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

Monday, April 26, 2004

Shutting Up Sibel Edmonds, Again 

Andrew Buncombe has an update on the Sibel Edmonds story in today's Independent. A group of family members of victims of 9/11 are taking legal action against banks and two powerful Saudis that allegedly aided al-Qaeda. The family members' representation, the law firm Motley-Rice, subpoenaed Edmonds but the Bush administration is attempting to use the "state secrets privilege" to keep her from testifying.

It's my understanding that Ashcroft has already successfully used the state secrets privilege to foil Edmonds attempt to acquire, via the Freedom of Information Act, the controversial documents that she claims to have seen as an FBI translator. So the Justice Department's action this time around will likely succeed.

It's interesting that two of the defendants in this case are members of the Saudi Royal family. In Amy Goodman's interview with Edmonds, Edmonds made the following statement regarding the Justice Departments' previous invocation of the state secrets privilege:

[The Justice Department says] this privilege is very rare and is asserted to prevent certain information from becoming public or hurting diplomatic relations and I would underline this phrase 'diplomatic relations' several times.

Couldn't "hurting diplomatic relations" mean embarrassing two members of the Saudi Royal family?

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Something That's Been Bothering Me ... 

So does anyone know what the deal was with Kimmitt fainting at the podium during a press briefing a week or so ago? Was it just stress or what?

Also, I'd like to say that this Dan Senor guy does a pretty good Ari Fleischer. Better than Scottie anyway.

A Chalabi-free Iraq? 

From today's Washington Post, "U.S., U.N. Seek New Leaders For Iraq":

The United States and the top U.N. envoy to Iraq have decided to exclude the majority of the Iraqi politicians the U.S.-led coalition has relied on over the past year when they select an Iraqi government to assume power on June 30, U.S. and U.N. officials said yesterday.

[ ... ]

At the top of the list of those likely to be jettisoned is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite politician who for years was a favorite of the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney, and who was once expected to assume a powerful role after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials acknowledged.

Chalabi has increasingly alienated the Bush administration, including President Bush, in recent months, U.S. officials said. He generated anger in Washington yesterday when he said a new U.S. plan to allow some former officials of Hussein's ruling Baath Party and military to return to office is the equivalent of returning Nazis to power in Germany after World War II.

[ ... ]

Washington is also seriously considering cutting off the $340,000 monthly stipend to Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions. This would be a major change, because the INC has received millions of dollars in U.S. aid over the past decade as the primary vehicle for supporting the Iraqi opposition.


Largely due to pressure from one man special interest group, Ahmed Chalabi, Viceroy Bremer's first official act last May implemented a policy in which Baathists were to be purged from positions throughout Iraq's civil infrastructure -- teachers, professors, doctors, administrators, etc. It appears that the CPA is beginning to waffle on this policy.

In today's coalition briefing, CPA spokesman Dan Senor repeatedly characterized this reversal of policy as a mere "procedural change" -- implying that the Iraqis who will now be speedily reinstalled in prominent positions would eventually have been anyway. Senor brought up again and again a talking point involving 14,000 Iraqi teachers who were "Baathists in name only" and will now be reintegrated into Iraqi society. American Leftist believes not listening to Ahmed Chalabi is often a pretty good move. Indeed, it's not just CPA mouthpieces who are talking about those teachers. Here, for example, is UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi weighing in on the subject:

It is difficult to understand that thousands upon thousands of teachers, university professors, medical doctors and hospital staff, engineers and other professionals who are sorely needed, have been dismissed within the debaathification process, and far too many of those cases have yet to be reviewed.*

But I'd like to point out that it's not just teachers who are getting their jobs back. According to this AP article "generals and other senior officers" from Saddam's army are going to be running the new Iraqi army, (seventy percent of which used to be part of the old Iraqi army, according to Kimmitt at today's briefing). But I guess none of those generals have blood on their hands, because, you know, Bremer said so.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Why is this story getting so little play in the US? --

Mordechai Vanunu has been released from prison this week, the event receiving prime media coverage in Israel.

