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

Monday, January 31, 2005

A New Ruling on Guantanamo Bay 

In direct conflict with a previous decision, a federal judge just ruled that Guantanamo prisoners "can challenge their detention in federal court because military tribunals don't protect their rights": (from here)

U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green in Washington rejected the Bush administration's request to throw out lawsuits by 54 detainees protesting their imprisonment. Green said tribunals set up by the Pentagon to determine whether the prisoners are ``enemy combatants'' violate the U.S. Constitution and in some cases the Geneva Convention treaties on treatment of prisoners of war.

``It would be far easier for the government to prosecute the war on terrorism if it could imprison all suspected `enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay without having to acknowledge and respect any constitutional rights of detainees,'' Green wrote. That, she said, would violate ``the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years.''

Saying the administration has conceded the war on terrorism may last for generations, she said enemy combatants could serve life prison terms without ever being tried or convicted of a crime. Government regulations say enemy combatants can be held until the war on terrorism is over or until military authorities decide on a case-by-case basis it is safe to release a prisoner.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Train wreck, Thy Name is Halliburton 

So last week we learned from the business press that Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root may have won a contract to manage the construction of two new aircraft carriers for the British navy, because, you know, no one knows more about ship building than a Houston-based oilfield service contractor, and, afterall, KBR's forays into cross-disciplinary pursuits have gone so well in the past; see, for example, here or here.

Unfortunately the UK’s biggest defense contractor isn't playing nice. It claims that putting Halliburton in charge will lead to "a train wreck":

BAE Systems, Britain's largest defence contractor, has warned the Government that it will pull out of an alliance building two aircraft carriers if Halliburton, the controversial US defence contractor, is awarded the role to manage their construction.

Mike Turner, BAE's chief executive, and Dick Olver, the chairman, issued the threat at a meeting on Wednesday with Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Bach, his deputy, and Sir Peter Spencer, the chief of defence procurement.


Olver – the respected former deputy chief executive of BP – told Hoon that the way the Ministry of Defence was planning to manage the £4bn contract would precipitate "a train wreck".

BAE has also informed Hoon that unless the crisis is averted soon, there will be politically embarrassing job losses at BAE's three shipyards: Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde, and Barrow-in-Furness.

[Hat tip to Intl News]

WSF 2005 



Today was the last day of the World Social Forum. Zeynep of Under the Same Sun was there and has some posts up about it: here and here. Here's an excerpt:

So, yesterday afternoon, tired, hot, severely underslept, I stopped by a panel entitled "Land Rights" -- it had a little subtitle which mentioned the "Dalits." I normally roam through many panels in any given session: I listen a bit, pick up literature and move on -- there are so many simultaneous events and I want to make the best use of my time here. [ ... ]

Paul Divakar, of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights moderated the panel and gave the first talk. It's really the difference between "knowing" something in the abstract and sitting there, looking at a human being and feeling in your heart that this is the ugly truth of this world. Of course I knew the dalits were discriminated against. Still, I felt crushed by the weight of just listening to him explain how they were thought of as the "polluted people," how they were always denied land so that they would be forced to be semi-slaves to the landlords and the dominant castes, how they were forced into occupations considered unclean by the others such as collecting the dead, cleaning up human waste, skinning cows and garbage work in general, how they were to this day beaten up, killed, tortured and raped if they dared to claim a bit of the rights that were accorded to them on paper, how everything was arranged to continue this situation in perpetuity... It was hard listening to it; these people lived it. And you knew it was true. It's just one of those things; you just know this person is telling you a truth.

And the difference between this panel and the the panels by experts, NGOs, even activists from richer countries came up very quickly. At appropriate times, Paul broke into slogans, enthusiastically joined by the Dalit in the crowd. It was one of the most sincere, the least contrived instances I have even encountered of people shouting slogans. I think I have become jaded a bit with all the big demonstrations I have attended in the U.S. I keep feeling almost bored in some of them. I mean, we yell stuff but we don't really mean it. We're not really going to try to stop the Bush administration from waging war. Not really. We will finish the rally and all go home. And all the marchers know this. So does the administration. I I feel fake yelling "No Blood for Oil," or "No War." There will be blood for oil and there will be war because we will allow it. All we are going to do is yell and then go home and do very little else.

So, the Dalits breaking into slogans really shook me because it was like being handed a cup of actual homemade soup after eating a lot of fake, highly-processed versions that come in cans or plastic from supermarkets. All of a sudden, you think, ah, this is what it was meant to be. This is what a slogan is. This is what it sounds like. This is how it is shouted. This is how it is joined. That was processed cheese.

Iraqi Elections 

Here's Robert Fisk:

The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. "Transition of power", says the hourly logo on CNN's live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution, and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power.

They have no control over their own oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their only power is that of the American military and its 150 000 soldiers whom we could all see on the main intersections of Baghdad yesterday.

The big television networks have been given a list of five polling stations where they will be "allowed" to film. Close inspection of the list shows that four of the five are in Shi'ite Muslim areas - where the polling will probably be high - and one in an upmarket Sunni area, where it will be moderate.

[ ... ]

Yes, I know how it's all going to be played out. Iraqis bravely vote despite the bloodcurdling threats of the enemies of democracy. At last, the US and British policies have reached fruition. A real and functioning democracy will be in place so the occupiers can leave soon. Or next year. Or in a decade or so. Merely to hold these elections - an act of folly in the eyes of so many Iraqis - will be a "success".

The Shi'as will vote en masse, the Sunnis will largely abstain. Shi'a Muslim power will be enshrined for the first time in an Arab country. And then the manipulation will begin and the claims of fraud and the admissions that the elections might be "flawed" in some areas.

But we'll go on saying "democracy" and "freedom" over and over again, the insurgency will continue and grow more violent, and the Iraqis will go on dying. But there will be democracy in Iraq.

and here's "This Election is a Sham " which was written buy a former adviser of the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, and here's al-Jazeera fleshing out the bit about thirty people getting killed so far that has been relegated to about a sentence in the news stories of the West:

Rebels killed two people in a string of bomb and mortar attacks across the country Sunday, three hours before the polling stations opened.

Casting his vote in Iraq’s first multi-party ballot in half a century, interim President Ghazi al-Yawer called it Iraq's first step "toward joining the free world."

Although Iraqi authorities adopted strict security measures, numerous explosions and violent attacks shook Baghdad on the elections’ first day. Also multiple blasts rocked the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Baquba.

A bomb attack in western Baghdad killed one policeman and wounded several others. Meanwhile mortar attacks rocked Khan al-Mahawil, 40 miles south of the Iraqi capital, killing another policeman at a polling center.

Three other people were injured when a rocket landed near a polling station in Sadr City, the heart of Baghdad's Shiite Muslim community, witnesses said Sunday.

The Iraqi capital was hit with several explosions and mortar attacks. Several other Iraqi cities, including Baqouba, Basra and Mosul were also struck with similar attacks.

Also the Ministry of Interior on the city's eastern edge was hit Sunday with two mortars, according to one witness.

In the New Baghdad area in the eastern part of the city, an exchanges of gunfire were also heard.

Meanwhile Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, and southern city of Basra, the country's second-largest were also struck with several explosions.

and here's AFP with a round up of reaction to the elections in the Arab press. Oh yeah, and here's a little Juan Cole

With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. (This is the part of the process that I called a "joke," and I stand by that.)

This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.

Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.

Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed "election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Koufax Begging 

I have two posts up for best post. While I like the other one, I'm endorsing "War President" just because I think it has more of a chance...

("War President", by the way, is on the cover of the current issue of NY Arts Magazine, a fact that I discovered yesterday, seriously, by walking into my local book superstore and seeing it in a display of art magazines ... After picking up a copy, I retired to my local faux Irish pub to sit at the bar and have a pint of Boddington's, a bowl of clam chowder, and read the article about my little friend's New York debut. A waitress asked if the cover of the magazine was "that picture of Bush made from monkeys" to which I responded, "No.")

