Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bible, History and Ancient Israel

I've just finished reading Megan Bishop Moore's Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel, well, rereading actually. I read it last year and was supposed to write a review but life got right away from me as '09 progressed. Re-reading it I'm ready to do the review but I thought I would first gather/research my thoughts here.

I have to say the book is pretty good in the way it surveys how "biblical" history or "Ancient Israel" history has been done from mid-last century to present. It provides a particularly good account of the challenge raised by the 'minimalists' in the late 80s and 90s to a whole suite of assumptions that had underpinned biblical/Ancient Israel history writing up until then. Two key assumptions, in particular, were questioned by the minimalists - the reliability of the biblical texts for providing any valid information about Ancient Israel and the very validity of the term Ancient Israel to understand Iron Age Palestine. Was the history of Ancient Israel/Iron Age Palestine nothing more than a scholarly construct based on biblical texts, themselves products of the later Persian/Hellenistic eras, that had but retrojected a constructed narrative onto the past, even displacing that Iron Age past?

The one thing that strikes me reading this book is just how much old testament biblical studies has been aligned with doing history, in many respects subsumed by doing a specific history, that of Iron Age Palestine. In terms of the texts, I'm pretty much a minimalist. I don't think any of them come from the Iron Age. They may draw on Iron Age resources, a few psalms and hymns and poems, a few laws and maybe some rituals. And clearly the author(s) of Kings had some kind of chronicle or king lists for Palestine in the Assyrian period and later because we can find references to these same monarchs in Assyrian records. But at the same time it's clear that Kings is written well and truly after the events it describes - it has to be to end, when it does, at the Babylonian conquest of Judah. Kings ends in an exile present so it has to be written some time later, later exile, Persian or beyond. And as Kings serves as final instalment of the saga, Joshua - Kings, known in Judaism as the Former Prophets, and known by scholars as the Deuteronomistic History due to recurring patterns of style and thought, ideology, then it seems fair enough to regard all those texts as roughly contemporaneous in composition. The alternative account of this history, Chronicles, definitely ends in a Persian present, as do, of course, Isaiah and the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets. So their composition has to be in the Persian period or later.

The Torah, too, has long been regarded as post-exilic in its final form. The famous documentary hypothesis of historical critical scholarship, following Wellhausen postulated a post-exilic context to the P or priestly material that was understood as one of the four key assumed sources of the Pentateuch. This was the material added by the editors who redacted the materials into the Torah's final form. Historical critical scholars relied on the assumed age of the other assumed sources, most famously (the Book of) J, which was generally dated to the 10th or 9th centuries BCE. The dating of these various assumed sources relied on the historical veracity of the biblical narratives about Ancient Israel. But for a long time, what was crucial was to identify and date sources, it was a kind of an archeology of the text from which a history could be constructed and by which scholars could identify and locate specific voices, not least the 'original voices' of different prophets. A similar process has been employed in New Testament studies, especially in the quest for the historical Jesus but I wont go into that here.

By mid-20th century, methodological problems with such source criticism had led to the development of form criticism and redaction criticism. The latter analysed the way the sources had been edited together to create the final text. However if an editor is too skilful in their work, then they are starting to be more like an author, what became termed as the case of the disappearing editor (redactor).

Most of this historiography is not covered by Bishop who starts her account early/mid-20th century with the US based biblical archeology 'school' of Albright and Bright who weren't at all interested in digging in the text when they could be digging in the (Palestinian/Israeli) soil instead. Like the historical critics, these archeologists had great confidence in the overall historicity of the biblical accounts and theirs was a genuinely scholarly approach, unlike the ark hunters and other Christian fundamentalist so-called archeologists of today e.g. the late Ron Wyatt. She turns then from US biblical archeology of the soil to European archeology of the text as represented by Albrecht Alt and his 'school'. This is the good old historical critical project that I referred to above. Like Albright and his followers, Alt and his colleagues had as their goal the reconstruction and elucidation of the history of Ancient Israel. As with the US archeology school, Alt and his colleagues followed a genuinely scholarly approach to their work with texts. Both schools were positivist, empirical in their approach and committed to objectivity in the way they did history.