The nuclear technician, who also holds a degree in philosophy, was arrested after confirming his personal testimony of an Israeli nuclear arsenal in the Sunday Times. He was arrested by the Israeli secret service on Italian soil, secretly tried and spent 11 years in total isolation.

Mordechai Vanunu left prison on Apr. 21 after having his 18-year sentence reduced. He had been charged with “high treason and espionage”.

His release has come against the opinion of the country’s defense minister, who wanted his prison term extended indefinitely on grounds of “administrative detention”.

The public prosecutor’s office rejected his idea, saying it risked being declared unconstitutional. Notwithstanding, Vanunu is still subject to many restrictions, like not being to leave the country.

The prohibitions and threats of being arrested again have not stopped Vanunu from talking, as he has spoken freely with the media.

He explains that his charges of high treason and espionage were unjustified since he had not turned over nuclear arms secrets to foreign powers or enemies but simply to the public through statements he made in a famous British weekly magazine.

Vanunu says he did so for “moral reasons as a Christian and citizen”.

War President Update 

It's come to my attention that there are photos used in 'War President' of soldiers from other countries in the coalition that invaded Iraq. So I was mistaken when I stated the picture was composed of the US war dead. I was under the impression that this source was a color version of the Washington Post pictures, which turns out not to be the case. I apologize for the error.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The PDB 

Here is the document in question as a PDF and here it is as an image. The most informed opinion I've read on its contents was this TomPaine article by Larry Johnson, a veteran of the CIA and the State Department's office of Counter Terrorism and, for what it's worth, a registered Republican. Here's an excerpt:

I wrote about 40 PDB’s during my four-year tenure at the CIA. This particular PDB article was written in response to a presidential request. I am told that Bush’s request was a reaction to the intelligence warnings he was hearing during the daily CIA morning briefings. Something caught his attention and awakened his curiosity. He reportedly asked the CIA to come back with its assessment of Bin Laden’s intentions. The CIA answered the question—Bin Laden was targeting the United States.

The PDB article released Saturday is a classic CIA response to such a request. It lays out the historical and evidentiary antecedents that undergird the analyst’s belief about the nature of the threat and provides current intelligence indicators that reinforce the basic conclusion of the piece—i.e., Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. It is true that the piece did not contain specific details about the plot that was launched subsequently on 9/11. However, the details that are included in the piece are so alarming that anyone familiar with the nature of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda should have asked, “What are they planning and what can we do to stop it?”

Remember the furious attacks against Richard Clarke during the past month? Now that we have seen the content of the PDB we know he was telling the truth when he said that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice did not make fighting Al Qaeda a priority prior to 9/11. At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals’ meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president’s national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of Al Qaeda operators in the United States. While Condoleezza Rice is correct that there was no “silver bullet” in that PDB, she conveniently ignores the huge pieces of the puzzle that were in the hands of various members of the U.S. government.

Well, At Least BushCo Is Good At Something .... 

From Chomsky's blog:

Typically, military occupations are quite successful, even by the most horrendous conquerors. Take, say, Hitler's occupation of Western Europe and Russia's postwar occupation of Eastern Europe. In both cases, the countries were run by collaborators, security forces and civilian, with the troops of the conqueror in the background. There was courageous partisan resistance under Hitler, but without extensive foreign support, it would have been wiped out. In Eastern Europe, the US tried to support resistance (inside Russia as well) until the early 1950s, and of course Russia was in confrontation with the world dominant superpower. There are many other examples.

Consider, in contrast, the invasion of Iraq. It eliminated two monstrous regimes, one of which we are allowed to talk about, the other not. The first was the rule of the tyrant. The second was the US-UK imposed sanctions regime, which killed 100s of thousands of people, devastated the society, strengthened the tyrant, and compelled the population to rely on him survival -- probably saving him from the fate of other gangsters supported by the current incumbents in Washington, all overthrown from within; that was a plausible surmise before the war, and is even more so in the light of postwar discoveries about the fragility of Saddam's rule. The ending of both regimes was certainly welcome to the population. The US had enormous resources to reconstruct the ruins. Resistance had virtually no outside support, and in fact developed within largely in response to violence and brutality of the invaders. It took real talent to fail.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Good News on its Way 

Tired of bad news from Iraq? Don't worry the Pentagon's new propaganda service, DVIDS, is supposed to start either this month or next month ... depending on whether you trust an AP story buried in the Honolulu Advertiser or a tech update in Broadcast Engineering. We'll be hearing about all those schools opening in Kirkuk in no time.