Canada vs. Coulter 

Below is an excerpt from the transcript of an appearance by Ann Coulter on Canada's "The Fifth Estate":

Coulter: "Canada used to be one of our most loyal friends and vice-versa. I mean Canada sent troops to Vietnam - was Vietnam less containable and more of a threat than Saddam Hussein?"

McKeown interrupts: "Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter: "I don't think that's right."

McKeown: "Canada did not send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter (looking desperate): "Indochina?"

McKeown: "Uh no. Canada ...second World War of course. Korea. Yes. Vietnam No."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, took a pass on Vietnam."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, Australia was there, not Canada."

Coulter: "I think Canada sent troops."

McKeown: "No."

Coulter: "Well. I'll get back to you on that."

[via This is Rumor Control]

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Has Salon Broken a Major Story Before? 

Well they have now: (from "Third columnist caught with hand in the Bush till")

One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.

Responding to the latest revelation, Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, announced Thursday that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media. "I needed to draw this bright line," Horn tells Salon. "The policy is being implemented and we're moving forward."

Horn's move came on the heels of Wednesday's report in the Washington Post that HHS had paid syndicated columnist and marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher $21,000 to write brochures and essays and to brief government employees on the president's marriage initiative. Gallagher later wrote in her column that she would have revealed the $21,000 payment to readers had she recalled receiving it.

The Gallagher revelation came just three weeks after USA Today reported that the Education Department, through a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm, paid $240,000 to Armstrong Williams, a conservative African-American print, radio and television pundit, to help promote Bush's No Child Left Behind program to minority audiences.

To date, the Bush administration has paid public relation firms $250 million to help push proposals, according to a report Thursday in USA Today. That's double what the Clinton administration spent on P.R. from 1997 to 2000. Shortly after Williams' contract came to light, the Democrats on the Committee on Government Reform wrote a letter to President Bush demanding that he "immediately provide to us all past and ongoing efforts to engage in covert propaganda, whether through contracts with commentators, the distribution of video news releases, or other means." As of Thursday, a staffer on the committee told Salon, there had been no response.

Horn says McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences. His syndicated column has appeared in such papers as the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer.

At Least He's Honest 

So E&P has a piece up about why Universal Press Syndicate is not going to fire Maggie Gallagher for being a paid shill of the Bush administration. Lee Salem, Universal's executive vice president, says

She was asked to perform certain tasks ... It was never a question of her promoting a particular bill or proposal in her column.

which is all fine and good -- you know, never mind that it might appear there's a little conflict of interest in receiving $21,500 to write copy for propaganda on a subject that she frequently writes about in her column. What I found remarkable is the next defense of Gallagher that Universal's vice president offers:

Salem added that the 2002 payment to Gallagher was a "one-time thing." And he said it happened three years ago, long before op-ed columnists were looked at through the "prism" of this month's revelations about Armstrong Williams.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense: what Gallagher did was ethical because, hey, it happened way before the whole Armstrong Williams thing -- before anyone cared about this issue, so, you know, what the hell.

I'm surprised this wasn't the next sentence:

Salem concluded, "Furthermore, this whole story has already pretty much blown over. Why should we fire Maggie? -- it's a one news cycle scandal.

A Real Funny Website 

Rorschach of No Capital flags this article from the Australian press:

THE US Defence Department has been asked to investigate a website being used by American soldiers to post grisly pictures of Iraqi war dead.

The site, which has been operating for more than a year, describes itself as "an online archive of soldiers' photos".

Dozens of pictures of decapitated and limbless bodies are featured on the site with tasteless captions, purportedly sent in by soldiers.

Captions include "plastic surgery needed", "road kill" and "I said dead".

Australian expat Iraqis, most of whom supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, have been angered by the website and called on the US government to ensure it was taken down.

The article doesn't provide a URL and I thought at first the site was already down, but notice that the Department of Defense has only "been asked" to investigate, meaning no action has been taken or necessarily will be. And lo and behold, I, being the value-added linker that I am, tracked down the website in question: Under Mars, still sleazing along, jokes about severed heads and all. The disgusting stuff starts in at about gallery 52.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Good Riddance 

Apparently the man Tommy Franks called "the dumbest fucking guy on the planet" wants to spend more time with his family:

Douglas Feith, the controversial undersecretary for policy responsible for postwar planning in Iraq, announced on Wednesday that he would leave his position this summer.

Commenting on Mr Feith’s planned resignation, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, said on Wednesday, “Regretfully, he has decided to depart and he will be missed...I hope he will stay until an appropriate replacement is found.”

Mr Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, the number two man at the Pentagon, are both controversial advocates of the Iraq war.

If Mr Wolfowitz resigns or moves, one candidate touted as a replacement is Stephen Cambone, undersecretary for intelligence. Mr Cambone has been instrumental in pushing Mr Rumsfeld’s goal of transforming the military.

So far Feith is the highest-ranking Pentagon official not sticking around for four more -- also, as far as I know, the only prominent neoconservative to resign. Wonder if there's more to this story? ...

Breaking Records 

Today was the deadliest day for American forces in Iraq since the invasion began. Thirty-six were killed.

But, you know, I'm sure this just shows that the insurgents are getting desperate.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Committing Treason Betwixt New Yorker Cartoons 

Maybe this shouldn't be surprising, but a Washington Times editorial "Espionage by Any Other Name" seems to call for Seymour Hersh to be tried for treason. Although "espionage" is in the title, I think, -- and, lord knows, I'm just winging it here -- the author means treason rather than espionage, because he doesn't actually insinuate that Hersh was on Iran's payroll. I report, you decide:

I am not an expert on these federal code sections [regarding the prohibition of publishing information on troop movements in a time of war], but a common-sense reading of their language would suggest, at the least, that federal prosecutors should review the information disclosed by Mr. Hersh to determine whether or not his conduct falls within the proscribed conduct of the statute.

In the fairly recent past, at least one journalist writing for Jane's Publications has been successfully prosecuted under the statute, freedom of speech and the press not being a defense to espionage. Remember, in the famous Pentagon Papers case, the issue was prior restraint. Could the government stop a newspaper from publishing government secrets relating not to current operations, but to prior planning? The answer then was no. But in the current matter of Mr. Hersh and the New Yorker, they have been free to publish the article. The question is whether or not any legal consequences attach to that decision.

I was shocked when I read Mr. Hersh's article. Note the tenses he uses to describe American military action: "The American commando task force ... is now working," "has been conducting secret reconnaissance." In other words, Mr. Hersh is revealing to all the world, including the Iranian government, that our commandos are currently behind enemy lines in Iran on a dangerous and vital military assignment.

Actually I'm surprised the right didn't come up with this line quicker. It's a cute use of the have-their-cake-and-eat-it-to position that pops up frequently in the discourse surrounding the "war on terror". It's convenient to have a perpetual multi-front war that is never officially declared as a war. It can be a real war when you want to stifle dissent but it's not a real war when someone suggests that you abide the Geneva conventions. It can be a real war when you want to try some half-starved Californian kid for treason in Afghanistan, but it's not a real war when someone asks for public transparency and Congressional oversight.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Venezuela Is Not Iraq 


Yesterday during a huge rally Chavez asserted something that, I think, has been on the mind of a many people who are following current events in South America: that the US is behind the current flap between Venezuela and Columbia. The claim was offered without evidence but is plausible. Here's the AP:

Supporters of President Hugo Chávez marched through Caracas on Sunday, demanding respect for Venezuela's sovereignty after U.S. criticism and Colombia's acknowledgment that it paid a bounty to capture a rebel on Venezuelan soil. [ ...]

"Venezuela must be respected!" Chávez told a massive crowd outside Miraflores presidential palace.

"Nobody can deny that what Colombia has done is a violation of international law ... the only government that has defended this vulgar error is the imperialist government of the United States."

The crowd chanted, "Chávez makes them crazy!"

Chávez blamed the United States for the crisis with Colombia. "This provocation came from Washington. It is the latest attempt by the imperialists ... to ruin our relations with Colombia," he said.

