Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Unfair labor practice allegations lodged against the world’s largest coffee retail chain by employees attempting to gain union recognition at a New York City store will be heard by the National Labor Relations Board on June 15.
The complaint alleges that officials with Starbucks created an atmosphere of hostility through surveillance, "interrogation" and threats of wage and lost benefits should employees form a union.
Employees of the Starbucks at Madison and 36th Street in Manhattan filed petition cards to form the Starbucks Barista Union under the banner of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) more than a year ago and are still fighting for official recognition from the company and the NLRB. After initially affirming the right of workers at the store to join a union in July of last year, officials of the federal agency approved an appeal by the company, delaying the election for over a year. [...]
Supporters of the unionizing effort say company managers have used a combination of bribery, intimidation and coercion to sway employees from supporting the unrecognized union.
Above via the New Standard.
The president and vice president have artfully dodged the central question: ''Did the administration mislead us into war by manipulating and misstating intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to Al Qaeda, suppressing contrary intelligence, and deliberately exaggerating the danger a contained, weakened Iraq posed to the United States and its neighbors?"
If this is answered affirmatively Bush and Cheney have committed ''high crimes and misdemeanors." It is time for Congress to investigate the illegal Iraq war as we move toward the third year of the endless quagmire that many security experts believe jeopardizes US safety by recruiting and training more terrorists. A Resolution of Impeachment would be a first step. Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the ''I" word.
Anyway, here's Dahr Jamail on the Abdul Hamid arrest, which I think is the story right now. The biggest blunder in Iraq since the killing of Nicola Calipari...
Also I enjoyed this piece on the tide turning against Bush in the Post.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
A review of six prominent U.S. newspapers and the nation's two most popular newsmagazines during a recent six-month period found almost no pictures from the war zone of Americans killed in action. During that time, 559 Americans and Western allies died. The same publications ran 44 photos from Iraq to represent the thousands of Westerners wounded during that same time.
Many photographers and editors believe they are delivering Americans an incomplete portrait of the violence that has killed 1,797 U.S. service members and their Western allies and wounded 12,516 Americans.
The article cites five reasons for the above:
"With a relative handful of photographers at any time covering a nation the size of California, a probing camera is usually absent when a guerrilla attack erupts. Scenes of roadside bombings typically show only a burned-out armored vehicle."
(2) Intervention by military handlers:
"On other occasions, photographers find themselves thwarted by their military handlers. In one case last summer, troops jumped in the way to block pictures of the dead and wounded being rushed to a hospital in Najaf." [ ...]
Hondros, the Getty Images photographer, took pictures early this year that provoked a particularly strong reaction [here's a link to these pictures]. They showed children in the terrifying moments after an Army patrol accidentally shot their parents to death.
Published in Newsweek and several newspapers, the pictures sparked discussion of the military's rules of engagement with civilian vehicles and provoked an outpouring of aid for the "orphans of Tall Afar." They also resulted in Hondros being banned from any further work with the unit, part of the 25th Infantry Division.
Officers with the unit, which patrolled the town near the Syrian border, said they thought they had an understanding with the photographer that he would hold the pictures until they could investigate. Hondros said he had made no such agreement.
"The military does hold over your head the ultimate trump card that if you do something they don't like, they can boot you out," said Joe Raedle, another war photographer for Getty Images. "But for the most part, it doesn't keep you from doing your job."
(3) Self-censorship among photo-journalists:
"Photojournalists sometimes withhold the most striking images from Iraq on their own.
When 22 people died just before Christmas in the bombing of a mess hall near Mosul, a Virginia newspaper photographer was closest to the action. Thrown to the ground amid dead and dying servicemen, he sent many images that ran around the world. But he believed the photos of a soldier who died by his side were too personal, and perhaps too gruesome, to transmit home"
(4) Editorial fear of backlash:
"When they do show images of casualties on the American side, newspaper executives can count on a backlash. Newark's Star-Ledger received about two dozen complaints when it ran the picture of Babbitt on its front page.
Complaints to the News Tribune of Tacoma about the 'insensitivity' of the photo prompted Executive Editor Dave Zeeck to write an explanatory essay on Page 2 of the main news section. Zeeck told readers that he believed the picture, taken by John Moore of the Associated Press, epitomized the sacrifice of the American soldier."
(5) The instability of Iraq:
"At any given time in recent months, from three to 13 photographers have been on assignment with the military, a U.S. Army official said. And those who remain 'in country' find their movements increasingly limited by the violence.
'Compared to the pope's funeral or Martha Stewart or the Michael Jackson trial, there is nobody here,' said Jim MacMillan, part of the Associated Press' Pulitzer Prize-winning team of photographers in Iraq. Americans, he said, 'are missing the war. The embedded perspective is going vastly undercovered, with some exceptions, and that is the only place you can cover the risk and the price being paid by Americans.'"