Guess Who's In Newsday? 

Howard Zinn offers some historical analogies regarding the current situation in Iraq: (from "Check the facts before rushing to war", Newsday, 4/14/04)

A bit of history might have suggested skepticism. It might have been recalled that President James Polk took us into war with Mexico in 1846, and William McKinley took us into war with Spain in 1898, and Congress authorized war in Vietnam in 1964, all based on deceptions.

Another suggested principle: When a calamity occurs - such as the killing of soldiers on the Mexican border, or the sinking of the battleship Maine, or the blowing up of the Twin Towers, should Congress, the media and the public not be wary that the calamity might be made an excuse for going to war, with the real reasons concealed from the country?

Should we not, after the terrible events of Sept. 11, have acted more intelligently, in a more focused way, against terrorism, seeking fundamental causes, rather than striking out blindly at whatever seemed easy targets - Afghanistan, Iraq? Should we not have considered whether military action might not inflame terrorism rather than diminish it?

When the evidence for war is shaky, should we not ask: What is the real reason for military intervention?

History might be useful here. Is it too embarrassing to suggest that oil is the real reason for virtually anything the United States has done in the Middle East? The real reason for war with Mexico was to take almost half of its territory. The real reason for war in Cuba was to replace Spanish control of that island with U.S. control. The real reason for war in the Philippines was the markets of China. The real reason for the Vietnam War was to take another piece of real estate in the Cold War game of Monopoly with the Soviet Union.

Creative Semantics 

There was some interesting usage of the the terms 'ceasefire' and 'truce' in today's papers -- from "Marines in Falluja Still Face and Return Relentless Fire", NYT,

Falluja is now a strange replay of the war. Even with the cease-fire, the action here is the heaviest fighting since the Hussein government fell a year ago.

and from "U.S. launches attacks in Falluja", AP,

U.S. warplanes and helicopters firing heavy machine-guns, rockets and cannons hammered insurgents today in the besieged city of Falluja, and the commander of U.S. marines here warned that a fragile truce was near collapse

Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't a ceasefire involve ceasing to fire? And hasn't a truce in which one party is firing heavy machine-guns with warplanes and helicopters already collapsed?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Ahmed Chalabi, Political Genius 

Martin Sieff, chief news analyst for UPI, writing for Salon, makes a pretty persuasive case that the future Prime Minister of Iraq was behind the fateful decision to shut down al-Hawza and go after al-Sadr:

There is no way that the move against al-Sadr was undertaken without Chalabi's prior knowledge and explicit approval. Instead, given the extraordinary degree to which the Pentagon policymakers and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to privately disparage the far more accurate, sober and reliable professional assessments of the U.S. Army's own tactical military intelligence in Iraq, it appears clear that, yet again, Chalabi was the tail that wagged the dog. He could have been expected to urge the move on al-Sadr in the first place.

The benefit to him is obvious. Chalabi believes -- as do his still-worshipful Pentagon backers -- that he has the blessing of supposedly moderate Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the mainstream chief religious authority of the Iraqi Shiites, to take power on July 1 with the force of 110,000 U.S. soldiers and their automatic weapons behind him.

However, just as the neocons lead President Bush by the nose, and Chalabi leads them by the nose, Sistani and the Iranians have been leading him by the nose.

Sistani's policy toward the CPA and Chalabi has been no different from the way he survived as an ayatollah all those years under Saddam Hussein, which was no mean feat. Sistani is playing a cautious waiting game and avoiding the ire of those who currently are top dog in Baghdad. He will drop Chalabi -- and the United States -- at the drop of a hat as soon it becomes clear that they cannot run or tame Iraq.