Chanting pro-Chávez slogans and carrying banners reading "Bush: Venezuela Is Not Iraq!" and "Colombia, Stay Out of Venezuela," tens of thousands of loyalists danced to traditional folk music booming from loudspeakers on trucks.


Chomsky, who recently signed an open letter to Chavez calling for the establishment of "a special independent investigation for clarifying who is responsible for the kidnapping of Granda and, hopefully, of that of other Colombian social leaders in Venezuelan territory," commented on the idea of US provocation in this matter as follows:

Colombia has conceded the kidnapping, and relations between the two countries are currently tense. I presume Colombia's purpose was just what is on the surface: to harm FARC, even at the cost of harming relations with Venezuela if it was exposed. I don't know of any evidence of US pressure in this case, but it's not out of the question. [ ... ]

A more pertinent question for us is whether the US is cooperating in extraditing Venezuelans who were implicated in terrorist crimes in Venezuela, after having participated in the US-backed coup. They fled here for asylum. It's hard to find out what happened since.

The above is from the Znet sustainer forum, ChomskyChat. [Photos from here]

Connecting the Dots 

So the Post reported today:

The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.

To risk stating the obvious, this article covers much the same ground as Seymour Hersh's recent New Yorker piece. One isn't apprised of the obvious, however, in the Post piece itself, which mentions neither Seymour Hersh nor Iran -- as didn't any of the other American commentary on this topic that I have read.

Internationally however we get the following from the Swiss think-tank ISN:

A new Strategic Support Branch under the US Department of Defense (DoD) is taking on clandestine operations abroad to end what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld calls the DoD’s “near total dependence” on the CIA for human intelligence. The unit had been operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries for close to two years. That revelation comes on the heels of an article by Seymour Hersh that caused a mild sensation. “The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret”, in the 24-31 January issue of The New Yorker, alleged that the DoD had been engaged in covert operations in Iran for the past six months. While the Pentagon was quick to deny the allegations made in the Hersh report, The Washington Post on Sunday published a story citing documents revealing the new espionage arm. The gist of Hersh’s article, however, was the rivalry over areas of responsibility between the DoD and the CIA. Hersh alleges that the Pentagon is increasingly taking over some of the CIA’s former roles and becoming the facilitator of White House policy at the expense of the intelligence agency. A review of the December law on the reorganization of intelligence agencies and a look at competition between the DOD and the CIA since 9/11 all support the thesis. The CIA has indeed had its wings clipped, and the Pentagon’s role in intelligence gathering and operations has been enhanced at its expense.

Also, as Atrios pointed out, there's a nice bit of circumlocution in this DiRita quote

DiRita denied that Rumsfeld controls a secret group of spies. "There is no unit that is directly reportable to the Secretary of Defense for clandestine operations as is described in The Washington Post," he said in a statement. "Further, the Department is not attempting to 'bend' statutes to fit desired activities, as is suggested in this article."

Yeah, there may not be a clandestine group that is "directly reportable" to Rumsfeld but I bet there's something that's directly reportable to Undersecretary Stephen Cambone, as mentioned in both "The Coming Wars" and "The Salvador Option".

Chalabis Wobble But They Don't Fall Down 

Didn't post about the current Chalabi story because I found it really confusing and wanted to wait and see how it was going to play out, but a few days have gone by and I still don't really get it, so what the hell...

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the story started last Friday like this

Iraq's interim defense minister said on Friday the government would arrest Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi after the Eid al-Adha holiday for allegedly maligning the defense ministry.

"We will arrest him and hand him over to Interpol. We will arrest him based on facts that he wanted to malign the reputation of the defense ministry and defense minister," Hazim al-Shaalan told Al Jazeera television, adding the measures would start after the Muslim holiday which began on Jan. 20.

and then swerved this way

Iraq’s Interior Minister Falah al-Naquib said on Saturday there was no arrest warrant for Ahmed Chalabi after the country’s defence minister warned the maverick politician would be jailed for slandering the government.

"I didn’t receive any warrants of this sort," Naquib told a press conference. The denial of a warrant came after Defence Minister Hazem al-Shaalan said the Baghdad government would shortly arrest one-time Pentagon favourite Chalabi for staining his ministry’s reputation.

Shaalan told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television on late Friday. Shaalan did not say how Chalabi had tried to defame him, but a spokesman for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) told al-Jazeera the outburst dealt with allegations Chalabi made about the secret transfer of millions of dollars out of the country.

which is where it stands now, except that since it has become increasingly clear that he dodged another bullet, Ahmed has gotten all uppity:

Controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi hit back Sunday at the country's defense minister Hazem Shaalan over threats to arrest him.

Chalabi, a dark horse candidate for prime minister, denied he had fled to the southern city of Basra after Shaalan threatened to jail the one-time Pentagon favourite for slandering his ministry.

"My answer to Shaalan is that he knows nothing about law or how a state is to be administered and he cannot overcome Iraqi authority and thus he cannot arrest anybody," a defiant Chalabi told reporters in the southern port of Basra.

Chalabi reiterated his accusations that Shaalan and other government officials had engaged in suspicious activities, transferring large sums of money out of the country to buy weapons for the Iraqi army.

I honestly don't know what to make of all this, although I haven't been following Iraqi politics the way I used to.

Juan Cole, of course, provides excellent commentary but the whole thing still seems murky. Cole speculates that the current Chalabi affair was either a simple attack by Shaalan executed for personal reasons without the the consent of the Allawi administration or it was an attempt by Allawi et al. to tarnish the image of the United Iraqi Alliance, which they view as a puppet of Iran, a week before the election, a sort of January surprise:

On the other hand, for the Allawi government to make this particular response is also troubling. Chalabi is a candidate for parliament on the United Iraqi Alliance list, which groups the major Shiite parties. Shaalan has hinted around that the UIA is a stalking horse for Iran, and choosing the week before the election to announce the arrest of one of the list's top-ranking figures (# 10)--on thirteen-year-old charges-- could be seen as a way of attempting to damage its popularity. That is, getting Chalabi could actually be a way of getting Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the UIA leader who also heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (which had been based in Iran for over two decades). We know what Shaalan thinks of Iran and can imagine what he thinks of al-Hakim.

Moreover, it wasn't criminal for Chalabi to advocate dissolving the Iraqi army (though it was highly unwise and possibly sleazy), and it is disturbing that Shaalan is throwing that charge into the mix. Shaalan did not say so, but given his anti-Iran impetus, and given the charges against Chalabi that he has passed sensitive information on to Tehran, it could be that Shaalan thinks Chalabi pressed for the dissolution of the Iraq military because Tehran urged it. A former ambassador told me he that Chalabi was getting money from Iran, so he may have owed the ayatollahs. Of course, most of Iraq's neighbors would have welcomed and perhaps secretly lobbied for the dissolution of the Iraqi military, including Kuwait and Israel.

The Women of Abu Ghraib 

The next issue of The American Prospect will contain an article about the alleged rape of female Iraqi prisoners by their American captors. The article, "Unusual Suspects", written by Tara McKelvey, marks the first time that this story was dealt with head on in the mainstream US media -- rumors and one-sentence allusions to these sorts of abuses appeared in news articles throughout the spring of 2004, but until now there has not been an exposé like this one in the United States.

The meat of the article draws from McKelvey's interviews with several women who were detained at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Most of these women are plaintiffs in a pair of class-action lawsuits against the Titan Corporation and CACI International, two of the private companies to which the Pentagon farmed out its interrogation work. CACI, you might recall, was the company that sicced lawyers on the New Standard. Here's a representative excerpt from "Unusual Suspects":

When Selwa talks about Abu Ghraib and the detention facilities, her voice is soft.

"Whenever I remember, it's like a fire goes out," she says. "Once I saw the guards hit a woman, probably 30 years old. They put her in an open area and said, "Come out so you can see her." They pulled her by the hair and poured ice water on her. She was screaming and shouting and crying as they poured water into her mouth. They left her there all night. There was another girl; the soldiers said she wasn't honest with them. They said she gave them wrong information. When I saw her, she had electric burns all over her body."

