James Mattis Calls for US Military to Be More Lethal at Defense Secretary Confirmation Hearing

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President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, testified Thursday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mattis’s 41-year career in the Marine Corps included field commands in the Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. He led US troops during the 2004 battle of Fallujah, earning himself the nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis. In May 2004, Mattis ordered an attack on a small Iraqi village that ended up killing about 42 people attending a wedding ceremony. He went on to lead United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, but the Obama administration cut short his tour over concerns he was too hawkish on Iran. We host a roundtable discussion, starting with retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, and Aaron Glantz, a senior reporter at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting whose latest investigation is headlined “Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?”

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, testified Thursday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. General Mattis’s 41-year-old career in the Marine Corps included field commands in the Persian Gulf War and in Iraq and Afghanistan and began when he enlisted at age 19. In Iraq, he led US troops during the 2004 battle of Fallujah, earning himself the nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis. In May 2004, Mattis ordered an attack on a small Iraqi village that ended up killing about 42 people attending a wedding ceremony. Mattis went on to lead United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, but the Obama administration cut short his tour over concerns that Mattis was too hawkish on Iran, reportedly calling for a series of covert actions there. During Thursday’s confirmation hearing, General Mattis testified that Russia remains the principal threat faced by the United States, taking a much harder line than Trump.

JAMES MATTIS: I would consider the principal threats to start with Russia, and it would certainly include any nations that are looking to intimidate nations around their periphery, regional nations nearby them, whether it be with weapons of mass destruction or, I would call it, unusual, unorthodox means of intimidating them, that sort of thing. And at the same time, as the chairman has pointed out, we face now an era where we’re going to be fighting the terrorist threat. I mean, that’s simply a reality we are going to have to address that one.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: General Mattis repeatedly called for the US military to be more “lethal,” and also said he supports the Iran nuclear deal, which President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized.

Following his hearing, the Senate voted to support a waiver exempting Mattis from a law requiring defense secretaries to be civilians for at least seven years. Mattis retired from the military in 2013. The full House is slated to vote on the waiver today. The only other time in US history that this waiver has been granted was in 1950, when Congress waived the law for Defense Secretary George Marshall.

AMY GOODMAN: Also on Thursday, Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo went before the Senate for his confirmation hearing as CIA director. Under questioning, Pompeo reversed his position on torture. He has previously claimed waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation tactics were constitutional. This is Congressman Pompeo being questioned by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply?

REP. MIKE POMPEO: Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect, or then-president. But it’s — I’m very clear. I voted for the change that put the Army Field Manual in place as a member of Congress. I understand that law very, very quickly and am also deeply aware that any changes to that will come through Congress and the president.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And regular order.

REP. MIKE POMPEO: And regular order, yes, ma’am, absolutely. With respect to the outlines of what’s in the Army Field Manual, there’s no doubt in my mind about the limitations it places not only on the DOD, but on the Central Intelligence Agency. And I’ll always comply with the law.

AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday’s hearing, Congressman Pompeo also said he believes the intelligence agencies’ claims that Russia hacked the US election.

Well, for more, we are going to go to a roundtable after break. We’ll be joined by Aaron Glantz, as well as Andrew — we’ll be joined by Andrew Bacevich, retired colonel and Vietnam War veteran, as well as Trita Parsi, with the National Iranian American Council. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Used to Rule the World” by Bonnie Raitt, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re hosting a roundtable discussion looking at President-elect Trump’s pick for defense secretary, retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. Mattis testified before the Senate this week during his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Our guests are Aaron Glantz, senior reporter at _Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. His latest investigation is headlined “Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?” Also with us in D.C. is Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. His forthcoming book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Legacy of Diplomacy. And in Boston, where we’ll start, is professor Andrew Bacevich, retired colonel and Vietnam War veteran. His latest book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

Professor Bacevich, start off by talking about what you learned from the hearings and your thoughts on General Mattis to be the next defense secretary of the United States.

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ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, what struck me most about the hearings was the lack of any interest in the recent past. I mean, the United States has been essentially engaged in an ongoing war that most people date from 2001. That war has taken us to Afghanistan, to Iraq, in a lesser way to other countries — Libya, Somalia, Yemen. And I was struck by the fact that none of the senators, basically, asked General Mattis, “Well, General, how is it that we haven’t won? We haven’t won anywhere, ‘winning’ in the sense of conclusively achieving our political objectives, however you might want to define those objectives. And given that we haven’t won, what should we be doing differently? What would you do differently as defense secretary to compensate for this record in which the greatest military in the world, as we are constantly told, doesn’t get the job done?”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Bacevich, during his testimony, General Mattis repeatedly called for the US military to be more lethal. Your response to this emphasis of his on the killing ability of the US military?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I don’t see lethality as the problem. I mean, the lethality of US forces is quite remarkable. We can kill lots of people. We do kill lots of people. We can destroy virtually anything we choose to destroy. The destruction that we have wreaked in the various theaters in which we’ve been engaged is really quite astonishing. But again, lethality, destruction, killing doesn’t seem to achieve our objectives. So, my own sense is that a lack of lethality does not define the core problem.

