Monday, May 10, 2004

1000 words aren't needed...

...to sum up the problems with the treatment of prisoners at Al Ghraib. Only one is. Torture.

Still, there's a morbid fixation by some on the photographic evidence, and the pictures have assumed a central role in the denial of Donald Rumsfeld and others about the nature and importance of the events. It's as if the whole thing only happened because there are pictures.

In fact, the pictures are important, because until they were provided to the higher command, the reports of torture and abuse of prisoners - reports that had been coming from sources like the International Red Cross, were at best downplayed, if not outright ignored. Still, the photos are really the least of the problem.

Alan Rosenblatt states the case at BOPnews. "Has anyone noticed," he writes, "how fixated Rumsfeld is on the pictures of tortured Iraqi prisoners. The administration is trying to focus us on the pictures, not the act. This is wrong. As Senator Clinton stated when questioning Rumsfeld, the text report was more than enough to raise the hair on the back of her neck.

"Rather than focus on the pictures, the legality of leaking the pictures, the release of additional pictures and video, we need to be focused on why this was happening. Pictures have a tendency to focus responsibility on those in them. Yet clearly this was more widespread. We need to focus on the chain of command."

Most of my encounters with the pictures have been incidental. I've seen the shots that have accompanied some news items on the net, though I've avoided the temptation to click through to larger versions, and of course, the infamous Economist cover. I believe the remaining pictures and video should be released, but I have no burning desire to see them.

Frankly, I don't need pictures to grasp the problem with charges like these:

Detainees were threatened with a loaded pistol

Cold water was poured on naked prisoners

Inmates were beaten with a broom handle and chair

Male detainees were threatened with rape

A prisoner was sodomised with a chemical light

Detainees were forced into various sexual positions to be photographed

Naked inmates were arranged in a pile and then jumped on

Male detainees were forced to wear women's underwear

Male detainees were forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped

Military dogs were used to frighten and intimidate; in one case a detainee was bitten.


In fact, I don't even need to read the Geneva Conventions to know those things are wrong.

The pictures aren't the problem.

"...a lack of situational awareness..."

Those words probably mean more to the average reader of the Army Times than to the average citizen. It's an important charge, the kind of thing that causes officers of every rank to be relieved of command, because it's the kind of thing that causes battles to be lost and soldiers to be killed. When the Army Times levies that kind of charge against the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, people should pay close attention.

Here's part of the Army Times editorial, and I can't find a word to disagree with in the whole thing (though I've taken the liberty of emphasizing a few points I particularly endorse).

"There is no excuse for the behavior displayed by soldiers in the now-infamous pictures and an even more damning report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. Every soldier involved should be ashamed. But while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership.
"The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes."

***

"On the battlefield, Myers’ and Rumsfeld’s errors would be called a lack of situational awareness — a failure that amounts to professional negligence.

"To date, the Army has moved to court-martial the six soldiers suspected of abusing Iraqi detainees and has reprimanded six others.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the MP brigade that ran Abu Ghraib, has received a letter of admonishment and also faces possible disciplinary action.

"That’s good, but not good enough.

"This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level. This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability here is essential — even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war."

This isn't the liberal beltway establishment talking. This isn't a voice the President can afford to ignore. This is about saving American lives, and what shreds remain of America's prestige.

Who let this guy have a book of matches?

Howie Kurtz is playing with fire in the WaPo..

"...stories about disaffected Democrats are spreading like wildfire through the media forest," he writes, carelessly fanning the flames.

There's a grain of truth in his words, though. Stories about stories about disaffected Democrats are certainly in circulation. What's really notable about those stories, though, is not their inflammatory headlines, but the distinct lack of actual disaffected Democrats willing to go on the record.

Look, my Party, like any other large organization, has a variety of factions and a certain number of people with axes to grind. There's bound to be a level of backbiting and remonstration after a hard fought, multi-candidate primary.

The real story, though, is the remarkable degree of Democratic unity at a historically early date. It's not, though, apparently considered a story that will sell newspapers.

Try and find five Democrats of real stature who will go on the record saying that John Kerry is a poor choice, or should step aside. My bet is you can't. I'm certain, though, that if you can, I can list 50 Democrats of equal or greater stature who are on the record saying that John Kerry is a great candidate with excellent prospects for victory.

Somebody wants you to panic. Don't do it.

From the Don't Panic file...

Ryan Lizza's 'inside baseball' look at the Kerry campaign staff closes with this observation from Clintonite Bruce Reed.

"In 1992, we had a miserable spring. We started out in second [behind President Bush] and worked our way to third [behind Bush and Ross Perot.] ... It wasn't until the vice presidential pick and the convention that Clinton ... was able to overcome the echo chamber's doubts about him."

By that standard, Kerry seems to be ahead of the game, in a solid tie in early spring. In fact, it's even better than that. At this point in 1992, there were still an active battle for the nomination, and nothing at all like the early Party concensus that's allowed Kerry to build his warchest and take his challenge directly to his November opponent.

Really, folks, it's not done, it's not going to be easy, but we're in very good shape.

Making the rounds...

...of some of the sources I spent a fair bit of the weekend avoiding, I find that (as so often) Josh Marshall gets it about exactly right.

"As I think is already becoming clear, the responsibility for all of this goes right to the very top -- to the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Vice President and many others. The point isn't that the president ordered or knew specifically that soldiers in Iraq were setting attack dogs on to naked prisoners or all the other outrages we're about to hear of. But going back almost three years these men made very conscious and specific decisions to disregard or opt out of the various international conventions, rules and traditions governing the treatment of prisoners of war and enemy combatants that are intended to prevent such things from happening."

Eric Alterman makes a related point.

"This is the kind of thing that happens in every war, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one was. While the details are always unknowable, something like this scandal was entirely predictable. Add to the natural inhuman pressures of war, the lack of concern this administration has demonstrated for the niceties of civil liberties and human rights since 9/11, and the signal that sends down the chain of command, revelations of this type become only a matter of time.

"And all the hawks, liberal and otherwise, who find themselves “shocked, shocked” by the actions of our own soldiers should have read a little military history before embarking on this catastrophic adventure under the leadership of dishonest and incompetent ideological fanatics."

The juxtaposition of these points is leading me to reexamine one of my early conclusions. I've been inclined to believe that the Buscho cabal really was blinded by their ideology and inexperience in war - that they really didn't believe that eventually, American soldiers in the kinds of circumstances that they were sent to in Iraq wouldn't eventually commit war crimes, wouldn't succumb to the pressure to perform atrocities.

With Marshall's reminder, though, about the strenuous efforts that were made to remove the US from the purview of oversight by the traditional rules and agencies that have been developed to expose and punish behavior that is, in fact, fully predictable, the war planners weren't acting in ignorance at all.

I don't think that ignorance offers an adequate excuse in the first place, but the notion that American troops were sent to war knowing that there would be atrocities, expecting that war crimes would occur, with a plan to cover up those crimes established in advance of the deployment adds a new dimension of shame to the situation. What they were doing was, in effect, offering encouragement, if not orders, that atrocities take place. One of the basic protections owed the troops is to train and supervise against placing them in this kind of criminal jeopardy, and the Bush policy has been exactly the opposite. As if the usual risks of war were not enough, they seem to have deliberately subjected our troops to an additional dimension of danger.

Shame is such an inadequate word in these circumstances.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Catching my breath

I spent most of the day away from the TV, computer and newspapers, in the company of folks who had lots of things to talk about that didn't involve torture, partisan politics or any of the other things that seem all-pervasive when I spend the day immersed in CNN and the blogs. Turns out that a lot of folks are out there planning vacations, getting the garden in shape, fixing the roof while the good weather holds and wondering what in the world happened to the Mariners. It's good to get perspective.

Still, there's some news that I want to make note of before the press of tomorrows headlines pulls me past today's stories.

Fareed Zakaria has a must-read Newsweek piece, exploring the broader implications of Iraq policy through the lens of Al Ghraib.

He writes "Rumsfeld went on in his testimony to explain that "these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number." That's correct, except the small number who are truly responsible are not the handful of uniformed personnel currently being charged for the prison abuse scandal. The events at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger breakdown in American policy over the past two years. And it has been perpetrated by a small number of people at the highest levels of government."

