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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Another Baghdad Snapshot

Here's another interesting "snapshot" piece out of the BBC bureau in Baghdad describing daily life.

I think the line that grabbed me the strongest related to the recent leaked memo from the US Baghdad embassy to Condi Rice regarding the problems faced by the local staff who work there. After the memo was leaked, "The embassy has started shredding documents that include Iraqi staffs' surnames."

They are so terrified that the people who work in the embassy will be killed that they're erasing them from the records completely.

Picture of the Day - 3



The NYTimes Sunday Book Review has a brief, surprisingly friendly, piece on Chomsky's new book "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy." (Of course it was written by an editor at The Guardian.)

If you've heard Chomsky interviewed over the last few months, none of the elements are particularly new, but on the bright side, it means he'll probably be doing another round of interviews and appearances.

Two stories on troop reductions

First, MSNBC has a story up about Iraqi President Maliki's settlement offer with the insurgents. A large part of this article looks at the negotiating point around a firm US withdrawal timetable. (I think the Sunday Times piece was more comprehensive.)

Second, the NYTimes has a piece up (dated tomorrow?) which reports classified briefings where Gen. Casey tentatively projects a token 7,000 troop drawdown this September, followed by a larger reduction in 2007.
If executed, the plan could have considerable political significance. The first reductions would take place before this fall's Congressional elections, while even bigger cuts might come before the 2008 presidential election.

I think it all hinges on the Maliki settlement offer. If he can somehow convince the major Sunni groups to put down their guns, and the Shia militias to give up their activities, it might all work out. But that's a pretty damn big "if."

The negotiations of oil revenue distribution and the role of Islam in the government and courts, for example, haven't even been broached yet, and these armed groups, and their threat of violence, are the only real negotiating leverage available to minority groups.

After all, why are the mainstream Sunnis fighting? To insure that they aren't overrun by a Shia dominated government. Is that more likely or less likely if they put down their guns?

Or the minority Shia militias, why are they fighting? To establish their place in the political order and influence the actions of the government.

The violence in Iraq is an outgrowth of unresolved structural problems in the country, and as far as I can tell, this offer by Maliki attempts to address some of the agitants towards violence, but doesn't address the reasons for the conflict.

Without a credible threat of a crackdown by the Iraqi government or US forces, there seems to be every incentive for the mainstream armed groups to continue as they are. The fact that Maliki is offering concessions means that they are achieving their goals.

So, it's a pretty damn big "if."


The New Orleans business district was the first place to have power restored. The French Quarter was up and running in months. The wealthier areas got power and services a couple months after that. But the poor areas ....
Two leaders of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights who have spent the last 18-months helping victims of last year’s Tsunami took a walk through the Lower Ninth Ward Friday.

Their reaction was one of shock, because they said they expected to see more signs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

“We think of America as being this fabulous, powerful superpower, and it’s exactly like Third World situations,” said Tom Kerr.

“In my personal opinion, I think you should have done much, much faster. It should be much better than what I have seen today,” said Samsook Boonyabancha.

Picture of the Day - 2

(Sorry for putting a teaser up and then taking it down. The brilliant idea I had early this morning ended up not being so brilliant. I know leaving teasers hanging is annoying. Sorry. )

Marine conditions in Haditha

Now, I've got to say that this(BBC) is the first complaint of this type I've heard, and a number of reporters have been embedded with Kilo Company and have not mentioned this, even in their interviews or "day in the life" pieces.

And they were operating under disturbing circumstances.

Kilo Company's headquarters were three miles north of Haditha, at a vast dam across the Euphrates. It is a big target, because it supplies power to much of southern Iraq. Four hundred men of the First Marine regiment were based in this decaying rabbit-warren. Conditions were so disgusting, many just moved out.

They set up these unofficial shacks alongside it. Conditions at the dam have been described as "feral".

Oliver Poole is one of the few reporters to have been there, shortly after the alleged massacre. He was shocked by these strange, primitive huts, which lacked even basic hygiene. "You walked in and the first words were 'F off', and they were ripping pieces of wood apart to feed the fire," he said. "You could see the conditions in which they lived. And they were filthy.It was disgusting."

There seemed to him to be no real discipline.

"The fact that the officers had let conditions deteriorate to the level in which where people living in such basic environment, that says something," he said. "Where were the officers keeping the standards that the US military keeps in the field?"

Picture of the Day

Friday, June 23, 2006

New Domestic spy service and "takings" Executive Order

I don't know if these two things go together, but they're both weird and both Friday dump. Here's the Executive Order called "Protecting the Property Rights of the American People" which in Bush speak means that it's probably about taking property, but I can't make heads or tails of it.

