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

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Falsies 

The Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch, is going to make an annual tradition of presenting awards to "the people and players responsible for polluting our information environment" the most grievously throughout the year. Here's 2004's winners...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Tsunami Tragedy 

Haven't commented on this catastrophe because I didn't have anything useful to say.

I'd like to flag Juan Cole's most recent post on the the topic, however. I too noticed as Cole says that a sense of the full scale of the tragedy didn't come through in the American media until yesterday. Cole also makes an excellent point that Bush, by failing to reach out with words and deeds to the people of Aceh, squandered an opportunity to repair relations with the Muslim world:

As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.

Just a little background for anyone who's not up on Indonesian politics: Aceh is a resource rich province in Indonesia that wants to be independent; it's rich in, I think, natural gas. The desire for independence coupled with the importance of its gas reserves has led to the familiar dynamic in which a powerful state is in conflict with a weaker opponent that consistently gets re-cast in the post-911 world such that the state is nobly fighting a war against terrorists. So by visibly helping out the Acehnese Bush could have appealed directly to the sort of people who often turn to people like Bin Laden for guidance and support.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Surprise Visit Deja Vu 

Yes, my friends, the troops, bless their little hearts, love nothing more than receiving turkey from scandal-plagued members of the Bush administration.

You may think Rumsfeld's Christmas Eve surprise looks a lot like Bush's Thanksgiving visit last year, but to me what it really resembles is the last time Rumsfeld attempted to rehabilitate his image by making a surprise visit to Iraq.

He did the same thing right after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, remember? Here's a memory aid.

There are a couple of differences, however.

The AP says that Rumsfeld's most recent surprise visit was "shrouded" in "unusual secrecy" while his original surprise visit was only "shrouded in secrecy".

Also, although both trips seem to be politically motivated, while the last time the purpose of Rumsfeld's trip definitely wasn't "to throw water on a fire", this time "the purpose of the trip [was] to thank the troops and wish them a merry Christmas."

So, you know, that's that.


Meat-eating Leftist has some info about Michael Moore's next movie.

Bush, The Blamer 

A couple of posts back I noted that during the address in which Bush was said to acknowledge "a fraction of the problems that really exist" in Iraq, he mostly just passed the buck by blaming the country's insecurity on the US's Iraqi proxy army, and was a little surprised that other commentators didn't make a bigger deal about the cravenness of this attempted spin.

Apparently someone else did comment on it, Iraq's only four-star general ... from the AP:

"There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield - that is unacceptable," Bush said at a Dec. 20 press conference.

Asked about Bush's comments, [Gen. Babaker B. Shawkat] Zebari told AP: "I think the president received misleading information."

Nothing like insulting people who are doing you a tremendous favor at great personal risk.

Alice Lynd 

I was looking for updates on the story about the soldiers suing the government over the stop-loss program and noticed that Alice Lynd, the wife of Staughton who is representing the soldiers, is facing jail time for a completely unrelated matter. She refused to testify against a prisoner in a case resulting from a murder that occurred during a prison riot in 1993. Here's the story from The Portsmouth Daily Times, via InterActivist Info Exchange and here's a note from Staughton on the state of Alice's case posted yesterday on The Free Press:

This is a Christmas and New Year's Eve communication to friends who have helped us to confront Alice's difficult challenge over the past nine (almost ten) months.

First, we wish to express thanks to each and all of you. We have no way adequately to express how important your support has been to us.

Second, on December 21 the Fourth District Court of Appeals entered the following in its docket: "Given that it appears Appellant has made a good faith claim of confidentiality her motion to stay the Trial Court's judgment finding her in contempt and ordering her incarcerated is granted pending appeal."

This Court decision means that, at least until the Court of Appeals renders a judgment on the merits, Alice is not faced with going to jail if she does not testify. Her attorney will now pursue the appeal on the merits.

All peoples recognize the significance of the winter solstice: the moment -- as it happens December 21 -- when the dark and cold begin to recede, and the days begin to grow longer again as warmth returns to the earth. Some call it Christmas. Some call it Hanukkah. Some call it Kwanza or Yule. There are other names not known to us. The point is: You can't lose them all! Keep hope alive!

Staughton for S and A

Monday, December 27, 2004

How Nonprofit Careerism Derailed the "Revolution" 

I thought this Counterpunch piece by someone named Michael Donnelly was a little harsh but thought-provoking and probably correct. Donnelly argues that because privileged college graduates can now have reasonably well-paying careers in the nonprofit sector the American left has lost much of its momentum and power, given that the biggest nonprofits seldom do more than greenwash corporations or shill for the Democratic party.

Donnelly's criticism of bigtime nonprofits reminds me of one of the favorite talking points of Znet's Michael Albert: when you stucture left institutions like corporations you inevitably reproduce negative aspects of corporations in left institutions; for instance, see this old debate between Albert and The Nation's Katha Pollitt in which he touches on this point. Actually, there're many Albert essays that better make this point that I could have linked to, but the fight with Pollitt is pretty funny, so, you know, sue me.

Curious what other people thought...

Methinks They Do Protest Too Much 

My local Scaife rag ran a 250 word op-ed today saying that human-caused global warming doesn't exist because one guy said that it doesn't and also there was global warming in the Middle Ages ... an impressive amount of propaganda squeezed into an editorial shorter than most blog posts.

The editorial mentioned MIT professor Richard Lindzen's appearance at the National Press Club earlier this month where he equated belief in global warming to religious belief. Lindzen's National Press Club appearance has made him the kid of the moment among apologists for Big Industry.

Naomi Oreskes in The Post yesterday agreed with Lindzen, pointing out that belief in global warming is similar to religious belief in precisely the same way that many other beliefs are similar to religious belief:

To be sure, no scientific conclusion can ever be proven, absolutely, but it is no more a "belief" to say that Earth is heating up than it is to say that continents move, that germs cause disease, that DNA carries hereditary information or that quarks are the basic building blocks of subatomic matter.

Last week FAIR, commenting on the principle of journalistic balance in which one voice often counters the consensus of hundreds of top scientists in news stories, cited James Baker, administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, comparing the consensus on global warming to the consensus on Newton's second law of dynamics.

For my part, I'd like to point out that Richard Lindzen is a paid shill of the fossil fuel industry. Here's an excerpt from an old Harper's piece:

But while the skeptics [of human-caused global climate change] portray themselves as besieged truth-seekers fending off irresponsible environmental doomsayers, their testimony in St. Paul and elsewhere revealed the source and scope of their funding for the first time. Michaels has received more than $115,000 over the last four years from coal and energy interests. World Climate Review, a quarterly he founded that routinely debunks climate concerns, was funded by Western Fuels. Over the last six years, either alone or with colleagues, Balling has received more than $200,000 from coal and oil interests in Great Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. Balling (along with Sherwood Idso) has also taken money from Cyprus Minerals, a mining company that has been a major funder of People for the West—a militantly anti-environmental "Wise Use" group. Lindzen, for his part, charges oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels, and a speech he wrote, entitled "Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus," was underwritten by OPEC. Singer, who last winter proposed a $95,000 publicity project to "stem the tide towards ever more onerous controls on energy use," has received consulting fees from Exxon, Shell, Unocal, ARCO, and Sun Oil, and has warned them that they face the same threat as the chemical firms that produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a class of chemicals found to be depleting atmospheric ozone. "It took only five years to go from... a simple freeze of production [of CFCs]," Singer has written, ". . . to the 1992 decision of a complete production phase-out—all on the basis of quite insubstantial science."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Running Scared 

This is big news. Maybe Rumsfeld will end up resigning ... From the AP:

An international construction company has pulled out of its contract to rebuild Iraq's transportation systems, deciding it was too dangerous to stay, a spokesman for the U.S.-led reconstruction effort said Wednesday.

Contrack International led a coalition of firms working on a $325 million contract to rebuild Iraq's roads, bridges and railways. Contrack withdrew from that contract last month after a surge in attacks on reconstruction efforts, said Lt. Col. Eric Schnaible of the Pentagon's project and contract office in Baghdad.