He's clearly right about that, and I suspect that will become more and more obvious as the prosecutions in the Al Ghraib case go forward. As guilty as they may be of a variety of crimes, the handful of enlisted troops currently targeted for court martial don't show any interest in falling on their swords. I have no sympathy for the 'just following orders' defense in these cases, but they'll be doing everything they can to push the blame up the chain of command, and that push will continue every step of the way, I believe, until you have flag rank officers testifying agains the Secretary of Defense in trial proceedings, assuming he doesn't do the right thing and resign before it reaches that point.

Mary at the Left Coaster points to another essential piece, this one from US News & World Report, detailing the mounting evidence that we are losing the war in Iraq.

"The costs of the occupation are mounting inexorably. Not only was April the deadliest month of the Iraq mission, but more than 1,000 soldiers were wounded, creating a huge drain on resources. These losses averaged out to losing the equivalent of a platoon a day in manpower last month. "This cannot be sustained," says another State Department official. But officials contend that there is little being done to plan strategically to replace the wounded. Instead, marines in units set to deploy to Iraq later this year from Camp Pendleton, Calif., are being asked to volunteer to head over early--a form of borrowing from the future that will eventually come due."

Further on, they make note of a particularly distressing example of Rumsfeld's incompetence.

"In an unintentionally revealing moment, Rumsfeld conceded that he had not been paying attention to the hearts-and-minds battle. "I haven't been focused on the war of ideas, to be honest with you," he told a press conference. Some insiders are concerned, they say, that Bush, Vice President Cheney, and even Rumsfeld don't appreciate the full extent of the trouble in Iraq. "They don't understand that it's a total f - - - ing mess over there," says one high-level U.S. official working on Iraq policy. "I think someone's gotta be fired."

Mary comments "It is becoming obvious that there is no way to win the war as it is being conducted now."

I agree to a large extent, but would take it further. I don't think we can win a war in which we don't even seem to understand what a 'win' would look like. Stability and withdrawal might not be considered a win, but it would forestall further disaster. It's time to set a simple, understandable, attainable goal in Iraq, but it will probably take a new administration for that to happen.






Quote of the Day

"It would be very patriotic if Secretary Rumsfeld resigned."

General Wesley Clark

Saturday, May 08, 2004

On the other hand...

...Maureen Dowd examines the record and offers some discouraging words to those who are overconfident that Rumsfeld's incompetence will finally do him in...

"After all, George Tenet is still running the C.I.A. after the biggest intelligence failures since some Trojan ignored Cassandra's chatter and said, "Roll the horse in." Colin Powell is still around after trash-talking to Bob Woodward about his catfights with the Bushworld "Mean Girls" — Rummy, Cheney, Wolfie and Doug Feith. The vice president still rules after promoting a smashmouth foreign policy that is more Jack Palance than Shane...

"The only people who have been pushed aside in this administration are the truth tellers who warned about policies on taxes (Paul O'Neill); war costs (Larry Lindsey); occupation troop levels (Gen. Eric Shinseki); and how Iraq would divert from catching the ubiquitous Osama (Richard Clarke)."

The passage I've highlighted is undeniably true, and distressingly encouraging, I'm afraid, to Rummy. Accuse him of what you will, but "truth teller" is a charge that definitely won't stick.

Sergeants and Privates and Generals...

..oh my!

It's not my custom to acknowledge the accuracy of Republican Senators around here, but I have to admit that I agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham's observation during the Rumsfeld testimony that "...I would be very disappointed if the only people prosecuted are sergeants and privates."

Me too. But...

As the specific charges against the Al Ghraib enlisted guards are fleshed out, what little sympathy I might ordinarily muster for those at or around rank I once held have become thoroughly exhausted, and their feeble excuses don't make their cases any stronger.

Although SP4 Sabrina Harman complains that "...the prison had no standard operating procedures and on Tier 1A..." and "...she was never schooled in the Geneva Conventions' rules on prisoner treatment," it's simply beyond belief that a crash course in treaty law was required for a civilized human being to understand that this kind of behavior is wrong:

"Harman is accused by the Army of taking photographs of that pyramid and photographing and videotaping detainees who were ordered to strip and masturbate in front of other prisoners and soldiers, ...with photographing a corpse and then posing for a picture with it; with striking several prisoners by jumping on them as they lay in a pile; with writing "rapeist" on a prisoner's leg; and with attaching wires to a prisoner's hands while he stood on a box with his head covered."

Nope. As a friend says, "No excuses are necessary, because none will be accepted."

PFC Lynndie England, who you may know as 'the lady with the leash' from one of the more vivid of the published Al Ghraib photos, is the latest to be charged. England was the company clerk who apparently had free access to the cell block which the commanding General of the MP Brigade claims she couldn't get into.

Although England's family is full of assurances that she's not that kind of person at all, Army investigators have charged her with "...assaulting Iraqi detainees on multiple occasions; conspiring with another soldier, Spc. Charles Graner, to mistreat the prisoners; committing an indecent act; and committing acts 'that were prejudicial to good order and discipline and were of nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces through her mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.'" When not busy otherwise conspiring with SP4 Graner, they conspired to concieve a child, as well.

This is not, as has been widely asserted, a failure of training. No adult, civilian or soldier, MP or grunt, should require special training to understand that assaulting detainees, committing 'indecent acts,' posing with corpes or forcing prisoners to masturbate for the camera are simply and completely wrong. These two, and the other five guards facing similar charges, should be prosecuted and punished. That's beyond dispute.

Bush, like many of his subordinates, is trying to dismiss the entire matter as the "wrongdoing of a few." In an important sense, he's right. In the context of the hundreds of thousands of US troops that serve honorably and would never participate in the kind of torture meted out at Al Ghraib, it is indeed the wrongdoing of a few. He's wrong, though, to the extent that the few that have now been criminally charged represent the full extent of the problem.

It's the wrongdoing of a few (and I note the choice of words. The other side are 'evil' doers. Our side has a few 'wrong' doers...), but I'll take the liberty of suggesting a few more who should face criminal charges.

800th MP Brigade Commander Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was clearly derelict in her duties. If Lynndie England could get into that cellblock, Karpinski should have.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who, following an inspection tour of the Iraqi prison camps, recommended that the MPs "be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." That's the policy that set the subsequent torture at Al Ghraib in motion.

Lt. Colonel Jerry Phillabaum, CO of the 320th MP Battalion, who the Taguba report found guilty of "...rarely supervising their troops and failing to set basic soldiering standards for them..." for dereliction.

205th Military Intelligence Brigade commander Colonel Thomas M. Pappas, whose interrogators improperly assumed supervision of the MP guards and reportedly directed some of their more heinous actions.

Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, who directly supervised the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at the prison.

Any senior officer in the chain of command who recieved and dismissed the regular stream of reports from the ICRC over the last year detailing torture and other human rights abuses at Al Ghraib, Camp Bucca and other US operated prison camps.

And of course, Rummy. I'm not sure if there are any criminal charges that actually apply, and as a civilian, he's not subject to the UCMJ, but he's simply got to go. He says he takes responsibility. Treat him as though he's responsible.

And sign the petition.

We can take care of the man ultimately responsible in November.

More math.

Kicking Ass provides a couple more data points worth keeping in mind while assessing the latest employment (or, rather lack of employment) numbers...

"The national unemployment rate is up 37 percent under President Bush.
One and a half million people have exhausted their state unemployment insurance since December 2003, while President Bush refuses to extend federal unemployment insurance."

Remember, in Bushworld, this is supposed to be the good news...

Road trip.

More blogging later this evening, probably, but in a couple hours Sally, the brilliant and beautiful Bride of Upper Left, and I will be taking a ferry boat ride in the direction of greater metropolitan Sequim, WA where I'll be marching with my veteran's drill team in the world famous Irrigation Days Parade before hooking up with the Mom of Upper Left, who lives in town, for a little early Mother's Day observation.

It'll be nice to take a break from the screen for awhile. After you've read today's posts, you might try it yourself, and I'll meet you back here later...

No Sale.

Rummy went to the hill, but the New York Times remains unconvinced...

"If Donald Rumsfeld went to Congress yesterday to explain why he should remain secretary of defense, he failed. His daylong testimony in the House and Senate has confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld fatally bungled the Abu Ghraib prison scandal."

