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Between the Lines

May 27, 2004

Kerry's stealth campaign

Current events have been doing a lot of John Kerry's campaign work for him. Abu Ghraib. Fallujah. Najaf. The Ahmed Chalabi spying fiasco. More than 900 Americans dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of others wounded.

So it's understandable why Kerry may have been content to stump around on the hollow theme of "let America be America again," whatever that means. But can he continue to get away with it? Blogger Matt Yglesias and author Paul Waldman kick the question around at The American Prospect.

Yglesias: "The tactic of trying to stay out of the headlines leaves his presidential hopes dangerously exposed to the vicissitudes of current events."

Waldman: "There is something rather bizarre about suggesting that a presidential candidate keep a low profile, but Kerry isn’t going to do himself much good by injecting himself into the stories currently dominating the news. There are two reasons. First, speaking about issue stories that are nothing but trouble for President Bush will turn them into campaign stories that end up as a wash. Second, Kerry’s own positions don’t do much to help him."

Read it all here.

Kerry, meanwhile, appears to be leaning toward Yglesias' view. He launched 10 days of speeches on national security – one of the two overriding issues in this campaign and the one in which the polls indicate he still trails President Bush – with this address in Seattle.

"It’s time for a new national security policy guided by four new imperatives: First, we must launch and lead a new era of alliances for the post 9-11 world. Second, we must modernize the world’s most powerful military to meet the new threats. Third, in addition to our military might, we must deploy all that is in America’s arsenal -- our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, and the appeal of our values and ideas. Fourth and finally, to secure our full independence and freedom, we must free America from its dangerous dependence on Mideast oil."

Kerry was short on specifics, but at least some of those presumably will emerge over the next several days.

Posted by tbrown at 11:52 AM


Professor Drezner weighs in

Daniel Drezner, a University of Chicago professor, blogger and supporter of the goals of the war in Iraq, has a good piece at The New Republic Online on how things went haywire. Was it the strategy of trying to democratize the Middle East by attacking one of the worst tyrannies there? Or was it bungled execution?

"As I argued repeatedly last year, the social science evidence suggests that democracy was not an unreasonable goal in Iraq," Drezner says. " … While flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives. Of course, such a risky strategy places great demands on execution, and so far this administration has executed poorly. It would be a cruel irony if, in the end, the biggest proponents of ambitious reform in the Middle East are responsible for unfairly discrediting their own idea."

Posted by tbrown at 11:49 AM


Now we've got a bullet shortage

Yes, we're shooting them faster than we can make them. It is, however, no doubt solvable.

Posted by tbrown at 11:46 AM


May 26, 2004

The other war. Remember it?

It's been a month since the former Arizona Cardinal star Pat Tillman, who left behind a lucrative NFL contract to become an Army Ranger, was killed in Afghanistan. Yet, very little is known about his mission. The Army has declined to comment.

"In that way, Tillman's death is very much like the deaths of other American servicemen in Afghanistan," writes Malcolm Garcia of Knight Ridder. "At least 122 U.S. servicemen have died, including 53 killed in action, since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001 to topple the Taliban regime for harboring al-Qaida terrorists.

"While U.S. combat in Iraq often takes place in front of television cameras in places that have become almost household names - Fallujah, Najaf and Baghdad - fighting in Afghanistan takes place in small skirmishes far from the public eye. Reporters assigned to Afghanistan rarely accompany the units most likely to engage in combat, and little is said about what took place in any particular skirmish.

"More than two years after U.S. troops entered Afghanistan, the U.S. military, citing 'security' concerns, refuses to say how many American soldiers participate in combat operations or how many 'forward operating bases,' from which U.S. patrols are launched, are now in the country."

This little war, which was triggered directly by the refusal of the Taliban government to surrender Osama bin Laden and his blood-stained gang, has almost totally faded from the public eye. Beset by increasing casualties in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Bush administration no doubt plans to keep the lid on as tightly as it can in Afghanistan. That's understandable from a politically pragmatic point of view; they've got an election to try to win. The rest of us, however, need to remember that we've still got more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan and that, like our men and women in Iraq, they are living in danger daily as they continue to search for Bin Laden and struggle to help with public works projects in the areas where they're stationed.

In this New Yorker piece published in April, Seymour Hersh, reports that we're a long way from achieving stability in Afghanistan, too.

" … the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. American troops, more than ten thousand of whom remain, are heavily deployed in the mountainous areas near Pakistan, still hunting for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader," Hersh writes. "Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a 'terrorist breeding ground' unless there is a significant increase in development aid."

So we can expect our troops to be there for a long while yet, working in obscurity in a harsh landscape and culture, toward ends that seem to have largely left the public consciousness.

Posted by tbrown at 02:54 PM


May 25, 2004

Beyond farce

"I should have known about the pictures and the report [on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib]."
-- President Bush to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on May 5, as widely reported on May 6

"Further, to protect the Iraqi prisoners from any future abuses; any digital cameras, camcorders, or cell phones with cameras are strictly prohibited anywhere in any military compound in Iraq."
-- Rumsfeld in a fictional quote at The Daily Farce, a satirical Web site, also on May 6

"Mobile phones fitted with digital cameras have been banned in US army installations in Iraq on orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, The Business newspaper [of London} reported today."
-- news.com, Australia, May 23

"Now, a series of other reports and comments have followed, suggesting that reality may have imitated comedy. Over the weekend, several news items appeared, which seem to quote Rumsfeld, but actually use the phrase from The Daily Farce word for word."
-- The Register, today

"Rumsfeld Prohibits Cell Phone Cameras In Iraq Or Does He? The Daily Farce News Writer Has ESP Powers"
-- The Daily Farce, today

Posted by tbrown at 09:46 AM


May 24, 2004

The age of the backyard nuke

Looks like it's officially here. Any advanced technology eventually becomes commonplace. Usually, this is a good thing. It's called progress. But the arrival of the possibility that Islamic terrorists – or another Timothy McVeigh – can build their own nuclear weapons means what the reality that they will do so is not far off, barring extraordinary effort on our part.

The Washington Post reports that a couple of years ago Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware asked scientists testifying before his committee if it was possible to build a nuclear device from parts available on the open market. They said it was. He asked them to prove it.

A few months later they showed up with the weapon, minus the nuclear fuel needed to make it work. The scientists "explained how — literally off the shelf, without doing anything illegal — they actually constructed this device," Biden said.

It is only a matter of time before the one missing component, highly enriched uranium or plutonium, also becomes available. Fissile material now exists in more than 40 countries, according to a new report, and all too often it is inadequately secured.

The report notes that the U.S. has done more than any other country over the last dozen years to prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists – but says that we haven't done enough yet.

