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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Things that Remind Gore Vidal of his Favorite Roman Emperor 

Waste Paper Basket has Gore Vidal's State of the Union Address. Here's an excerpt:

And now here we are planning new wars, ongoing wars in the Middle East. [...] This is what we call dictatorship. Dictatorship. Dictatorship. And it is time that we objected. [ ... ]

I think demonstrations across the country could be very useful on this famous Tuesday. Just say no. We've had enough of you. Go home to Crawford. We'll help you raise the money for a library, and you won't even ever have to read a book. We're not cruel. We just want to get rid of you and let you be an ex-president with his own library, which you can fill up with friends of yours who can neither read nor write, but they'll be well served and well paid, we hope, by corporate America, which will love you forever.

So I think it is really up to us to give some resonance to the State of the Union, which will be largely babble. He's not going really try to do anything about Social Security, we read in the papers. He has no major moves, other than going on and on about the legality of his illegal warrantless eavesdroppings and other breakings of the law.

I had a piece on the internet some of you may have seen a few days ago, and there's a story about Tiberius, who’s one of my favorite Roman emperors. He's had a very bad press, because the wrong people perhaps have written history. But when he became emperor, the Senate of Rome sent him congratulations with the comment, “Any law that you want us to pass, we shall do so automatically.” And he sent a message back. He said, “This is outrageous! Suppose I go mad. Suppose I don't know what I'm doing. Suppose I'm dead and somebody is pretending to be me. Never do that! Never accept something like preemptive war,” which luckily the Senate did not propose preemptive wars against places they didn't like. But Mr. Bush has done that.

Probably Not ... 

Juan Cole's Top Ten things Bush won't Tell you About the State of the Nation

Blog Stuff... 

Several things ... Red Harvest is gone but the Continental Op has launched Reports from Poisonville; Tom Tomorrow's place now has comments turned on; Joe Broadhurst's INTL/News is back from hiatus -- it's a good aggregator of under-reported news stories; and I just altered American Leftist's template such that quoted text is slightly highlighted which I have been meaning to do for the past two years...

Also yesterday afternoon I exceeded the bandwidth limit (600 MB of daily downloads) of my file hosting account. This means probably that a couple hundred people downloaded the huge version of "War President" yesterday, the version I did for a gallery show in November 2004. Probably, some site with decent traffic is direct linking to the big image. Does anyone know which site is doing the direct linking? -- I would really prefer for people to either post indirect links or mirror the image. I made the Feldman show version publically available to facilitate its use by protesters and activists, but I think people are just downloading it for the hell of it, not realizing that the big image isn't good for anything except being printed out on a large-format printer at a print shop.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Henny Penny the sky is going to fall 

So in 2002 when the Office of Strategic Influence was discovered by the media and almost instantaneously closed up shop, the Secretary of Defense stated directly that the office had been shut down in name only. Anyway, he stated as much as directly as the Secretary ever states anything ... perhaps you recall this priceless bit of Rumsfeldese:

"And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And 'oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.

That was intended to be done by that office is being done by that office, NOT by that office in other ways."

Apparently Rumsfeld was good to his word.

The AFP reported last week that misinformation crafted for foreign audiences has made its way into the US media. The report cites a recently declassified DoD document called the "Information Operations Roadmap" -- available for download at the National Security Archive's website -- which contains the following passage:

Impact of the global village. The increasing ability of people in most parts of the globe to access international information sources makes targeting particular audiences more difficult. Today the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG intent rather than information dissemination.

- PSYOP is restricted by both DoD policy and executive order from targeting American audiences, our military personnel and news agencies or outlets.

o However, information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa.

o PYSOP messages disseminated to any audience except individual decision-makers (and perhaps even then) will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public.

Which leads to a big interesting question that I haven't seen anyone try to answer: Which recent news stories began life as propaganda meant for foreigners but were subsequently picked up by the US media? The information operations roadmap doesn't contain any specific examples of this phenomenon, or, if it does, they are redacted, but I have a few guesses:

o The Saddam Hussein in his underwear pictures: Maybe the photos were secretly leaked to the Arab media and meant to emasculate Hussein in the eyes of his supporters but wound up in the British tabloids, which, you know, would print pictures of squirrels screwing if they thought it would sell papers. Hell, the Hussein pictures always kind of looked photoshopped to me, but I guess faking them wouldn't have been necessary.

o The story a few months ago about the US's desecration of the bodies of two Taliban fighters: this thing had PSYOP written all over it. For instance, there's the fact that the guys in the videotape were ...ummm... PSYOP specialists:
"If true, the incident would fit a seeming pattern that has emerged of the U.S. military gaining enough knowledge of Islamic culture and sensitivities to devise ways of offending Muslims," said Khaled Abu el Fadl, a specialist in Islamic law at UCLA law school.

The latest scandal surfaced Wednesday when an Australian television network aired video showing members of a U.S. airborne unit purportedly setting fire to the Taliban bodies, followed by other soldiers, identified as specialists in psychological operations, using the event to taunt other enemy fighters and draw them out of nearby hills to retrieve the remains.

The State Department issued statements and the army launched an investigation but one gets the feeling that what they really wanted investigated is why the hell the Austalian camera man was allowed to go home without having the film he shot confiscated.

o The photographs from Abu Ghraib may have been taken originally as part of some PSYOP program that got out of control, but such speculation is a little bit off-topic.

That's all I can come up with -- but I'm really curious about this story. Please leave a comment if you have any other ideas.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Katrina: New Orleans Could Lose Up to 80% of African Americans 

UPDATE (1/30/06): Sam Smith over at the indispensable Progressive Review places the destruction in New Orleans within the broader context of the philosophy of redevelopment.

The Ninth Ward of New Orleans is about to be struck by another disaster - not a natural one like Katrina, however, but by the human disaster of modern urban planning.

The problem with urban planners is two fold. First, they work for the wrong people, the government, rather than for the citizens. As local governments have become more corrupt and more beholden to the interests of a small number of developers and other businesses, urban planning has inevitably come to reflect these perverse priorities.

Second, urban planners believe in sweeping physical solutions to social problems. The idea, Richard Sennett has written, goes back to the 1860s design for Paris by Baron Haussmann. Haussmann, Sennett suggests, bequeathed us the notion that we could alter social patterns by changing the physical landscape. This approach was not about urban amenities such as park benches and gas lighting or technological improvements such as indoor plumbing but about what G. K. Chesterton called the huge modern heresy of "altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul."

Smith also recognizes that redevelopment has historically been motivated by bias against African Americans:

One of the New Deal's reforms was the creation of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which provided federal guarantees for home mortgages. According to the historian Kenneth T. Jackson, between 1933 and 1936 alone, the HOLC supplied funds for one tenth of all owner-occupied, non-farm residences in the country. The FHA, and later the VA, took over the task. By the end of 1958, the FHA had enabled nearly five million families to own homes and helped more than 22 million to improve their properties.

At the same time, however, the legislation discouraged the construction of multi-family units and provided only small short-term loans for repair of existing homes. This meant, Jackson noted, that "families of modest circumstances could more easily finance the purchase of a new home than the modernization of an old one." Jackson continued:

"The greatest fears of the Federal Housing Administration were reserved for 'unharmonious racial or nationality groups.' The alleged danger was that an entire area could lose its investment value if rigid white-black segregation was not maintained. To protect itself against such eventualities, the Underwriting Manual openly recommended 'enforced zoning, subdivision regulations, and suitable restrictive covenants. In addition, the FHA's Division of Economics and Statistics compiled detailed reports and maps charting the present and most likely future residential locations of black families." In a March 1939, map of Brooklyn, for example, the presence of a single non-white family on any block was sufficient to result in that entire block being marked black. Similarly, very extensive maps of the District of Columbia depicted the spread of the black population and the percentage of dwelling units occupied by persons other than white."

Jackson noted that "black neighborhoods were invariably rated 'D.'" These were neighborhoods described with such phrases as "the only hope is for demolition of these buildings and transition of the are into a business district" or "this particular spot is a blight on the surrounding area."

"Residential security maps" were drawn up for every block of a city. These maps were available to lenders and realtors but were kept secret from the general public. Some of these maps, including those for DC, Jackson found to be missing from government archives.

Smith does, however, have some solutions, along with much more insightful analysis. If you are interested, please go here.

ORIGINAL POST (1/27/06): On Tuesday, Joe discussed an article posted by The Black Commentator to emphasize the prospect that redevelopment of New Orleans is increasingly likely to result in the loss of much of its lower income population. Now, according to an ongoing Brown University study publicized today:

The city of New Orleans could lose up to 80 percent of its black population if people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are not able to return to damaged neighborhoods, according to an ongoing university study.

