that almost anything was permissible. And overall, they argued fiercely that even if it were torture, it was necessary to save the people from terrorism. This was the tack taken by that distinguished legal eagle, not a part of the administration but one of the reigning nabobs at Harvard’s Law School, Alan Dershowitz. He it was who invented the last-ditch rationale, the “ticking time-bomb” scenario. Its import was simple, or simple-minded: if we capture a terrorist whom we suspect has information about a bomb, a nuclear weapon about to explode in a crowded city, what could possibly limit our attempts to get that information in time? Shouldn’t our policy be that any and all methods are warranted in such a dire emergency?

Without questioning this ridiculous scenario—for how often could it be, aside from on an imaginary thriller like “24” (the favorite program of most of the interrogators at Guantanamo, as well as many of the lawyers), that a single captive would have such information, with his captors knowing he had it?—the Administration based policy on it. And administration lawyers gave the requisite advice: it is legitimate to do virtually anything to prisoners to make them talk. In short, the legal advice was fitted around the policy—just as, earlier, as we learned from one of Britain’s diplomats, the intelligence required to justify invading Iraq was fitted around that policy as well.

What Sands points out in Torture Team, however, is that lawyers have a legal obligation not simply to win for their clients, not simply to provide them with legal rationales for the unlawful behavior they wish to engage in (this is the job rather, of mafia lawyers), but the obligation to warn them of the legal consequences of such actions. Lawyers have a primary responsibility to make sure their clients do NOT resort to measures that violate the law. Lawyers are officers of the court. And what the government lawyers in the Bush Administration failed to do, it now seems clear, was sound the alarm about the legal peril facing their clients for the illegalities they wanted to employ.

Instead, they strove mightily to frame arguments and find justifications for those illegalities, as well as expedients to indemnify both themselves and their clients from the penalties such acts incurred. They worked mightily to avoid their culpability for the war crimes that resulted from their arguments. And for the most part, they succeeded.

On the other hand, perhaps they did not succeed as thoroughly as they once hoped. The 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, to which the United States is a signatory, makes very clear that not only are public officials prohibited from “intentionally inflicting” physical or mental pain upon a person (including so-called enemy combatants), but there are no circumstances, including a war against terrorism, that justify such treatment. Not only are all such acts criminal offenses, but more important, “any act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture” is also a criminal offense. In other words, the lawyers whose arguments authorized such acts are also culpable—as the Nuremberg Trials demonstrated.

This is not just an academic argument. In June 2006, in the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention did, in fact, apply to all Guantanamo detainees. Taliban or al-Quaeda, state combatants or enemy combatants, all had these rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy went even further. He wrote that “violations of Common Article 3 are considered ‘war crimes,’ punishable as federal offenses, when committed by or against United States nationals and military personnel” (quoted in Sands, p. 174).

Of course, this “ominous” decision put the Bushies, including the lawyers, in a bit of a panic. For one thing, the Torture Convention of 1984 contains the requirement that all parties to this Convention, i.e. all nations who signed it, are “required to investigate any person who is alleged to have committed torture.” This act also “criminalizes any act that constitutes complicity” in torture (Sands, p. 177). So what did President Bush and his lawyers do? Why they proposed, and passed the Military Commissions Act, signed into law in November of 2006. This act “created a new defense to alleged breaches of Common Article 3…where the misconduct concerned the ‘detention and interrogation of aliens’ between September 11, 2001 and December 30, 2005” (Sands p. 208). Thus it gave the interrogators, and the lawyers, and any Bush Administration officials retroactive immunity from prosecution for their crimes. Rather a nice ploy, it seems. Commit crimes that violate the law both domestic and international; then create a new law absolving oneself of guilt for the crime. We’ve just seen a re-enactment of this in the bill that gave telecommunications companies immunity from their crimes in spying on the American people.

But the rejoicing in the White House may have come too soon. For as two jurists pointed out to Philippe Sands when he questioned them about the immunity legislation, this was a “very stupid” thing to do. Such legislation, allowing a crime to be covered up, “was almost an admission that a crime had occurred.” As one of the jurists pointed out, it had all the earmarks of a “pactum scaelaris,” or “evil pact,” bringing into play that part of the Criminal Code which “showed that contributing to the avoidance of an investigation of a crime could itself give rise to complicity” (Sands, p. 208).

Sands sums up the case he makes throughout the book as follows:

“The lawyers advising the Administration played a decisive role in subverting the system of international rules that should have protected all detainees from cruel and degrading treatment, a system that the United States had done so much to put in place. This was no mere accident or oversight. Nor was it a case of responding to a legitimate request that came up from the ground-level interrogators at Guantanamo, as the Bush Administration would have us believe. September 11 gave rise to a conscious decision to set aside international rules constraining interrogations.”