"It's hard to do construction in a place where people are shooting at you or intimidating your work force," Schnaible said by phone. "It's a challenge across the country."

Yes, you read the above correctly: a corporation just turned down $325 million of free money from the US government. The contract in question was one of the twelve big reconstruction contracts granted last year.

Contrack International is a US subsidiary of Egypt-based Orascom Telecom. The Financial Times reports that, according to Orascom chairman Naguib Sawiris, all of the corporation's other subsidiaries in Iraq are considering following suit, including "the company trying keep Baghdad's cell phone business alive". Sawiris had the following to say about the situation:

I'm not into the business of putting the lives of my people in danger ... If (the violence) goes on, they won't find anyone willing to work in Iraq.

Notice too that the AP says the Contrack pull-out occurred "last month" -- before Tuesday's Mosul bombing which many an informed commentator suggests will become a watershed moment in the US occupation of Iraq.

In my posts below covering the surprising twist in which neoconservative luminary Bill Kristol decided to break with Rumsfeld, I argued that Rumsfeld probably wasn't being set up for a fall because I couldn't see what anyone would gain from it. What does someone like Kristol have to lose from Rumsfeld remaining in power? It's not like there's an election coming up -- so, you know, what pressure is Kristol under that led to what Buchanan called "the backstab of the year"?

The news above is one answer.

I don't mean in Bill Kristol's particular case, of course; I'm talking about Kristol as representative of a class of people. There are neocon true-believers, like Wolfowitz, who are accurately characterized, as Zbig Brzezinski just characterized them, as fanatics doing what they do for religious reasons, Kool-Aid drinkers, members of the cult of American empire. These true-believers are a powerful lot -- Bush Jr., in particular, has allowed them to ascend to the highest echelon of our political culture -- but they are not all-powerful and they aren't really that numerous. The true-believers wouldn't have gotten anywhere, wouldn't have gotten their war or their job titles, if it wasn't for another class of people who couldn't care less about transforming the world with American military power except for the part about making loads of easy money.

Corporations turning down hundreds of millions of dollars is an indication that the non-true-believers have lost faith in the true-believers' ability to generate profits.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Kristol Trashing Rumsfeld 

Just to follow up on my previous post, I'd like to flag this Jerusalem Post article in which William Kristol frankly discusses what Buchanan called "the backstab of the year", Kristol's call for Rumsfeld's dismissal.

The bottom line is that he says Rumsfeld is safe for awhile but that he won't last four years. Here's some quotes...

Asked how widespread the anti-Rumsfeld sentiment is among hawks, Kristol said

There's a lot of support for Rumsfeld ... There's a few people like me who are willing to be quite critical. A lot of conservatives say, "you're a little harsh, Bill. He's done a lot of good things. But you know, maybe you're right... Bush could do better for the next four years." I'd say a lot of people are somewhere in between.

He noted that the anti-Rumsfeld position is strongest among people actually in the military, saying, "To know a lot of what it is like on the ground is not to be pro-Rumsfeld," and concluded

I want to win the war. ... Everything depends on Iraq, and Rumsfeld doesn't seem to care about it as much as he might.

Oh, yeah, here's Kristol's Post editorial that started this ball rolling.

Rumsfeld as Neocon Fall Guy? 

Buchanan argues that the knives are out for Rumsfeld because the neoconservatives realize that they may need a fall guy. Crazy Pat, when he gets going, can be really funny -- the bit comparing the neocons to a parasite and Bush to the host organism is pure gold: (from here)

Rumsfeld is being set up to take the fall for what could become a debacle in Iraq. As the plotters, planners and propagandists of this war, the neocons know that if Iraq goes the way of Vietnam, there will be a search conducted for those who misled us and, yes, lied us into war, and why they did it. Rumsfeld has become designated scapegoat.

His clumsy response to soldiers about armor for Humvees is not the real reason Kristol's crowd wants him out. As Kristol told the Washington Post, Rumsfeld's "fundamental error . . . is that his theory about the military is at odds with the president's geopolitical strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we've got to win a real war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that's at the core of the president's strategy for rebuilding the Middle East."

To neocons, this war was never about weapons of mass destruction or any alleged Iraqi ties to Sept. 11. That was merely to mobilize the masses for war. Their real reason was empire and making the Middle East safe for Israel.

President Bush had best recognize what Kristol is telling him. The neocon agenda means escalation: enlarging the Army, more U.S. troops in Iraq, widening the war to Syria and Iran, and indefinite occupation of the Middle East, as we forcibly alter the mindset of the Islamic world to embrace democracy and Israel.

If that entails endless expenditures of Americans tax dollars and the blood of U.S. soldiers, the neocons are more than willing to make the sacrifice. But if Bush himself fails to deliver, rely upon it. He, too, will get the Rumsfeld treatment from this crowd, parasitical and opportunistic as it is, as it seeks another host to ride, perhaps John McCain.

Not sure I agree with the above -- or, actually, it's not that I don't agree; it's just that I think Pat's argument is a little muddled. He's making two separate claims and smearing those claims together.

Claim A is William Kristol called for Rumsfeld's dismissal because the neocons need a scapegoat if the Iraq War becomes a political burden.

Claim B is William Kristol called for Rumsfeld's dismissal because Rumsfeld's personal desire for a light military and waging war on the cheap is at odds with the neoconservative project of creating a global American empire.

Now, the two claims aren't mutually exclusive but given what we've seen over the past four years -- given the kid gloves Bush has been given in the press, given the fact that one of the most vile political scandals in American history, Abu Ghraib, didn't take down Rumsfeld, given that I can't imagine how Iraq could become more of a political burden than it already is -- I think that claim B is more plausible than claim A. Perhaps the neocons smell weakness and think that they can get Wolfowitz appointed as Secretary of Defense.

I hope I'm wrong, of course. I hope that William Kristol foresees dark times in the future. I hope that he fears being associated with the Iraq War so deeply that he decided to cut Rumsfeld loose. We'll have to wait and see how this all plays out...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And We Would've Gotten Away With It, If It Wasn't For Those Cowardly Iraqi Security Forces... 

Knight-Ridder frames some recent tepid statements by Bush as the boy king acknowledging "what many experts have been saying for months", but doesn't seem to notice the buck passing that accompanied the statements:

Bush called the terrorist bombings "effective propaganda tools" meant to shake the will of Iraqis and Americans alike. On Monday, estimates of the death toll from twin bombings in Najaf and Karbala a day earlier had climbed to 67, the worst carnage since July, the Associated Press reported.

"There's no question about it, the bombers are having an effect," Bush said, also labeling "unacceptable" the failure by some Iraqi security units to stand their ground.

Bathsheba Crocker, former National Security Council member and State Department attorney, said the president was "more forthcoming today about some of the realities on the ground in Iraq, less positive than we have tended to hear in terms of the insurgency."

"They have improved their effectiveness in terms of their ability to carry out multiple operations in different places at the same time," she said. "The things we are doing do not seem to have started to break the back of the insurgency."

The article goes on to quote Joseph Cirincioni, head of the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as saying that Bush's acknowledgment of "a fraction of the problems that really exist" is an effort to "inoculate" himself should conditions disintegrate, which sounds plausible to me -- these elections could very easily explode in BushCo's face and the boys must realize it.

I'm not sure which is more pathetic: the fact that Bush's vague acknowledgement of the true state of Iraq actually is newsworthy or Bush's half-assed attempt to blame the Iraq mess on the failure of "Iraqi security units" -- you know, the impoverished fellows who actually tried to play nice with the occupying army that wrecked their country, signing up for thankless jobs and frequently getting blown up for the trouble.

Here's more of Bush inoculating himself by pre-emptively blaming the Iraqi proxy army from the AP:

"And so the American people are taking a look at Iraq and wondering whether the Iraqis are eventually going to be able to fight off these bombers and killers," Mr. Bush said in perhaps his clearest expression of frustration with Iraqi forces. Mr. Bush's strategy calls for American troops to protect Iraq while local police and soldiers are trained to do the job themselves, eventually allowing America to withdraw.