How's that saying go? -- Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me repeatedly over and over again, and we give you $340,000 a month and make you Prime Minister.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The Phoenix memo  

Thanks to thesmokinggun.com the so-called Phoenix memo is now online. This is the memo in which an FBI agent alerted the FBI higher-ups that a number of al-Qaeda affiliated people were taking flight training classes. The memo's cover abstract begins as follows

The purpose of this communication is to advise the Bureau and New York of the possibility of a coordinated effort by USAMA BIN LADEN (UBL) to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and colleges. Phoenix has observed an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest who are attending or who have attended civil aviation universities and colleges in the State of Arizona.

First Person Accounts of Falluja, as of Yesterday 

The New Standard's Dahr Jamail travelled into Falluja with a group of internationals delivering humanitarian supplies. He's posted a full account of the trip to his blog. Jamail is pretty skeptical about the much-vaunted cease fire:

What I can report from Falluja is that there is no ceasefire, and apparently there never was. Iraqi women and children are being shot by American snipers. Over 600 Iraqis have now been killed by American aggression, and the residents have turned two football fields into graveyards. Ambulances are being shot by the Americans. And now they are preparing to launch a full-scale invasion of the city.

Also today Amy Goodman interviewed Aaron Glanzt, of Free Speech Radio News, who said much the same thing:

AMY GOODMAN: We are about to go to a piece that you have just filed with us. Can you set it up for us and tell us the latest news right now?

AARON GLANZT: Well, the best that I can ascertain is that everywhere I look on the mainstream media, they're talking about a cease-fire, a calm settled over Fallujah, and while I haven't been in Fallujah today, I have been talking to people who have fled Fallujah and who have been to Fallujah during this so-called cease-fire. They report whenever they go out of their homes, they're at risk of being hit by snipers, U.S. marines on bridges and on top of buildings, and of course, the Americans are fighting a guerrilla war against an increasingly violent resistance among the regular people of Fallujah. So, for the marines, every single member of the population of Fallujah is a potential enemy because almost the entire population is against the Americans. Those who are not against it, a week ago, have now changed their minds, because they have had their daughters and their sons and their mothers and their children just shot and killed or maimed in some way. So, we're going to be able to go to the Fallujah through the voices of some of those who fled as well as the voices of one journalist, who risked her life in order to get us materials to broadcast today.

Worse Than Watergate 

There's a new interview with John Dean up on Buzzflash. Here's a bit of it:

BuzzFlash: Could anything become a scandal unless there’s legal recourse to investigate and prosecute it, which is unlikely at this time because Bush and the Republicans control all three branches of government?

John W. Dean: No question about it, because when you have a situation where the Congress refuses to act because of its own partisan position, there’s only one other body -- in a sense, one other institution -- and that’s the fourth estate. Add to that something that is now present that has never existed before, and that’s the Internet. In the 2000 election, for example, the Internet played a nominal, and minimal, role. But the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds -- from bloggers to web pages, to fundraising -- so it is beginning to have its own impact. And what you’ve got to understand is that all scandals that are outside your neighborhood or your office or and occur on a national scale are "media"-ted scandals. In other words, the media itself creates the scandal. Without the media, you can’t have a scandal. If the media says something is not a scandal, this doesn’t bother them; then there is simply no scandal. It’s like a tree falling in a forest and nobody to hear it. So you’ve got to have the media. But we have a new media, and that’s the Internet. And I believe that could have a dire impact on this Bush-Cheney presidency.

BuzzFlash: In terms of the election?

John W. Dean: I think it could affect the election. We’ve got a number of investigations going on. We’ve got an SEC investigation into Cheney right now. I believe that if that if that investigation is followed to its logical conclusion, Dick Cheney could be in very deep trouble. You’ve got the Valerie Plame grand jury going on right now. If that grand jury doesn’t proceed to ask the leader of the Western World what he knows about this leak and the events following it, then the man who is heading that prosecution isn’t half as credentialed as he has been portrayed.

You’ve got the 9/11 Commission investigating right now. It’s going to report in July. That could erupt. I’ve explained several scandals they could erupt before the election.