As Sam Nunn, the former Georgia center who heads the nonprofit that funded the new study, said, "If one of the great cities of the world goes up in smoke … it will make our retroactive rearview-mirror look at Sept. 11 look like a waltz."

It is hard to imagine a higher priority. And given how far behind the curve congressional hearings usually are, I shudder at what likely is already underway out there somewhere.

Posted by tbrown at 12:45 PM


But right now, Iraq is boiling on the front burner

So this evening, President Bush will deliver the first of several addresses leading up to our hand over of some authority over the country to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. He's expected to outline a five-step process that he sees as necessary to lead to an independent and stable Iraq.

One thing that won't change is the U.S. presence, which is expected to remain at about the same level through next year. Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post (free site registration may be required) has a good roundup of links.

Posted by tbrown at 12:44 PM


Ever heard of the Bay of Goats?

That's apparently the snarky CIA label for a failed coup attempt against Saddam Hussein in the mid-1990s organized by Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and one-time Pentagon favorite to replace Saddam who is now accused by some of spying for Iran.

Political Animal has a helpful timeline on Chalabi (who, of course, maintains he's being unfairly smeared).

Blogger Mark Kleiman has an instructive Chalabi quiz here (scroll down for the answer).

Posted by tbrown at 12:43 PM


May 21, 2004

The sarin bomb

Does it mean anything? It's hard to tell at this point. LT Smash makes the best preliminary argument that it might.

Smash points out that, "In October 1995 (after the UN discovered some previously undisclosed documents), Saddam revised his weapons declaration, admitting that his scientists had developed 'prototypes' of shells capable of delivering binary sarin, but claimed that the project had never reached full production. UN inspectors noted at the time, however, that 'new documentation shows production in quantities well beyond prototype levels.' "

In other words that the Iraqis had manufactured sarin warheads in some quantity.

Further, the shell that exploded earlier this week, contaminating two U.S. soldiers, contained a "mix-in-flight" warhead that was more advanced than those Iraq had used in the Iraq-Iran war, according to our military command.

If all this is accurate, Smash says, it's possible a stockpile of some size exists in Iraq.

It's certainly still possible that a cache or two of chemical weapons may turn up in Iraq, breathing some new life into the administration contention that Saddam Hussein was actively developing weapons of mass destruction. We'll see what emerges.

Posted by tbrown at 10:26 AM


The other problem with torture

Besides being inhumane and illegal, the use of torture against prisoners in the war on terror is undercutting our ability to build legal cases against key figures, Phil Carter, a former Army officer, argues at Slate.

"Any information gained through torture will almost certainly be excluded from court in any criminal prosecution of the tortured defendant," Carter writes. "And, to make matters worse for federal prosecutors, the use of torture to obtain statements may make those statements (and any evidence gathered as a result of those statements) inadmissible in the trials of other defendants as well. Thus, the net effect of torture is to undermine the entire federal law enforcement effort to put terrorists behind bars. With each alleged terrorist we torture, we most likely preclude the possibility of a criminal trial for him, and for any of the confederates he may incriminate."

Not that we should be surprised that torture is happening, no matter how counterproductive it may prove. This administration has scorned international law since day one. Why should it pay attention to ours?

Posted by tbrown at 10:24 AM


Uh, oh. Bill Gates has discovered blogs

""The smart way to look at Gates' blessing is to think about blogging as a platform for any kind of publishing, communication, and distribution," says blogger Jeff Jarvis. "Bill will.

That may not be a bad thing. Microsoft's core software, including IE and Word, probably will incorporate RSS and other blog-friendly features, Jarvis figures.

Posted by tbrown at 10:23 AM


May 20, 2004

Chalabi watch

Geez. Last week we (finally) cut off the $340,000 a month we were paying Ahmed Chalabi for his notoriously inaccurate "intelligence." Today we raided his home (free New York Times site registration may be required). I guess we really don't like him anymore. And to think, this is the guy who just a few months ago we were ready to install as the ruler of the New Iraq.

It's easy enough to understand why your average Pentagon neocon might be a little upset with their sock puppet. Despite paying him more than $27 million over the years – much of which he's been unable to account for – Chalabi's predicted shower-of-flowers liberation scenario went AWOL; his information on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was bogus; Iraq hasn't recognized Israel or shipped it the oil he promised; and lately Chalabi has been edging ever-closer to Iran's mullahs, with whom he has long had contact. As piece notes, Chalabi's only loyalty is to himself.

Of course, as so often in the New Iraq, there may be more going on here than meets the eye.

Here is just a taste of what's being said:

-- Since the U.S. no longer plans to hand attempt to hand Iraq over to him, an enraged Chalabi was planning a coup against the government we're scheduled to install June 30! (You need to click through an ad at Salon to read it all.)

-- Ahmed actually still is the neocons' man and the raid was staged to boost his popularity with Iraqis in an attempt to make him more palatable when we do install him. If you're against us you must be a good guy, even if your name is Chalabi, according to this theory.

-- Our viceroy in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, is seriously at odds with Chalabi over how to proceed with investigation of the UN "oil for food" scandal and took out his discontent in this raid. Saddam reportedly funneled billions of dollars to people in several countries in exchange for their turning a blind eye to his import of items forbidden under UN sanctions.

It's all pretty hilarious unless you actually think about it.

Posted by tbrown at 01:40 PM


The Religious Policeman is on a tear

He's the Saudi Arabian blogger who goes by the name Alhamedi and writes some of the harshest criticism of the desert kingdom you'll see anywhere.

Here are two recent examples:

"Our Royal Family," set as a real-life enactment of the fable "Watership Down."

"The Treatment of Women," in which he writes, "Men beating women is not, sadly, an unusual story. However in Saudi Arabia it is an untold story, hidden behind the high walls and barred windows of our houses. Nobody knows the scale because public indifference and the victim's fear prevent these stories coming out. Our towns and cities are home to thousands, tens of thousands, who knows, of unheard screams."

There's much more.

Posted by tbrown at 01:33 PM


May 18, 2004

The tsunami headed for the White House

"The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate. President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy. Can he escape the massive tidal waves? Maybe. But at this point, it's not clear how."
-- Fred Kaplan at Slate

It may not be "The Day After Tomorrow" exactly, but it doesn't look good for President Bush. Why?

