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

Friday, May 28, 2004

Those Pesky Noncombatants 

UTS points out the following interesting exchange at Wednesday's CPA press briefing:

Q: ... Can you talk a little bit about efforts to reimburse the families of Iraqis who -- innocent Iraqis who are killed in coalition operations? ...

GEN. KIMMITT: On the first question, about compensation for noncombatants, there is a process by which noncombatants can put forward compensation claims to the coalition. That happens regularly and routinely. I think the last time I reported on it, by that point, there had been over 11,000 claims on the part of noncombatants, and somewhere on the order of $2.5 million had been paid out.

So there is a process. There are many different ways. Whether it's done formally through the compensation or commanders invoking their own authorities, compensation is a regular and routine part of what the coalition does on a daily basis on those rare instances where there is effect upon noncombatants or their property.

On those rare instances that occur on a daily basis Iraqis can expect to receive on the order of a few hundred dollars as compensation for a dead loved one, wonderful.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Farewell to a "Pacifist Who Meant Business" 

Chicago Seven member and lifelong leftist, David Dellinger, has passed away. From the Washington Post's obituary:

Mr. Dellinger, who had been protesting since the 1930s, was the oldest of the seven (originally eight) Vietnam War protesters charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot after a massive demonstration in the streets and parks of Chicago turned violent. Among the bearded, beaded and wild-haired defendants, he was balding and wore a coat and tie. He and Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis were convicted of inciting a riot, but the convictions were overturned on appeal.

One of his four surviving children, Michele McDonough, said yesterday that Mr. Dellinger remained actively engaged in issues until just a few years ago. The "last real trip he made," she said, was three years ago when he hitched a ride to demonstrations in Quebec City against the creation of a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere.

"He felt this is one of the most important times to be active," she said. "He was working on a wide range of things: prisoners' rights, supporting a living wage, demonstrating and writing about foreign policy of this government."

Mr. Dellinger had been to court, to jail and to prison long before the '60s, although that is the era with which he is most identified. He supported union organizing drives in the 1930s and civil rights in the 1950s. He was jailed so often that he had lost count.

"I went from Yale to jail," he said, "and got a good education in both places."

[ ... ]

At the 1969 trial, just before Judge Julius Hoffman sentenced him, he was offered a chance to speak. But when the judge tried to cut him off, Mr. Dellinger said: "You want us to be like good Germans, supporting the evils of our decade, and then when we refused to be good Germans and came to Chicago and demonstrated, now you want us to be like good Jews, going quietly and politely to the concentration camps while you and this court suppress freedom and the truth. And the fact is, I am not prepared to do that. You want us to stay in our place like black people were supposed to stay in their place. . . . "

Tip of the hat to Corrente for pointing out this story.

Ritter Redux 

There's a good piece up on the Guerilla News Network site about the media's treatment of Scott Ritter, well worth a read. Ritter was a former UN weapons inspector who courageously risked his career and reputation to inform the American people about what was really going on during the run-up to the Iraq War. Ritter spent late 2002 and 2003 making speeches and giving interviews in which he explained why he believed Saddam Hussein did not possess significant quantities of WMD's and was not a threat to the United States. Not very surprisingly what he received for his trouble was one of the most despicable character assassination campaigns that I have ever witnessed.

It's interesting and informative to compare the treatment of Scott Ritter to the treatment of Ahmed Chalabi. Why was Ritter a lunatic bought and paid for by Saddam Hussein, while Chalabi was not a craven criminal bought and paid for by the mullahs of Iran? Ask that question the next time you run into someone complaining about the liberal media. Actually the difference in the media's treatment of Ritter and Chalabi serves as a good controlled experiment by which one can examine the accuracy of the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model, much like the pairing of Cambodia vs. East Timor explicated in Manufacturing Consent.

In a recent interview with The London News Review Ritter said of Chalabi et al.:

Every intelligence source has to be evaluated. With technical intelligence, you need a database of imagery to compare with what’s happening on the ground. And human intelligence traditionally has some checks and balances built in. Does the source have access to the information he or she claims? Do they have a record of reliable reporting? Can the information be corroborated elsewhere?

But Chalabi and Hamza don’t pass any of the tests. Chalabi’s a known fraud with political motivations. He doesn’t pass the common sense test and his information not only fails to be corroborated by imagery and data: it’s contradicted by them. And yet they believed it anyway.

And Hamza was just an outright liar. He wasn’t who he said he was. He should never have been trusted. Ever. So I have no use for these gentlemen. I find them culpable in the deaths, not only of 560 Americans, but also over 60 British soldiers and 10,000 Iraqis.

(edit: Fixed the reference above. The interview was with the London News Review, not the Times)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Problem Solved ... 

Rumsfeld has finally taken decisive action on the prisoner abuse scandal. He's banned digital cameras.

Update: At this point, it's pretty clear that this was a parody article that made its way into the mainstream press. This Register article sums up the facts of the matter...