I ask her if she was sexually assaulted.

"No," she says. "They respected me." She pushes her chair away from the table.

Asked if she was ever forced to take her clothes off, she leans back and pulls her jacket over her chest and covers part of her face with her hand. She looks downward and bites her thumb. Her eyes are half-closed, and her shoulders are slumped.

"I don't remember," she says. She folds her arms across her chest and her eyes fill with tears. She stares at the ground. A few minutes later, she excuses herself and leaves the room.

[ ... ]

Sundus explains how Selwa and Selwa's sister came to her last August. Selwa said she wanted to speak about her detention privately. Her sister left the room. Then Selwa sat down with Sundus. "They did everything bad to me, and may God take them all to hell," Selwa told her. "She began to weep bitterly," recalls Sundus. "She didn't tell the truth to her family."

McKelvey's piece is certainly a positive step towards pulling the real Abu Ghraib scandal back out of the memory hole, towards rolling back the "few bad apples" propaganda campaign that has successfully hidden the extent of the atrocities that took place, and presumably still take place, in our new American gulags -- but I have one problem with it: I think McKelvey could have done a better job of corroborating the claims of her interviewees by mentioning more facts on the public record that support the idea that women and children were raped at Abu Ghraib.

As the article stands, the women's statements seem to float in a vacuum disconnected from the body of the Abu Ghraib narrative, and thus seem less credible than they should, given that these accounts are well supported by other sources. In particular, I wish she would have brought up several events from last spring and summer that led to a brief moment when it appeared (to me at least) that pressure from the blogosphere might push allegations of the rape of children at Abu Ghraib into the mainstream media spotlight: Seymour Hersh's ACLU speech, the German TV magazine Report Mainz's exposé about women and children in Abu Ghraib, and the resulting media fall out. Here are my posts covering these stories from last year, "The Children of Abu Ghraib" and "The Children of Abu Ghraib Redux".

The key point to be gleaned from the pair of old posts is that when McKelvey quotes Multi-National Force spokesman Barry Johnson as saying "There are no allegations of rape by any female detainees. ... If we have allegations and they're brought to us, we would open the case", Johnson is making a statement that is so at odds with the public record that the only reason he can get away with it is because the media didn't do its job last spring. There are allegations of rape that were not just made by detainees but by "U.S. military officials" and not just rape but rape on videotape -- videotape that still presumably exists -- and these allegations were even mentioned briefly on national television. Here's an excerpt from the transcript of MSNBC's coverage of Rumsfeld's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

MIKLASZEWSKI [,NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over)]: Rumsfeld then dropped a bomb, revealing that there were more photos, even videos depicting abuses far worse than what has been seen so far.

RUMSFELD: There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.

MIKLASZEWSKI: U.S. military officials tell NBC News, the unreleased images, show American soldiers severely beating one Iraqi prisoner to near death; apparently, raping an Iraqi female prisoner; acting inappropriately with a dead body; and Iraqi guards apparently videotaped by U.S. soldiers raping young boys.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM, SOUTH CAROLINA: We're talking about rape and murder here, we're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience, we're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges.

Lindsay Graham is correct in the above; we had been talking about rape and murder, at least some of us, but as 2004 eased into 2005 if anyone talks about Abu Ghraib at all anymore they tend to talk about sexual humiliation and the trials of a few bad apples. Maybe McKelvey's piece will do something to change that, but, somehow, I doubt it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"If, God forbid, it commits an act of aggression, we have prepared ourselves" 

Iran responds to Seymour Hersh: (from the AP)

Iran has plans to defend itself should the United States make any aggressive moves, President Mohammad Khatami said Thursday, but he added that the possibility of an attack "is very low" because Washington has too many problems in Iraq.

Khatami's remarks in an interview with state-run television marked the most senior response to recent reports suggesting the United States may be considering military action against Iran.

"The possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran is very low. We think America is not in a position to take a lunatic action of attacking Iran," Khatami said. "The U.S. is deeply engaged in Iraq."

But he added, "We move forward with full vigilance. We don't welcome any tension but if, God forbid, it commits an act of aggression, we have prepared ourselves. We have plans for it."

He did not elaborate on how Iran would respond or defend itself.

American Dreams 

On Monday July 21st of 2003 the Washington Post ran a lengthy story, "A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror", documenting the torture and rape of an Iraqi Assyrian Christian at the hands of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The woman, Jumana Michael Hanna, told the Post she had been arrested for marrying an Indian man, had been bound to a bed and repeatedly raped for days, had been electrocuted on the genitals, had been beaten incessantly, had had cigarettes extinguished on her leg by laughing guards, had had dogs sicced on her in a small room, that her husband had been executed by a bullet to the head and that his body had been handed to her through a slot "like a piece of butcher's meat."

She became a cause celebre for neoconservatives eager to justify their pet project which had already gone awry. She was moved into the Green Zone; the Iraqi guards and officials that she fingered as her tormenters were arrested; and she was eventually relocated to America.

Wolfowitz told Hanna's story to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluding

There is a positive aspect in the distressing story of Jumana Michael Hanna, that is her courage in coming forward to offer U.S. officials what is very likely credible information, information that is helping us to root out Ba'athist policemen who routinely tortured and killed prisoners.

In the same testimony, Wolfowitz even mentioned that, according to Hanna, Uday Hussein "would often slip through the back gate at night to torture and abuse prisoners personally", a detail that hadn't appeared in the Post piece.

Hanna was a neoconservative dream come true -- she was also a very successful con artist who played a bunch of suckers for a new life in California.

The story was exposed a month ago in an Esquire piece "The American Dream" by Sara Solovitch. Solovitch had been hired to turn Hanna's story into a book, but became suspicious as her tales grew increasingly far-fetched: she now claimed to have been personally raped by Uday Hussein and to have witnessed dozens of murders, for example. When Solovitch fact-checked the story she found that the whole thing fell apart pretty quickly.

Today, the Washington Post ran what amounts to a retraction, a retraction written by the same journalist who wrote the original story. It turns out that Hanna's husband is not dead. It turns out that a medical examination conducted in 2003 had concluded that there was no evidence that she had been raped or tortured. It turns out that she hadn't been arrested for marrying a non-Iraqi but for conning those desperate to emigrate to Western Europe into giving her money for visas that they never received.

One wonders if the fact that today is coronation day has anything to do with the timing of this retraction. It's on page A18, by the way -- I wonder what page "A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror" was on?

The Post's tepid retraction concludes with a quote from Solovitch:

I went into this project anticipating that I would be working with a genuine hero ... Now, I believe that she is at best a pathological liar, at worst a highly intelligent con artist. Jumana took advantage of all of us.

I think it's pretty clear that she was a con artist not a pathological liar for two reasons: her skill at self-promotion and her apparent history as a smalltime grifter in Iraq. For what it's worth, I wish Jumana luck but I don't think she'll need it ... America is the land of con men. She has a bright future.

[hat tip to Pete Martinez for keeping me updated on this story]

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Making Things Up About Bolivia 

With an Argentina-style meltdown looming in Bolivia, Jim Shultz of Blog from Bolivia catches the Western media lying about the country's recent history in its coverage of the current turmoil there. Recent news stories like to say that former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, was forced to resign because of "violent protests" orchestrated by Bolivian socialists -- see for example here or here -- and, in fact, this characterization of Bolivia's recent history even made it into a Kerry speech, which is all fine and good except for the fact that it's false. Here's Shultz with the facts:

At least 59 people died in the October 2003 uprising over a proposed gas export deal through Chile to the US. Of those, the vast majority were civilians killed by military and police gunfire, troops sent out under the President's command. The New York Times reported, at the time, that one of the few soldiers killed was shot by his own superior for refusing to fire on a crowd. Violence on the part of the government grew so extreme that high-level United Nations officials formally called on the President to control his forces. Even the President's own handpicked Vice President broke with Sanchez de Lozada over the violence. In the end the President was not ousted by violent mobs but by a peaceful demonstrations and a broad nationwide call for his resignation led by prominent human rights officials and leaders in the Catholic Church.

