The Nasty Blowback from America’s Wars

From the Archive: New police shooting deaths of two black men – in Louisiana and Minnesota – show the kind of violent blowback that America is facing after decades of imperial warfare abroad, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote in 2015.

By Ray McGovern (Originally published on April 12, 2015)

Brutality thrives in American police treatment of common citizens reflecting an ethos of violence that has flourished over the past dozen years with almost no one in authority held accountable. Much of this behavior can be traced back to U.S. wars of choice and it is not as though we were not warned of the inevitable blowback.

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

On Feb. 26, 2003, three weeks before the U.S./UK attack on Iraq, Coleen Rowley, then division counsel and special agent at the FBI office in Minneapolis, had the prescience and the guts to send a letter to then FBI Director Robert Mueller.  The New York Times published it a week later.

Rowley warned Mueller that launching unjustified war would prove counterproductive in various ways. One blowback she highlighted was that the rationale being applied to allow preemptive strikes abroad could migrate back home, “fostering a more permissive attitude toward shootings by law enforcement officers in this country.” Tragically, the recent spate of murders by police has proved Rowley right.

And not only killing. Police brutality toward the citizenry, some of it by former soldiers who themselves were brutalized by war, has soared. Yet, the dark side of what was done by U.S. troops abroad as well as the damage that was done to their psyches and sense of morality is rarely shown in the U.S. mainstream media, which prefers to veer between romanticizing the adventure of war and lamenting the physical harm done to America’s maimed warriors.

One has to go to foreign media for real-life examples of the brutalization of, as well as by, the young soldiers we send off to battle. (See, for example, this segment from Germany’s “60 Minutes”-type TV program, Panorama.)

The glib, implicit approval of violence (embedded, for instance, in the customary “Thank you for your service”) simply adds to the widespread acceptance of brutality as somehow okay.

Gratuitous Beatings

Cases of police beating citizens who are detained or taken into custody have multiplied, with police offenders frequently held to the same unconscionable let’s-not-look-back “accountability” that has let George W. Bush and Dick Cheney walk free so far for launching the “war of aggression” on Iraq.

Eric Garner being put in a chokehold by New York City police shortly before his death.

Eric Garner being put in a chokehold by New York City police shortly before his death.

The post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal carefully defined such a war as “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Accumulated evil? Having just emerged from the nightmare of world conflagration, the jurists on the Tribunal understood that it was the unleashing of the dogs of war launching an aggressive war that also loosed all the other atrocities and barbarities associated with warfare.

Looking back on the last decade, think of crimes like kidnapping, black (or secret) prisons and torture as well as the slaughter of so many civilians as the Bush/Cheney war of choice has spread violence and death now in the form of the brutal Islamic State and America’s endless “drone wars” across almost the entire Middle East.

But part of that accumulated evil is also playing out at home on the streets of American cities and in even in our deserts. On April 9, 2015, San Bernardino’s “sheriff’s deputies” were caught on video viciously brutalizing a man who had already prostrated himself on the desert floor with his hands behind his back.

Warning: Watching this video may make you ill or cry. If so, take heart. For this would merely show that, because you still have a conscience, you are sickened by what you see, and that you can still “cry our beloved country.”

Conscience is a good thing, for it often brings the courage to speak out and confront the banality of evil that always flows and inevitably blows back from wars of aggression. Indifference to human suffering is another one of those accumulated evils of the whole.

We need to summon the kind of courage Coleen Rowley showed three weeks before the United States launched the “supreme international crime.” We need to monitor closely what happens after the unconscionable abuse by police of the helpless man in San Bernardino, after the recent police shootings of unarmed black men, and after the excessive brutality that America’s over-militarized police now regularly inflict on citizens during routine arrests.

“If you see something, say something” we are constantly told. If we see this video coverage, watch this sort of brutality, and do nothing, I fear for what will become of our country.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an infantry/intelligence officer, and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.

13 comments for “The Nasty Blowback from America’s Wars

  1. Gregory Kruse
    July 9, 2016 at 12:57

    “Please let us shoot, please let us shoot” is the mantra for assholes.

  2. feliznavidad
    July 8, 2016 at 11:20

    When I was a child, the Nuns taught us to be concerned about our nation’s actions abroad and warned us that whatever “they” do to citizens of other countries, “they” will do to us. Prescient, those nuns.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    July 7, 2016 at 15:03

    Mr McGovern, you and Coleen Rowley are hitting on the right nerve. My wife and I just this morning after watching on the news about these recent police shootings, both came to the conclusion that there is something wrong inside this country’s collective brain. That something is a war mentality, which has overtaken to many of us in this era of world hegemony conquest, just the way you described Coleen Rowley’s warnings said it would, when she wrote to Director Mueller back in 2003. I mean Coleen hit the nail on the head. Our nation has completely forgot about our caring for each other inside of our commons. It would be a mistake that it was a garden of Eden back years ago, but nonetheless things and the way we handle certain situations, has gotten much terribly worst. Why, well could a warring society continue to be a kind and compassionate society, while raising the ground in third world countries, and for what may I ask you do we do these things? You, and Coleen Rowley, along with your friends at VIP, should be applauded most loudly for doing the work you have been doing inside this new century. It is work such as you are continuing on with, that may save this great country of ours and all the people in it. And as they say, continue on please….

