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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, September 23, 2006

NIE - Less safe because of Iraq.

I assume everyone's seen this story, NYTimes version, WaPo version, that the Iraq war has made the US less safe by serving as the primary motivational and recruiting factor for the swelling global jihadi movement. If you haven't read it, go read it now. It's important.
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Both the NYTimes and WaPo compare this NIE which has been out since April with administration statements made over the last month. (NYTimes)
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The NIE, whose contents were first reported by the New York Times, joins public statements by senior intelligence officials in describing a different kind of conflict than the one outlined over the past month by President Bush in a series of speeches marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sadly, I think that's the real story in this. Pretty much everyone who hasn't drunk the administration's koolaid (Black Cherry, by the way) has already come to the conclusion that this NIE's underlying premise is true.

So, the real question is, why has the White House been telling a different story for these past months when they had in their hands the top, conclusive, official finding of all the US's intelligence agencies disputing what they were saying?

(We know why, but I think they should have to explain. This isn't some piffling Bin Laden determined to strike US PDB, this is a major document that undermines Bush's entire strategy in the war on terror and his current justification for the war in Iraq.)

Don't miss the press conference Monday.

Also, If this NIE was produced in April, why is the story coming now? Is this another "NYTimes held the story at administration request?" Was there interaction? What's the sequence and timing?

Picture of the Day - 3

Sadr ups the ante

(Via Juan Cole, the original ain't in english.)
In a worrisome sign that Muqtada al-Sadr has gone deep into an apocalyptic sense of the end of the world [Ar.], al-Zaman reports that the young nationalist Shiite cleric maintained that the US Department of Defense has compiled an enormous file on the hidden Twelfth Imam, that is virtually complete save that it lacks his photograph. .....

Al-Sadr said during his Friday prayer sermon in Kufa that "The United States has been preparing for ten years a rapid reaction force against the awaited Imam Mahdi and the US provoked the Gulf War so as to fill the region with military outposts for this purpose."

Think about that for a minute. The most powerful political figure in Iraq with millions of followers and an estimated armed force of around 100,000, on the start of Ramadan, is saying that the US has, in effect, organized a specific military effort to stop or kill their "second coming."

In that statement, Sadr has effectively cut all present and future ties to the US, and put the Maliki government in the spot of having to choose in front of Sadr's people. (Are you with us or are you with the guys who want to kill jesus?)

Wow. That's raising the stakes.

As Sadr has consitantly astute political actor in post-invasion Iraq, make note of anti-US shift. He knows his audience, and this plays.

(And just for a little context, Sadr is being seen as losing control of some of his followers on the right to more violent, more anti-American sub-leaders. That may be the genesis for this extreme message.)


If the Saudis can get close enough to determine whether Bin Laden is just sick or dead why in the goddamned hell have they not told the US where he is?

Later: Same goes for the Pakistanis, who now say Bin Laden's "alive and healthy."

(Wouldn't "Bin Laden dead of natural causes" be a convenient political solution for both Musharraf and Bush?)

And, notice, no one's talking about Iraq.

This Bin Laden story smells to me. I still think it's an effort to flush a preelection tape out of him, maybe track it back.

Quickhits - Saturday reading

The NYTimes has an interesting editorial on the novel, restricted definition of sexual abuse in the "compromise" torture bill.

David Lindorff at the Nation thinks we're going to war with Iran in the next month. (I'm not yet sold on the short timetable.)

Charlie Cook has an interesting column on the outlook for the 2006 midterms. Short version: Despite the big swing in pundit opinion from a meager +2% for Bush, very little has changed in the actual Congressional outlook. (It's a little old, Sept 19.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Four Afghani men smoke opium in the bombed out shadows of Kabul.

Wobbly governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan

For just a minute, let's presume a best case in Afghanistan, the Taleban are pushed back out of the country, and the opium problem is magically improved. Then what?

The day foreign forces pull out, Karzai will be left with only his small ill equipped army to face the Taleban/extremists that would certainly begin to flow once again from the Pakistani tribal regions. Unlike Maliki, who depite all his flaws could align with the Shia militias, the "mayor of Kabul" has no such natural alliance. The minute foreign forces leave, he would be weak and alone, protected only by the "ideology of freedom" against an extremist fighting force that has been together since the early 80's.

Even with best case assumptions, I can't see a positive endgame for Afghhanistan. I don't see how foreign troops ever leave.

Also: I caught some of that Musharraf press conference yesterday, and while he was defending his actions in working with the US and the deal on the tribal regions, all I kept thinking was, "this is not a man who looks firmly in control of his country." How wobbly is the Musharraf regime?

A week ago, Peter Bergen cited a poll on CNN that 65% of Pakistanis approve of Bin Laden and don't want him caught. (Sorry, I don't have the original poll.)

The WaPo has an article on the three meeting yesterday.