“This means that policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect the future character of the city,” according to the Brown University study, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

Sociologist John Logan, the lead researcher, said:

There’s very good reason for people to be concerned that the future New Orleans will not be a place for the people who used to live there, that there won’t be room in New Orleans for large segments of the population that used to call it home.

Accordingly, as The Black Commentator has already admonished:

Self-styled Black capitalists take note: this is the nature of the beast. Bush fronts for a class for which Katrina is not a catastrophe, but an opportunity. They believe devoutly in "creative chaos" - the often violent destruction of the old, so that new profits can be squeezed from the rubble. Through their Catch-22 ultimatums, they are deliberately inflicting additional "creative chaos" on the displaced people of New Orleans. The fact that the victims are mostly Black, makes it all the easier. Or so they assume.

To learn about the emerging resistance, read The Black Commentator article in its entirety here.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ahmedinjad, the Madman 

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute rattles the saber at Iran in a predictable response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent violent and stupid threats to Israel and dabblings in Holocaust denial. Rubin urges us to "take ideology seriously" arguing that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons it will immediately use them to attack Israel. He supports this claim by citing various anti-Israel statements made by Iranian officials over the years.

It's a silly position -- when you strip away its highbrow pretensions Rubin's article is much like something one might read in the comments of a post on Little Green Footballs. The belief that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons so that it can preemptively strike Israel neglects one crucial point: Israel is a nuclear power backed by the most powerful state in the world. The real danger neoconservatives see in a nuclear Iran is that such a turn of affairs would end Israel's hegemony over the Mideast. Israel would be forced to maintain its military superiority by investing heavily in conventional weapons and forces -- an expensive proposition.

In boilerplate diatribes such as Rubin's, the threats of the hated enemy always occur in a vacuum. Ahmedinjad calls for Israel to be "wiped off the map" but Sharon never told the Times UK that the US should "attack Iran" on "the day after" it was through with Iraq. Iran was involved in a terrorist atrocity in Buenos Aires but the US navy did not shoot down Iran Air Flight 655 killing 290 civilians including 66 children. Iran meddles in Iraq but Israel is not meddling among the Kurds.

Rubin also likes to read ambiguous statements in ways that suit his purposes. He reads the following statement made by former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani half a decade ago as straight-forwardly promising an Iranian first-strike:

If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. . . . It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.

The text is ambiguous but makes more sense in context. Rafsanjani is speaking hypothetically about the way in which a nuclear-enabled Iran would change the dynamic of power in the Mideast. Here's the whole quote: (from here)

If one day ... Of course, that is very important. If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. Of course, you can see that the Americans have kept their eyes peeled and they are carefully looking for even the slightest hint that technological advances are being made by an independent Islamic country. If an independent Islamic country is thinking about acquiring other kinds of weaponry, then they will do their utmost to prevent it from acquiring them. Well, that is something that almost the entire world is discussing right now.

Rubin notably leaves out that bit about "it only harm[ing] the Islamic world." In context, Rafsanjani is discussing Israel as a colonial outpost of American power, concluding a little later in the same speech:

Therefore, in the future, the interests of colonialism and imperialism dictate whether Israel will survive or not. Moreover, it is the resistance put up by Muslims and Iraq and the Palestinians themselves that matters.

Clearly what Rafsanjani is saying is that since it costs blood and treasure for the US to prop up Israel, if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon it would be so costly that Israel's special relationship with the US might become untenable. In other words, Rafsanjani and presumably Ahmedinjad would like to establish a dynamic of mutually assured destruction, to engage Israel in a cold war.

Given the position that it is in -- named an "evil state" by the most powerful nation in the world etc. -- it is hard to imagine Iran not pursuing nuclear weapons.

As for what to make of the recent high-profile saber-rattling of Ahmedinjad, I found Kaveh L Afrasiabi's analysis from October to be informative:

The timing of Ahmadinejad's comment, which coincides with the new Washington-led campaign against Syria over the UN report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, should not be overlooked, for it may have been calculated to offset any undue pressure, or even strike, against Syria, on which Iran counts as a backbone of support in the Arab world. [ ... ]

Similarly, one wonders if Ahmadinejad's comments were not deliberately calculated to solicit a more negotiated response from Israel and the US down the road, with Iran willing to discuss the terms of adopting a less militant posture towards Israel. For the moment, it is fair to conclude, albeit provisionally, that the president's comments were not coordinated aspects of a carefully-planned approach, but rather a personal statement of ideological preference.

But personally I think Ahmadinejad is calling plays from America and Israel's playbook. I think he is implementing Nixon's so-called Madman strategy

"I CALL IT the madman theory, Bob," Richard Nixon said to Robert Haldeman. [... ] Nixon is remembered as having threatened the US Constitution, but his presidency represented a far graver threat than that. Various published tapes have put on display his vulgarity, pettiness, and prejudice and his regular drunkenness. But what has generated insufficient alarm is Nixon's insane flirtation with the actual use of nuclear weapons.

"I want the North Vietnamese to believe," he went on, "that I've reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button, and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." Six months into his presidency, Nixon's frustration with Hanoi's refusal to budge in its demands at the Paris peace talks was extreme, and he put his madman ploy into gear. For this account, I depend on the political scientists Scott D. Sagan and Jeremi Suir, whose 2003 article in the journal International Security brought the incident to light.

Or perhaps Ahmadinejad is "going crazy" like former Isreali Prime Minister Moshe Sharett and Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon:

The threatening of wild, irrational violence, in response to political pressure, has been an Israeli impulse from the very earliest days. It was first authoritatively documented, in the 1950s, by Moshe Sharett, the dovish prime minister, who wrote of his Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon that he "constantly preached for acts of madness" or "going crazy" if ever Israel were crossed.

Things That Have Nothing to do With Jill Carroll 

Clearing up the conflicting press accounts mentioned in my post from last Wednesday, it's official: the US just released 5 female detainees.

The Christian Science Monitor provides quote from the mother of one of the freed women in support of Carroll:

The mother of one of five Iraqi female detainees released Thursday expressed confidence that American journalist Jill Carroll will be released soon.

"She'll be fine and she will come out very soon because she loves Iraq and she loves Iraqis, so God will never forget her," says Siham Faraj, the mother of Hala Khalid Wahid who was detained by US forces in Iraq four months ago.

I hope she's right...

The Power of Nightmares Returns 

Last July, I reviewed Adam Curtis' striking BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares, integrating cultural and political analysis. I described it as follows:

. . . Curtis radically reinterprets the political landscape: the "war on terror" is a fraud perpetrated by politicians who rely upon fear to disguise their lack of any optimistic, futuristic vision. He elaborates upon this insight in three one hour episodes, combined into a feature length film, Baby, It's Cold Outside, The Phantom Victory, and The Shadows in the Cave.

According to Curtis, American neoconservatism and Islamic fundamentalism represent competing, yet symbiotic, deformed ideologies based upon a shared contempt for the ability of people to govern themselves. They conspire, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, to induce people to believe in the effectiveness of the other to enhance their influence. The willingness of both to deceive the broader public results in them ultimately deceiving themselves, as they did in Afghanistan, with frequently catastrophic consequences for the rest of us.

Now, Information Clearing House reveals that The Power of Nightmares can again be downloaded over the Internet. Last word is that Sony Pictures Classics plans to release it as a feature film but, according to Curtis, it will be cut, so download it if you want to see it in its original, unedited form.

Curtis impressively interweaves political and psychological themes, as I noted back in July:

Curtis, like the neoconservatives and the Islamic fundamentalists, is fascinated by the question as to whether people have the capacity to conduct their lives independently, without the assistance of an elite to that controls them through the manipulation of their desires. In this respect, The Power of Nightmares is the logical sequel to his earlier film, The Century of the Self, a documentary that exposes the purported history of how Freudian psychology and modern advertising methods have impaired individual political free will. Curtis, unlike the neoconservatives and the Islamic fundamentalists who have responded negatively, evades answering this essential question, while paradoxically recognizing the susceptibility of people to such manipulation.

Curtis is thus an heir of the legacy of the great German and Hollywood film director, Fritz Lang. Lang, like Curtis, frequently referenced Freudian concepts in his films. In early ones like Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and M, all produced during the turbulence of the Weimar Republic, he understood that the social transformation associated with rapid urbanization, technological innovation and new forms of communication (in his case, film and radio), created new, alarming prospects for the exploitation of fear as a means of accomplishing political ends, especially in the form of hysterias incited by inflaming public anxiety.

