I’ve never met a finer man than Hans Husum, nor finer doctor – which is to say, a doctor-citizen for whom it is as much an ethical imperative to contest the social forces which code for distress and disease in whole populations, as it is to treat the individual patient in front of him. He is a trauma surgeon from Tromso University, Norway who operated under bridges or inside trucks in Afghanistan in the late 1970s (“3,800 wounded fighters went through our hands, mortality rates down from 35% to 13%”), and in cellars during the Israeli assault on Beirut in 1982 (“my operating theatre team was gang raped and killed inside our hospital by the Israelis. The murderers cut the breasts and ears off my scrub nurse and my patients were shot dead in their hospital beds”). He has headed up a remarkable Cambodian ngo called Trauma Care Foundation, helping landmine victims with resuscitation, surgery, prostheses and wider rehabilitation. And rather more besides……
This is a book not quite like other books. It is a dissection of global war, its patterns and direction of travel, and its connection to the ‘deep’ State that in, say, US or UK, has a life of its own and runs on whomever is the President or Prime Minister is at any one time.
This is a monster hard to comprehend and to get to its dark heart it is perhaps best visualised as a mosaic rather than as a straight line. Stealth is a book of sober analysis, much of it grounded in what the author himself has experienced and witnessed, but also carrying measured rage and poetic power. It is run through with the witness of the victims of obliterated worlds (the people Noam Chomsky has called the “unpeople”, unlike “us” Westerners). These are wars which in substantial part have been propagated by the Western political and economic order. There are photos here no Western newspaper would print but they carry the grotesque truth of things and must be faced.
He writes at the outset:
“Surgery doesn’t make sense anymore
The injuries are too bad and there are too many of them
Those at the far end are too powerful
Something very bad is happening
But I am not able to see the pattern clearly- just bits and pieces of a mosaic partly obscured.”
Why “Stealth”? Husum writes that the ecology of the present global war is stealth-based, where stealth is the art of invisible energy transfer.
Airplanes and drones are designed to transmit signals so weak that they cannot be detected. Yet they carry massive amounts of destructive energy.
As does the sniper killing from kilometres away.
Warriors are faceless, prisons concealed and prisoners hooded.
The war victims are muted and journalists disappear. The public image of war is a construct.
Hidden wars for minerals are running.
“Freedom is untidy” Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003. “Free people are free to make mistakes and do bad things.We couldn’t know how it would turn out.”
“The history of war progresses at the speed of its weapon systems.”
“The faceless soldiers and the drones are new types of warriors- without borders, belonging nowhere, leaving no traces”.
The enemy is unspecified and the relationship between war and territory has changed. Among the stealth warriors are mercenaries, representing private companies and scarcely accountable. In Iraq in 2007-8 there were as many private military contractors (notably working for Blackwater) as there were regular soldiers in army uniform.
Husum quotes Flight Commander John Warden, US Air Force, March 2003:” We possess bombs that get down as far as the Iraqis can dig”.
Supremacy in weapons technology is shaped by 3 assets:
1. Deep penetration. Fuel air and Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), laser, microwave and particle beams.
2. Operational and strategic surprise through stealth. Predator drones operate at 20,000 feet, the sniper kills at two kilometres. As a Norwegian Husum has particular revulsion for an exploding bullet made for M62 sniper rifles by the Norwegian company Nammo Raufoss. “Hitting the target, the explosive inside the bullet is ignited and fires 20 particles in a cone of 30 degrees. The particles have an incendiary effect, as the temperature of the explosion is more than 1,000 degrees C.”
3. Setting all targets under near-simultaneous attack. He describes the 1999 NATO bombing campaign on Belgrade as “the first grand experiment of fourth-generation war.” “NATO simultaneously went after the army, political HQ, communications system, the key economic infrastructure, and media (a single thermobaric bomb on the TV station on 23 April killed 16 journalists) – making a total of 9,815 aim points”. He notes that a few months later Russia successfully used the Belgrade recipe in Chechnya.
He notes that because modern hyperwar targets urban populations, weaponry is designed accordingly.