Picture of the Day

Shoes of Iraqi victims are seen on the ground at the site where a bomb exploded in Baghdad's poor neighborhood of Sadr city. A bomb exploded near a group of women and children queuing for cooking fuel in a Shiite stronghold of Baghdad, setting off a fireball that claimed 31 lives on, the first day of Ramadan.(AFP/Wissam Al-Okaili)

PTSD skyrocketing among Iraq/Afghan vets

As the media is finally catching on to the story of the "strains" on the military, we're going to be seeing more and more stories like this because of longer tours, shorter turnaround, and a bloodier conflict.
More than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Health Administration report symptoms of stress or other mental disorders — a tenfold increase in the last 18 months, according to an agency study.....

Contributing to the higher levels of stress are the long and often repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, troops also face unpredictable daily attacks and roadside bombings as they battle the stubborn insurgency.

Is "Bin Laden's death" an op?

Are the reports of Bin Laden's death an attempt to lure him into another tape? A last attempt to establish a trail 6 weeks before the election?

(The original source is the Saudis laundered through the French press.)

The diminution of American moral authority

How hollow does this sound now?
The United States refused to send Posada, a radical opponent of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and a former CIA agent, to Cuba or Venezuela citing US fears that he would be tortured.

This is what we've become. In the face of state sanctioned torture, civilized nations will begin to write this about us.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This is priceless

Okay, read the long transcript section at Atrios or ThinkProgress, then watch the short video cut up from Fox News that Drudge is pointing to.

Picture of the Day - 4

Hezbollah supporters wave Hezbollah, Iranian and Lebanese parties' flags under a banner showing Israeli soldiers mourning during the funeral of a colleague who died in the Hezbollah-Israel conflict (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

War on Terror US death toll matches 9/11

Calvin Woodward, AP.
Now the death toll is 9/11 times two. U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now match those of the most devastating terrorist attack in America's history, the trigger for what came next. Add casualties from chasing terrorists elsewhere in the world, and the total has passed the Sept. 11 figure.

The latest milestone for a country at war comes without commemoration. It also may well come without the precision of knowing who is the 2,973rd man or woman of arms to die in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, or just when it happens. The terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Picture of the Day - 3

An Iraqi man injured in a parked car bomb explosion near an electricity office, grimaces in pain at a hospital, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday Sept. 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)


There are only 9,000 Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad? Isn't the whole plan predicated on the US's 15,000 troops pacifying areas and turning them over to the Iraqis? The General involved asked for 3,000 more Iraqi troops in early June and they haven't shown up yet.

NYTimes and Christian Science Monitor both have articles on the "strained" US military.

(AP) The UN has a new report on the Iraqi death toll for July and August (This is the violence taking place during the Together Forward Baghdad security operation.)
The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July and August hit 6,599, a record-high number that is far greater than initial estimates suggested, the United Nations said Wednesday.....

Of the total for July and August, the report said 5,106 of the dead were from Baghdad.

(Reuters) 38 more bodies found around Baghdad yesterday.

(Reuters Factbox) "The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad on Wednesday." One sentence, no headlines, buried. It makes me sick.

Too bad he chose to serve his country rather than be a crocodile hunter.

Picture of the Day - 2 - Waterboarding

We don't actually have pictures of the waterboarding technique that was used by the CIA. Somehow, they insert cellophane so that the water doesn't actually enter, but the decription from those that have undergone it is that through the gag reflex it still simulates drowning.

Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. .....

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

The pictures: a wood etching from 1556 from the Inquisition, US soldiers in Vietnam who were sentenced to 10 years, and two pictures from a Chinese dissident group showing what was done at a Chinese labor camp.

Here's a brief history of waterboarding.

Senior military officials admit War Crimes were committed.

Here you have "Senior military officials" (plural) admitting to Congress that war crimes were ordered and committed by the Bush administration.
Officials' anxieties were provoked by a 10-year-old U.S. law, the War Crimes Act, that makes violations of the Geneva Conventions' prohibitions on degrading and humiliating detainees, as well as actions that amount to "outrages upon personal dignity," subject to felony prosecution. Senior military officials have told Congress those prohibitions were violated.

To me, this is the headline of the day. Forget the "compromise," forget everything else. Senior military officials have told Congress that this administration has committed war crimes.

I'm going to say it again. Senior military officials have told Congress that this administration has committed war crimes.

Congress's response? Retroactively legalize war crimes.

Shout it from the mountain tops, people.

(This ties in to the next post, but I thought this revelation deserved its own headline.)

Retroactive immunity in the torture - detainee compromise

In the "compromise" (details in the next post) there is also this.
They also agreed that past violations of the Geneva Conventions, an international treaty barring degrading and humiliating treatment of detainees, would not result in criminal or civil legal action.

The President of the United States ordered black letter war crimes to be committed, and now it has been made retroactively legal by his party.

This is the stuff of dictators. Imagine if Saddam had passed this law, or Noriega, or the Chinese....

Wow is right. The Detainee/Torture "compromise."

On the torture "compromise," basically it sounds like there will be certain specified "grave breaches" (such as waterboarding?) that will be explicitly prohibited. Beyond that,
the compromise also specifies that "[a]s provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions . . . ."

So, whatever the President says isn't torture, isn't torture, and that "interpretation" is nonreviewable by any court in the land. (whether the law is constitutional is another matter.)

Also, there is no foreign precedent allowed in review, so the whole thing seems to match what the White House wanted. A short list of "grave breaches," but anything beyond that is at the discretion of the President to define just what Geneva means.

