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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Vázquez! 

Well, according to the paper of record, Uruguay has a socialist president -- its first leftist president in history:

Tabaré Vázquez, a Socialist doctor running as the candidate of an opposition coalition that includes former guerrillas, narrowly triumphed Sunday in the presidential election, bringing the left to power for the first time in this South American country.

The victory by the coalition, known as the Progressive-Encounter-Broad-FrontNew-Majority, whose largest faction consists of Tupamaro guerrillas turned politicians, strengthens a trend throughout the continent. As in the last presidential votes in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, the candidate most opposed to American-supported free-market policies has defeated backers of those policies.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls and early returns indicated that Dr. Vázquez, an oncologist and former mayor of this capital, would win about 51 percent, just above the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Even before official returns were announced, both of his main opponents had conceded and indicated their willingness to cooperate with him.

"Celebrate, Uruguayans, celebrate," Dr. Vázquez, whose five-year term is scheduled to begin March 1, told the throng by his campaign headquarters at the downtown Hotel Presidente, two hours after polls had closed. "This victory is yours!"

Tens of thousands of people, some with faces painted in the red, blue and white colors of the Front, took to the streets here, setting off firecrackers, waving banners, honking horns and pounding drums. "We did it, we finally did it!" shouted Walter Correa, a meatpacking plant worker.

Trick or Treat 

If you've detected a recent disturbance in the force it may be because the Prince of Darkness has been sneaking out from under his rock a little lately ... just in time for Halloween.

During an appearance on Canada's Question Period a few days ago, Richard Perle said the following about the invasion of Iraq:

I think it's important to distinguish between the decision to go to war in Iraq and the execution of the war thereafter. I was indeed a strong supporter of removing Saddam Hussein from office. I was also a strong supporter of turning things over to the Iraqis immediately after the war. We didn't do that, unfortunately, and I think that has protracted the period of difficulty.

The phrase "turning things over to Iraqis" is Perle-ese for "turning things over to Ahmed Chalabi". I find it amusing that Perle didn't just say as much outright -- that he believes the US should have installed Chalabi from day one -- as Perle used to as a matter of course. For instance, in his magnum opus he wrote

But of all our mistakes, probably the most serious was our unwillingness to let the Iraqi National Congress, Iraq's leading anti-Saddam resistance movement, form a provisional government after the fall of Baghdad.

I guess times have changed.

Here's another example of the changing times in neocon land. Remember Perle's famous prediction?:

And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.

Well, it is now a little more than a year later, and the Prague Post has Perle's take on his previous statement. He once again insinuates that the problems in Iraq are a result of not putting Chalabi in power, without mentioning Chalabi, of course, and says that things will be better in a year:

I had predicted that by this time Iraq would look pretty good. Then we made the mistake I didn't anticipate of holding on too long to the occupation. But I think -- I should refrain from predictions -- but I think a year from now people will not be talking about a quagmire.

One wonders if there will be a grand square named after George W. Bush in a year. Maybe there'll be a grand square named after Ahmed Chalabi?

Also Hollinger International is refiling its case against Lord Black and his minions and this time has added The Prince of Darkness as a defendant. Oh yeah, and Seymour Hersh says that in the movie version of Chain of Command the part of Richard Perle should be played by Edward James Olmos because, I guess, Lionel Barrymore is dead.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Kirchner, Lula, Chavez ... and Vázquez? 

Uruguay is poised to elect its first leftist president in history. From Knight Ridder:

Leftist presidential front-runner Tabaré Vázquez closed his campaign this week, promising to place relations with South American neighbors ahead of those with the United States in an election that would likely cost the U.S. an ally in South America.
Public opinion polls suggest Vázquez, a radiologist specializing in cancer treatment, will win 52 percent to 55 percent of the likely vote tally Sunday. His Frente Amplio, or Broad Front, is a coalition of leftist forces that include moderates, radicals and even ex-guerrilla leaders.

During the past six years, leftist or populist governments challenging U.S. policy in South America have come to power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Uruguay is likely to join the list of countries frustrating President Bush's hope for a hemisphere-wide free-trade deal by 2005.

The United States has long counted on conservative Uruguayan governments to vote with it in the United Nations against Cuba's human-rights record. Uruguay sponsored resolutions in 2002 and 2003 condemning the lack of liberties in Cuba. Working closely with Washington, Uruguay, a country of 3.4 million, last year provided more than 1,700 peacekeepers to 11 U.N. missions.

Asked Wednesday about relations with the United States, Vázquez answered the question by not answering it. During a lunch with business leaders, he said his top foreign-policy priority is political and economic integration with its neighbors. They are Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, with whom Uruguay in 1991 formed the Southern Cone Common Market, or Mercosur. It took effect in 1994.

History will show that the most postive change in the global scene resulting directly from the Bush adminstration's foreign policy is the extent to which its blatant imperialism has served as a wake-up call to the nations of the world -- especially the countries of the developing world -- and pushed them leftward. Here's the BBC on the Uruguayan election and Bush's effect on Latin America:

"The problem with Bush is not really his commercial policies," explains political analyst, Adolfo Garce. "The problem with Bush is that for Latin America he embodies a 'big stick' policy. So rejection of Bush is rejection of a US foreign policy seen as imperialistic," he says. "And in Latin America, anti-imperialistic feeling has been very strong, throughout the 20th century. And so, during the past few years, in Latin America, they've begun talking about anti-imperialism again."

Standing beside his white pick-up truck as the campaign caravan sped past, Senator Michelini agrees.

"The relationship between the US and Latin America is just one-way," he complains. "They don't listen to what we say. They throw surprises upon us. And they don't understand that South America is shifting to the left, and that it's moving towards creating a South American community. The US doesn't understand this. The EU understands it better."

You know, back in August in the glow of Chavez's triumph over the opposition I remember reading the following comment by Narcosphere's Al Giordano

The repercussions [of Chavez's victory] will travel far and wide, even to the United States presidential elections this coming November.The opposition members can and should take pride in the service they provided to their country and to the world around it: they made possible a referendum that sweeps Venezuela - and, soon, all of América - into a new day for the dream made reality of democracy that is also participatory and authentic.

and thinking to myself that it was a nice sentiment but that I didn't really believe it. If Vázquez wins I may start believing. Something is going on in Latin America, something very good. We may be witnessing the beginning of the total rejection of the neoliberal agenda in the South.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

So That's What Became of Ari! 

Putting Things in One Big Bag and Shaking is, After All, the American Way... 

So if Abu Ghraib is the bad cop, apparently Camp Bucca is the good cop. Knight Ridder reports that the US military is trying out an experimental new strategy at Bucca of replacing sleep deprivation, beatings, and sexual humiliation with painting classes, soccer, and needlepoint:

[Camp Bucca] is a closely monitored laboratory in which experiments in long-term detention are changing U.S. military doctrine on enemy prisoners of war. [...] While Abu Ghraib became famous for interrogation practices that skirted international law on prisoner treatment, Bucca is gaining a military-wide reputation for an innovative blending of prisoner-of-war doctrine with the "passive intelligence-gathering" used in many American maximum-security prisons.

[ ... ]

"Abu Ghraib gave a special meaning to what we're doing here, and we understand that this is going to change how the Army does detention operations," said Master Sgt. Jonathan Godwin, 39, the warden at Camp Bucca. "We're taking detainee operations and Army corrections, putting them in one big bag here and shaking it up to see what happens. This is all brand new."

Busload by busload, the military is emptying Abu Ghraib and shipping detainees south. At Bucca, now the military's largest detainee installation in the world, there are reading lessons and art classes - not sleep deprivation and stress positions. There are evening soccer games and special mealtimes for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of daylight fasting. The detainees want to learn needlepoint, but "we're still trying to determine the security risks of that one," one military police officer said.

which is, you know, just terrific; however, I do find it a little bit interesting that a detainee just died at Bucca under mysterious circumstances. It must have been a freak needle-pointing accident.

Record Number of GI’s Going AWOL 

A local Georgia FOX affiliate reports that "there are a record number of G.I’s not reporting in for duty overseas and turning up AWOL." According to Bill Gavin, spokesperson for the GI Rights Hotline, a third of inactive reserves "have not checked in". Gavin says

The ones that almost universally will go AWOL are the ones that have already been there and something that they witnessed or experienced or are apart of made them realize this is wrong I can’t do it and I wont do it. ... We get lots of calls from people who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan and they when they get orders to go back hey say, ‘no I won’t do it’.