And it's not just Al Ghraib. Not hardly.

"The hearings also gave Americans a chilling new reminder of the mess the Bush administration, particularly Mr. Rumsfeld, has made of the Iraq occupation. With their perfect sense of certainty that they were right and everyone else wrong, Mr. Rumsfeld and his colleagues never planned adequately for the occupation. They were unprepared to handle the 43,000-plus Iraqi prisoners they ultimately took or the armed insurgents they faced — even though disorder and resistance were widely predicted."

Then there's that other war...

(Reuters) One U.S. Marine Killed, One Wounded in Afghan Clash

Did you notice that when Bush was defending Rummy, he made getting us invoved in two wars at one time sound like a good thing?

It's not a feature, George. It's a bug.

If he won't quit, fire him.

What they should be doing...

...is sending Gen. Taguba to Gitmo.

(AP) The Guantanamo Bay prison complex was run by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller. In late August 2003, Miller conducted an inquiry on interrogation and detention procedures in Iraq and suggested that prison guards could help set conditions for the interrogation of prisoners, according to the Taguba report. Most of the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib took place from October to December 2003.

Last week, the military announced Miller had been appointed chief of the U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.

Another story...

...that's eluded many of us during the last week has been faithfully tracked at Undelay. As of their latest report, at least 26 American soldiers and Marines died in Iraq this week. That sets the pace for 115 more casualties this month.

But don't worry. We have a "very good" Secretary of Defense...

Speaker with a forked tongue...

It's hard to keep up with all the stories this week, with the Al Ghraib tortures justifiably taking up a lot of everyone's attention, but it's really not the only news.

For instance, a recent item from the Stakeholder reports that Dennis Hastert has been on the road, but maybe he should have stayed in DC. Turns out that folks in South Dakota, where he seemed outspoken in support of Country Of Origin Labeling for meat products, an important local issue, noticed that his opinions vary with geography.

As the Rapid City Journal put it...

"We wonder how this helps Diedrich. Hastert comes to West River to campaign for a crucial House seat, and he says he supports COOL, which thrills South Dakota cattlemen; a few days later, his spokesman says he was misunderstood.

"Hastert is saying one thing in South Dakota and another thing in Washington, D.C. It's too bad there isn't state of origin labeling on political rhetoric."

Flip-flop or lie? You decide.

In fact, why not have it both ways yourself. Hastert is a flip-flopping liar.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Good tunes are timeless...

Sometimes sadly so.

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
by Pete Seeger

It was back in 1942, I was part of a good platoon
We were on manoeuvres in Louisiana one night by the light of the moon
The Captain said, We got to ford the river, that's where it all began
We were knee deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fool kept yelling to push on

The Sergeant said, Sir, are you sure this is the way back to base
Sergeant, I once crossed this river not a mile above this place
It'll be a little soggy but we'll keep on slogging, we'll soon be on dry ground
We were waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fool kept yelling to push on

Captain, sir, with all this gear no man will be able to swim
Sergeant, don't be a nervous nellie, the Captain said to him
All we need is a little determination, follow me - I'll lead on
We were neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fool kept yelling to push on

All of a sudden the moon clouded over, all we heard was a gurgling cry
And a second later the Captain's helmet was all that floated by
The Sergeant said, Turn round, men, I'm in charge from now
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the Captain dead and gone

We stripped and dived and found his body stuck in the old quicksand
I guess he didn't know the water was deeper than the place where he'd once been
For another stream had joined the Muddy a half mile from where we'd gone
We were lucky to get out of the Big Muddy
When the damn fool kept yelling to push on

I don't want to draw conclusions, I'll leave that to yourself
Maybe you're still walking, maybe you're still talking
But every time I hear the news that old feeling comes back on
We're neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on

Knee deep in the Big Muddy
And the fools keep yelling, Push on
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling, Push on
Waist deep, neck deep
We'll be drowning before too long
We're neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on



Strike up the chorus...

The New York Times

"...It is time now for Mr. Rumsfeld to go, and not only because he bears personal responsibility for the scandal of Abu Ghraib. That would certainly have been enough....

"...We now know that no one with any power in the Defense Department had a clue about what the administration was getting the coalition forces into. Mr. Rumsfeld's blithe confidence that he could run his war on the cheap has also seriously harmed the Army and the National Guard."

and Geraldine Sealey for the Salon War Room,

"But of course, Abu Ghraib and what it represents isn't the only reason Rumsfeld should go. Rumsfeld was the architect of a war waged with a bogus rationale based on intelligence ginned up at a special office in his Pentagon -- and he clearly didn't have an adequate plan for what came next. He has alienated our allies in Old Europe, and he has belittled the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, which many see as laying the groundwork for the abuse that's come to light. Because of his failure of leadership and planning, U.S. soldiers are dying by the score for a war they didn't have to fight, and one that's losing support at home. Abu Ghraib, and Rumsfeld's responsibility for the abuses there, is just one more insult, one more item on a growing list of reasons he should resign."

and add Upper Left Congressman Jay Inslee to the list of Congressional calls for resignation.

And add your voice to the chorus. Sign the petition!

They can't say they weren't warned...

GENEVA - The international Red Cross said Friday it had warned U.S. officials of abuse of prisoners in Iraq more than a year ago.

WASHINGTON - A year before the Iraq invasion, the then-Army secretary (Thomas White) warned his Pentagon bosses that there was inadequate control of private military contractors, which are now at the heart of controversies over misspending and prisoner abuse.

But no doubt the Secretary missed those warnings, preoccupied as he must have been developing new lines of command and supervising all the new contracts that were being developed for his remodeled, contracted out military, right?

Well, no...

"In a sign of continued problems with the tracking of contracts, Pentagon officials on
Thursday acknowledged they have yet to identify which Army entity manages the multimillion-dollar contract for interrogators like the one accused in the Iraq prisoner abuse probe.

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also acknowledged his department hasn't completed rules to govern the 20,000 or so private security guards watching over U.S. officials, installations and private workers in Iraq."

Bush says Don Rumsfeld is a "very good Secretary of Defense." It's pretty clear that Bush must have cut an MBA class or two when they were discussing personnel evaluations.


http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/ap/20040507/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_contractors

Did I hear him right?

Did Rummy say there were six different investigations underway? Maybe when they get Wolfowitz that briefing on casualties, they can update Rumsfeld on the current scope of investigations...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) ....Les Brownlee, acting secretary of the Army, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that in addition to 35 investigations of abuse of prisoners, the Army Criminal Investigation Command or individual Army units were investigating "42 other potential cases of misconduct against civilians" that occurred "outside detention facilities."

"The Army said previously it was looking into the deaths of 25 prisoners held in Iraq or Afghanistan, determining there were two homicides by Americans against Iraqi prisoners, one case of justifiable homicide and 12 cases in which the cause of death was natural or undetermined. Ten other deaths remain under investigation, and 10 cases of nonlethal assault remain under investigation, the Army has said."

Lets see. 35+42+10+10 and a few that have been wrapped up.

It's a lot, and I could see where a guy could lose track. But six seems rather wildly off the mark.

Half empty or half full?

New claims for unemployment, week ending May 1: 315,000

New jobs created in the month of April: 288,000

And that's what Bushco calls good news...

The 8.2 million unemployed and 1.5 million "marginally attached" workers might disagree.

This one does.

I'm sure he's sorry...

...but contrary to what you may have heard, Bush still hasn't apologized.

Well, maybe he has. My American Heritage Dictionary offers three variants for the word, and the third seems to fit his profession of sorrow to Jordanian King Abdullah.

a-pol-o-gy, n. - ...3. An inferior substitute.

When Bush told Abdullah that he was "sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," as well as sorry that the American character is so badly misunderstood by people who have learned that it includes a sadistic element, it was an apology only to the degree that it was an inferiour substitue for acceptance of the real moral responsibility that accrues to him for the crimes of his subordinates. But his regrets weren't even directed to the offended parties, and he accepted no blame, confessed no fault.

Lambert at Corrente gets it, even if Bush doesn't.

"Bush seems to think that 'sorry' means 'feeling bad,' " Lambert writes. "He 'feels bad' about the torture, and he 'feels bad' that people think ill of America, and somehow that all evens things out. It doesn't. I don't care if Bush feels bad; I want him to accept responsibility and show penitence. That might mean something."