Here's Kaplan's summary of the Abu Ghraib mess to date

"Bush knew about it. Rumsfeld ordered it. His undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Steven Cambone, administered it. Cambone's deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, instructed Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been executing the program involving al-Qaida suspects at Guantanamo, to go do the same at Abu Ghraib. Miller told Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the 800th Military Brigade, that the prison would now be dedicated to gathering intelligence. Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, also seems to have had a hand in this sequence, as did William Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, learned about the improper interrogations—from the International Committee of the Red Cross, if not from anyone else—but said or did nothing about it for two months, until it was clear that photographs were coming out. Meanwhile, those involved in the interrogations included officers from military intelligence, the CIA, and private contractors, as well as the mysterious figures from the Pentagon's secret operation."

Yep. Way more than seven "bad apples."

And the effort to contain the scandal has failed

" … three major institutions in the Washington power structure have decided that after almost a full presidential term of being treated with contempt and abuse by them, it's payback time.

"Those three institutions are: The United States Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and the old, relatively moderate but highly experienced Republican leadership in the United States Senate. … Taken together they comprise a devastating Grand Slam."
-- Martin Sieff, UPI analyst

Posted by tbrown at 11:29 AM


Despite Abu Ghraib, though, we are different from our enemies

And we must preserve that distinction. Gregory Djerejian, an American who lives in London, provides this "key difference between Nick Berg's slaughter and Abu Ghraib. We should only be surprised about the occurrence of the latter, not the former.

"Why? The nature of our enemy has been crystal-clear since 9/11. Their objective is simply to slaughter as many innocents in the West as possible. And the more terrifyingly excecuted the slaughters--the better.

"Meanwhile, the U.S. has, despite all the derision that such statements evoke among the predictable quarters of the absurdist, hyper-relativistic Left, been an avatar of human rights for many long decades.

"Put differently, we are more the country of the Statue of Liberty, Miranda, and the Declaration of Independence than the country of My Lai, Plessy, Abu Ghraib.

"We intend, and strive, for greater justice."

When we do screw up, as in our handling of Iraqi prisoners, "I simply demand higher standards of conduct from my country and its leaders than those we expect from our enemies," Djerejian says. "You should too--in spades."

Posted by tbrown at 11:26 AM


And here's a small example of how we're different

In 1995, Saddam Hussein's secret police pulled seven Iraqi merchants out of bed in the middle of the night, subjected them to five-minute trials and sentenced them to amputation of their right hands for the crime of dealing in foreign currencies.

Yesterday, the seven walked out of a Houston prosthetics clinic with fully functioning artificial hands, returning them to something resembling normal life after nearly a decade.

Gestures like this are not lost on the Iraqi people, who have experienced little kindness in recent decades.

"Why they should help us, strangers, I do not know," one of the merchants said, "but their goodness I will never forget."

If we're ever able to get our pathetically incompetent act together in Iraq – unlikely, but you have to keep hoping – we might actually make some headway because of the willingness of Americans to pitch in and help when they're presented with the opportunity.

Posted by tbrown at 11:23 AM


May 17, 2004

The beheading: should we show it or not?

An excellent question. I've been asking myself this about the Nick Berg video since I first heard about it, but so far I haven't even been able to sort out how I feel about it myself, much less what TV networks and newspapers ought to do.

On the one hand, there is no question that Berg's horrific death is in a different realm from what happened to most prisoners of the U.S. I say "most" because at least one Iraqi detainee apparently was beaten to death. I doubt he enjoyed his last moments on earth either. In addition, the deaths of two detainees in Afghanistan are being investigated as homicides (I've seen no description of the circumstances in which they died).

So what should we do? Show the Nick Berg pictures precisely because they are so horrific so that no one has any doubt about the nature of the particular group of thugs who slaughtered him? Or do we err on the side of decency and presume that anyone who can read can figure it out? And what if there turns out to be a tape of that beating death? Show it or not?

I've been asking myself these questions but myself hasn't been responding very coherently. I just don't know the answer and I'm glad I don't have to make the decision.

This is where I hand it off to Jay Rosen, a New York University professor, who has put together a long, but excellent piece that examines this argument from just about any perspective you'd want. On one side, there's blogger Evan Coyne Maloney's observation that, "One day the media was telling us we had to see the pictures from Abu Ghraib so we could understand the horrors of war. But with Berg's beheading, we're told we can't handle the truth." On the other there's editor Tom Mangan, who says, "Call me a liberal, a coward, a traitor, I don't care. I draw the line at decapitation." And much in between.

Rosen's real point, though, is more important than the immediate question of dealing with the Berg beheading.

"Even the smartest people in the major news media--and this is especially so in television news--have not really determined for themselves or explained to us exactly what their role should be in the worldwide fight against terrorism," Rosen writes. 'Cover it responsibly and well' doesn't begin to provide an answer. For it must have occurred to people high up in the network news divisions that the videotape of the beheading was made not only for Bush but for them, in their professional capacity. That is a fact they have to live with, and think about, whether or not they show us the gruesome act.

"We are a long, long way from coming to grips with the fact that political violence worldwide incorporates media coverage worldwide. Terrorism can be many things, but it is always an attempt at communication; and a free press in an open society 'completes' the act. So it's not true that Al-Qaida kidnapped and beheaded an American. Al-Qaida kidnapped and beheaded an American and videotaped it in order to shock and sicken us when we found out. It's not easy to decide what to do with that if you run a news network. But there is no option not to decide. There may have been a time when news judgment and political judgment could be kept safely apart, but that was an era unlike our own."

Posted by tbrown at 04:28 PM


Rewriting the Geneva Conventions

"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. … In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
-- Alberto Gonzalez, chief White House counsel, in a memo to President Bush, Jan. 5, 2002

There has been little doubt from day one that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was the work of more than just a few "bad apple" privates and sergeants at a prison in Iraq. We're beginning to get some insight into the train of events that allowed prisoner abuse to become more than an isolated occurrence. A reasonably full picture will take longer to emerge, but some things are becoming apparent:

-- President Bush knew of, and approved, the broad policy that ultimately led to the situation at Abu Ghraib. Gonzalez's memo, obtained by Newsweek, points to that. His motivation seens to have been one that would be hard to argue with: a desire to prevent further attacks on the scale of 9/11 by obtaining more timely intelligence from Al Qaida suspects. It seems likely that the policy included an OK for techniques that might be considered torture under the Geneva Conventions. (Newsweek says, however, that it is unlikely that Bush and other high officials knew specifically what was done to prisoners.

-- According to Seymour Hersh's article in the current issue of The New Yorker, when it became apparent that the post-war insurgency in Iraq was the work of more than a few "dead-enders," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the expansion of interrogation techniques initially intended for breaking Al-Qaida suspects to ordinary prisoners in Iraq. The proposal came from one of his deputies, Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The Pentagon released a "denial" that really didn't deny anything (Billmon dissects it here).