[Link ripped from Resolute Cynic]

Al-Qaqaa in Pictures 

So those of you who have been following the al-Qaqaa scandal have surely already seen this report in which a news crew claims to have filmed al-Qaqaa and the currently missing explosives after the US invasion of Iraq:

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew in Iraq shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein was in the area where tons of explosives disappeared, and may have videotaped some of those weapons.

[ ... ]

Using GPS technology and talking with members of the 101st Airborne Division, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has determined the crew embedded with the troops may have been on the southern edge of the Al Qaqaa installation, where the ammunition disappeared. The news crew was based just south of Al Qaqaa, and drove two or three miles north of there with soldiers on April 18, 2003.

During that trip, members of the 101st Airborne Division showed the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS news crew bunker after bunker of material labelled "explosives." Usually it took just the snap of a bolt cutter to get into the bunkers and see the material identified by the 101st as detonation cords.

"We can stick it in those and make some good bombs." a soldier told our crew.

I'd like to address the qualifiers used in the second paragraph quoted above. The report says that the crew "may have been on the southern edge of the Al Qaqaa installation" but I think given the following pictures we can say for certain that they were...

Here's a picture of a building in the complex that was filmed by the news crew:

and here is a satellite photo of the al-Qaqaa complex, courtesy of the DOD:

Clearly, the odd domed half-buried bunker featured in the 5 Eyewitness News piece is one of the buildings in the satellite photo. Unless there's another complex just like this one that also happens to be in the same general area as al-Qaqaa ... etc.

Fallujah Sacked Before November 2? 

Troop movements in Iraq indicate that the final assault on Fallujah is going to begin shortly. The question is if it will occur before election day or shortly after. Given that the last invasion of Fallujah was carried out for strictly political reasons and given the current desperation of the Bush campaign, I think if Fallujah could be sacked before November 2nd, perhaps capturing Zarqawi in the process, it will happen. The real issue is whether a decisive victory is tactically possible given the reality on the ground. As Kim Sengupta writes in the Independent:

The question now is not if but when there will be an attack on Fallujah. The US military maintains that the date has not been influenced by the American elections on 2 November, and, even leaving political considerations aside, it is unclear if enough troops will be available for an offensive before then.

The Americans have about 2,500 troops around Fallujah at present. In the battle to take another rebel stronghold, Samarra - seen as a dress rehearsal for Fallujah - 3,000 American and 2,000 Iraqi government forces were needed to fight 500 insurgents. Fallujah is estimated to contain between 2,000 and 2,500 militants, including al-Zarqawi's fighters and another group led by Omar Hadid. US military commanders are said to believe that a force of about 10,000 is necessary to take and hold the city.

Military activity by the US and its allies is increasing every day. Yesterday, 850 British troops with Warrior armoured cars and Scimitar light tanks moved from Basra into an area near Iskandariyah, 20 miles south-west of Baghdad. They will free up 1,000 US marines for the Fallujah encirclement.

If they can do it, they'll do it. This is all Rove has left up his sleeve.

Remember Kosovo? 

[This post is by DF]

Ibrahim Rugova won a general election held in Kosovo last week. This is important because the Kosovo Muslim majority have elected a pacifist who is quick to denounce terror organizations in Kosovo and the surrounding Balkan area. He seems to be aware of the dangers of the Balkan Route, a major heroin supply line to Europe.

The Western press largely ignored Rugova’s victory. When the election came up at all, the press chose to chastise the Serb authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church for discouraging citizens from voting. The BBC claimed that the Serb minority was threatened with violence from Belgrade and the Church. What’s interesting with this claim is that NATO is presiding over the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, churches are being burnt to the ground and the remaining Serbs are being tortured and ‘disappeared’. Perhaps instead of spending so much time in Balkan whorehouses the ‘Peacekeeping force’ could have attempted their job and assisted in the democratic process. Or maybe abetting the sex-slave trade is the main NATO goal in the former Yugoslavia.

NATO’s man in Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, is also the leader of the KLA. His group has possibly won the admiration of the west by ethnically cleansing some Serbs and by encouraging terror in Kosovo and the Balkans (The Wall Street Journal even claims the Osama Bin Laden was issued a Bosnian passport! Though the Bosnian authorities deny this, they admit that some ‘records are missing’(?) ), the destabilization of Macedonia and smuggling heroin.

Thaci took part in the democratic process as well, achieving only about 28% of the vote. Based on the history of western intervention, one can easily see why Thaci seemed like the right guy to back.

The KLA tactics, from the beginning in the late 1990s were clearly designed to erode support from moderate Muslims like Rugova and create an extremist support network in the Balkans. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to detract too much from the moderates who presumably voted for Rugova.

Let’s see how long Europe and the US can stay out of Rugova’s way and allow for a serious multicultural democracy to take place. Perhaps policy makers in the US could use this time to show support for someone who has not been implicated in drugs and/or violence to run a country. Or will Rugova be Kosovo’s Aristide?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hersh 

There's a new interview with Seymour Hersh in The Boston Pheonix. Here's a good part:

Q: Is the Abu Ghraib story drawing to a close?

A: [Laughs] Sure, it is. It’s one of the great successes of the Bush administration. They had a bunch of phony-baloney investigations, and they were all leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post in the week before the Republican convention. And then John Warner’s Senate Armed Services Committee had hearings. Here’s how they have hearings: the guys who wrote the report come in and talk about it with senators who haven’t read it until that morning or haven’t read it at all. There’s no investigation of the procedures involved. The only report worth its salt was the first one by [Major General Antonio] Taguba, which said, right away, this all started in Afghanistan, and it’s much bigger.

[ ... ]

There is a special unit that was set up by Rumsfeld in December 2001 or January 2002, I don’t know the exact date. They’ve been "disappearing" people for three years. I wrote this first for the New Yorker, and I added much more detail in the book. Reporters from major newspapers have told me independently that they’ve learned quite a bit about it, but nobody’s managed to write about it yet. We were snatching and running, grabbing anyone around the world Rumsfeld thought was possibly knowledgeable of 9/11, throwing them into Egypt or Singapore, getting their information. And that policy was brought into Abu Ghraib. It’s a scandal that newspapers haven’t picked up more on it. Planes still flying. The people involved are not identified as Americans — they carry foreign passports, and the aircraft is unmarked. The planes stopped flying from May to the middle of June, after the Abu Ghraib story broke, and it started again by July. Bush got away with it. Score one for the propaganda machine.

Q: You’re a reporter, not a policymaker. But if you had to offer some advice on how to wage the war on terrorism more effectively, what would it be?

A: You’ve got to go back to work on the Middle East, on being an interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians. Go back to square one. If Bush is re-elected, I think one of the things the Europeans will do is, they’ll set up another group whose whole purpose will be to combat the United States, because they really don’t like us. They really don’t like us, particularly the Germans and the French. And I think one of the things they’ll do is start talking about developing their own solution to the Middle East. I can guarantee that there’ll be a sense that they have to mobilize against America. They’ve had it with Bush, big time.


You've Got to be Fucking Kidding Me ... 

Hitch endorses Kerry ... I bet his new friends are already planning the intervention and it ain't gonna be the type of intervention that he really needs...

Is there any doubt that Hitchens isn't a serious voice at all but is actually a troll? -- a troll who happens to operate within the highest echelons of our political media (well, you know, besides Slate) rather than in the Haloscan comments for some Atrios post... Or maybe he's the other kind of troll, a magical gnome who can't spin hay into gold but can turn tritely contrarian essays into cocktail party invitations.

Oh yeah, and for what it's worth, I'd also like to point out that the text of his Kerry endorsement is mostly incomprehensible.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Fun with Memri 

I just spent some time poking around on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute. According to its website, Memri "bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East," which sounds like a valuable and interesting project. Unfortunately, as discussed in a Brian Whitaker Guardian Unlimited article from a couple of years ago, Memri's presentation of the Muslim world is heavily skewed towards the interests of pro-Likud hawks and the rightmost elements of Israel's government generally. Memri attempted to rebut Whitaker's article with a letter that cited various respected publications and institutions that have said nice things about its translations. Whitaker's critique, however, had nothing to say about the quality of Memri's translations; it questioned the fairness of the methodology by which documents were chosen for translation.

Anyway, if you have any doubt about where Memri's political allegiance lies, take a look at some of its "original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East" ... for example, on this page, we see many articles by a certain Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli who frequent readers of American Leftist might remember as the neoconservative with the funny name featured in a post of mine a few months back; Nimrod is often cited as an expert by L. Brent Bozell's rightwing Cybercast News Service and is a frequent contributor to David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com.

All that said ... there's some interesting stuff on MemriTV, a project that provides subtitled clips of Arabic television. Here, for example, is a TV commercial promoting participation in the forthcoming Iraqi elections ... good old emotionally potent over-simplification.