The article de-emphasizes the role of official Bush administration policies that seek to suppress the public dissemination of images of American casualties in Iraq, which is odd given that said policies are clearly a factor -- for example, as was widely reported in 2003, the White House banned photographic coverage of funerals and the "arrival ceremonies" of the Iraq war dead: (from the Washington Post):
[The Bush administration] has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases.
In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the military-wide policy actually dates from about November 2000 -- the last days of the Clinton administration -- but it apparently went unheeded and unenforced, as images of caskets returning from the Afghanistan war appeared on television broadcasts and in newspapers until early this year. Though Dover Air Force Base, which has the military's largest mortuary, has had restrictions for 12 years, others "may not have been familiar with the policy," the spokeswoman said. This year, "we've really tried to enforce it."
Although, Rainey does allude to the issue of White House pressure in a single sentence quoting freelance photographer Paul Fusco:
Veteran photographer Paul Fusco ... said he was convinced that controls on war coverage came "straight from the White House" and helped prop up support for an unjustified war.
Rainey concludes that images of the casualties of war are more common outside the US because non-Americans are more familiar with war (I kid you not):
Scenes of the war's death and destruction appear routinely in Europe and Asia, according to several journalism analysts. But that coverage has limits. Editors of several English newspapers acknowledged, for instance, that they used pictures of British casualties sparingly.
Nonetheless, foreign news outlets depict more bloodshed, perhaps in part because their audiences have often had closer contact with war and seem less willing to accept sanitized coverage, one U.S. academic said.
"Americans have a view of war that comes out of World War II, that war is a sort of sacred national cause," said Daniel C. Hallin, a communications professor at UC San Diego, who has conducted extensive reviews of TV war coverage. "We are all supposed to unite around war … because these great sacrifices are being made for freedom."
Thursday, May 19, 2005
As just one example of nontrivial corroboration, former British detainee Jamal al-Harith told the Mirror that he was beaten with "fists, feet and batons" for refusing a "mystery injection" early in his imprisonment at Gitmo, whereas Abdullah Al Noaimi, one of the four men represented by Dorsey & Whitney, describes receiving a mystery injection early in his stay at Gitmo:
Within his first few days at Guantanamo, Mr. Al Noaimi was injected with an unknown substance which made him depressed and despondent. He was unable to control his thoughts and his mind raced. He also was unable to control his body and fell to the floor. Mr. Al Noaimi was asked if he wanted to hurt himself and he replied that he did not. He was asked if he wanted to be shot and he replied, "go ahead." Mr. Al Noaimi was then put in isolation for three days. Isolation consisted of a freezing cold metal cell without blankets. Bright lights were kept on constantly and he was awakened every hour. The medical staff also administered an unknown medicine to Mr. Al Noaimi that made him feel drunk. After several days he refused to take the medicine.
Jamal al-Harith and two of the D&W Four also provide strikingly similar accounts of the use of sexualized interactions with female interrogators to humiliate and degrade particularly religious detainees.
Detainees held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay told their U.S. lawyers about the use of tactics intended to degrade their religious beliefs in a series of interviews that were recently declassified by the U.S. Department of Defense and were published at Human Rights First today. The charges are consistent with other allegations by detainees at U.S.- run facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with Defense Department reports that have already been made public.
Among other things, one of the detainees alleges that an interrogator told him "a holy war was occurring, between the Cross and the Star of David on the one hand, and the Crescent on the other." Guards allegedly interfered with detainees’ prayers. In another incident, a guard allegedly placed a detainee’s shoes on his Koran. One detainee charges that "copies of the Koran were sometimes thrown on the floor". These statements were made in interviews, beginning on October 2004, by attorneys at Dorsey & Whitney LLP of their clients, six Bahraini citizens. Before these attorneys’ interview notes were released, they were reviewed and declassified by military personnel in accordance with a court order and military regulations.
Here is the document as a PDF. It is not that long, and if you are at all interested in these matters I encourage you to read the whole thing -- especially if you're an American, if for no other reason than to know what is being done in your name.
Oh yeah, and here are several other incidents that resonate with Newsweek's recent allegations:
Interrogators employed religious themes at times. For example, while Mr. Al Murbati was shackled to the floor, songs were played that had Arabic-language lyrics praising Jesus Christ. An interrogator told Mr. Al Murbati that if he "admitted his mistakes" he would be "delivered like Jonah from the whale." Another interrogator pressed Mr. Al Murbati about why Christians were not allowed to touch the Koran; Mr. Al Murbati answered that under certain circumstances not even muslims were supposed to touch the Koran.