Additionally, Wikipedia has a detailed entry about the film as well, with numerous links to articles, reviews and criticism. Quite by accident, my review was posted here four days before the London bombings on July 7, 2005. I subsequently wrote my perspective about this tragedy in a posted entitled, London 7.7.2005: Questions, Questions, The Power of Nightmares Revisited. Curtis himself addressed the subject in the Guardian:

Last year I made a series of documentaries for the BBC, The Power of Nightmares, which showed how a fantasy image of the "al-Qaida" organisation was created. The films told how the response to the shocking events of September 11 2001 swung out of control, and the threat became exaggerated to a dangerous level. Although there was a serious terrorist threat, the films criticised the apocalyptic vision of what lay behind it - the "nightmare" of a uniquely powerful network, unlike any previous terrorist danger and capable of overwhelming our society and our democracy.

The Power of Nightmares said bluntly that this was a fantasy. The real threat came not from a network, but from individuals and groups linked only by an idea. Our energies were going into fighting a phantom enemy. We were looking for a network that didn't exist when we should have been dealing with an idea that does.

The evidence we have of what lies behind the London bombings confirms that this was the real nature of the threat. It is fascinating to see how suddenly all the terror "experts" have changed their tune. For three years they told us breathlessly about a terrifying global network. Now, suddenly, it has gone away and been replaced by "an evil ideology" that inspires young, angry Muslim males in our own society.

It is good that we now all agree on the nature of the threat, but there remains a danger that the "idea" will be simplified, exaggerated and distorted just as the "network" was, and that in this mood of fear the government will bring in policies that will alienate young Muslims further and drive them towards dangerous extremism.

Sadly, The Power of Nightmares may become a timeless film for this century, if we insist upon repeating our mistakes.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Terrorist in the Mirror 

Counterpunch has posted the complete text of Chomsky's speech that was this year's Amnesty International Annual Lecture hosted by Trinity College Dublin.

Someone Finally Confronts the "Support the Troops" Nonsense 

UPDATE: Stein's column is now the lead headline on the Drudge Report, after it was posted there yesterday in relatively understated fashion, and he is receiving an enormous amount of hate mail:

Joel Stein said he has been "bombarded" by hate mail over the incendiary article -- which was headlined "Warriors and Wusses" and held that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were "ignoring their morality" -- but does not regret writing it and stands by the premise.

"I don't support what they are doing, and I don't the see point of putting a big yellow magnet on your car if you don't," Stein told Reuters in an interview. "I don't think (soldiers) are necessarily bad people. I do plenty of things that are wrong too. But I don't agree with what they are doing so I don't see the logic of supporting it."

Let's hope that he survives, and doesn't get fired like Robert Scheer. His personal e-mail address is difficult to find, but you can e-mail comments of support to letters@latimes.com. If anyone has any better ideas, please feel to provide them in the comments section.

ORIGINAL POST: Boy, I hope Joel Stein has a good filter for his e-mail account. Unlike all those antiwar, anti-occupation fence straddlers like Medea Benjamin, United for Peace and Justice and the columnists over at the Huffington Post, Stein, normally known as a humorist, is hardnosed enough to state the unpleasant truth in a column published by the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people — the ones who were for the Iraq war — supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.

But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there — and who might one day want to send them somewhere else.

Like say, Iran and Venezuela? From the mouth of a comedian comes what is apparently otherwise unspeakable in polite society. Or, as Hunter Thompson used to say when someone provided an unavoidable, uncomfortable insight: Cazart! Indeed, Stein's prose strikes the ear as a gentler, more whimsical version of what Thompson himself would have written on the same subject.

And, bless his heart, Stein even dusts off that old quaint notion of personal responsibility for one's actions, you know, the concept that Clinton selectively applied only to welfare recipients:

But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.

I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq. I get mad when I'm tricked into clicking on a pop-up ad, so I can only imagine how they feel.

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.

Yikes! Didn't someone tell Stein that this is how you end up having all of your electronic communications monitored by the NSA? More seriously, though, glad to see someone get something published in a mainstream newspaper that echoes many of the themes on this subject that I presented here back in October.

Space limitations probably prevented Stein from elaborating further about the perversity of transforming American troops into the victims of the Iraq war in light of the extreme violence and destruction that they have inflicted upon the country. Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch has picked up the baton from Stein, publishing two highly personal, compelling e-mails from Vietnam veterans after his own reflections on the war in Iraq in relation to what has been described as the "Vietnam syndrome".

Here is an excerpt from one of them, written by Wade Kane:

At about the same time My Lai occurred, I was flying as a crew chief/gunner on a Chinook. Passing a small village I thought I heard a single shot directed at my helicopter. Or maybe it was just "blade pop." Looking into the village, I could see women and children in the streets in what I'd call a "pastoral scene." I elected not to "return fire," though by my unit's rules of engagement I could have done so. About an hour later we happened to fly past that village again. There was no one in sight, but there were numerous bomb craters in the rice paddies and where homes had been. My guess is that someone else received fire, or thought they received fire, returned fire, and the pilots called for an air strike. I doubt any of the people in the village had time to flee from the attack. Never ever have I heard anything about that event, just My Lai...

People here got really worried about a flashlight at a Starbucks (which might have been a bomb). Had it been a bomb, which it wasn't, it would have weighed about 1/500th of what we routinely drop in residential neighborhoods in Iraq. It's like most people don't seem to realize what devastation we inflict there on a frequent basis. Today, for example, someone I know sent me some "feel good pictures" about our troops in Iraq. You know: old ladies holding up "Thanks, Mr. Bush" signs, smiling kids. Pictures she said that "just don't make the news." For "don't make the news," how about some pictures of kids that our bombs have eviscerated?

Both e-mails expose our ethnocentrism, our insistence upon making the occupation of Iraq about us, when instead, it is overwhelmingly about the people rendered invisible by the media, the military and the resistance: the Iraqis themselves. Perhaps, only when the last soldiers are being evacuated from Baghdad, will we finally acknowledge that the Iraqis were the lead performers in this conflict. It is their lives, their families, their injuries and their deaths that constitute the core, the centerpiece of this narrative. The politically puerile call to "support the troops" by some on the left, a call that frequently mutates into emphasizing the need to actually improve their weaponry and safety gear, such as body armor, merely serves to push the day of this evacuation farther into the future as more and more Iraqis are killed.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Negligent Dereliction of Duty 

So a US warrant officer who suffocated an Iraqi prisoner to death in the course of an interrogation just got off with a small fine and sixty days of house arrest. Zeynep has the story here and here.

"They said it would be funny if I burned him with my cigarette" 

Former MP at Abu Ghraib, Megan Ambuhl, the woman who married Charles Graner after he broke up with Lynndie England, is out of the military and talking to the press about her old job. Her position is that the bigshots are more culpable than grunts like her because she and her peers had no idea how a war prison was supposed to be run. She says she had no training of any kind and assumed that what took place in Abu Ghraib was normal and acceptable given that the agents of institutions like the CIA were obviously crawling all over the place and that the abuse of prisoners was daily and completely out in the open.

Nothing really new here ... but her story is of some interest if for no other reason than because it is a first-person account: (from the Post)

Pentagon and Army officials have argued that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was isolated to a few individuals who decided to break the rules.

Ambuhl said some of the images seen in the photos depicted events that occurred every day.

"At the very least, there were a whole slew of people who knew about it," Ambuhl said. "These pictures were in no way hidden. We didn't sneak around pretending this wasn't going on."

Members of Other Government Agencies (OGA) -- a euphemism for the CIA -- were all over the hard site, keeping as many as 100 detainees there for interrogations. Once, two men with OGA had finished interrogating a detainee in a shower room and asked her to go get him.

"They said it would be funny if I burned him with my cigarette," Ambuhl said, adding that she tossed her cigarette before releasing the detainee, who was shackled to a window.

She said in hindsight she should have intervened.

"None of us were in the right frame of mind to get help for this situation," she said. "This was the norm. We didn't know any different. Maybe that's why they sent a combat support unit to do it. We wouldn't know how it was supposed to work, and we wouldn't question it.

"I wish I had done more to stop it," she said.

What's Going on in New Orleans? 

The current cover story of the Black Commentator answers a lot of questions about what is going on in New Orleans and corroborates Naomi Kleins' reporting from the fall.