Spring Cleaning 

Didn't think I'd live to see this. The New York Times somewhat feebly owns up to the errors of Judith Miller's Greatest Hits from 2003 but mostly lets her off the hook:

Over the last year this newspaper has shone the bright light of hindsight on decisions that led the United States into Iraq. We have examined the failings of American and allied intelligence, especially on the issue of Iraq's weapons and possible Iraqi connections to international terrorists. We have studied the allegations of official gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves.

[ ... ]

we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

The rest of the article offers a number of examples of assertions made by or in the New York Times that were false: that Saddam Hussein trained Islamic terrorists at a secret camp where biological weapons were produced, that Saddam Hussein, as recently as 2002, renovated secret biological and chemical weapons facilities hidden in villas and underground wells. I had forgotten the extent and specificity of the lies of Chalabi's stooges. This whole story -- of Chalabi and the neocons and the government of the United States of America and the New York Times -- truly is a scandal of the highest order. The timing of this thing is quite funny. The editors confess above that they wish they had been more "aggressive" which is why they finally admit that Ahmed Chalabi had sold them a line of crap only after the Bush administration turns its back on Chalabi. Very aggressive.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

That Muck-raking Rag, USA Today 

There's another solidly anti-Bush op-ed in USA Today, this time by Carl Bernstein:

"What did the president know and when did he know it?" a Republican senator — Howard Baker of Tennessee — famously asked of Nixon 30 springtimes ago.

Today, confronted by the graphic horrors of Abu Ghraib prison, by ginned-up intelligence to justify war, by 652 American deaths since presidential operatives declared "Mission Accomplished," Republican leaders have yet to suggest that George W. Bush be held responsible for the disaster in Iraq and that perhaps he, not just Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is ill-suited for his job.

Having read the report of Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, I expect Baker's question will resound again in another congressional investigation. The equally relevant question is whether Republicans will, Pavlov-like, continue to defend their president with ideological and partisan reflex, or remember the example of principled predecessors who pursued truth at another dark moment.

Today, the issue may not be high crimes and misdemeanors, but rather Bush's failure, or inability, to lead competently and honestly.

[ ... ]

To curtail any hint of dissension in the ranks, Bush scheduled a "pep rally" with congressional Republicans — speaking 35 minutes, after which, characteristically, he took no questions and lawmakers dutifully circled the wagons.

What did George W. Bush know and when did he know it? Another wartime president, Harry Truman, observed that the buck stops at the president's desk, not the Pentagon.

But among Republicans today, there seems to be scant interest in asking tough questions — or honoring the example of courageous leaders of Congress who, not long ago, stepped forward, setting principle before party, to hold accountable presidents who put their country in peril.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

War is Over If You Want It (And You're Iranian) 

So the Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that Chalabi's INC is and has always been a front group for Iran's intelligence apparatus. Here's the money quote from an unnamed intelligence insider via Newsday:

Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program (ICP) information to provoke the United Sates into getting rid of Saddam Hussein ... [The ICP also] kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing.

There is an odd and somewhat amusing symmetry at work here. Often in the comments of this blog and elsewhere in the blogosphere, a Bush supporter attempts to justify the current Iraq fiasco by citing the horror and scale of the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, saying "He gassed his own people" or "He practiced genocidal ethnic cleansing against the Kurds". Such statements are, of course, perfectly true but they neglect to mention an important detail. When Saddam Hussein committed these atrocities he was considered a valuable asset of the United States; Iraq was a US client state. The "genocide against the Kurds" refers to Hussein's Anfal campaign which took place in 1988 and was not denounced by the United States at the time. Hussein "gassed his own people" in the context of the above campaign in an attack against Iranian invaders in the town of Halabja during the Iran-Iraq War. Actually there is some dispute whether it was Iran or Iraq that used the chemical weapons. In any case, it is a fact that at the time Saddam Hussein was receiving intelligence aid from the US, among other more tangible gifts; as a NYT piece asserted, for example: "A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program."

Anyway, what does this have to do with Chalabi? Well, why was the US supporting the Beast of Baghdad in the eighties? Because the boogey-man of the moment back then was Iran. The US was using Iraq as a proxy to attack Iran.

During the run up to the Iraq invasion Chomsky managed to get a pretty funny (for Chomsky) satire piece into the New York Times dealing with this forgotten fact. Chomsky's "A Modest Proposal" suggested that rather than invading Iraq the US should compel Iran to attack Iraq, afterall there was already a precedent:

One simple plan seems to have been ignored, perhaps because it would be regarded as insane, and rightly so. But it is instructive to ask why.

The modest proposal is for the United States to encourage Iran to invade Iraq, providing the Iranians with the necessary logistical and military support, from a safe distance (missiles, bombs, bases, etc.).

As a proxy, one pole of "the axis of evil" would take on another.

The proposal has many advantages over the alternatives.