In Camp Delta, MP's frequently treated the Koran in a manner that Mr. Haji felt was disrespectful. Mr. Haji decided that to avoid having his Koran so treated he would not keep it in his cell. Therefore, he attempted to hand his Koran to an MP, but the MP handed it back. A simlar exchange or two ensued. The MP then called an IRF. The IRF entered Mr. Al Haji's cell and beat him, including punching him in the face, twisting his kneee and knocking him to the ground.
The story is that Operation Matador was a huge bloody blunder, civilian infrastructure was targeted and destroyed with no pay-off of any kind. Its planners expected to kill or capture hundreds of foreign fighters. This simply didn't happen; spokespeople claim 125 insurgents were killed, offering no information on the nationalities of these insurgents or any reason to believe that they actually were insurgents. Given the massive amounts of lying going on lately I'm not sure why anyone should believe that the 125 insurgents existed anywhere besides in the statements made by Pentagon spokespeople.
On top of being a failure, Matador has created what amounts to a humantarian crisis. The New Standard's Chris Shumway provides a good round-up of the coverage of its aftermath: destroyed towns, perhaps 8000 displaced people, houses serving as hospitals because the hospitals were bombed, and god knows how many dead. Here's Shumway:
US military commanders were quick to declare victory after a massive, weeklong offensive that involved air and ground attacks against villages in Western Iraq, saying that marines had "neutralized" an important haven for insurgents in the region.
But local residents, doctors and relief agencies described something more akin to a humanitarian disaster, saying the campaign killed dozens of people, displaced thousands more -- leaving many without adequate food, shelter or water -- and flattened scores of buildings.
Dr. Hamid Al-Alousi, director of the main hospital in Al-Qaim, the largest town in the region, told reporters that the fighting between US forces and suspected rebels had killed more than 42 Iraqis and wounded another 80. He also said it was impossible to differentiate between civilians and fighters.
The Al-Qaim hospital was so badly damaged in the fighting that Al-Alousi said doctors have been treating the wounded in makeshift facilities set up in private homes.
Due to a lack of medical supplies, Al-Alousi told IRIN News that doctors had to perform more than eleven amputations without the use of anesthetics.
The source of most of the new information in Shumway's report is this story from the IRIN news service. I hadn't read before the IRIN story that al-Qaim's hospital had been destroyed. The assault on Fallujah in November began with the targeting of hospitals and clinics.
Another intriguing point in the Shumway piece is that "other residents of Husaybah reported there were never any foreign militants in their town, only Iraqis defending their country against US forces," which flies in the face of all of the corporate media accounts. News stories agreed with military spokespeople that the foreign fighters existed, concluding that the marines simply didn't manage to engage them because the militants had already fled, perhaps across the Syrian border. Anyway, here's the source of the assertion that residents claim there were never foreign fighters in Husaybah -- it's Mohammed Barakat, who, as I have noted before, produced some of the only decent mainstream coverage of this catastrophe.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Here's the bit about why the offensive began:
Long before the American offensive, trouble had been brewing in and around the town of Al-Qaim. Two Iraqi tribes, the Albu Mahal and the Albu Nimr, resented the flood of foreign Islamist extremists who were crossing the border and trying to turn their lands into an insurgent fiefdom.
The overwhelmed villagers were at a loss to defeat the better-armed and better-funded foreigners and their allies from Karbala. With nowhere else to turn, tribal leaders decided to call the Iraqi Defense Ministry.
That's when [Fasal al-]Goud, a sheik of the Albu Nimr, said he called American officials at the Marine base Camp Fallujah to ask for help. Goud had met the officials during the siege of Al-Fallujah, he said.
And here's the bit about it going to hell:
[L]ocal tribesmen said [Operation Matador] was a disaster for their communities that's made them leery of ever again assisting American or Iraqi forces. [ ... ]
In interviews, influential tribal leaders and many residents of the remote border towns said the 1,000 U.S. soldiers who swept into their territories in the weeklong campaign that ended over the weekend didn't distinguish between the Iraqis who supported the United States and the fighters battling it.
``The Americans were bombing whole villages and saying they were only after the foreigners,''' said Fasal al-Goud, a former governor of Anbar province who said he asked U.S. forces for help on behalf of the tribes. ``An AK-47 can't distinguish between a terrorist and a tribesman, so how could a missile or tank?'' [ ... ]
When the offensive ended, however, angry residents returned to find blocks of destruction. Men who'd stayed behind to help were found dead in shot-up houses. Tribal leaders haven't counted their dead; several families hadn't yet returned to the area.
Interestingly a military spokesman, Capt. Jeff Pool, issued a tepid denial when asked if the operation began because tribal leaders reached out to contacts from the Fallujah campaign. Pool said, "We have no knowledge of any local efforts [to contact the US military before the operation]", and he also stated that no "local tribes" participated in the assault. I think it's a good guess that no Iraqis of any kind participated in the assault -- simply because not a single news account mentions any.
