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I think people will be surprised to learn a central reason the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT4) were in Iraq. It raises questions about whether the kidnappers are jihadists or something even worse.

A lot of people have not have followed this story. In fairness, it wasn't covered very much. Even the people on Cable TV who gave us around the clock coverage of the "War on Christmas" were mute when it came to actual Christians held hostage in Iraq during Christmas.  Although American tabloid TV was actively ignoring this story, there was plenty of international coverage. Muslim and Arab media were following the story particularly closely.  At one point, news of their plight was the most emailed story on Al-Jazeera's web site. Of all the appeals for these hostages, this one stands out from all the rest: Muslim detainees who had been imprisoned for years without charge, were calling for the Christian hostages to be shown mercy and set free.  

You read that right.  Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei, who have spent years in solitary confinement in Canadian detention, issued an appeal on behalf of the hostages in general and Canadian hostage James Loney in particular. Their appeal included this line:

"We care about his freedom more than we do our own."

When Muslims in cages are pleading for the release of Christians, you really have to wonder how a president who identifies himself as a born-again Christian can remain silent. For some unkown reason, the White House never issued any official statements regarding CPT4 or Tom Fox during the entire time he was held hostage; not even platitudes. Adding insult to injury, the White House pointedly ignored multiple CPT requests for a meeting with the president or his staff.

The calculated indifference of President Bush is underscored by the fact the US government still has not issued any formal statements about this tragedy beyond noting the discovery and retrieval of Tom Fox's remains. In contrast, the Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand has issued a statement of condolence. As a sign of respect, the Virginia House adjourned the final day of their 2006 regular legislative session in memory of native son, Tom Fox. What are we to make of the fact that even though an American citizen was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in cold blood, the man paid to lead this nation in time of war has nothing to say about it?  Such stony silence from a president who freely talks about the importance of "Christian values" is deafening.

Why the CPT4 went to Iraq....

According to an interview published in the Salt Lake Tribune with Tom Fox's former roommate in Iraq

"Christian Peacemaker members, including some of those who have been taken captive, had been investigating abuses at the hands of special police and military groups months before the Nov. 15 discovery of 173 detainees in the basement of an Interior Ministry building. American soldiers who liberated the prisoners said some appeared to have been tortured by their Iraqi government captors."

That is a very polite way of putting it.  The BBC report of the atrocities discovered in the basement of the Interior Ministry was particularly gruesome. When men are killed with electric drills, I don't think it's fair to say they "appeared to have been tortured" at the hands of a death squad.

I'm not using the term "death squad" loosely here. The "special police and military groups" referred to in the Tribune piece are formally called Special Police Commandos. These Special Police Commando units were created, trained and equipped by the US.  These units represent the operational implementation of the so-called "Salvador Option" being championed by some people in the Pentagon.   It is reasonable to ask if the CPT4 kidnapping was related to their investigation of death squads. Unfortunately, Tom Fox is not the first American murdered while investigating US-sponsored death squads in Iraq.

Deja Vu all over again...

Anyone who remembers what happened the last time John Negroponte and US forces directed counterinsurgency operations know exactly what the "Salvador Option" means.

It would be tragic if the US was following a warmed-over Reagan-era policy which ultimately left behind mass graves filled with innocent victims. Unfortunately, it gets worse. The trainers and people in charge of the Special Police Commandos are the same people who implemented that policy back in the Reagan era. They include the following familiar names:

James Steele, was a former Army Special Forces officer who led U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in El Salvador in the 1980s. Salvadoran paramilitary units trained by Steele's team were later accused of a pattern of atrocities. Steele left the military and eventually went to work for Enron.  He then was recruited to work is magic in Iraq.

Steven Casteel, a former top DEA man who has been acting as the senior advisor in the Ministry of the Interior. Casteel was involved in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, during which the DEA collaborated with a paramilitary organization known as Los Pepes, which later transformed itself into the AUC, an umbrella organization covering all of Colombias paramilitary death squads

John Negroponte, well we all know who he is .... but did you know that he left behind a mass grave on his compound in Honduras (El Aguacate) that yielded 185 bodies?  Most were poor peasants so they were never conclusively identified.  However, one body was identified. It belonged to Reverend James Carney, an American Catholic Priest who was killed by a US trained and supported death squad.

Back to the Future....

The most widely known of these Iraqi commando units is called the Wolf Brigade. The Wolf Brigade is one of several units that have been accused of targeting Palestinian refugees in Iraq, using torture to extract confessions from prisoners, and slaying Sunni clerics.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams were not the first people to show an interest in the topic.  The allegations of torture, murder, and abuse these people were investigating in 2005 happened to be the same story investigated by Steve Vincent (New York Time), Yasser Salihee (Knight Ridder) and Fakher Haider (New York Times).  

All three journalists have this in common: That was the last story these journalists covered before they were shot to death in Iraq in 2005.

Chickens coming Home to Roost.....