And then this BBC article.
US President George W Bush has ordered the creation of a domestic intelligence service within the FBI, as part of a package of 70 new security measures....

The authorities will also be given the power to seize the property of people deemed to be helping the spread of WMD.

Also in this article, there is mention that a new FBI office will be created for "intelligence work within the US, and combine the Justice Department's intelligence, counter-terrorism and espionage units."

Finally, I guess Rumsfeld's DoD wasn't doing such a good job on the intel turf they tried to claim (See Somalia.) "Giving control of all overseas human intelligence operations to the CIA."

I don't know what to make of all this, but something tells me this is important, and the fact that they're pushing it out late Friday under the "big" terror arrests and banking records story doesn't help.

UPDATE: Reuters explains the EO. According to White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino, the RO was about limiting the use of eminent domain for purely economic purposes relating to the court case a year ago where private property was taken for economic development.

Okay, but this would be popular among the fleeing libertarian wing, so why is it in the Friday dump? And, has anyone else noticed that Dana Perino, rather than Tony Snow, answers all questions that seem to require actual knowledge?

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Texas gubernatorial chaos

Both Kinky Friedman and Carole Strayhorn met the requirements to run as independents in the Texas governor's race alongside Democrat Chris Bell and "movement conservative" Rick Perry. (Perry is the worst governor our state has had since I've been politically aware, and, remember, we had governor George Bush.)

Oh, it's going to be a mess. Carole Strayhorn is going to siphon off the moderate Republicans and some Dems although how many is yet to be determined, and Kinky Friedman is going to pull off the anti-establishment Nader type voters from the Dems. (Friedman's support is vocal but small.)

It could be an open door for Chris Bell to sneak in, but who knows. It's going to be all about turnout.

Open street fighting outside the Green Zone

Remember, this in the middle of the joint US-Iraqi "security crackdown" in Baghdad that pulled in troops from all around the country.
The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew Friday after insurgents set up roadblocks in central Baghdad and opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered everyone off the streets of the capital. U.S. and Iraqi forces also fought gunmen in the volatile Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad.

AP Version:
Iraq's government clamped a state of emergency on Baghdad and ordered everyone off the streets Friday after U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The military also announced the deaths of five more U.S. troops in a particularly violent week for American forces that included the discovery of the brutalized bodies of two soldiers. Twelve U.S. servicemembers have died or been found dead this week.

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A troubling use of language

It appears that the Republicans have been successful in their attempts to insert their sound bite and its associations into, at least, the newsrooms. Look at this opening paragraph in a NYTimes article on the Congolese civil war.
AVEBA, Congo — The first time the Congolese Army tried to take this village back from the militias that have fought for it since the civil war supposedly ended in 2002, the government soldiers cut and ran. That was January.

"Cut and ran." Feel the meaning and association? Maybe it's just me, but it feels quite awkward in it's usage there. If this article had been written six months ago, I think it's doubtful that phrase would've been used.

This tells me the Iraq war propaganda campaign has been successful in attaching the intended meaning and power to that phrase.

I just found this interesting.

The curious details on the Bank Records story.

Very briefly. I find it interesting that both the NYTimes and the LATimes had versions of the bank records story ready to go. As the program appears to have been operational back to 2001, I just find it odd that in the last three months, both suddenly got the story. Somebody wanted this story out. (Note that this program has been run out of the CIA(?) and the NYTimes team is Lichtblau/Risen who broke the NSA story.)

It appears that the government has been talking to both publications for awhile trying to keep them from publishing.

But, maybe most interesting to me is that when the publication was imminent, the Treasury Department tried to get out in front by giving it's own friendlier version to an AP reporter (US Tracks Suspected Terrorist Financiers.) This is brilliant really, by creating a very friendly AP version of the story, they guarantee that most local papers will carry this version rather than rewriting/reporting on the critical NYTimes or LATimes versions.

Take a quick read of the "friendly" AP piece. Is there anything negative to the administration in it at all? Any questions of privacy, legal issues, executive powers? This is the version that will be printed in most local papers.

(ALSO: Still more Suskind. Haaretz has a story on First Data, "a subsidiary Western Union, with branches throughout the Arab world and a high volume of money transfers," cooperating with "the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Treasury to monitor communications and financial transfers after September 11, in operations of questionable legality.)

Maliki's settlement offer

I don't know about this, but it's quite intriguing. (From the British TimesOnline)
THE Iraqi Government will announce a sweeping peace plan as early as Sunday in a last-ditch effort to end the Sunni insurgency that has taken the country to the brink of civil war.

The 28-point package for national reconciliation will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for their prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms, The Times can reveal.