Amnesty International recently published a lengthy and authoritative report on the events of October 2003. Here's the link.

Shultz seems a little shocked about these distortions commenting

When I write publicly, whether in this Blog, in our Democracy Center newsletter, or in my newspaper articles in the US, I feel a real duty to get the facts right. I can't understand why these reporters and others are willing to get the facts so wrong. Bad reporting becomes a false assumption of fact, one powerful enough to sway a Presidential candidate and in turn the foreign policy of the United States.

but this type of bad reporting is business as usual; one doesn't rise through the ranks of the journalism racket by writing nice things about Latin American leftists.

Impugning Condi's Integrity 

So below is the good part of the exchange during Rice's confirmation hearing in which Barbara Boxer all but calls Rice a liar. In the midst of an impressive opening salvo Boxer says the following:
So I want to show you some statements that you made regarding the nuclear threat and the ability of Saddam to attack us. Now, September 5th -- let me get to the right package here. On July 30th, 2003, you were asked by PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill if you continued to stand by the claims you made about Saddam's nuclear program in the days and months leading up to the war.

In what appears to be an effort to downplay the nuclear-weapons scare tactics you used before the war, your answer was, and I quote, "It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year." So that's what you said to the American people on television -- "Nobody ever said it was going to be the next year."

Well, that wasn't true, because nine months before you said this to the American people, what had George Bush said, President Bush, at his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center? "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."

Rice replies by blaming the nonexistent WMD stockpiles on bad intelligence and claiming
"it wasn't just weapons of mass destruction. He was also a place -- his territory was a place where terrorists were welcomed"
but then, perhaps not very surprisingly, doesn't attempt to support the Hussein-backed-terrorists line by claiming there was a collabortaive relationship between al-Qaeda and Hussein's Iraq -- looks like Cheney is the last hold out on that particular fantasy.

She also cites a pre-invasion Bush speech "in which [Bush] talked about the fact that, yes, there was the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but he also talked to the strategic threat that Saddam Hussein was to the region", leading to the following wonderful exchange:

SEN. BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote.

But, again, I just feel you quote President Bush when it suits you but you contradicted him when he said, "Yes, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." You go on television nine months later and said, "Nobody ever said it was" --

MS. RICE: Senator, that was just a question of pointing out to people that there was an uncertainty. No one was saying that he would have to have a weapon within a year for it to be worth it to go to war.

SEN. BOXER: Well, if you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you'll --

MS. RICE: Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity. Thank you very much.

SEN. BOXER: I'm not. I'm just quoting what you said. You contradicted the president and you contradicted yourself.

MS. RICE: Senator, I'm happy to continue the discussion, but I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly.

Just to back up Senator Boxer's allegations above I'd like to point out that the lie Boxer highlights is one of many. Rice has a history of lying on the public record; she's not as able a disembler as other members of Bush's cabinet, notably Rumsfeld. Here are a few other examples, lifted from an old Paul Waldman piece in The Gadflyer:

o Rice said, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

In fact, not only had the French government foiled a 1994 plan to hijack an airplane and fly it into the Eiffel Tower, an incident Rice must have been aware of, but at the G-8 summit Bush attended just months before September 11, the Italian government received information that Al Qaeda was planning to fly an airplane into the summit, so anti-aircraft batteries were placed at the Genoa airport.

Richard Clarke himself led a team evaluating terrorist threats at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta that prepared for the possibility of a hijacked plane being flown into the Olympic stadium; Clarke told Tim Russert that he tried to get funding to put a similar protection plan in place on a permanent basis to protect Congress and the White House, but was unable to.


o Rice said the aluminum tubes Iraq had purchased were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs."

In fact, the experts who looked at the aluminum tubes – the ones who actually knew something about making nuclear weapons – concluded that the tubes were virtually useless in enriching uranium. They were meant for conventional rockets.


o When it was revealed that one month before September 11 President Bush had received a briefing discussing Al Qaeda plans to attack the United States, Rice said the briefing only discussed events overseas. More recently, she said the briefing happened at Bush's request, because he was so concerned about Al Qaeda.

The title of the briefing was "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." The CIA says it occurred not because Bush requested it, but at their initiative.

o "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to."

On January 24, 2001, Clarke sent a memo to Rice urging her to call a cabinet-level meeting to discuss attacking Al Qaeda. Instead, the President assigned Dick Cheney to head a task force on the subject. Cheney's task force never met.

King George 

Frequent commenter and mercurial provocateur from across the pond, James brings to our attention a BBC News article about Professor Stephen Graubard's The Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to George W Bush (called Command of Office in the US) which basically argues that Bush now has the power of a king:

The US president is now as powerful as a monarch, according to a new book by an American professor published to coincide with the start of George W Bush's second term.

Even powerful mid-century presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognised checks on their authority, says Stephen Graubard, who is old enough to have attended Roosevelt's last inauguration in 1945.

But since Ronald Reagan, the powers of a president and his "courtiers" have become increasingly untrammelled, Professor Graubard told BBC News.

"He is not totally unchecked but his power is immense," he says of recent presidents, several of whose closest advisers - including Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy and Zbigniew Brzezinski - he has known personally.

Bush is not the only president Graubard criticises
"FDR worried all the time about other authorities who might try to inhibit his plans. This man [George Bush] knows nobody is going to check him.

"He has been made ridiculous by certain films, but does Bush really give a damn what the New York Times thinks of him? Roosevelt did.

"A king claims certain prerogatives. He is under the law but he has immense discretion in what he can do, especially in foreign affairs."

Interesting reading in light of what Seymour Hersh has been saying lately.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Every Blog has its Day 

Well, via Left I I learned that Riverbend of Baghdad Burning has a book deal, which is really great and much deserved. Aside from the intrinsic interest in reading an intelligent woman's first-hand account of the US invasion of her country, she happens to be a great writer.

But what I want to know is ... Whatever happened to the Baghdad blogger movie? -- because, you know, I was really curious who they were going to get to play Raed ... I'm thinking Colin Farrell.

Raed, by the way, is currently in Iran. Wonder if he's seen any American special forces guys crawling around?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Wolfowitz in Indonesia 

So Wolfowitz is spending some time in Aceh sounding genuinely human, like the bleeding heart Hitchens says he is, saying things such as the following regarding the suffering and destruction there:

One is at a loss for words. It’s just, nothing prepares you for it. You read stories in the newspaper, you see pictures on television, but until you actually see it. One of the things that’s just stunning is to see the way whole ships have been moved, places have been moved, houses have been torn down, just things level, and you try to imagine what it was like to be there in the middle of it and it’s, and it’s unimaginable. And the scale of it is frankly, something also that until you actually see it with your eyes, you can read that it’s large, but it’s just huge. And that bears also on what we have to accomplish now, because the, I think if I were an Acehnese who had survived this, I wouldn’t have any idea of what I should do next, or where to begin, the problem seems so big.

which is steeped in admirable empathy. Of course, he's also making a number of other statements that aren't.

According to Australian radio Wolfowitz is interested in capitalizing on "the personal goodwill generated by the huge aid effort for victims of the tsunami" that is "spilling over into the international political sphere" to reinstate US military links to Indonesia by lifting the US arms embargo. Wolfowitz says

I do think that there are some issues that need to be considered in the light of this.

We believe that the more we can cooperate on a peaceful basis with militaries in this region in normal times, increases our capacity to respond to disasters and I think that's one of the things that needs to be one factored into how we assess the relationship.

And one of the things I think we'd like to help with is to strengthen the civilian capacity to manage the defence and security matters.

It's not an easy thing. We've spent a lot time in our country, over a long period of time. We can be helpful in developing that important piece of democratic institution in Indonesia.

You know the Indonesian arms embargo ... the one that was imposed in the first place because of the Indonesian military's atrocities and human rights violations in places like East Timor and ... um ... Aceh. But what's a few atrocities among friends; there's no sense in squandering all this goodwill... Of course, this is a man who once praised former Indonesian president Suharto, one of the most horrible dictators of the 20th century, for his "strong and remarkable leadership" regarding human rights.

