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Smart Bombs Over Iraq
J anuary 29, 2003 was the date that the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was expected to launch. Those working on the last “great observatory” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were getting ready to put decades of work to the test. If all went well, the spacecraft would be launched into Solar orbit to measure the infrared light from our own Milky Way and other galaxies.
In November 2002 we were told that the launch would be delayed until April. The reason was that a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite was taking the January 29 slot and that a host of other military spacecraft needed to use that late January/early February launch window. Most of us didn’t question why the military would take precedence over science; the assumption was that someone somewhere was making the right decision. Our acceptance of the delay demonstrated the U.S. space program’s “pecking order” in practice. This subordination allowed the Pentagon to field crucial tools in time for its conquest of Iraq.
GPS as Force Multiplier
T he GPS vehicle was “the first in a flurry of military satellites” to go up prior to the expected U.S. invasion (which as of this writing has not yet happened). According to Lt. Colonel Mike Rein, however, it has “nothing to do with the war.” The conventional picture is that GPS technology is so widely available and so useful that the Air Force is helping us by getting these satellites into orbit. After all, the Department of Defense (DoD) is just one of many users. According to Space News , “Car navigation is the most frequently used application of the system, while marine and military uses are the least used applications.” After the recent Space Shuttle accident, the use of GPS to map precisely the debris path has been touted as a success of the U.S. space program. Lee Meeks, a sales manager for Leica Geosystems, told the New York Times , “It’s really cool that the military put all those satellites up there so we can tie into this and get these positions.” Major Mike Mason, chief of GPS operations at U.S. Air Force Space Command, emphasized that “GPS systems can be used by any person out there, whether it be my grandmother going in the car to the grocery store or Saddam Hussein.”
But it is difficult to believe that automobile navigation was the main reason GPS displaced an astronomy satellite on the Cape Canaveral launch pad. The aerospace trade journal, Aviation Week and Space Technology , was more honest about why we needed to get the new satellites into orbit. Craig Couvault wrote, “The U.S. Air Force is beginning to replenish the GPS, Milstar, and Defense Satellite Communications System constellations with critical spacecraft...to provide unprecedented warfighting capabilities to the U.S. forces arrayed against Iraq.” Rather than to help people drive to the grocery store, the goals of the current “U.S. Military space surge,” according to Couvault, are to “substantially bolster overall U.S. military satellite bandwidth capability going into the critical February/March time frame, when an attack on Iraq could begin.”
GPS technology is extremely useful in modern warfare, especially for bomb and missile guidance. For bombing Afghanistan, “The Pentagon’s weapon of choice has been the Joint Direct Attack Munition, a device attached to the tail of a 2,000-pound bomb that enables it to be guided by a satellite-assisted Global Positioning System.” GPS-guided weapons will also be the “weapon of choice” over Iraq. Rajat Baijal and Manoj Arora of the Indian Institute of Technology write, “With war clouds looming large over the west Asian region, the world is likely to witness...state of the art weaponry being used by the U.S. led forces. Most of these, either directly or indirectly shall be using GPS to accurately target and achieve the desired results.”
The New York Times confirms this assessment. “The Pentagon’s war plan for Iraq calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign.... The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf war of 1991.” The purpose of this onslaught would be “to stagger and isolate the Iraqi military and quickly pave the way for a ground attack to topple a government in shock.” Somehow this is to be accomplished so as to “limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimize civilian casualties.”
“Precision-guided weapons” sound humane, and this is why the phrase is used in public descriptions of war plans. If nearly all weapons hit their intended targets, we don’t have to worry about the “wrong” people getting hurt. But the real reason so-called precision-guided weapons are the “weapons of choice” is because they allow the military to kill more people, not less. The term, “force multiplier” is often used to describe how GPS technology really benefits the U.S. military. Maj. Gen. Gerald F. Perryman Jr. of the Air Force Space Command expressed it this way: “Our pilots are no longer tied to their target...they can ‘fire and forget’ thanks to the accuracy provided by GPS targeting and guidance systems.… [P]recision- guided munitions allow one pilot on a single pass to take out several targets. This makes space technology a real force multiplier—it allows us to send fewer people to do the same job.” It is not clear that a strategy of “fire and forget” is compatible with minimizing civilian casualties.
The U.S. record in Afghanistan makes clear the horrific consequences of GPS-enhanced “force multiplication.” According to a study by the Los Angeles Times , “The American air campaign in Afghanistan, based on the high-tech, out-of-harm’s-way strategy, has produced a pattern of mistakes that have killed hundreds of Afghan civilians...[T]he Pentagon’s use of overwhelming force meant that even when truly military targets were located, civilians were sometimes killed.” The study concluded, “as many as 400” civilians were killed by U.S. air strikes in 11 locations studied. Since the U.S. bombed over 40 locations, the overall civilian toll is certainly much higher.
A front page article in the New York Times declared, “Afghanistan will be remembered as the smart- bomb war.” The article touted the ability to target “terrorist safe houses and command centers hidden among schools, hospitals and homes in crowded urban areas,” but did not explain how Pentagon planners validate the intelligence behind urban targeting. It only boasted of “the Pentagon’s confidence about striking near civilians.” A U.S. invasion of Iraq will likely involve more bombing of crowded urban areas. But even when targets are far from cities, the results can be devastating. The village of Charykary, where 30 people were killed by “errant bombs,” illustrates the effect of “force multiplication.” A report hidden in the back pages of a Saturday edition of the New York Times told how the village was destroyed by U.S. forces attacking Taliban soldiers on a ridge a half mile away. “The Americans bombed those positions [on the ridge] for days. Many bombs missed their mark. They landed on farmers and their families, flattening homes and killing people in bunches. Some died in flashes of heat and fire, others were crushed under rubble, and a few were killed by shrapnel.” One villager named Muhibullah told the reporter, “The United States killed my daughter and injured my son. Six of my cows were destroyed and all of my wheat and rice was burned. I am very angry. I miss my daughter.” Another villager, Muhammad Usef lamented, “We thought this was a very safe place because we heard on the radio that the United States drops its bombs on its targets. If we knew how they missed, we would have run away from here.”
Jim Ingalls is a staff scientist at the Space Infrared Telescope Facility Science Center, California Institute of Technology.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.