Most of the civilian casualties in Iraq were killed by blast weapons. The velocity of the blast wave is 6,000-8,000 metres per second, whereas even a high-velocity rifle bullet travels at only 1,000 metres per second.
“Churchill burned the civilians of Dresden at 1,500 degrees C. Modern Fuel air weapons generate 3,000 degrees C and massive pressures.”
It is no secret that the Israeli military and their backers have seen the densely populated urban population of Gaza as a laboratory for new weapons testing.
DIME uses tungsten, heavy, hard, and which does not melt during the high temperatures of the explosion. Husum writes that “tungsten makes the difference between being hit by a fist and hit by a truck”.
“One condition for hyperwar is technical supremacy. Another is a readiness to break all taboos”.
Ismail Ali Hassan Ali, born 1979, now retired from the 11th Brigade Iraqi Army, speaks:
“Now, here thinking back on these days, a crippled soldier on one leg, I often recall one mother with a small child. This was in Baquba and the mother was lying dead in the street after an explosion. The baby was sitting next to her, crying and crying. I can’t get rid of that child”.
Husum talks to Abu Adeeb, whose family have been living in Jalawla, Iraq, for 5 generations. They are in the graveyard. The old man is burying the latest of 16 family members killed since the invasion of 2003. 4 months after the interview another of Abu’s sons was killed, and he now refuses to see anybody outside the family.
At least 1.3 million people would be alive today in the Middle East if the US/UK had not invaded Iraq illegally in 2003. What does this betrayed multitude weigh on the scales by which the Western order measures its interests?
Husum goes on to ask what kind of war will we see when basic resources- water, soil, minerals and energy- become depleted. “What will the warlords do and what measures are they already undertaking as the strategic resources to preserve the empire are about to run empty?” Who owns the water, who owns the weather? He quotes a 1996 report of the Air University of the US Air Force: “Weather modification can provide substantial increase in the US, or degraded capability in an adversary, to achieve global awareness, reach, and power.”
The mining of strategic resources has a long history- the Incas of South America forced into silver mines died in their thousands from mercury poisoning. Today certain minerals are crucial to the manufacture of advanced weaponry. The EU and the Pentagon have drawn up key lists: beryllium, cobalt, scandium for aerospace systems; germanium, niobium, tantalum, yttrium for advanced electronics; promethium for nuclear batteries; tungsten, zirconium for DIME explosive and sniper ammunition. There is only a finite amount of these elements on earth, and for the “rare earth” minerals in particular a “very high supply risk”. Information on this is kept classified. Most of the sources of these metals lie outside the West, in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia. Why is the US Army deployed in 30 African countries? Is another deep war already running, Husum asks? In recent years US geologists protected by the British Army have found “rare earth” minerals for solid-state lasers worth around US$7 billion in Helmand, Afghanistan. Is that why Helmand is so important, the setting for a mineral war under the guise of the “war on terror”?
There has been a veritable epidemic of suicides (250,000 and rising in last 2 decades) of Indian cotton farmers ruined because they were induced to switch to genetically modified seed sold by the multinational giant Monsanto. These require high levels of insecticide, also made by Monsanto, and carry a terminator gene so that they cannot be saved for the next season, as could the old seeds, and must be bought afresh. Monsanto’s supposedly ‘improved’ seeds cost 80 times more than the old ones. Most of the suicides have been with insecticide. “Proud carriers of ancient ecological wisdom do not control their own soil anymore. The Monsanto war machine owns them”. Looking back, Monsanto scored a huge hit in its manufacture of Agent Orange in the Vietnam war, the dioxin gas dropped from the air to degrade the jungle greenery.
Paul Bremer took over as pro-consul of Baghdad in 2003. He issued Order 81, which made it illegal for farmers to use their own seeds, the gene bank of hundreds of wheat varieties developed through 7000 years of farming. He forced farmers to accept genetically modified wheat from Monsanto, which as in India cannot be kept for the next year. His last act before he left Iraq was to sign Order 17: everyone associated with the US is immune from Iraqi law.