Hersh, let's recall, is the reporter who brought to light the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which more than 500 Vietnamese, many of them women and children, were killed. He has consistently been ahead of the pack on much of the policy and politics underlying the Iraq war, and the Pentagon's blustery response to his story indicates he's on target again.

-- Abu Ghraib appears to have become part of the broader U.S. system of squeezing prisoners for any useful intelligence they might have, not a deviation from it. The questionable techniques initially were intended for use on "illegal combatants" sent to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib seems to have accelerated after Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the Guantánamo commander, paid a visit and suggested the prison be "Gitmoized" to focus more on softening prisoners up for interrogation. Miller is now in charge of all U.S. prisons in Iraq.

Douglas Jehl of The New York Times reports today on another example of the scope of U.S. actions that may be incompatible with the Geneva Conventions: "About 100 high-ranking Iraqi prisoners held for months at a time in spartan conditions on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport are being detained under a special chain of command, under conditions not subject to approval by the top American commander in Iraq, according to military officials. The unusual lines of authority in the detainees' handling are part of a tangled network of authority over prisoners in Iraq, in which the military police, military intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, various military commanders and the Pentagon itself have all played a role. Congressional investigators who are looking into the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners say those arrangements have made it difficult to determine where the final authority lies." These prisoners are being held for up to 23 hours a day in total isolation in small, windowless cells. (Free site registration may be required.)

The conditions under which Iraqi prisoners, not to mention those thought to be Al-Qaida members, are held appears to be a matter of little concern to many Americans, particularly in the wake of the horrible, videotaped death of Nick Berg. But what we do to others does matter.

One of the prime justifications for the war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was a monster and that we're not; that Saddam ran a despotism of singular cruelty and that we were going to bring Iraqis the fruits of freedom and democracy. At this point, this is virtually the only defensible justification for the war (weapons of mass destruction having proved chimerical and no significant links between Saddam and Al-Qaida having been demonstrated). If we actually do care about putting Iraqis on a path to a better existence than they had under Saddam, we need to act like it.

It also matters that we at least try to abide by the Geneva Conventions, which were established in large part to help protect our own troops.

Finally, it matters that we treat prisoners within the broad provisions of the Geneva Conventions if we hope to get any significant international assistance in managing the New Iraq -- which it increasingly looks like we're going to need.

Posted by tbrown at 03:56 PM


May 14, 2004

The Web jihad -- 1

Largely invisible to casual surfers, a bitter jihad is being waged on the Internet between Islamic extremists and their foes in the West. Like most conflicts, it has both tactical and strategic aspects. It's the tactical ones that are periodically visible to most of us, the most recent, and gruesome, example being the videotaped beheading of American businessman Nick Berg.

For a few years now, major Islamic terror groups such as Al Qaida and Hamas have used the Internet as a secure and virtually instantaneous means of communication. And, of course, for propaganda.

The Berg tape clearly was part of the propaganda effort, though it's hard to be certain of its intent, beyond the obvious horror it inspired in this country. Osama bin Laden also uses the Web as one tool for spreading his frequent audio and video tapes, which of course also get exposure on TV and radio.

Robert Spencer, in a piece for FrontPageMagazine.com, notes that,

"Paradoxical as it may be for a movement generally regarded as anti-modern, in the World Wide Web radical Muslims have found their most congenial method of communication. It satisfies their need for secrecy and concealment more effectively than any other medium, and allows them to transmit messages around the globe instantaneously. Al-Qaeda itself, as well as other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah, operates websites that not just to issue threats and other public statements, but to, in the words of the Net watchdog site Internet Haganah, “distribute official messages and communiqués; recruit and indocrinate new members’ communicate with forces that are distributed globally; and train in methodology and educate in ideology.

"The sprawling and anarchic nature of the Web makes it easy to operate: just put up a site, run it until it is closed down, and then put it up again somewhere else."

”There are hundreds of these websites, and new ones appear every day,” Egyptian political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb told Cam McGrath of the Inter Press Service. ”They spread a very negative and incorrect image of Islam.”

"Most jihad sites operate as Islamic news portals or mouthpieces for terrorist organisations," McGrath says. "They purport to expose persecution of Muslims and highlight actions taken by Muslims against those seen as oppressors.

"The sites often contain 'photos and movies for propaganda and training, including "how to" instructions on everything from bomb making to firing weapons of all types, to hand-to-hand combat,' says Brian Marcus of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL). …

"One jihad site recently posted an Al-Qaeda strategy paper that calls on Islamic militants worldwide to 'turn the lands of the infidels into hell.' ”

"The document identifies Jews and Christians as primary targets, describing itself as 'diplomacy written in blood, decorated with body parts and perfumed with gunpowder.' ”

In short, the criminal lunatics we have come to know so well in recent years.

But returning to Spencer's point, the fact that these folks espouse a doctrine that is repulsive to our eyes doesn't make them stupid. Whatever else they may have been, the plotters who hijacked four U.S. airliners on 9/11 and rammed these people-filled bombs into the World Trade Center, The Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were not dumb. Their ability to bend the Web to their purposes underscores the truth that they're willing to take what they can from the modern world in their campaign to destroy it.

In a piece for National Review two years ago, James Robbins observed that, "It is worth remembering that the Internet was originally conceptualized as a means of establishing and maintaining command and control during nuclear conflict or some other major disruption, so al Qaeda and its sympathizers are using the system in the manner it was intended. In one of his videos last fall, Osama bin Laden made light of the idea that the videotapes themselves were his means of transmitting operational orders, given the availability of secure communications via e-mail, FTP and the web. PGP-encrypted e-mails and files are difficult to break, and the terrorists also make use of the technique of steganography, in which information is hidden inside digital images. (It makes you wonder when you stumble across a site like aljihad-online.net, which contains pictures of young Arab men with no explanation why they are there.)"

But as Spencer notes, many of these hate sites are experiencing a shorter life span these days because of the efforts of Aaron Weisburd, who runs a site called Internet Haganah (the Haganah was the underground military arm of the Jewish resistance during British rule of the Palestine Mandate before the founding of Israel). Weisburd's tactic is to monitor suspected jihad sites, which almost inevitably violate the terms of service of their internet service providers. Then he turns up the heat on the ISPs to shut the sites down. And it works. Usually, when ISPs are made aware of what the sites are posting – explicit incitement to kill "infidels" and so forth – the take the sites down. The sites' owners, of course, move them to another host. But Weisburd's efforts are disruptive and waste terrorists time and money, so he keeps at it.

This week, he was particularly satisfied that a Malaysian ISP that has been in his crosshairs for some time now finally caved.

"For two years now we have been herding the most noxious of jihadist websites out of the USA, then out of Europe, and one by one they ended up being hosted by webserver.com.my, aka Acme Commerce. Many of these sites are clearly linked to the world's leading terrorist organizations, most notably Al Qaida and Hamas," Weisburd says.