This Republican leadership is about to write torture into American law.

(Unfortunately more: This "compromise" will largely approve the "trials" that Bush had set up at Guantanamo.
(AP) "During those trials, coerced testimony would be admissible if a judge allows and if it was obtained before cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment was forbidden by a 2005 law."

Also, take a look at how Hadley defines torture in the agreement.
(AFP) But he said that "torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, performing biological experiments, obviously murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking hostages" would be prohibited.

From Hadley's description, there's nothing in this legislation prohibiting waterboarding, sleep deprivation, cold room, etc. If the president previously interpreted Geneva to allow them....

The White House got it all. They got everything.

More still. According to the NYTimes, the "grave breaches" section is several pages long. If anyone sees that list I would be seriously interested. I'll wager right now that we can find holes that can be "interpreted" under Geneva to do some horrific things.

That was always the problem with this "clarity" argument, that in listing specific prohibitions, it opens the door to exploitation and corruption of Geneva's intent.)

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi mourns the death of his relatives outside the morgue of a hospital in the restive city of Baquba. (AFP/Ali Yussef)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Presidential exceptionalism

This has been bugging me for a day, so......

It's perfectly okay for President Bush to throw around the word evil when referring to Saddam or Ahmadenijad or whoever, with all the deep implications from his religious beliefs, and to discuss them as "enemies of civilization," but when Chavez goes a small step further suddenly it's way over the top?

Also, note to Chavez. Bush is not the Devil.

The Devil is smart, competent, capable, well spoken,.....


Let's do the timeline on the president and Pakistan

First we had the press conference (Sept. 15) where when asked about Bin Laden, Bush said, "Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan."

Bush was roundly mocked for that, not only for the irony that the US would never send troops into a sovereign nation, but also because it highlighted his seeming unwillingness to go after Bin Laden.

Next, five days later, (Sept. 20) on CNN, when asked by Blitzer whether he would send troops into Pakistan to go after Bin Laden, Bush, flopped his flip, responding "absolutely."

Now, we have the "sudden" revelation from Musharraf that Richard Armitage threatened, "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age." Why now Pervez? (Musharraf meets with Bush tomorrow.)

I smell internal polling in this rapid turnabout. The White House must've gotten back some polling showing weakness on Bin Laden so it suddenly shifted the narrative to ultra aggressive.

Heads up Democrats, the Republicans see this as a weak point. It is the achilles heel of their "national security" campaign. Attack. Attack.

Two on Torture

In a hurry, so just links.
(Reuters) United Nations human rights investigators said on Thursday that legislation proposed by U.S. President George W. Bush for tough interrogations of foreign terrorism suspects would breach the Geneva Conventions.

And, another UN official,
(AP) Torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein, with militias, terrorist groups and government forces disregarding rules on the humane treatment of prisoners, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Thursday.

Picture of the Day - 3

U.S. President George W. Bush listens during his meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in New York September 19, 2006. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Karl Rove promises October Surprise

Really? Will there really be a serious October surprise, or is this just to rally the beleagured Republican troops?

Shenanigans (with your money)

Bush's Interior Department "suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government." (Oil companies, of course.)

The Housing Secretary was awarding government contracts according to their political beliefs.

A judge has overturned the Bush administration's 2005 rule change that gave lumber companies access to 58.5 million acres of federal land.

So, illegal giveaways to big oil, construction, and big timber revealed just in the last 24 hours.

(Oh, also, beyond the reports of Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist's extensive meetings at the White House, add felons Neil Volz and Tony Rudy. Two other felons and Abramoff associates "David Safavian and Patrick Pizzella, show up in the appointment logs countless times.")

Picture of the Day - 2

Cpl. Daniel M. Greenwald, an assaultman from Rockland County, N.Y., attached to Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, holds up his Kevlar helmet. The Kevlar stopped an insurgent sniper bullet from severely wounding or killing Greenwald. He only suffered a minor gash on his forehead. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Erik Villagran

(Copy Editor chimes in with the official story.)


Certainly the headline item is the UN report that Iraqis are now dying at more than a hundred a day. (Two notes, first, this is compiled only from the morgues, so if a body didn't make it to the morgue, it's not counted. Second, "In July, for example, the Health Ministry reported no people killed in Anbar.")

ABCNews is reporting a "confidential Pentagon assessment" that finds that 75% of Iraq's Sunnis now support the insurgency. In 2003, it was 14%. (Loose math puts that at about 1 million fighting age males, although "support" and "engaging in" are different things.)

Two US soldier deaths were reported.

Two different versions of this story (LATimes, AP) discussing the trouble the military is having finding troops to deploy to Iraq. (Perhaps this is why the "commanders on the ground" aren't asking for more troops.)

(AFP) Bush issues the dreaded vote of confidence in Maliki.

(Dahr Jamail) The extensive home searches of Operation Forward Together (53,ooo buildings, 54 mosques, only 1,200 weapons) are generating resentment.