In short, it was the lawyers who enabled torture by subverting the constraints against it. Absent their legal arguments rationalizing the banned techniques, circumventing the international constraints against them, and justifying their use in the alleged crisis, the torture could not have happened. Which brings us back to Shakespeare’s formulation for a remedy:

“First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, July 11, 2008

Candidate McCrash

What will be the fate
Of the Manchurian Candidate?
Known to party and swirl
With dozens of girls
Showing a temper that’s famous
Using words that will shame us
While courting the Right Wing
That excuses his night flings
So, just what will unfold
Will he crash and explode?

A week ago or so, a friend handed me a short crash history of the presidential candidate. It caused me to do a little research beyond McCain’s autobiography that I had read years ago. We all know about his crash as a fighter pilot in North Vietnam and that seems to be an unfortunate reality of a man doing his job and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chalk that up to bad luck even if you believe that he should have ejected sooner than he did. His injuries were caused by the ejection process at 500 knots and not by his judgment. There are four other McCain airplane disasters that do not easily fall into the same category however. Let us start at the beginning of his government life. McCain had the reputation of being a marginal but hard drinking midshipman while at Annapolis. According to fellow midshipman Robert Timberg who wrote, The Nightingale’s Song, “being on liberty with John McCain was like being on a train wreck.” It is that character issue that causes me to pause at those who wink and nod at the indiscretions and bad judgment of potential leaders. I see them as being either too forgiving or blind to a defect that could affect us all if McCain becomes Commander-in-Chief. After all, we have just experienced nearly 8 years of a hard drinking party animal who continuously demonstrated bad judgment in nearly every aspect of leadership and took us all along for the ride to an unnecessary war while failing to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, to a market crash, to the loss of millions of jobs, to the loss of our noble international reputation, to institutionalizing torture, to the supremacy of loyalty over competence, and to an economy that depends more on oil today than when he took office in January 2001.

The parallels between Bush and McCain don’t end with the party animal escapades but extend into the world of privilege that both enjoyed by virtue of family ties. Let us begin with McCain’s first airplane demolition. Lt. McCain was a student pilot for 2 ½ years at Pensacola and Corpus Christi after graduating from the US Naval Academy. While in Pensacola, he dated the exotic dancer (stripper) “Marie, the Flame of Florida.” His fitness reports appear to indicate that his performance was below par. Indeed, he crashed his trainer into Corpus Christi Bay while trying to land. That was often enough to boot a trainee out of flight school, but not McCain who had an active 4 star admiral dad and a retired 4 star admiral grandfather. Of course, that could have been coincidence, just as it was coincidence that W got into the Texas Air Guard despite long waiting lists of less well-connected citizens. Sometimes good stuff happens to well-connected people. His second crash happened because he was flying too low over Spain while on a Mediterranean cruise, and he took down power lines along the way. The headlines did not reflect his bad judgment or faulty depth perception, but that he was the son of an admiral. Not to worry; he was nonetheless promoted to flight instructor back at Pensacola. His third crash happened as he was flying a Navy trainer (solo) to Philadelphia on the way to an Army-Navy game. He parachuted safely, but the plane was destroyed striking a group of trees. Nobody killed…no harm; no foul? Again, the Navy glossed over the event and there was no uproar over personal use of a military aircraft. After all, what could be more important than the Army-Navy game?

John McCain’s 4th airplane disaster actually occurred on the deck of the USS Forrestal. He was waiting on deck for takeoff, and (according to one nasty version) he wet-started his A4E Skyhawk which caused a jet of flame to strike the Phantom F 4 immediately behind him. That caused a Zuni rocket to ignite and launch starting a chain of events that killed at least 164 men. The more official version attributes the M 48 Zuni launching to stray current when the system was switched from external to internal. The “angry” (Navy veterans) version described McCain as a “hot dog” pilot who wet started his aircraft and that he panicked and dropped his two 1,000 lb bombs on the deck in the ensuing fire. Regardless of what version you may read, McCain was quickly and singularly removed from the Forrestal and put in safety, some say to protect him from other crew members who felt that the accident was caused by his actions. Indeed, a Navy veterans’ group has been vicious in criticizing McCain for this incident. If there is evidence that he caused the accident, I have not read it and, personally, I feel that the stray electrical current is a credible cause. Unfortunately, McCain reported several versions of the event himself and some critics are using this as proof of his guilt. We don’t need to go there. It is clear that he got special treatment by being the only one given immediate removal from the burning ship, but if you have experienced the confusion of similar smoke, fire and chaos, you will understand that details will never be known. It is unwise as well as unfair to blame McCain for that tragedy. He has enough blame to bear as we review his crashes and behavior.

John McCain’s fifth and final crash resulted from enemy action and, again, it is not fair or wise to assume that greater skill would have avoided it. In summary, it would appear that three of the five demolitions were caused or contributed to by questionable pilot judgment and the willingness of the Navy to keep McCain flying despite marginal skills and demonstrations of “hot-dogging.” I have not read of any “near misses,” but only of his 5 crashes. In a way, I equate McCain’s actions to that of a rebellious and spoiled teen who wrecks his daddy’s Corvette only to be given the keys to a newer model. The Navy and his 4 star daddy continued to give him the keys.