"Now I would call the results mixed in terms of standing up Iraqi units who are willing to fight," Mr. Bush said in a candid assessment. "There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield. That's unacceptable. Iraq will never secure itself if they have troops that, when the heat gets on, they leave the battlefield."

Jeremy Hinzman and Christmas deserters 

Don't know how long it's been up, but it's come to my attention that Iraq War conscientious objector Jeremy Hinzman has a spiffy website that you might want to keep tabs on if you're interested in his story.

The rightwing has been all atwitter with Hinzman bashing lately -- I think, Limbaugh's been mentioning him -- harping on the fact that he volunteered and that deserting is more serious than mere draft-dodging, etc. This Toronto Sun op-ed by Peter Worthington is representative of the genre and more palatable to me than linking to some drivel by Michele Malkin.

Here's Gary Reid in Canada Free Press responding to Worthington's piece with some holiday cheer:

Mr. Worthington tried to draw distinctions between a conscript army and a volunteer one. In his view, desertions from a conscript army are understandable (forgiveable?). He thinks deserters are worse than draft dodgers. He claims that deserters who do so before combat are worse than ones who do it after being worn down in combat. He believes that society generally detests deserters.

[ ... ]

Surely, Worthington is wrong about the merits of desertion. A soldier who deserts his unit in the heat of Fallujah has to be a more egregious offender than one who simply does not show up for the flight to Iraq. From a legal standpoint, there is no difference between a conscript deserter and a volunteer deserter. And, while deserters are treated more harshly than draft dodgers there is a practical reason for that. If every soldier did what Jeremy Hinzman did, there would be no more war, therefore no need for an officer corps, and what a disaster that would be.

At this time of year, it is instructive to reflect on the greatest military desertion in history. Two days before Christmas, 1914, five months into a war that was supposed to be over by then, and after one million soldiers had died, a German infantry company lobbed a wrapped chocolate cake across no-man's land into British trenches. Along with the cake was a request for a one-hour ceasefire to celebrate a German Captain's birthday. The British agreed, then stood up and applauded at the appointed hour upon hearing the Happy Birthday song.. When they saw the whole German line lit up with Christmas trees, they abandoned their rifles and machine guns and crossed over to wish the Germans a Merry Christmas. The Germans did the same. By the tens of thousands they all stood together in the mud and blood of no-man's land and sang Christmas carols, traded cakes and sweets for cigarettes, and played pick-up ball games.

It took the panicked commanding officers days to regain control and get the armies back to fighting. Another seven million soldiers died before the armistice in 1918. The deserters had ended the war four years earlier, but deserters are a bad lot, so it didn't count.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Cuba Gets Ready for US Attack 

From the AP:

Cubans awoke to air raid sirens Sunday and practiced shooting, putting on gas masks and doing duck-and-cover drills as the communist nation wrapped up a week of preparation after Fidel Castro's government warned against possible attacks from the United States.

The activities, called the Strategic Bastion 2004 Exercise, were intended as an evaluation of how prepared Cuba is to face military attack during President Bush's second term.

State-run newspapers reported Sunday that the exercises were a success and that Cuba's ''capacity to resist and overcome an imperialist aggression'' was demonstrated.

Since even before the United States launched its unilateral attack on Iraq last year, Cuba has insisted that a similar U.S. strike is possible.

''The risks of aggression are real,'' President Fidel Castro said Sunday on Cuban television.

Yee in the Times 

There was a big article on the Yee and Al Halabi cases in the Times yesterday. I think it contained some new information. The article stated directly what has often been implied, that Yee and al Hallabi were targeted because they were too concerned with the plight of the Gitmo detainees:

There was also an argument - often made by Captain Orlich - that Captain Yee and some members of his small Muslim prayer group at Guantánamo constituted a suspicious fellowship of servicemen who appeared to sympathize with the detainees and question some of the government's counterterrorism policies.

"There was a concern that there was, like, a clique of people who would go off and spend time away from the unit and were not as supportive of the mission as they ought to be," said the chief Air Force prosecutor in the Al Halabi case, Lt. Col. Bryan T. Wheeler. "If people want to have a prayer group, that's great. If, on the other hand, you have people complaining about the treatment people are receiving, there are ways to do that. Subverting the mission is not the way to do it."

Over the course of 2002, the handling of the Guantánamo detainees had been criticized in briefings and memorandums by many of those who served there: General Baccus, his counterpart for intelligence, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, a chief of the C.I.A. field group on the base, the military's criminal investigators, senior F.B.I. agents and others.

But according to many officers, General Miller ran a tighter operation. Morale improved, they said, but with that came an atmosphere in which criticism of the detainees' treatment was tacitly discouraged.

"People were definitely careful about expressing their opinions," said one Guantánamo veteran who knew Captain Yee and Airman Al Halabi. "But a lot of us felt some sympathy for some of the detainees. A lot of those guys were low-level or no-level. They were not terrorists."

Also, according to the Times, there was dubious evidence linking Yee to Omar Abdel Rahman. Omar Abdel Rahman, you might recall, is the guy Lynne Stewart was defending that started that whole saga.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Pacifist Who Means Business 

This week eight US soldiers sued the Pentagon for breach of contract, challenging the so-called “stop-loss” program in which soldiers are forced to serve in Iraq beyond their terms of enlistment (see here). I caught a little of the press conference on Monday -- I think it was on CNN -- and was pleasantly surprised to recognize one of those involved ... The lawyer for the eight soldiers is none other than Staughton Lynd.

If you've never heard of Staughton Lynd perhaps the best way I can describe him is by stealing Tom Hayden's line from all the David Dellinger obituaries last spring and say that Lynd is a pacifist who means business. He is one of the greatest living American leftists and has had his hand in most of the big battles of the past forty years: civil rights and the Vietnam War in the 60's; workers' rights, railing against shutdowns in the rust belt and fighting for community ownership of steel mills in the 70's and the 80's; and now prisoners' rights, Palestinian liberation, and apparently the rights of soldiers in another immoral war. Here's a bio.

Anyway, it was nice to see him on TV...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Does Rumsfeld Regret Being a Prick? 

From a DoD Q&A today with Lawrence Di Rita, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

Q: On the armor issue. I wanted to revisit that a second. Last week you got criticism not only for the armor and the pace of up- armoring, but remarks that have been described as cocky and condescending by the secretary to that soldier. In retrospect -- you've answered the how we're up-armoring -- in retrospect, does the secretary regret the tenor and tone of his response to that soldier?

MR. DIRITA: Well, I won't speak to that in that -- let me answer the question, first of all, by encouraging anybody who hasn't done so to look at the video of that event. Nobody who saw that video would believe that the secretary was being cocky and condescending. I feel confident in asserting that most people who made that comment did not see the town hall meeting with the secretary, which was, by participants in the town hall, soldiers, was generally seen as a sort of typical meeting that the secretary has with the forces. It was -- they were very appreciative that he was there. He wanted to be there. There was a good give and take on a -- across a range of issues.

[ ... ]

Q: Didn't it come off, though, as a little impatient, patronizing --

MR. DIRITA: Certainly not with respect to the individual. He didn't feel that way. And as I said, if you watch the video, I don't think anybody could accept that interpretation. But probably what didn't come out as much as I've seen it in other venues is the secretary's own sense -- his shared sense with that soldier of let's move along, let's get this department doing what it needs to be doing now as opposed to being organized for a different era.

First of all, the main thing that you notice when you watch "that video" is the thunderous applause that the question received.

And, furthemore, this talk of the DoD "doing what it needs to be doing now as opposed to being organized for a different era" is code for Rumsfeld's pet project of waging war on the cheap, and isn't it this fixation that led to the US forces being under-supplied and under-armored in the first place?

The Strange Life of Subcomandante Marcos 

You know, he kind of looks like a writer ... with the pipe and all. From the AP:

Only two weeks ago, a Mexican novelist got a clandestine message from Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos. The proposal: Let's write a crime story together.