First, Saddam will be overthrown -- in fact, torn to shreds along with anyone close to him. His weapons of mass destruction will also be destroyed, along with the means to produce them.

Second, there will be no American casualties. True, many Iraqis and Iranians will die. But that can hardly be a concern. The Bush circles -- many of them recycled Reaganites -- strongly supported Saddam after he attacked Iran in 1980, quite oblivious to the enormous human cost, either then or under the subsequent sanctions regime.

Given that sources closely linked to the current administration are now admitting that Chalabi and the INC were acting on behalf of Iran, one wonders if Chomsky's "modest proposal" was actually carried out -- in reverse. Iran used the United States as a proxy to attack Iraq and unseat Saddam Hussein. The action was extremely successful. Given the country's current instability, the only sort of Iraqi government with a chance of lasting more than a few seconds is a government that is dominated by Iraq's Shia majority -- installing such a government will be a big win for Iran.

The war in Iraq is over. The United States lost, and Iran won.

How to Deal With News Sources That Aren't Biased Towards US Interests ... 

From a Reporters Without Borders press release:

An Iraqi technician from al-Jazeera television, Hamid Rashid Wali, was shot dead on the night of 20 May 2004 in Kerbala, during clashes between the United States (US) Army and Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia, al-Jazeera said in Baghdad. To date, at least 27 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. Thirteen journalists and media assistants have been killed since 1 January 2004, including 11 Iraqis. Iraq can still be considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Al-Jazeera bureau chief Saad Ibrahim described how his technician was killed. "Half an hour after midnight, we had just finished filming live on the hotel roof when shots were aimed at our crew. Hamid Rashid Wali was hit in the head. He had worked with us for a long time and he arrived in Kerbala only two days earlier to relieve the previous crew," Ibrahim said. A journalist and cameraman were also on the roof at the time of the shooting.

In a separate incident, Fran Sevilla, a Spanish national and special correspondent for Spanish radio station RNE, has been detained for several hours at a mosque in Najaf, central Iraq. Sevilla, aged 44, is being held by a group close to the radical leader al-Sadr, the station reported.

Finally, US forces arrested al-Arabiya cameraman Hassan Karim on 20 May. Contacted by telephone in Dubai, a spokesperson for the station confirmed that Karim was still being held on 21 May. No official explanation was given to explain the cameraman's arrest in Baghdad's al-Baya'a district.

Stand By Your Man 

You've got to hand it to the Prince of Darkness -- he's loyal: (from here)

Richard Perle is a confused and disappointed man these days. Nicknamed the Prince of Darkness, the one-time darling of Republican foreign policy circles - and a man who was as much the architect of the war in Iraq as any other - has seen his standing decline rapidly.

It reached its nadir last week when Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi whom Perle and his hawk allies in the Pentagon had positioned to lead a new Iraq into a prosperous, democratic and peaceful future, was dumped by the Bush administration. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress had received $100m from the US since the late 1990s. Last week his house and headquarters were raided in an anti-corruption probe.

The knives are out in Washington. As Perle, a neoconservative who is perhaps the staunchest Chalabi supporter in the capital put it: "The CIA despises Chalabi; the State Department despises him. They did everything they could to put him out of business. Now there is a deliberate effort to marginalise him."

The Boston Globe provides the rest of the above Perle quotation:

[Chalabi] has devoted his life to freeing his country ... He is a man of enormous intelligence, and I believe the effort to marginalize him will fail. They will end up looking ridiculous."

But will they end up looking more ridiculous than a man who was so thoroughly conned that he happily serves as chief character witness for the con man?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Ahmed's Bad Week 

First, Wolfowitz cuts off Ahmed's $340,000 a month allowance, and today US soldiers raided his house. Hey Chalabi, where's your fancy friends?...

There are those who believe this is all an elaborate ruse to boost Chalabi's popularity in Iraq by painting him as an enemy of the Americans. For instance, Robert Dreyfuss in TomPaine quotes neocon Michael Rubin, a fellow of the American Enterpise Institute, as claiming

Much of the information [Chalabi] collected was to roll up the insurgency and Ba'athist cells. It caught people red-handed. By telegraphing that he is not the favorite son of America, the administration will bolster him, showing he is his own man.