McCain’s lack of maturity showed up in more personal ways as shown by this excerpt from the web entry “thought Rogue” (http://gto7.wordpress.com):
Upon returning home with the aid of crutches, he discovered his wife Carol had survived her own ordeal - a devastating car accident in 1969 which left her with her own set of crutches, four inches shorter, and considerably heavier than the model she had been.

As he went through physical therapy for his injuries and recovered just enough to be appointed commanding officer of an A-7 Corsair II training squadron in Jacksonville, FL, his marriage entered troubled waters. For all they had been through, chasing his youth (and various women), the Maverick engaged in a series of extra-marital affairs. He said, “My marriage’s collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame by pointing a finger at the war. The blame was entirely mine.”

As the web entry indicates, the party animal of his midshipman days did not disappear after 5 ½ years in the Hanoi Hilton. He was selfish and immature. These are the same characteristics that fellow senators point to today when they describe his verbal and physical assaults in the senate environs. In a quote attributed to McCain by Cliff Schecter, his temper and shameful treatment of his second wife (Cindy) shine through in a harsh and disturbing way. As Cindy twirled his hair, she said “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c___.” He offered his fatigue for a long day as an excuse. As president, he might just have a long day once in a while.

As you may remember, the Manchurian Candidate is the story of a brainwashed POW returning to the US and politics. McCain was indeed interrogated by North Vietnamese officials during his time in prison. While McCain vigorously denied that the Soviet Russians also interviewed him, KGB Major General Kalugin testified under oath that the KGB worked on a “high ranking naval officer.” Kalugin was repatriated to the United States. Colonel Bin Tin of the North Vietnamese Army testified that the Soviets indeed interrogated American prisoners and treated them badly. Bin Tin had access to all this information due to his high position in the Communist Party. Bin Tin wants normalization of relations with the Vietnamese and was warmly greeted by McCain when he testified to the US Senate. McCain, in 1991, influenced other Republican senators to stop POW/MIA investigations. Indeed, this interrogation period is troubling because it indicates that McCain was likely given special treatment due to his relationship to his father and, worse that he may have violated Article V of the US Military Code of Conduct that prohibits providing intelligence to the enemy although McCain claims that it was only accidental that he offered “military information” at the time he was getting special medical treatment. (Ted Sampley, U.S. Veteran Dispatch, December 1992). Not incidentally, McCain provided military information that described how tactical air attacks were executed; he estimated pilot losses and how replacements were provided to the mission. It is difficult not to link the two actions since they happened simultaneously. Communists seemed to delight in having the son of an admiral in custody.

Let me review the issues. If past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, then I would expect McCain to take a high risk approach to foreign and domestic affairs as president. Further, I would expect that his “other” affairs would easily outpace Clinton and probably Bush as well. Bush has claimed sobriety for several years and, if true, that would probably cut down his girl chasing. Clinton seems to be recently more discrete if not more pure. McCain’s privileged behavior is troubling even if precipitated by pain of torture that he now supports.

Choosing to focus on issues critical to the nation over self-adulation and indulgence would not seem to be likely for McCain. His renowned temper would probably aggravate delicate foreign relations. Note that he recently rebuked Senator Obama for having said that he, Obama, would negotiate with North Korea, only a matter of two weeks before Bush announced relaxation of sanctions and negotiations with North Korea. The rude disdain he has shown for his two wives (abandonment and crude sexual insult) might not easily support the agenda for women. Finally, his past behavior of expecting personal privilege would interfere with the decision process just as it has with Bush. (“My way or the highway, and there can be no compromise on my powers.”) Three of McCain’s crashes appear to be the result of faulty judgment ignored by a compliant Navy. Bush has enjoyed both compliant parents and the Congress that spoiled him rotten. If that does not bring up the memory of George W. Bush and his inability to stay with the Air National Guard; getting bailed out of weak business decisions in Oil and Baseball industries by Daddy’s friends, then I am missing something. If character means something important to the office of President, then we need to have some straight talk for a change. We cannot afford 8 or even 4 more years of indulging the perpetual adolescent.

The Vietnamese-American citizens of Little Saigon here in Orange County California have been very sensitive to the attempts to normalize relations with the Communists of Vietnam and they already resent the attempts by the Bush Administration to minimize the importance of the hundreds of political prisoners still held by Vietnam. McCain voted with Bush 100% of the time in 2008 and 95% in 2007 including McCain’s reversal to support torture. (He was against torture before he was for it.) Maybe he has been brainwashed in Washington if not Hanoi. It is time for an accounting and not for privilege. It is time to ground McCain and take his keys away before he crashes again.
George Giacoppe
30 June 2008
(ed note: George has a blog to which this blog is linked, Splinters-splinters. This one seemed critical to all my readers.)