In whose interests has a US man like James Steele worked? First a tough platoon commander in Vietnam, Steele went on to co-ordinate death squads in Panama and El Salvador. In 2004 Donald Rumsfeld got Steele to set up the Wolf Brigade in Iraq, which operated a dozen hidden prisons all over the country. SWAT teams worked with Shia death squads to fill up Steele’s torture centres. Later, now wearing what Husum calls his “shiny shoes”, Steele joined Rumsfeld in the company Enron, the huge oil, gas and water empire riven through by greed and corruption after the Gulf wars. Now he is running an electronic security company- for “proactive deterrence”.
“Bloody wars and deep wars overlap. In the transitional shadows the Rumsfelds and Jim Steeles are thriving.”
The war on the media. In Feb 2003, as a safety measure, Al Jazeera passed on the co-ordinates of its Baghdad TV station to the Pentagon- latitude 33.19, longitude 44.24. A month later the US military used these exact co-ordinates to bomb the station, and on the same day the Palestine Hotel, the base for international journalists covering the war. Before the Israeli military’s pitiless bombing of Gaza in 2008/9 (Operation Cast Lead) they announced that “media is war zone No 1”. In locations around the world journalists covering mineral or water wars are being targeted. Radio journalist Gerardo Ortega was murdered in Jan 2011 whilst reporting on the devastation of nature and of indigenous society in Palawan, Philippines by Canadian nickel mining companies. The hitmen were reportedly paid US$3,370 for the job.
Killing by drone goes to the heart of the new warfare. The first drone killing took place in Yemen in 2002. A young boy from Dhamar Province, Yemen, wrote a poem which began:
“There are wild birds in the sky.
Yet we go to school every morning,
All of us looking to the sky.”
Husum describes the killing of 16 year old Tariq Aziz, an ordinary boy, in Waziristan, Pakistan 5 years ago. His story stands for hundreds of children eliminated by drones in that region alone.
General Fogelman, USAF 1997: “Early in the twenty first century we shall be capable of finding, tracking, and targeting virtually in real time, any significant element moving on the surface of the earth”.
PRISM, a huge signals intelligence web performing pattern analyses to identify and track undesirables, feeds into the bunkers where drones are operated. It has sometimes been called “Obama’s Disposal Matrix”. The drone operators who killed such as Tariq just did their jobs in accordance with a version of ‘reality’ set by PRISM.
The global intelligence octopus collects any signal, and Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Skype and apple all now afford full access. The main hub for transatlantic traffic is in UK. One particular mobile phone voice can be singled out even in the thunderstorm of electromagnetic signals of a metropolis, even if the signal only lasts one millisecond. The preliminary data mining is done by PRISM and takes 3 days. The cluster of maybe-positives, around 150,000 of us, go for in-depth pattern analysis- “connecting the dots”. From this decisions are made about actions like drone strikes, assassination by algorithm.
PRISM is of course a sham. There is no such thing as objective data because of multiple biases- political (ie. only Muslims), selection, sampling etc. No model based on previous data could predict man’s future behaviour unless we customarily behaved like robots. How did PRISM select and condemn Tariq Aziz, above? Husum suggests that PRISM’s algorithmic accuracy is no better than flipping a coin.
US drone warfare is run by a global empire of 60 static bases and an unknown number of mobile bases in vehicles and vessels. But non-Americans are also operating drones, with maintenance and arming in the hands of a private US company, Blackwater, of Iraq infamy. Drone pilots go operational after 40 hours of cockpit training. Contractors hired to satisfy a killing quota have replaced trained soldiers. And drones are becoming the norm, the epitome of modern global war.
Husum goes on to the killing of babies. When the US army assaulted the Iraqi city of Fallujah- home to 300,000 people- everything moving was the target of modern weaponry. 2 years later an increasing rate of spontaneous abortions was noted, and since then more and more of Fallujah’s children have been born with congenital defects. Similar ominous developments – a tripling of miscarriages, stillbirths and major foetal abnormalities- had been recorded in places like Basra in the years after the first Gulf war in 1990. (Robert Fisk wrote in detail about this in “The Great War for Civilisation. The Conquest of the Middle East”, 2005). So too in post-war Belgrade, Beirut following Israel’s 2006 assault, in Eastern Afghanistan, and in Gaza since 2005.