(Reuters) Despite every bit of reporting, "The United States military said on Wednesday it had found no evidence that the Iraqi government and its police were behind Shi'ite sectarian death squads murdering Sunnis in Baghdad." (This is another of those "big lies" intended to tamp down sectarian tensions. The Iraqis won't believe this one either.)

Last, a gripping "day in the life" account from an LATimes reporter in Baghdad.

Some history on waterboarding

Brian Ross, ABC news, a partial history on waterboarding.
The water board technique dates back to the 1500s during the Italian Inquisition. A prisoner, who is bound and gagged, has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown.

Current and former CIA officers tell ABC News that they were trained to handcuff the prisoner and cover his face with cellophane to enhance the distress.....

Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment.....

Earlier in 1901, the United States had taken a similar stand against water boarding during the Spanish-American War when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding an insurgent in the Philippines.

CIA refused to "just follow(ing) orders."

This is pretty much what Bush said, that the program cannot continue without the legislation, but I find myself flashing on the failed Nuremburg "just following orders" defense.
The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

Karl Rove's complex history

First we had the story (told by Rove) about being beaten up at age 9 by a "little Catholic girl" for a Nixon sticker on his bike, and now this. (It's one long paragraph, but worth a read.)

What sort of complex Freudian soup makes up Karl Rove? Beaten up by a little girl in pre-adolescence over politics, an emotionally absent mother, an adoptive father, a real father "who refused to acknowledge that Karl was his son," who is now alleged to be gay.

It's salacious, yes, but I'm mentioning this because this guy is THE top advisor to the president. To a large degree, he defines the policy and direction of this administration. Would a candidate Rove with this history have been elected by the people to make those decisions?

Picture of the Day

(Click picture for a larger version.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I'm fried. So, a flashback - November 15, 2002.
There will be no World War III starting with Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared Thursday, and rejected concerns that a war would be a quagmire.

"The idea that it's going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990," he said on an Infinity Radio call-in program.

He said the U.S. military is stronger than it was during the Persian Gulf War, while Iraq's armed forces are weaker.

"Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that," he said. "It won't be a World War III."

Picture of the Day - 4

(It's from 5/25/04, but I thought it was a great photo. NYTimes.)
(click on it, it gets bigger.)

There's a worse?

This is surprising only in its announcement.
Top U.S. generals warned Wednesday that violence will increase in Baghdad during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and said al-Qaida in Iraq already has intensified its assaults against American troops.

How bad do they expect it to be if they're forewarning?

Red Cross to visit Guantanamo next week

The Red Cross is scheduled to visit Guantanamo next week and will probably be meeting with some of the 14 detainees recently tranferred there from CIA secret prisons. The Red Cross will not publicly report anything they are told, but they will carry communication to the relatives (assuming the US allows this Geneva Convention mandate.)

So, any stories we hear about their treatment will be coming from very shaky sources.

Allen tops himself.

After facing a question about his grandfather who was in a concentration camp,
Speaking with The Times-Dispatch, Allen said the disclosure is "just an interesting nuance to my background." He added, "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops."

It really gives you an idea of the constituency Allen is courting.

Picture of the Day - 3

The most unwanted book plug, ever.

Chavez was a circus at the UN today, recommending Chomsky's book Hegemony or Survival to everyone.

Chavez talked about how Bush is the devil, but most of the media reports leave out the tone, that he then comically crossed himself playing to the laughter of the crowd. (and applause.)

(Check the video. (55 sec.))

(I liked this photo as the woman behind him captured the bemused mood.)


20,000 US troops have now been wounded in Iraq. Yes, Tony Snow, "it's a number," but it's a really freakin' big number.

McClatchy has a good article on the "hurdles" of Together Forward. The operation has yielded very little in the searches, (1,200 weapons since August 7) and it appears this is because Iraqi forces are tipping the militias to the plans. That's a big freakin' "hurdle."

AP restates that attacks on Americans are up.

Followup on the reports of Israelis training the Kurdish peshmerga.

And debate on the federalism legislation is still delayed, although the Turks have chimed in with a fairly clear statement that if it passes, they will enter the war.

Bush speech panned by the Arab press.

It's a good thing Bush's speech yesterday was aimed at the American electorate instead of the Arab world. (AFP - It's got good quotes.)
Arab commentators have dismissed US President George W. Bush's appeal for democracy directly to the people of the region as a patronising and doomed effort to give a new face to Washington's reviled policies.

Is Kofi Annan a Macaca?

Looking again at the photos yesterday of Bush and Annan, I keep thinking, "President Allen." Just months ago, many people on the right were excitedly saying President George Allen.

Picture of the Day - 2

An Iraqi man mourns sitting next to the body of his realtive, killed in a drive by shooting, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday Sept.18, 2006. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

(I used to have to search hard for pictures showing the tragedy of Iraq. Now the wire services have them daily. Change in policy or degradation of Iraq?)

For Maliki, is this a nudge or a push?

So, is the front page NYTimes article on the failings of Iraqi PM Maliki an inside story trying to nudge him towards action, or an outside story that really reflects a broad dissatisfaction and doubt about Maliki's government? I would wager the former although the latter is definitely true.
Senior Iraqi and American officials are beginning to question whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has the political muscle and decisiveness to hold Iraq together as it hovers on the edge of a full civil war.....