The writer, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, accepted the unusual offer, and within days, the first installment of "The Awkward Dead" was published by the leftist daily La Jornada.

Judging by the first chapter, which appeared Sunday, the novel is based loosely on Marcos' true story: a professor-turned-guerrilla who led a 1994 uprising in the name of Indian rights and continues to champion a quieter social revolution from his hideout in the jungles of southern Chiapas state.

Marcos is writing Chapters 1, 3 and 5, which will revolve around a Chiapas-based Zapatista investigator named Elias Contreras. Taibo will take Chapters 2, 4 and 6, and will focus on the Mexico City exploits of Detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne, the protagonist in past Taibo novels.

In Chapter 7, the characters will meet at the Revolution Monument in Mexico City and begin a joint investigation. Neither author yet knows how the tale will end -- each chapter is spun off the preceding one.

Taibo and Marcos have contracts to publish "The Awkward Dead" in book form throughout the Spanish-speaking world and in Italy. It also will appear in Spanish in the United States, where negotiations are under way for an English version.

He also wrote a children's book several years ago.

Pinochet Indicted 

So last month María Elvira Salazar interviewed dictator and mass murderer, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, on a Miami-based Spanish language TV show called "María Elvira Confronts". Pinochet portrayed himself as a benign victim of fate, referred to himself as "an angel", and informed the world that he "never aspired to be a dictator" and "always acted with democratic principles."

Pinochet probably consented to the interview out of vanity, not wanting to be remembered forever as the vile monster that he was. Ironically, as a result of his performance, Pinochet has been indicted. Chilean judge Juan Guzman Tapia carefully reviewed Salazar's interview and decided that Pinochet is fit to stand trial; in 2001 he had been deemed physically and mentally incompetent. Here's the Times:

"Pinochet has been declared mentally fit to undergo criminal investigation in Chile in all of its stages," Judge Guzmán told reporters waiting for the decision at a downtown court. That includes "depositions and face-to-face interrogations" about his role as what the judge described as "the perpetrator of crimes" against political opponents in the 1970's while head of state.

All 10 charges stem from an international kidnapping and murder alliance called Operation Condor, one of whose other victims was Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean foreign minister who was killed in Washington.

[ ... ]

The decision on Monday reversed earlier court rulings that have allowed General Pinochet to avoid facing any charges stemming from human rights abuses during his rule, from 1973 to 1990. In that time, an estimated 4,000 political opponents were killed by state security, military and police forces, many after being kidnapped, and thousands more were jailed, tortured or driven into exile.

Now if they could just get Kissinger...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Zbig at Large 

Wolf Blitzer hosted a panel discussion with two former national security advisers, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, on Late Edition this morning, and Brzezinski was in rare form. He called the neoconservatives "a bunch of fanatics" -- the look on Blitzer's face was priceless:

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, we know there was a huge intelligence blunder on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Everybody recognizes that now.

But now it's apparent, and Kanan Makiya now believes, and other Iraqis, that Saddam Hussein was plotting this insurgency all along, anticipating a U.S. assault. That would seem to be another intelligence blunder of huge import, and as a result a lot of Americans and others are dying.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it's not just an intelligence blunder. It's a question of the mindset. There was such fervor to go to war against Iraq. And it was propounded with such intensity and, I'm sorry to say, demagoguery by a bunch of fanatics that it was quite natural for them also to argue that it's going to be very easy, that we'd be welcomed as liberators, that the aftermath would be very simple.

I think we're dealing here with a problem which goes beyond intelligence. It's a fundamental misjudgment, and it's a consequence of a decision-making process in which skeptics, questioners, people who disagreed really didn't play much of a role.

BLITZER: Well, you use a tough word, "fanatics." Who do you mean, when you say fanatics, talking about fanatics?

BRZEZINSKI: I'm not going to mention names, but people who, either for religious or strategic reasons, have a very one-sided view of Iraq and of the Middle East and what needs to be done in the area.

BLITZER: When you say "religious reasons" -- I'm pressing you, because these are strong words that you're throwing out, and you're a man of very precise language.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think we all know that in American politics, particularly in recent times, there has been an intensified linkage between extreme religious views and politics. And there are a number of people who have very, very intense feelings about the Middle East. And I think that has colored our approach to Iraq and has colored our assessments of what would happen.

BLITZER: Well, maybe I'm missing something. Are you talking about fundamentalist Christians? Are you talking about Jews? Specifically, what are you trying...

BRZEZINSKI: I'm talking about all of them. I'm talking about all of them: people who approach this issue with a very strong religious fervor or a kind of strategic fanaticism, the kind of fanaticism that leads some people currently, for example, to argue that we should attack Iran, that we should bomb Iran.

BLITZER: And is this related to support for Israel is coloring their...

BRZEZINSKI: In some cases, I'm sure it is. In some cases, it isn't. It's a mixture.

You know, this is a very diversified country, and there's a variety of viewpoints.

But in recent times, and particularly after 9/11, there has been an intensification in intensely views, intensely views. And when that is translated into the decision-making process, in which you really don't vent alternatives very systematically, you are inclined to get into difficulties of the kind that we're now facing in Iraq.

BLITZER: Do you accept that, General Scowcroft?

SCOWCROFT: This is a complex situation, and I would leave it to my colleague to define it.

Later on Blitzer tried to pull a lame gotcha on Scowcroft, asking him to comment on a quote Scowcroft claims he never meant to be public. Scowcroft was a little bit sheepish, but not Brezezinski:

BLITZER: Let's talk about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In October, October 14th in The Financial Times, you were quoted as saying this: "Ariel Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger. I think the president is mesmerized. When there is a suicide attack followed up by a reprisal, Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism,' and the president says, 'Yes, you are.' He, Mr. Sharon, has been nothing but trouble."

Did you say that?

SCOWCROFT: Unfortunately I did. It wasn't supposed to be for publication.

[ ... ]

BLITZER: But fundamentally, the question is this: Do you think Sharon has the president wrapped around his finger?

SCOWCROFT: That was -- I would never have used that in public, of course not. But what I believe is that Sharon appeals to the president and his attitude on the war on terrorism, and he says "I'm on the front line of that war. The people after me are terrorists." What is the president going to do? No, they're not terrorists? In that sense, the president plays into Sharon's plan.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I thought you were going to throw some embarrassing quote at me.


BRZEZINSKI: I thought Brent's diagnosis was brilliant. And I think one should say publicly what one says privately. And I agree with him.

BLITZER: You agree that what? Be specific.

BRZEZINSKI: Whatever you cited him as saying, the whole works.

BLITZER: That the president is basically controlled by Ariel Sharon?

BRZEZINSKI: "Controlled" is your word. I don't think he said that.

BLITZER: Well, I'll repeat. It says, "Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger."

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, that's about right.

BLITZER: That's being precise.

BRZEZINSKI: Sharon comes and whispers "Terrorism, terrorism," and the president is now...

BLITZER: But Israelis do face terrorism.

BRZEZINSKI: Of course. But this is not the whole problem. It is not the entire problem, and certainly not the global problem.

[No link because the above is not yet available free online. I thought the exchange was so funny that I sprang for the 3 bucks to buy the transcript from LexisNexis.]

R.I.P. Gary Webb 

This is sad. Investigative reporter Gary Webb has killed himself. Left I has the links

Knights of the New Republic 

I've been following with some amusement last week's hubbub surrounding Peter Beinart's New Republic article, "A Fighting Faith". Nothing in all of political discourse beats liberal on liberal in-fighting for pure comedy value, although the funniest exchange so far was a traditional conservative on liberal smear: Jonah Goldberg referring to Atrios as a blogger "on the hard left". By the end of Bush's second term, Goldberg will be comparing Kevin Drum to Chomsky.

"A Fighting Faith" is deeply troubling in that it indicates the height of popularity and influence to which a certain political philosophy has climbed, a political philosophy that was once considered radical and relegated to the lonely corner of extremists in policy debate. The criticism of Beinart's manifesto from his fellow liberals seems to miss this crucial point.