The Commentator argues that it is unclear who is in charge of the reconstruction and in the vacuum a group of real estate and corporate developers appointed to the "mayor's commission" are pushing through a redevelopment plan that is good for their bottomline but bad for the tens of thousands of dispossessed -- basically, the commission is trying manipulate the situation such that the low-income neighborhoods never get rebuilt.

The physical devastation of Hurricane Katrina was exacerbated by the fact that it occurred at a time when for ideological reasons the powers that be are uniquely incapable of dealing with the disaster rationally. If ever there was a problem for which the solution was a massive federally funded project complete with WPA-like employment programs and so forth this was it, but instead, in Bush's America, some corporations got some loot and some tax breaks and that's about it. I don't know why people don't understand that corporations are in the business of making money, and their contributions to public projects will be beneficial only to the extent that their ability to profit is aligned with the public good ... Here's the Commentator:

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, currently president of the National Urban League, called the commission's scheme a "massive red-lining plan wrapped around a giant land grab." With the situation so uncertain, and time so short, homeowners will have difficulty settling with their insurance companies in time. Said Morial:

"It's cruel to bar people from rebuilding. Telling people they can't rebuild for four months is tantamount to saying they can't ever come back. It's telling people who have lost almost everything that we're going to take the last vestige of what they own."
And what about renters, who made up well over half of residents? Such people have no place in George Bush's "ownership society" - especially if they are Black. Bush put his smirking stamp of approval on the corporate plan during an oblivious visit to New Orleans, last week. "It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to visit."

Apparently, the president doesn't read newspapers because he is blind - except to the cravings of his class. Bush's Gulf Opportunity Zone Act provides billions in tax dodges for (big) business, while the threatened permanent depopulation of Black New Orleans would eliminate the possibility of return for the nearly 8,000 (small) Black businesses that served the neighborhoods.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Koufax Awards: American Leftist Listed Among Blogs Most Deserving of Wider Recognition 

Check out Wampum: American Leftist has been listed, along with nearly 300 other blogs, as one most deserving of wider recognition. Here's the criteria:

Below are just under 300 urls for blog most deserving of wider recognition. There were many more, but I do admit to utilizing a litmus test this year: Atrios, AmericaBlog and firedoglake have quite the following already. Maybe this category can be reserved for the little guys. I won't share with you the exact, very elaborate formula I used, but I'll give you a hint: In order to make the cut, you had to have fewer links than say, us! Very scientific, I know. Also, you have to have at least ostensibly written on lefty politics. If your blog is solely (pun, pun) on your favorite style of Birks, we suggest you submit your site to the Bloggies or Weblog Awards.

For the entire list, go here. Surf around and familiarize yourself them, as their readers will hopefully familiarize themselves with us. Because ultimately, that's the important thing, that we effectively utilize the Internet to communicate about life, culture and politics from a more humanistic perspective. Despite the loss of bloggers as noted by Joe recently, the list demonstrates that there is still a strong, vibrant progressive to left blogosphere.

If American Leftist has a unique place on the list at all, it is because it generally provides left, as opposed to liberal, commentary free of the constraints of American party politics. Joe is certainly worthy of the recognition, and I hope that readers have appreciated my contributions. And, remember, as Wampum admonishes, now is not the time to nominate and vote, now is the time to read and discover the richness of this discourse.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blog for Choice Day 

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and a number of bloggers are posting on the subject. See here...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ye Olde Wiretapping Lawsuit Round-Up 

Two lawsuits have been filed alleging that the NSA's use of warrantless wiretapping is illegal.

The ACLU filed the first suit on behalf of a number of journalists along with Greenpeace and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. As you may have heard one of the journalists involved, somewhat surprisingly, is Hitchens. I say "somewhat" surprisingly because my general take on Hitchens is that he is a clown. I think he's unserious; I think he likes to shock the rubes and get his picture in Vanity Fair. Anyway, the Guardian has the only statement from Hitchens regarding the suit that I could find:

Hitchens and the other plaintiffs said they feared their email and telephone calls were monitored, compromising their contacts in the Middle East. "People will say it's wartime and we have a deadly enemy, and I agree with that. I was in favour of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan very strongly, but it is even more important in such a time that we don't give away power to the unaccountable agencies that helped get us into this in the first place," Hitchens told the Guardian. "It is extremely important we know what the rules are and there has to be a line drawn. You mustn't turn emergency or panic measures into custom or practice."

"[U]naccountable agencies that helped get us into this in the first place"? -- who the hell is he referring to? The Bush administration? Seriously, this isn't snark -- I'm not getting what he is saying ... is Hitchens talking about agencies such as the CIA doing things like arming Bin Laden's friends to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan?

Another plaintiff in the same case is American Prospect editor Tara McKelvey whose name you might recognize if you followed the links in my recent post about female detainees in Iraq. McKelvey wrote pretty much the only English language exposé on the subject, "Unusual Suspects". You can imagine why she'd be concerned about the US tapping international calls to suspected terrorist-affiliated people: she'd probably spent months of 2004 making phone calls to former inmates of Abu Ghraib... (McKelvey also interviewed me a couple of years ago when "War President" was all the rage -- which is why I recognized the name)

The other lawsuit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, representatives of whom Richard just interviewed. They're the group who among other things serve as legal counsel for many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The CCR is obviously concerned that calls to the families of its Gitmo clients are being tapped. As you might recall, the CCR also filed war crimes charges against Rumsfeld, bless their little litigious hearts.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Deborah Howell Destroys the washingtonpost.com Blog 

UPDATE (1/20/06): Interested in the actual comments in response to Howell's column and web statement described below? Responses to her original column that initiated the controversy can be read here and here. Responses to her subsequent clarification on the web at washingtonpost.com can be found here.

ORIGINAL POST (1/19/06): As frequent visitors here are aware, I rarely tread within the treacherous waters of DC party politics. Nor do I commonly engage in media criticism. There are plenty of bloggers who do it well, people over in the high traffic universe, especially Jane Hamsher at firedoglake as well as the multitude of posters over at DailyKos. I am more to the left than them, but I visit their sites because the discourse is usually informative, and the participants provide me with insight about the current condition of liberalism. And, for lefties like us, there is, of course, the inimitable, award winning Left i on the News.

Normally, I don't link to DailyKos, they certainly get enough traffic as it is, and any traffic directed from here would be difficult to discern, but the situation is so incredible, so astounding, and georgia10 has so brilliantly summarized it, that I have no choice.

What happened? Turns out that the Washington Post's purported ombudsperson, Deborah Howell, keeps getting caught with her hand in the GOP cookie jar, so much so that washingtonpost.com had to shut down blog comments indefinitely. Let the enormity of that response sink in: ". . we have shut off comments on this blog indefinitely." For an Internet site, this is the cyberspace equivalent of Jonestown.

It was Howell's willingness to obsfuscate and create the illusion of Democratic involvement in the ever expanding Jack Abramoff congressional corruption scandal that broke the camel's back. Here is some background, gleaned from from georgia10's post:

On January 15th, Howell penned a column "Getting the Story on Jack Abramoff" where she lauded the reporting of Susan Schmidt, including the following statement:

Schmidt quickly found that Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties.

Instead of correcting the GOP talking point that Abramoff made contributions to Democrats, Howell gleefully reinforced it. Readers rightfully assailed Howell for condoning Schmidt's GOP stenography skills rather than calling her out on her egregious factual error. Howell's column received over 700 comments, which, according to the Post, overloaded the system.

Post media reporter Howard Kurtz stepped into the breach and offered this creative defense of Howell during a Media Talkback segment:

Fort Washington, Md.: Reporter Sue Schmidt and ombudsman Deborah Howell have both asserted repeatedly that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. The FEC shows no record of any Democrat getting any money from Abramoff, period. Some Indian tribes who were among Abramoff's victims contributed funds to some Democrats, but suggesting that that somehow is a donation from Abramoff defies logic. How does the Post justify passing on what appears to be nothing but GOP spin as fact?

Howard Kurtz: Howell's column Sunday said that a number of Democrats "have gotten Abramoff campaign money." That was inartfully worded. I believe what she was trying to say, and I have not discussed this with her, is that some Democrats have received campaign cash from Abramoff clients, and that this may have been orchestrated by the convicted lobbyist. That's why you have a number of Democrats (as well as many Republicans, now including Denny Hastert) giving back the tainted dough or donating it to charity. Even National Review Editor Rich Lowry says this is basically a Republican scandal -- we are talking about a Bush fundraiser and Tom DeLay pal -- but where the tangled web has extended to Democrats, we need to mention that too.