The latter point is interesting in context. Last week various news sources compared Operation Matador to Operation Phantom Fury, the Fallujah assault, a fact that resonates with the new information revealed in the KR piece. One of the major Bush administration talking points regarding Phantom Fury was that some number of Iraqi troops aided the American forces -- no one knows the real number, perhaps 1300 showed up. At the time there was a lot of media chatter about Iraq's new army becoming responsible for Iraq's security. I wrote about the Iraqi forces in Fallujah several times last November, speculating that they were primarily Kurdish and that their presence would ultimately spark sectarian violence.
So given the above, given that Matador like Phantom Fury was a house-to-house sweep to rid a town of foreign fighters, given that in Operation Phantom Fury it was considered a good thing that 1300 Iraqis supported the US forces, I ask again: Why were no Iraqi security forces involved in Operation Matador? And why isn't the corporate media interested in this question?
As President Bush discovers to his chagrin on an almost daily basis, his ability to reconfigure the world according to the principles of the “war on terror” is non-existent. Different peoples, cultures and economies go their merry way, most recently demonstrated by events in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Uzbekistan, and possibly, next year, even in neighboring Mexico.
But to what extent is the left passively accepting the Bush template, albeit in an oppositional respect, as a paradigm for evaluating world events? Recently, I had an experience that provoked me to ask this question. At an event, I encountered some people, and they engaged me in a discussion about the influence of pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC and JINSA on US foreign policy. While acknowledging their power (after all, they publicize it as a form of self-promotion), I responded that there are other comparable organizations, suchas, for example, the Taiwan lobby. Blank stares all around.
Apparently, they were unaware that this lobby is so influential that it has procured a US commitment to sell weapons to Taiwan for possible use against by China, leaving open the prospect of direct US military intervention, with a recent US/Japan statement that, for the first time, explicitly includes the Taiwan Strait within their areas of common strategic concern, even as both countries outwardly profess to support a “one China” policy. Japan will not clarify whether US/Japanese military cooperation includes possible intervention in a conflict between China and Taiwan.
Ignorance on the left may not be bliss when it comes to China. Far sighted neo-conservatives have already become bored with the Middle East, seeking new fields of conquest, and China, as has it been for many centuries, is an alluring prize. The Pentagon and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission describe China as a multifaceted threat that would seem to easily surpass the perils posed by Islamic fundamentalism. So, perhaps, it is time for the left to decide whether the neo-conservatives are bluffing on this one, and, if not, how to respond. Otherwise, we may find ourselves faced with the comical, yet politically effective, transformation of Hu Jintao into the Saddam Hussein of Asia, say, sometime around 2009.
Furthermore, there are other reasons for the left to reemphasize China, hopefully in a much more mature way than it did when many uncritically celebrated Maoism in the 1960s and 1970s. Like much of the rest of the world, China is a turbulent society, as the globalization process, combined with a corrupt, autocratic political system, intensifies income disparities between rich urbanites and poor peasants, as described most vividly in Survey of Chinese Peasants. Wang Bing’s epic documentary film trilogy, West of the Tracks, is a compelling, real time portrayal of the disintegration of the Chinese proletariat.
Meanwhile, China has been described as a unique, contentious zone of cultural synergy arising from the intersection of pre-modern, modern and post-modern values as China enters the global marketplace. If anything, for an American like myself, it echoes what has been transpiring in Mexico. Could it be possible that the left must prevail within the sweatshops, academia and culture industries of countries like these in order to overcome the imperial neo-conservative vision?
Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.
“I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.
If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.
"Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer.
"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.
"Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."
but I urge people to read the whole thing. The above is nice, of course, but it's important to understand Galloway's take on the charges against him. He claims that he's being framed:
But perhaps you were confusing the Daily Telegraph action with the Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor did indeed publish on its front pages a set of allegations against me very similar to the ones that your committee have made. They did indeed rely on documents which started in 1992, 1993. These documents were unmasked by the Christian Science Monitor themselves as forgeries.
"Now, the neo-con websites and newspapers in which you're such a hero, senator, were all absolutely cock-a-hoop at the publication of the Christian Science Monitor documents, they were all absolutely convinced of their authenticity. They were all absolutely convinced that these documents showed me receiving $10 million from the Saddam regime. And they were all lies.
"In the same week as the Daily Telegraph published their documents against me, the Christian Science Monitor published theirs which turned out to be forgeries and the British newspaper, Mail on Sunday, purchased a third set of documents which also upon forensic examination turned out to be forgeries. So there's nothing fanciful about this. Nothing at all fanciful about it.