Riding with the Bad Boys 

One more thought on Seymour Hersh's latest that I haven't seen anyone else bring up ... Did anyone notice the extent to which it corroborates the allegations made in last week's most popular magazine article "The Salvador Option"? Here's the relevant passage from "The Coming Wars":

[According] to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities. [...]

The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,” he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.”

The Newsweek article focused on the use of such techniques in Iraq but mentioned off-handedly the possibility of running operations across Iraq's borders. It documented the same de-emphasis of the CIA that Hersh described, the transfer of control over the sorts of activities normally associated with the intelligence community to the Pentagon, albeit with a more moderate tone than in Hersh's piece, claiming, for example,

Pentagon civilians and some Special Forces personnel believe CIA civilian managers have traditionally been too conservative in planning and executing the kind of undercover missions that Special Forces soldiers believe they can effectively conduct. CIA traditionalists are believed to be adamantly opposed to ceding any authority to the Pentagon.

When you add to this the fact that both "The Coming Wars" and "The Salvador Option" specifically state that the operations they are describing will be run at least in part by Undersecretary Stephen Cambone, it's pretty clear that both articles are discussing the exact same topic, the same discussion within the highest echelon of policy circles -- the difference is that Michael Hirsh and John Barry are still talking about something that might take place, while Seymour Hersh says that it already is.


Pittsburgh Drinking Liberally 

Just noticed that someone has started up a Pittsburgh "Drinking Liberally" night, and thought I might check it out sometime, although it would really be more convenient for me if they hosted the thing on the South Side rather than the North Side... but, anyway, are there any Pittsburghers who read this blog besides people I know personally?

A Global Free-Fire Zone 

Various commentators are treating the new Seymour Hersh New Yorker article as a big story to some degree but -- and maybe I'm imagining this -- I detect a certain amount of reluctance in the promotion of this article on the part of the liberal blog establishment, as though bloggers know they're supposed to view the article as important but can't muster up much enthusiasm.

As far as the mainstream media goes, we get apologists for the Bush administration like Wolf Blitzer actively playing down the importance of the story, insinuating basically that Hersh was reporting on contingency plans and that, you know, there are contingency plans for lots of things. And maybe liberals tacitly buy into that line. I think within the liberal blogosphere there is a misunderstanding about what is important in this story.

Hersh makes two primary claims in "The Coming Wars"; one is about Iran, the other is not. He claims that the Pentagon and the Pentagon civilians are serious about attacking Iran this year in much the same way they were serious about attacking Iraq in 2003, only this time secretly, using special forces and covert ops, etc. He quotes a "former high-level intelligence officer" who says

We're not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here ... They've already passed that wicket. It's not if we're going to do anything against Iran. They're doing it.

Hersh fleshes out the intelligence officer's allegation that "they're doing it" by reporting that some covert recon missions have already taken place in Iran.

Most discussion of "The Coming Wars" that I have read focuses on this claim. It comes down to Seymour Hersh, his unnamed sources, and their shocking revelations. Believe them or not -- and given Hersh's track record I'm inclined to -- the really scary theme of the article is its explication of the way in which this alleged Iran operation got underway.

Hersh claims that the Pentagon fought a war with the CIA and that the Pentagon won a total, uncontested victory. He claims that Rumsfeld has consolidated power to such a degree that he will be able to do as he pleases anywhere in the world without Congressional oversight, as one Pentagon adviser put it:
"It's a finesse to give power to Rumsfeld--giving him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and lethally ... It's a global free-fire zone."

The whole thing's ironic -- the way one used to carry out black operations was through the CIA. That was the point of the CIA. But after the scandals of the 70's, CIA clandestine military operations on foreign soil were forced to report to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Now the CIA is the cautious dinosaur the Pentagon is supposed to be -- because we've come full circle, because we have an administration in place that is so corrupt, that is so scornful of democracy and public transparency, that cares so little for the fundamental principles upon which our government was founded, that it is willing to cast aside the notion of separation of powers and the checks and balances that had made quasi-secret organizations like the CIA necessary actors in the business of covertly breaking international law in the first place. Hell, now they can just do it with the army.

MLK 

Scrutiny Hooligans flags this King quote
"I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love."

"Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured."

Also This is Rumor Control has MLK commenting on Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

...Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

Where's Ari When You Need Him? 

This little performance is somewhat stale by blogging standards but is a wonderful example of Scottie breaking out his "A" material, and, I think, it didn't get the play it deserved.

The context is a discussion of the recent CIA report that concluded as a consequence of Bush's war Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists like Afghanistan in the 80's. The Independent summarized the report as follows:

According to David Low, a senior NIC official, Iraq has been transformed into "a training and recruitment ground, and an opportunity [for terrorists] to enhance their technical skills".

The likelihood now - even in the best case scenario where the upcoming Iraqi elections restore some stability to the country - is that foreign terrorists currently operating there will "go home, wherever home is", and disperse across the world as new threats to the US.

Scottie contends that the report actually supports the invasion of Iraq and that Iraq becoming a school for terrorists is a good thing because it's not like "terrorists would just be sitting around doing nothing if we weren't staying on the offensive":

Q But has the war -- did the war create a vacuum that has made it more conducive for terrorists to use Iraq as a base?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President talked about that during the campaign. I mean, that's just a misunderstanding of the war on terrorism.

Q -- the President to talk about this, as a central front of the war on terrorism, when essentially, what the report is suggesting is that it is a central front created by and essentially helping terrorism.

MR. McCLELLAN: Did the report say that?

Q -- insinuating that it's a place where it's a breeding ground for --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the report, like I said, confirms that we have the right strategy for winning the war on terrorism, which is to stay on the offensive and go after the terrorists, and to work to spread freedom and hope to regions of the world that have only known tyranny and oppression. And the war on terrorism is won by staying on the offensive and spreading freedom.

We are staying on the offensive to defeat the terrorists, and to suggest otherwise is just a misunderstanding. We are fighting them abroad so that we don't have to fight them at home. The terrorists recognize how high the stakes are. The elections coming up in Iraq are a significant achievement for the Iraqi people, and it's another step forward on the path to democracy in Iraq. And when we achieve peace and democracy in Iraq, it will be a significant blow to the ambitions of the terrorists and their ideology of hatred and oppression that they espouse.

Q Does the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's the stakes that are involved. This is a struggle of ideologies. It is an epic struggle, and the stakes are high.

Q Does the President disagree with the report's conclusion that the war and the uncertainty on the ground has created a breeding ground for terrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we just answered this question. We just went through it, so I would go back to what I just said, and those are, I think, the points to make.

Q I mean, the reason that we keep asking the question again is that it's just confusing to me how you can say it confirms your strategy is the right approach when there is terrorism in Iraq now, a terrorist breeding ground in Iraq now and growing there, and wasn't there before. So how does that confirm your approach?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's assuming that terrorists would just be sitting around doing nothing if we weren't staying on the offensive in the war on terrorism.
I mean, by going on the offensive we've been able to liberate two countries, the people of two countries -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now we must continue to do everything we can to support efforts to build democratic futures for the people of the region. And that's exactly what we'll continue to do.

But I disagree with the characterization of the report, because I think the report confirms that we have the right strategy to win the war on terrorism, because of what I said a minute ago. So I would disagree with that. And this is -- the report looks at much more than just that. It's a speculative report that looks at a number of areas in the world, and we welcome the report. It's important to look at what the report has to say. And I don't think we've had time to look at the whole report, and I would encourage each of you to look at the whole report, as well, and maybe -- because I think some of the characterization is off the mark.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Memory Lane 

Mentioning "War President" in the post below led to me taking a nostalgic look at the original post and consequently realizing how out of date it is, which isn't surprising given that the post is from early last April. Anyway, I decided to add an update which makes publicly available for the first time two newer better versions of the image that I made later in 2004.