“And that drives Bush crazy. He doesn’t take well to anyone who talks about getting something accomplished and then refuses to take the first step.”

American officials here say they do not intend to let Mr. Maliki fail and are helping him in a variety of ways.

It's an indirect criticism from the White House coupled with a statement of support. On the second page, you get more supporting quotes and facts from outside this storyline.

I'm going to say again that I think Maliki's government is more wobbly than presented. It's main present challenge is how to deal with the federalism legislation introduced by al Hakim and the SCIRI which is opposed by Sadr and the Sunni block. It represents two dangerous fracture lines, Sunni/Shia and SCIRI/Sadr.

(Just as context, this "nudge" comes the day after Lee Hamilton of the James Baker led Iraq Study Group said, "the Baghdad government must prove it deserves continued support." "The Iraqi government must act." "The people of Iraq are looking to him urgently for leadership." "the people of Iraq have the right to expect immediate action" on those issues.")

Elsewhere: 4 US soldiers deaths announced, 45 killed (although I would bet this is low since it doesn't include the death squad bodies.)

(And for a more positive finish, this story made me smile.)

Still no mention of Arar

The NYTimes and WaPo both have big stories on the detainee/torture legislation, and yet neither one mentions Maher Arar, the innocent Canadian who was rendered mistakenly to Syria and tortured.

To me, this is a key question in the debate, the assumption that the US would be torturing on assumed guilt, and none of the articles are even mentioning it.

Picture of the Day

U.S. soldiers take cover as a group of Iraqi children throw rocks at their position, on the edge of Sadr City, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Antonio Castaneda)

(This is becoming a big deal.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Clarity" means never having to say you're sorry

According to this NYTimes article, the White House has dropped the requirement of "clarity" in redefining the Geneva Conventions.

I called it two weeks ago. The only remaining White House requirement is the rewriting of the War Crimes act to allow retroactive immunity for the Geneva violating conduct already performed. The administration is rewriting law so that past war crimes committed will now become legal.

Somewhere, up there, Joseph Stalin is smiling down.

(And again, we talk about torture, but no mention of Arar.)


I don't know which is more appalling, that the attorney general is getting internet providers to "retain" customer information(IP address, websites visited,) or that he's accomplishing this persuasion by threatening new overly onerous legislation (clear abuse of power,) or that he's masking this executive power grab under the guise of child porn, when in actuality, he has said repeatedly that such data will be available for a broad array of offenses.

"The data could be obtained by the government through a subpoena or other lawful process."

(AP) The National Republican Congressional Committee has $36 million on hand.

And, if you didn't already see it. (NY Daily News) "There is so much political corruption on Capitol Hill that the FBI has had to triple the number of squads investigating lobbyists, lawmakers and influence peddlers, the Daily News has learned."

Euphemism alert

Come to find out what I've been calling the wire tapping and torture/detainee legislation is really "President Bush's stalled anti-terrorism agenda." Thanks, AP, for distilling all the constitutional issues down to such an unbiased phrase.

Picture of the Day - 4

I think I wanted to go to this luncheon.

Picture of the Day - 3

Israel dropped most cluster bombs in the last four days

If this charge is true, it is despicable beyond words.
"The outrageous fact is that nearly all of these munitions were fired in the last three to four days of the war," David Shearer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, told a news conference in Beirut. "Outrageous because by that stage the conflict had been largely resolved in the form of (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1701," he said.

If true, I see two interpretations, either 1) The Israeli military "took the gloves off," or 2) it was an intentional effort to render southern Lebanon less habitable.

(350,000 bomblets were dropped across the country, and "30 to 40 percent of the bomblets they scattered over the south failed to explode at the time.")

Iraq - So that's what victory looks like

(AP) "The U.S. military will likely maintain or possibly even increase the current force levels of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring, the top US. commander in the Middle East (Gen. John Abizaid) said Tuesday in one of the gloomiest assessments yet of how quickly American forces can be brought home." (There are currently 147,000 troops in Iraq that we were told were just last Thursday were part of a rotation, not permanent.)

(AP) "The Iraqi army's 4th division took over operational control of central Salahuddin province on Monday from the U.S.-led coalition, the government said." (Salahuddin province is a Sunni insurgent stronghold containing the cities Samarra and Tikrit. It's not quiet. So is this a search for troops in a Sunni hotspot? Unlike the previous handover, the US is maintaining it's base and continuing operations.)

(Reuters) "Iraq's entire police force will undergo a month-long re-training course, an Interior Ministry official said on Monday, under a plan American officials hope will weed out sectarian death squads infiltrated in its ranks. "

(AP) "The Iraqi government said Tuesday it will shut down all offices belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, around the country." (The PKK is responsible for the terror attacks in Turkey and Iran. No word on whether their political arm, the PUK, will be shut down as well. I don't think this will go down well if Maliki is serious.)

(AP) "U.S. soldiers trying to win back Baghdad's streets say they have been surprised by the power and popularity of Shiite militias, whose presence they view as a major obstacle to curbing violence in the city."

