Editorial Column: Awards for the Year that Was

The Berkeley Daily Planet

January 21, 2009 – Who’s On First Award? to U.S. intelligence for its analysis of al-Qaeda. According to CIA Director Michael Hayden, the organization is growing stronger and preparing to launch attacks in Africa, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. He said there was a “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with al Qaeda operatives spreading into North Africa, which they could use as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

A week later, Matthew Burrows, who heads up the long-range analysis section of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said, “The appeal of terrorism is waning,” and al Qaeda is on the decline, having alienated supporters with indiscriminate killings. According to Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report by the ONI, “Al Qaeda has not achieved broad support in the Islamic world. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appear only to a tiny minority of Muslims.”

Enabling Paranoia Award to the U.S. Congress for its resolute stand against terrorism. In 2003, Congress identified 160 sites in the country that might be potential targets for terrorist attacks. In 2004 that list had grown to 1,849. In 2005 the number was 28,360. In 2006 there were 77,769. By February 2008, the potential number of sites had grown to 300,000, including the Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Being a “designated site” entitles local authorities to apply for Homeland Security money for equipment and police.

Lapdog Award to Canada’s Conservative government for first listing the U.S. as a country which uses torture–along with Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria – and then reversing themselves and apologizing when Washington protested.

Shortly thereafter, a secret Canadian government report found that Canadian Omar Khadr, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was 16 years old, had been tortured. The torture included extended periods of sleep deprivation. When the evidence was presented to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he dismissed it, saying, “Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr – will be treated humanely.”

One of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, said Harper’s comment “defies belief.” The detainee’s American military lawyer said that the report “shows the assurances the Canadian government has been offering all these years were false. It’s shameful that the Canadian government is continuing to allow this to go on.”

A Purple Heart Award to Jeff Black, director of Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy for coming up with a slogan for graduates: “Don’t suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], go out and cause it.” PTSD, along with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is the signature wound soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from. Estimates are that 40 percent of the veterans of both wars suffer from PTSD and MTBI.

The symptoms of both are very similar, and include anti-social behavior, aggression, sleeplessness, impotence, depression, and heightened incidences of suicide.

The U.S. military recently decided not to award Purple Hearts to PSTD and MTBI sufferers.

History Get Me Rewrite Award to former President George W. Bush for his comment comparing the demand for a withdrawal from Iraq to similar demands to end the Vietnam War:

“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of American withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.”

During the war the U.S. dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than the allies had dropped in World War II, killed some three million people, maimed millions more, and added such words to our vocabulary as “free fire zone” and “strategic hamlet.” The “killing fields” were a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA engineered overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and his replacement with military dictator, Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge in turn overthrew Lon Nol and murdered two million Cambodians. An intervention by the Vietnamese ended the genocide and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

Lt. William Calley Award to DynCorp, a mercenary organization hired by the U.S. to provide security in Iraq. A Dyn Corp soldier, who was a former U.S. Army vet and prison guard, told the New Yorker, “The real problem in this war on terror is you guys, the press. Ties our hands. The only way to fight this is to give them back the same medicine, like Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam. My Lai – what Calley did there was probably just orders.”

Operation Phoenix – which My Lai was part of – executed between 50,000 and 70,000 “Viet Cong supporters” in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre of Mar. 16, 1968 was led by Lt. William Calley. There is no agreement on the number who died at My Lai, but it was over 500, mainly women and children.

The “Beam Me Up Scotty” Award to the Pentagon for trying to create a hologram for the children of parents deployed in war zones. The kids will “boot” up their parents on a home computer and, according to the Pentagon, “The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, every day topics.” The child “may get a response from saying ‘I love you,’ or “I miss you,’ or “Good night.'”

According to Navy Commander Russell Shilling, the psychologist overseeing the program, “The children don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being deployed” and “That kind of interaction – is very important.”

The parent would record comments before they were deployed and then artificial intelligence software that runs the hologram would respond to a child’s question or comment.

So if Jimmy or Jane says “Mommy come home,” does the program answer “Be all you can be?” or maybe bust the kid for undermining morale?

Ass-Backward Award to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, for building the littoral combat ship “Freedom” before it completed all the designs. The ship – at $600 million plus – was first welded together and then designed, delaying construction and increasing costs. “It’s not good to be building while you’re designing,” said Vice. Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, who supervises ship building for the Navy.

Creative Accounting Award to the Pentagon, which is on track to spend $110 billion on missile defense by 2013 (the system has already cost $150 billion since it was launched in 1983) without any idea of what it will end up with. The accounting methodology is called “spiral development,” which, in the words of a Pentagon directive means, “end-state requirements are not known at program initiation.” In essence, “spiral development” means there are no set dates, no costs ceilings, no designated outcome and no way to determine if an outcome is achieved.

SNAFU Award to the U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, who headed the investigation of the Feb. 23 crash of the $1.5 billion B-2 Stealth bomber, “Spirit of Kansas,” on the island of Guam. According to the investigation, moisture in the plane’s sensors made the B-2’s computer cause the plane to climb too sharply, causing it to stall and crash.

Carpenter said, “The aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words all systems were functioning normally.”

Except, perhaps, the part about crashing.

Great Moments in Journalism Award to FOX News for its coverage of the massacre of 90 Afghan civilians – including 60 children and 15 women – at the village of Azizabad by U.S. fighter bombers. The U.S. military initially denied the story and said the dead were “insurgents.” A Pentagon spokesperson said an “independent journalist” embedded with the U.S. troops that called in the air strike “corroborated” their story.

The “independent journalist”: Oliver North, working for Fox News. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra Conspiracy to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and shredded files to keep them from government investigators.

Man’s Best Friend Award to the Blackwater security firm, which supplies mercenaries for the U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan. The company – several members of which were recently indicted for killing up to 17 civilians in Iraq – is being investigated for shipping assault weapons and silencers hidden in large sacks of dog food into Iraq.

Certain weapons, including silencers, are banned for use by security firms because they are considered incompatible with the job of guarding diplomats.

“The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told ABC.

The United Nations has accused the U.S. of running “death squads” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of assassinating people opposed to U.S. policies in both countries.

Unclear On The Concept Award to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, who attacked the Inspector General’s Office for its investigation of a Pentagon program to put retired military officers on TV and radio as “force multipliers” for the Bush Administration’s message on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and terrorism.

Hunter said the retired officers were a “great asset” for the country and completely independent. “The idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that you don’t believe in the independence of these generals. None of them are used to having people tell them what to do.”

The most common phrase heard in the military? “Yes, sir.”

Word Smithing Award to Navy Commander Pauline Storum who defended the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison and challenged the charge that the camp uses solitary confinement. Storum said the camp has “single-occupancy cells.”

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