"The existence of forged documents implicating me in commercial activities with the Iraqi regime is a proven fact. It's a proven fact that these forged documents existed and were being circulated amongst right-wing newspapers in Baghdad and around the world in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Iraqi regime.
Here's the Monitor's retraction of the charges it made against Galloway:
[T]his newspaper ran a story about documents obtained in Iraq that alleged Saddam Hussein's regime had paid a British member of Parliament, George Galloway, $10 million over 11 years to promote its interests in the West.
An extensive Monitor investigation has subsequently determined that the six papers detailed in the April 25 piece are, in fact, almost certainly forgeries.
The Arabic text of the papers is inconsistent with known examples of Baghdad bureaucratic writing, and is replete with problematic language, says a leading US-based expert on Iraqi government documents. Signature lines and other format elements differ from genuine procedure.
The two "oldest" documents - dated 1992 and 1993 - were actually written within the past few months, according to a chemical analysis of their ink. The newest document - dated 2003 - appears to have been written at approximately the same time.
"At the time we published these documents, we felt they were newsworthy and appeared credible, although we did explicitly state in our article that we could not guarantee their authenticity," says Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck. "It is important to set the record straight: We are convinced the documents are bogus. We apologize to Mr. Galloway and to our readers."
Man, there sure have been a lot of forged documents around lately ... I wonder where they're all coming from...
From the Mirror:
"Recreation meant your legs were untied and you walked up and down a strip of gravel. In Camp X-Ray you only got five minutes but in Delta you walked for around 15 minutes."
Jamal [al-Harith] said victims of the Extreme Reaction Force were paraded in front of cells. "It was a horrible sight and it was a frequent sight."
He said one unit used force-feeding to end a hunger strike by 70 per cent of the 600 inmates. The strike started after a guard deliberately kicked a copy of the Koran.
From the Independent, picking up the Mirror's story, citing the same source:
Camp X-Ray Regime
The regime, as Mr [Jamal] Harith describes it:
o Prisoners were shackled for up to 15 hours at a time in hand and leg cuffs with links that cut into the skin
o They were kept in wire cages that were open to the elements, as well as rats, snakes and scorpions
o Psychological torture included being denied water before prayers, meaning Muslims could not wash according to their religion, and depriving one inmate of food, while the others on a block ate
o Force feeding was used to end a hunger strike by 70 per cent of the 600 inmates, which started after a guard kicked a copy of the Koran
o When carrying out an amputation, US medical staff often removed more of a limb than was necessary
o Prisoners were left malnourished by a diet of porridge and fruit. Some food was 10 years out of date
From the Observer -- probably this or the item from the Post below is the source of the Newsweek's story:
As Muslims, they were shocked when in repeated 'shakedown' searches of the sleeping tents, copies of the Koran would be trampled on by soldiers and, on one occasion, thrown into a toilet bucket. Throughout their stay at Kandahar the guards carried out head-counts every hour at night to keep the prisoners awake.
And from the Washington Post:
After a chaotic day in which it was uncertain when, or if, all the prisoners would be released from Afghan custody, 18 men wearing new American sneakers and carrying brightly colored gym bags walked out of a run-down police compound here late today. Some hugged jubilantly, while others left feeling bitter and vengeful.
The men, the largest single group of Afghans to be released after months of detainment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, gave varying accounts of how American forces treated them during interrogation and detainment. Some displayed medical records showing extensive care by American military doctors, while others complained that American soldiers insulted Islam by sitting on the Koran or dumping their sacred text into a toilet to taunt them.
The men uniformly said that American forces treated them more roughly during initial interrogation and captivity in Afghanistan than during the long detainment at Guantanamo.
Newsweek just retracted a story that was probably true...
Monday, May 16, 2005
The Post faired a little better with an anecdotal grunts-eye-view account of the offensive. The Post article paints the picture of a major operation that, to put it bluntly, was a violent immoral farce. Here's what we know about Matador from various sources:
1.) Its purpose was to pacify a region of Iraq near the Syrian border that was thought to be a haven for "foreign fighters"
2.) It was the biggest offensive since Fallujah, involving on the order of 1000 marines, and it was similar in character to the second Fallujah assault.
3.) A total of 125 insurgents were killed. Nine US troops were lost and forty were wounded.
The Post piece implies that the US wanted to play a game of Fallujah but that the insurgents chose not to. It describes restless marines driving their column of Humvees through town after town, raiding homes in the manner that we have all become so accustomed to reading about that it is no longer shocking, and each night commandeering a house, that is, kicking a family out and sleeping in their home -- I guess Iraq's new government hasn't instituted the equivalent of the 3rd Amendment yet ... but don't worry the Post assures us it was all very friendly:
Sometimes, the Marines busted up wooden furniture belonging to poor farm families and threw their polyester blankets and clothes in a jumble on the floor. A handful of the hundreds of Marines involved in Operation Matador walked out of homes with a pillow or blanket to cushion the ride in the Amtrac. Sometimes, Marines agreed at one commandeered house as they drank a rousted family's tea, they beat up suspicious-looking men if that was what it took to get information that could save lives.