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.....

The deal, which has been seen by The Times, aims to divide Iraqi insurgents from foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda. It builds on months of secret talks involving Jalal al-Talabani, the Iraqi President, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, and seven Sunni insurgent groups.

So, amnesty, a hard timetable for withdrawal, a halt to all US operations, and, cryptically, "an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops."

I find it hard to believe that such a deal would be offered without approval from the White House. Certainly Khalizad is involved, but "a halt to US operations" and a hard timetable for withdrawal? I'll be very curious to see how this develops and is presented against the current White House domestic political strategy.

(By the way, the US's "human rights violations" are a bargaining chip to be continued if they don't take the deal?)

Picture of the Day

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The spin is on.

You have the Iraq "debate" in Congress with DoD supplying a 74 page talking points booklet, and now you have the military announcing troop cuts which aren't really troop cuts to get a well timed headline.
WASHINGTON - The top U.S. commander in Iraq predicted on Thursday that the size of the U.S. fighting force will shrink this year, although he said he had not made new recommendations to his Pentagon bosses on the size and timing of any cuts.

(Also, notice the carefully worded, technically correct support, that Rumsfeld gave to Santorum's bogus WMD claims in the Senate.)

I'll say it again. If this administration had fought the war as hard as they've fought the politics of the war, Iraq would be a paradise.

More Domestic Spying.

First they came for the international phone calls and I said nothing.
Then they came for the domestic calls and I said nothing.
Then the came for the Internet traffic and I said nothing.

Then they came for the bank records.....

Fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over...d'oh!

On June 15, Richard Bruce Cheney was repeating the line about the Iraq war being "in part responsible" for the absence of terrorist attacks in the United States since the September 11, 2001 strikes. Well......
The FBI arrested seven people in the past two days suspected of planning attacks on FBI offices and a federal building in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago, a law enforcement source said on Thursday.

It has to be said that apparently this group had been infiltrated by an informant so was no real threat, but take note that CNN reports these are Americans who "
are members of a radical African-American Muslim group." (a phrase so loaded with connotations from the seventies to scare the suburbanites.

Didn't I just see some polling a few days ago that the Republicans had lost alot in the suburbs and that demographic would be key for them to hold onto Congress?)

Picture of the Day - 3

The Packaged War

We don't know how they die. We don't see the violence. Generally, the deaths are not named but merely listed as "2 US soldiers died in Anbar province." Two nameless, faceless soldiers.

Their funerals are not carried on TV; their pictures do not make the front pages. Uttering their names in public is treated as treasonous.

Violence and the consequences of violence are kept far from the public's view.

We live in the greatest media empire that ever existed. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world who devote their lives ostensibly to telling the truth, or at least, telling a story, and yet the people who die are left blank, empty, without content.

These are people, real people, with depth and contours, and flaws, and smiles, and stories. People who enjoyed that wonderful warm pleasure from their mom's cookies. And yet, we don't get that. It's not presented.

We are shielded from the violence. This is a packaged war.

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Hamid Karzai, "the mayor of Kabul," says the US's strategy in the war on terror is wrong.

And, Mr. Bush, if you want to shut Guantanamo, you can, with the wave of a pen. The only thing stopping you is the fact that these people have been held illegally and thus cannot be tried in US courts. Oh, wait, that was your decision too, right?

The Army has raised the maximum enlistment age to 42. 42! I'm not there yet, but already have to take a day off after playing tennis. Can you imagine Boot Camp at 42?

The Wall Street Journal has a big map graphic of Zogby polling on the 2006 Senate races. (Credit to Harold Ford for making Tennessee a race.)

The WaPo has a front page story on three Republican congressmen, Hastert, Calvert, and Miller, who just happened to reap massive real estate profits from earmarks they added to legislation.

Rick Santorum, flailing about for any kind of attention in his losing Senate reelection campaign, claimed on the Senate floor yesterday that WMD have been found in Iraq!!!! You know, Rick, when your pro-administration claims don't make it onto Drudge, and you get shot down in person on FoxNews, you're way too far out there.

Finally, I stick this at the bottom because, judging by the coverage of the media, this is where they think this news belongs. Five US soldiers were killed in Iraq yesterday. Four US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

Well, at least they're admitting it

Not having read the specific wording of this change in policy, I wonder if it is retroactive, that records collected prior to this change are also subject.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc. said on Wednesday it was revising its privacy policy, explaining to customers that it owns their phone records and can hand them over to law enforcers if necessary. ....

Under the new policy, which was being mailed out to AT&T's more than 7 million Internet customers, the company also said that it would track viewing information for customers of a television service it is developing in order to help it make recommendations to customers based on their viewing habits.