The word "neoconservative" appears nowhere in "A Fighting Faith", which is odd because the essay is basically a veiled explication of the neoconservative world view. During an interview a couple of months ago, Christopher Hitchens gamely described Wolfowitz as a "a real bleeding heart." It was an amusing characterization that in a certain sense is accurate, and it is precisely that sense of bleeding-heartedness or liberalism that Beinart is discussing. Change all references from "liberalism" to "conservativism" and Beinart's piece could have been written by Paul Wolfowitz.

Beinart wants the moderate left to make "the War on Terrorism" the central concern of liberalism and the Democratic party. We know, however, that his call to arms is broader than fighting fundamentalist Muslim extremists given that Beinart supported the invasion of Iraq. It is this fact that makes Kevin Drum's question to Beinart -- Why should I believe that fundamentalist Islam is such an important threat? -- irrelevant. Here's a more important question: Do you, Peter Beinart, support the goals and means of achieving those goals advocated by the Project for a New American Century?

Although he shies away from directly advocating the use of military force to expand "zones of democratic peace", to use the language of the PNAC, it's clear that that's what Beinart's talking about. For example, he discusses the need for an "updated Marshall plan" for the Muslim world. So Beinart's vision of the future of liberalism is to conquer undemocratic nations and then pour money into the rubble? There is a deafness in this sort of thinking to what advocates of rational foreign policy are actually saying.

No one's against freedom, no one's against democracy, but when you discuss "democracy-promotion" in the context of a discussion of the "War on Terrorism" and the Iraq War, and you color your discussion with appeals for a new Marshall plan, I'm sorry but what you are calling for is military adventurism. Fostering democracy through military action, even if magically performed with the smartest of all smart bombs and killing not a single innocent human being, leads inevitably to the construction of oppressive institutions that are antithetical to the values of the left and I hope to the values of liberals: colonies, puppet governments, foreign military bases, proxy armies, occupations -- in a word, empire.

If this is the future of the party, then why don't the Democrats just nominate Paul Wolfowitz as their candidate in 2008?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Good Old Helen 

Helen Thomas, who, by the way, Bush is afraid of, rattled Scottie a little at the the gaggle today:

HELEN: I asked you the other day and didn't get an answer and I'll ask you again, do we follow the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo?

SCOTTIE: The President has already answered that question. We've answered that question on numerous occasions, Helen. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people, and in terms of -- in terms of Guantanamo, it's related to the war on terrorism that we're fighting. We're fighting a different kind of war and we face an enemy like we have never faced before. The President designated individuals again Guantanamo as unlawful enemy combatants who do not share -- they are people who do not share our values, who do not respect the rule of law, and who have no regard for innocent --

HELEN: You haven't even charged them.

SCOTTIE: Helen, I'm going to move on to other people if you're not going to let me answer the questions.

HELEN: Go ahead.

SCOTTIE: I would like to answer your question and I'm trying to do that. We can disagree on the war on terrorism, but I want to make my points, too.

But these are people who have no regard for innocent civilian life, and the military -- and in terms of the military and the detainees who are at Guantanamo Bay, the President expects them to be treated humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions. That's what he has said to the Pentagon, and that's what he expects to happen. We are a nation of values and laws, and we adhere to our values and laws.

HELEN: Why are there so many reports, then, of abuses at Guantanamo?

SCOTTIE: You should direct your questions to the Department of Defense if there are any allegations of abuse. They take them very seriously.

HELEN: You're not aware of any?

SCOTTIE: Okay, Helen, we can disagree on this, but --

HELEN: It isn't a question of -- I'm asking you a very valid question.

SCOTTIE: And you're not letting me respond to it, Helen. I would like to respond to it, but you're not letting me.

HELEN You said that we don't really have to obey the law in this case, in terms of not giving these people a fair trial and charging them --

SCOTTIE: These are people that are -- that do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. These are enemy combatants who were picked up on the battlefield trying to do harm to Americans, or plotting to carry out attacks against the American people.

HELEN: How do you know that without charging them?

SCOTTIE: John, go ahead. Helen you've got to let me have a chance to respond. Thank you.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Taking Down the UN, One Way or Another 

Jude Wanniski, former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, rightwing pundit of the paleo-conservative variety, and coiner of the term "supply-side economics", argues that the calls for Kofi Annan's head are largely the result of a neoconservative-orchestrated propaganda campaign and wonders whether any non-business-as-usual corruption in the oil-for-food program ever even took place: (from here)

[The neoconservatives'] intent all along was no secret: They wanted "regime change" to fit their plans for an American empire, with a permanent outpost in Baghdad. [ ... ] This meant demeaning the United Nations, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors of chemical and biological weapons under Hans Blix, and the International Atomic Energy Agency under Muhammad al-Baradai.

France, Germany, Russia and China had become obstacles to regime change in Baghdad, either at the UN Security Council or at Nato, or both.

To neutralise them with American public opinion, the neo-cons used their contacts in the news media to broadcast the argument that these countries were pursuing selfish interests related to Iraq's oil.

Out of this soup came the "oil-for-food scandal" which now threatens to bring down UN General-Secretary Kofi Annan and besmirch the UN and its affiliated institutions.

Annan's strategy for dealing with the emerging scandal was to appoint a reliable independent commission and wait to see what it turned up; he said, "My hope had been that once the independent investigative committee had been set up [under Volcker], we would all wait for them to do their work and then draw our conclusions and make judgments. This has not turned out to be the case."

Wanniski argues that Annan's attempt at damage control is failing largely because of neoconservative activism:

Why were Annan's hopes dashed by [Norman] Coleman, a freshman senator who chairs the permanent subcommittee on investigations [and the most prominent voice calling for Annan's resignation]?

My educated guess is that the neo-cons who continue to have serious influence on the Bush administration through Vice-President Dick Cheney's office, knew full well that if the Volcker commission did its job honestly, it would be able to report that the oil-for-food programme worked pretty much as it was designed to work.

It would have found that nothing criminal or corrupt was done and that even Saddam had done nothing any other head of state in his shoes would not have done under similar circumstances.

It is perfectly obvious that Coleman saw a chance to make a splash with assertions that corruption at the UN was already a known fact.

His "smoking gun" was the news that Kofi Annan's son received payments of $150,000 over several years from a company that was a contractor in the oil-for-food programme.

Where did this news come from? The New York Sun, a tiny newspaper founded by Canadian mogul Conrad Black four years ago as a mouthpiece for the neo-cons.

Richard Perle, the most prominent of the neo-con intellectuals who misled Bush to war with Iraq, has been a long time partner of Conrad Black and a director of the Jerusalem Post, one of Black's many media holdings.

You know, while still basking in the post-coital glow of the "Mission Accomplished" salad days, Richard Perle wrote that a positive outcome of the Iraq War was that it would "take the United Nations down with [Saddam Hussein]." The illegal invasion of Iraq was going to be so staggeringly successful that the world community would be forced to confront the moral bankruptcy of the UN for not sanctioning it under international law -- you see, Richard Perle openly admits that the Iraq War was illegal. Needless to say his prediction was wildly off the mark, and Perle may now have moved on to Plan B, as Wanniski quotes Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's ambassador to the UN, as saying, "The danger now is that a group of people who want to destroy or paralyse the UN are beginning to pick up support from some of those whose goal is to reform it."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

One Full Year of Bitching About Richard Perle... 

Today is this blog's first birthday. Thanks for reading and commenting, etc. The best thing about writing these things is the people you meet along the way.

When I started American Leftist the only truly hard left blog that I knew about was Left I on the News. Now there seems to be more and more starting all the time which is nice.

Putin Off the Script 

Yesterday I posted about Musharraf telling us how he really feels about the situation in Iraq. Today, we get Putin explaining that the occupation goes "far beyond" fighting terrorism and that the idea of holding fair elections in an occupied country is unlikely:

President Vladimir Putin, meeting on Tuesday with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has called the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq a foreign occupation and said its activities there go far beyond fighting terrorism.