(Times Online) SCIRI has started a system of "neighborhood watch" groups. The Sunnis accuse them of acting as intelligence for the death squads, Sadr sees it as an effort to encroach on his territory.

(Bloomberg) "Iraq is in danger of sliding into civil war and its government and the international community must do more to pull it back from the brink, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said."

Later: (AP) Maliki replaced the chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Maliki is struggling to stay on top of the Shia majority.

The House, too, on the detainee/torture bill?

From a longer AP piece on the "wrangling."
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, rescheduled a Wednesday vote, claiming the Judiciary Committee needed time to review the bill. A congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity said House leaders were now uncertain they had enough votes for the Bush plan to prevail.

Apparently, CNN is reporting that Graham, Warner, and McCain have rejected the White House's "compromise" offer.

(And, notice no mention of Arar.)

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President Bush holds a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Friday Sept. 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Arar case

The Arar case is finally recieving front page coverage. (NYTimes) (WaPo) (AP)

In brief, Canadian computer consultant Maher Arar was grabbed by the US as a terror suspect as he changed planes in New York. He was "rendered" to Syria where he underwent torture. He was completely innocent. It's truly horrible.

Although this retelling of Mr. Arar's story should immediately put an end to all argument that the Bush detainee policies should be made law as it's the ultimate proof of their failure, I don't think that's going to happen. This issue has moved from reality to politics, and Mr. Arar's experience will only be injected into the debate as it is useful to the politicians involved.

That's where we are. A man is detained and tortured in error by the US government and his experience is reduced to an uncomfortable question to be dodged in an interview. Happy Constitution Week.

But if you want a real example of what the Bush detainee policies will mean going forward, take a look at this clip from the AP coverage.
The commission concluded there was no evidence Canadian officials participated in or agreed to the decision to send Arar to Syria. But O'Connor recommended that in the future, information should never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture.

The policies currently being pushed for by the White House will actually discourage cooperation and the sharing of information. If you talk about stopping terror attacks in the US, Canada is the key. Terrorists are quite likely to enter the US across the northern border. Wouldn't it be nice if the Canadians felt they could mention it.

(Right now, CNN is framing the story as a Canadian intelligence error, not a statement of US detainee policies.)

The system is broken

There's a new "good" Bush approval number out in a Gallup /USA Today poll, 44%. I think it's an outlier, but I wanted to talk about the larger process.

Nothing in reality has changed over the last month except presentation. In August, when the president and congress were on vacation, the news actually dominated the news, and with Iraq actually receiving coverage, Bush poll numbers fell. Since Bush came back and started campaigning, the media discussion has moved away from this unpleasant reality.

This has been the secret of the Republican electoral success of late, their understanding of how the "news" works. Controversy, argument, outlandish statements or allegations supplant reality. Washington politics is covered as a combination sports event and celebrity gossip show, and because it's politics, the "news" can, without guilt, lead with the salacious.

George Bush attacks his critics? We'll have Kate O' Beirne, Jon Fund, Pat Buchanon, and Bob Shrum to discuss. The fact that 6 US soldiers died in Iraq that day doesn't even make the broadcast.

That's the secret of Republican success. They recognized that the "news networks" don't really want to be "reality based." Their true interest is in ratings, not news, and controversy, even if its ginned up, draws viewers. Real news is about as broadly popular as McNeil/Lehrer.

This is the true result of the rise of Fox News. It's not so much the crooked point of view as the rise of the host/opinion show which put ratings pressure on the other 24 hour networks.

(Also, with some evidence that the US forced the British to break up the British airliner plot before the Brits were ready, was that the first Republican event in the campaign?)

Picture of the Day

A Hungarian right-wing demonstrator stands against water cannon sprayed by riot police as protesters storm the headquarters of the Hungarian State Television. The protest started on Sunday evening calling for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany to resign. Gyurcsany has admitted saying that his party lied to the public to win April's general election. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Iran is moving

Following up on the very public leak the other day that the US is possibly deploying ships to Iran (more formally debunked by Fred Kaplan at Slate,) we now get a report that the Iranian nuclear negotiator is not coming to New York this week for the UN meeting. (check the source, it's being pushed by Bolton.)

And to add to the hype, we have the ever incorrect Drudge throwing up one of his disappearing, unlinked "flash" items, "FLASH: Iran's UN ambassador says that President Ahmadinejad will hold 'major newsconference' in NYC Thursday AM at UN headquarters..."

Followed by a link to an article citing Israeli foreign minister Livni saying there's only "a few months" to avoid a nuclear Iran.

The hype is on pointing to the Bush speech tomorrow, but the problem is, Ahmadenijad is holding all the cards. There's no credible US stick.

I'll be far more curious to hear Ahmadenijad's speech this week than Bush's predictable reprise.

White House backs down on torture/detainee bill

It sounds like the White House is going to make a first counter offer to the Senate on the torture/detainee bill.

AP: White House to revise terror proposal

Reuters: White House offers revised CIA interrogation plan

I think that in the end, everything will be negotiable from the White House side except retroactive immunity against the War Crimes Act of 1996. (longer post.)

Let's keep in mind the "ticking clock" against the Bush administration that Johnathan Turley spoke about on Olberman last Friday. (video of segment.)