These scandals would take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon.

But this is what is far more troublesome to me: I open and close the book with the fact that Bush and Cheney could take the air out of democracy. That is what truly worries me. And since no one is discussing their obsessive secrecy and its dangerous implications, I decided I had to write this book, and do my best to get it before the American people before November 2004. They must decide if they want a situation that is worse than Watergate.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Reagan Defense 

From "Losing touch with reality", The Guardian, 5/9/04:

Predictably, Dr Rice's first objective was to protect the president from criticism. But she failed to satisfy those watching her testimony that the received image of the pre-9/11 White House - that it barely feigned interest in foreign affairs - was inaccurate. Her exchange with commission member Richard Ben-Veniste was particularly revealing, over if she had told President Bush there were al-Qaida cells in the US, after that information had been passed to her by Mr Clarke. To say - as Dr Rice did - "I really don't remember whether I discussed this with the president," should be called the Reagan defence, after the former president repeatedly used the phrase "I don't recall" in an inquiry into the Iran-Contra scandal. What is questionable is whether that is a credible defence from someone reputed to be the smartest person in the White House.

A Circle of Blind Animals 

Another article from Editor & Publisher chronicling the world's most invisible scandal, Miller-gate, in which the paper of record served as chief stenographer for Ahmed Chalabi and his merry band of raconteurs, begins as follows:

One year after the war in Iraq began, with media criticism of The New York Times' coverage of the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) continuing, both Bill Keller and Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. (the paper's executive editor and publisher) have recently come to the defense of embattled star reporter Judith Miller. The powers that be prefer that the paramount role of the newspaper of record in hyping the WMD threat to be forgotten. Since there's no way to turn back the clock -- and run up to the war again -- why does this issue still matter?

I have two answers:

1. To turn the page on what occurred in the print media before and after the war -- while most major news organizations have yet to admit their sorry record -- is to lose sight of lessons vital for the future of journalistic principles and ethics. While many of them may be publishing hard-hitting reports today, where were U.S. news organizations before the war, when it might have made a difference in exposing the inaccurate, deceptive or fictional evidence contained in the administration's propaganda over the Iraqi WMD threat?

[ ... ]

2. But the supreme reason not to drop the matter of press coverage is the price in blood and treasure that the United States is continuing to pay for the pre-emptive attack -- for which the press served as "enablers." Reporters and editors at major newspapers really did help bring on the war, fanning fears and coddling partisan sources (including Iraqi defectors), while dumbing down the views of experts who questioned the prevailing line in Washington.

The E&P article refers extensively to a defense of Miller offered by NYT Executive editor Bill Keller in Public Editor Daniel Okrent's web journal (apparently when you're a bigshot New York Times editor, you don't have a blog; you have a web journal), but the article doesn't reprint Keller's statement or link to it. Here it is, and here's an excerpt:

First, I did not see a prima facie case for recanting or repudiating [Judy Miller's] stories. The brief against the coverage was that it was insufficiently skeptical, but that is an easier claim to make in hindsight than in context. (By context I mean such things as, what others were writing at the time, what role editors played in handling and presenting the stories, how credible the sources were, etc.)

Second, lacking prima facie evidence, opening a docket and litigating the claims against the coverage was likely to consume more of my attention than I was willing to invest. I decided that, in the absence of more persuasive complaints than I have seen so far, I would base my assessment of Judy's work on what she did on my watch.

My experience of Judy, most extensively when I was managing editor, is that she is a smart, well-sourced, industrious and fearless reporter with a keen instinct for news, and an appetite for dauntingly hard subjects -- advanced weapons, terrorism, Middle East politics, etc. Her early coverage of Osama bin Laden was uniquely foresighted before 9/11, and was at least partly responsible for one of our Pulitzers. Like many aggressive reporters, particularly reporters who deal with contentious subjects, she has sometimes stepped on toes, but that is hardly grounds for rebuke

American Leftist is excited to learn that Judy is fearless, aggressive and has a keen instinct for the news, but mostly just thinks she never met a mouthpiece for the Bush administration that she didn't like. As does, it seems, Editor & Publisher:

Earlier, on Feb. 17, Okrent had allowed Miller herself to challenge quotations attributed to her by Michael Massing in his widely-read "Now They Tell Us" essay in the Feb. 26 issue of The New York Review of Books. Okrent explained that many readers had asked him for comment on the Massing story. Breaking his policy of not addressing controversies that arose before he came on board at the paper on Dec. 1, he nevertheless contacted Miller and included a letter she had sent to the NYRB editors complaining about being misquoted. Massing would stand by his reporting, saying he had checked all the quotes with Miller beforehand.

Fairness demands that Okrent's huge task, with limited resources, be acknowledged. His Web log is now attracting attention, some of it sympathetic as in the case of this reader: "I feel for Dan Okrent. He has to have the hardest job in journalism."

But other correspondents have not been so understanding. A recent letter: "The ombudsman appears unusually reticent to deal with this issue fully and candidly. If Daniel Okrent cannot address direct criticism to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Gail Collins, Bill Keller, and Judith Miller, for their bungling of the WMD story in the lead up to the war, then this office is worthless. This is an ongoing issue, not ancient history. Deal with it."

On another front, so far the public editor has looked the other way in failing to comment on the damning recent statement by Sulzberger on the Miller/WMD controversy. It constituted an indictment of the way he, and Miller's editors, saw her role in covering WMD and the war from "the inside" (reported at E&P Online, March 22).

Sulzberger admitted that Miller's sources were wrong "absolutely." But then "the administration was wrong ... So I don't blame Judy Miller for the lack of finding weapons of mass destruction. I blame the administration for believing its own story line to such a point that they weren't prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told."

Well, if they weren't going to question themselves, wasn't it the role of the press to question them -- instead of so often acting as stenographers for inside sources and defectors? No one is blaming Miller for not finding WMD in Iraq (though she tried mightily while she was there), but rather for hyping their existence before and after the war. The Times too often swallowed the government's narrative on these weapons of mass disappearance.

And some high-placed intelligence analysts (not to mention other members of the media and vast numbers of the American public) surely believed in the authenticity of what the Times was telling them. One imagines a circle of blind animals, linked to one another: The Times tied to the tail of the government which was tied to the tail of Iraqi defectors who were tied to the tail of the Times.

(Here's a link to the Massing article mentioned in the above)

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Sibel Emonds in the Wapo 

Via Eli over at Left I.
The Sibel Edmonds story has snuck its way into the Washinton Post in an editorial by Jefferson Morley:

Edmonds's story has been almost uniformly ignored in the U.S. daily press. Her allegations have been detailed in the online magazine Salon and several liberal sites are playing them up. The Independent's story was mentioned briefly on Monday in Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing blog on washingtonpost.com. Tim Russert briefly quizzed the Republican and Democratic heads of the 9/11 commission about Edmonds during Sunday's "Meet the Press" program on NBC. Former Clinton White House aide Paul Begala mentioned it last week on CNN's "Crossfire." But the only U.S. newspaper to give Edmonds any extended coverage was the Washington Times. In January, a page-one New York Observer article on Edmonds's complaints about lax security in the FBI's translation office did not include the allegations that first appeared in the Independent.

Clearly, what we have here are two different standards of journalism: one American, one nearly global. The question is where does this difference come from?

Rice's Testimony

Here's the transcript, for those of us with jobs. And here's the Center for American Progress's very speedy fact check of her opening statement.

Quote of the Week

From the blog of Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi living in Jordan, on the Iraqi uprising:

I really want to understand from Rumsfeld where are his “majority”?? the “majority” of Iraqis that are against the current uprising, the majority that he wants to help them in reaching to their freedom… where are they? If the millions in the “Sunni Triangle” are the minority, and the other millions of AsSadr are the minority… where are the majority? In Washington? And if the minority can do all of this! And kick the coalition forces from cities like Kut… what can the majority do? Occupy the United States?