It also said that before customers use its services they must agree to the policy, an element that was not in its previous guidelines.

(And, let's remember it was just two days ago that Salon published it's piece detailing possible NSA involvement at AT&T's internet backbone in St. Louis. (if you watch the ad, you can read the article.))

Parent Teacher Night

Sometimes a teacher just knows someone helped the child with their project as the depth and topic seems so far beyond their interest and abilities.
BUDAPEST, Hungary - President Bush is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hungary's bloody revolt against communist rule one month before traveling to Russia for a summit of industrial democracies that could prove awkward for the American president.

Then again, some of the language obviously shows he did do parts of the project himself.
"I am here to celebrate the 1956 revolution. The idea of a revolution is celebrating the notion that all men and women should be free," Bush said at the start of talks with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom.

But if we're looking for that person who may have chipped in, might I suggest a look at this guy who so recently exposed his interest and misunderstanding of that era, and seems to have a serious overestimation of the child's depth and abilities.
"It's kind of a tone poem about the 1956 revolution," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "This is mainly about visiting the Hungarian government and paying homage to what they went through 50 years ago."

That's right. According to his new step dad, Georgie is writing tone poems on the meaning of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Oh, and from the NYTimes, "Aides said Bush was the primary author of the short speech. " We're all so proud of Georgie.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

'Cut and Run' or 'Stand and Bleed?'

The great crime of our current Iraq strategy is that the President is letting domestic politics dictate his policy. After running for reelection on his resoluteness to "finish the job," and then further using the Iraq war as a political weapon against the Dems throughout 2005, and now in defense in 2006, President Bush has painted himself into a political corner on troop withdrawals.

The "declare victory and go home" withdrawal option has also been taken away by events in Iraq. With the security situation at best stable, and more likely deteriorating, there is no discernible "victory" to be had in Iraq in the near term, despite all the signage last November and March. So, even though we may see cosmetic changes in numbers, restaffing, lowering non-combat MOS, there's really no credible way he can bring the troops home and call it a victory.

On the other hand, a possible change in the other direction would be to massively raise troop levels in the short term to the 350,000 to 400,000 level that sane analysts said would be required before the war, assuming you can find the combat ready troops. This sort of heavy reaction could temporarily stabilize Iraq, buying the Maliki government six months and offering them a more stable situation in which to take control.

This option is also limited by politics in a very similar manner to Rumsfeld's apparent permanent job security. In order to surge troops into Iraq, the President would be forced to admit that the current strategy isn't working and answer questions of why higher troop levels weren't put in place earlier.

So, politically hemmed in on the withdrawal side and politically hemmed in on the escalation side, the Bush administration has chosen the middle strategy, to stand and bleed.

Only they're not the ones bleeding.

UPDATE: (From Thursday's NYTimes) "But people who attended a series of high-level meetings this month between White House and Congressional officials say President Bush's aides argued that it could be a politically fatal mistake for Republicans to walk away from the war in an election year."

There is no security in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunman abducted about 85 workers Wednesday as they left an industrial plant north of Baghdad, police and a witness said. The workers were thought to be mostly Shiite and the plant is located in a predominantly Sunni Arab area.

This isn't just some small scale drive-by shooting or IED, this is a major operation, and it's this type of massive violence that undermines the legitimacy of the Maliki government. If the government of Iraq cannot protect the people from this sort of violence, the rank and file "true" civilians in Iraq have little choice but to turn to their various factional militias for protection.

The Maliki government is on the knife's edge right now, and it's looking more and more possible that it may go the Afghanistan route where President Karzai has so little influence he is derisively called "the mayor of Kabul."

It's hard to call at this point, but whatever credibilty the Iraqi government has in the area of security is being quickly spent.

(By the background of this, Shia workers in a predominant Sunni area, I would guess this is more activity by the new claimant to Zarqawi's title, although at this point there's no way to tell.
Taji, you might remember from the series Off to War, is the location of a major US base.)

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Who failed in Somalia?

After watching that excellent Frontline episode last night (catch a reply if you can,) I find myself wondering about the recent failure in Somalia. Frontline told a story of the CIA placing assets and establishing the contacts and strategy for the Afghanistan operation, only to be followed by a takeover of the operation by Rumsfeld.

I've written a fair bit about the Department of Defense taking over the CIA's traditional in the field intelligence and operations roles since that time(1, 2,) and there is reporting noting the DoD's deployment in Djibouti was specifically targeted at Somalia.

So, after watching that Frontline episode last night which detailed the efforts in Afghanistan, I find myself wondering if Somalia was the DoD's attempt to create an Afghanistan-type operation completely on its own. Although it was not the overthrow of a government, the basic parallel of forming, bribing, supporting a coalition of warlords was strikingly similar.