And I also found this clip from an interview with the Syrian information minister somewhat interesting. He discusses Syria's position on the US election which is, apparently, that Syria doesn't care who wins. Here's an excerpt:(transcript here)

The question is not who will be president of the US. This isn't important. But how could the Arabs – and in this case, unfortunately, I cannot speak about the Arabs in general – how could Syria and Lebanon, two countries that are relatively stable, strong, and independent, apply counter pressure globally in order to bring about a relatively balanced policy. I'm not talking about a fair policy towards the Arabs, but at least there should be a relative balance. The current global policy does not understand justice. It understands power and the balance of power. If you are strong – we will give you accordingly. If you are weak, we will give you nothing regardless of your rights and regardless of what is just. These terms have unfortunately faded from the logic of international policy. Regardless of who the American president would be, if the Syrian–Lebanese relations would weaken and, as a result, the resistance would weaken, and I mean resistance in general, including the Palestinian resistance – then the Arabs will be weak and the new American president will find himself under total Israeli pressure. Whether it is Bush or Kerry, he will present the Israeli solutions and the Arabs will have to "take it or leave it."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Abu Ghraib in Their Own Words 

The Center for Public Integrity has posted hundreds of pages of interviews with the actors involved in the crimes committed in Iraq's infamous prison. These documents were the basis of Antonio Taguba's report on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Of particular interest, of course, are annexes 25 and 26 of the Taguba report which contain the testimony of those directly involved in the crimes as well as statements from several abused detainees.

However, given that the charges are now well-known, the interviews with higher-ranking officers are arguably more illuminating than the statements of the grunts with blood on their hands, even though the higher-ups deny all knowledge of the crimes that occurred under their watch. These interviews provide a taste of the atmosphere that pervaded Abu Ghraib during the time the crimes occurred in a way that news reports can't. The picture painted is of a Kafka-esque bureaucracy in which no one is clearly in charge and in which a low-boil power struggle simmers between various military factions.

If the source texts of the Taguba report were a story, the central plotline would concern the relationship between Lt. Col. Steven Jordan and Col. Thomas Pappas, both of whom were interviewed by Taguba. Jordan says that it was Pappas who was truly in charge of Abu Ghraib, that he and Pappas had a poor working relationship, and that he (Jordan) was just a pawn, Pappas' functionary. Pappas, on the other hand, called Jordan "a loner who freelances between military intelligence and military police" and asserted that "I must admit I failed in not reining him in."

Here's the text of Lt. Col. Jordan's allegation of the existence of ghost detainees. OGA is an acronym meaning Other Government Agency which is a euphemism for the CIA, and I think MOU is Memorandum of Understanding: (from here, page 131)

A. I had limited access when it came to interrogations and monitoring detainees. But I was Colonel Pappas' liaison, Deputy if [you] want, in this case with OGA there was an 'agreement' between Colonel Pappas and the OGA folks that ran their detainees----

Q. Yeah, but was that agreement conveyed to 320th MP Battalion?

A. Yes, sir, and I'll explain the consternation, if you just give me a minute. I know we're getting short on time. The deal was that they could bring detainees in, they would not put them in the regular screening process or the BATS where you get fingerprinted. Cause once a detainee did that, you're kinda in there three to six to eight months. The OGA folks wanted to be able to pull somebody in 24, 48, 72 hours if they had to get 'em to GITMO, [and] do what have you.

Q. Was that agreement in writing?

A. No, sir, it wasn't. And again---

Q. Boy, isn't that kind of strange?---

A. Sir, I asked for an MOU or something like that, because what I said sir -- sir, I'm telling you, Chief Rivas, Captain Wood, Chief Graham, everybody that was there initially when this came up, said, "Sir we need an MOU because even the MPs." Major Dinenna said, "Hey, we can't be responsible for the if they don't exist." And the 'term' that was used for these kind of detainees was ghost detainees because they hadn't been brought in. All right, sir. So because of my clearance level back at Langley and some of the folks that I've worked with in civilian life, Colonel Pappas said, "I want you to work with these guys, but here's the rules. They gotta leave somebody there, they're going to conduct interrogations. If they want to use linguists, these kind of things,"--

Q. So that portends then that Colonel Pappas was indeed directly involved with detainee operations.

A. Especially when it came to the OGA ones. That one, sir, I will say is a true statement.

Q. Okay.

A. On top of that, sir, what happened was we had a detainee death out there under the OGA. You may have been aware of it.

Q. Yeah, a little bit.

A. All right, sir. And, again, I highlighted the fact, sir, had we had an MOU, we would be protected. At this Colonel Pappas said, "Well if I go down, I'm not going down alone. The guys from Langley are going with me."

Camp Bucca 

Camp Bucca is an American-run prison in Iraq that is less well-known than Abu Ghraib. It's near the port city of Umm Qasr. Oh yeah, and some detainee just died there:

A 26-year-old male security internee died of undetermined causes at the U.S.-run Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, the U.S. military reported Wednesday.

Fellow prisoners notified the guards about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday that the detainee was suffering "a medical problem," the U.S. statement said.

"Guards immediately notified medics, who performed emergency life-saving measures at the scene, including CPR, and transported him to the detainee medical facility at the camp," the statement added. "He was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. by an attending physician."

The prisoner, who was not identified by name, had been held as a security internee at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca since November 2003, the statement said. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of death.

It was probably just appendicitis or something...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"War President" Exhibition 

As part of a group show called Face Off, a large print of my image "War President" -- the mosaic of Bush composed of photos of the US Iraq war dead -- will be exhibited by Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York City from October 23rd to November 27th. The opening reception is this Saturday from 6-8pm, and I will probably be in attendance.

The First Brick 

A Wal-Mart in Jonquiere, Quebec, has come very close to forming a union. If successful, Jonquiere's store will be the first unionized Wal-Mart in the history of the world's largest private employer. From "Wal-Mart rattled as Quebec store says `oui' to union", AP:

The 165 hourly workers at this store 2hours north of Quebec City could soon become the first anywhere to extract what Wal-Mart insists its 1.5 million workers around the world neither want nor need - a union contract.

A government agency has certified the store employees as a union and told the world's largest private employer to open labor talks.

``One person against Wal-Mart cannot change anything,'' said Gaetan Plourde, a fiery 49-year-old sales clerk in the store's home-electronics department. ``Wal-Mart wants to be rich, but it won't share.''

[ ... ]

``I do think the union thing would be a symbolic blow externally and internally, but they're probably gearing up to handle something like this,'' she said. ``For a retailer, the biggest component of your cost structure is labor, and so you're going to be darn sure you do everything in your power to make sure you avoid an increase.''

Wal-Mart, whose sweeping reach and zealous pursuit of lower prices has made it a potent economic force, does little to disguise its distaste for unions.

It has built such a high wall against organized labor that it's not clear what would happen if a single brick was yanked loose.

Maybe, as has been the case often before, Wal-Mart's bankroll, tenaciousness and skill at buying time will win out and the union effort here will fizzle.

Maybe nothing more will come of it than a few extra cents an hour for a handful of workers - a financial non-event for a company whose annual sales are larger than the economies of all but 20 countries.

Or just maybe something else willhappens - a prospect the union savors: something with an impact beyond Jonquiere.

``It's a little bit like watching a hurricane form,'' says Robert Hebdon, a professor of labor relations at McGill University in Montreal. ``You don't know whether it's going to be just be a little bit of wind . . . or whether it's going to be a storm, a full blown storm.''

via Xymphora

Maybe the October Surprise Will be the Sacking of Fallujah? 

A lot of blogs, most notably Atrios, have been wondering aloud about Karl Rove's final trick, suggesting another secret mission to Baghdad or, of course, the capture of Bin Laden. Neither of these suggestions seems likely to me. Iraq is too dangerous for a Bush visit now, plus they already pulled this stunt once; I'm not sure pulling it again would be worth the risks involved. And, while El Mundo has reported a deal for Bin Laden is being worked out with China, the story doesn't strike me as very credible given that we've seen this little play once before except with the roles played by different actors: last February, instead of the Spanish press, it was Iranian radio, and instead of China, it was Pakistan.

We know for certain, however, that the military is planning for a huge escalation in Iraq to retake towns controlled by insurgents. Everyone assumes this campaign will start after the US elections ... Why? Maybe, the beginning of this campaign will be timed to coincide with election day? What if there was a big thrilling display of American military power underway on November 2nd? -- kicked off of course with an important speech pre-empting primetime TV about the justness of our cause, the nobleness of America, and the courageousness of our boys, etc. If the assault was timed such that the fantasy of war hadn't subsided and been replaced with the reality of war when Americans were voting, it could be a win for Bush. Also, the report of the US attempting to get British troops involved in the new Fallujah campaign supports this idea ... If there was an October surprise military assault, wouldn't it be nice if it was a joint venture with our dearest ally?