Fisk on Iraq's Descent into Anarchy

From the hardest-working-journalist-in-Iraq's latest column:

Gun battles in Sadr City overnight had cost the lives of up to 40 Iraqis and at least eight Americans, but in the sewage-damp streets yesterday, they were handing out letters, allegedly written by the Sunni townspeople of Fallujah, newly-surrounded by 1,200 marines. "We support you, our brothers, in your struggle," the letters said. If they are authentic, it should be enough to make US proconsul Paul Bremer wonder if he can ever extricate Washington from Iraq. The British took three years to turn both the Sunnis and the Shias into their enemies in 1920. The Americans are achieving this in just under a year.

[ ... ]

Officially, Mr Bremer and his president are standing tall, claiming they will not "tolerate" violence and those who oppose democracy, but occupation officials - in anticipation of a far more violent insurrection - have been privately discussing the legalities of martial law. And although Mr Bremer and President George Bush are publicly insisting that the notional "handover" of Iraq's "sovereignty" will still take place on 30 June, legal experts attached to the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council have also been considering a delay of further months. Many Iraqis are now asking if the Americans want disaster in Iraq. Surely not, but Surely not, but yesterday's violence told its own story of blundering military operations and political provocations that will undoubtedly add to the support for the charmless and provocative Shia cleric whom Mr Bremer now wants to lock up - allegedly for plotting the vicious murder of a pro-western Shia cleric, Abdul-Majid el-Khoi. Sadr was surrounded by his militiamen yesterday, in a mosque in Kufa from where he issues regular denunciations of the occupation.

However, Dan Senor, the occupying power's spokesman, wouldn't tell anyone exactly what the evidence against Sadr was - even though it has supposedly existed since an Iraqi judge issued the warrant some months ago.

He goes on to bring up the analogy that I've always thought was much more relevant than the spectre of Vietnam, the equation between America/Iraq and Israel/Palestine

The helicopter attacks in Shoula - by ghastly coincidence the very same Shoula suburb in which civilians were slaughtered by an American aircraft during last year's invasion - looked like a copy-cat of every Israeli raid on the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, Iraqis are well aware that the US military asked for - and received - Israel's "rules of engagement" from the Sharon government. America's losses these past 24 hours - at least 12 dead and many soldiers wounded - have come nowhere near Iraq's but their enemies may soon outnumber them.

US forces in Sadr City believe they were fighting up to 500 of Sadr's black-uniformed Army of the Mahdi militiamen early yesterday morning. Even so, using Apaches in a heavily-populated district to hunt for gunmen raises new questions about the rules under which occupation troops are supposed to be guided.

and concludes by questioning, on purely pragmatic grounds, the soundness of the decision that began this open revolt:

For the past nine nights, for example, the main US base close to Baghdad airport - and the area around the terminals - has come under mortar fire. Yet the occupying powers have kept this secret. "Things are getting very bad and they're going to get worse," a special forces officer said close to the airport yesterday. "But no one is saying that - either because they don't know or because they don't want you to know."

As for Sadr, he will, no doubt, try to surround himself with squads of gunmen and supporters in the hope that the Americans will not dare to shoot their way in to him. Or he will go underground and we'll have another "enemy of democracy" to bestialise in the run-up to the American elections. Or - much more serious perhaps - his capture may unleash far more violence from his supporters.

And all this, remember, began because Mr Bremer decided to ban Sadr's trashy 10,000-circulation weekly newspaper for "inciting violence."

Indeed, even ignoring all other issues -- such as that part of the democratic ideal Americans are supposed to value is freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- if the shutting down of al-Hawza was meant to lead to less attacks on US troops then the action was a colossal failure. This blunder is mirrored in the Israel/Palestine conflict by the assassination of Yassin, which has led to a less favorable situation for Israel. In each of these cases the consequences of the actions in question were fairly easily predictable -- one wonders why they were carried out.

Anyway the Fisk piece is very good. As the kids say, go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

On 'War President' 

Given this image's inflammatory nature, I posted it with a great deal of trepidation. I had a hard time deciding if it was the right thing to do and I am still not sure. No, I didn't have the consent of the families of those pictured, and I apologize for any additional pain that this image causes them. That said, I must say that it is my belief that one distinguishing characteristic between art and other forms of speech is that art takes risks, and if we, as a society, value art we must allow it more leeway than other modes of expression to incite or offend.