Bush won't accept responsibility, so he can't meaninfully apologize. That make us responsible for his removal, so we won't owe a sincere apology to our children, and theirs, and the world we inhabit.

Don't show, don't tell...

The Rumsfeld appearance before the Senate Armed Forces Committee has concluded, and my first impression is astonishment that he would sit there in front of the Committee and admit that he hadn't seen any of the photographic evidence from Al Ghraib exept what's been in the papers until last night.

The Secretary of Defense couldn't get a copy of a disc that was passed freely among troops of all ranks and every rag tag news service and blogger on the planet.

And he said so out loud, before Congress.

If he won't quit, fire his ass. Now.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

With so many worthy choices...

...why Rumsfeld?

Well, there's this from the Washington Post (which I missed, but Billmon, thankfully, caught):

The foundation for the crimes at Abu Ghraib was laid more than two
years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld instituted a system of holding detainees
from Afghanistan not only incommunicado, without charge, and without
legal process, but without any meaningful oversight mechanism at all.


And it won't blow over while this is on the stands...



Sign The Petition!


So, where are they when we need them?

(AP) "The FBI file on Vietnam Veterans Against the War says the organization swung toward "militant and revolutionary-type activities" but accuses Kerry, now the Democratic presidential candidate, of little more than charisma. "

Sic 'em, Roger!

Roger Ailes (the good one) is one of my favorite bloggers, too, because of stuff like this...

"Mickey Kaus is the new Oliver North. Without the hair and the service in Vietnam."

And you can be one of my favorites, too, if you send along pointers to any particularly good examples of Kaus-bashing.

Come to think of it, all Kaus-bashing is good Kaus-bashing...

Lights, camera...

The Left Coaster's Steve Soto is one of my favorite bloggers, but we don't always see eye to eye on the state of the Kerry campaign. His view is a bit darker and his appetite for campaign-directed attack is often a bit more voracious than mine. This time, though, I hope someone who can do something is listening to him.

I'd love to see this ad.


"If I were running the Kerry media operation right now, I would interrupt the $25 million ad buy touting Kerry’s biography, and quickly cobble together a commercial with footage of several of the sound bites from Bush and McClellan where the “I didn’t know” or “it wasn’t brought to my attention” defense is used. Several of these tied to 9/11, WMDs, and now the prisoner abuse scandal can be run with sound, and then a voice over can tell voters that its time to restore competence, accountability, and respect to our foreign policy. The commercial will end with Kerry looking into the camera, saying “unlike George W. Bush, I will restore accountability, responsibility, and respect once again to our foreign affairs. It’s time to put the adults back in charge. The world is too dangerous for a detached and disinterested chief executive, served by a group of cabinet officials acting like dysfunctional children. Mr. President, as Harry Truman said, the buck does stop with you. I’m John Kerry, and I proudly approved of this ad.”

Steve suggests this would be "Game, set, and match." I'm not that confident in the power of any single spot, but I would love to see it.

Tom and Joe and John and Nancy...

...and me.

Heck, even the whole damn editorial board of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Since I called on Donald Rumsfeld to resign a couple days ago, the roster of Rumsfeld routers has grown quite a bit. Nancy Pelosi's on board. So is Joe Biden, and Tom Harkin, and Tom Friedman, and John Corzine. The list doubtless grows as I type.

In fact, I'm sure it does, and courtesy of the DCCC, you can add your name to the rolls.

Sign the petition!

Don't get your hopes up too high, though. Josh Marshall, as usual, offers wise counsel.

"Confirmation hearings for a new Sec Def would, I think, inevitably turn into a national forum for discussing the management of the Pentagon, the planning for the war and the lack of planning for the occupation. The new nominee would be drawn into all sorts of uncomfortble public second-guessing of what's happened up until this point. Sure, that's stuff under Rumsfeld. But, really, it's stuff under Bush -- the civilian head of the United States military.

"That, I have to imagine, is something the White House would like to avoid at any cost."

I imagine he's right. But let's make the cost as high as possible, anyway.

By the way, let's not forget "Kerry called for Rumsfeld's resignation in September 2003, accusing him of underestimating the demands of the Iraq war and weakening the military as a result, and he restated that call Thursday."

Our hero, ahead of the curve...

Quote of the Day

Ms. Dowd has been making the social rounds in DC and finding Republicans everywhere. She doesn't like it one bit...

"When a beaming Mr. Wolfowitz stopped at my table to greet an admiring Republican, I wanted to snap, "Get back to your desk, Mr. Myopia from Utopia!" Shouldn't these woolly headed warriors burn the midnight Iraqi oil — long enough for Wolfie to learn the body count for dead American troops and for Rummy to read Gen. Antonio Taguba's whole report on "horrific abuses" at Abu Ghraib?"

Maureen Dowd, New York Times

A Modest Proposal

Can't we just agree that The 'Candidate' Who Shall Not Be Named should be The 'Candidate' Who Will Not Be Polled anywhere he hasn't actually achieved ballot access?

Which means we could just stop talking about him altogether until his 'campaign' actually accomplishes something?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Scandal Scorecard: We try harder...

I've been frustrated by the increasing lead that the Administration has taken over the Republican Congress on the Upper Left Scandal Scorecard. Surely among all those GOP Congresscritters there must be a few more miscreants, right?

And I'm sure there are, but it only took one to swell the scorecard this week. Thanks to the DCCC oppo shop, I've added a couple items that have belonged here for awhile, Tom DeLay's cynical misuse of a children's charity as a front to bring lobbyists and legislators together and his orders to the Treasury Department to cough up some anti-Kerry propaganda (and it's a two-fer, since the Treasury folks in question work for the Executive Branch!).

So, I make the effort, and the effort brought the list to 28 reasons it's time to change the party in power...

Executive Branch:

1. Cheney's secret Energy Task Force

2. Ashcroft's illegal campaign contributions in 2000

3. Boeing I - the $23 billion tanker lease deal

4. Boeing II - the $1.3 billion surveillance aircraft boondoggle

5. Bush-Cheney 2000's failure to report $14 million spent on "recount" activities

6. Haliburton in Iraq

7. Haliburton in Nigeria

8. The Valerie Plame outing

9. Withholding information about the Medicare bill costs

10. Daniel Montgomery, Director of the ATSB, accepting illegal gifts from airlines.

11. John Korsmo, FHFB chair and his wife Michelle, a DOL official, illegal political fundraising

12. The suspension of Parks Police Chief Teresa Chambers in violation of Title 5 whistleblower protections.

13. The Iraqi National Congress' use of government funds to lobby for war.

14. Misuse of the Secret Service and other security to shield the President and Vice President from dissent on the campaign trail.

15. Abuse of the Presidential Records Act, to shield Reagan, Bush I and Bush II from scrutiny, and leaking information about Clinton pardons.

16. DOJ and Interior blocking the investigation of oil leases that cheated American Indian nations.

17. Charges by John Dean that Bush knowingly violated the terms of the Iraq war resolution

18. Diversion of $700 million in Afghan war funds to preparations for Iraq invasion

19. Failure to account for $40 billion in 9/11 emergency response funds

20. Use of IRS web site to disseminate political messages from RNC press releases

Congress:

21. Senate Judiciary Committee computer theft.

22. The Nick Smith bribe

23. Tom DeLay's illegal Texas legislative contributions.

24. Tom DeLay's bogus “Celebrations for Children” charity, used as a front for
political receptions.

25. Tom DeLay's abuse of Treasury Department personnel for political puposes by ordering a a partisan analysis of John Kerry’s tax plan.

26. Bill Frist's financial stake in a medical malpractice insurer, while pushing malpractice "reform" in the Senate.

27. Rep. Henry Bonilla's American Dream PAC, which has contributed less than 9% of its funds to the minority candidates it was chartered to assist.

28. The NRCC's illegal transfer of $500,000 in soft money to ineligible recipients during the 1999 primary season.

Don't panic. Really. But don't take my word for it...

...check out Tim Grieve's excellent work at Salon today.

Grieve talks with a wide range of Democratic movers and shakers, and finds the general tone far more confident than some recent press would have you believe. In fact, the only person he could find to go on record with a dissenting view was, unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous Donna Brazille, who's quoted telling the NY Times that "George Bush has had three of the worst months of his presidency, but they are stuck and they've got to move past this moment."