I think several factors undermined both these approaches. By the 70s archeology is starting to put in doubt some of the presumed historicity of the biblical narrative. At the same time, for both archeology and for history more broadly, the 20th century saw changes in philosophy and practice in both disciplines. Bishop outlines these shifts in her first two chapters. Inasmuch as biblical studies had been conflated with doing history, then the rise of minimalism was necessary and inevitable. The minimalists could be seen as calling people to more rigorous standards of doing history. Or even more importantly, asking just what was the point of all this history of Ancient Israel work in the first place. How much was the interest in the states/statelets of Iron Age Palestine due to theological rather than straightforward historical concerns? And, given their later provenance, how relevant are the biblical texts to reconstructing a history of Palestine in the Iron Age? Is placing reliance on the biblical version of events, evidence of theological bias, especially if artifacts and other data don't give support to that version?

Bishop gives a chapter to the minimalists and then turns to the 'opposition' which she terms non-mimimalist. It's a rather awkward term because it implies an opposing binary whereas I think the reality is more like a continuum at (or towards) one end of which sit the minimalists while the non-minimalists stretch along most of the rest of the continuum. Some such as Iain Provan (and his colleagues Long and Longman) would appear to sit right down towards the other end of the of the continuum, at least in accepting the reliablity of the biblical narrative, accepting everything from the Abraham/Sarah story onwards as a history (alas Bishop doesn't report why Provan, Long and Longman don't accord the primordial 'history' - Adam to Babel - the same sort of reliability). The problem with such an approach is that, especially with no other data, artifactual or textual, for verification, what's produced is not so much history as scholarly paraphrases of biblical narrative. So much of the older history of Ancient Israel really is nothing more than biblical paraphrase.

Bishop's final chapter assesses the state of the discipline i.e. history of Ancient Israel. It seems that for many if not most non-minimalists, there is a new consensus in approach, one in which results are understood to be more contingent and in which there can be a greater variety of reconstructions and consequent discussion and debate. As a biblical scholar, rather than ancient historian, I'm most interested in what we can learn about the religious world of Iron Age Palestine and how much continuity it had with the older 'Canaanite' world of the Bronze Age. I'm also interested in the religious interactions between Palestine and its neighbours e.g. Egypt. However what I would really like to know more about is Palestine in the Persian and Hellenistic periods and not just Palestine but the communities of YHWH worshippers within Palestine and beyond. We get a glimpse from the Elephantine papyri and can get some glimpses by reading some of the biblical texts such as Isaiah and The Twelve. Biblical history for me is, in part, the history of the religious ideas found in the Old Testament and related texts, how they fit in the broader religious world of the ancient Middle East and beyond. Whether or not there was a Samson or a Saul or a Solomon is nowhere near as important, at least from a biblical studies perspective.

Friday, February 5, 2010

St Mary's and Peter Kennedy - the Book

It's been about 7 or 8 months since I've written on St Mary's South Brisbane and the dramas there with the former priests, Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick. I had promised I would write something about going back to St Mary's but it seems other things got in the way. I have been pretty much a regular at St Mary's since the change took place last year. I don't live in the area anymore so I don't know how long I can sustain it, especially as, coming up this year, I have quite a bit of housesitting quite a few kilometres away in the southwestern suburbs. Along with quite a few others my main purpose in going back was to provide support in a difficult time and to ensure that a diversity of congregation was maintained. And lets face it I like the church and the community there. It still makes a nice contrast to some of the more mainstream suburban parishes I've visited.

I've not been to what's been termed St Mary's in Exile, at least not for their regular services in Trades Hall. However, last December I did attend a book launch for Peter Kennedy: The Man Who Threatened Rome (published by One Day Hill), a compilation of essays and reflections, in large part by people involved in or sympathetic to the Exile community. The launch seemed much more like a religious service - possibly something out of Hillsong - than any book launch I'd been to previously (I'm not used to community hymn singing at a book launch, for instance). And unlike other such launches it was the subject/s of the book, Peter Kennedy as well as Terry Fitzpatrick, at the centre of attention and signing copies of the book, not the authors/editors.

I have to admit the title of the book put me off. It buys into what is by now a founding myth of a new religious denomination forming amongst the exiles, that Peter Kennedy, alone standing for the principles of Vatican 2, was the victim of Vatican powermongers, aided and abetted by local reactionary Catholics dubbed the Temple Police. The first essay in the book, by Paul Collins, someone who did, unfortunately, get monstered by the Vatican apparatchiks, assumes that this myth is a realistic account of the events that led to the dismissal of Peter Kennedy and the community's move into exile/separation. I only wish the myth was a true representation of the facts in which case Collins' essay would have been quite apropos. But the reality is that the final upshot of the saga was very much a local affair, as much to do with Terry Fitzpatrick as Peter Kennedy and very little to do with either local reactionaries or Vatican enforcers.