Monday, October 18, 2004

A Letter Home From Camp 

A British law student named Moazzam Begg wrote a letter that has become the first uncensored first-hand account by a Guantanamo Bay detainee released to the public during the detainee's incarceration. It is unclear how Begg managed to avoid the US's censors -- probably it was just a matter of luck and of sending hundreds of letters. Begg's lawyers gave the letter to the press a few weeks ago.

In his letter, Begg describes cruelties inflicted on him -- forced degradation before cameras -- that obviously resonate with the Abu Ghraib atrocities. Given that there is no way Moazzam Begg could have heard about the Abu Ghraib scandal, Moazzam Begg's letter supports the notion that what happened at Abu Ghraib was planned and ordered from above, not the work of a few bad apples.

Before arriving at Guantanamo Bay, Moazzam Begg was held at the Bagram Collection Point where he was tortured. While at Bagram, Begg claims to have witnessed -- or at least to have partially witnessed -- the murder of the two Taliban suspects I discussed in the previous post. Once again, given that Begg has been in solitary confinement for the past 600 days, there is no way he could have heard about the murders at Bagram through press reports.

Here is the complete text of Moazzam Begg's letter. Here it is as a PDF in his own handwriting. And here is an excerpt:

I state here, unequivocally and for the record, that any documents presented to me by US law enforcement agents were signed and initialled under duress, thus rendered legally contested in validity. During several interviews, particularly - though unexclusively - in Afghanistan, I was subjected to pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture and death threats - amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques. Neither was the presence of legal counsel ever produced or made available. The said interviews were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods. In this atmosphere of severe antipathy towards detainees was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts. This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees, at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness. In spite of all the aforementioned cruel and unusual treatment meted out, I have maintained a compliant and amicable manner with my captors and a cooperative attitude. My behavioural record is impeccable, yet contrasts immensely to what I have experienced, as stated. I am a law-abiding citizen of the UK and attest vehemently to my innocence, before God and the law, of any crime - though none has ever been alleged. I have neither ever met Osama bin Laden, nor been a member of Al Qaida - or any synonymous paramilitary organisation. Neither have I engaged in hostile acts against the USA nor assisted such groups in the same - though the opportunity has availed itself many a time, and motive. Regardless of the outcome of all my appeals to sanity and protestations over the years, I reiterate my intention to seek justice at every possible level available to me. It is with that intent that I have prepared duplicates of this statement, for the information and use of the authorities and courts of justice.

Civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has the following to say about Begg's claim that he witnessed the murders at Bagram: (from here)

Moazzam Begg is the one British Guantanamo detainee who has not been seen by any of the others. This letter makes clear why. He is being held separately from the others because he has witnessed murder. He has evidence of unlawful killing by the US military, and that evidence is clearly being suppressed.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Other Abu Ghraib 

A military probe has found 28 American servicemen may have been guilty of charges related to the murder of two Taliban suspects at a detention center known as the Bagram Collection Point. The two Taliban detainees were killed in December 2002. In early 2003, one of the units involved, the 519th Military Intelligence unit, was deployed to Iraq where some of its personnel was assigned to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib -- What a coincidence!

This isn't an entirely new story; the Times reported the initial allegations and the beginning of the investigation back in May. The Times interviewed several former detainees at the Bagram Collection Point who told stories of beatings and sexual humiliation that were remarkably similar to those we heard about Abu Ghraib.

What's new is the report finding the men culpable. From the Independent:

A Pentagon report has found that army regulars and reservists may have been guilty of involuntary manslaughter, maiming, battery, maltreatment and conspiracy in the two deaths which happened days apart in December 2002, well before the Iraq abuse. The military has ruled they were homicides.

Two men were found dead in interrogation cells at Bagram, the US military's Afghan base, after being beaten on the legs. One, the 30-year-old brother of a Taliban commander, died as a result of blood clots in the legs and the other, a 22-year-old taxi driver detained after a rocket attack on US troops, suffered a heart attack after an apparent beating exacerbated an existing coronary condition.

Investigators found evidence that numerous soldiers had beaten the two Afghans, using their knees to hit the mens' legs apparently because marks would not then be obvious. Reports said both men had apparently been chained to the ceiling, one by the waist, one by the knees.

This story will probably slip though the cracks, but if someone really pressed it could cause a little ruckus -- I'd at least like to see Rumsfeld be forced to make a comment ... After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, when Rumsfeld et al. were scrambling to characterize the abuses as the action of a few bad apples, they worked hard to separate Iraqi prisoners from Afghan prisoners in the minds of those criticizing them. Rumsfeld did so because he had made a lot of specific statements about the rules, or lack of rules, that would govern the internment of Taliban fighters that he didn't want to see used as evidence that the Abu Ghraib abuses were systemic. He claimed that the Geneva Conventions applied to all detainees but when pressed would concede the case of Taliban prisoners. Here for instance is an excerpt from the The Post's coverage of Rumsfeld's Senate Hearing appearance:

During yesterday's hearing, Rumsfeld complained that the administration's policy on the Geneva Conventions has frequently been misreported. U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, are under orders to observe the conventions.

By contrast, he said, President Bush decided two years ago that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters do not warrant protection under the conventions because they belong to terrorist groups, not nations, and do not abide by the norms of regular militaries. Nonetheless, U.S. policy has been to accord those detainees treatment "consistent with" the Geneva Conventions, Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld's statements above were an attempt to dissemble and hair-split away statements like this from two years before:

They will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they're not, but as unlawful combatants. Technically unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.

So here we have a case that he can't spin away. He stood by the invention of this entity "the unlawful combatant" who has no rights, an entity that has no basis in international law. The two men who died in Bagram were by Rumsfeld's definition unlawful combatants. If Rumsfeld truly believes that they had no rights then he should defend their murder as consistent with the norms of warfare and occupation that he has offered to the American people and the world. If he believes that these two unlawful combatants had the right not to be beaten, not to be maimed, and not to be murdered, then he should take responsibility for his own culpability in their deaths, culpability that arises from his decision to revoke the protections afforded to them by international law.

Pirates & Emperors 

I'm usually not a big fan of the various novelty MPEGs and flash animations that spring up on the internet and are the kid of the moment for a couple of days. You know what I'm talking about ... Somebody emails you the link to some movie. At first it doesn't download because the link's been slashdotted. The next day you watch it, and it's mildly amusing ... so you check out its creator's Cafeshop store for a little while and then quickly lose interest in the entire thing.

I'm also not a fan of nostalgia for the ephemera of childhood in the seventies, and in particular I think for the good of the culture there should probably be a ten year moratorium on allusions to School House Rock.

But having said all that ... This is genius. Enjoy.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I'm Not Going to be Your Monkey 

Here's the transcipt of Jon Stewart's soon-to-be-much-talked-about appearance on Crossfire. The video is here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. I like this bit:

BEGALA: Let me get this straight. If the indictment is -- if the indictment is -- and I have seen you say this -- that...
STEWART: Yes.
BEGALA: And that Crossfire reduces everything, as I said in the intro, to left, right, black, white.
STEWART: Yes.
BEGALA: Well, it's because, see, we're a debate show.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great.
BEGALA: It's like saying The Weather Channel reduces everything to a storm front.
STEWART: I would love to see a debate show.
BEGALA: We're 30 minutes in a 24-hour day where we have each side on, as best we can get them, and have them fight it out.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a debate would be great. But that's like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.
CARLSON: Jon, Jon, Jon, I'm sorry. I think you're a good comedian. I think your lectures are boring.
STEWART: Yes.
CARLSON: Let me ask you a question on the news.
STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious. How old are you?
CARLSON: Thirty-five.
STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.
CARLSON: Yes, I do. I do.
STEWART: So this is...
CARLSON: I know. I know. I know. You're a...
STEWART: So this is theater.
CARLSON: Now, let me just...
CARLSON: Now, come on.
STEWART: Now, listen, I'm not suggesting that you're not a smart guy, because those are not easy to tie.
CARLSON: They're difficult.
STEWART: But the thing is that this -- you're doing theater, when you should be doing debate, which would be great.
BEGALA: We do, do...
STEWART: It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it.
CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're accusing us of partisan hackery?
STEWART: Absolutely.
CARLSON: You've got to be kidding me. He comes on and you...
STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.
STEWART: What is wrong with you?
CARLSON: Well, I'm just saying, there's no reason for you -- when you have this marvelous opportunity not to be the guy's butt boy, to go ahead and be his butt boy. Come on. It's embarrassing.
STEWART: I was absolutely his butt boy. I was so far -- you would not believe what he ate two weeks ago.
STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...
CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.