But I don't buy these Chalabi-is-still-in-the-fold theories for several reasons, the most salient being that those who are interested enough in Chalabi to pull off secret schemes on his behalf, no longer have the kind of power it takes to pull off secret schemes. Neoconservatives are too preoccupied with keeping their own jobs these days to be too concerned about keeping Chalabi's. Furthermore if there's a conspiracy afoot, why don't the players have all their ducks in a row? For example, if the goal is to distance Chalabi from the US, why is Richard Perle still talking Ahmed up? Perle called the raid of the Chalabi compound "apalling" and "bizarre" and as recently as Monday was still saying things like

[The INC and] Chalabi in particular are the best hope for Iraq.*

That said, today's raid can only help Chalabi's standing in Iraq, as per the secret scheme theory. An Iraqi commentator, cited in a Salon article, offered the following analysis:

[Chalabi's] dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader. He knows that, sooner or later, Muqtada al-Sadr is going to be killed, [and] that will leave tens, hundreds, of thousands of his followers adrift, looking for a new leader. If Ahmed plays the role of victim after [today's raid], he can take on that role

It's a strange situation ... here's Chalabi attempting to sabotage the last hope for any sort of political stability in Iraq, Brahimi's efforts, and Richard Perle is still cheerleading for him. Will Richard Perle ever turn on Chalabi? What would it take? If Ahmed Chalabi named himself God-King of Iraq, instituted a fundamentalist theocracy, nuked Israel, and removed his human mask to reveal his true serpent-eyed demonic reptile face, would Richard Perle still call him our "best hope"?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Fake News 

The General Accounting Office has concluded that the fake news segments produced by the Bush administration to tout their new Medicare law were illegal: (from "Medicare 'news report' videos violate law, GAO says", AP)

The Bush administration's promotion of the new Medicare law through videos made to look like news reports violated a prohibition against using public money for propaganda, Congress' General Accounting Office said Wednesday.

[ ... ]

The GAO report was issued just as the administration was trying to blunt criticism of the new law by trumpeting discounts for people who use Medicare-approved drug cards when filling their prescriptions.

[ ... ]

The story packages violated the law because the government "did not identify itself as the source of the news report," said the GAO, Congress' investigative arm.

The English version ends with a woman's voice saying, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." A man identifies himself as a reporter named Alberto Garcia in the Spanish-language version.

"The viewing audience does not know . . . that Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia were paid with HHS funds for their work," congressional investigators said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who asked for the GAO inquiry, said President Bush's re-election campaign should repay the government for the cost of the videos.

HHS has said it spent about $43,000 to produce the materials.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

How do you say déjà vu in Cowboyese? 

A couple of weeks ago Greg Mitchell asked the readers of Editor & Publisher which major newspaper would be the first to come out against Bush's Iraq adventure. We now have an answer. The octogenarian founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, recently editorialized as follows:

As a former combat infantryman in World War II, I've always believed we must fully support our troops. Reluctantly, I now believe the best way to support troops in Iraq is to bring them home, starting with the "hand-over" on June 30.
Only a carefully planned withdrawal can clean up the biggest military mess miscreated in the Oval Office and miscarried by the Pentagon in my 80-year lifetime. In Journalese, the traditional five Ws of Who, What, When, Where, Why:

Who? George W. Bush.

What? His cowboy culture. Ride fast and alone or with just a few buddies. Shoot first. Ask questions later.

When? After 9/11. Bush bravely took on a necessary fight against terrorists who attacked us. But then he diverted his attention to an unrelated and unnecessary "pre-emptive" war.

Where? Iraq. He led us astray by falsely claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened us. [ ... ]

Why? Because he believes he can be re-elected as a tough-talking, self-proclaimed "War President."

Maybe Bush should take a cue from a fellow Texan, former president Lyndon Baines Johnson, who also had some cowboy characteristics.

LBJ, after mismanaging the Vietnam War that so bitterly divided the nation and the world, decided he owed it to his political party and to his country not to run for re-election. So, he turned tail and rode off into the sunset of his Texas ranch.

How do you say déjà vu in Cowboyese?

Monday, May 17, 2004

Hallmarks from the Edge 

Brigadier General turned talking head Mark Kimmitt says today's suicide bombing had all the hallmarks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, boogey-man of the moment. Actually, Kimmitt says the bombing has the "classic" hallmarks of Zarqawi, not just any run-of-the-mill hallmarks. Which is good because the classicalness of the hallmarks should serve as a memory aid when attempting to keep today's bombing staight from say the car bombing that occurred on the Thursday before last which according to Reuters "[bore] the hallmarks of Zarqawi" or from last month's Basra bombing that "bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda" but caused a senior military official to "[point] the finger at Zarqawi." Also, although the CPA doesn't mention any hallmarks it assures us that the Ashura bombings "follow[ed] terrorist Zarqawi's script."

American Leftist wonders, at this point, what would it take for a car bomb in Iraq to not exhibit the hallmarks of Zarqawi? Would the car have to be an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme lowrider and filled completely with ping-pong balls and canned ham?

Zarqawi also, of course, just beheaded Nick Berg. We know this because the CIA said so and because of a post -- that, as far as I can tell, no one has ever seen -- on an "Islamist" website that isn't there anymore. According to a thousand news articles the post that no one ever saw directly stated that the murderer was Zarqawi, which is odd given that the murderer is wearing a mask. Why would the terrorist hide his face if he was going to announce his identity to the world? -- Shyness? Fashion considerations?

Anyway this Zarqawi sure does get around. Especially for a guy who's probably dead...