Husum has some striking things to say about the well-aired suspicion that weapons with depleted uranium (DU), capable of damaging foetal genetic codes, are responsible. He thinks this is not how the damage arises because DU is not radioactive enough, He thinks that the metals used in bombs are endocrine-disrupting, for example by altering oestrogen signalling. Israel bombed Gaza day and night for 3 weeks in 2008/9, using a batch of high explosives just received from the US for testing on the Palestinian population. These included DIME explosives that amputated limbs, and fuel-air explosives that carbonised people. He salutes the crucial work of Professor Paola Manduca of Genoa University (I salute her too) in tracing the consequences in the face of official indifference and hostility. In the wounds Paola found the metals aluminium, copper, barium, cobalt, mercury, vanadium, tin, selenium, lead, arsenic, magnesium, cadmium, zinc, and uranium- all in higher concentrations than in case controls. The birth defect rate has climbed in Gaza: analysis of hair samples from 71 babies delivered at Al Shifa hospital showed that the concentration of mercury, selenium and tin was much higher in the deformed babies. Their mothers had been directly exposed to the bombing during their pregnancies. Mercury and selenium were found in high amounts in bomb craters. More recent work by Professor Manduca on Gazan subjects is bearing out the same findings. Husum thinks these explosive-associated metals may act as metallo-oestrogens. What is the future for these victims? Will epigenetic disorders be transferred across generations?
Husum describes being an invited speaker at a scientific conference on medical emergencies in Basra, Iraq in 2013. He tried to raise the question of foetal malformations and to seek the views of Basra doctors but was told directly that he could not do this. Too ‘sensitive’….
He finds it strange that leading medical journals, including the Lancet and British Medical Journal, have rejected 3 sound scientific studies of war-related metal pollution and birth defects in the Middle East. He quotes the former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday, who said: “The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically refused to share evidence uncovered in Iraq that US military use of depleted uranium and other weapons have not only killed many civilians, but continue to result in the birth of deformed babies.” In the end Halliday resigned, but his successor Hans van Sponeck made the same allegation: “The US government sought to prevent WHO from surveying areas of Southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.” Husum goes on to describe how the WHO has been intent on whitewashing this issue. He calls their data “faked”.
Back in Fallujah the malformed child survivors are locked up in a “rehabilitation hospital” behind fences, guarded by private security companies.
War on drugs or with drugs? Opium has long been part of warfare- the British Empire used it as a weapon against China from the 1840s. Heroin was smuggled on CIA planes during the Vietnam war. In Latin America the CIA traded cocaine for insurgency.
There are open wars and hidden wars, and wars without end. Some countries, like Israel, are reliant on permanent war. Global financial interests feed the war machine. The international weapons industry is now so vast that it ensures chronic war- for the sake of its shareholders.
Husum quotes a former professional soldier in the British Army who went on to share a Nobel prize for the Ban Landmines Campaign. “Hans, we should stay awake at night. New technology changed war and therefore the definition of the enemy. What’s “war on terror”? Nobody seems to be embarrassed to say, “yes, we are waging war on an idea, a concept. I am one of the old soldiers who thought of war as something men do. But how can a soldier do the job when nobody is in a position to tell him who is the enemy”.
Sheik Mulan Najim al-Yunis, head of the Abu Gahzi branch of the Kurawi tribe speaks about dignity:
“The problem is our strength is broken. We are uprooted and the Kurawi tribe is in disorder. Our youth are jobless and get killed for nothing. Look at the orphans, the poor, the needy. What do you think those young men of our tribe may happen to do, full of shame and bitterness? Don’t look at us; we are past our youth and are old now. But have mercy on those young men. They cannot stand this mean condition anymore”.
Husum asks what happens to a man when he is unable to define or re-define a normality?
“When we have lost the perception of reality, we cannot act. Then the warrior is free and the war machine rules”.
24 Jan 2017.
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