This week, Acme Commerce claimed it had previously been unaware of the content and took down no fewer than 15 sites linked to Al Qaida, Hamas and other terrorist groups.

"In the war against terrorist use of the internet, this is a very big moment, and everyone who has contributed to or participated in the pursuit of these sites over the last two years is invited to get up from their seat for a moment and take a bow," Weisburd writes.

I'll deal with the strategic side of the web jihad – the effort by Muslim extremists to infiltrate critical computer systems in the U.S. and elsewhere in order to disrupt civil and economic life – next week.

Posted by tbrown at 01:37 PM


May 13, 2004

North Korea talks going nowhere?

Virtually unnoticed amid the coverage of the Abu Ghraib mess and the slaying of Nick Berg, so-called "six party" talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program are underway in Beijing. They do not, however, seem to be going well.

This is unsurprising. The U.S. wants North Korea to dismantle all vestiges of its nuclear-arms effort, including a suspected uranium-enrichment program. North Korea, on the other hand, wants to be paid off for pausing its program.

"We came to discuss compensation for a nuclear freeze," the chief North Korean delegate, Ri Gun, is quoted as saying. "A nuclear development program involving uranium enrichment does not exist." The U.S. wants a complete and verifiable dismantling of the program.

Clearly, there is quite a gap between these positions. Russia's delegate (the other participating countries are China, South Korea and Japan) says there's no hope of a breakthrough at these working-level talks. That would have to come later at higher-level discussions, which are scheduled for June.

The crisis, which still has the potential to become a nuclear confrontation - something the world has been spared since the Cuban Missile Crisis - began in October 2002 when U.S. officials said the North had disclosed that it had a uranium-enrichment program, the same one it now says doesn't exist.

The North Koreans are not only paranoid about U.S. intentions, they're canny negotiators, which makes them tough and frustrating to deal with.

Now Charles "Jack" Pritchard, who resigned last fall as the State Department's go-to guy for North Korea, says Bush administration's preoccupation with Iraq has left the U.S. exposed to a dangerous threat that is probably becoming more perilous. Reports in recent months have suggested that the North Korean regime has added perhaps another half-dozen nuclear weapons to the one or two it was thought to have had when the crisis began.

"This administration has adamantly refused to deal directly with North Korea, and they are not going to make any progress until that happens," Pritchard said in an interview with Michael Gordon of the International Herald Tribune. "And there have been no red lines. We have never said, 'If you do this here are the consequences.' "

Others believe that regardless of what the U.S. does not much will happen until after the presidential election. No point in beginning serious discussions with the Bush people when they may not be there next year, this view holds.

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says the nuclear standoff would not be difficult to resolve - if the U.S. and North Korea wanted to resolve it. We don't seem to have reached that point yet.

Note: If you want to keep up with developments on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea Zone, a site run by a former CNN reporter, is a good place to start. Besides its own posts, there are links to other Korea blogs, many Asian newspapers and other sources.

Posted by tbrown at 03:11 PM


Keeping perspective on Abu Ghraib

LT Smash, who wrote a fine war blog while stationed in Iraq, has some advice for both the left and right about maintaining perspective on Abu Ghraib.

Posted by tbrown at 03:00 PM


May 12, 2004

A somber morning

Some days just leave you stunned. While I made coffee this morning, I read my paper’s account of the slaughter of poor Nick Berg, dead at age 26 because he was in the wrong country at the wrong time.

My eye drifted down the counter to a small stack of items we bought to send our nephew, an Army soldier stationed in the Sunni Triangle. A brand of cigarettes favored by many that are not readily available in the war zone. Hard butterscotch candies. Sun screen. Things he’d asked for. Still, they seemed such an inadequate offering to a young man who, with 130,000 of his fellows, is risking his life daily in the bleak reality of Iraq. Looking at these few items reminded me somehow of the opening chapter of Tim O’Brien’s much-admired Vietnam book, "The Things They Carried," which I had read years ago. I looked it up on the Web. Here’s an excerpt:

"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water.
"Together, these items weighed between fifteen and twenty pounds, depending upon a man's habits or rate of metabolism. Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-size bars of soap he'd stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April.

"By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed five pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. They carried the standard fatigue jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried jungle boots-2.1 pounds - and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl's foot powder as a precaution against trench foot. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother's distrust of the white man, his grandfather's old hunting hatchet.

"Necessity dictated. Because the land was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered, nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds, but which on hot days seemed much heavier. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compress bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access. Because the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green plastic poncho that could be used as a raincoat or groundsheet or makeshift tent. With its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost two pounds, but it was worth every ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him into the chopper that took him away." There's much more and you can read it all here.

O’Brien’s story specifies, in vivid detail, the things our troops carried to try to keep themselves alive. Our men and women are better equipped today – though my nephew’s mom had to come up with $1,200 to buy his body armor because the Army had none – but their lives differ only in detail, not in fundamental reality, from those of previous wars. And as O’Brien reminds us, their true burdens are those they carry in their hearts. It’s the human condition.

I’ve done some traveling to uncomfortable places (though nothing like Iraq, certainly) and I always found it was the simple little everyday items, the familiar, that helped me deal with the unfamiliar, the alien. So we’ll pack the cigarettes, the candy and the sunscreen and dispatch them to Iraq and think good thoughts about the day when our nephew and the rest of our soldiers can return to their real lives.

But it is hard to see how we’re going to get from here to there anytime soon.

Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM


Behind the beheading

There's more to the Nick Perry story than his horrible death. It's just unclear what. Blogger Digby sums up what is known here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:14 PM


How Abu Ghraib plays in Europe

"America's moral standing, while not destroyed by a long shot, has nevertheless been significantly imperiled.

"We need, put simply, to regain the moral high ground.

"And this White House hasn't yet shown that it: (a) adequately gets this and (b) has a strategy to regain said moral authority."

So Gregory Djerejian concludes in a vigorous and sensible post about what the Abu Ghraib mess means for us internationally. If you're looking for a conservative who has something to say, bookmark this guy.

Posted by tbrown at 12:00 PM


May 11, 2004

The retribution begins

A video posted today on a web site linked to Al-Qaida shows an American civilian being beheaded by menwho said they were acting in retribution for the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The victim was Nick Berg, a small-business owner from Westchester, Pa., who had gone to Iraq to work on reconstruction projects. His body was found on a Baghdad overpass

His murderers said:

"For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the U.S. administration to exchange this hostage with some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused.

"So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way."

Steel yourselves.