Got it? It's a little convoluted: ". . . some Democrats have received campaign cash from Abramoff clients and that this may have been orchestrated by the convicted lobbyist . . . " is transformed into " . . where the tangled web has extended to Democrats, we need to mention that too." If I was being tried for a crime, I sure wouldn't want Kurtz on the jury. James Ellroy has humorously described such carefully crafted, legally safe defamation as "sinuendo" in his novels, such as LA Confidential.

Echoing Kurtz's lead, Howell thereafter responded on washingtonpost.com with a similarly false and sinuendo ridden explanation of her published column:

I've heard from lots of angry readers about the remark in my column Sunday that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties. A better way to have said it would be that Abramoff "directed" contributions to both parties.

Lobbyists, seeking influence in Congress, often advise clients on campaign contributions. While Abramoff, a Republican, gave personal contributions only to Republicans, he directed his Indian tribal clients to make millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.

Records from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff’s Indian clients contributed between 1999 and 2004 to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats. The Post has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with specific directions on what members of Congress were to receive specific amounts.

Of course, there's just a couple of little problems. First, to suggest that Abramoff "directed" tribal contributions to Democrats is absurd, as tribes have historically given significant sums to them prior to any employment of Abramoff. Second, Howell's implication that the tribes were participating in a conspiracy to illegally channel campaign funds to Democrats sounds even stranger when you realize that Abramoff has already plead guilty to three felony counts, conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion, involving lobbying activities in Washington on behalf of Native American tribes, requiring him and other defendants to make restitution of at least $25 million that was defrauded predominately from these tribes. So, it's just another sly, unsubstantiated effort to conceal the fact that there is no evidence that the Democratic recipients engaged in any misconduct.

Predictably, internet readers who had diligently documented the errors in Howell's original column went berserk, resulting in this response, already linked:

Posted at 04:22 PM ET, 01/19/2006

Comments Turned Off
As of 4:15 p.m. ET today, we have shut off comments on this blog indefinitely.

At its inception, the purpose of this blog was to open a dialogue about this site, the events of the day, the journalism of The Washington Post Company and other related issues. Among the things that we knew would be part of that discussion would be the news and opinion coming from the pages of The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com. We knew a lot of that discussion would be critical in nature. And we were fine with that. Great journalism companies need feedback from readers to stay sharp.

But there are things that we said we would not allow, including personal attacks, the use of profanity and hate speech. Because a significant number of folks who have posted in this blog have refused to follow any of those relatively simple rules, we've decided not to allow comments for the time being. It's a shame that it's come to this. Transparency and reasoned debate are crucial parts of the Web culture, and it's a disappointment to us that we have not been able to maintain a civil conversation, especially about issues that people feel strongly (and differently) about.

We're not giving up on the concept of having a healthy public dialogue with our readers, but this experience shows that we need to think more carefully about how we do it. Any thoughtful feedback on that (or any other issue) is welcome, and you can send it to executive.editor@washingtonpost.com.

Jim Brady
Executive Editor, washingtonpost.com

For a hilarious refutation of Brady's justification for shutting down the blog, read Jane Hamsher here, where she acidly observes the she, along with her co-blogger, Redd Head, effortlessly delete the posts of trolls. Significantly, note that the Post has also removed all previous comments to Howell's web statement, so that it now appears on washingtonpost.com as uncontested fact. See the UPDATE for links to comments in response to both her web statement and her original column.

As for what needs to be done to reopen the blog, Brady should consider speaking with the Chinese government. They have developed sophisticated measures designed to prevent uninhibited public comment on the Internet. Sarcasm aside, one still can't help but be amazed. The defense of Howell, a conservative propagandist, is considered more important to the Post than the viability of its website, which will be seriously damaged by this decision. It is all the more incredible, given that it is considered axiomatic that the print media must successfully make the transition to the Internet to survive. Apparently, the Post is willing to jeopardize this transition to avoid jettisoning its effectiveness as a conveyer belt of conservative talking points.



Hey, I just pruned my blog roll ... hadn't looked at the thing in ages and there were tons of dead links. 2005 apparently was a big year for dropping out of blogging. Basically I got rid of links to blogs that hadn't posted in at least three months and I also cut some links to high traffic blogs that I never read. Anyway, if I just cut your blog in error, let me know and I'll put you back on there.

The Plot to Seize the White House 

Reader G. informs me that someone has made available for download the entire text of Jules Archer's 1973 book, The Plot to Seize the White House. The book is rare and out-of-print -- if you see a copy in a used bookstore somewhere expect to pay through your teeth. Here, for example, an Amazon store is asking $650.

Archer's book is about a nearly forgotten chapter in American history, known as "The Business Plot" or "The White House Putsch", in which a group of wealthy industrialists conspired to overthrow FDR during the early years of the Great Depression, attempting to establish a fascist government in the USA. Our knowledge of the plot is due to the testimony of Marine Corps General Smedley Butler.

Butler is an interesting character: the most decorated marine in US history, one of only nineteen people to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice, he became a hard leftist after retiring from the service, a speaker at socialist and pacifist rallies, and penned the antiwar classic, War is a Racket. Because of his popularity within the military the conspirators attempted to recruit Butler to lead the coup. Butler blew the whistle on the conspiracy leading to the McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigation in 1933. Here's the Wikipedia:

During the McCormack-Dickstein Committee hearings, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler testified that through Gerald MacGuire and Bill Doyle, who was then the department commander of the American Legion in Massachusetts. The conspirators attempted to recruit him to lead a coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, D.C., unlimited financial backing, and generous media spin control. Despite Butler's support for Roosevelt in the election, and his reputation as a strong critic of capitalism, the plotters felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public, and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.

Butler was approached by Gerald MacGuire. MacGuire was a bond salesman for Robert Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, an art collector who lived mostly in Paris, and one of Wall Street's richest investors. One of Wall Street's richest bankers and stockbrokers. Gerald MacGuire was a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion and had been an activist for the gold currency movement that Clark sponsored.

In attempting to recruit Butler, MacGuire is said to have played on the general's passionate loyalty toward his fellow veterans and soldiers. Knowing of an upcoming bonus in 1945 for World War I veterans, Butler said MacGuire told him, "We want to see the soldiers' bonus paid in gold. We do not want the soldier to have rubber money or paper money." Although such names as Al Smith, Roosevelt's political foe and former governor of New York, and Irene DuPont, a chemical industrialist were said to be the financial and organizational backbone of the plot, hard evidence has never surfaced. Butler stated that once the conspirators were in power, they would protect Roosevelt from other plotters.

Given a successful coup, Butler would have held near-absolute power in the newly created position of "Secretary of General Affairs," while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role. Butler would then have implemented fascist measures to combat the Depression, as some conservatives at the time felt that such steps were necessary to ward off communist influence while preventing drastic changes in the economic structure.

For what it's worth, the Congressional committee report, which is included in full in Archer's book, confirmed Butler's allegations:

In the last few weeks of the committee's life it received evidence showing that certain persons had attempted to establish a fascist organization in this country...There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution if the financial backers deemed it expedient...MacGuire denied [Butler's] allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made to General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various form of veterans' organizations of Fascist character.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Most Popular Demand of Iraqi Kidnappers 

Jill Carroll's captors say she will die unless the US releases all female prisoners in Iraq. Informed readers should realize that this is by no means a new demand: Ken Bigley's murderers called for the same thing, as did Margaret Hassan's, as well as Simona Toretta's and Simona Pari's captors. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the US is complying with the demand this time around. The US has acknowledged the existence of eight female Iraqi prisoners and the BBC reports that six of them have just been released but implies that the freeing of the inmates had nothing to do with Jill Carroll:

Iraq's ministry of justice has told the BBC that six of the eight women being held by coalition forces in Iraq have been released early. The six were freed because there was insufficient evidence to charge them, a justice ministry spokesman said.

The US forces have refused to confirm the releases, but say they would not be based on any operational activities.

The group holding US journalist Jill Carroll has said she will die unless all Iraqi women prisoners are freed.

CNN, on the other hand, reports that there are ten female prisoners, six of whom have not been freed but are "scheduled to be released soon", again for reasons unrelated to the kidnapping.

The situation was handled very differently in the cases of Bigley and Hassan, both of whom were British. In the case of Bigley, the US refused to even admit the existence of female prisoners much less free them. Actually, it depended on who was talking and how early on in the story they were talking.