Friday, May 14, 2004

Not In Their Control 

From the NYT's story on a former Abu Ghraib prisoner's account of his ordeal:

Mr. Aboud's allegations of the methods of abuse largely squared with those in General Taguba's report. He also mentioned, again with no prompting, a central allegation of the report: his belief that the orders for torture came from superiors.

"I think this was carried out under orders," he said. He offered as evidence that the man named Steven appeared to be the one directing the soldiers and that several higher-up officers regularly visited the cellblock — at times, he claimed, during actual mistreatment.

He said he asked one of the interrogators, " `Why do you torture us?' " and that the man replied, " `It's not in our control.' "

He also said that the soldiers themselves, as a group, seemed conflicted about what they were doing.

Secret Visits That Have Nothing to do with Politics ... Nothing! 

On Crossfire yesterday Carville kept calling Rumsfeld a hollow beaten old man -- a shell of his former self begging to keep his job -- which was good for a laugh, but, you know who I think has also been acting like a shell of his former self these days? -- Karl Rove.

What's up with Fat Karl lately? Has he completely run out of ideas? Take Rumsfeld's secret mission to Iraq ... um ... didn't Karl already use that one? Nice of Karl to throw such soft balls ... the press just used their standard secret visit boilerplate -- lots of breathless behind-the-scenes accounts of how the trip was planned and carried out and exposition about just how secret it all was. Yes, my friends, it was very very secret.

As soon as the Plame scandal heats up I wonder if we're going to have to hear about Scooter Libby's visit with the troops. Maybe Scooter can dress up like Uncle Sam and give the troops firecrackers or something -- but he'll have to leave his cell phone batteries with the CIA because, lord knows, those cell phones can be tracked! Or maybe Fat Karl will go on a secret mission somewhere; I'm sure the troops would love that; he could hand out ham sandwiches. The troops, I'm told, love nothing more than visits from scandal-wracked members of the Bush administration.

At least this time there was no plastic turkey.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Tralfamadorians Against Bush 

Kurt Vonnegut trashes the gang that couldn't shoot straight in a recent NY Daily News article:

They're adroit criminals ... They're committing war crimes - attacking a country that hasn't attacked us. Pretending it had. And torturing prisoners and filling countless graves with dead Iraqis. But adroit, sure. Al Capone was adroit. ... I don't care how Bush does, because I don't believe him. He believes himself, and that's what is quite terrifying.


[Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld were the ones] who allowed this torture to go on, kept it secret since January. These are war crimes. I dealt with prisoners when I was a soldier. We sure didn't torture them - we were well aware of the Geneva Convention. I myself became a prisoner [of the German's in Dresden during WWII] It's my country, not theirs, and they've trashed the reputation of Americans. ... It's possible to destroy a great civilization. Bush and those people have no love for it at all.

and informs us that all he really wants is to be a talking head:

What I want is - they've got all these generals and stuff and military retired consultants to CNN and so forth, I want 'em to have a retired corporal - me!"

Now that's a show I'd watch.

UPDATE: You know, when I wrote the above post, I considered including the Eugene V. Debs quote that Vonnegut was always so fond of, because the quote deals directly with prisoners and the subject of the moment is prisoners of war, but I didn't include it because I thought it would be too hard too explain the connection between a Debs quote and yesterday, etc. But Anyway, now there's a recent article in which Kurt himself cites the Debs quote that meant so much to me:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

And so on.

(original link via Karmalized)

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

And While You're At It, Could You Send Some Pro-Chomsky Letters to the Weekly Standard? 

From the liberal media file ... by way of Editor & Publisher:

In a notice to its readers, The Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis. (weekday circulation 54,193), observed that with the presidential race heating up, the editors have found themselves in a "quandary." They feel their Views page takes "the political and social temperature of the Valley." But now the question is: "How can we balance the perspectives and topics of our letters when many of our submissions have been coming only from one side?"

"We've been getting more letters critical of President Bush than those that support him. We're not sure why, nor do we want to guess. But in today's increasingly polarized political environment, we would prefer our offering to put forward a better sense of balance ...

"Since we depend upon you, our readers, to supply our letters, that goal can be difficult. We can't run letters that we don't have.

"If you would like to help us 'balance' things out, send us a letter, make a call or punch out an e-mail ... We'd love to hear from you."

I love it that they're "not sure why". What could it be? -- maybe a high school prank gone horribly wrong? Some contaminant in the drinking water? Something...

(Link ripped off of Demagogue)

Monday, May 10, 2004

Seventeen Year Locusts (from Hell) 

Some humor from the inimitable Billmon:

The neocons, it would appear, have moved from their twilight into their götterdammerung. Although this could also be seen as simply another phase in their natural political life cycle.