Within the next week or so, Khalid Sheik Muhammed and the rest who were recently transferred to Guantanamo will get their first Red Cross visit in years, and once they officially report torture, that war crimes ball starts rolling.

So, no matter what arrangements are made in legislation going forward, the White House dealbreaker will always be the immunity issue. From their point of view, I think they will trade anything to avoid that legal jeopardy.

This White House has spoken of its legacy earlier and more often than any in recent memory, and I'm quite sure that they don't want to go down as the administration tried for war crimes.

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Iraqi morgue workers adjust the shrouds over the bodies of the dead, after a suicide bombing outside an Iraqi army recruiting center in Baghdad, Iraq in this July 10, 2005 file photo. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

"The names of local journalists are not being used to protect their identity."

A snapshot from the NBC journalists' Baghdad blog. (It's short.)
Here (at the Baghdad morgue,) a Facilities Protection Service officer examined the paperwork granting us permission to film at the complex. The Facilities Protection Service (FPS) is a guard force that works for each ministry; since the Ministry of Health is run by a supporter of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Ministry of Health Facilities Protection Service is known to be thoroughly infiltrated by militiamen from Sadr's Mahdi Army.......

As I was walking back outside, gunfire erupted all around us. It turns out the Ministry of Health FPS had gotten into a firefight with nearby FPS officers from the Ministry of Electricity, which is not run by a al-Sadr supporter. Unfortunately, my crew was caught in the middle.....

After a few minutes, Ministry of Health officials grabbed us and others in the crowd and took us inside. Once we were in the building, a senior Health Ministry official told us to stay inside because he was worried a larger force from the Electricity Ministry might show up and attack our position.

According to this foundational Newsweek article on the FPS's, they numbered around 146,000 in April. These are private forces doled out and under control of the various government ministers.

And, I had forgotten that the administration had designated 2006 as "the year of the police."

(If you're browsing the NBC blog, this one is heavy.)

Ney still in the House.

OK, so on Friday Republican Congressman Bob Ney agrees to plead guilty to two felonies, agrees to 27 months in federal prison.

Has he resigned? Has anyone on the Republican side asked him to resign?

It's not like there's even a question. Dude plead guilty, and as of right now, he's still a Republican Congressman.

Update: Ney actually sent a letter saying he would resign his committee seats, but not his office.

The scale of the problem in Afghanistan

On CNN, they just had an interview with Jose Maria Costa from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. He said that Afghan opium production is "50% of National Product" (GNP?).

If that's the case, think about what an end to that production would mean to that already devastated country.

The only way to stop the Taliban resurgence is to take away a huge portion of GNP. What a freakin' mess.

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Iraqi army soldiers and locals carry a body of person, killed in a suicide car bomb attack, in Kirkuk, Iraq, Sunday Sept. 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)

Explain this to me without slandering the Republicans

It's Washington Times, so, Moonie alert, but still,
Thomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), has told Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, that he will leave in several months. Administration officials said the generous lead time is partly political. The Pentagon does not want to be without its top special operations adviser during the November elections at a time when covert warriors are playing a leading role in hunting and capturing al Qaeda terrorists.

I repeat, "Administration officials said the generous lead time is partly political. The Pentagon does not want to be without its top special operations adviser during the November elections...."

Screw the war, screw the guys in the field risking their lives, there's an election.

What the hell is the Pentagon doing worrying about US congressional elections in the middle of a war?

If that doesn't sum up this administration.....

Rasmussen is polling Dem

The 9/11 push by the President gave only the briefest of bumps.

More surprisingly, Rasmussen's most recent polling puts Senate control as a tossup.

A different, beautiful vision

10 Nobel peace prize winners criticized the US foreign policy. This, in its beauty, jumped out.
"After the painful events of September 11, I wish that America would have built a school in Afghanistan in the name of every victim," said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian judge and 2003 Peace Prize recipient.

You know what, so do I.

Fighting them there/fighting them here misses the whole war

From a Christian Science Monitor article discussing the merits of the "we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here" argument.
Nor are Islamist terrorists just burning to break through the US lines in Iraq and race to America, say some. They are fighting a battle of ideas, not a battle for territory. Operations in Iraq allow Al Qaeda to appear to many sympathizers in the region as if it is struggling on behalf of an oppressed Muslim people.

"Getting us to fight in a Muslim country is something they want to do," says Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.

The US conception is that it is fighting wars in a physical space, but by "fighting them there," the US is fighting the battle of Al Qaeda's choosing. (Perhaps that misconception is not so surprising as the entire modern US defense planning and policy structure evolved to fight territorial battles with the Soviets.)

Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is fighting a war for a definition of Muslim identity, a liberation theology of their own, and every territorial war by the US simply adds to that definition. It's not about the violence except as it's useful towards the ends.

In this interpretation, they're not attacking us here because they don't need to. They're already winning.

Picture of the Day

Did you ever go to a convention as a representative of your company, and tie one on that last night and just drag through that last half day hoping the stories don't somehow get back?