But of course Paul Collins was not to know that and so I can't judge his essay too harshly. The real story behind the events will probably never enter the public domain and so reading Collins' contribution was for me a salutory process enabling me to make a perspectival shift before proceeding with the rest of the book. The rest of the book is fascinating, irritating, moving, depressing, confusing, inspiring and enlightening. It is, as the back cover blurb says, an assembly of voices, an assembly framed by a two part hagiography of Peter Kennedy by Melbourne based journalist, Martin Flanagan. There follows a large section - nearly 60 pages - by Michele Gierck titled "The People Speak" a series of sketches of eleven people involved with St Mary's (including Gierck herself and Terry Fitzpatrick). That's followed by some 21 essays/reflections mostly by people who are part of the St Mary's community or others commenting on the events. However there are other essays by such as John Shelby Spong, Hans Kung, Roy Bourgeois and Joan Chittister that I presume were chosen for their illustrative effect. None of them reflect on the St Mary's events or betray any evidence of awareness of those events. Kung, Bourgeois and Chittister have all in their own different ways fallen foul of the Vatican and so their essays presumably are meant to illustrate the Vatican power dynamic that was likewise supposed to have also rolled over Peter Kennedy. I strongly recommend the essays by Roy Bourgeois and Joan Chittister. They make a trenchant critique of the authoritarianism and patriarchal clericalism that is one of the key problems of the Roman communion. Kung's essay,'If Obama Were Pope', no doubt written in the heady early days of the Obama presidency, reads now as rather embarassing in its naive understandings of the dynamics of US presidential power. One thing we don't need in the Vatican is a charismatic and popular Pope; the last one was John Paul 2 and he was a disaster! The Spong piece is his recent Manifesto in which he declared that he is no longer going to debate the issue of homosexuality in the Church with those pushing homophobic agendas. I'm sympathetic to Spong's position. I get sick to death of always having to go over the same old stuff too. I'd love to move on myself - I've spent many years reading some most odious materials. I'm much more interested in developing very different readings and understandings of biblical and other texts that will help open up especially Christian possibilities for new ways of living, beyond patriarchy, sexism and patriarchy. In the St Mary's context, Spong's piece is presumably designed to reflect the reasons for going into 'exile'. Peter, Terry and community are no longer going to waste time debating with or justifying themselves to the patriarchal homophobes in the Vatican and the local Temple Police.

However, the remainder of the contributions reflect and comment on the issues at St Mary's and many of them are from members of the community and supporters of Peter Kennedy. Some of the pieces, like the four from overseas, were presumably first published elsewhere. Certainly the critical piece by Neil Ormerod, 'Mary Mary Quite Contrary', I remember reading last year, on Eureka St, I think. Some of the essays, like that of Paul Collins, take as their starting point the foundation myth of Vatican bullies and Temple Police, but others are more far-ranging and get into a range of issues that are highlighted by the St Mary's experience.

The strength of the book is those contributions and accounts of the ordinary members of St Mary's. It's a strange experience for me to read these accounts because of the shared ideals, often even shared languages. I know the well that St Mary's drew on. That well lay deep in the long traditions of the Catholic left, in particular the Catholic Worker movement and I think also the Poustinia movement. St Mary's in its heyday would have come very close to the vision of one of the early figures of the Catholic Worker, Peter Maurin, who imagined every Catholic parish operating a house of hospitality and active with the poor and outcast, building community and developing spirituality, not least by maintaining some sort of rural retreat. Each parish was to be a centre of activism in which the seeds for a new human-centred (not profit, not power driven) society would be sown. St Mary's didn't have a house of hospitality but it had a community orchard planted around the old presbytery and it also had Micah Projects, a government funded community agency. Peter Kennedy also had a property up in the Numinbah valley with little cabins for people to go and spend time in reflection. I spent a few days there myself many years ago in early '91.

But the crisis at St Mary's stemmed in part from a form of thinking in many Catholic circles that saw the 2nd Vatican Council as the Roman Church finally catching up with the Reformation. Vatican 2 was all about 'relevance' about modernising the Church and the modernity looked to was pretty much a Protestant Reformed modernity. This suited some of the more conservative circles who could engage in liturgical changes and purges of the calendar of saints and changes in clerical dress etc while not really addressing the underlying issues of power in the church. JP2 drew on such aspects of modernity as PR and the cult of celebrity to reinforce his authoritarian Papacy. He also heavily promoted a variety of rather strange and dubious movements to counter more progressive and dissenting movements in the Church.