On the other side of the equation, we get former Dean pollster Paul Maslin noting that "I find all the moaning and carping going on right now kind of puzzling," Ann Richards saying "They're anxious for this contest to gel, and it's too early for that... I tell them to focus their attention on what they can do, not what the nominee should be doing," and Clinton strategist remarking "...it's good news that, at this time, the polls show that the race is tied. Bush is anchored by only one thing -- national security and terrorism. His rankings on the economy and the war are negative, and he's in a much weaker position than the overall numbers indicate."

Ruy Teixeira chimes in encouragingly, too. "We're six months away from the election," he says. "People think that just because Bush got a lot of bad news, Kerry should be 10 points ahead. I think they're kidding themselves."

These are smart people, folks, and they're right. It's still very early. One critcism levied against Kerry is that he's had trouble with the transition from primary contender to primary victor. There may be some truth to that. It's a unique year, with a front loaded process that's produced a nominee at an unusually early date, and he doesn't have a lot of models to draw guidance from in these circumstances. It's a problem too, though, for many of the onlookers and commentators. Some folks just don't know what to do with an identified challenger this early on.

If the advantage of the compact primary schedule is that it's given Kerry extra time to unite the Party and build up the bankroll, there's a disadvantage in the expectations that his impressively early victory has created. People are anxiously wondering why he doesn't act like it's October yet. But there's a good reason.

It's May. And there's lots of time, and lots of smart money on a Kerry win.

It'll take hard work. We can never stop fighting back.

But don't panic.


Like President Bush...

...and Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers, I haven't read the whole Taguba report on Al Ghraib yet. Warblogging has, though, and they don't seem to like it...

Their assessment? "Virtually the entire Taguba report is a dispicable whitewash."

Their principle objection after reading the report seem to be much like my concerns since the story broke, finding that "...the conclusion of Taguba's report places the blame firmly on military police — for following orders.

"It is true, of course, that soldiers may — and should be — sanctioned for following illegal orders. Those who engage in torture, even when ordered to do so, are criminals. But Taguba's report makes no attempt whatsoever to follow the responsibility up the chain of command, into the murky world of intelligence collection."

Again, I make no apologies for those charged so far. "Just following orders..." is a thoroughly discredited defense when the orders are so transparently illegal. So far, though, there are no criminal charges against those who issued the orders, or those in the chain of command who should have intercepted and overruled those orders, or those who should have detected and punished the perpetrators of those orders.

Administrative reprimands, no matter how 'career ending' they may be, don't cut it. The prosecution list remains far too short to be thorough.


A refresher for Rummy

Since he seems to be unclear on the concept, maybe someone could pass this note along...

United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984


PART I Article 1


1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions

I'm not a lawyer, either, but I can read English.

(via boingboing)

A fool by any name is still...

The Stakeholder calls it "unwise." I'll settle for "stupid" for now, but hopefully it will contibute to "retired."

"AP - President Bush rode across Ohio on Monday in a bus emblazoned, "Yes, America can." It turns out the bus was made in Canada.

"The front of the bus bore another label: Prevost Car, jointly owned by the Swedish Volvo Bus Corp. and Britain's Henly's Group PLC. Prevost's manufacturing facility is in St. Claire, Quebec."

No indication where the airplane was made...

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Quote of the Day

"If you're a political analyst, being wrong is a drawback."

FOX News Managing Editor Brit Hume on his colleague Dick Morris

Just my way of slipping in a pointer to David Brock's new site, Media Matters for America

May 4, 1970



Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.


The first step, Rummy, is to admit you have a problem...

"Calling the abuse of prisoners "totally unacceptable and un-American," Mr. Rumsfeld said he disagreed with critics who have said the Pentagon moved too slowly. Defense Department officials have moved correctly and efficiently, he said. "The system works," he said. "The system works."

New York Times, 5/4/04

In fairness, he got one thing right. The abuse of prisoners is "totally unacceptable."

It's not, though "un-American." Those were Americans who did it. Americans have done comparable and worse things before. Every time we send Americans to war, we have to recognize that Americans are capable of all manner of inhuman behavior. We have to train against it, supervise to prevent it, stop it when it's detected and punish it when it occurs.

But it's as Amercan as apple pie.

And the system didn't work. The training and supervision that are specifically designed to prevent what Americans do, in fact, do, was inadequate. Because the supervision was so poor, the detection was too late. When punishment is required, as it now is, it's the result of a system failure.

The system failed.

Denial doesn't help. Denial leads to absurdities like this.

"Rumsfeld refused to use the word "torture."

"I'm not a lawyer," he said. "My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture ... And therefore I'm not going to address the 'torture' word."

Mr. Secretary, if anal rape with foreign instruments isn't torture, torture doesn't exist. If beatings, in some cases unto death, aren't torture, torture doesn't exist. If threatening prisoners with dogs, and carrying out the threats by allowing the dogs to attack isn't torture, torture doesn't exist.

And Americans did those things. There's nothing 'technical' about it.

Admit it or resign.

In fact, just resign.

It's not paranoia...

...if they're really out to get you.

When I posted an item about blog surveillance the other day, I was kidding. Really.

I mean, you'd have to be paranoid to think the visitor logs to an internet backwater like this would turn up anything interesting, right?

Of course, there are these...

May/04 1:51 PM 198.26.74.99 United States Washington DOD Network Information Center

May/04 1:00 PM 199.72.117.52 United States Arlington Bush Cheney Re Election Campaign

Ahem...

Big wheels keep on turning...

...jet engines keep on burning.

George Bush is out on his 'just folks' midwestern bus tour, but it's a bus tour with a difference...

"The bus tour, about 60 miles through western Ohio, actually includes two airplane flights — one from Detroit to Toledo and another from Toledo to Dayton."

And you thought bus tours were about, you know, the bus.

Of course, when the plane lands, at least Bush gets to meet and mingle with the people, right? And they've lined him up some tough crowds. According to NPR's Don Gonyea, "There were no direct questions about Iraq or even the economy in a state that has lost 300,000 jobs since the president took office."

Uh-huh. This couldn't be staged, could it?

Credit Atrios with the catch.

Batten down the hatches.

The next big anti-Kerry attack from the wingnuts is coming via "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." How many of them are actually Swift Boat vets is yet to be seen. Their relationship to the truth is quite tangential, though.

Joe Conason has the goods at Salon (yeah, I know. The day pass thing is a hassle. So isn't about time you popped for the premium sub?). The outfit is headed up by John O'Neill, who served in Kerry's old unit after Kerry left Vietnam, and has been following him around (and coming in a distant second by almost any measure) since Chuck Colson recruited him to carry Dick Nixon's water as a vet for the war. He's assisted by a team of veteran Republican dirty tricksters - the kind of people who slandered John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries.

As a veteran enlisted man, I've always had a very simple measure for officers. "Would I follow him in combat?" What I know about John Kerry is that the men who did that, almost to a man, say they still would, and, politically, still do. Their opinions count a hell of a lot more to me than any collection of bystanders, onlookers and embittered Republican operatives. I think they'll count a lot more with the American voters who will see them on stages and in ads as the campaign rolls on.

And I'm still waiting to hear from the airmen who followed Lt. Bush into...oh yeah. That's right.

This will be messy for a few days folks, but don't panic.

Who was that masked Democrat?

Liz Cox Barrett of the CJR Campaign Desk dissects a couple of the recent hangwringing pieces about the Kerry campaign, one by AP's Ron Fournier and one by the New York Times' Adam Nagourney, which purport to detail the fears of Democratic stategists and activists, only to find that "...it turns out, what many of these Democrats fear the most is ... going on the record with AP or the New York Times."

"These pieces," she finds, "fall into a pattern that has become almost predictable lately -- present the reader with a legion of anonymous Democrats "worried" about one aspect or another of the Kerry campaign, along with quotes from actual named Democrats disputing the premise."

The most noteworthy exception to the general rule of anonymity among the concerned? Donna Brazile, who will seemingly say anything in exchange for a prominent quotation, and whose standing as a critic of campaign strategy stems mainly from her role as the mastermind behind the Al Gore debacle in 2000. Frankly, if Donna's worried, I feel somehow encouraged...