The initial official sources tried to plant the idea of the nonexistence of female Iraqi prisoners in the press by splitting hairs, claiming that there were no female inmates in the two prisons specifically mentioned by Bigley's kidnappers. Here's an excerpt from a CNN transcript from September 20, 2004:

[Betty] NGUYEN [, CNN anchor]: A lot of anxious people are awaiting word on several hostages being held in Iraq. [ ... ] That deadline is fast approaching.

[David] CLINCH [, CNN International editor]: It is. And you know everything about this story is awkward, difficult for us to cover, difficult for the U.S. authorities and everybody else. You know these hostage takers have created a very dangerous and disturbing dynamic in these hostage-taking situations. It's bad enough of course for the families for everybody else to consider the horrific fate of people if deadlines are looming. That's one part. But of course then they tie it of course to these complicated, sometimes contradictory demands that they put out.

NGUYEN: Right, with the female prisoners.

CLINCH: For instance, in this case, demanding that female prisoners be released from prisons in Iraq. Now the U.S. authorities there say we don't really know what they are talking about. There are no female prisoners in those prisons that they have mentioned. Yes, there are some females that they have taken into custody over the last year or more who were on the most wanted list, but not sitting in those prisons that they have mentioned.

NGUYEN: In those two prisons.

A couple of days went by and the official story changed with, as far as I can tell, no comment from the press. Sources now claimed that the only two female detainees in all of Iraq were Dr. Rihab Taha and Dr. Huda Ammash, the so-called Dr.Germ and Mrs. Anthrax. The following, for example, is from a story published three days after the CNN excerpt cited above:

The kidnappers say they will behead [Briton Kenneth Bigley], as they did to two Americans this week, unless all Iraqi women are freed from US-run jails. [...]

The US military says it only holds two female prisoners in Iraq - Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by US forces. They are accused of working on former president Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.

Now I suppose when David Clinch spoke of "some females that they have taken into custody" he could have been referring only to Raha and Ammash but such a reading seems like a stretch to me. In any case the original line that there were no female prisoners in two named prisons was probably what was true and the later claim was probably false.

The existence of female prisoners had actually been commented on in the public record by September of 2004; see, for example, this old post of mine. Abuse of female prisoners was a big part of the Abu Ghraib scandal that was shamefully glossed over by the American corporate press -- the fact is, for example, Abu Ghraib ringleader Specialist Charles Graner's crimes against women were specifically mentioned in his court martial. I view such facts as evidence that the US military was simply lying when it claimed there were no female prisoners held by American forces in the fall of 2004 -- a lie that the US press enabled by downplaying the abuse of women and children at Abu Ghraib to begin with. At one time there were clearly female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, if the military wasn't lying in the fall of 2004 it means that every single one of them was released without a word from the press.

It is interesting that this time around, in the case of Jill Carroll, the US is not bothering to lie about the female detainees. It is also interesting that the press seems to find nothing odd about the fact that all of a sudden female detainees exist again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Interview: Counsel for Guantanamo Detainees on KDVS 90.3 FM 

Last Friday, I, along with Ron Glick, the co-host of our KDVS 90.3 FM program, Speaking in Tongues, had the opportunity to interview Katherine Huskey and Julia Tarver Mason, two attorneys who have been been representing Guantanamo detainees in association with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Go here to listen or download the archived program. It will be available through this Friday, January 20th, 5pm, Pacific time.

Huskey and Mason provide first hand information about the current hunger strike, the general conditions under which detainees are incarcerated, the status of ongoing litigation, as well as a broader perspective about the creation and operation of Guantamamo within a constitutional system. One of the more provocative aspects of the interview takes place in the latter third, when I inquired about when, if ever, violent intervention would be justified to release the detainees in the absence of any legal remedies.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why don't you expect a government person to come on and say everything is wrong? 

Bremer was on Meet the Press yesterday and I found the following exchange interesting. Bremer explains why he made public statements in the summer of 2003 to the effect that the Iraqi insurgency was not a big deal at a time when, according to his memoirs, he had begun petitioning the president about the urgent need to "crush [the] mounting Baathist-jihadi insurgency and to crush it early on.": (transcript here)

Mr. Russert: [...] Now, that is July 14. And again, you came back to the United States a week later, one week from then, and here's an exchange you had. Let me put it up there.

[old video tape]
Amb. Bremer: "We have a limited problem of some bitter-enders, some small remnants of the old regime."

Mr. Russert: "So you don't think this is a coordinated campaign?"

Amb. Bremer: "No."

Mr. Russert: "You don't believe this is a guerrilla war?"

Amb. Bremer: "No. They present no strategic threat to the coalition."
[end of tape]

Mr. Russert: In private you seem to be very fearful of the insurgency, but you put a public face on that this is no big deal.

Amb. Bremer: Well, Tim, first of all, look, I've been in government for 40 years and my approach to government is that you owe it to the president to be very direct with him in what you recommend and what you say, which I tried to do throughout the time I was there.

You don't expect a government person to come on and say everything is wrong unless he's resigned. If you have real concerns and you can't support a president's policy, at least that's always been my view, then you resign.

Actually, in July the situation was still somewhat confused. We didn't have very good intelligence on the command and control of the insurgency. We really didn't know how big it was. I was concerned that it was bigger than we perhaps thought it was, which was why I reported that conversation on July 14.

We really didn't know, I would say, till--it seems to me, thinking back on it, about September of '03 that this was a bigger insurgency than we had anticipated.

Mr. Russert: But the American people were in a situation where they, too, deserve honesty. And if you're saying one thing in private and another thing in public, that this is no big deal...

Amb. Bremer: Tim, just a minute.

I wasn't saying one thing in private and another thing in public. I was saying in private we've got to get a strategy to defeat the insurgency. I was saying in public effectively we didn't really know what we're up against. It looked to us then as if we had the remnants of the Saddam regime, the bitter-enders, as I called them then.

We did not see a strategic threat nor did we see a strategy on the part of the insurgents at that time.

Although Russert lets him off the hook (if you read the rest of the transcript), Bremer's characterization of the disconnect between his memoirs and his public statements in July 2003 is obviously inaccurate: saying the insurgency is not a "coordinated campaign" and not a "strategic threat to the coalition" is not the same thing as saying "we don't know what we're up against." Of course, Bremer could simply be lying in his memoirs to make himself look cooler in the history books, but I'm inclined to believe his words in the passage in bold above.

The first thing to notice about the emphasized passage is that it is a nonsequitor: Russert points out an inconsistency between two public statements made by Bremer, and Bremer starts riffing on his belief that if you don't agree with the president you should resign. Clearly, he's gotten a little mad and is not thinking about what he is saying because what he says, if I'm reading it right, is the straight Walter Lippman line that Chomsky always quotes ... he's saying that anyone who has been "in government for 40 years" knows that you say one thing to the rabble and another thing to the elites.


Bachelet won it:

Socialist president-elect Michelle Bachelet was praised on Monday as a symbol of reconciliation who can help Chile come to terms with its traumatic political past.

Bachelet, who was imprisoned and tortured under the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, decisively beat her conservative challenger, multimillionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, in Sunday's election. With 97,5% of about 7,2-million votes counted, Bachelet had 53,4% of the official vote count to Pinera's 46,5%.

Bachelet's centre-left coalition has governed Chile since the end of Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship in 1990.

A 22-year-old medical student when Pinochet's led a coup 1973, Chile's president-to-be was arrested along with her mother and forced into five years of exile.

"She had the capacity for reconciliation in spite of the pains she had to suffer," Alejandro Goic, president of Chile's Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops, said on Monday after meeting Bachelet along with other clerics.

Santiago Archbishop Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuris praised her for "overcoming hatred".

"The success of Mrs Bachelet would be the success of the entire country," he added.

Friday, January 13, 2006

"If they had wanted to be tried in a civil law system, they should've attacked France." 

As Amnesty International reports on new claims of torture at Guantanamo Bay, ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner writes about what it's like to actually be there. Wizner, along with other human rights monitors, was allowed to visit Guantanamo Bay to observe the proceedings of the Guantanamo Military Commissions which reconvened on Wednesday, and has written four posts about the experience on the ACLU's blog ... Pretty fascinating, here're the links along with some excerpts:

1.) Greetings from Guantanamo ... Wizner discusses the surreal experience of traveling to Guantanamo Bay and reveals the prices of drinks at "The Clipper Club":

I'll write more about these two cases, and about some of the ACLU's broader concerns about the Commission system, tomorrow. Meanwhile, the "Clipper Club" serves Buds for $2, Red Stripes for $3, and shots of Jack Daniels in a plastic cup for $2.50. After a day of being told "no" in eight different ways -- from the terse, to the avuncular, to the analogous (Colonel: "You want to see that? I want to have dinner with J. Lo. It's not gonna happen." BW: "Don't sell yourself short.") -- I've got a thirst. And I've got a wallet full of singles.

