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Friday, December 14, 2007

Progress in Iraq: Mobile Death Labs Come to Iraq

So, weapons designer Anh Duong has developed a mobile lab (it's inflatable!) chock full of high tech identification gear, such as a retina scanning devices, computers and a satellite uplink to Washington, DC. She hopes to make more efficient the decision-making process that soldiers go through every day: "Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?" Those are her words.

While the deployment of mobile high tech death labs in Iraq (set for 2008), something we've actually seen recently in China as well, is truly a sad development for humanity, I think the interesting part about this article is the way this new technology is being praised by the elite media for the way it brings more specific death to Iraq. And in a very real sense, it's being pushed as a progressive development in war-fighting.

As Robert Parry reports for Consortium News (drawing on a previous Washington Post article on the subject):
Duong justified this biometric-data program as a humanitarian way of singling out “bad guys” for elimination while sparing innocent civilians.

"I don't want My Lai in Iraq," Duong said. "The biggest difficulty in the global war on terror – just like in Vietnam – is to know who the bad guys are. How do we make sure we don't kill innocents?"
Duong, a 47 year-old refugee from Vietnam, seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from America's imperialist wars. Driven by some twisted sense of gratitude to the country that laid indiscriminate waste to hers, she claims the experience growing up in Saigon under the shadow of Viet Cong rockets drove her on a quest to develop means of killing that avoided the massacre of innocents she had seen in her youth.

Explains, Duong in the Washington Post piece:
"My life is payback: I'm indebted to the soldiers and to Americans," she said. "I was enraged when I found out how Hollywood portrayed my American heroes and my American friends as women- and children-killers. How dare they?" As a teenager, Duong went to see "The Deer Hunter." She walked out in the middle.

Duong is still angry, though no longer helpless. "I'm here because in Vietnam, we ran out of bullets. I don't want to ever be in that position again," she said. "By building bombs, the other guys realize they shouldn't mess with us. If you have a gun, I have a bazooka. If you have a grenade, guess what? I have a bomb."
Despite her explanation, becoming a bomb maker for the US government still seems like an odd conclusion to come to in those circumstances, but what strikes me perhaps even more is her complete lack of a critique of bureaucracy and data entry -- especially for a public servant! If she had ever worked punching numbers into computers for the US Post Office like I have, she might be a little less enthusiastic about the efficiency of her new mobile techno-death-marvel. Some tired teenage soldier, hopped up on amphetamines and barely able to read, accidentally enters a 5 instead of a 6 and all of a sudden you're lying in a pool of your own brains and blood. Progress indeed!

Of course, efficiency in killing isn't the only benefit the mass application of repressive technology in Iraq will bring to the Iraqi people. Mass incarceration, too, will soon come to Iraq (again), and US occupation forces are now planning to more than triple the number of Iraqis in detention facilities, in large part made possible thanks by the new technology.
In effect, the Bush administration is transforming Iraq into a test tube for modern techniques of repression, which already include use of night-vision optics on drone aircraft, heat resonance imaging, and firepower that is both deadly and precise.

The new techniques represent a modernization of tactics used in other counterinsurgencies, such as in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Central America in the 1980s.

In Vietnam, U.S. forces planted sensors along infiltration routes for targeting bombing runs against North Vietnamese troops. In Guatemala, security forces were equipped with early laptop computers for use in identifying suspected subversives who would be dragged off buses and summarily executed.

Now, modern technologies are updating these strategies for the 21st century’s “war on terror.”

The U.S. news media mostly has reacted to these developments with gee-whiz enthusiasm, like the Post story about Duong, which breezily depicts her complicated life as a devoted mom whose personal history as a Vietnamese refugee led her to a career developing sophisticated weapons for the U.S. government.
Truly frightening, but, nevertheless, we should pay attention because Iraq's present foreshadows our future if we don't do something about it now. These technologies will come home, if they haven't already. First in disaster areas and riots. Or perhaps first in malls and on street corners. Or maybe first at sporting events and in police cars.

And the story of the mobile death lab also presents a lesson we had best not ignore about the way technology is so often presented as progressive when in fact it merely further tightens the death grip of the elite class on society. We see this at home with the broad application of Tasers and surveillance cameras. Crime fighting will be more efficient and less bloody, we are told, but we never ask just who is being policed and why? Or how they might be different from those doing the policing.

After all, who are the bad guys Duong wants to kill anyway? Without getting into their specific politics, when you get right down to it aren't they really just folks standing in the way of the American elite's imperial project in Iraq? They're folks with the nerve to think that they, not some distant imperialist in a beltway think tank, might more deserving of making decisions about what goes on in their country. The good guys, on the other hand -- according to Duong's imperialist formulation -- are the ones who stand passively by or even support the destruction and dismantlement of their country for the benefit of a small elite in the US. Truly a reversal of logic.

Now, perhaps we do understand Duong's perspective. She was against those in Vietnam who resisted imperial domination and she's against them now in Iraq. In a bizarre case of Stockholm Syndrome, Duong has embraced the country that wanted so much to keep Vietnam within the imperial domain that it was willing to mercilessly kill 2 million of her countrymen and women, often in brutal massacres like My Lai, creating the chaotic conditions that set her and her family fleeing into the arms of the US military in 1975. Of course, it's worth remembering, since Duong is so focused on carrying out specific killings as a path towards so-called success in Iraq, that the US used quite discriminate murder in Vietnam as well, such as that organized through the infamous Phoenix Program of assassination, which murdered more than 80,000 Vietnamese quite specifically.

And yet, to her, in true imperialist fashion, it's the resisters that must be eradicated, not the oppressor. When resistance to foreign domination is eradicated in Iraq, apparently, freedom will finally ring for Iraqis. It's the imperial project of the far off overlord, the goals of which we dare not name in polite company, that is the all beautiful good, and the resistance of the dominated, who's goals we also obscure lest we sympathize, that is the ultimate evil.


Despite all her hand wringing about finding a better way to sort out the bad guys from the good guys, hasn't Duong really just come full circle? Remember the old Vietnam era soldiers refrain, as reported to the Winter Soldiers investigation in 1971:
The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC, VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, "How do you know he's a VC?" and the general reply would be, "He's dead," and that was sufficient.
Vietnam. Washington. Iraq. Washington.
Some things never change.

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