“You know how we feel about the war against terrorism,” the Russian Information Agency Novosti quoted him as saying at the Kremlin meeting with Allawi, who is in Moscow on a state visit. “We are united in your fight against it, we understand that the processes in Iraq go far beyond this problem.”

Reuters quoted the Russian president, who, despite his friendship with U.S. President George Bush, opposed the war in Iraq, as saying that he can’t imagine how an election can be organized in Iraq under foreign occupation.

“I also cannot imagine how you on your own will be able to restore the situation in the country and stop it from breaking up.”


So the Dutch police have captured a businessman, Frans van Anraat, who has been on the lam for the past twenty years. Van Anraat is accused of complicity with Saddam Hussein's gas attacks against the Kurds because he served as a middleman facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical weapons during the 1980's. Here's a Guardian story about the arrest.

American Leftist is all for trying people who were involved in Saddam Hussein's war crimes but wonders what the point is of targeting such small-timers in the complicity racket. Why not go after the big guys?

The government of the United States of America at the time, for example, was deeply complicit in Hussein's atrocities. See, for example, this Salon piece from last month:

When word first broke in 1983 that Iraq was using mustard gas against Iranian troops, the Reagan administration (after an oral tap on the wrist delivered by then Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld) studiously ignored the issue. Saddam, after all, was then the West's de facto partner in a war against the feared fundamentalist regime of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Saddam's chemical weapons were provided largely by companies in Germany and France. The United States provided him with --among many other things -- vital satellite intelligence on enemy troop positions.

U.S. support for Saddam increased in 1988 when Rick Francona, then an Air Force captain, was dispatched to Baghdad by the Defense Intelligence Agency. His mission: to provide precise targeting plans to the Iraqis to cripple a feared a new Iranian offensive. Shortly after arriving, Francona discovered that the Iraqis were now using even more deadly chemical weapons -- nerve gas -- against the Iranians. He informed his superiors in Washington.

The response, he said, was immediate. "We were told to cease all of our cooperation with the Iraqis until people in Washington were able to sort this out. There were a series of almost daily meetings on 'How are we going to handle this, what are we going to do?' Do we continue our relations with the Iraqis and make sure the Iranians do not win this war, or do we let the Iraqis fight this on their own without any U.S. assistance, and they'll probably lose? So there are your options -- neither one palatable." Francona concluded, "The decision was made that we would restart our relationship with the Iraqis ... We went back to Baghdad, and continued on as before. "

This policy continued even after it was discovered that Saddam was using chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds of Halabja. Fourteen years later, in March 2003, attempting to justify the coming invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush repeatedly cited the Halabja atrocity. "Whole families died while trying to flee clouds of nerve and mustard agents descending from the sky," he said. "The chemical attack on Halabja provided a glimpse of the crimes Saddam Hussein is willing to commit." But President Bush never explained the assistance that the United States had given Saddam at the time.

It still did not prevent them from continuing the ----------- methods" 

The ACLU managed to unearth previously classified correspondences that shed light on the use of torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The letters and memos document a behind-the-scenes feud between the Dod and the DIA and between the Dod and the FBI. Here's the Boston Globe:

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that some prisoners in Iraq continued to be physically abused even after details of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison became public in the spring of this year.

Among other incidents, the documents indicate that two months after the Abu Ghraib scandal, two Defense Intelligence Agency interrogators saw members of a detention task force ''punch a prisoner in the face to the point that the individual needed medical attention" while questioning him. They told a task force supervisor, but were ''threatened," ordered not to talk about it, and had their photos of the beaten prisoner confiscated, according to an agency report.

The papers also show that FBI interrogators sent to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002 were troubled by unorthodox techniques used against the ''enemy combatants" held there, reporting back to their superiors that they felt the coercive approaches would not produce reliable information and were outlawed by FBI procedures.

The ACLU has posted the documents in question on their site as scanned images. Here is a complete transcription of the letter from the DIA official discussed above:


FROM: L. E Jacoby, Vice Admiral, USN. Director, Defense Intelligence Agency

Subject: Alleged Detainee Abuse by TF 62-6 Personnel

During the afternoon of 24 June 2004, we were notified that DIA personnel serving with TF 6-26 in Baghdad had informed their ISG seniors of the following:

o Two DIA, Directorate for Human Intelligence (DIA/DH) interrogators/debriefers assigned to support TF 6-26(SOF) have observed:

- Prisoners arriving at the Temporary Detention Facility in Baghdad with burn marks on their backs. Some have bruises, and some have complained of kidney pain.

- One of the two DIA/DH interrogators/debriefers witnessed TF 6-26 officers punch a prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention. This record of treatment was not recorded by TF 6-26 personnel. In this instance, the debriefer was ordered to leave the room.

- One DIA/DH interrogators/debriefer took pictures of the injuries and showed them to his TF 62-6 supervisor, who immediately confiscated them.

o TF 6-26 personnel have taken the following actions with regards to DIA/DH interrogators/debriefers:

- Confiscated vehicle keys

- Instructed them not to leave the compound without specific permission, even to get a haircut at the PX

- Threatened them

- Informed them their e-mails were being screened

- Ordered them no to talk to anyone in the US

o The two DH strategic debriefers assigned to TF 62-6 reported the above information to the Operations Officer. He immediately contacted DIA IG Forward and asked that both individuals be interviewed. The IG representative made the recommendation that VADM Church's group be immediately apprised in order to get this into official JG channels as the issue fell directly under its charter. The Church IG Team senior investigating officer is conducting interviews of the interrogators/debriefers today. The DIA IG was informed an concurred with this course of action.

o The ISG operations Officer contacted and briefed the Director of the ISG, who was in Qatar attending a Commander's Conference. The ISG Director informed the Deputy Commander for Detainee Affairs, MNF-1. He subsequently contacted the Commander of TF 6-26 and directed him to investigate this situation. In turn the TF 6-26 Commander informed his superior, the Commander JSOC. The Commander, CENTCOM has also been informed of this situation.

o The two interrogators/debriefers were directed to return to the ISG compound at Camp Slayer due to these events.

The really amazing part of the above is the bit about the TF 62-6 personnel attempting to silence the DIA guys who reported the abuse. Such an action must have come from high up the chain of command. Does it seem very likely that agents of the Defense Intelligence Agency got their car keys confiscated and emails monitored in Baghdad because of a few hot-headed bad apples?

Here is a scan of the main FBI letter, an email to Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Thomas Harrington. It's heavily redacted, but nonetheless very illuminating. Below is my attempt at a transcription. The hyphens are redacted text.


I will have to do some digging into old files ------------------------------------------- We did advise each supervisor that went to GITMO to stay in line with Bureau policy and not deviate from that ------------------------------------------- I went to GITMO with ------- early on and we discussed the effectiveness ------------------------------ with the SSA. We (BAU and ITOS1) had also met with General's Dunlevey & Miller explaining our position (Law Enforcement techniques) vs. DoD. Both agreed the Bureau has their way of doing business and DoD has their marching orders from the Sec. Def. Although the two techniques differed drastically, both Generals believed they had a job to accomplish. It was our mission to gather critical intelligence and evidence --------------- ------------ in furtherance of FBI cases. In my weekly meetings with DOJ we often discussed ----[B]----- techniques and how they were not effective or producing Intel that was reliable. ---------(SES), ----------(SES), --------------- (now SES----- at the time) and ---------- (SES Appointee) all from DOJ Criminal Division attended meetings with FBI. We all agreed --------- were going to be an issue in the military commission cases. I know -------- brought this to the attention of -----------.

One specific example was -------. Once the Bureau provide DoD with findings --------------------------- ------------ they wanted to pursue expeditiously their methods to get "more out of him" --------- We were given a so called deadline to use our traditional methods. Once our timeline ------------------ was up --------- took the reigns. We stepped out of the picture and ------ ran the operation ------------ FBI did not participate at the direction of myself, -----------, and BAU UC -----------. We would receive IIRs on the results of the process.