At the end of a day of searches, Marines generally commandeer houses for the night, shooing the families out in case the Americans' presence makes the homes targets for attack.
When not commandeering houses or beating up suspicious looking men, the marines apparently spent their time getting picked off slowly by IED's left behind by insurgents who were long gone.
This grand exercise in bloody pointlessness was, of course, roundly described as a great success by military spokespeople. Has there ever been any operation in the history of codenamed operations that wasn't described as a great success by Pentagon spokespeople? But if it was such a success where are all the foreign fighters? And why is the ratio of US casualties per insurgent casualty almost twice as great as Fallujah? Also why didn't our Iraqi proxy army participate in Matador? -- I'm assuming that it didn't because, lord knows, if it did we would have heard about it.
Maybe I'm overreacting but to me it's shocking how poorly this offensive was covered. The three points I listed above are literally the only facts contained in many articles about Matador. There are a few exceptions here and there: the AP's Mohammed Barakat tells us about civilians fleeing al-Qaim, for example. But Barakat's work is really the exception that proves the rule.
When Fallujah happened I posted quite a bit about it: the targeting of hospitals, the use of white phosphorous, the nonexistence of the hordes of foreign fighters, etc. There were things to write about because the press covered the story in a professional manner. In a very real sense, Matador simply wasn't covered at all. One can chalk this up to the insecurity of Iraq, the fact that reporters are locked in their hotel rooms in the Green Zone, and such an explanation is certainly a factor but it was a factor during Fallujah as well -- I think there's something else going on here.
Forget everything that's happened in the past five years, forget this war, forget Bush, forget 9/11, forget it all, and imagine what you would have thought if someone told you that in five years there would be a major American military operation in the Muslim world in which scores and scores of people would be killed, towns evacuated, Americans would kick families out of their homes, etc., and that the New York Times would not even mention the operation's name. That is where we are.
Chomsky often talks about the fact that when the US started bombing Vietnam in 1962 there was no protest; people hardly even knew about it. I have a hard time imagining what that was like. I know it was a more conservative culture, that people trusted the government, trusted the military, trusted their employer, and that we often take for granted the extent to which our culture has opened up since the fifties and early sixties -- Cockburn actually has a column related to this very subject in the current Nation, about the extent to which no one trusts the New York Times anymore. I wonder if the atrociousness of the coverage of Operation Matador is similar to the atrociousness of the coverage of the early bombing of Vietnam. I wonder if half a decade of Bush is starting to take its toll on our culture.
I don't have much to add other than just to bone-headedly point out that a lot can be gleaned from BushCo's handling of the scandal. If the story was 100% untrue Rumsfeld would be on TV denying it to high heaven rather than promising a thorough investigation. Therefore, we can conclude the story is either known to be true or, perhaps, consistent enough with policy that the higher-ups assume some flavor of it is true. Rumsfeld probably knows the interrogators were instructed to take advantage of the prisoners strong religious beliefs, doesn't know exactly what was done, but finds the desecration of the Koran to be a plausible allegation.
You know, I was just watching Daniel Ellsberg on CSPAN3 and was thinking about the Pentagon Papers. It's hard for me to believe that there aren't some incredibly damning documents in existence regarding the creation of Camp Gitmo and the Gitmo-ization of Abu Ghraib, and, for that matter, about the creation of the Office of Special Plans and the construction of the pretext for the Iraq War -- where are all the damn leakers when you need them?
Friday, May 13, 2005
Ellsberg, who said he recently spent five days with Vanunu in Israel, dismissed the government's claim that Vanunu still has secrets that could endanger national security as "absurd."
"It's clearly an attempt to prolong his sentence indefinitely, sending him back to prison for years," Ellsberg told reporters Wednesday before addressing the review conference.
"The message this sends to potential Vanunus in other states is very clear, and the question at this conference is whether the nations of the world should encourage or strongly protest that message," he said. "The fact is more Vanunus are urgently needed in this world."
Ellsberg said that if, for instance, an Indian technician had revealed the country's plan for a nuclear test, international pressure might have prevented it -- and "how much better India, Pakistan and the world would be."
In the early 1960s, Ellsberg said he was working in the Pentagon on command and control of nuclear weapons and nuclear war plans and should have done what Vanunu did and "tell my country and the world the insanity and moral obscenity of our war planning, which remains the same today."
"I regret profoundly that I did not reveal that fact publicly, with documents," he said.
