Morning Report 3/16/05 A Tragic Crush


U.S. ARMY ENGINEERS SWEAR that Caterpillar’s huge D-9 bulldozer “is worth its weight in gold,” but Rachel Corrie paid the ultimate price.

Exactly two years ago today, the 23-year-old activist was crushed to death in Israel by one of Caterpillar’s other big machines while she protested the bulldozing of Palestinian homes.

Yesterday, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights and partnering law firms sued the Peoria, Illinois, corporation, explaining it this way:

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western Federal District of Washington, alleges that Caterpillar, Inc. violated international and state law by providing specially designed bulldozers to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that it knew would be used to demolish homes and endanger civilians.

Corrie, a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was in Israel as a volunteer peace activist. The CCR’s announcement of the suit (read the actual filing here) excoriated the Israeli Defense Forces for using the D-9, which is also in heavy use in Iraq, where it pushes around more rubble without cause. The New York-based advocacy group noted:

Over the past four years, the IDF has used Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy more than 4,000 Palestinian homes, injuring, killing, or leaving homeless scores of individuals in the process. Rights groups have sent over 50,000 letters to Caterpillar Inc. executives and CEO Jim Owens, decrying the use of Caterpillar bulldozers to carry out human rights abuses.

Caterpillar, which heavily markets to the U.S. and Israeli military, strongly denies responsibility for what governments do with its equipment.

But Jennie Green, a senior attorney with the CCR, says:

“International law clearly provides that corporations can be held accountable for violations of international human rights. Rachel Corrie, a young American killed abroad because Caterpillar purposefully turns a blind eye as to how their products are used, must have access to justice.”

And speaking of governments, the CCR added:

The Corries also filed a tort claim today in Israel against the State of Israel, the Israeli Defense Ministry, and the IDF for their role in the death of their daughter. They are represented by advocate Hussein Abu Hussein.

“The brutal death of my daughter should never have happened,” says surviving mom Cindy Corrie. “We believe Caterpillar and the IDF must be held accountable for their role in the attack on my daughter Rachel.”

For details on Caterpillar from the activists’ perspective—prone and in danger—see the Jewish Voice for Peace’s “STOP CATERPILLAR” campaign.(Jewish peace movements are vibrant in Israel, but not as common in the U.S. Bay Area-based JVP, one of the strongest such U.S. organizations, is always in danger of being drowned out by the conservative American Jewish establishment for advocating peace and coexistence for Jews and Palestinians.)

Caterpillar itself is certainly conscious of its image. In 2003, the company sued Disney for copyright infringement, but the real purpose was to fight Disney’s depiction of Caterpillar in the DVD movie George of the Jungle 2 as the most evil of earth-movers. Andy Kravetz of the Peoria Journal-Star explained at the time:

According to the four-count suit, the movie’s central plot is how George, played by Christopher Showerman, and his computer-animated animal friends attempt to stop an evil army of “industrialists seeking to ravage and destroy the jungle.”

Seems the final battle pits George and the animals against an army of Caterpillar Wheel Loaders. It didn’t help, the suit goes on to state, that the movie’s narrator calls the machines “maniacal,” “deleterious dozers,” and “bulldozing bullies.”

Several photos included with the lawsuit show the Cat logo and the word “Caterpillar” featured prominently in what the company says is the “final battle between good and evil.”

And speaking of evil, Halliburton subsidiary KBR, the main Defense contractor in Iraq, has overall supervision of the fine (and lucrative) work that Caterpillar’s bulldozers have done in Iraq. It’s a symbiotic relationship: Halliburton’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, still paid by the company, leads us into war, resulting in multi-billion-dollar contracts to support our troops while they bomb Iraq into rubble. Then, when “reconstruction” starts, KBR again gets huge contracts to re-arrange the rubble back into cities and villages.

Ooh, the earth moves for all of our defense contractors. As Halliburton proudly says of its KBR subsidiary:

As a result of our unique experience in the Middle East and our accomplishments after the first Gulf War, KBR was awarded a contract to do similar work in post-war Iraq. Knowing that the situation would be similar, knowing that KBR had the experience, and knowing that KBR would do it well, KBR was not only the best choice, but the only choice.

Our work in Iraq is aimed at making the job of our assembled armed forces easier. It is also aimed at helping to provide a better future for the Iraqi people, whose economy and future well-being is dependent to a great degree on the preservation of its oil wells. KBR will be doing all of that and more in Iraq, because building a better future, every day, is what KBR is all about.

And always there to help is Caterpillar. The immense profits—each D-9 costs $1 million— must be worth a Cheshire grin or two by Cat execs. After all, their 16 new armored D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers were “fielded for the first time in Iraq with great success,” according to Military Engineering magazine, which breathlessly added:

Army engineers says the armored Caterpillar giant is worth its weight in gold. Particularly suited for urban warfare, its 70 tons and power are well-suited to knock aside heavy obstacles, while armor protects operators in the cab and hydraulics.