Posted by tbrown at 01:42 PM


Rumsfeld: twisting slowly, slowly in the wind **

Three views:

Conservative: Columnist Robert Novak says Rumsfeld's deliberate alienation of the professional officer corps and his dysfunctional management style have left him friendless.

Liberal: Columnist Jim Lobe says "the embattled Pentagon chief may have made too many enemies – particularly within his armed forces – to be saved." After all, when even the Army Times wants you to quit, who's left?

War correspondent: "This is about right and wrong," says Joe Galloway of the Knight Ridder papers, who as a UPI correspondent was the only civilian to win the Bronze Star in Vietnam. "First graders know that. Any policeman who can't figure that out needs some time on the other side of the bars.

"This takes us down in the eyes of the Middle East and the rest of the world. It is one more disaster in a string of disasters that began with the idea that we would topple Saddam Hussein and the grateful Iraqi people would welcome us with showers of rose petals.

"Heads ought to roll over Iraq in general and Abu Ghraib in particular, but George Bush seems to have an aversion to firing people even when they desperately need it."

** Where President Nixon's late aide, John Ehrlichman, wanted to leave acting FBI Director Patrick Gray as the Watergate scandal widened.

Posted by tbrown at 11:04 AM


Who knew what when?

The International Red Cross knew last year.

"In a visit to the Abu Ghraib prison last October, Red Cross inspectors were so unsettled by what they found that they broke off their visit and demanded an immediate explanation from the military prison authorities." (Free site registration may be required.)

The Iraqi artist who sculpted a countryman as a U.S. prisoner, hands bound and with a bag over his head, knew about it at least two months ago, Digby's blog reports.

"We knew what went on at Abu Ghraib,' the artist Abdul-Kareem Khalil said on Saturday. "The pictures did not surprise me."

There's a photo of the sculpture.

Posted by tbrown at 11:01 AM


An Iraqi stationed at Abu Ghraib speaks up

The guy's a doctor, and his view of what was going on at the prison is much more benign than what Maj. Gen. Taguba found in his official investigation. Ali, one of three Iraqi brothers who post at Iraq the Model (and who in general support the U.S. occupation) presents his friend's comments in detail. Well worth a read.

Posted by tbrown at 10:59 AM


America: The detention society

"The US comprises 5% of the global population yet it is responsible for 25% of the world's prisoners. It has a higher proportion of its citizens in jail than any other country in history, according to the November Coalition, an alliance of civil rights campaigners, justice policy workers and drug law reformers."

One more thing to make us proud.

Posted by tbrown at 10:58 AM


Hamstringing the superpower

Blogger Mark Kleiman says George Bush has hobbled U.S. effectiveness abroad to a degree that Noam Chomsky can only imagine – and that conservatives are likely to be pretty angry when they figure it out.

"George W. Bush has managed to actually carry out the program Noam Chomsky only dreamed about: to greatly reduce the capacity of the United States to achieve its ends abroad.”

Posted by tbrown at 10:56 AM


May 10, 2004

Putin and Chechnya, Bush and Iraq

The civilian architects of our campaign in Iraq – which even some of our top military brass are beginning to fear we're losing strategically – could learn a few things from the experience of the Russians in Chechyna.

The Russian position there, which already was bad, took a sharp turn for the worse yesterday when its puppet president, Akhmad Kardyrov, was killed by terrorist bomb on live TV.

Chechnya is a small, mountainous, Muslim enclave of a little less than 1 million people. (Iraq, by contrast, has about 24 million.)

Despite its small size, Chechnya has been a big problem for the Russian leadership for more than a decade (though its roots extend back to czarist times). The Muslim insurrection there is similar in some key ways to the one the U.S. faces in Iraq.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya declared its independence, which Russia refused to recognize. In 1994, Russia's former president, Boris Yeltsin sent in the Russian army to prosecute a bloody conflict against what at the time was largely a nationalist uprising. It didn't work. Despite virtually destroying the capital at Grozny, and killing 70,000 or so civilians, the Russians withdrew in defeat in 1996.

"The aftermath of the 1994-96 war further eroded the Chechen government's control over the militias, while local warlords gained strength," one historical background piece notes. "The destroyed Chechen economy left armed but unemployed Chechens. Brutalized by war and atrocities committed by Russian troops, they were easily radicalized."

They began to take out their frustrations through bombings of Russian civilian targets, including some in Moscow. By mid-1999, Russia was accusing the Chechens of harboring international terrorists (as distinct from indigenous nationalists) and a former KGB colonel named Vladimir Putin was elected president largely because he promised to get tough with Chechnya.

He did. Russian troops invaded again. There were further depredations against civilians and lesser human rights abuses that continue to this day under the Russians' puppet regime. This hasn't worked either, however, as Sunday's assassination demonstrated. To the contrary, the draconian Russian occupations of Chechnya have turned it into a playground for the very international terrorists Putin promised to get rid of.

As, Andrei Piontkovsky, the head of a Russian think tank put it in this article six weeks ago,

"In the 20th century, terrorism was used mainly as an instrument to achieve political goals, and there are still recent or current conflicts -- in Northern Ireland, the Basque country, Sri Lanka, Indonesia -- where separatists use violence against a metropolitan power to try to win greater autonomy or independence.

"But the 21st century has given us a phenomenon that might be termed 'metaphysical terrorism.' Practiced chiefly by Islamic radicals associated with al Qaeda, it is not about achieving political goals, such as independence. It simply rejects Western civilization in principle and seeks its destruction.

"This distinction is important for Russia, because in the 1990s we had much experience with Chechen separatists' use of violence as a political instrument. The challenge we face today is of a different order: It is metaphysical terrorism, and in this case it is a monster largely of our own creation.

"The Russian leadership constantly reiterates that it is not fighting Chechen separatists but international terrorists, and this has finally become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks to the methods with which we have waged this war, we have turned practically the whole population of Chechnya into enemies and created for metaphysical terrorism a huge reservoir of living bombs -- desperate people ready to carry out the plans of the terrorists."

Does any of this sound familiar? As with the Russians, our own policies are making a bad situation worse. We haven't gotten to the point the Russians have in Chechnya yet, but we're certainly headed that direction.

From today's news reports, we learn that, "Standing next to Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, Putin said the Chechen president had died a hero's death."

Last week, largely obscured by the outcry over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a tape purported to be from Osama bin Laden promised would-be assassins 10,000 grams of gold (that's about 22 pounds, worth something over $100,000) for the assassination of our Iraq administrator, Paul Bremer, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, or Annan's envoy to Iraq, Ladkhar Brahimi.

That's chickenfeed compared with the $25 million price we have on Bin Laden's head. But, then, his adherents already seem highly motivated. I have to wonder how secure Bremer et al are feeling today.