To support this idea that Somalia was a DoD operation I offer evidence of dissent from the two Departments who would have traditionally taken the lead in such an operation, CIA and State.

So, my question is this. Is the failure in Somalia, which is now becoming an Al Qaeda safe zone, because Rumsfeld felt it was more important to win the turf battle with the CIA? Did Somalia fall under the control of the Islamic Courts Union because this was DoD's first attempt at such an operation rather than "leaving it to the pros?"

I don't know. I just found myself thinking about it last night.

War on Terra - Quickhits

It appears the US military has covered up, for almost two years, the fact that two US soldiers were killed by the Iraqi troops they were training.

More Ron Suskind: On the Situation Room, Suskind claims that the US deliberately targeted the Al Jazeera office in Kabul.

The Afghan government sent "intelligence men" to TV stations and newspapers there to deliver "an unsigned letter ordering journalists to report more favorable news about the government." Just imagine you're in Afghanistan, a place where people are killed all the time, and a group of "intelligence men" shows up telling you how to report.

And if you do "report the good news," what's going to happen when the "revived Taliban" come to town. They banned watching TV before. What do you think they are going to do with TV executives?

William Arkin calls BS on the whole North Korea missile threat.

And, this is getting alot of coverage. Salon has a description of a "secret room" in AT&T's St. Louis network operations center, protected by "a biometric "mantrap" or highly sophisticated double door." If the NSA was tapping internet traffic, this is where they would do it. The Bridgeton facility is the common backbone for all AT&T internet traffic.

If you're watching the Wilkes case

Laura Rozen reports, "Says a knowledgeable observer: [Former CIA executive director] "Dusty [Foggo] is singing like a bird.""

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Family Values Republicans

Lurking just over the horizon are liabilities for three Republicans who have topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history.

And the other choice is Bill Frist? I'll be really curious to see the spin on this one. Maybe a Jim Baker tearful "I have sinned."

Still more Suskind

This one is from the WaPo piece I linked earlier, but somehow I must've read past it.
The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

George W. Bush: "Now, watch this drive. "

Never mind.

I guess immigration wasn't a crisis after all.
WASHINGTON - In a defeat for President Bush, Republican congressional leaders said Tuesday that broad immigration legislation is all but doomed for the year, a victim of election-year concerns in the House and conservatives' implacable opposition to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Update: It appears the House Republicans are going to take their bigotry show on the road. They will not get legislation passed, but that doesn't mean they still can't use the issue to generate racist voter turnout. (And that block votes solidly Republican.)
In a move that could bury President Bush's high-profile effort to overhaul immigration law until after the midterm elections, House GOP leaders yesterday announced a series of field hearings during the August recess, pushing off final negotiations on a bill until fall at the earliest.

At least we now know where they live.

The Republican's are now literally writing their own reality: American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia.

(And, funny, the neocons even hijacked this. The longest entry is "Straussianism," not Reagan, or neoliberal economics, or anything else.)

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Still more Suskind

This Suskind portrait of the president and his advisors just gets weirder and more frightening.
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be.....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes.....

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

I think the relevant question is, how much weight all these Suskind revelations will be given within the punditariat. If they ask the questions, it will be forced into the discussion.

Matthews, Russert, etc, could take these Suskind reports and change the direction of the discussion of this presidency, that is, assuming that they aren't still happy with the characterization they've already created.

More Suskind on the Bush/Cheney relationship

Does anybody know how much heft Ron Suskind carries in the media world? Because if they take him seriously and this becomes a part of the underlying narrative, it's going to have impacts.
In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.

During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in.....

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

"Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial," Mr. Suskind continues. "It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."

Think about the picture this is presenting. Think about how this will be read around the world and on the front pages in Cairo, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, and Iran.

(And, again, Frontline tonight.)

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The two missing US soldiers found - "tortured"

This may play wrong and this may sound bad, but at least it's over for these two poor soldiers. I have a bad feeling that we may soon see a video release documenting their last days.
The bodies of the two soldiers, Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Thomas L. Tucker, 25, were found in a brutally "tortured" condition, General Abdul Aziz Mohammed of the Iraqi defense ministry said.

"The two US soldiers were found in the Yusifiyah area near the power station and unfortunately their bodies show that they had been tortured and then killed viciously," the general told a news conference.

Looking at the adverbs being used in description, "brutally tortured," "viciously killed." I fear it's worse than my imaginings. Their bodies were found dumped in the street near the town Youssifiyah.

(In the AP version, "appeared to have been killed "in a barbaric way."")