2.) A Day of (Relative) Openness ... Wizner corners one of the commision prosecutors and we learn that Gitmo has a Starbucks:

Yesterday, we pestered anyone who would listen to us to arrange meetings with the Commission prosecutors and personnel, and we were given to believe that we were about as likely to get a meeting with the tooth fairy. So, when we serendipitously bumped into some of those prosecutors this morning in the parking lot outside the base's Starbucks hut, we concealed our surprise and struck up a conversation.

I asked one of the prosecutors -- who flinched theatrically when I told him I was an ACLU lawyer -- why it wouldn't have been preferable to try these detainees under an existing legal system, rather than inventing a new one on the fly. "If they had wanted to be tried in a civil law system," he intoned, "they should've attacked France."

3.) The Words of the Accused documents actually seeing Guantanamo inmates on trial:

Back in August of 2004, al Bahlul had requested to be represented by Yemeni counsel, and he asked Brownback the status of that request. Brownback stated that the rules would not permit it, and wondered whether al Bahlul still wished to represent himself. Al Bahlul responded that he wished to read a statement. After warning al Bahlul that he might interrupt a statement that he regarded as self-incriminating, Brownback allowed al Bahlul to speak.

What followed was a manifesto of sorts. Al Bahlul announced that he wished to read nine points regarding the "causes and circumstances" of the decision he was about to make. Some offered critiques of the Guantanamo justice system ("Because of discrimination based on nationality . . . . The British detainees were not subjected to military trials, because Britain refused to allow its citizens, even Muslims, to be tried"; because of "the secret evidence issue"); others were harder to follow. "I know I'm detained," he said, "and they will carry out their laws as they wish. I know there will be a day of judgment before God. Therefore I say to the judge -- do as you will. You will rule in this world, and God will provide justice."

Al Bahlul then declared: "With these nine causes, I am boycotting all sessions, even if I am forced to be present." He lifted the paper that he had been scribbling on. "I will raise this paper, and this word is 'boycott.' I am boycotting every session. This boycott is the result of circumstances that I believe, and it doesn't matter if you believe them." Then, in English, he repeated the word "boycott" three times.

4.) Impressions of Guantanamo. Final thoughts:

In addition to the mess halls and fast food chains (McDonald's, Subway), the base has some of its own restaurants and bars. There was excitement in the air at the Windjammer when we arrived for "Taco Tuesday," and I confess I paid more attention to my plate than to the representative of the Canadian government whom we were dining with. We never made it to the Jerk House, the Jamaican restaurant, nor to the Tiki Bar -- which, despite our protests, is off limits to us. (Maybe next time . . . .) We did have dinner at the Bay View, Guantanamo's most elegant restaurant, where a player piano sits in the lobby, tinkling out Elton John favorites and waiting for someone more insightful than I am to explain how it's a metaphor for this whole place. I'm not equal to the task.


Socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet polls 5% ahead of her conservative opponent in the last public opinion survey conducted before Chilean elections on Sunday...

Bachelet calls herself a socialist, but I get the feeling, and I am by no means an expert, that we should think of her more as a left-liberal moderate. Interest in this election is not a result of Bachelet's radicalism, as in Venezuela or Bolivia, but mainly the result of two factors:

(1) Bachelet is an unlikely candidate for social reasons. She's a woman, a single mother, and an atheist, while Chile is one of the most socially conservative Latin American countries.

(2) Electing anyone even slightly left of center reinforces the current trend among Latin American countries of rejecting neoliberal economic policies and subservience to Washington.

OSP Wanted to Plant WMD's 

Larisa Alexandrovna in Raw Story reports that the Office of Special Plans had agents on the ground in Iraq in the months after the invasion and contemplated planting weapons of mass destruction:

[T]he Office of Special Plans’ teams were deployed in obscurity and on occasion even bumped into sanctioned special ops teams, creating a sense of unease among the various forces on the ground.

Sources raised most concern about an alleged off-book 4-5 man team which operated in the summer through the fall of 2003. What this team was doing and under whose authority it operated is unclear.

Yet at least one source close to the UN Security Council tells RAW STORY that the smaller team was acting on behalf of Office of Special Plans and Defense Department leadership, specifically under the guidance of Feith and in tandem with Cambone. [ ... ]

This smaller unnamed team was tasked with interviewing former Iraqi intelligence officers in hopes of securing help with a “political WMD” problem, a source close to the UN Security Council says.

During the summer of 2003 through the fall of 2003, the team, whose members who were not named by sources, is said to have interviewed many Iraqi intelligence and former intelligence officers. The UN source says that the political problem discussed had more to do with solving the lack of WMD than anything else.

“They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source said. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our President is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’”

The source said intelligence officers understood quickly what they were being asked to do and that the assumption was they were being asked to provide WMD in order for coalition forces to find them.

“But the guys were thinking this is absurd because anything put down would not pass the smell test and could be shown to be not of Iraqi origin and not using Iraqi methodology,” the source added.

Who knows on this one? I'd like to see someone other than Raw Story touch this story -- someone that I trust a little more. Like many people I first became aware of Raw Story because of its coverage of the Plame scandal -- they seemed to be getting scoops that no one else was getting. Their Plame work was very good, but let's not forget that a lot of those scoops turned out to be false, or at least unverifiable.

For what it's worth, Al Jazeera has picked up this story...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

From Across the Aisle 

So there're a couple of interesting articles in the current issue of Pat Buchanan's rag ... Paleoconservatives seem to hate neoconservatives more than they hate liberals these days...

Robert Dreyfuss analyzes the US's posture towards Syria and concludes that military action is still on the table. These are strange times, and I am getting used to this sort of thing -- but, still, isn't it weird to read a guy who is a contributing editor at The Nation in a magazine called The American Conservative?:

But the news from Syria shows that the conventional wisdom [that the US cannot pursue military action in Syria because of the Iraq debacle] is wrong. The United States is indeed pursuing a hard-edged regime-change strategy for Syria. And it isn't necessarily going to be a Cold War--in fact, it could well get very hot very soon. In Washington, analysts disagree over exactly how far the Bush administration is willing to go in pursuing its goal of overthrowing the Assad government. In the view of Flynt Leverett, a former CIA Syria analyst now at the Brookings Institution, the White House favors a kind of slow-motion toppling. In a forum at Brookings, Leverett, author of Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire, announced his conclusion that Bush was pursuing "regime change on the cheap" in Syria. But others disagree, and believe that Syria could indeed be the next Iraq. For neoconservatives, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. For the rest of us -- watching the war in Iraq unfold in horror, lurching toward breakup and civil war -- the prospect ought to be both tragic and alarming. [ ... ]

On Oct. 6, in his saber-rattling declaration of war against "Islamofascism," President Bush not-so-subtly warned Syria that it might be next. "State sponsors [of terrorism] like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists, and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror," said Bush, speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy. "The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, because they're equally as guilty of murder. Any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization. And the civilized world must hold those regimes to account." Echoing Bush, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad warned bluntly that "our patience is running out with Syria," and like other U.S. officials Khalilzad blamed the Assad government for America's troubles in Iraq.

Just before the president spoke, according to Knight Ridder, senior Bush administration officials met in a high-level powwow to discuss U.S. options for dealing with Syria. Among the alternatives reportedly discussed at the meeting was "limited military action," and despite the fact that intelligence on Syria's actual role in supporting the resistance in Iraq is hazy at best, the story, by reporter Warren Strobel, revealed that "one option under consideration was bombing several villages 30 to 40 miles inside Syria that some officials believe have been harboring Iraqi insurgents." On Oct. 15, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration was threatening "hot pursuit" and other attacks into Syrian territory. It added, "A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops, including a prolonged firefight this summer that killed several Syrians, has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war, according to current and former military and government officials."

Here is the Knight-Ridder article that Dreyfuss mentions in the above.

And Buchanan himself has piece amusingly titled "Might the Arabs Have a Point?" focusing on a recent Zogby poll of opinions about the US in the Muslim world:

A Zogby survey of 3,900 Arabs in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates has uncovered massive distrust of U.S. motives in the Middle East.

Unkindest cut of all, Arabs would prefer that President Chirac and France lead the world rather than us, and, rather than have us as the world’s lone superpower, they would prefer the Chinese.