Like the the 17-year locusts - who this summer will return to annoy the northeast United States for the first time since 1987 - the neocons seem to emerge periodically to infest the government and wreck havoc on American foreign policy, then return to their underground hiding places to await the next turn of the cycle. During their off years, I'm told, the 17-year locusts survive by patiently sucking sap from the roots of trees. The neocons, of course, extract a similar form of sustainance from the bank accounts of conservative think tanks and their donors. We can only hope that the damage done this time around can be repaired before the critters next reemerge into the sunlight.

A Blast From the Past 

From "Bush warns Iraq about war crimes", Reuters, 3/23/03:

President George W. Bush has warned Iraqis they will be punished as "war criminals" if they mistreat U.S. prisoners, and says the United States is just beginning a tough fight for Iraq.

[ ... ]

Also, Iraqi television, relayed by the Arabic network Al-Jazeera, showed pictures of at least four bodies, said to be U.S. soldiers, and five prisoners they said were Americans taken in a battle near the southern city of Nassiriya.

"The POWs I expect to be treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals," Bush said.

So, I guess, those Hague trials for those mistreating prisoners should get started any day now, right? ...

The ICRC Report 

The report on the abuse of prisoners in Iraq produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been released publicly. The Wallstreet Journal published some excerpts, however. I couldn't find the WSJ's coverage online, but here is a Reuter's story about the WSJ's excerpts. And here's some excerpts of the excerpts:

[In the case of high value detainees], persons deprived of their liberty under supervision of military intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture, in order to force cooperation with their interrogators

Since the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC has regularly brought its concerns to the attention of the coalition forces. The observations in the present report are consistent with those made earlier on several occasions orally and in writing to the coalition forces throughout 2003.

Methods of ill-treatment during interrogation included: "hooding a detainee with a bag, sometimes in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come"; handcuffing so tight that they caused skin lesions and nerve damage; beating with pistols and rifles; threats of reprisals against family members; and stripping detainees naked for several days in solitary confinement in a completely dark cell

Lori Berenson's Case Goes Before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights 

From the AP's coverage of the story:

The mother of an American jailed on terrorism charges in Peru told an international court on Friday that her daughter should be freed because Peru's judicial system is inept.

Rhoda Berenson testified before the San Jose-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has the power to legally require member nations, such as Peru, to comply with its rulings.

The court agreed to hear Lori Berenson's case after she claimed that Peruvian courts denied her due process. She is serving a 20-year sentence on a conviction for collaborating with Peruvian terrorists.

[ ... ]

In her testimony, Rhoda Berenson charged that the Peruvian judicial system permitted human rights violations. She also argued there was bias against her daughter that prevented a fair trial. In one instance, she said U.S. officials told her that Peru's president had appeared on television in 1995 and mentioned her daughter by name, saying she was collaborating with terrorists.

It's hard to believe Berenson has served ten years already...

Friday, May 07, 2004

On Taking Our Puppets and Torturers and Going ... 

Go read River's latest over at Baghdad Burning. Here's some excerpts:

People are seething with anger- the pictures of Abu Ghraib and the Brits in Basrah are everywhere. Every newspaper you pick up in Baghdad has pictures of some American or British atrocity or another. It's like a nightmare that has come to life.

Everyone knew this was happening in Abu Ghraib and other places seeing the pictures simply made it all more real and tangible somehow. American and British politicians have the audacity to come on television with words like, "True the people in Abu Ghraib are criminals, but " Everyone here in Iraq knows that there are thousands of innocent people detained. Some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, while others were detained 'under suspicion'. In the New Iraq, it's "guilty until proven innocent by some miracle of God".

[ ... ]

There was a time when people here felt sorry for the troops. No matter what one's attitude was towards the occupation, there were moments of pity towards the troops, regardless of their nationality. We would see them suffering the Iraqi sun, obviously wishing they were somewhere else and somehow, that vulnerability made them seem less monstrous and more human. That time has passed. People look at troops now and see the pictures of Abu Ghraib… and we burn with shame and anger and frustration at not being able to do something. Now that the world knows that the torture has been going on since the very beginning, do people finally understand what happened in Falloojeh?

[ ... ]

And through all this, Bush gives his repulsive speeches. He makes an appearance on Arabic tv channels looking sheepish and attempting to look sincere, babbling on about how this 'incident' wasn't representative of the American people or even the army, regardless of the fact that it's been going on for so long. He asks Iraqis to not let these pictures reflect on their attitude towards the American people and yet when the bodies were dragged through the streets of Falloojeh, the American troops took it upon themselves to punish the whole city.

[ ... ]

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Amen, Sir 

From Congressman Charlie Rangel's Floor Statement on Iraqi Prisoners Resolution, May 6, 2004:

... And now the information that we received is that a climate has been created where a handful of people have committed these atrocities against humankind in an atmosphere where all of the people in Iraq have been demonized, where it appears to the American people, and certainly to our military, that the people of Iraq are responsible for 9/11 and causing us pain, that the Secretary of Defense did have information months ago about these atrocities, and that he kept it from the president, he kept it from the Congress, and he kept it from the American people. I think that this rises to the point that it's a high crime and misdemeanor, if he disappointed the president, kept information from the Congress, and kept this information from the American people. I think America and the world want us to show the outrage not by rhetoric but by taking action, and if this president doesn't fire the secretary, if he doesn't resign, I think its the responsibility of this Congress to file articles of impeachment and force him to leave office.