You know, what makes it really amusing is Begala's reaction -- Tucker behaves as one would expect Tucker to behave -- but Begala seems not to believe that Stewart means what he is saying. It's like Begala never even considered that his show does not exist, to use Fat Karl's phrasing from several nights ago, in the world of subtance but rather in the world of spin and is genuinely hurt by the thought.

Also, I like later on when Jon Stewart calls Tucker Carlson a dick.

Limbaugh Attacks an Old Lady 

Here's the transcript of a conversation Limbaugh had with a "persuadable voter", Dorothy Van Asdale, 83, from Yuma, Arizona, who the AP quoted in a recent article. The point that Limbaugh wants to make is that the so-called liberal media is labeling citizens as "undecided" in a manner that is biased towards its liberal agenda. The transcript speaks for itself: Mrs. Van Asdale states clearly that she was undecided, she saw the debates, and now she's going to vote for Kerry. The AP's coverage was factually correct. Limbaugh deals with this by attacking an 83 year-old woman, stating that he doesn't want her to think he talked about her behind her back and then proceeding to call her "uninformed" and "confounded" after she is off the line.

My favorite part of the interview is Limbaugh's comment, "The Hispanic vote is, you know, unfortunately a relevant factor." What is unfortunate? -- that Mexican Americans exist or that they're allowed to vote?

Oh, yeah, and if you want to talk about applying the "undecided" label according to a political agenda, I would suggest that this case is a more relevant example.

Oregon Welcomes Bush 

In two seperate incidents yesterday Oregonians got demonstrative about their feelings for our Dear Leader with predictable results. First three school teachers were thrown out of a Bush appearance at the Jackson County Fairgrounds for the crime of wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Protect Our Civil Liberties". All three women were carrying valid tickets. Angry about reports of other peaceful protesters being expelled from Bush rallies and threatened with arrest, the three teachers attempted to choose a message that was completely inoffensive, thus, forcing the Bush campaign to show its colors as starkly as possible. Although, they made it past a couple of checkpoints they were utimately escorted out by Bush campaign officials who told them their T-shirts were "obscene." Here's a link to the Associated Press's coverage of the story.

After the Fairgrounds rally Bush retired to a Jacksonville, Ore., inn before going out again to another appearance. An estimated 500 protesters were there waiting for him, and a riot ensued in which police fired "pepperballs" at the crowd. Apparently pepperballs are gelatin-encased cayenne pepper powder; other witnesses say tasers, gas, and rubber bullets were used as well. The AP's coverage of the riot reports on the familiar he-said/she-said back and forth between spokespeople for the protesters and spokespeople for the police that inevitably arises in mainstream media accounts of events such as this. A participant in the demonstration told the AP, "We were here to protest Bush and show our support for Kerry. Nobody was being violent. We were out of the streets so cars could go by. We were being loud, but I never knew that was against the law." The police said "the protest was peaceful until a few people started pushing police," which, you know, isn't much of a defense given that the police were the ones firing the non-lethal guns and there are pictures of people who were shot in the back. Here's an excerpt from a first-hand account:

Around 200 people gathered in Jacksonville to protest the arrival of George Bush. The crowd included lots of families including babies and a numerous highschool students. People gathered at 5:30 in Griffin Park while others went strait out to Main Street including members of the Yurok Tribe who were there to protest Bush's impact on salmon. ... All was peaceful and no riot police were even seen until 7:30 or 8:00 when they began to emerge. Pro and anti Bush citizens were somewhat intermixed and struggled to chant louder than the other side, but no physical confrontations occured between them to my knowledge.

The riot police formed a line across Main Street and began to push the crowd, telling them to move back. People began to slowly, but reluctantly move back when suddenly the sound of a weapon was heard and pepper spray filled the air. This allegedly occured when the police pushed a 65 year old man to the ground. Another man placed his body in front of the elderly man to protect him. The police allegedly fired pepper spray projectiles at his back at point blank range. I saw several wounds on the man's back that were noticeably bruised. It was immediately following this event that the president's motorcade passed through to the Jacksonville Inn where he is staying. The police then continued to march in lock step with battons raised sometimes pushing and striking those in front of them as the crowd engaged in occasional chants of "Peaceful Protest" and "Public Space, Free Speech."

Remember Abu Ghraib? 

The Washington Post asks a question that both Robert Fisk and this blog have recently asked -- What happened to Abu Ghraib? From here:

The record of prisoner abuse stands as a principal count in any indictment of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Yet Mr. Kerry, who has devoted much of his campaign in the past month to criticizing how Mr. Bush has handled the war, has barely mentioned Abu Ghraib. A couple of months ago the Democrat said he felt "revulsion" over the prisoner abuses (Mr. Bush has said the same) and called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. What he hasn't said is whether he accepts or rejects the policy decisions that led to it -- most importantly, Mr. Bush's contention that some detainees captured abroad should not be treated according to the standards of the Geneva Conventions but instead can and should be subjected to harsh treatments long rejected by the U.S. military. Whether that policy is to be perpetuated in spite of the harm it has caused ought to be something about which both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush speak clearly; their answers ought to help inform voters' decisions.

Kerry should have come out in favor of reinstating US recognition of the Geneva Conventions a long time ago -- he could even have intertwined his defense of the international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war with the whole Vietnam War narrative that his advisers are so enamored with. Just bringing up the subject would have provided loads of ammo to throw at Bush; afterall, many high-level Bush administration officials are on record disparaging the Geneva Conventions back when doing so played well with jingoistic Americans because 9/11 was fresh in their minds and Abu Ghraib was years and another war away. Comments made during the period of bloodthirsty war fever that preceded the invasion of Afghanistan would probably sound pretty embarassing right now. One wonders why this didn't happen...

He May Be Radioactive But ... 

Senior Pentagon officials are planning on taking action against Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the man who ran the Iraqi prison system at the time of the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib -- they're going to promote him. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Senior Pentagon officials, including the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, have told colleagues they are determined to pin a fourth star on General Sanchez.

Mr Rumsfeld and others recognise that General Sanchez remains politically "radioactive," according to an unnamed Defence Department official, and would wait until after the presidential election next month and continuing investigations of the Abu Ghraib affair have faded before putting his name forward.

[ ... ]

Support for General Sanchez among the senior-most policy-makers in the Pentagon reflects the Bush Administration's insistence that the prisoner abuse - which began in Abu Ghraib outside of Baghdad and then turned the spotlight on US military jails in Afghanistan and the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - was an aberration.

I always think that there's nothing these people can do to shock me anymore, but somehow they always manage...

Aleida Guevara 

Che's eldest daughter has been all over the place lately. First, there was this op-ed in the Guardian which concludes

Neo-liberal policies are destroying my continent. We are now importers of grains, when we used to be major producers. But it happens that the grain we produce does not belong to us any longer.

We cannot go on like this. It is important that honest men and women in Europe awaken to the reality of the historical debt they have to our peoples.

It is only because of the wealth looted from our lands and our people that their present high standards of living are possible.

When will this be stopped? An urgent answer is needed. Time passes quickly and it may happen that, by the time we realise what we have lost, we will not even have a place to live.

We all need to live in a better world. Solidarity and unity are indispensable in these times. Let us do our best. It is likely that only humans can dream. I do not know. But what I know is that only we have the capacity to make our dreams come true.

A better world is possible. The challenge lies in being able to act, rather than just talk.

Then there was this one which is specifically about her thoughts on her father. She writes

I often describe myself as a genetic accident; I had the honour and privilege of being the daughter of a man and a woman who are very special people. And I am also a product of the Cuban revolution. I am a paediatrician, specialising in allergies, in Havana. When I was young, my father’s image did influence me, but I later chose medicine as a way to be closer to my people. I’ve also worked as a doctor in Nicaragua, Angola and Ecuador. We are happy as a family when my father’s image inspires people to learn more about him and his thinking, but often the commercialisation seems to us like a lack of respect for who he was and what he stood for.

And today she's a keynote speaker at the ESF, I believe. Also the bylines of the above opinion pieces mention that Guevara has a book coming out, "Chavez: Venezuela and the New Latin America", but the Amazon entry lists Hugo Chavez himself as the author. Based on Amazon's description, I believe the book is one long interview with Chavez, and presumably Guevara is the interviewer.