[ ... ]
Ellsberg said British nuclear scientist Joseph Rotblat, who won the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work against nuclear weapons with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, has repeatedly nominated Vanunu for the award.
"He should get the Nobel Peace Prize as Joseph Rotblat has frequently recommended," he said.
The next hearing of Vanunu's current legal battle occurs in a week. I believe he is currently under house arrest.
When I asked, for instance, if the Administration was too enamored of the idea that Iraqis would greet American troops with flowers, he argued that some Iraqis were still too intimidated by the remnants of Saddam’s Baath Party to express their emotions openly. "But," Feith said, "they had flowers in their minds."
which is nice to hear about, given that two years later Iraqis may still have flowers in their minds, but unfortunately they have stones in their hands (from the AP):
Iraqis unleashed their fury at weeks of relentless bloodshed Thursday, throwing stones at police and U.S. forces they accused of failing to protect them at the scene of a car bomb that set buildings and vehicles ablaze in the middle of a jammed commercial district.
The unexpected protest by Baghdad residents followed a wave of Sunni-led attacks that have killed more than 420 people in the two weeks since Iraq's first democratically elected, Shiite-dominated government came to power.
And this business with the shoplifting charge is like something out of Kafka. Preside over a living hell of organized depravity -- torture, beatings, rapes, garnished with the occasional murder -- get busted for dereliction of duty and shoplifting.
At the height of the nuclear arms race, those who marched against it used to say that in the ashes of a nuclear war, no one could tell a capitalist from a communist. “Not necessarily,” others would joke, “Richard Perle could tell.”
Now, that's comedy.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
King Abdullah of Jordan has agreed to pardon Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi political leader, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for fraud after his bank collapsed with $300m (£160m) in missing deposits in 1989.
Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, asked the king to resolve the differences between Jordan and Mr Chalabi, now Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, during a visit to Ammanthis week.
Latif Rashid, the Iraqi minister of water resources, said Mr Talabani confirmed to him that King Abdullah had promised, in effect, to quash the conviction. He expected there would first be a meeting between Jordanian officials and Mr Chalabi "who has some questions of his own."
The expected pardon, is the latest twist in the extraordinary career of Mr Chalabi, now again in the ascendant as an important member of the Shia coalition and the new Iraqi government. Only a year ago US soldiers raided his house in Baghdad, put a gun to his head, arrested two of his supporters and seized papers. He was accused of passing intelligence information to Iran.
The captain of Inter Milan football club says he would be willing to take up an invitation for the club to play a team of Mexican Zapatista rebels. The Italian club have received a letter from the indigenous movement, based in the southern state of Chiapas.
Rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos asked Inter to bring the match ball because the Zapatistas' ones were punctured.
Captain Javier Zanetti said: "It is not a problem for me if [the club] accept the challenge. I'd be willing to go."
The letter bore the signature of Subcomandante Marcos, the elusive Zapatista leader known for his trademark balaclava and pipe.
It was formal and precise, but contained a touch of the wry humour that is the leader's hallmark, says BBC correspondent Mark Duff in Milan.
[ ... ]
"I challenge you to a match against a team from the Zapatista national liberation army," it said, "at a time and a place to be determined."
"Given the affection we have for you, we're not planning to submerge you in goals," the letter went on.
"As we wait for your reply, we'll continue with our rigorous training regime."
Inter - one of Italy's biggest and most famous clubs - have built links with the Zapatistas by funding sports, water and health projects in their area of operation in Chiapas.
Team manager Bruno Bartolozzi paid a visit to a village in Chiapas last June, bearing donations from the club and its owner, Massimo Moratti. During the trip, he was approached by a Zapatista commander.
Zanetti, an Argentine, also wrote a letter to express his support for the rebels' "struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals".
The club told the BBC News website that no decision had been made on whether to accept the challenge.
The story was sent to me by frequent commenter Joe90 who provided some additional information regarding the political leanings of Inter Milan for us soccer knowledge-impaired Americans:
Just to give you a bit of background - Inter were called 'international' by their founders as a tribute and also a communist-socialist appeal to fellow football nuts. As you know, the biggest independent communist party in western Europe was-is in rich industrial north Italy.
Oh, yeah, and for the record, if the match takes place my money is on the Zapatistas...
Why are leading neoconservatives supporting John Bolton? Bolton's narrow definition of U.S. national interests and his rejection of humanitarian intervention in the face of mass slaughter should be anathema to the internationalism of neoconservatives and their conviction that the U.S. must confront evil everywhere, particularly in cases of genocide.
Archetypal neoconservatives, the Perles and Wolfowitzes of the world, attempt to sell their project, the establishment of an American empire, by telling a story about American moral clarity and the good that American tanks and guns can do if we just give them a chance. Lobe, for example, quotes Perle as saying, "It is a tragedy every time we stand by and ignore...the killing of innocents," regarding the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It's hard not to smile at the irony.