Thanks for the Clarification 

From Dan Froomkin of washingtonpost.com:

Much has been made of the fact that Bush is still using a line from his stump speech about how the torture chambers in Iraq are closed.

But here's something no one seems to have noticed: He has made a change. Now he's specifying whose torture chambers.

Up until lately, the line generally went "Because we acted, torture chambers are closed."

That was up until early Tuesday afternoon. See, for instance, his remarks in the Ohio towns of Lebanon or Maumes.

But since Tuesday night -- or by the time he got to Cincinnati -- he's been more specific. The exact words now: "Because our coalition acted, Saddam's torture chambers are closed."

And he's used that precise phrasing two more times since then, at a Sterling Heights, Mich., rally later Tuesday night, and at the Republican National Committee Gala in Washington last night, which raised a record $38.5 million for the Republican National Committee.

Real Torture and Unreal Torture 

Some commentators on the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib are playing down what occurred there, implying that it wasn't "real" torture. For example, (Right) Wingnuts cites Sean Hannity as referring to the incidents as "borderline torture". Also, Salon has a pretty good summary of the initial rightwing response to the Abu Ghraib story in which one blogger's commentary is characterized as "rattl[ing] off a litany of horrific stories from Iran, Syria, Cuba and other nations ruled by autocratic regimes to support his view that the U.S. abuses are not so bad."

While it's interesting to see rightwingers adopting the charicatured moral relativist position they so often attribute to the left, these views are not only wrong and deeply repugnant but also quite simpleminded in the analysis of the situation they imply. It is a gross misunderstanding of the unfolding narrative to stake a lot of importance in the acts depicted in these particular pictures as opposed to placing importance in the implications of the existence of these pictures and the fact that they were so readily accessible to so many parties that they ended up in the mainstream American media. Look, more pictures were unearthed today, for example -- maybe tomorrow there will be pictures that are far far more horrible, or, perhaps more plausibly, the far far more horrible acts -- that there is now very good reason to believe are occurring -- were not photographed.

American Leftist would like to know if Sean Hannity believes that beating and electrocuting someone until they enter a coma is another example of "borderline torture", with or without pictures. From the New Standard:

Not all evidence of military personnel mistreating Iraqis held in US custody come from leaks within the American- and British-run detention facilities. In many cases, such as that of Sadiq Zoman, 57, who last year entered US custody healthy but left in a vegetative state, the story originates with family members desperate to share their loved one’s story with anyone willing to listen.

American soldiers detained Zoman at his residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003 when they raided the Zoman family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman himself.

More than a month later, on August 23, US soldiers dropped Zoman off, already comatose, at a hospital in Tikrit. Although he was unable to recount his story, his body bore telltale signs of torture: what appear to be point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a badly broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet. Additionally, family members say they found whip marks across his back and more electrical burns on his genitalia.

[ ... ]

The Zoman family has been able to reconstruct a rough story of Sadiq’s incarceration from eyewitness accounts related by neighbors who were detained at the same time. They say Zoman was first held at the Kirkuk Airport Detention Center, then transferred still healthy to Al-Ka’ad, a school the Army had converted into a detention facility. On August 6, witnesses said, he was moved to a base in Tikrit where they say he was beaten.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Exciting Career Opportunities in Iraq 

So at this point it's common knowledge that private contractors, such as CACI International and Titan, have been providing interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison among other places. I think the Bush administration is missing out on a nice talking point here ... look at all the jobs they're creating. If you're among the 2.2 million who have lost your job since Bush took office, why just read about the lucrative field of of freelance interrogating when you can join it yourself? So here, you go, straight from Monster.com:

Interrogator - Debriefer

Job Description:

* Conduct screening and interrogations
* Abide by the Geneva Convention and other laws and Customer directives
* Produce IIRs (Intelligence Information Reports) and KBs (Knowledgeability Reports) and populate Intelligence databases
* Work with cleared and un-cleared Arabic linguists and interpreters

Minimum Requirements:

* Secret Clearance
* Experience as an interrogator and/or debriefer
* US Army 97E or 97B (US Marine Corp 0211 or 0251) certification or equivalent

Highly Desired Qualifications and Experience:

* Bachelor’s Degree
* Previous deployment experience supporting contingency operations
* Knowledge of U.S. Intelligence Community
* Arab language capability, Poshtu highly desired.
* Prior military experience
* Top Secret Clearance
* Experience as a debriefer
* Successfully completed Strategic Debriefers Course (SDC)

$80-90K plus BONUS, OVERTIME and benefits, including one paid trip home every 5-6 months.