Jordanian delegates during the closing of the XIV Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Havana. (AFP/Luis Acosta)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Threatening war for diplomatic purposes

CNN has a story on this Time magazine article (suscription req'd)
The first message was routine enough: a "Prepare to Deploy Order" sent through Naval communications channels to a submarine, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers and two minehunters.

The orders didn't actually command the ships out of port; they just said be ready to move by October 1.

A deployment of minesweepers to the east coast of Iran would seem to suggest that a much discussed, but until now largely theoretical, prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran.

This article then goes on to discuss the "difficulties" that would be involved in an attack on Iran, but comes to the conclusion that perhaps it might be worth it.

Bullcrap! First, there's no way details of this order leak. Maybe a sailor or two lets slip that their ship might be going towards Hormuz, but the total order including all six ships? Second, it comes just two days before Bush's Tuesday address at the UN.

This story is a plant that IRNA would be proud of. Shame on Time magazine for uncritically printing such an obviously deliberate leak.

(Look, I do believe that an attack on Iran is a possibility, but the US government is not going to telegraph the deployment in detail.)

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Campaigners wearing masks reading "No Voice" stand inside a designated protest area of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meeting in Singapore. (AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Flashback - Harsh Interrogation tactics

With unsurprising talk of a "compromise" on the detainee/torture bill floating about, I thought it might be a good time for a flashback on how the CIA described "harsh interrogation" measures in November of last year. What jumps out at me this time,
According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

I'm not a legal expert on the "vagaries" of the Geneva Conventions, but I'm pretty damn sure that when the phrase "begging to confess" is used, it's torture.

Bush is such a prick

Long story how I got there, but I ran across this old list of nicknames Bush uses for people. Not really much there, but there was one in particular that jumped out at me in relation to the current dispute.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): "Hogan"

I don't know if Bush still uses it, but think about just what a prick that is. John McCain was detained in the Hanoi Hilton for 6 years.

"He was finally released from captivity in 1973, having survived the injuries he received when he was shot down, the beatings from an angry crowd and his captors, a year of torture, and two years of solitary confinement. "

And Bush calls him "Hogan."

Really puts into perspective the current torture debate, eh?

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(I don't know when this was taken. It was in a soldier's photo album.)


I seem to be blogging a ton of Iraq lately. It's not a conscious effort, but it seems to be "moving" again. Everytime I've been through one of these flurries, things have gotten markedly worse afterwards.

(Reuters) At least 23 people were killed and 73 were wounded after coordinated blasts by a truck bomb and four car bombs which rocked oil-rich Kirkuk.

(LATimes) 48 bodies found around Baghdad. A different AP story headlines "Violence surges in Baghdad after lull." When exactly was the lull?

(Reuters) Since a call by al Qaeda's leader in Iraq 10 days ago for Sunni Arabs to "kill at least one American," there has also been a rise in attacks on U.S. forces. The worst in recent days was a suicide dump truck bombing on Thursday that killed three soldiers and wounded 30 near Baghdad.

The NYTimes has a story on the stalled effort clear the security forces of militants.

An AP story on the still nonexistent logistics in the Iraqi military. The US still handles food/fuel distribution because often under the Iraqis it will disappear.

(LATimes) Four months after Iraq's new government took office, U.S. officials are growing impatient with leaders in Baghdad and pushing them to move more quickly on the difficult agenda confronting them. (A brief mention of the possibility of the fall of Maliki's government.)

The turkey timer in Iraq

Like that weird little device on a turkey that pops out when it's done, this story stands out to me. (Stars and Stripes)
BAGHDAD — U.S. operations around Sadr City met with increased resistance this weekend, as soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team continued clearing operations in the poor, restive neighborhoods around the Shiite mega-slum.

But rather than resist with bullets and bombs, residents took a decidedly grass-roots approach, hurling rocks and shouting obscenities.

The movement’s unlikely foot soldiers, a rowdy band of little boys and adolescents, slung insults and rocks with impunity as adult Iraqi soldiers and policemen stood by and watched.

Early Friday afternoon, one group of Strykers was “ambushed” by a group of about 30 rock-throwing boys and teens, who set up an impromptu roadblock to stop the vehicles. No one was seriously hurt in the incident, which occurred at the edge of Sadr City, but soldiers were visibly taken aback by the degree of sophistication. .....

The day’s events put a definite strain on relations between American and Iraqi security forces, whose joint participation in the clearing operation is called Operation Together Forward.

“You’ve got rocks being thrown at us and your men aren’t doing a thing about it,” Maj. Michael Fazio, operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, yelled at a shocked Iraqi army captain on Friday morning.......

“You’ve got to stop these kids throwing rocks over here,” he said. “Someone’s going to die.”

“It’s not my responsibility,” retorted a police officer.....

Around Sadr City, which houses up to 3 million Shiites, military officials say anti-American propaganda has popped up on walls in recent days, telling soldiers from the Fort Wainwright, Alaska-based brigade to “go back to Alaska on a mule.”

(Sorry for the long excerpt.)

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Injured Iraqi girl Tabarq Yasin, 9, recovers in a hospital, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday Sept. 16, 2006. Yasin was injured on Thursday when she was caught in the crossfire of U.S. soldiers and insurgents in western Baghdad. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)