'War President' is meant to be a satirical commentary, informed by the whole project of using the dead as political props. I'm not making a dime off the image, and never will attempt to do so. Given this lack of financial or other crass motives, other recent instances of the politicization of the dead strike me as more morally questionable: the coffins of the victims of 9/11 showing up in a political advertisement, the continued suppression of images of the funerals of those lost in Iraq from the mainstream American media, and images of the 9/11 disaster in a campaign ad. A certain party stands to benefit greatly from all three of those instances of politicization.

I'd also like to point out that 'War President' is an image. It is not a textual statement or rhetorical argument. An image is like an empty room and any message that one reads in that room necessarily came in the baggage one carried when one walked in the door. If I made a mosaic of George Washington composed of images of the American dead from the revolution, would viewers likely take that image as an indictment of Washington? I submit that they would not. It would be viewed as a monument to the dead and a celebration of a great leader, a somewhat maudlin monument maybe but surely not offensive. The fact that 'War President' is not viewed such a manner is not due to any intrinsic property of 'War President' but lies somewhere else.

I'm getting a lot of requests about usage rights etc. Use 'War President' however you want, but don't use it for monetary benefit, and please don't
alter or modify it.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

War President 

Below is a small version of an image I made. It's a collage composed of the photos of the American service men and women who have died in Iraq. No photograph is used more than three times. Here is a medium-sized version, 800 x 925 pixels. Here is the full-sized version, 1890 x 2209 pixels. I call the image 'War President':

Saturday, April 03, 2004

All By Himself

This White House has a history of abusing its power for political purposes. When each abuse is carried out it is accompanied by some official cover story providing a narrative in which the action isn't the calculated political ploy it appears to be: Condoleeza Rice can't testify publicly because to do so would violate the separation of powers principle setting a dangerous precedent; the Plame-gate leaker didn't know Valerie Plame was undercover; etc.

The bargain in which Rice's public under-oath testimony was traded for Bush not having to speak to the commission without Cheney by his side marks the first time I can remember in which BushCo executed a political gambit that was so transparently political one can't make up any reasonable story to explain it besides the truth. Go ahead and try, I challenge you.

I wish someone in the gaggle would ask the following question:

Scottie, for what reason did the White House demand that President Bush and Vice President Cheney speak with the Sept. 11 commission together rather than separately?

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Good Old Independent

The London Independent just covered the Sibel Edmonds story:

A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.

She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".

Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

She told The Independent yesterday: "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She added: "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used ­ but not specifically about how they would be used ­ and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities ­ with skyscrapers."

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Canada Looking Better and Better ...

A Canadian federal judge just ruled that downloading mp3's does not infringe on the record companies' copyrights: (from "Swapping music files allowed, federal judge rules", G&M 3/1/04)

The music industry's fight against illegal file sharing suffered a major setback yesterday when a Federal Court judge ruled that swapping songs on the Internet for personal use does not break the law.

"Downloading a song for personal use does not amount to infringement," Mr. Justice Konrad von Finckenstein of the Federal Court of Canada wrote in his decision. "I cannot see a real difference between a library that places a photocopy machine in a room full of copyrighted material and a computer user that places a personal copy on a shared directory."

The Canadian Recording Industry Association was seeking a court order to identify 29 so-called uploaders, Internet users it claimed had illegally posted hundreds of songs illegally on the Web. Judge von Finckenstein refused to grant the order, arguing that placing a song in an on-line music-sharing directory such as Kazaa "does not amount to distribution." Without the uploaders' names, CRIA cannot file lawsuits seeking damages.

Internet service providers hailed the ruling as a triumph for the privacy rights of their customers. But there was general agreement that CRIA's evidence was weak and the music industry signalled the fight will continue.

So, I guess, while you're waiting for your mp3's to download, you can walk over to the pharmacy and buy some pot -- Oh, Canada.

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