The ESF, Etc. 

The European Social Forum opens this weekend in London. I kind of wish I was there, but on the other hand each time one of these events happens lately, not just the ESF but the World Social Forum itself, I hear a rising voice of criticism that the organizations aren't democratic enough. Here's this from an IPS article about this weekends' forum, for example:

But the forum has been widely criticised by grassroots activists and civil society organisations. "Many British non-governmental organisations are keen to get involved in the ESF but have found it difficult to do so because of the lack of transparency and openness in the UK process," a coalition of British trade unions and environmental associations wrote in a letter to the organisers, which include the Greater London Authority which runs a limited city government.

[ ... ]

The cost of participation is high at 30 pounds (54 dollars) a ticket, with concessions for students and the unemployed, who will pay 20 pounds (36 dollars). The organizers say the charge is to ensure independence from entities foreign to the forum's values.

But those who believe that "another ESF is possible", as they wrote in a free paper 'Autonomous Spaces' to be distributed at the official ESF, have organised several events of their own.

They take different positions. Some believe that the ESF process must be "democratized", others do not recognize the ESF as legitimate, still others do not find their issues represented in the official programme.

My gut instinct is to ignore such criticisms and continue to view the creation of these institutions as one of the most obviously positive developments in the domain of hard left organizing that has occurred in years. My opinion is that such criticisms as the above are the result of naive notions of the difficulty and expense required to organize and execute international conferences of this scale, but I'm curious to hear others' thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Gee, Who Could Have Seen This Coming? 

The drumbeat began last month with a Fincancial Times article, "Green Zone is ‘no longer totally secure’" which bluntly stated

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

Then a few weeks ago the AP reported

U.S. authorities, meanwhile, raised the security alert in the heavily guarded Green Zone after an improvised bomb was found in front of a restaurant there.

Three days later, we got "Iraq's Green Zone Turns Redder by the Day" from Reuters, ominously informing us that

[The Green Zone] was supposed to be the safest patch of land in Iraq, but instead is slowly succumbing to the creeping dangers stalking the rest of the country.

And today we're greeted with a very surprising and shocking story featured all over the place. Here's a little of Reuters' take:

Two suicide bombers killed five civilians, including three U.S. nationals, on Thursday in one of the bloodiest attacks inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, and America's top enemy in Iraq claimed responsibility.

The attacks on a souvenir bazaar and a cafe frequented by U.S. troops and civilians were the first suicide bombings inside what is supposed to be the safest place in Iraq. The country's interim government immediately vowed to strike back.

[ ... ]

"People were screaming. I was on the floor," said Mohammed "Mo" Nawaf al-Obeidi, 25, owner of the nearby Mo's Restaurant, who was at the cafe. "People were stampeding, trying to get out," he said, his right hand bandaged.

At the cafe, an orange metal-framed tent built onto a former petrol station, the area was littered with glass, twisted metal, blood and food. Pieces of flesh were lying up to 15 meters away.

One wonders why no one listened to that high-ranking US officer who told the Financial Times he didn't have enough soldiers back in September. Maybe if those in charge hadn't been so fixated on re-taking towns like Samarra and had fortified the supposedly secure Green Zone, today's suicide bombing would have been prevented. Another, good option, I might add, would have been getting the hell out of Iraq. Surely there is a reason some action wasn't taken ... A reason besides politics, that is. But what do I know I'm an unpatriotic leftist who isn't concerned about the safety of the American forces in Iraq, right?

Anyway, Tex at UnfairWitness makes an interesting point about those patriotic rightists who are concerned about the safety of the American forces in Iraq ... They seem to have lost interest.

Fat Karl, The Eubulides Paradox, and the World of Substance 

Rove made an amusing appearance on CNN to do post-debate spin in which he came dangerously close to instantiating the Eubulides Paradox (and thus narrowly avoiding a national epidemic of cranial explosions): his post-debate spin was that post-debate spin doesn't matter -- what matters, see, is substance. He said he personally is "interested in the world of substance rather than spin." I actually think of the thousands of lies these people have slung at us over the years -- of the famous lies, of the lies that got people killed, of the lies that were so inconsequential you wondered why they bothered, of them all -- I think Rove's statement tonight might have been the biggest lie we've heard.

Rove's performance reminded me of one of those logic puzzles about the island with the people who only tell lies ... something like this ...

Two kinds of people live on the island of Rove: Fat Karls and non-Fat Karls. Fat Karls spin everything that they say and non-Fat Karls never spin anything that they say. What one question can you ask a Rovean to determine if he is a Fat Karl or a non-Fat Karl?

The trouble is outside the realm of logic puzzles -- here in the world of substance -- they're all Fat Karls.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Anonymous Sources Commenting on Undisclosed Locations 

Israel's Haaretz today featured a story that informs my previous post about the recent report by Human Rights Watch on the use of Latin American-style disappearances in the prosecution of the so-called war on terror. Haaretz cites anonymous "international intelligence sources" who claim the CIA runs a top-secret interrogation facility in Jordan and further asserts that this is the place where the disappeared high-level al Qaeda members documented in Human Rights Watch's report are detained.

The CIA's prisoners at the facility in Jordan include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered Al-Qaida's head of operations and number three in the Al-Qaida hierarchy after Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, who have eluded capture. Mohammed, of Kuwaiti origin, was captured in a safe house in Pakistan in 2002, along with the Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shibh, considered a close bin Laden associate who was kept from being one of the 9/11 pilots because he was denied a U.S. visa. The two men were interrogated for awhile in Pakistan by Pakistanis and Americans and later flown to the undisclosed facility.

Also at the secret facility are Abu Zubaydah, described as Al-Qaida's "recruitment officer," and Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who was captured in Thailand a year ago. The Indonesian Hambali was the only non-Arab Muslim participant in Al-Qaida's supreme military council. He served as the operations chief for Jemaah Islamiya, which was behind attacks in the Philippines before 9/11 and for the attack on the Bali night club in October 2002 that killed over 200 people.

Haaretz was unable to obtain the identities of the other detainees in Jordan.

The 46-page Human Rights Watch report levels harsh criticism at the U.S. administration for using "undisclosed locations" and "disappearing" prisoners. The report charges that the U.S. thereby is in breach of all international conventions, including the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, by refusing prisoners access to the Red Cross or their families.

The report contends that American operatives detained Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's children to serve as "hostages" through which to pressure their father into cooperating.

The prisoners were subjected to severe torture, the report states.

According to the above article, Human Right Watch claimed the facility is "so secret that U.S. President George Bush asked the CIA heads not to report it to him". One wonders who leaked that it is located in Jordan and why?

Disappearances American-style 

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch released a chilling 46-page report documenting the United States' use of "forced disappearances" to deal with high-level members of al Qaeda. A "forced disappearance" refers to a technique of law enforcement common in police states and dictatorships that is the next logical step after detention without due process. It is dentention without due process and without the state even acknowledging that the detainee is detained, or even that the detainee exists, creating a situation in which all norms of justice and morality can be ignored because the state acts without any accountability or oversight of any kind. You know, the sort of thing that is the reason that we call someone like Saddam Hussein a monster. Here's a little from the intro to HRW's report:

The prisoner was taken away in the middle of the night nineteen months ago. He was hooded and brought to an undisclosed location where he has not been heard of since. Interrogators reportedly used graduated levels of force on the prisoner, including the “water boarding” technique – known in Latin America as the “submarino” – in which the detainee is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water, and made to believe he might drown. His seven- and nine-year-old sons were also picked up, presumably to induce him to talk.

These tactics are all too common to oppressive dictatorships. The interrogators were not from a dictatorship, however, but from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The U.S.’s prisoner is Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the alleged principal architect of the September 11 attacks. Muhammad is one of the dozen or so top al-Qaeda operatives who have simply “disappeared” in U.S. custody.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has violated the most basic legal norms in its treatment of security detainees. Many have been held in offshore prisons, the most well known of which is at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As we now know, prisoners suspected of terrorism, and many against whom no evidence exists, have been mistreated, humiliated, and tortured. But perhaps no practice so fundamentally challenges the foundations of U.S. and international law as the long-term secret incommunicado detention of al-Qaeda suspects in “undisclosed locations.”

[ ... ]

According to the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations chaired byformer Defense SecretaryJames Schlesinger, the CIA has been “allowed to operate under different rules” from the U.S. military. Those rules stem in part from an August 2002 Justice Department memo, responding to a CIA request for guidance, which said that torturing al-Qaeda detainees “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the war on terrorism.