Meanwhile, Nathan Newman earns his colors in the Upper Left Don't Panic Posse with these observations:

"Kerry has raised $80 million from 400,000 different people- $34 million of it over the Internet. He's survived the largest barrage of negative political advertising in history from the Bush campaign (something like $50 million in ads in the last month), yet Bush hasn't been able to open up a lead.

"Kerry is not the most dynamic speaker, no question, but he'll wear well with people over time. Unlike Gore, who I knew would annoy people so much he'd blow the election, Kerry will plod along, absorb Bush's attacks, then close hard at the end. That's been his pattern in tough races in Massachusetts-- notably when he dispatched Bill Weld-- and was his pattern in the Democratic nomination fight.

"And if you want to see where the campaign is making inroads at the grassroots, don't watch the official Kerry campaign, watch the 527s run by the unions. Folks are so busy trashing Kerry that are missing the growth of the most massive grassroots Presidential campaign in history."

Really folks. Don't panic. We're doing well.

Monday, May 03, 2004

On a brighter note...

JK's got new ads, and the one I caught on Crossfire is great. I hear the other one is just as good. And the buy is the biggest in history. Maybe that will calm down some of the folks in the panic column.

It was hard work to raise all that money.

But the ads are fighting back effectively.

So, don't panic...

(and if you'd like to chip in to support the next big buy, the Upper Left Kerry Core site can be found right here or behind the button on your right...)

Compounding the offense.

The chain of command is scrambling to disavow the torture and murders of prisoners at Al Ghraib prison in Iraq, from the Commander in Chief down, but the responsibility for everyone in the chain of command of the lowest ranked soldier facing charges upward level is unescapable. I don't want to diminish the gravity of the criminal charges that have been levied, but the fact that they have only been levied against enlisted persons is an outrage that I find nearly as grave.

Is the entire chain of command guilty of the acts performed by the six enlisted men facing criminal charges? No. But some responsibility adheres to anyone empowered to deploy them or responsible for supervising them. Why? Because, sadly, the events at Al Ghraib, or something like them, were fully predictable. As much as President Bush, General Myers or anyone else in authority wants to insist that "We don't do that," or "This isn't like us," the simple fact is that some American soldiers have committed atrocities in every war. Given time and opportunity, some American soldiers inevitably will. It's only through a full awareness of that fact, comprehensive training to avoid it and constant vigilance to intercept and punish it that we can hope to minimize that inevitability. In the case of Al Ghraib, the evidence suggests that we acted blindly, trained inadequately and supervised incompetently. That's the responsibility of the entire chain of command, and why everyone in that chain of command must be assigned a share of responsibility.

So far, fifteen people have been held to account in one manner or another. Brig. General Janis L. Karpinski, who was the commander of the brigade responsible for the military prison system in Iraq, was relieved of command and reprimanded. Today it was announced that seven more individuals, apparently junior officers and senior NCOs, have recieved written reprimands or admonishments. Six more enlisted personnel, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, Specialist Charles A. Graner; Sergeant Javal Davis; Specialist Megan Ambuhl; Specialist Sabrina Harman; and Private Jeremy Sivits, face a variety of criminal charges, including conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts. A seventh suspect, Private Lynndie England, has not been charged, having been reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after becoming pregnant.

It's simply unimaginable to me that only six people, no one above the grade of E-6, are criminally liable for the activities at Al Ghraib. There are no criminal charges, apparently, for the Military Intelligence officers or the civilian contractors who worked side by side with the enlisted guards and who were apparently responsible for directing their day to day treatment of the prisoners. In fact, the mere presence of civilian contractors in that environment, and their curious status which removes them from liability under either military or Iraqi law, raises another set of questions altogether. It is yet another serious indictment of the Rumsfeld approach to contracting out war. Certainly, though, anyone who knew about the activities at Al Ghraib should be criminally liable, and in some cases, not knowing should carry criminal liability as well. It is the job of military commanders to know what is happening within their command. If they don't know, dereliction of duty is clearly present and should be prosecuted. I'm not sufficiently versed in the unit's Table of Operations to say how high that criminal liablility should extend, but it seems clear that it should extend higher that it thus far has.

Seymour Hersh's reporting for the New Yorker is essential reading in this case. In it, he offers details from a report prepared by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, which, although it was completed in February, has not yet reached the desks of either the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the Secretary of Defense. That sounds like actionable dereliction in itself. Taguba described some of the specific acts he found overwhelming, often photographic, evidence for:

"Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

I hold no brief for the enlisted men facing charges. Reading the detailed offenses, it should have been self-evident to every one of them that their actions were beyond the limits of civilized behavior, let alone military discipline. No order to perform those acts could have been legal, from any level of authority, and every soldier was individually responsible for knowing that, and for acting accordingly. The Spec 4 who turned them in knew it, and Staff Sgt. Frederick's own correspondence reflects his knowledge that something was wrong at Al Ghraib. "That's the way MI wants it." is not a defense for war crimes. By their actions, they disgraced their uniforms, and not only dishonored, but increased the daily risk to, their comrades in the field.

Still, I have to applaud the efforts of Staff Sgt. Frederick's civilian lawyer, Gary Myers, who vows that “I’m going to drag every involved intelligence officer and civilian contractor I can find into court,” he said. “Do you really believe the Army relieved a general officer because of six soldiers? Not a chance.”

Frederick and his fellow accused should, if found guilty as charged, go down, but they should not go down alone.

While I'm gathering my thoughts...

...on the Al Ghraib situation, you might want to pop over to the Center For American Progress and check out their list of 100 Mistakes for the President to Choose From.

I promise that I'll have my post together before Bush fesses up to any of the suggested mistakes, though...

Update: Promise made, promise kept. The Al Ghraib post is up, and Bush hasn't admitted anything. You should still go check out CAP's list, though...

FUBAR in Fallujah

If you think you know what's actually happening in Fallujah, I guess it puts you at least one step ahead of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Air Force General Richard Meyers was emphatic on the Sunday morning talk shows, saying that "...news media were "very, very inaccurate" in their reporting about Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh," and he appears to have been right, at least after the fact. Although the Marine commander on the ground, Lt. General James Conway, had apparently installed Saleh as the leader of the newly formed 'Fallujah Brigade,' his judgement has been overruled in favor of yet another former Iraqi army commander, Mohammed Latif, who once served in the Iraqi intelligence corps but apparently fell into disfavor with Saddam Hussein and spent some time in exile.

Several reasons have been put forward for the decision to countermand the decision made on the scene. Reuters reports that the appointment of Saleh "...sparked anger, however, among Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime and accused Saleh of being a former general in the feared Republican Guard responsible for putting down a Shi'ite Muslim uprising in 1991." Fallujah, of course, is a Sunni stronghold, so I doubt that any of those complaints were local. I doubt, in fact, that any such concerns were persuasive.

I tend to side with the judgement expressed at The Left Coaster, where they suppose that the real problem was that "Saleh said that there weren’t foreign fighters in Fallujah, which was against the White House party line that outside terrorists were stoking up all the troubles, and not the natives, who, of course according to the White House storybook all love us as liberators. Saleh also had the misfortune of saying that the Baathists should be rehired to make the place work again, which of course is true."

In fact, Saleh, who seemed to have been greeted with glee by the locals and was able to quickly assemble a body of troops willing to accept his command, is now being mentioned as the proposed commander of the first battalion of the new brigade, so it's hard to imagine that any Iraqi objections to his appointment were instrumental in his apparent demotion. It's also unclear how that news will be received on the Fallujan street, although I imagine that any Iraqi commander will be favored over any American.

That's not the only subject Meyers addressed, though. He also insisted that "The reports that the Marines have pulled back, not true. The Marines are still where they've been."

That seems to be demonstrably untrue, by the testimony of virtually anyone who has been on the scene. The AP report from the scene says that "Two Marine units -- the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment -- withdrew from their positions in the southern part of Fallujah on Friday. The 1st Battalion had moved back to a base about five miles from the city, while the 2nd Battalion has moved south of the city."

So Meyers appears to be half right on one count and all wrong on another. Only one thing seems to be certain. In the words of an unnamed fomer Iraqi colonel who spoke to the Washington Post, "If the American army doesn't enter the city, nobody will shoot at them."