But the same modernising discourse was embraced by many Catholic progressives as well. They were able to draw on it to develop critiques of Church power structures, often by looking to Protestant models or through liberation and feminist theologies. All too often, however, there came a jettisoning of any sense of value in the past/tradition, under the influence of modern myths of progress. The Roman Church was regarded as a medieval institution that had to shed all its backwardness to enter the modern age. In actual fact the Roman Church was/is as medieval as, say, the Anglican Church, having been very much remade through the 16th century Council of Trent and then through the various settlements of Church and Papal power in the 19th century. It was only in the 19th century, with the rise of secular societies, that the conditions developed, which enabled the full flourishing of Papal power and Vatican centralism. Papal Infallibility was only declared as an item of necessary belief in 1870 at Vatican 1, at the same time as the secular power of the Papacy was stripped away by the new Italian state. In purely political terms, losing that secular power was probably the best thing to happen to the Papacy. In some respects the post-1870 church anticipated various developments in the modern world. It became an international corporation operating under a democratic centralism that would put Lenin's to shame while the purge of the Modernists a century ago was every bit as ruthless as the late Bolshevik purges, albeit without the bloodletting. Papal infallibility itself would be echoed in conservative Protestantism with the notion of biblical inerrancy which became a key plank of the fundamentalism born in the US a century ago. So one could say that the Roman church was as thoroughly modern as any other aspect of modernity.

There were aspects of Catholicism, that sat awkwardly, were even embarassing, in the liberal bourgeois order. The cult of Mary is one such example and certainly over the last few centuries the place and figure of Mary had been progressively diminished within the Church from the great Mother and Queen of Heaven figure of medieval Latin Christendom. Her diminution mirrored the rise of the patriarchal nuclear family as the structuring base of the capitalist state. This diminution was accelerated post-Vatican 2 under the perceived need to get to a more Christocentric (and masculine?) focus in the Church.

I'm not knocking Vatican 2 or saying that there should not have been changes. Many of the changes I think were desirable and necessary. Others I suspect were distractions or were driven by a modernist desire to rid the Church of perceived medievalisms. But the real problem in the church is the problem of power, the centralising clericalism, which has its roots most strongly in the medieval reform movement of the 11th and 12th centuries in the Latin West (and in which the 16th century Reformation also has its roots). What's so rotten about this clericalism was illustrated by the various clerical sexual abuse scandals over recent decades. But those scandals were on symptoms of a continuing problem of power by which the local church operated as a branch office of the Head Office in Rome and the clergy were held up on a pedestal to function as agents of that head office.

In its early days I think St Mary's had the potential to challenge that clericalism and to do so from within, reconfiguring the language and traditions of Catholicism. I've written about this in some of my earlier posts. But in the end it failed to do so, taking instead a reprise the Reformation and more recently wandering into an almost post-Christian New Age realm. The St Marys exile church seems to have become pretty much a form of liturgical Unitarian Universalism. That's fine, of course, if that's what you want but is quite definitely not Catholic, whether it be Roman, Independent, Orthodox or even Anglican (which allows for a wide variety of styles).

And that is why, in the end, Peter Kennedy was not any kind of threat to Rome at all. By adopting a post-Catholic, even post-Christian, universalism, Kennedy and the community took themselves out of any Catholic orbit and abandoned any attempt to reconfigure Catholicism, from within its own terms (Roman and non-Roman), abandoned any shared discursive framework by which to challenge Rome on its own terms Instead they had developed into a new sect. And the even greater irony was that, far from threatening Rome, in a sense there was an emulation of Rome. Rome had its cult of personality around JP2 and I think in the latter years a cult of personality had developed around Kennedy. It's understandable - he had been a good priest. But I wonder if, towards the end, that cult of personality took him over. It's very easy for something like that to happen and certainly there were aspects of the book launch and the, dare I say, veneration of both Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick displayed there, which gave me pause. And I couldn't help but think that this is the same old Roman clericalism reinscribed.

But by all means get a copy of the book. The questions raised, the hopes expressed, the visions dreamed have not lost their urgency, relevance and import. St Mary's was a model for how a church of Catholic tradition could be. The crisis last year arose because the priests and other leaders of the community had pretty much lost their moorings in Catholic Christianity. They were becoming, will become a distinct separate denomination, only vaguely Christian. On the other hand, the ongoing parish community has had to almost start again from scratch. It's early days yet but I hope that St Mary's may again one day model a way for church of Catholic tradition to be. Who knows, it might even one day genuinely threaten Rome, or even liberate it. Ah, but there I fall into utopianism.