Some of the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, are indeed reported to have been tortured in custody. Many are said to have provided valuable intelligence, intelligence that has foiled plots and saved lives. Some are said to have lied under duress to please their captors. (Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi apparently fabricated the claim, then relayed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations, that Iraq had provided training in “poisons and deadly gases” for al-Qaeda.) The United States has acknowledged the detention of many, but not that of others. The one thing all the detainees have in common is that the United States has refused to disclose their whereabouts and has refused to allow them access to their families, lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Back From Oblivion 

The Duelfer report was Scott Ritter's ticket back from political exile. Last week he showed up on Anderson Coopers' usually inane show where he said things like

I absolutely agree that the facts can only lead you in one direction, that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction capability, that the United Nations had, indeed, succeeded in disarming Iraq in 1991. The programs were dismantled by 1995. And Charles Duelfer's report clearly underscores this.

Where I disagree is the notion of intent. I don't think we can afford to take at face value anything the Bush administration or Bush administration appointees say regarding weapons of mass destruction that paint the Bush administration's decision to go to war in a favorable light. There is no substantive factually based data that sustains the notion of intent. We have Charles Duelfer providing speculation, innuendo, hearsay and rumor. But we don't have a confession from Saddam Hussein or his senior leadership. And void of that, I think, we need to question this assertion.

and The Independent recently featured this really well-written and thought-provoking Ritter piece. Instead of focusing on the intent issue that he discussed on the Cooper show, Ritter sketches out the argument that the weapons inspections had been purposely gamed in such a way as to render them incapable of concluding in a decisive manner, and thus facillitated the rush to war. He goes on to discuss the implications of this gaming on international law:

This blatant disregard for international law on the part of the world's two greatest democracies serves as the foundation of any analysis of the question: would the world be better off with or without Saddam in power? To buy into the notion that the world is better off without Saddam, one would have to conclude that the framework of international law that held the world together since the end of the Second World War - the UN Charter - is antiquated and no longer viable in a post-9/11 world. Tragically, we can see the fallacy of that argument unfold on a daily basis, as the horrific ramifications of American and British unilateralism unfold across the globe. If there ever was a case to be made for a unified standard of law governing the interaction of nations, it is in how we as a global community prosecute the war on terror. Those who embrace unilateral pre-emptive strikes in the name of democracy and freedom have produced results that pervert the concept of democracy while bringing about the horrific tyranny of fear and oppression at the hands of those who posture as liberators.

If Saddam were in power today, it would only have been because the US and Britain had altered course and joined the global community in recognising the pre-eminence of international law, and the necessity of all nations to operate in accordance with that law. The irony is that had the US and Britain taken this path, and an unrepentant Saddam chosen to defy the international community by acting on the intent he is alleged to have harboured, then he would have been removed from power by a true international coalition united in its legitimate defence of international law. But this is not the case. Saddam is gone, and the world is far worse for it - not because his regime posed no threat, perceived or otherwise, but because the threat to international peace and security resulting from the decisions made by Bush and Blair to invade Iraq in violation of international law make any threat emanating from an Iraq ruled by Saddam pale in comparison.

Also in other back-from-oblivion news, someone apparently accidently knocked over whatever rock Richard Perle was living under because he just showed up on Charlie Rose, but, alas, there is no online transcript.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Mercenaries are Picking on The New Standard 

First just a little background... The New Standard is a project started several months ago by some folks who are affiliated with ZNet and Z Magazine. The idea is that ZNet provides commentary from a hard left perspective, but never really was a source of news. The New Standard is meant to be a news source, an attempt to cover stories that aren't being covered by the corporate media and generally to disseminate hard left journalism rather than just commentary.

So a couple of weeks ago The New Standard ran an article that alleged that employees of the private "security contractors" hired by the US army participated in the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq. In particular, the article stated that CACI International is being sued for its involvement in the abuse and torture. Well, CACI International has apparently decided that the New Standard is important enough to not simply be ignored, but a small enough of an operation to easily be pushed around, and thus CACI International has sicced lawyers on The New Standard.

Here's an excerpt from Brian Dominick's blog post on the subject:

There's nothing quite as thrilling as receiving a letter from a fancy corporate law firm addressed to me as "Brian Dominick, Editor" -- it means I upset someone powerful.

And so we seem to have done with Lisa Croke's recent article on new allegations of abuse and torture throughout US-run prisons in Iraq, which we posted on September 23rd. The lawyers who wrote us the scolding letter (Steptoe and Johnson LLP -- you can't make this stuff up, folks) are upset that we have "cast aspersions" on the "character, prestige and standing" of CACI International -- Steptoe's client -- "within its field of business." They say our article "constitutes defamation," and they point out that it does so "per se" (which means they couldn't write a whole letter without using an impressive legal term).

Well, we showed the letter to our industry-renowned legal department. The team of high-priced lawyers there (who work on Saturdays just in case) said we should encourage CACI International to sue The NewStandard.

Evidently, the list of attorneys who would line up to defend us pro bono (we know some legal terms, too!) in a defamation case is longer than the list even a big military industrial complex partner like CACI could ever afford -- especially given that the suit would bring them untold negative attention and probably expand our readership multifold.

Now, as to the substance of CACI's letter, there might be something to address without posturing. CACI's claims about our "misrepresentation" of them aside, the letter constitutes the most direct response to anything raised by reporters that I am aware of.

Their website is chock-full of FAQ-type documents and press statements that contain responses to various accusations, but the company wouldn't speak to me when I contacted them for a response to a previous report, and they haven't given interviews to any journalists that I've seen. And, in fact, even the Army wouldn't talk to us about the scope of CACI's role in Iraq.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Rural Librarians Vs. Ashcroft (Yes, It's Come to This) 

From an article on the site of a local news station serving the Pacific Northwest, via Rorschach over at No Capital:

The FBI wants to know who checked out a book from a small library about Osama Bin Laden. But the library isn't giving out names, saying the government has no business knowing what their patrons read.

The library in Deming isn't much larger than a family home. Located in rural Whatcom County, it hardly seems the site for a showdown with the feds.

"I think we all figure it's places like the New York Library System that's going to be one of the first we hear about," said the attorney for the Whatcom County Library System, Deborra Garret.

At the center of the issue, a book titled "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America." The FBI confiscated the original book after a patron reported than some one hand wrote a bin Laden quote in the margin that read: "Let history be witness I am a criminal."

The FBI demanded to know the names and addresses of everyone who ever checked out the book.

"Libraries are a haven where people should be able to seek whatever information they want to pursue without any threat of government intervention," said Director of Whatcom County Library System, Joan Airoldi.

Small Businesses 

Krugman wrote the following in his latest column:

... the Bush administration has managed to convince many people that its tax cuts, which go primarily to the wealthiest few percent of the population, are populist measures benefiting middle-class families and small businesses. (Under the administration's definition, anyone with "business income" - a group that includes Dick Cheney and George Bush - is a struggling small-business owner.)

For a little background on what he is referring to in the above, here's a relevant press release from moveon.org:

Cheney said "about 900,000 small businesses will be hit if you do, in fact, do what they want to do with the top bracket."

The figure Cheney cited is highly disingenuous and Cheney’s logic highly convoluted. Under Cheney's definition a small business is any taxpayer who reports some income -- even just $1 -- from a small business investment or partnership.

By this logic "every partner at a huge accounting firm or at the largest law firm would represent small businesses."

Also, by Cheney's definition, President Bush would have counted as a small business in 2001 because that year "he reported $84 of business income from his part ownership of a timber-growing enterprise." The overwhelming majority of actual small businesses are in the lower tax brackets and would be unaffected by the Kerry proposal.

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Vonnegut 

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Dick Cheney and The Worst Argument in the World 

Well, we just got Dick Cheney's take on the Duelfer report -- the report that officially re-confirmed that Saddam Hussein didn't have WMD's or even active WMD programs since the early nineties -- and it's quite something. Cheney focused on the alleged corruption in the UN "Fuel for Food" program discussed in the report, said the report documented that Saddam Hussein had successfully "bought off foreign governments", that Hussein was going to use his bought friends to get the sanctions lifted, and that he would then resume his weapons programs in a brave new sanctions-free Iraq. ... so, you know, we absolutely positively had to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003 or there would have been a mushroom cloud in DC by the summer -- I mean with those bought off friends and all. Yes, this is best justification the vice-president can come up with for a war that killed over a thousand Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis; it would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

I think Cheney's argument might even be worse than my old pick for the prize of Worst Political Argument in the World which had been a tie between the fly-paper argument of Andrew Sullivan et al and Wolfowitz's related the-attacks-show-we're-succeeding line.