UPDATE: They appear to have been beheaded, and the bodies showed other significant signs of abuse. But, Tony Snow sees it as a positive development that two US soldiers were abducted, subjected to torture, and beheaded:

(After Hadley answers a question, "brutal enemy," "any loss of life is a source of great regret.")

MR. SNOW: Let me add one other point, which is, David, as you probably read, in the aftermath of this there had been military activity. So maybe the most significant thing is a considerable amount of actionable intelligence has come out of it. We are seeing evidence that the Iraqi people are also sick of this. You saw it in some of the communications that have been aimed towards Zarqawi.

And you see in the aftermath of an episode like this that the Iraqi people are also stepping forward to try to be of assistance.

(Tip to Cartledge for the SMH link.)

Rainy Day Reading - Day 2

Still raining here in Houston, although thus far today it's been pretty light. Again, as my street often floods, I'm housebound. (The fear is I'll go out and not be able to get back.) So, I'm reading a little more this AM. Here's a few that I found interesting.

Japan plans to pull out of Iraq. (I've never seen such a great example of "declaring victory and going home.")

Two articles on the return of the Taliban. USAToday: Revived Taliban Waging 'Full Blown Insurgency,' and more interestingly to me, this WaPo piece about the spread of Taliban influence into Pakistan. Not only is it affecting the tribal areas along the border, but it's beginning to extend fingers into larger government controlled towns, and the Pakistani military appears to have largely pulled out.

There's a pretty big report by the AP on police and the Feds using databrokers to buy information including cell phone records. "Congressional investigators estimated the U.S. government spent $30 million last year buying personal data from private brokers. But that number likely understates the breadth of transactions, since brokers said they rarely charge law enforcement agencies any price." And there's been personal abuses.

This was actually yesterday, but if alot of the Iraqi translators for the US in the Sunni Anbar province have "joined up" out of their hatred of Saddam, just how fair of a translation/interpretation are the Sunnis getting when talking to US forces, and how much does that affect the US's relationship with the locals?

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Worth Reading

I found this Froomkin blog post titled, The Cheney Supremacy, absolutely fascinating. It's on Suskind's new book and the way that it frames the Bush-Cheney relationship. There's a really good section explaining the book title, The One Percent Doctrine.
"Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat -- what he called a 'low-probability, high-impact event' -- and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined,' writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

"And then Cheney defined it: 'If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis . . . It's about our response.' Suskind writes, 'So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come.' "

That's why we're in Iraq. Because somehow Cheney thought there was a one percent chance of nukes and Al Qaeda. (Eerily similar to some of the failures related to low troop numbers in Iraq being credited to Rumsfeld's "transitional doctrine.")

There's also this little gem about George Bush which truly gives a portrait of the man.

And here's another telling scene: When Tenet and some of his briefers initially headed over to the White House to tell Bush about the new threat, Tenet has to go first, to "prebrief Bush for four or five minutes," which Suskind writes is "common practice" so that "Bush could be authoritative and updated when others arrived."

This is your President.

(Also, if you haven't seen it mentioned, PBS's documentary series Frontline is doing an hour and a half episode this week titled The Dark Side, which focuses on the behind the scenes conflict in the White House between those who wanted to go after Al Qaeda and those who wanted to "do" Iraq. Officially tomorrow night, but check local listings.)

Plame Gossip

Look, I don't know what the truth is in all the hubbub around the Leopold/Truthout story, but I do still hold the position they published what they were told.

It's been my opinion all along that Rove was merely a step in the investigation towards the eventual end goal of the underlying crime. That clearing up Libby's testimony, Rove's testimony, and the "missing" emails was all just a clearing of the evidentiary decks, clearing the umpire's eyes as it were, before Fitzgerald finally heads on to the "underlying crime." To that end, any deal with Karl Rove that cleared him in exchange for information on the underlying crime would make sense.

I'm not saying that this interpretation, or the facts within it, represents the truth, I just don't know, but it does mesh with my general conception of the grand arc of the investigation. This is Mark Ash of Truthout supplying their version. After everything else, take it for what it's worth.
Yes, it does appear that Truthout was used, but not lied to or misled. The facts appear to have been accurate. We reported them, and in so doing, apparently became an instrument. From all indications, our reports, first on May 13 that Rove had been indicted, and then on June 12 when we published case number "06 cr 128," forced Rove and Luskin back to the table with Fitzgerald, not once but twice. They apparently sought to avoid public disclosure and were prepared to do what they had to do to avoid it.