I went to GITMO on one occasion to specifically address the information coming from ------------------- ------ We (DoD 3 Star Geoff Miller, FBI CITF --------, etc.) had a VTC with the Pentagon Detainee Policy Commitee. During this VTC I voiced concerns that the Intel produced was nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques (following the trail of the detainees in and out of the US compared to the trail of --------- ------------------------------- was providing ------------ portion of the briefing. -------------------------- was present at the Pentagon side of the VTC, After allowing ------------------- to produce nothing , I finally voiced my opinion concerning the information. The conversations were somewhat heated. -------------- agreed with me. ------------ finally admitted the information was the same info the Bureau obtained. It still did not prevent them from continuing the -----[A]----- methods". DOJ was with me at GITMO ------------ during that time.

Bottom line is FBI personnel have not been involved in any methods of interrogation that deviate from our policy. The specific guidance we have given has always been no Miranda, otherwise, follow FBI/FOJ policy just as you would in your field office. Use common sense. Utilize our methods that are proven (Reed school, etc).

If you would like to call me to discuss this on the telephone I can be reached at ----------------------.

To me the most curious redactions are the ones I have labeled A and B above. The blank marked A in particular, because of the email author's use of a trailing quotation mark, appears to be the word used within the Department of Defense to refer to the use of torture. If A and B are just banal adjectives, say "coercive" or "agressive", why are they redacted?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Dear John ... 

A cordial note from Juan Cole to John Negroponte on Negroponte's insistence on hedging the conclusions of a CIA report that alleged "Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon":

Uh, John, when you have conquered a country and ruled it for 18 months, and when you have 140,000 plus troops on the ground, and when you have to forbid your embassy staff to take the 10-mile-long road from the capital to the airport because their lives cannot be assured on it-- then, John, things are deteriorating and may not get better soon. Get used to it.

Musharraf Off the Script 

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, has had a busy couple of days. On Sunday he told Wolf Blitzer that the Iraq War was a mistake and that the world is now less safe because of it. Here's the transcript:

BLITZER: Was the U.S. justified to go to war and remove Saddam Hussein?

MUSHARRAF: Well, we were against it initially. Pakistan was against going into Iraq. And now, with hindsight, one can say that we've landed ourselves into additional problems.

But having said that, I would like to say that Saddam Hussein was certainly not a person who was loved in Iraq. He was a hated man. He was very cruel. Those are the realities.

But when we go inside and when we are now inside as foreigners, people at the lower level don't like the visibility of foreign troops ruling their country.

BLITZER: So the bottom line, is the world safer today as a result of the removal, the invasion of Iraq, or is the world less safe?

MUSHARRAF: Oh, I think it's less safe, certainly. We are...

BLITZER: So it was a mistake for President Bush to order this invasion, with hindsight?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, with hindsight, yes. We have landed ourselves in more problems, yes.

After the taped interview aired Blitzer tried to downplay Musharraf's comment by quoting an unnamed "Pakistani government spokesman" as saying that "General Musharraf didn't want to be that categorical in his assertion that President Bush had made a mistake by invading Iraq," which is odd, given that a day later Musharraf expressed much the same opinion on the BBC2's Newsnight:

Asked if the war on terror had made the world less safe, President Musharraf said: "Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately, we are not addressing the core problems, so therefore we can never address it in its totality. We are fighting it in its immediate context, but we are not fighting it in its strategic long-term context."

Also, yesterday he refused to tell the UK Times that he thought the situation in Iraq was improving when asked directly:

Q: Given what you know about terrorism and extremists: looking at Iraq do you think its improving?

A: I wouldn't see say the position is getting better or worse…It is a very difficult situation on the political side. On the Sunni side, I think whatever we are doing, we are fighting terrorism. And trying to think about political change. I am of a conviction that the Palestinian situation is at the heart of the problem. And the solution will pull the rug under all extremist organisations. So it is an indirect strategy and I am following an indirect strategy influencing Iraq and other places

I find it interesting that in all of these interviews Musharraf repeatedly states that the best way to stop terrorism is to address its root causes. It's an obvious point that one doesn't see mentioned in the Western media often.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Good-Natured Xenophobia 

So, apparently, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thinks that these guys

look a lot like these guys

From the American Forces Press Service:

Marine Gen. Peter Pace met thousands of U.S. servicemembers during a swing through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan Nov. 20-24. [ ... ] Pace visited troops in Forward Operating Base Salerno, Kandahar, Kabul and Bagram in Afghanistan. He also met with servicemembers at Kharsi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan and Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.

Pace was impressed by the joint and combined teams that commanders have put together in Afghanistan. "Many times he said the bases reminded him of the bar scene in Star Wars, with servicemembers of every service and many different nationalities working together," [Pace's spokeswoman] said.

Rumsfeld's In 

Here's the Financial Times.

(I've been reading Seymour Hersh's latest book and have a renewed appreciation for the extent to which Rumsfeld is a son-of-a-bitch and is directly responsible for some of the most reprehensible policy decisions and state actions that have taken place in the last several years. Given the Bizarro-World nature of the Bush administration, this renewed appreciation led me to believe that there was no chance in hell Rumsfeld would be dropped. Oh, well ... if there's any justice in the universe, which lately I've begun to doubt, at least this way we get to see him go down in scandal and ignominy. Yeah, right... )

Guinea Pig Kids 

In a recent post, The King of Zembla flagged quite an incredible story that has, until recently, only received press attention in the UK; see, for instance, "UK firm tried HIV drug on orphans", The Observer, 4/4/04.

The conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline funded experiments in which Hispanic and black HIV-infected babies were subjected to radical new AIDS treatments to gauge the "safety and tolerance" of experimental medications. The children were orphans, wards of Incarnation Children's Center, a New York-based charity. With no parents to grant permission for these drug trials, permission was granted by the state of New York.

According to The Observer the medical establishment, including presumably GlaxoSmithKline, claims that the trials "enabled these children to obtain state-of-the-art therapy they would otherwise not have received for potentially fatal illnesses" while "health campaigners" argue the tests amounted to experimentation rather than treatment:

[Health campaigners] claim many of the experiments were 'phase 1 trials' - among the most risky - and that HIV tests for babies were not a reliable indicator of actual infection and therefore toxic drugs could have been given to healthy infants. HIV drugs are similar to those used in chemotherapy and can have serious side-effects.

The above Observer article is eight months old, but the story has been resuscitated in the UK by a BBC documentary called "Guinea Pig Kids" that aired on Tuesday. Reuters picked up the story from the angle of covering the controversy surrounding the BBC documentary, but it remains to be seen if the controversy will cross the Atlantic.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Cointelpro Lives 

The ACLU has started a new national initiative to shed light on the FBI's illegal surveillance and harassment of dissident political organizations: (from the press release)

Citing evidence that the FBI and local police are illegally spying on political, environmental and faith-based groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates in Iowa and other states today filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests around the country to uncover who is being investigated and why.

"The FBI is wasting its time and our tax dollars spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. "Do Americans really want to return to the days when peaceful critics become the subject of government investigations?"

Ben Stone, Executive Director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, said that the ICLU is involved because of what the U.S. Attorney’s office did to Des Moines peace activists in February of this year.

Post-911 entities called "Joint Terrorism Task Forces", teams of state and local police, FBI Agents, and other federal agents, are responsible for investigations of questionable legality across the country. The ACLU plans to use FOIA requests to obtain the FBI files of those targeted and information about "how the practices and funding structure of the task forces" are encouraging spying on innocent citizens and the persecution of peaceful political groups.