Posted by tbrown at 02:11 PM


May 06, 2004

Rumsfeld

Problem:

"His Pentagon ruled that the United States would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Army regulations on the interrogation of prisoners would not be observed; and that many detainees would be held incommunicado and without any independent mechanism of review. Abuses will take place in any prison system. But Mr. Rumsfeld's decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered -- and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable."
-- Washington Post editorial

Solution:

"For the good of our country, the safety of our troops, and our image around the globe Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. If he does not resign forthwith, the president should fire him."
-- Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

However:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Thursday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "will stay in my Cabinet" despite Democratic calls for his departure over abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American military guards.
-- Associated Press

Posted by tbrown at 12:58 PM


Hersh: 'It's going to get much worse'

Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, who wrote a major piece on the prison abuse of Iraqis in the current issue, had this to say last night on Bill O'Reilly's show:

"First of all, it's going to get much worse. This kind of stuff was much more widespread. I can tell you just from the phone calls I've had in the last 24 hours, even more, there are other photos out there. There are many more photos even inside that unit. There are videotapes of stuff that you wouldn't want to mention on national television that was done. There was a lot of problems.

"There was a special women's section. There were young boys in there. There were things done to young boys that were videotaped. It's much worse. And the Maj. Gen. Taguba was very tough about it. He said this place was riddled with violent, awful actions against prisoners."

Posted by tbrown at 12:56 PM


Weird

Yesterday I linked to a profile at Salon of Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time Neoconservative answer to all problems in Iraq, in which Marc Zell had this to say:

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

Today, he denies having said that – or anything else that the Salon author, John Dizard, quoted him as saying.

Posted by tbrown at 12:53 PM


May 05, 2004

How the man who would be king conned the Neocons

When the history of our misbegotten adventure in Iraq gets written, one of the key supporting actors will be Ahmed Chalabi, the urbane, intelligent, charming and wholly untrustworthy mathematician, banker, convicted felon and scion of one-time Iraqi aristocracy. He assiduously courted the Neoconservatives who came to power in the Bush administration, fed their dreams of redrawing the political map of the Middle East by sowing democracy regionwide, and now, they're somewhat tardily beginning to realize, has betrayed them.

What is truly remarkable about this story is that any informed adult could actually believe that an Iraqi who left his country in the 1950s could abruptly return home, set up a stable pro-American government, resume trade with Israel (which most Iraqis loathe) and even pump Iraqi oil to Haifa. Needless to say, it isn't happening and won't.

Yet that is exactly what Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, his No. 1 assistant, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, who used to chair the influential Defense Policy Board until self-dealing and scandal drove him out, did believe. The depth of the gullibility of this crowd, who were among the chief architects of the war, is illuminated at Salon by John Dizard's profile of Chalabi and his manipulation of the neocons and some U.S. government institutions, including for a time the CIA, for his own ends.

Joshua Marshall notes caustically in his blog that, "In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds."

They really do look like fools.

Chalabi has been cozying up to Iran's ruling mullahs, with whom he has had close contact since they overthrew the Shah of Iran. The mullahs certainly do not have America's best interests at heart. Nor, it seems, does Chalabi. Newsweek reports that "top Bush administration officials have been briefed on intelligence indicating that Chalabi and some of his top aides have supplied Iran with 'sensitive' information on the American occupation in Iraq. … According to one U.S. government source, some of the information Chalabi turned over to Iran could 'get people killed.' (A Chalabi aide calls the allegations 'absolutely false.')"

As their absurd vision of a Middle East in which Israel is surrounded by a sea of happy – or at least not hostile – Muslims fades, some neocons are getting a bit testy, as Dizard reports:

"Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat," says L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, now the undersecretary of defense for policy, and a former friend and supporter of Chalabi and his aspirations to lead Iraq. "He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another."

Yet this was always the way Chalabi operated, as Dizard makes clear. And this truth was readily available before the war for anyone who took the time to look.

So now Chalabi's U.S. boosters are going to pay the price. Dizard reports that Feith is expected to resign by mid-May and that Wolfowitz will go well before the election. (Incredibly, though, there apparently is some loose talk about bringing Wolfowitz back in a second Bush administration as CIA director. I guess they want to ensure that we have even more inaccurate intelligence so we can blunder into ever more excellent adventures abroad.)

Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers continue to pay Chalabi $340,000 a month for his so-called intelligence (his Iraqi National Congress was the source of some of the most egregiously inaccurate prewar information about Saddam's weapons and connections to terror).

Also, in case you missed it, a relative of Chalabi has been put in charge of the kangaroo court – er, tribunal – that is supposed to try Saddam Hussein. There's no way, I'm sure, that Chalabi could manipulate this process to his own ends rather than ours. Couldn't happen.

Dizard's piece magazine-length piece is my must-read of the day because it so clearly sets out the cost of believing your own daydreams. Unfortunately, we all get to pay the price. To read it all you'll have to get a Salon "daypass," then click through a three-frame ad. But it's worth the effort. Here's the link.

Posted by tbrown at 01:34 PM


Did classifying the Abu Ghraib investigation violate government policy?

Steven Aftergood, who writes the excellent Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists, thinks it may have.

"By classifying an explosive report on the torture of Iraqi prisoners as "Secret," the Pentagon may have violated official secrecy policies, which prohibit the use of classification to conceal illegal activities," he writes today.

Here's what government policy on classification says:

"In no case shall information be classified in order to ... conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error [or to] prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency...," according to Section 1.7 of Executive Order 12958, as amended by President Bush (EO 13292)."

Posted by tbrown at 01:26 PM


Blogger Kevin Drum sets the record straight

"… I apologize for using the phrases 'Wall Street Journal editorial page' and 'journalistic ethics' in the same sentence above. That's clearly an abuse of the English language."

Indeed. Its warren of shills and fact-torturers is at it again, as Kevin's post illustrates.

Posted by tbrown at 01:25 PM


May 04, 2004

Iraqi bloggers take on the U.S. abuse of prisoners

I've spent the morning poring over Iraqi blogs to see what some ordinary people there think about the abuses of prisoners by U.S. personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison. The bloggers are all disgusted, but some of them are considerably less outraged about what happened than, for example, I am. They consider it just a passing incident in Iraq's bloody reality. This attitude strikes me as interesting both as an indicator of how prolonged violence can dull the senses and also of how very badly the people who hold this view want the U.S. occupation to ultimately succeed in establishing a stable Iraqi government.

Others, however, are as thoroughly outraged as you would expect.

Here are some of their comments, and links to their sites.