The electronic communication from Fitzgerald to Luskin, coming immediately on the heels of our Monday morning, June 12 article "Sealed vs. Sealed" that became the basis for the mainstream media's de facto exoneration of Karl Rove was, our sources told us, negotiated quickly over the phone later that afternoon. Luskin contacted Fitzgerald, reportedly providing concessions that Fitzgerald considered to be of high value, and Fitzgerald reportedly reciprocated with the political cover Rove wanted in the form of a letter that was faxed to Luskin's office.

Our sources provided us with additional detail, saying that Fitzgerald is apparently examining closely Dick Cheney's role in the Valerie Plame matter, and apparently sought information and evidence from Karl Rove that would provide documentation of Cheney's involvement. Rove apparently was reluctant to cooperate and Fitzgerald, it appears, was pressuring him to do so, our sources told us.

One interesting bit that does support the idea of a Rove "arrangement" has been the White House's reaction to the Rove news. Were they out in front of the White House with a bullhorn trumpeting it? No. Was Rove's defense team claiming credit for a job well done? No. The only sense of that was provided by pundits not associated with the White House and news "reporters" who filtered it into their interpretations of the Luskin statement.

Look, I may be completely wrong here, and have nothing other than supposition to support it, but it is my sense that Rove did take a deal (probably better said, came to an "arrangement" so that they could formally deny a deal,) that will move the investigation forward towards someone higher up the chain or guilty of greater crimes(or both.)

(One other side note. This concept of Truthout being "used" does mesh with my earlier suspicions that Leopold was pulling from a source within the Fitzgerald camp. (I'm not going to dig through my 150 Plame posts to give you citation, you're just going to have to believe me.))

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Damien, No!!!

(Believe it or not, this is not doctored; it is straight off the wire.)

Rainy Day in Houston - Quickhits

It's been a rainy day in Houston as you might have heard, so I'm spending a bit more time at the computer today. (Oddly, all the scenes of flooding are about 7-10 miles from my house, but my street, which floods in normal rain, is completely clear.) So, just a few quickhits from the afternoon's reading.

A very interesting tease making the argument that the rise of state oil companies in the US's challengers, Russia, China, Venezuela, etc., allows a closer coupling of energy and foreign policy, and that these levers may be a main point of restraint used on the US shaping the geopolitics of the next 50 years. I know, not shocking, but well constructed.

A blogger out of Baghdad tells the story of a cousin's kidnapping, negotiations, and release. I think it's the lack of trauma, the seeming commonness that strikes me most. (I don't know the bonafides of the site.)

There's an interesting piece by Randall Balmer questioning the association of his fellow evangelicals to the Republican party, but it's long. QuakerDave will probably find the whole piece worthwhile as it's right in his wheelhouse, but for the rest of us, Talkleft has excerpts.

Check out Tony Snow today. (Apparently, the President "cares about the troops," but not in an actual individual sense.) Q Now that these missing soldiers have been ID'd, has the President made any attempt at all to reach out to their families that we know of? MR. SNOW: I don't know.

Flag burning is close to passage. Cheney is still spouting his crazy lies. We may be on the front edge of the ARM collapse.

Finally, what's with all the Bush hugging/touching lately. Did the focus groups say he needed to seem more human? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

What's gone on at Guantanamo

All from Andrew Sullivan:

Here's a list of interrogation techniques reliably documented at U.S. detention centers in Guantanamo or Afghanistan, compiled by medical ethicist, Stephen Miles, in a forthcoming book, "Oath Betrayed." His sources are 35,000 pages of FOIAed government documents or credible witness testimony:
Beating; punching with fists; use of truncheons; kicking; slamming against walls; stretching or suspension (to tear ligaments or muscles to cause asphyxia); external electric shocks; forcing prisoners to abase and to urinate on themselves; forced masturbation; forced renunciation of religion; false confessions or accusations; applying urine and feces to prisoners; making verbal threats to a prisoner and his family; denigration of a prisoner's religion; force-feeding; induced hypothermia and exposure to extreme heat; dietary manipulation; use of sedatives; extreme sleep deprivation; mock executions; water immersion; "water-boarding"; obstruction of the prisoner's airway; chest compression; thermal burning; rape; dog bites; sexual abuse; forcing a prisoner to watch the abuse or torture of a loved one......

The trouble is: the architects of this policy - Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales - are still in power, and unable or unwilling to reverse course and face a real accounting. And so we stagger on,

(I've never linked to Andrew Sullivan before, but he got this one right 10 out of 10.)

Iraqi Amnesty - next step, or last step?