Job Location: Baghdad,Iraq. Afghanistan.

You have to abide the Geneva Convention and customer directives -- which might be a problem -- but what the hell it pays $80-90K.

Feel as though you're a little over-qualified for the above position, try this one. You can help "[develop] intelligence exploitation guidance and interrogation strategies with the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center (JIDC) interrogators."

Also if the mercenary racket is more your cup of tea, don't worry -- Monster has many exciting openings for .. um .. security personnel. For instance, this one.

The Taguba Report 

Thesmokinggun is hosting the full Taguba Report on the abuse of Iraqi POW's at Abu Ghraib
as a PDF for download, and antiwar.com has it as HTML ... also here's some excerpts courtesy of MSNBC.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Fall of the Neocons (or Mmmm .... Schadenfreude) 

Yes I know this is all over the place, but go read the definitive article on the break between Chalabi and the neoconservatives. It includes this priceless quote from L. Marc Zell, a partner in the law firm Douglas Feith left for his undersecretary of defense for policy gig.

Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another

The treachery and turncoatedness that Zell is talking about refers, of course, to Israel. The neoconservatives are now realizing that Chalabi isn't as interested in buttressing Israel's position in the Mideast as he always said he was. Gee, who could have guessed that? It turns out, see, Ahmed was really just interested in gaining power for himself, and is now playing up his Shia roots and cozying up to Iran, Israel's most powerful enemy.

Also according to the Salon article, Feith is definitely out, Wolfowitz is probably going , ... and the Wolfowitz axing was decreed personally by Fat Karl:

As the intellectual architects of an "easy" war gone bad, [the neoconservatives] stand to pay the price. The first to go may be Zell's old partner Douglas Feith. Military sources say Feith will resign his Defense Department post by mid-May. His removal was reportedly a precondition imposed by Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte when he agreed to take over from Paul Bremer as the top U.S. official in Iraq. "Feith is on the way out," Iraqi defense minister (and Chalabi nephew) Ali Allawi says confidently, and other sources confirm it. Feith's boss, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, may follow. Bush political mastermind Karl Rove is said to be determined that Wolfowitz move on before the November election, even if he comes back in a second Bush term. Sources say one of the positions being suggested is the director of Central Intelligence.

I wonder if Richard Perle and David Frum stand by the following assertion from their magnum opus An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, which came out four short months ago:

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

Somebody should ask them ...

Monday, May 03, 2004

Abu Ghraib 

I'd like to point out that what's new here is the images of torture showing up on CBS. What's not new is this story. Reports of systematic abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners -- specifically at the Abu Ghraib prison -- have been around for months now. Without the graphic pictures they never broke through into the mainstream. Amnesty International has amassed scores of such reports since July*.

If we limit ourselves only to accounts involving Abu Ghraib, there was this article translated from Jordan's al-Arab al-Yawm Newspaper, several months ago:

Prisoner 'Ali Mahmud, who spent about five months in five different prison camps in various parts of Iraq before winding up in Abu Ghurayb, said that the charge against him was not based on any evidence but was merely slander. Yet the way he was captured was outrageous. "They raided my home in al-Karakh district late at night, provocatively wrecking our household goods. They stole five million dinars from my house and arrested three of my sons."

Mahmud said that the investigators used psychological torture on him throughout long hours of interrogation sessions during which his hands and feet were bound in iron chains.

Mahmud, who is known as 'Ali Mama, did not claim that he was beaten but said that some of the investigators used threats and intimidation regarding what would happen to him if he did not confess to his connections with Saddam and wit the so-called Army of Muhammad, connections with which he denied. Because he denied any connection with the Resistance, Mahmud says he was stripped naked and confined to an empty cell.

Mahmud described how during his imprisonment there he was subjected to a harsh form of punishment in which the jailers would pour water on his naked body, bringing on sickness. "I got terrible diarrhea and have fainting spells which I am now seeing a doctor about."

And let's not forget the story of the al-Jazeera reporters who wound up in Abu Ghraib and were tortured, covered in the Nation, among other places:

Once inside the sprawling prison, Hassan says, he was greeted by US soldiers who sang "Happy Birthday" to him through his tight plastic hood, stripped him naked and addressed him only as "Al Jazeera," "boy" or "bitch." He was forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for eleven hours in the bitter autumn night air; when he fell, soldiers kicked his legs to get him up again. In the morning, Hassan says, he was made to wear a dirty red jumpsuit that was covered with someone else's fresh vomit and interrogated by two Americans in civilian clothes. They made the usual accusations that Hassan and Al Jazeera were in cahoots with "terrorists."

If the Pentagon's serious about pursuing the standard "It was just a few bad apples. We didn't know what was going on" defense they have a pretty hard case to make. The sheer number of reports lends plausibility to the notion of US forces using torture as an intelligence gathering tool as a matter of official or quasi-official policy -- just by Occam's razor, if nothing else.

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