John Kiriakou Opinion Politics

John Kiriakou: A Victimizers’ Memorial

Another war memorial is being planned for the National Mall in Washington. This one is for the 9/11 era and it is being chaired by none other than George W. Bush.
Jan, 11, 2012: Protester outside the White House during a 96-hour cell vigil timed to end as the Guantanamo Bay detention center reached its 10th year. (Justin Norman, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By John Kiriakou / Consortium News

Washington, D.C., will soon welcome another major memorial on the National Mall.  This one will be adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial.  What is it?  It’s the Global War on Terror Memorial (GWOT.)  

This is despite a moratorium on new memorials on the National Mall.  It’s despite the fact that the so-called Global War on Terror is still ongoing.  And it’s despite a federal law saying that 10 years must pass from the end of a conflict until the beginning of construction of a monument to it.  

Perhaps most importantly, this new memorial will offer literally nothing in memory of the hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of innocent people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, the Sahel and elsewhere who were killed by U.S. forces, bombs and drones in that “war on terror.”

The Global War on Terror Memorial has not yet been designed.  A “Help Design History” survey on its website invites members of the public to provide input through multiple-choice questions. 

Question No. 7: “When someone stands before the GWOT Memorial, what do you hope they feel?” The only possible responses are “honor,” “ healing,” “empowerment,” “unity,” “understanding,” “patriotism” and “peace.”

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There’s no option for anger over the deaths of innocent people.  There’s no option for fury over the creation of multiple torture programs.  There’s no opportunity to question the $6 trillion that the government spent on this “war” or the estimated $2 trillion in estimated future expenses related to veteran health care.  The website does say, however, that it hopes the memorial will convey a “debt of gratitude for the sacrifice that GWOT service members made.”

The memorial’s leadership also is important in understanding the direction that it’s taking in ignoring the victims of the war on terror and in honoring the victimizers.  The organization’s chairman is none other than President George W. Bush.  The “executive team” and board of advisers includes an array of retired generals and colonels, hedge fund managers, oil executives and two conflict widows.  

It promotes partnerships with a wide variety of veterans’ organizations, but there’s no indication of its funding sources, other than some seed money that the Trump administration enacted into law, and a page on the website asking for $20, $50 or $100.  

There’s no doubt, of course, that by the end of the process, it will be fully funded.  And I wouldn’t be surprised to see discrete “thanks” to the likes of Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and other weapons makers. 

I’m not surprised that a war memorial is planned for the 9/11 era.  It was inevitable.  There are monuments and memorials all over the National Mall, some of which are for conflicts that nobody even knows about anymore.  I get it.  And I get that each generation wants to commemorate a sugary sweet version of its military service.  But why not be realistic here?  Why not be honest about the war on terror.  In many cases it was a war OF terror.  Why not use the opportunity to educate the public and perhaps to work so that history doesn’t repeat itself?

If I thought there was any remote chance that somebody at the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation might listen to me, I would ask that the memorial commemorate the victims of the C.I.A. and Pentagon torture programs, at secret prisons around the world, at Guantanamo, and at Abu Graib.  

I would ask that they commemorate the innocent victims of the C.I.A. rendition program, where people were kidnapped, snatched off the street or from their homes, and rendered to other countries to face torture. 

Many of those people were utterly innocent. Just ask Maher Arar or Khaled al-Masri. Just ask the dozens — perhaps hundreds — of people who were taken to secret C.I.A. prisons around the world.  They were simply “disappeared” in the name of fighting terrorism.  Some were never seen again.  Just ask the families of Afghan or Iraqi victims of the U.S. invasions of their countries or the victims of U.S. drone attacks.  Entire families were wiped out without so much as an apology.  Where is their memorial?

As I said earlier, I’m a realist.  There’s going to be a memorial on the National Mall.  I just hope it’s not too late to ensure that the truth is told about the war on terror.  Future generations have a right to know.

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John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

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