  4. David Smith
    July 7, 2016 at 14:23

    For now, I will limit my comment to a very important technical matter, which contains within it the crime of murder. Everyone should look carefully at the Eric Garner photo, which has been poorly captioned as there is no such thing as a “chokehold”. The Cop has Garner in an improperly applied “headlock”, and his action is inexcusable. A correct ” headlock” has the crooked elbow under the chin so that there is an empty triangular space on front of the windpipe, so that no pressure is exerted on the windpipe(also the forearm and upper arm is on either side of the head to avoid a neck injury. Inexcusably, this Cop has his left forearm across Garners windpipe and applying pressure. Worse still, the Cops right hand is pulling like a lever on his left which applys enormous pressure on Garners windpipe. The Cop is engaged in willfull murder, I am a student of the noble martial arts and cannot be fooled. There is a lot more the Cop is doing wrong, but I am too disgusted to get into it.

    • Curious
      July 9, 2016 at 05:53

      David, agreed.

      The officers’ forearm is deliberately blocking the windpipe without the elbow allowing a chance to breath. It is murder.
      What baffles me still is the pretenses for murder by the police…. how many broken tail lights have we read about? Failed to use a turn signal? And the officers who take someone down because an individual made “eye contact”. My favorite was the officer, after eye contact stopped a man of color, even after the turn signal was used, because it didn’t seem like 100′ before the turn.
      We can all be stopped for such triviality, and it used to be a ‘fix it’ ticket or a warning. Men and women dying for minor infractions.
      This has to stop, and stop now!!
      You make a very good point about the supposed choke hold. These police are criminals, and the populace should wise up and stop pretending they are all “heroes” because they are not.

  5. dahoit
    July 7, 2016 at 11:48

    The society that neolibcon zionism and its inherent globalization have brought to America.
    If we only had an American media interested in America instead of Israeli expansion and greed.
    A clusterf*ck that only Trump can solve.
    Will he,and not let US down?We will see.

    • July 8, 2016 at 16:16

      I think you put way too much faith in Trump.

  6. Drew Hunkins
    July 7, 2016 at 11:44

    Many, many white police officers – though they’ll never admit it – have an irrational fear of black men. Former police chief Norm Stamper wrote a marvelous book a few years ago titled “Breaking Rank” in which he expounds on this problem of white officers being trigger happy and heavy-handed toward black suspects due to their irrational fears.

    A lot of these white police officers grew up playing shoot em up video games and often view black suspects as just another enemy or opponent in some absurd video game. If more of these cops grew up in mixed race neighborhoods and schools it’d help a bit, but of course that’s no panacea.

    The local Nightly News constantly leading with local violent crime stories doesn’t help the situation at all. Sure, there is violent crime, but it’s nowhere near as pervasive as watching the Nightly News makes it seem. “If it bleeds it leads” is cliche by now, but it’s no doubt true, ratings and advertising dollars are what the Nightly News are all about; they’re not necessarily about delivering a reasonable take on reality.

    There’s an irrational fear of violent crime that permeates the consciousness of too many Americans. Ergo, they vote for law and order politicians who tacitly encourage heavy-handed and over bearing policing.

    With so many people who are basically a superfluous population to profit making, the police-state grows larger and larger to quarter and corral the masses. A day of reckoning is looming eventually and the ruling class well knows it. That’s why the police over saturate our streets and the prison industrial complex proceeds at an astonishing pace.

    • dahoit
      July 7, 2016 at 11:50

      Actually,some of these brutal POs are black,as in Baltimore.
      Controlling others is a fascist tendency,and policing draws fascists.

      • Drew Hunkins
        July 7, 2016 at 13:23

        “Controlling others is a fascist tendency,and policing draws fascists.”

        I love that line. Spot-on.

        • Herbert A. Davis, Jr.
          July 13, 2016 at 15:18

          Drew Hunkins: I think you are wrong. Policing draws many different types. Many have had careers in helping for example minister, teachers and paramedics and one I know was an chemical dependency counselor. Some Chiefs and senior officers are fascists and have a major impact on their rank and file, many who have a military background are “just following orders'( Ala Nuremberg) and stereotyping the police is a fools game. Your long post was great.

      • Joe Tedesky
        July 7, 2016 at 14:49

        dahoit, I think you are right, it isn’t always about race. I would add, that it has a lot more to do about mentality and how one performs that needs looked into. Although, and then again, a lot of these police are shooting criminals who are …well in plain words the cop just killed a black guy, again! When they shot the black guy I remained silent, when they shot the Hispanic guy I remained silent, when they shot the street drug user I remained silent, when they shot my teenage kid…..

    • Roberto
      July 7, 2016 at 13:06

      Not so much irrational fear as a collective sense of racism due to the reinforcement from fellow officers and reinforcement from the neighborhoods that they work in.

      I also ask myself, how many of these civil servants are themselves keyed up from their military time in one of these neocon wars.

      It is the responsibility of every police agency in the country to fight the normal tendency to slip into this form of cynicism. In a black or Latino community the police force should be black and Latino. Sensitivity training should be as common as weapon and chemical agent training.

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