Michael Moore Responds 

Here's Michael Moore's response to the underwear-and-ramen-noodle-gate allegations, from the Detroit Free Press:

Filmmaker Michael Moore responded Wednesday to the Michigan Republican Party's request that he be prosecuted for offering underwear and food to college students in exchange for their promise to vote.

"It's ironic that Republicans have no problem with allowing assault weapons out on our streets, yet they don't want to put clean underwear in the hands of our slacker youth," Moore said in a statement. "The Republicans seem more interested in locking me up for trying to encourage people to participate in our democracy than locking up Bin Laden for his attacks on our democracy."

Moore said Republicans missed the "satire" of his giving underwear and food to get young people to vote.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Underwear-And-Ramen-Noodle-Gate? 

[This post is by Mystery Helper G]

I guess the Republicans have completely run out of ideas to get Michael Moore out of their hair so they've turned to just trying to get him thrown in jail.

"The GOP said it asked prosecutors in Wayne, Ingham, Antrim and Isabella counties to charge Moore with violating Michigan's election law. The law prohibits a person from contracting with another for something of value in exchange for agreeing to vote." (from here)

And what has MM agreed to give them, money, power, privilege? Nope! Clean underwear and ramen noodles. I can literally feel reality slipping away from me not to mention the total feeling of vulnerability that the right must be feeling right now as the American public begins to snap out of the spell that was cast upon them 3 and a half years ago.

The Michigan Republican Party has said, "Higher turnout in elections is beneficial for everyone and is a goal we share with `mainstream Democrats' like Michael Moore," said Executive Director Greg McNeilly. "But nobody is above the law. Mr. Moore's illegal actions, in an attempt to influence this election, cannot be ignored."

Wouldn't it be great if the Democrats actually won on a clean underwear/ramen noodle promise to the American people?

So never mind arresting minority voters as they attempt to cast their ballots, or even just stealing an election in plain sight of the American people, if you offer college kids underwear or ramen noodle, it's criminal. And you will be held accountable...

But Did Saddam Have a Secretary Named Osama and Osama Have a Secretary Named Saddam? 

Little Scottie just offered a really boneheaded bit of spin to deal with the fact that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda -- this Financial Times article summarizes the new rationale:

The Bush administration on Tuesday rolled out a freshly formulated rationale for the invasion of Iraq, claiming there were "disturbing similarities" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

I really hope this idea becomes the basis of a new White House spin campaign because it's just so goddam dumb. Here's more of the Scottie quote: (from "US flip flop over Saddam al-Qaeda link ", AAP/Reuters)

There are clearly ties between Iraq and, between the regime, Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda. And there are clearly some disturbing similarities that existed as well.

[ ... ]

The regime and al-Qaeda both celebrated the September 11th (2001) attacks in America.

I read the above as saying that it is the official position of the White House that it's okay to invade a country as long as the country is similar to something we don't like. So how about this: there's some "disturbing similarities" between South Korea and North Korea -- for instance, (1) they both have "Korea" in their names, (2) they're near each other, and (3) lots of Koreans live in both countries -- does that mean we should invade South Korea?

Dick Backs Down 

So with the release of the recent CIA report and Rumsfelds' concession a few days ago, the fact that there was never a substantive collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Hussein's Iraq is becoming an accepted truth in political discourse and in the mainstream media. It is a travesty that this acceptance of the obvious has taken so long given that there was never evidence to the contrary but such is the world we live in. Anyway, I've been curious as to how Cheney would deal with this changing of the political winds, and during last night's debate we got an answer, sort of. Here's what he said: (veep debate transcript here):

I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11. But there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror. And the point is that that's the place where you're most likely to see the terrorists come together with weapons of mass destruction, the deadly technologies that Saddam Hussein had developed and used over the years.

First of all, the sentence in bold above is false. Here's a Boston Globe article, "Cheney link of Iraq, 9/11 challenged", which begins

Vice President Dick Cheney, anxious to defend the White House foreign policy amid ongoing violence in Iraq, stunned intelligence analysts and even members of his own administration this week by failing to dismiss a widely discredited claim: that Saddam Hussein might have played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Clearly purposely publicly failing to dismiss a widely discredited claim constitutes suggesting the claim is true. And a Washington Post article from around the same time, "Iraq, 9/11 Still Linked By Cheney" began as follows

In making the case for war against Iraq, Vice President Cheney has continued to suggest that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker five months before the attacks, even as the story was falling apart under scrutiny by the FBI, CIA and the foreign government that first made the allegation. [ ... ] Cheney described Iraq as "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

But the falsity of Cheney's statement aside, what is interesting is that Cheney is actually tacking backwards; he's beginning to concede that his pet theory is false. Edwards gave him a perfect opportunity to spout off about the links between Hussein and al Qaeda but Cheney didn't take the bait, instead he dissembled by focusing on the more specific claim of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attack and stating that he never suggested such involvement occurred.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Dick's Conspiracy Theory 

Over the past couple of months as it became increasingly clear that the neconservatives' big adventure had failed and that Iraq was becoming a dangerous bloody mess, Dick Cheney has made a habit of claiming there was a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network despite the lack of credible evidence supporting this conclusion.

Months ago he would justify his pet claim by referring to the so-called "Feith memo", a leaked classified message from Douglas Feith to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The memo was hyped by The Weekly Standard as the last word on the Hussein-Laden connection but it never achieved the Standard's intended goal of rendering Dick's pet conspiracy theory a tenable position -- the memo was quickly and accurately characterized as another example of the sort propaganda that's been flowing out of Feith's office since the run-up to Bush's War, propaganda of the cherry-picked and exaggerated intelligence variety, as Daniel Benjamin wrote in Slate

At best, [the Feith memo] records expressions of various individuals' wish for a better relationship between the two sides--a desire that does not appear to have been consummated. ... There was a lot of seeking and wanting going on, and perhaps there were even meetings. But the fact that meetings occurred has never been the issue--at least not among serious critics--nor has it been disputed that some jihadists lived in or traveled through Iraq. ... What is disputed is that the meetings went anywhere. It would not be surprising to find out that the two sides had a de facto cease-fire, as has been alleged. But we're still waiting to see real cooperation in the form of transfers of weapons and other materiel, know-how, or funds

Even the Pentagon wouldn't stand by the Standard's spin and it released the following statement on the subject:

News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq ... are inaccurate. [The Feith memo] was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and drew no conclusions.

But this didn't stop Cheney from standing by his favorite story; he just stopped trying to defend it by citing the discredited memo. After the 9/11 commission report concluded that "to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts [between Hussein and al Qaeda] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship", Cheney began spinning furiously and really started making a fool out of himself. His reply to the above definitive statement made by the group that his own administration had authorized to investigate the matter was to simply ignore it, saying

[The 9/11 commission] did not spend a lot of time on these other issues. They've got one paragraph in the report that talks about that. And so the notion that you can take one paragraph from the 9/11 Commission and say, `Ah, therefore that says there was never a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.' It's just wrong. It's not true. I'd love to go on on all of this stuff, but the fact of the matter is there clearly was a relationship there.

and Cheney is right, there was a relationship there: the two adversarial entities, Iraq and al Qaeda, had a few tentative meetings to decide whether to pursue a collaborative relationship and decided not to. Nothing more substantive is supported by the available intelligence -- of course, it is impossible to prove a negative assertion so Cheney's continued insistence that an operative connection existed is similar to insisting that elves exist because no one can prove that they don't.

But this whole little political circus took another turn today ... apparently back when Cheney first started telling his tall tale months ago, he asked the CIA to review the intelligence on the subject and produce a report, well the CIA has completed the requested investigation and, you guessed it,

The new assessment follow[ed] the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between the former Iraqi regime and bin Laden's terrorist network.

according to Knight-Ridder today. I haven't yet seen Cheney's response to the report, but based on his past behavior, his lack of shame in publicly maintaining a belief that simply is not corroborated by the available facts, I have no doubt that Cheney will continue to endorse his conspiracy theory.

Yesterday, however, as reported by the AFP, Rumsfeld jumped ship, stating

To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.

contradicting previous statements of his which situated him squarely as a drinker of the neoconservative Kool-Aid; for example, on 9/27/2002 Rumsfeld said

We have what we consider to be credible evidence that al Qaeda leaders have sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities

But Rummy's political conversion didn't last long. After the above statement hit the press he attempted to back pedal issuing the following on the Pentagon's website claiming that his previous statement was "misunderstood":

I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq ... Today at the Council, I even noted that 'when I'm in Washington, I pull out a piece of paper and say ``I don't know, because I'm not in that business, but I'll tell you what the CIA thinks'' and I read it'.

So maybe Rummy and Cheney can still be friends...

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