The original mosaic, the only one I've ever had up for download, was done using images from CNN not the Washington Post, despite what Michael Moore's site said at the time, and had a number of problems. The images were really small and cropped to rectangles, weren't exclusively American, and there wasn't terribly many of them -- I think, about 700 were dead at that point but CNN only had 600 pictures -- and, thus, I was using each picture up to three times, which is very noticeable. This is the version that has been printed in the most places, all the European newspapers, the Korean protest AP photo, etc. -- anywhere that used the mosaic without contacting me -- and that fact never ceases to annoy me because I think it is flawed.

In, I think, early July I tried to address some of the criticism of the original and also address my personal pet peeves with it. I used the Washington Post's photos which were higher resolution with portrait-style aspect ratios and exclusively American. I wrote a little application that allowed me to go through each picture and crop it to a square. I wanted square cells for aesthetic reasons and also to get rid of pixels in the photos that weren't flesh tones, especially the white military hats; lots of uniform and hat in the images caused artifacts when input into the digital collage software. The result was an image of substantially higher resolution composed of 700 photos, each photo used exactly twice. This version of "War President" is the one that was on the cover of Common Ground and Clamor among other places.

Last October I did the whole thing again from scratch. Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York City wanted to exhibit "War President" as part of a group show, but they were only interested if I could print out a version that was huge, at least 3 feet across or so, and such that each cell was of photographic quality. At this point 1000 were dead and the New York Times' site had a memorial page up with pictures that were even higher resolution than the Post's. As is always the case, the Times only had pictures of 85% of the thousand, but this time around I really needed more pictures in order to render the mosaic at the quality the people in New York wanted. I ended up doing Google News searches for every single person that the Times didn't have a photo of and managed to come up with about a hundred more pictures from hometown newspapers and so forth. It took a week of almost fulltime work, of tracking down pictures, cleaning up and cropping pictures etc., but the result was "War President", version 3.0 -- composed of 960 images each used exactly twice, with high enough resolution to be rendered 40" by 48.5" with photographic quality.

Anyway, the two new versions are available as an addendum on the original post (use the link on the right). I'm not sure what the demand will be like, and these files are huge, so my image host might go down -- but we'll see.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

My Obligatory Koufax Post 

Well, it looks like I got passed over for "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" -- why I made the cut for "Best Overall" but not "Most Deserving" doesn't make a lot of sense to me, because, let's be honest, the latter is a little more realistic -- but, anyway, given this state of affairs, I'd like to endorse Left I on the News for "Most Deserving".

Maybe next year we bloggers and readers of the blogs that are left of liberal should have a pre-Koufax discussion and then vote as a bloc for someone in an attempt to have "Most Deserving" taken by a hard left voice?

(Also, if it ends up on the list, I'd like to say (cough) "War President" (cough) best post.)

The Iraqi Resistance Speaks 

So here's the actual video that Kos and others have posted about, the subject of this Reuters piece:

Departing from fiery Islamic slogans, Iraqi guerrillas have launched a propaganda campaign with an English-language video urging U.S. troops to lay down their weapons and seek refuge in mosques and homes.

The video, narrated in fluent English by what sounded like an Iraqi educated in the United States or Britain, also mocked the U.S. president's challenge to rebels in the early days of the insurgency to 'bring it on'.

The video is quite something.

Every few weeks we hear about tapes from Bin Laden or other terrorists, and it may at first seem as though this video is just more of the same, that is until you actually view it. If this tape is authentic -- and it surprises me that Reuters et al. have so quickly deemed it as such offering not even a one sentence provenance -- it truly is something we haven't seen before. It is unlike other anti-US messages for two reasons: (1) it presents itself not as a message from a terrorist organization but from the Iraqi resistance, and (2) it is a very well-made document.

The message seems to tacitly agree with the argument that posits the Western media makes no distinction between foreign terrorists such as Zarqawi who are benefiting from the chaos that is Iraq and ordinary Iraqi resistance fighters who have taken up arms against the occupation of their country by a foreign army. The video aligns itself with the resistance; this is the point, for example, early on when the narrator characterizes those he is speaking for as "simple people who chose principles over fear" and "those who up to the day of the invasion were struggling to survive under the sanctions imposed by the criminal regimes of the U.S. and Britain".

The narration and score are so well done and so Western in feeling that I would believe the tape was faked by someone who isn't actually involved in the Iraqi resistance if it wasn't for the fact that some of the footage included clearly must have been filmed by actual insurgents.

Anyway, this thing is among the most powerful pieces of modern propaganda that didn't originate from the big guns of the West -- from Karl Rove or so forth -- that I have ever seen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Things That Aren't Terrorism 

A women's clinic in Washington state that has been picketed by anti-choice wackos for the past twenty years was lit on fire on Sunday but, uh, it wasn't terrorism, it was a "random act" of arson: (from the AP)

A fire that damaged an abortion clinic appears to have been a "random act" of arson without any evident link to anti-abortion groups, investigators say.

Scott Thomasson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Seattle said Monday the federal agency and local police and fire investigators concluded that the fire was set with incendiary materials on the roof of the Eastside Women's Health Clinic. [ ... ]

"It seems to be a random act at this time," Thomasson said.

Nonetheless, he added, setting the fire violated federal law because the clinic is a federally funded health care center.

Co-owner Nancy Armstrong said she didn't think the fire was random.

"The first thing that comes to mind is they're anti-abortion," Armstrong said.

Jan. 22 is the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

The clinic receives 30 to 40 patients a day. Staff members met outside with patients who showed up Monday and worked to reschedule appointments. Other appointments were being rearranged through the clinic's answering service.

The clinic had been picketed every Thursday - the day abortions were performed - for 20 years without violence and received no recent threats, though some people have aroused suspicion, she said.

Ross of It Affects You comments

Imagine if this was, for example, an office of Focus on the Family which had been firebombed. The right would be screaming, screaming, about domestic terrorism and the evil liberal agenda. It would be front page news all over the "liberal media."

Monday, January 10, 2005

Billmon Falls Off the Wagon Again 

Billmon comes out of retirement for one last mission ... a comment on the Salvadoran Option.

Natural Causes 

Another prisoner died at Camp Bucca in Iraq. Here's Centcom's release:

A security detainee died Wednesday afternoon at the Camp Bucca internment facility of what appears to be natural causes. An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of death.

Detainees notified the guards at approximately 2:40 p.m. that the individual appeared to be suffering a medical problem. A medic immediately provided life-saving first aid for what appeared to be cardiac arrest. The detainee was immediately transferred to the Internment Facility Aid Station, where the medical staff continued life-saving measures, which failed to revive him. An attending physician pronounced him dead shortly after 3 p.m. at the aid station.

The deceased is a 31-year-old male, who had been held as an internee since August 2004 as a threat to the security of Iraq. He was not being treated for any medical conditions.

So, you know, not that I think there was anything fishy about this death, given that Centcom says it was natural causes, but I do find it strange that there was a practically indentical case three months ago:

A security internee died Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, of unknown causes at Camp Bucca, near the Iraqi town of Umm Qasr. An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of death.

Detainees notified the guards at approximately 4:20 p.m. that the individual was suffering a medical problem, carrying him to the gate for medical care. 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. He was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. by an attending physician.

The deceased is a 26-year-old male, who had been held as a security internee at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca since November 2003. He was not being treated for any medical conditions at the time of his death.

Via INTL News

Zarqawi Again 

It looks like the Zarqawi capture rumor was bunk, and was just the echo of this actual report of the arrest of a high-ranking member of Zarqawi's organization. Unless administration propagandists secretly don't want it known that Iraq's top boogeyman is behind bars so ... I'm kidding, I'm kidding...

The Undemolished 

So whatever happened to Bush's promise last May to demolish Abu Ghraib? As someone recently wrote in the Post:

In most of the world, something that happened eight months ago is considered "recent." In Washington, however, it seems that eight months ago is considered "ancient."