And don’t forget about Caterpillar’s D-7g ‘dozer:

Workhorses of the invasion, and now of reconstruction, D-7s were heavily used to push up miles of berms to surround camps and other facilities for force protection. Berming begins whenever units pause to bed down and is repeated again and again as they move.

Caterpillar is simply knocking itself out with innovative techniques for today’s empire-building. As the AP’s Gavin Rabinowitz noted in October 2003:

The giant Caterpillar bulldozer, used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, now comes with a controversial new feature: remote control.

Israel says its remote-control technology will lower risks to soldiers. But Palestinians fear it will lead to more frequent raids using the machines and make the three-year conflict even bloodier.

The remote-controlled D-9 bulldozer and a remote-control version of the Humvee, equipped with machine guns, were developed by the Israeli army and the Technion Institute of Technology. Both machines are U.S.-made, with Israeli modifications.

Rabinowitz added that the Israeli military “regularly demolishes suicide bombers’ homes and other buildings militants are suspected of using for cover to attack Israelis.”

In the spread of Western-style democracy and business practices throughout the Middle East, the D-9 has become a well-known brand name among Palestinians. Rabinowitz noted:

For Palestinians, the name D-9 has become synonymous with destruction.

The gray, heavily armored machines, which stand as tall as a small house, already have turned hundreds of buildings into dusty rubble heaps and ancient olive groves into wastelands with their powerful shovel blades. Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea has called them “the terrifying beast of this war.”

The D-9 gained notoriety in the weeklong battle between soldiers and Palestinian militants in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002, one of the fiercest in the past three years. With a deafening roar, the bulldozer plowed through narrow alleys, shearing the fronts off homes, to cut a path for advancing soldiers.

The human rights group Amnesty International says the destruction of homes is a grave violation of international law. However, Amnesty’s Israel director, Amnon Vidan, said the group has no opinion on the specific types of vehicles used.

But the new and improved Caterpillar ‘dozers are being touted as actually life-saving. (You just cannot make this shit up.)

Here’s Rabinowitz again to explain:

Ramadan Nawaf, 52, watched his house and groves of olives and oranges flattened by a D-9 four months ago, during a large-scale army raid of the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. “It was moving like a monster,” said Nawaf. “It was very big and destroyed everything in front of it.”

But developers say the new machine will save lives on both sides, pointing to the case of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Wash., who was crushed to death by a bulldozer—not a D-9—on March 16, [2003] while trying to block a house demolition in the Gaza Strip.

The army said the driver, sitting in the heavily armored cabin, could not see Corrie.

The new D-9 has a wider and better field of vision, with cameras mounted much higher than the driver’s cabin, said Technion project developer Shai Hershler.

Well, maybe the Corrie family can help Caterpillar design a better, more efficient ‘dozer. Last year, Human Rights Watch detailed the D-9’s performance in the destruction of Palestinian homes. And God knows, our own government is being careful in how it destroys other countries’s structures:

U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin would not comment on the specific vehicles. He said that when Israel modifies U.S. products, the Pentagon makes sure “they are used in a manner acceptable to our laws.”

Caterpillar, for its part, expresses great concern for peace in the Middle East. Rabinowitz noted its comments about the new and improved D-9:

Caterpillar, which produces the bulldozer, said in a statement that it “shares the world’s concern over unrest in the Middle East,” but that with more then 2 million of its machines in use worldwide, it has “neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment.”

As proof that governments and defense contractors are making progress in refining urban warfare, the story points out:

No D-9 driver has been killed in the last three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, despite operating in densely populated Palestinian cities where they are exposed to sniper fire and bombs.

To prove that I also am concerned, I’m still checking to see whether any Caterpillar bulldozers were hurt during the filming of George of the Jungle 2.

Full disclosure:

I’ve long hated the Peoria Caterpillars—that is, the basketball team sponsored by the bulldozer company. They played in what was called the National Industrial Basketball League, a high-quality nationwide amateur league of ex-college stars in the ’50s that was just one small step below the NBA. NIBL players, especially those from my hometown Phillips 66’ers, dominated the amateur-only U.S. Olympic teams in those days.

As a child growing up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I was the mascot, towel boy, and ball retriever for opposing teams during Phillips 66’er games, and I regularly went to practices and shot hoops and hung with the likes of 66’er stars Gary Thompson, Clyde Lovellette, and Arnold Short. Hey, I learned to shoot from 66’er Bobby Plump, who made the championship-winning shot for the real-life ’54 Milan, Indiana, high-school team immortalized in Hoosiers. (Hell, I knew people who knew James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.)

During warmups at 66’er games, I got to pass balls to (and of course sometimes shoot around with) players like future Knick star Dick Barnett and sit on the bench next to people like legendary coach John McLendon, both of whom were with the Cleveland Pipers. (In 1960, a young shipping magnate named George Steinbrenner purchased the ailing Cleveland franchise and moved the team into the fledging American Basketball League, thus making McLendon the first black professional basketball coach.)

Until the ABL drained talent from and destroyed the high-end amateur league, the Peoria Caterpillars, led by their creepy center B.H. Born, were fierce rivals of the 66’ers.

One more reason I loathe Caterpillars.