Thursday, December 30, 2004

Whatever Happened To...?

Welcome to the annual
“Whatever Happened To...?” Awards for 2004,
in which I pick out a few news stories, individuals, phrases, etc. that were seen briefly, if you were alert enough (like Janet Jackson’s nipple), and then dropped out of sight with major questions still unanswered (unlike Janet Jackson’s nipple).

Let’s begin:

What was the US’s precise role in the Haitian coup in February? What did we know and when did we know it? Did we actually require Aristide to resign the presidency as a condition for saving his life?

In October 2003 the Toledo Blade ran a series about a US military unit that went on a mass killing spree in Vietnam in 1967. In February, the Pentagon announced it would investigate. So?

Before Yushchenko, there was President Chen of Taiwan, who during that country’s elections (March 2004), claimed to have been the victim of a weird assassination attempt, with homemade bullets, and no one was really sure what actually happened if anything, then nothing.

Abu Ghraib: Seymour Hersh and even Rumsfeld said that there was much worse to come in the way of photographs and film, so where is it? Rummy said (in May) that he would really love to release all the pictures, but the darned lawyers wouldn’t let him. Guess the lawyers still have him all tied up, metaphorically speaking, with a hood over his head, pointing at his genitals and laughing, metaphorically speaking (or not). Also, weren’t we supposed to have torn down Abu Ghraib by now?

The lists of casualties in Iraq issued by the Pentagon never include contractors, security guards, and mercenaries of all sorts. It continues to be the case that we rarely find out who any of these people (alive or dead) are, just where the US, Halliburton etc are recruiting these people who are then imported into Iraq, given guns and immunity from the local law, and turned loose. However in April there was this article about one who had been a death squad assassin for South Africa’s apartheid government.

May: the Sunday Times (London) reported that one of the intended 9/11 hijackers, Niaz Khan, had turned himself in to the FBI a year and a half before 9/11, was questioned and then let go. Silly me, I expected a shit-storm of vituperation and investigations. When an FBI person told the Independent, “Every effort was made,” I wrote, “Hopefully, that phrase will be very slowly, very firmly shoved up the FBI’s collective ass over the next few months.” Didn’t happen. The Sunday Times article is here; there are links to other articles here and here.

Friendly militias. In August, Paul Wolfowitz proposed to the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon build a “global anti-terrorist network of friendly militias,” death squads, warlords and the like. There were no angry editorials, denunciations by John Kerry, nothing, so in October they slipped it into a Pentagon authorization bill, and away we go.

September: Insurgents took over a school in Beslan, and Russia let loose a blizzard of lies that remain unresolved, even while Putin used the incident to tighten his authoritarian grip on all of Russia and eliminate democratic election of governors. Two reporters who might have negotiated with the rebels were, respectively, poisoned and arrested. Russia low-balled the number of hostages, then claimed with no proof that the rebels were Arab rather than Chechen, and kept their demands, which were related to Chechnya, out of the media, even while the authorities took hostages of their own, the families of Chechen rebel leaders.

September: did N Korea test a nuclear device, or what?

October: the Al Qaqaa Cock-Up. 380 tons of explosives were looted from a military base after US forces searched it, then left the doors unlocked.

October: bombed a wedding in Fallujah. Never admitted it was a wedding.

November: The Marine who shot the unarmed wounded prisoner in the mosque, was he ever, like, arrested, or given a stern talking to, or something?

November: Colombia claimed there was an attempt to assassinate Bush while he was in the country.

Did we ever find out who was responsible for the provision in the appropriations bill allowing committee chairs the right to look at anyone’s tax returns?

I’d like to give a special blogger’s fond farewell to two phrases that helped make 2004 so much fun: “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” (from the State of the Union Address) and “member of the reality-based community.”

And then there are the people of 2004:

A.Q. Khan, we hardly knew ye.

That woman sterilized by Tom Coburn.

Vincent White. American adviser to the Afghan government, tossed in prison on trumped up sex charges when he interfered with corrupt contracts.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. At the beginning of the year we’d never heard of him, then he was the biggest terrorist ever, although the US seemed unsure even about the number of legs he possessed, then the US military razed a city to the ground for refusing to hand him over, before admitting he had probably left Fallujah before the bombing started, then evidently stopped caring where he was or what he was doing.

Also riding the roller coaster that is the American attention span: Achmed Chalabi, “hero in error”: he was under indictment for money laundering, then he wasn’t; he was America’s bestest bud, then Bush said he might have met him on a rope line one time; he was on the governing council, then it looked like they reduced the number of seats in the National Council just to get rid of him, then he showed up anyway, and now he’s reinvented himself as a Shiite anti-American, and no one’s even mentioning the whole spying-for-Iran thing anymore.

Chalabi’s nephew. The head of the war crimes trial of Saddam, then wanted for murder, now... still in exile, I think.

Iyad “Comical” Allawi, catapulted into power by the US without some basic questions about his past being answered. In London in the ‘70s, did he just spy on Iraqi exiles for Saddam, or did he kill them? I don’t know the answer, does George Bush? Does he care?

Mary Cheney. She’s still a lesbian, right?

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