(Meyers had a few things to say about Abu Ghraib, too, and so will I in a bit...)

I still prefer my coinage...

...of 'monolition,' but I'm rather taken with Billmon's reference to "...the Coalition of the Willing now down to the Coaliti, and still dropping letters..."

But what's in a name? The 'monolition' or the 'Coaliti' (or perhaps the 'Coalit' by now), is becoming more real day by day. As Naomi Klein notes in The Nation,

"The last month of inflammatory US aggression in Iraq has inspired what can only be described as a mutiny: Waves of soldiers, workers and politicians under the command of the US occupation authority are suddenly refusing to follow orders and abandoning their posts. First Spain announced it would withdraw its troops, then Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Kazakhstan. South Korean and Bulgarian troops were pulled back to their bases, while New Zealand is withdrawing its engineers. El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and Thailand will likely be next."

I'll stick with monolition for now. I'm afraid Billmon's usage is going to run out of letters before we run out of war...


Free advice...

...is, they say, usually worth about what you pay for it. That certainly seems to be true of much of the advice that's being offered up the John Kerry's Presidential campaign. Some of it is just born of frustration, put forth by folks with seemingly slight perspective and/or little awareness of the calendar but a great deal of frustration that early polling doesn't reflect Kerry ascendent over a failed administration plummeting to the longed for collapse. I certainly share the sentiment, but doubt that it's ground for a reasoned assessment of campaign strategy.

Some seems simply, if somewhat surpisingly, ill-informed. Rober Scheer, for instance, a journalist who I hold in generally high esteem, questions Kerry's approach to the Iraq issue.

He quotes the Senator's April 17 radio address in which he said that "All Americans are united in backing our troops and meeting our commitment to help the people of Iraq build a country that is stable, peaceful, tolerant and free."

Scheer then asks "Wasn't that our stated goal in Vietnam?", but he should know better. That wasn't, in fact our stated goal in Vietnam. Our stated goal was the suppression of Communist aggression, which is about the only thing that Bushco hasn't claimed for Iraq (yet).

Scheer, having failed in that diagnosis, then offers the following prescription. Kerry, he writes, "...must challenge President Bush's entire vision, not just his tactics."

That, of course, is exactly what Kerry has done, and did, in fact, in the very passage that Scheer quotes and misreads. Notice that there is one critical word missing from Kerry's outline for an Iraqi goal. While Bush clings stubbornly to the notion that we must "stay the course" in Iraq until we achieve the self-contradictory result of democracy at the point of a gun, Kerry has pointedly deferred from that goal. Stability, that is, a state of calm under the administration of some internationally developed and guided government structure, rather than democracy in full bloom, will provide the basis for President Kerry to withdraw American forces from the battlefields of Iraq. It's a very different goal, and one which will cut years, perhaps decades, off the scheduled occupation of that country.

Scheer's advice, then, is well intentioned and essentially correct. It's advice, however, that seems to have been taken before offered, and Scheer seems not to have noticed.

Some of the advice overlooked should be carefully heeded, however. In particular, I'm thinking of Arianna Huffington's latest piece for Salon, where she offers this:

"I say let Bush run on 9/11; Kerry needs to run on 9/12.

Remember Sept. 12, 2001? On that day blood banks overflowed, money poured into charities, and so many people turned up to help at ground zero that most had to be turned away. It was the best of times amid the worst of times. In the wake of that horrific attack, Americans were eager to work for the common good -- to be called to a large, collective purpose."

If Kerry wants to repeat the electoral success of the man from a place called Hope, there's no better way to do it than to become the man with a message called hope. Bush may lay claim to optimism, but he's selling fear. If there's one thing Kerry needs to do more and better, it's calling his opponent on that central fallacy and offering people a more attractive alternative.

That's my advice. It's free. And maybe worth about what I'm charging for it....


Sunday, May 02, 2004

Art is anything you can get away with.

So says one of the buttons in my collection. It's mostly true, I suppose, but sometimes art happens even if the artist can't really escape the truth.

It's been pointed out that Micah Ian Wright, the artist who has produced a couple volumes of 'remixed war propaganda,' including You Back The Attack, We'll Bomb Who We Want, which I have touted here, never was, in fact, an Army Ranger in Panama, or in the Army or any other branch of service at all. He made it up, and he got caught.

So how does that affect his work? Tom Tommorow observes that "There's an old saying: 'Trust the art, not the artist.' Unfortunately in a case like this, both are tarred."

I'm not too sure how I feel about Wright's war fantasy. I've heard a lot of war stories of dubious origin in my time, and known some real nice folks who've told them. The darn things tend to take on a life of their own, though, and it's a road best not taken. Mark Twain said something about the advantages of telling the truth - it's less taxing on the memory. He was right.

I'm pretty certain that there's not a single one of Wright's pieces of work, though, (dozens can be viewed at www.antiwarposters.com) that I find a bit diminished by the knowledge that part of his narrative is fictional. I'll stick with Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote a forward to You Back The Attack... and told the Washington Post, "He's a liar, but I still like his pictures."

Think April was rough?

Brace yourself...

AP - A mortar attack killed six U.S. service members and wounded about 30 on Sunday near Ramadi in western Iraq, the U.S. military said...

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four American soldiers were killed in separate attacks in Iraq including two who died when Shiite militiamen blasted their convoy in the south, the military said Sunday...

Would someone please tell Wolfowitz?

Update: Tell him about these, too.

May 2, 2004 | NAJAF, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi militants struck a U.S. base and an American convoy in separate attacks, killing three soldiers, the military said Sunday, even as it announced the escape of an American civilian held hostage.

(The two convoy deaths appear to be among those reported earlier, and the additional death in the attack on the US base a new incident. As of noon, AP's reporting the weekend death toll as 11.)

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Back, beat, but pumped up.

Today we held Legislative District caucuses in King County, the Democratic Party stronghold of Washington State (many locales hold their meetings in conjunction with county conventions, but we split the out here). It was the biggest turnout I've seen in over 20 years of watching these things. With almost 500 seated delegates, sundry alternates and guests, there must have been 700 people in the room, easily twice the size of the next largest LD meeting I've ever seen in this area.

Kerry, naturally, carried the day. The main order of business was electing delegates to the Congressional District caucuses and State Convention. When all was said and done, Kerry sent 21, Dean 12 and Kucinich 8. There were some Clark and Edwards supporters, but most of them had folded into the Kerry camp by the time delegate selection was underway. There seemed to be a little horsetrading between Dean and Kucinich to bring the Kucinich forces up to threshold in a couple areas they fell short in without help, but overall it was a net gain for Kerry.

The Dean folks present had been elected as Dean delegates and were sticking to their guns, but seemed to understand that this was a last stand based on sentiment more than reality. I noticed some of the more prominent members of the Dean camp sporting both Dean and Kerry buttons.

Some of the Kucinich people just seemed nuts, though. They still talk like their guy can somehow pull this off, consolidate their fabled 'progressive majority' and make it to the White House. I mean, some of them really believe it. Others are sticking to the story that they can amass enough delegates to "have a voice" at the national convention and reshape the Party in their image. I may do a whole Convention Politics 101 piece sometime (it's one of my consulting specialties, actually) but suffice to say that political reality dictates that the candidate with the most votes on the floor has the only effective voice in the room. Kerry will own the show in Boston. Kerry delegates will pass every platform plank, win every rules debate, control ever credentials question. National conventions are fun. You get to be an extra in a major television extravaganza, and you get invited to some great parties, but if you want to shape the debate, you'll have more impact walking your precinct than sitting in Boston.

I was really kind of taken back, too, by some of the visciously anti-Kerry rhetoric that typified much of the material on the Kucinich literature table. I can't imagine that Dennis Kucinich, a decent guy who will ultimately endorse John Kerry, really wants to be represented in the way some of these folks have chosen on his behalf. This is why it's past time for him to get out. He's attracting a very unattractive fringe, who are drowning out some of the really fine, prinicipled people who've been behind him over the long haul, and diminishing his own important voice on critical issues like single payer health care. Kucinich really presents no threat to Kerry at this point, but, largely due to the excesses of some of his more extreme supporters, he's fast becoming his own worst enemy.