Monday, February 1, 2010

United States Terror in Afghanistan

Keeping a blog carries certain risks. The biggest risk is that of turning it into a stage for personal rants, condemning and bemoaning. It's very tempting and there have been the odd times when I've given in and denounced something. When I have done I've tried not to make it a rant but to attempt some analysis and argument but I've not always been successful, I know. In my blog roll at the side I list a number of political blog sites, including my flatmate's, Larvatus Prodeo. So if you want good political analysis and discussion and not just rants, those are the places I recommend.

But in the last couple of days I read a quite appalling story over on Asia Times Online. It's by Anand Gopal, Terror Comes at Night in Afghanistan. It's an account that deserves to be read and brought to everyone's attention. Gopal describes the terror that ordinary Afghans have had to live under since the US invasion of that benighted land. It appears the US military is in the habit of raiding people's homes by night to detain suspects. Here's one instance of a night time raid from late last year

It was November 19, 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country's south. A team of US soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the minister of agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family's one-room guesthouse.

One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they - both children - refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, US forces released Rahman's cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

"We've called his phone, but it doesn't answer," says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar's family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were "enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent".

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. "Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government," Qarar says. "Rahman couldn't even leave the city because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him."

Beyond the question of Rahman's guilt or innocence, however, it's how he was taken that has left such a residue of hate and anger among his family. "Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?" Qarar asks. "They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn't they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply. "I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners," he adds. "But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don't care if I get fired for saying it, but that's the truth."

Such night time raids and "arrests" have been fairly standard since the invasion back in 2001. People abducted by US forces generally disappear into the shadow world of prisons and interrogation centres the US operates throughout the country, the most infamous at Bagram airbase. If you're really unlucky you might end up at Guantanamo or you might just be murdered and your body dumped. Torture is pretty much par for the course in the US Afghan prisons.

Night raids are only the first step in the American detentionprocess in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on US military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.

Of the 24 former detainees interviewed for this story, 17 claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. a body tasked with investigating abuse claims, corroborate 12 of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, US forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field DetentionSite at a nearby US base. "They interrogated me the whole night," he recalls, "but I had nothing to tell them." Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom US forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. "They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed." They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. "Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me," he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, at other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from US authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

According to Gopal, over the last couple of years, the US has cleaned up its act in Bagram. However, prisoners can be handed over to Afghan authorities for torture and then returned after being "roughed up". This process can go on and on. There are also reports of a secret black gaol.

One day two years ago, US forces came to get Noor Muhammad outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers - including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad's father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the black jail. "It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn't know when it was night and when it was day." He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, "I am a doctor. It's my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government."

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. "I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban," he says. "I'm happy my father is dead, so he doesn't have to experience this hell."

Clearly Abu Ghraib in Iraq was not an aberration. What went wrong was that the 'grunts' got into taking trophy snaps for the folks back home. Indeed reading these reports I'm reminded first of all of accounts from the Vietnam war of US secret operations there, in which many thousands of Vietnamese civilians were arrested tortured and murdered. I'm also reminded of accounts from Latin America in the 70s and 80s, especially Argentina's war on its citizens, in which people would be abducted at night for torture and murder. The people, military and police, responsible for such crimes had been trained in the US at the School of Americas, "whose training manuals advocated torture, extortion and execution." According to School of Americas Watch

Among the SOA's nearly 60,000 graduates are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians.

In other words the US has form going back decades of promoting and using torture and murder and generally waging terror campaigns against foreign populations. What was exposed in Iraq and what Gopal describes in Afghanistan is not some neo-con Cheney-Bush aberration but standard operating practice by the US military for who knows how long. It's just over a century since the US took up "the white man's burden" and invaded the Philippines who had had the temerity to declare their independence from Spain, following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-US War. The US waged a brutal war to take control of the country in which hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed. So no doubt the US learnt an awful lot about terrorising local populations there.

I opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and still do. I am appalled that Australia was part and parcel of it and that we seem to have been committed for the long haul to that miserable war. War is rarely a viable solution to anything and the invasion of Afghanistan is yet another catastrophe in that country's recent history of being the plaything of the big powers. The behaviour of US forces there, just like their behaviour in Iraq, is clear evidence that the US is not interested in the plight of the local people. The real issue is control of the energy resources of Central Asia.

The US military and political elites like to talk about the war in Afghanistan being a long war over many years even decades. But if it keeps up this sort of behaviour we can be sure of one thing. Just like Britain and the Soviet Union before them, the US will lose its war in Afghanistan, just as it did in Vietnam back in '75.

I strongly urge you to read Gopal's full article, Terror Comes at Night in Afghanistan.