In the quote above, the line about "Quakers in Colorado" refers, I believe, to the FBI "visiting" Sarah Bardwell, an intern at the Denver office of the AFSC:

On July 24th, four FBI agents and two Denver police officers "visited" the home of Sarah Bardwell. Bardwell, a Quaker youth and militarism intern with the Denver branch of the American Friends Service Committee, was questioned about a range of topics including the identities of everyone in the intentional community where she lives and whether anyone she knew planned to protest the upcoming Democratic or Republican conventions. She was told the FBI was investigating "anarchists and terrorists." The agents and officers refused to give ID when asked, and did not leave any type of business cards that could confirm their identities. Shortly after leaving Bardwell’s residence, another team of agents and officers descended on a second Denver house. This time they entered the property without a warrant, aggressively demanding identification of all who resided there, and again focused their questions on the activist’s possible participation in the upcoming conventions. They threatened and otherwise coerced people into providing identification. Following their refusal to answer any other questions without first consulting a lawyer, the FBI arrested two well-known anarchists for charges related to outstanding bike parking tickets. The night before the agents and police visited these activists’ homes, there had been a legal and non-disruptive demonstration at the City and County Building calling for police accountability and reform. At the demo, there had been one counter-protestor with a sign. This counter-protestor was with the agents who came to Bardwell’s home, and at that time identified himself as an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

and the part about "Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa" refers to the Drake University subpeonas:

[Federal prosecutors have] subpoenaed four people who attended a November 15 antiwar forum at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And they got a judge to order the university to hand over all available records of who attended the forum--a measure that may be the first of its kind in decades.

Those served with subpoenas--the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, a former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House and an activist who traveled to Iraq in 2002--had to appear before a federal grand jury on Tuesday.

The justice department intended for these subpoenas to be issued quietly, but, alas, the story ended up getting full-on media attention, largely because of the work of the ACLU aided by liberal blogs, and all of the subpoenas were eventually dropped.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Slight Movement in the Larry Franklin Probe 

The FBI subpoenaed four top AIPAC officials and, for the second time this year, searched the lobbying group's headquarters. Here's the Jerusalem Post on the subpeonas:

FBI officials issued subpoenas to four senior officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday, requesting that they appear before a grand jury.

The subpoenas appeared to be part of an ongoing probe into whether two other staff members at the lobby may have passed secrets to Israel.

The four subpoenaed officials are Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Communications Director Renee Rothstein, and Research Director Rafi Danziger, a source familiar with the investigation told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night.

FBI officials on Wednesday also seized computer files from the two AIPAC employees who have been the main focus of the investigation – Steve Rosen, director of foreign policy issues at the lobby, and Keith Weissman, a senior Middle East analyst.

According the Mid-East Realities the above was relegated to page A7 in The Washington Post and didn't even get a mention in The Washington Times. MER points out that the US media's apparent lack of interest in this story is notable given the story's importance and relevance to current events:

Moreover the latest AIPAC allegations -- for there have been quite a few over the years -- involve highly sensitive 'intelligence' and 'pressures' regarding Iran. And Iran just happens to be the country now the focus of American attack preparations -- the second Middle East 'Axis of Evil' country that other prominent Jewish Washington personalities pushed into George Bush's State of the Union speech a few years ago (namely Richard Perle and David Frum, both now associated with the right-wing neocon think-tank the American Enterprise Institute [AEI]).

With many allegations that key senior Jewish Israeli-connected persons in the Bush/Cheney Administration -- working in tandem with their many friends and comrades in various of the Israeli-lobby organizations -- deliberately hyped the lies and deceptions that got the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq; and now with similar allegations with regard to Iran; you'd think the media would have learned it's lesson. But that definitely does not appear to be the case.

Abstinence-based Bullshit 

Bush plans to spend more than twice as much public money on abstinence-based sex education programs in 2005 than was spent in 2001 -- a total of $170 million. Given the history of the Bush administation, given its Rovian character in which politics drives all policy decisions, we can assume that Bush's advocacy and massive funding of abstinence-based programs is more about placating the religious right than educating the nation's youth. This crass motive leads one to fear that the actual information provided by these programs is biased towards the interests of the fundamentalist Christians.

Recently California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman initiated a study of the curricula of the major abstinence-based programs funded by our tax dollars. The study concluded that "over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two thirds of [grantees of the largest federal abstinence initiative] in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." The report finds that abstinence-only curricula contain false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and about the risks of abortion, that they blur religion and science, and that they present sexual stereotypes as scientific fact.

Waxman's report, publicly available as a PDF on his website, is relatively short, and I encourage you to read the whole thing if you are at all interested in these sorts of issues. Here are a few excerpts...

On the effectiveness of contraceptives:

One curriculum draws an analogy between the HIV virus and a penny and compares it to a sperm cell ("Speedy the Sperm"), which on the same scale would be almost 19 feet long. The curriculum asks, "If the condom has a failure rate of 14% in preventing ‘Speedy’ from getting through to create a new life, what happens if this guy (penny) gets through? You have a death: your own.

Another curriculum inaccurately attacks a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated that condoms are effective in preventing HIV transmission. In the study, there was not a single case of HIV transmission between HIV-positive individuals and their HIV-negative partners using condoms consistently, despite a total of 15,000 acts of intercourse. The curriculum states: "This study has been criticized by three different university groups as being seriously flawed in at least six areas, and therefore the results are questionable and not statistically significant." In fact, the "university groups" referred to in the curriculum appear to refer to individuals who sent letters to the editor to the journal in which the study appeared. The central finding that consistent condom use resulted in zero HIV transmission was statistically significant and has not been challenged.

On the basic facts of human sexuality:

Another curriculum presents misleading information about the risk of pregnancy from sexual activity other than intercourse. The curriculum erroneously states that touching another person’s genitals "can result in pregnancy." In fact, the source cited for this contention specifically states that "remaining a virgin all but eliminates the possibility of becoming pregnant."

Blurring the line between religion and science:

One curriculum that describes fetuses as "babies" describes the blastocyst, technically a ball of 107 to 256 cells at the beginning of uterine implantation, as "snuggling" into the uterus:
After conception, the tiny baby moves down the fallopian tube toward the mother’s uterus. About the sixth to tenth day after conception, when the baby is no bigger than this dot (.), baby snuggles into the soft nest in the lining of the mother’s uterus.
Another teaches: "At 43 days, electrical brain wave patterns can be recorded, evidence that mental activity is taking place. This new life may be thought of as a thinking person." The curriculum cites a source which does not in fact call a 43-day-old fetus a "thinking person."

Presenting sexual stereotypes as scientific fact:

Several curricula teach that girls care less about achievement and their futures than do boys. One curriculum instructs: "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."

This curriculum also teaches:
Men tend to be more tuned in to what is happening today and what needs to be done for a secure future. When women began to enter the work force at an equal pace with men, companies noticed that women were not as concerned about preparing for retirement. This stems from the priority men and women place on the past, present, and future.
Another curriculum lists "Financial Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Women," and "Domestic Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Men."

Tommy Douglas and the Difference Between Canada and the USA 

Yesterday, there was a panel discussion on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer about the current rift in relations between the United States and Canada. For the most part the panelists made the obvious points, but I found the closing comment of Mark Kingwell, a professor at the University of Toronto, to be particularly interesting:

One thing I agreed with in what [Margaret Wente, of The Globe and Mail] said is that we don't understand Americans as well as we think we do. That's why there was so much bafflement after the election results. It's also the case that we are far more different from Americans than the Americans think we are. We are not your northern 51st state. This is a completely different political culture. Our baseline values are quite distinct.

The CBC just ran, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a contest to decide who was the greatest Canadian. The winner was Tommy Douglas, who -- a name I'm sure is unfamiliar to many of your viewers, if not most, who was the architect of universal health care in this country. So that is our baseline value, or one of them, and it's not one that we share with you.

Kingwell is correct; I'm fairly well-versed in these matters, and I had no idea who Tommy Douglas was. From the brief bio included on the CBC's web page announcing that Douglas had been voted the greatest Canadian, one thing is pretty clear: the guy was a socialist. To me and I think to most American leftists, this is fascinating -- it would be like if NBC conducted a poll of its viewers to name the greatest American, and Eugene V. Debs was the winner.

What accounts for such huge differences in culture between two countries that are in other ways so similar? I think it's the power and dominance of the corporate system in the USA -- the same historical forces that led to the US becoming an economic and military superpower have created an internal culture that values profits and the rights of corporations above all else. One wonders if such an internal culture is a necessary condition of global hegemony and empire.

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