I didn't, by the way, toss my hat in the ring for delegate to the next level. Been there, done that many, many times, and I happily stepped aside in favor of some newer blood, in this case one of my successors as Legislative District Chair who was also one of the first Party Leaders in Washington to endorse Kerry last summer when that wasn't the safe move up here at all. I did get a chance to make the Kerry pitch to the full caucus and chaired my Kerry sub-caucus, so it was a day well spent.

More on some other stuff later, but I really need a soak.

More blogging later...

...but I'm off this morning to do my duty as a Kerry delegate at my Legislative District caucus, where we select delegates to go on to the Congressional District caucus and State Convention. I'll be putting my hat in the ring - wish me luck.

We also draft a local platform, and this being the Democratic Party and all, who know's when I'll get back to the 'puter. I'll have a report, though, on the events, and some other stuff to post later.

While you're waiting, check out a couple 'can't miss' pieces from the last few days that you might have missed. Bob Herbert was on point in the NY Times, writing a piece that wrapped up with "The sad truth about Iraq is that one year after President Bush gaudily proclaimed victory with his "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, we don't know what we're doing in Iraq. We don't know where we're heading. We don't know how many troops it will take to get us there. And we don't know how to get out.

Salon has one of the best overviews of the Rumsfeld DOD I've seen anywhere, with lots of Generals wondering aloud just what in the world Rummy is doing to our military. It's worth sitting through the 'day pass' ad for, and yet another excellent reason to get a subcription.

See ya in a bit...

Friday, April 30, 2004

It's tomorrow on the east coast...

...so happy 'Mission Accomplished' day.



"Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

George W. Bush, USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003


"I don't think there's anyone in this room today or 6,000 miles away who doesn't wish that those words had been true ... but we've seen the news. We've seen the pictures. And we know we are living through days of great danger.''

John Kerry, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, April 30, 2004

"These are MY soldiers -- not yours..."

"So don't toss me a yellow ribbon to tie around a tree. Don't hand me a sign to stick in my yard.

And don't tell me to shut up."

Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and a former US Army Public Information Officer. The Left Coaster has a lengthy, well, rant doesn't really capture it. If you've been wondering whatever happened to pure, undiluted, fully justified righteous anger, well, Sheila is clearly a master of the form.

Just knowing someone else is as pissed off as I am cheers me up enormously. Don't miss it.

A reminder...

...that the Kerry campaign is trying to scrape together everything they can before the FEC filing deadline at midnight. If you can give, this would be a fine time. If you'd like to do it through my Kerry Core page, this link or the button to the right will get you to it, and get you my profound appreciation, too.

sov-er-eign-ty (n.): Complete independence and self-government

Somebody buy this man a dictionary.

"Because a large military presence will still be required under U.S. command, some would say 'Well you are not giving full sovereignty'. But we are giving sovereignty so that sovereignty can be used to say, 'We invite you to remain'. That is a sovereign decision."

Colin Powell

So is "We invite you to leave," Mr. Secretary.

What a pathetic hack.

New Math

CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted April 23-27

Bush Approval:

Overall - 46 approve/47 disapprove (40/47 among independents)

Foreign Policy - 40 approve/51 disapprove (36/52 among independents)

Iraq - 41 approve/52 disapprove (37/53 among independents)

Economy - 39/54 (36/57 among independents).

Right Track/Wrong Track - 36 right/55 wrong (30/59 among independents)

As they put it at Donkey Rising, "We can now safely disregard the theory that bad news somehow doesn't hurt Bush politically."

In other words, Don't Panic.

There are scandals...

...and then there are atrocities.

The stories about the atrocities (there is no other word) at the Abu Grahib prison in Iraq are deeply disturbing even if you don't subject yourself to the photography that supports them (and I won't subject you to those photos here. They're easy enough to find for those interested). Six soldiers have been charged with crimes committed while acting as guards and aids to civilian interrogators. Col Jill Morgenthaler of Central Command says the charges against the six are for "indecent acts, for ordering detainees to publicly masturbate; maltreatment, for non-physical abuse, piling inmates into nude pyramids and taking pictures of them nude; battery, for shoving and stepping on detainees; dereliction of duty; and conspiracy to maltreat detainees".

A private contractor was originally included in the group charged, but it was determined that the military had "no jurisdiction," and he was released. "It was," Morgenthaler said, "left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."

Two private firms were involved in the interrogations at Abu Ghraib, CACI International Inc and the Titan Corporation. According to investigators, "A CACI instructor was terminated because he allowed and/or instructed MPs who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by setting conditions which were neither authorised [nor] in accordance with applicable regulations/ policy." It's not clear from reports whether this was the contractor that Morgenthaler referred to, but another report indicates that "One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him." At first glance, it seems there are at least two cases involving specific civilians. In any event, it seems outrageous that given Iraq's current status, which can only be described as martial law, these civilian contractors cannot be brought under the rein of the military occupation they are contracted to serve. Sounds like the 'no controlling authority' defense gone wild.

One of the soldiers facing charges is Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick, who is charged with maltreatment for allegedly participating in a photo, for posing for a photo while sitting on top of a detainee, an indecent act for observing one scene and assault for allegedly striking detainees – and ordering detainees to strike each other.

His response? “We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things...like rules and regulations,” says Frederick. “And it just wasn't happening."

Jeanne at Body and Soul writes "The lesson of the Boudreaux photograph is that when you put young men and women into positions where they are both powerful and powerless -- powerless to change the course of events, powerless even to protect their own lives, and at the same time able to bully other people -- some of them are going to do stupid, vicious things.

"These photos raise far more disturbing questions. Do we have a military that knows perfectly well that young, frightened, inexperienced, poorly trained soldiers are going to do brutal things, and has decided to make use of that convenient fact?"

She's right, I'm afraid, about the inevitablity of some troops stepping over the line of decent behavior in the stresses of combat situations, and she raises a good question about the responsibility that rests up the chain of command for this situation, but frankly, there's no excuse available to the soldiers who, whether driven by their own impulses or by clearly illegal orders, participated in the kind of scenes that are depicted in the photographs which are circulating.

Frederick, for instance, may feel that he was given inadequate guidance by his superiors, but he is a senior NCO in the Army Reserve and a professional corrections officer in civilian life. Which part of "maltreatment for allegedly participating in a photo, for posing for a photo while sitting on top of a detainee, an indecent act for observing one scene and assault for allegedly striking detainees - and ordering detainees to strike each other" did that experience lead him to believe was permissable? You don't need to memorize the Geneva Conventions to grasp the problems here.

While I'll make no excuses for the behavior of the enlisted men who have been charged, I'm so far disappointed with the news about how the chain of command is being held accountable. So far, it seems to be limited to an "administrative review," which seems clearly insufficient given the range of criminal charges levied against the enlisted troops. Heads need to roll - high ranking heads.

Gary Myers, an attorney for one of the enlisted men is partly right. "This case involves a monumental failure of leadership, where lower level enlisted people are being scapegoated," Mr Myers said. "The real story is not in these six young enlisted people. The real story is the manner in which the intelligence community forced them into this position."

Well, the story is about the enlisted men who committed these war crimes. But it's also about the command structure that allowed those crimes to occur, and about the DOD policy of contracting out the war to private intelligence and security firms, and about the massive mobilization of reserves without adequate preparation for their assignments. It's about many things.

Be certain, though, that this story is not about the hundreds of thousands of men and women who serve our country honorably while in uniform. It is out of regard for them that everyone, at every level, who holds responsibility for these actions must be rooted out and punished accordingly, military or civilian.

And it's out of regard for them that we have to replace an administration that harbors a defense department whose policies have contributed to these crimes.

Note: The best reporting on all of this I've found is happening at Body and Soul. Check out Jeanne's work here, here and here for starters.

A new member...

...of the Smart People Against Panic club.

Matthew Yglesias signs in: "I'm seeing a lot of two things lately. One is Democrats panicking about John Kerry's candidacy. The other is stories about Democrats panicking about John Kerry's candidacy. I think the pundits ought to chill a bit."

Yep. And some of those nervous Democrats, too.

Work hard. Fight Back. Don't panic.

Update: Matt has more, writing "The other part of the case against panic is that John Kerry campaign is not, in fact, in a particularly large amount of trouble...If the election were being held this Tuesday, I think Kerry would probably win," and offering an optimistic assessment of the Rasmussen tracking poll. Check it out.

And don't panic.