The LATimes is reporting that the amnesty plan for insurgents in Iraq may well be broader than previously reported. The earlier announced plan allowed amnesty for those who had attacked against US forces(which the Republicans in Congress full throatedly supported,) but the latest version of the plan seems to include just about everyone.
The amnesty plan, which apparently would include insurgents alleged to have staged attacks against Americans and Iraqis, calls for the creation of a national committee and local subcommittees to woo rebels and begin a "truthful national dialogue in dealing with contradicting visions and stances," according to a version of the plan published Saturday in an Iraqi newspaper.....

"Theoretically, we can say we cannot give any amnesty to those in the [former] security agencies and those in Saddam's regime and those who have killed and bombed Iraqis after the invasion," said Salah Abdul Razzaq, a spokesman for several prominent Shiite religious organizations.

"In practice, anyone who comes to negotiations and says, 'I have no problem with Iraqis or Iraqi government, just with U.S. forces,' how can we check that?"

So, my question is this, is this absolute amnesty offer, in the broadest sense, a real step toward coming to a settled political government, or is it the last chip Maliki has to play in an effort to end the violence and hold it all together?

My hunch is the latter, that this is a desperate attempt to siphon off Sunni insurgents.

Quite frankly, this is a pretty big step to utilize this early. Coupled with the prisoner release, what else does Maliki have to offer going forward? And, if this fails and factional violence continues, which it will, and Iraqis pick up their guns again even in self protection, which they will, how much credibility will the next round of conciliatory offers have?

If it works, it's brilliant. But if it doesn't, it closes another avenue for the Maliki government, and the government's that may come soon after.

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After leaving office, Robert McNamara, the architect of the Vietnam War, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Smart money betting on Dems?

I really think this sort of development is more about hedging bets than predicting a winner, but this isn't the first report of placing these hedging bets on a Dem win in 2006. If you believe in the market predictor models for non-market events, this shows a "smart money" move towards the Dems gaining serious ground. (Lots of specific case details in the article.)
WASHINGTON -- Some big companies are boosting their share of campaign contributions to Democrats this year, a sign that executives may be starting to hedge their political bets after a decade of supporting congressional Republicans....

Most companies say they give political donations to candidates who support their businesses, regardless of party affiliation. But corporations also tend to channel funds to politicians they think will hold power. So any shift in corporate campaign giving toward Democrats could signal that businesses believe Democrats will have more sway in Washington after the 2006 midterm elections or the 2008 presidential contest.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

It took you long enough

It took years for a Democrat to come out and say this clearly.
"If I had known this president would be this incompetent, I would not have given him the authority" to go to war, said Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That should be the response every time. Oh, and when the Republicans throw around "cut and run," might I suggest a response that is some variant of "stand and bleed," or "deer in the headlights."

(Abi makes a good point in the comments that this is a clever way for presidential contender Biden to have it both ways. "He's not saying the invasion was wrong. He's just saying this president was the wrong man to lead it.")

450,000 refugees out of Iraq.

I have been watching the internal "displacement" in Iraq as such a Balkanization could lead to a far fiercer, more open, street battle, territorial type of civil war where neighborhoods are "taken" in conflict and then "purged."

The most recent estimates of internal displacement place the number between 60,000 and 100,000 Iraqis, although this doesn't include the current movements out of Ramadi(10,000 so far, per the UN.)

But this article is talking about the people who just up and left Iraq completely.
Ann Maymann, a protection officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Damascus, asks: “Who in the international community wants to say there is a refugee crisis in Syria and Jordan? Because saying that is to admit that the US-led war created the conditions for this.”

International aid agencies are publishing the first comprehensive report into the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. They estimate that 450,000 Iraqi refugees now live there, and warn of increasing prostitution among Iraqi women and girls, some as young as 12 years old, and find evidence of “organised networks dealing with the sex trade”.

Just a horrible story offering alot of details out of the Baghdad morgue.

Why has there been an immigrant surge?

The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show.

Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three.

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Were the two missing soldiers captured?

We don't know at this point what happened to these two missing US soldiers. It's been at least 36 hours since they went missing. This new information is not good.
Ahmed Khalaf Falah, a farmer who said he witnessed the attack Friday, said three Humvees were manning a checkpoint when they came under fire from many directions. Two of the vehicles went after the assailants, but the third was ambushed before it could move, he told The Associated Press.

Seven masked gunmen, including one with what he described as a heavy machine gun, killed the driver of the third vehicle, then took the two other U.S. soldiers captive, the witness said. The account could not be verified.....

The New York Times also reported in its Sunday editions that Iraqi residents in the area said they saw two U.S. soldiers taken prisoner by a group of masked guerrillas. It said the two surviving soldiers were led to two cars and driven away.

(PS. - The White House wants the message out there that these two missing servicemen are no big deal. 2,500 dead American soldiers is just a number, too. Tell me again how you care about the troops.)