The Bush administration's ability to simply flush whole issues, whole scandals, even its own empty propaganda, down the memory hole has got to be its most effective technique of evading the consequences of its actions. Tearing down Abu Ghraib was a stupid public relations promise and stupid public relations promises are precisely the promises that are often kept; it was also supposedly Bush's very own idea; but Abu Ghraib will remain undemolished because tearing it down would remind the world that it exists.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Salvador Option 

David Holliday flags a recent Newsweek article that informs us that the Pentagon is seriously considering what it calls “The Salvador Option” in Iraq:

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. [ …]

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi

Generally speaking the above is not exactly a new suggestion -- remember Wolfowitz’s “friendly militias” from a few months ago – but this is the first I’ve heard of this idea being applied specifically to Iraq. Note too that Newsweek says that they’re talking about siccing Shiites and Kurds on Sunnis which makes one wonder if US military planners still view civil war in Iraq as a bad thing.

But David Holliday sums up what is really alarming about this article:

Okay, so it's not US military officers who refer to Salvadoran military counterinsurgent operations as "death squad" activity, it's the authors of this article.

But still, what they describe as a potential strategy is in fact what the U.S. government supported in El Salvador, and many of the killings -- carried out by unidentified assailants -- were actually intelligence units of the Salvadoran military, not just in the early 1980s (as the Truth Commission rather timidly describes) but throughout the conflict.

At the time, the U.S. claimed that death squads were rogue operations, were funded by right-wingers in Miami, but had little to do with state policy (except for a period in 1983, which prompted a visit by then Vice-President George H.W. Bush to visit El Salvador and hand over a list of names of officers that should be transferred or cashiered).

But now it seems that the U.S. military (or the CIA?) is finally and rather brazenly owning up to its role in the Salvadoran conflict.

See Holliday’s blog for more on this story.

Wolfowitz is In 

Not much of a surprise, but it's official...

Deputy U.S. Defense Paul Wolfowitz does not plan to step down as the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian administrator, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

A leading proponent of the use of U.S. military power to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Wolfowitz has been a lightening rod for critics of the influence of so-called neo-conservatives on Bush administration foreign policy.

"I have been asked to stay and have accepted," Wolfowitz said in a brief statement issued through a spokesman Friday.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Kristol Again, The Land of Crickets, and a Lightbulb Lights Above My Head 

For as big as this story is -- the story of the recent calls for Rumsfeld's dismissal -- it's surprising how few of the major pundits are talking about it. In particular, I'm fascinated that Bill Kristol's Post op-ed didn't make bigger waves. This is Bill Kristol, firstborn son of neoconservativism's royal bloodline, calling for the head of Rumsfeld, the man who instantiated the neocons' grandest dream, a shiny, shocking, red white and blue invasion of the Muslim world. Quite a surprising turn of events, you would expect to hear a cacophony of voices taking sides and picking fights in the rightwing and moderate media landscape, but mostly what you hear is the sound of crickets.

So here's a little survey of the land of crickets...

Horowitz's rag, in a piece by someone named Anthony Gancarski, mostly just attacks Buchanan for the rant I keep on linking to in which, as I keep on mentioning, Pat calls Kristol's Post piece "the backstab of the year". I've read Gancarski's anti-Buchanan dispatch a couple of times now and -- and I don't believe I'm a stupid man -- I'm really not 100% sure it's supportive of Rumsfeld, but I think that it is; it attempts to downplay Kristol's message:

What Kristol is saying, essentially, is that the Iraq strategy may require fresh thinking. In saying that, he merely asserts that such fresh thinking may require fresh leadership. There are arguments to be made either way on the subject, but there are those also who are using this issue for purely political purposes.

So I guess we can say that Horowitz's rag dealt with the Kristol thing by claiming Bill Kristol didn't really call for the firing of Rumsfeld.

Little Green Fascists didn't seem to have anything to say about this topic. But I must admit I have a very weak stomach for wading through that particular cesspool so I figured I might have missed something, decided to do some journalism, and before the holidays sent an email to the guy who edits LGF Watch (I call it "journalism" any time I send an email in the process of writing a post). To the query "I was just wondering if the Little Green Footballers had anything to say about Bill Kristol's recent call for Rumsfeld's resignation?" X from LGF Watch said

Not as far as I can tell. The only mention is in http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=13979 where one person mentions it. Charles is pretty good at sticking his head in the sand over news he doesn't like, such as the Kristol thing or the death of 18 US soldiers in Mosul...

Time Magazine's "Blog of the Year" Powerline mentions twice that Kristol has "joined the anti-Rumsfeld cause" but as far as I can tell offers no blog of the year commentary on the backstab of the year.

Moving leftward to the land of moderates, we get Joseph Galloway, staff writer for Knight Ridder, basically presenting a toned down version of Buchanan's take on the story, that Rumsfeld is being set up of as a fall guy for the neoconservatives:

So what happened? Why is Rumsfeld being stabbed in the back by those he trusted the most to back his play? By the very people who have argued for years in favor of taking out Saddam Hussein, installing democracy and creating a bully pulpit, and the military bases, from which the Middle East would be weaned from dictatorship and an implacable hatred of Israel and the United States.

Simple. They want someone else to be blamed besides themselves for fouling up their marvelous plans and schemes -- someone who is a handy lightning rod and who is NOT a card-carrying neo-conservative. So who better than Rumsfeld?

I guess this has become the standard explanation for Kristol's action, but, as I have said before, I don't buy it. I don't think the neoconservatives are in a dire enough situation to start eating their own.

And that's about all that's out there. Honestly.

This poverty of opinions annoyed me for several days. I wanted to understand why Kristol turned on Rumsfeld. It didn't make sense to me, and nobody's informed comment offered any help. But anyway the issue of the poverty of opinions is moot to me now because I have it all figured out. There was one other piece that seemed more plausible than the whole neocon-scapegoat narrative, and god help me it came from the libertarians. I largely agree with this press release from the Cato Institute: (man, did I never think I'd write that sentence)

Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute agreed, predicting that "the protection of the embryonic Iraqi democracy" would be a "duty that will likely extend for decades." Writing in the pages of the Weekly Standard, Donnelly called for a "quasi-permanent American garrison in Iraq" to protect American interests there. Donnelly elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post, saying "we have a political commitment and a huge amount of chips bet on whether political reconstruction in Iraq is going to work."

That analogy is appropriate. Like a compulsive gambler desperate to recover his losses, neoconservative talking heads stare at the setbacks in Iraq and conclude not that theirs was a bad bet, but rather that more should be wagered.[ ...]

Such recommendations are very un-conservative. Not surprisingly, those in favor of a long-term Iraqi occupation are finding themselves at odds with an increasingly vocal conservative chorus anxious for a change of course in Iraq, one that does not include more U.S. troops. Syndicated columnist Robert Novak predicted in September that President Bush would seek a substantial reduction in the number of troops in Iraq early in his second term. Novak and other conservative war skeptics have been joined by such writers as William F. Buckley, Jr., George Will, and Tucker Carlson. [...]

Rumsfeld's greatest strategic misjudgment was his belief that a long-term occupation of Iraq would not be necessary following the removal of Saddam Hussein. [ ... ] But while his political antenna seem to have malfunctioned during a brief interval in late 2002 and early 2003, Rumsfeld's instincts seem eminently sound, based as they are on a more realistic assessment of the limits of American power. He has never embraced a long-term occupation of Iraq, and he has consistently, even stubbornly, insisted that the road to peace and prosperity will be paved by the Iraqi people. For this, he has faced repeated calls for his resignation.

President Bush has resisted pressure to send many more troops into the Iraqi theater. Rumsfeld's opposition to plans to expand the size and scope of the U.S. occupation has helped to stiffen the president's resolve.

It may be too soon to expect an end to the occupation. But if Rumsfeld is replaced by someone with more expansive plans for Iraq, we can expect an escalation of the conflict there that will surely result in more lives lost, and billions more dollars squandered.

I had forgotten about the Novak piece, forgotten about Buckley, forgotten about Carlson, and didn't really know about Will, but it all seems pretty clear to me now. Bill Kristol called for Rumsfeld's dismissal because he is afraid that Bush, Karl Rove, and Rumsfeld are serious about getting the hell out of Iraq after the Iraqi election at the end of this month.

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