I think the core problem is much closer to recognizing where force is of value, where it is useful, and to distinguish that from situations in which war is not useful or is indeed counterproductive. And I think, broadly speaking, the US military’s role — US military activism in various parts of the Islamic world over the past several decades has been counterproductive. And again, I find it disturbing that no member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is willing to acknowledge that record of failure and to ask our next secretary of defense what he proposes to do to amend that sorry record.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Aaron Glantz into the discussion to talk about the questions around Iraq and the piece that you wrote as a reporter at Reveal, asking, “Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?” We spoke to you yesterday briefly about this before the hearing, but lay out what your allegation is and whether you think any of these issues were addressed yesterday.

AARON GLANTZ: So, General Mattis’s primary experience — indeed, his only experience — is as a member of the United States Marine Corps, where he served for 41 years. That’s his experience. And since 9/11, as Dr. Bacevich noted, we’ve been engaged in wars around the world, and General Mattis has been a leading battlefield commander in many of those theaters, including in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah, where the US Marines killed so many people that the municipal soccer stadium in the city had to be turned into a graveyard for the dead. There’s documented cases of US marines shooting at ambulances, shooting at aid workers, destroying shopping centers, raising huge issues not only of violations of the Geneva Convention over targeting protected groups, but also of proportionality, because the entire battle was launched to get the people who killed four Blackwater security contractors, and a city of 300,000 people, about the same size as Oakland, California, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was leveled in response, under the command of General Mattis. That was not discussed at all during the hearing, either from an accountability perspective, which is what I was suggesting in my article — you know, questions that should be raised about whether or not he committed war crimes — but even, in a more limited way, what did you learn as a battlefield commander in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and how might you apply that, the lessons that you learned through those experiences, as secretary of defense, is simply not raised at all during the hearing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Aaron, in that vein, General Mattis has also been criticized in the past with some of his quotes, for instance, in 2005, saying of the Taliban, “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” None of this came up in the hearings, as well, right?

AARON GLANTZ: Well, I mean, I think that that is a comment that doesn’t trouble observers so much. It’s the kind of thing that he said in front of a group of other marines, the kind of remark that you might hear, you know, in military circles frequently. What concerned me was that he played not only a critical role as a battlefield commander in Fallujah, but also, afterwards, when he was promoted to various other higher-ranking positions, he served as a convening authority in court-martial proceedings against various marines who had been accused of atrocities — for example, in the Haditha massacre, where a group of marines went on a killing spree after one in their unit was killed. And they killed, according to a Time magazine investigation, dozens of Iraqi civilians in their homes and also in a car and up on a ridge. And General Mattis dismissed the charges against many of the marines accused, personally intervening to clear their names before the justice system had run its course. And in the end, nobody connected to that massacre served a day in prison. In another case, a story —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go — I want to go, Aaron, to 2008, to what you’re talking about, when we spoke to McClatchy journalist Leila Fadel, who traveled to Haditha to interview survivors of the massacre. I want to turn to this short video posted on the McClatchy website based on her reporting.

LEILA FADEL: Yousef Aid Ahmed has memorized the places where his four brothers’ bodies laid after they were killed by US marines, he said. The family recounts that November day in 2005 and says it was a massacre of the brothers, along with 20 other people, following a roadside bomb in Haditha. Marines raided the house and shot the unarmed men in their heads in this back bedroom, the family said. Now they are angry that no one is being held accountable. Charges against six of the eight marines accused in the case were dismissed, and one marine was found not guilty on all charges.

WIDOW: [translated] I’m angry at those who sent them innocent. They were not supposed to sent innocent.

LEILA FADEL: The reminders of their deaths are everywhere: the white plaster that filled in the bullet holes in the wall, the dried blood that are now just faded gray spots under a new paint job on the ceiling, and the closet where one brother was shot inside and the other’s corpse leaned up against the wardrobe.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Leila Fadel, McClatchy journalist who traveled to Haditha. This was way back in 2008. And talk about what came of this, Aaron.

AARON GLANTZ: As I was saying, in the end, only one person was convicted in connection to this massacre. He — it was just for dereliction of duty — did not spend a day in prison. So, ultimately, there was really no justice for the victims of this massacre. And that was in part because of the role that General Mattis played as the convening authority, basically the boss, of the entire military justice process around this massacre, often called the My Lai massacre of the Iraq War.

And it’s not the only case where he intervened. He also intervened in the case in Hamdania, a massacre — a killing, broken by The Washington, where a disabled Iraqi man was pulled out of his house and shot in the face by marines, who then tried to frame him as an insurgent by placing a machine gun and a shovel on him, on his dead body, to make it look like he was an insurgent. General Mattis, in that case, intervened and freed marines from prison, after they had already been convicted in connection with that killing. So, he has a record that really should have been examined during the hearing yesterday, that senators did not ask about.

(End of article)

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