While Arabs are not as rabidly anti-American as in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, still, by 77 percent to 6 percent, they believe the Iraqi people are worse off today, and by four-to-one, Arabs say the U.S. invasion has increased, not decreased, terrorism.

Designed by Arab scholar Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution, the survey reveals pervasive cynicism about the stated goals of George W. Bush. When asked, "When you consider American objectives in the Middle East, what factors do you think are important to the United States?" the Arab answers came as follows:

Fully 76 percent said the Americans are there for the oil, 68 percent said to protect Israel, 63 percent to dominate the region, and 59 percent to weaken the Muslim world. Only 6 percent said we were there to protect human rights and another 6 percent said to promote democracy. Asked directly if they believe President Bush when he says democracy is our goal, two of every three Arabs, 78 percent in Egypt, said that, no, they do not believe Bush.

Asked to name the two nations that present the greatest threat to regional peace, 70 percent named Israel, 63 percent the United States, and 11 percent Britain. Only 6 percent named our bete noire Iran.

Asked to name the foreign leader they disliked most, Sharon swept top honors with 45 percent. Bush took the silver with 30 percent. No one else was close. Tony Blair came in a weak third. Only 3 percent of the Arabs detest him most.

While only 6 percent agreed with al-Qaeda's aim to establish an Islamic state and only 7 percent approve of its methods, 20 percent admire the way al-Qaeda "stood up for Muslim causes" and 36 percent admire how it "confronts the U.S."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Air War: Past, Present and Future 

The air war in Iraq is slowly, but inexorably, entering mainstream media discourse. On December 24, 2005, the Washington Post published an article acknowledging that US forces have been using air strikes in western Iraq to attack resistance fighters in civilian neighborhoods. Predictably, the Post observed that, "The accounts of U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians of airstrikes often diverge sharply." It then implicitly validated the Marine perspective by quoting US commanders at length about the technological wonders of "precision-guided munitions", especially in regard to their alleged ability to reduce, if not eliminate, civilian casualties.

Unfortunately, it appears that that this wonderous technology is incapable of eliminating the persistent element of human error, and the catastrophic consequences associated with it. On January 3rd, the New York Times reported:

United States warplanes killed nine members of an Iraqi family, including women and young children, during a bombing strike Monday night that obliterated a home near the northern industrial city of Bayji, Iraqi officials said today.

American officials said the warplanes were targeting insurgents who had been observed planting a roadside bomb and who then fled to the building that was destroyed.

The attack enraged Iraqi officials in Bayji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, who said the airstrike was unjustified and destroyed an innocent family.

A preliminary investigation indicated the blast killed the wife of the home's owner, his daughter-in-law and seven children and grandchildren, including one son who worked for the police, said Maj. Muthanna al-Qaisi, a spokesman for the governor of the Salahaddin province. Three more family members were wounded, he said.

"The owner of the house is a very simple man," said Major al-Qaisi. "The American forces did not provide us with any justification for the attack and the governor requires an investigation concerning this attack.

There was just one problem: the wrong house was bombed.

An error, a mistake, but then again, perhaps not. The Brussels Tribunal has numerous, harrowing Iraqi eyewitness accounts of the war in western Iraq, with this description of the bombing of Al-Qaim in October 2005 as just one example:

Modhhir Najim Abdulla, a security officer in the hospital took us to his uncle’s bombed house where 17 women, children, and civilians were killed. The house of Arkan was just heaps of concrete blocks; the roof was flattened to the ground. There were 5 families living there. Not one of them was a stranger or a fighter.

“I just want to know why, I want a justification” Modhhir began, “the bombing began on Nov 5, loud speakers were saying stay at home, do not move out, and we did. 15 minutes later the bombing began. They did not announce evacuation. We had no chance to leave”. On Nov 7, we heard that our uncle’s house was bombed. We could not go to check; we went to the nearest American troops and told them. They accompanied us, and this is what we found,

Modhhir was not crying, but his voice was full of rage. His sister (Najla’) who was the wife of his cousin too, was pregnant in her 9th month. She was supposed to have cesarean operation because she was a week late for her due time. “I can not describe her and her baby when we removed the bodies”. Another cousin’s baby was only 25 days. A third child’s body was not found until 2 days later. Modhhir brought the family’s IDs, death certificates, and photos.

In an excellent article posted yesterday over at Tom Dispatch, Michael Schwartz explains the amoral intentions behind of the use of air power in Iraq:

We can gain some perspective on this military strategy by imagining similar rules of engagement for an American police force in some large city. Imagine, for example, a team of criminals in that city fleeing into a nearby apartment building after gunning down a policeman. It would be unthinkable for the police to simply call in airships to demolish the structure, killing any people -- helpless hostages, neighbors, or even friends of the perpetrators -- who were with or near them. In fact, the rules of engagement for the police, even in such a situation of extreme provocation, call for them to "hold their fire" -- if necessary allowing the perpetrators to escape -- if there is a risk of injuring civilians. And this is a reasonable rule... because we value the lives of innocent American citizens over our determination to capture a criminal, even a cop killer.

But in Iraqi cities, our values and priorities are quite differently arranged. The contrast derives from three important principles under which the Iraq war is being fought: that the war should be conducted to absolutely minimize the risk to American troops; that guerrilla fighters should not be allowed to escape if there is any way to capture or kill them; and that Iraqi civilians should not be allowed to harbor or encourage the resistance fighters.

Referencing the January 2nd "mistake" in Bayji, Schwartz observes:

Rather than allow the perpetrators to take refuge in a nearby home and then quietly slip away, the U.S. command decided to take out the house, even though they had no guarantee that it was uninhabited (and every reason to believe the opposite). The paramount goal was to kill or capture the suspected guerrilla fighters, and if this involved the death or injury of multiple Iraqi civilians, the trade-off was clearly considered worth it. That is, annihilating a family of 12 or 14 Iraqis could be justified, if there was a reasonable probability of killing or capturing three individuals who might have been setting a roadside bomb.

Though Bush administration officials and top U.S. military officers often, for propaganda purposes, refer to local residents as innocent victims of insurgent intimidation and terrorism, their disregard for the lives of civilians trapped inside such buildings is symptomatic of a very different belief: that most Sunni Iraqis willingly harbor the guerrillas and support their attacks -- that they are not unwilling shields for the guerrillas, but are actively shielding them. Moreover, this protection of the guerrillas is seen as a critical obstacle to our military success, requiring drastic punitive action.

As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger strategy in which U.S. military power is used to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." A Marine calling-in to a radio talk show recently stated the argument more precisely: "You know why those people get killed? It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."

Note that Schwartz's commentary is based upon the repudiated initial military statement that three Iraqis involved in planting an explosive device nearby had been monitored entering the Bayji home. Now, the military states that it is "investigating" why the wrong house was hit. At best, we have a classic illustration of the fallibility of purported "precision-guided munitions", contrary to the romanticized Christmas Eve description of such technology in the Post. At worst, the military did bomb the selected target, based upon the probability, rather than the certainty, of the presence of the guerrillas. As Schwartz said, "annihilating a family of 12 or 14 Iraqis could be justified, if there was a reasonable probability of killing or capturing three individuals who might have been setting a roadside bomb."

Accordingly, having declared war on the Sunnis, armed and unarmed, it is not surprising to discover that "U.S. Airstrikes Could Intensify". One can only forlornly hope that the internal resistance within the Navy and the Air Force during the latter stages of the Vietnam War reemerges in Iraq:

The GI movement spread from the army and the marine corps to the air force and navy, as these services assumed the principal burden of continuing the American war effort. By 1972 resistance accelerated to such a degree that B-52 crews refused to fly; sabotage and internal rebellion crippled the navy's aircraft carriers. . . With each new wave of bombing during the Nixon administration, protests and demonstrations erupted at bases throughout the world. The rising tide of antiwar resistance ultimately began to disrupt bombing operations and reached even the predominantly white officer-pilots. Morale among airmen and crew members at the combat bases in Thailand and Guam steadily dropped in 1972. In December of that year, two pilots stationed in Thailand, Captains Dwight D. Evans and Michael Heck, refused to fly any more combat missions. 20 In the spring of 1973, four B-52 crewmen stationed at Guam joined in a federal lawsuit filed by Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman to challenge the constitutionality of continued bombing. Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon cut back on bombing missions and Congress finally severed funding, thereby starting to terminate America's longest war.

Of course, we live in different times, but it is still probably true that the war in Iraq, like the war in Vietnam, will continue until people refuse to enlist and soldiers refuse to fight it. So, the antiwar movement, such as it is, is well-advised to continue to focus upon these two outcomes, no matter how difficult.

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