By "getting in THE WAY" the CPT4 point to a morality and a responsibility for others that lays beyond the divisions of political systems and culture. Like Buddhist monks on fire they make their statement by their presence. Now that Tom Fox is dead the reason he went to Iraq must inevitably become a topic of discussion. It is time to focus worldwide attention on the Special Commando Units the CPT4 were investigating.

For over a year, these concerns have been dismissed as conspiracy theories cooked up by the loonie left to discredit the troops. That argument doesn't hold water anymore. A couple of weeks ago The LA Times finally published the first official confirmation by the US of Death Squad activity in Iraq.  According to Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, "We found one of the death squads. They're part of the police force." Prior to that, the Pentagon flatly denied any death squads were operating in Iraq under the aegis of the US or coalition forces.  Looks like someone didn't get the memo.  

Maybe it's just a coincidence that Gen. Peterson is replacing Gen. Petraeus, the man to whom Steven Casteel reported. In any event, we need to support the troops who are uncovering this atrocity.  My Lai would never have come to the attention of the world except for the fact that American soldiers led by Hugh Thompson Jr. were outraged and acted according to the dictates of law and their conscience.

The fact that every one of the recent findings of death squad activity has been made by US Army troops goes a long way to reassure me that the average soldier is not part of this heinous network.  

These networks are not just a threat to innocent people in Iraq.  They are a threat to us right here. Supporting death squads makes a mockery of everything the vast majority of men and women serving in Iraq stand for.

There are consequences to these revelations.....

Mindful of the incendiary nature of these comments, I wish to clearly state that I believe the vast majority of Americans serving in Iraq are decent men and women trying as hard as they can to do the right thing even though they are working under terrible conditions.  I believe we are obliged to honor their sacrifice and defend our values by having the courage to ask direct questions, expect honest answers, and demand accountability from policymakers.

Now that we have lost Tom Fox we must find the courage to confront the terrible truth of what he found in Iraq. We cannot dishonor his legacy and ignore the crimes being perpetrated in our name.  

It seems appropriate to give Tom Fox the last word, so I close with the line from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (V.6)  that motivated him to  look beyond anger and fear and step into the lion's den.  

"Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven."

Originally posted to 8ackgr0und N015e on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 05:58 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tom went to Iraq for many reasons (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moira977, 8ackgr0und N015e

    first and foremost to promote peace.  Ih his time in Iraq he helped Palestinians who were in jeopardy relctae to Jordan, he helped Iraqis developed the start of a Muslim Peacemaker Team, he worked to help Iraqis find out what had happened to their loved ones who had been taken into custody.   I fear that you have overly simplified his reasons for going - and for returning.

    One thing that he said before he returned this alsttime was quoted by one of our young Friends during the press conference we held Saturday Morning at Langley Hil.  Tom said that there were pl;enty of people willing to die for war, there had to be some willing to die for peace.

    The speculation as to who seized the CPTers is not new.  I might note that at least of af the filiming of the video 3 were still alive.  For me I have concerns both as to their safety, and also for the tasks they attempted to do.  I note that there are other CPTers active in Iraq, one of whom was asked to accompany Tom's body back to Dover AFB.

    We at Langley Hill are attempting to eprsuade our elected public officials to demand an accounting of all held by American and Iraiq security forces.  If we find what has happened to Tom and the others reprehensible, how can we acquiesce when Iraqi families still do not know the whereabouts -- or the reason for seizure - of their loved ones?

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 06:48:53 AM PST

    •  Thank you for your comment. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, moira977
      Dear Friend,

      To reflect your concern, I have modified the summary to now read "the central reason" instead of "the actual reason".

      I am mindful of the fact that our Friend Tom Fox was not a cartoon.  I know that he wrestled long and hard with the prospect of going to Iraq and confronting the twin threat of soldiers and insurgents.  I appreciate that his motivations and those of his companions were complex and varied.  

      These men are not children wandering carelessly into a minefield to chase butterflies. They went into the lion's den with a profound appreciation for the risk they were taking.  The last time I ever saw Tom Fox, he was describing the work he had done in Hebron.  Listening to his stories I was moved to despair.  So I asked him how he saw the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians ever being resolved.  In response to my question, borne of hopelessness, he talked allegorically of "meeting in the field beyond hatred and fear."  

      That did not resonate with me at the time.  Reading his blog Waiting In The Light as this tragedy unfolded in slow motion, I came to appreciate and understand what he was talking about.  

      I agree that his motivations were more profound and more fundamental than simply bearing witness to specific criminal acts.  

      It is because of this depth of meaning that I say the CPT4 challenge us like Buddhist monks on fire to meditate on the responsibility we have for others that goes beyond the divisions of political systems and culture.

      As we grieve for his loss, I think we keep his spirit alive by realizing he is not the story, he is a finger pointing to the story. If we only look at the finger, we will miss all the heavenly glory.

      "His story was not written out, and can only be hinted at...
      the appalling nature of his sufferings rendered the pen powerless
      and made the heart too sick for the task."

      - William Still, "The Underground Railroad"

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