'Like a small black dot on a white paper'

"There are tens of thousands of coalition soldiers in Iraq, and of course not all of them are pure angels; they’re tough warriors among whom we can find the good and the evil, and the evil are always less but unfortunately, they draw more attention just like a small black point on a white paper and this applies to any group of human beings anywhere on this planet."

"I can say that at least some Iraqis seemed to have understood the situation and were satisfied with the reaction of the American officials and their promises that the offenders will be punished. While a wide segment of Iraqis seemed indifferent with the issue and only showed their disapproval when they are asked about it, but rarely with what one can call an angry tone, and I’m talking about my personal experience here, as I tried to ask the largest number of people about their feelings before I write about it."
– From two posts at Iraq the Model, the joint blog of three brothers, Mohammad (a dentist), Ali (a doctor) and Omar (a dentist)

'I hope they are made to suffer ... somehow I know they won’t be punished'

"All anyone can talk about today are those pictures... those terrible pictures. There is so much rage and frustration. I know the dozens of emails I’m going to get claiming that this is an ‘isolated incident’ and that they are ‘ashamed of the people who did this’ but does it matter? What about those people in Abu Ghraib? What about their families and the lives that have been forever damaged by the experience in Abu Ghraib? I know the messages that I’m going to get -- the ones that say, 'But this happened under Saddam...' Like somehow, that makes what happens now OK... like whatever was suffered in the past should make any mass graves, detentions and torture only minor inconveniences now.

"It’s beyond depressing and humiliating ... my blood boils at the thought of what must be happening to the female prisoners. To see those smiling soldiers with the Iraqi prisoners is horrible. I hope they are made to suffer... somehow I know they won’t be punished. They’ll be discharged from the army, at best, and made to go back home and join families and cronies who will drink to the pictures and the way “America’s finest” treated those “Dumb I-raki terrorists”. That horrible excuse of a human, Janis Karpinski [who was in charge of U.S. prisons in Iraq], will then write a book about how her father molested her as a child and her mother drank herself into an early death- that’s why she did what she did in Abu Ghraib. It makes me sick."
– By River, the nom de blog of the Iraqi woman who posts at Baghdad Burning

'Like a drop in the ocean'

"Well I am an Iraqi, and hate what I saw, but I would like to say in all honesty that compared to the practices of the old Baathists, this is a drop in an ocean. The terrors of Saddam torture houses make this isolated condemned practice by a small group of perverted individuals seem nothing, awful as it is. And more important, the outrages of the Saddam regime were sanctioned and perfectly well known and approved from the highest levels of the state and there was no question of any criminal investigations of the practices, the victims simply buried in any convenient ditch near by. But we never heard any righteous and noisy protests from Any Jazeera or Arabiya, nor did we witness much 'Arab' anger during many years when torture, rape and murder were going on a regular basis and massive scale."
-- Alaa at The Messopotamian, "a fairly typical middle class professional Baghdadi"

'You wrecked down houses, markets, schools and mosques … Why?'

"Americans apologize; they say those are nothing but a small bad minority.

"Iraqis are angry and they wonder: why didn't you believe us when we said that the people who committed the mutilation [of four U.S. contractors] in Falluja are a small bad minority. You filled your media with poisonous comments and you said: 'that's just how Iraqis are' and then you got a green light from your people to attack Falluja and kill hundreds of men, women and children.

"You wrecked down houses, markets, schools and mosques. You spread devastation and tyranny and you still do that? Why???"
-- By Faisa at A Family in Baghdad. Her sons, Raed, Khaled and Majid, also post there

'I now find it very difficult to argue that the US presence in Iraq is a liberation'

"The US administration should bring those soldiers to justice in order to protect its liberation honour."

-- Kurdo's World, an anonymous blog by an Iraqi Kurd

Posted by tbrown at 12:04 PM


The administration explains it all

Blogger Billmon has a wonderful, and disturbing, roundup of what the Bush administration has said about its interrogation practices over the last year and a half. There were many, many ignored and dismissed warnings before the photos from Abu Ghraib emerged.

Posted by tbrown at 12:02 PM


May 03, 2004

Abu Ghraib: It just gets worse

"As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. [Major General Anthony M.] Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority."
-- Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Seven more U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded in the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the U.S. officer who oversaw Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison suggested Monday that more may be involved.
-- Associated Press

The story so far:

Thirteen soldiers have been charged with crimes or administratively disciplined for abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The trouble appears to have started shortly after the U.S. converted the prison, which had been an infamous torture and execution center under Saddam Hussein, to its own purposes. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, a U.S. Army reserve officer, was put in charge of our prisons in Iraq last June. By last November, one official report already had been done on the prison system, identifying numerous problems that needed immediate attention.

In January, Karpinski was suspended from duty. A second investigation was conducted by Major General Antonio M. Taguba. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker was given a copy of Taguba's 53-page report, which found there had been systematic criminal abuse of detainees, including:

"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. "

This report was completed in February, but was kept under wraps until some of its most explosive evidence – photographs that left not the slightest doubt what had been going on – began to leak out. That prompted the CBS show "60 Minutes II" to do a segment last Wednesday night.

As Hersh reports, "Two Iraqi faces that do appear in the photographs are those of dead men. There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered with blood."

So in addition to sexual humiliation and other torture, it appears there may have been a couple of slayings.

The abuses appear to have been orchestrated by military intelligence and private contractors. Indeed, Hersh reports, "General Taguba saved his harshest words for the military-intelligence officers and private contractors. He recommended that Colonel Thomas Pappas, the commander of one of the M.I. brigades, be reprimanded and receive non-judicial punishment, and that Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, be relieved of duty and reprimanded. He further urged that a civilian contractor, Steven Stephanowicz, of CACI International, be fired from his Army job, reprimanded, and denied his security clearances for lying to the investigating team and allowing or ordering military policemen 'who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by ‘setting conditions’ which were neither authorized” nor in accordance with Army regulations. “He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse,' Taguba wrote. He also recommended disciplinary action against a second CACI employee, John Israel. (A spokeswoman for CACI said that the company had 'received no formal communication”'from the Army about the matter.) "

Seattle blogger Dave Neiwert has additional detail here, including a little about an Army prisoner-interrogation school at Fort Huachua, Ariz., which has instituted a new training program designed specifically for the war on terrorism.

One final, disheartening, note: There are now photos making the rounds of the Internet that purport to show Iraqi women being raped by U.S. troops. I have no clue what the source of these was, nor whether they're authentic. Unfortunately, it won't matter whether they're authentic. Much of the Arab world, already inflamed by the Abu Ghraib mess, will believe it anyway. We're going to be living with the consequences of this for a long time to come.

Posted by tbrown at 12:47 PM




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