This sort of rhetoric led Hitchens to gamely characterize Wolfowitz as "a real bleeding heart" in a recent interview. Hitchens, of course, either believes or pretends to believe that Wolfowitz is indeed a compassionate champion of the developing world, but understands the mainstream's perception of his new pals enough to know that to openly call Wolfowitz a bleeding heart will be taken as a humorous statement. To me it's an open question to what extent prominent neoconservatives are well-meaning but wrong and to what extent they know exactly what they are doing but like to wax poetical about America's moral responsibility as a Machiavellian ploy.
A very similar question can be asked about America's economic foreign policy: do the elites who control the framework of economic globalization -- the IMF, the World Bank, etc. -- know that they are wrecking countries and sentencing the majority of the world's population to lives of abject poverty?
I don't know the answer -- I used to lean towards believing that most of the people involved with, say, the World Bank believe they're doing noble work. The well-meaning-but-misguided hypothesis is supported by, for example, Robert McNamara's commentary in Errol Morris's The Fog of War. McNamara, guilty about the role he played in the 20th century, says (to paraphrase) "Hey, hundreds of thousands may have died as a direct result of decisions that I made in the past, but now I head the World Bank and help poor countries, and so I'm making up for it" -- implying, of course, that the economic policies forced on the third-world by such institutions as the Bank are unquestionably positive.
On the other hand, the opposite hypothesis is not just supported but presented outright as fact in the deeply flawed but nonetheless interesting memoirs of John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Perkins claims to have worked consciously to bankrupt third-world countries forcing them into debt in order to enrich various American corporations. He says that he was recruited and groomed specifically to become what he calls an economic hit man.
Anyway, the point of Lobe's piece is that Bolton simply doesn't play the game of providing rhetorical cover for American foreign policy with happy talk about humanitarian intervention. Bolton told Bill O'Reilly, "Our foreign policy should support American interests ... Let the rest of the world support the rest of the world's interests." So when one sees leading neoconservatives lining up to defend Bolton, one wonders what happened to their bleeding hearts.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
With a continuing stream of damaging disclosures about Tony Blair’s deception concerning the United Kingdom’s participation in the war against Iraq, the outcome of the election remains uncertain, although a Labour victory with a reduced majority appears most probable. The Guardian’s disclosure on Wednesday that the Attorney General’s opinion about thewar was anything but "unequivocal", as asserted by Blair, has now been trumped by the Sunday Times’ disclosure that Blair, as suspected, indicated a willingness to go to war in the summer of 2002 after meeting with President Bush in Texas. Another year, 1970, and another war, the Vietnam war, haunts Labour in the final days of the campaign.
During the Presidential election here in the US readers of the Guardian tried to persuade people in Ohio to vote for John Kerry, with comically disasterous results. At the risk of engaging in a similarly misguided enterprise in reverse, I hope that UK voters will support competitive
antiwar candidates wherever they can be found. Some will be Labour dissidents, some will be Liberal Democrats, and still others will represent smaller regional and fringe parties. It is urgently necessary that we strip away the participation of other countries in the "coalition of the willing" created by the US. Spain, and Aznar, have already fallen by the wayside, and momentum is building towards forcing Italy, and Berlusconi, to abandon it as well.
If UK voters rebel, and refuse to hold their nose, and vote for the party of a Prime Minister that they detest, they can make Peter Oborne’s prediction a reality. Oborne believes that Labour will win an unprecedented third term, but that the campaign has destroyed Blair’s credibility, and a leadership struggle will commence shortly after the election. According to Oborne, Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exechequer, will, after being rightly credited with responsibility for the victory, seize total control over domestic policy, leaving a humbled Blair with ceremonial authority in foreign policy. If Labour’s margin in the House of Commons is dramatically sliced, with the loss of many pro-war Blairites, Blair could be replaced by Brown as Prime Minister within less than a year.
The repudiation of Blair, and his support for the war and the occupation,would send a shockwave around the world. Few, if any, countries, havehistorically supported the US with the consistency of the UK, and thepsychological impact of such a repudiation, both within and without the US,
would be enormous. It would be felt most keenly in countries such as Japanand, as already mentioned, Italy, where their governments persist in supporting US policy despite widespread public revulsion. Voters should strive to set this process in motion, even if the consequence is the emergence of the Liberal Democrats as a legitimate alternative to Labour and the Conservatives, and even at the price of replacing New Labour with a weak Conservative government. Perhaps, it’s all wishful thinking. Even so, it’s long past time for Tony Blair to depart the world of electoral politics for something new, perhaps as a newly announced participant in the Carlyle Group.
Sunday, May 01, 2005