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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Tragedy Preceded By Farce

Sizzling, right on the money commentary by William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune. Simple, straightforward and devastating. I can't excerpt any of it because every word is necessary. Read the whole thing and then send it to your friends.

Meanwhile, Back On Pluto

Kevin has more Reagan Lunacy from Comrade Norquist:

One of the considerations in favor of a Reagan $100 bill, Norquist said, is that the $100 bill is favored in many foreign countries as the currency of choice and "Reagan was a world leader."

"But the $100 bill is also the currency of choice of people who sell cocaine, and that is not so good."

Bet On It

It's official. Clinton will definitely help Kerry win the election, probably in a huge way. How do I know this?

[Dick]Morris believes that "by sucking up the oxygen in the room during July, Clinton cripples Kerry and forces him to compete for attention with a charismatic former president". He predicts that the Massachusetts senator "will look a decided second-best to Bill Clinton".

Morris is the Bizarro Oracle of Delphi. If he predicts something, the exact opposite will come true. He has a very impressive record. For example:

"Eventually, France will cave to the U.S. position." - On the Iraq/war alliance, New York Post, February 4, 2003

"Republican members of the Senate want their own person controlling the floor so they can have an independent voice ... When they reconvene in January, Trent Lott will still be there for one good reason: The Republican senators don't want him to go." - New York Post, December 16, 2002

"(U)nless (GWB) starts this war on schedule in September ... he's going to lose Congress." - Fox News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, August 5, 2002

How should we interpret these insights, do you think?

"Bill Clinton is using his long-awaited autobiography to help Hillary win the vice presidential spot on Sen. John Kerry's ticket."

"If Bill, who has trouble finishing anything and procrastinates constantly, actually finishes the book, there is a reason. Likely she was nagging him to do it so he could raise the pressure for her."

According to Morris, Clinton blackmailed Kerry by threatening to release the book during the campaign. Since he IS releasing the book during the campaign, we must assume that Kerry did not succumb to the blackmail. Which means that Hillary will not be on the ticket.

But, since this came from Morris, it must mean that Clinton DIDN'T blackmail Kerry so there was no blackmail for Kerry to deal with in the first place. Therefore, oddly, Hillary will also not be on the ticket but for the opposite reason that Morris asserts.

It takes a while to get the hang of reading those Morris tea leaves, but once you do it's money in the bank.

Via pandagon and Campaign Desk

Monday, June 14, 2004

Double Whammy

As much as I loved his howl of outrage (posted below) Alterman also gets something wrong:

"Bill Clinton is about to do the same thing to John Kerry with his book that Ronald Reagan did to George W. Bush by dying: remind everybody of everything the old guy was and the current guy is not.

Nope. Clinton is about to do the same thing to George W. Bush that Reagan did to him by dying: he also is going to remind everybody of everything he was and the current guy is not. The contrast is between presidents, not candidates.

This helps Kerry, the man who Clinton will be promoting right along with his book.

Compare and contrast.

Today Eric Alterman howls at the outrageous conduct of the Bush administration. The complaints are about huge matters of war and civil liberties and presidential actions that have extraordinary consequences for the entire world:

It’s hard to say which is the best representation of what this war is doing to and has done to this country. Is it the lies that were told to get us into it? Is the fact that we are picking up innocent people off the street and torturing them? Is it that we have suspended the most basic civil liberties in our own country? Is it that the work of professional intelligence agencies has been corrupted? Is it that we have drawn resources away from the fight against Al Qaida which has completely regrouped? Is it that we are creating more terrorists? Is it that more than seven hundred Americans have been killed and thousands have been seriously injured? Is it that thousands of Iraqis have been killed but nobody is keeping an account of the numbers of their deaths? Is it that we are now more hated around the world than we have ever been? Is it that we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars while actually decreasing our security? Is it that we are doing all this while starving the most crucial homeland security programs? Is it that everyone who told the truth about what was being planned has been dismissed and seen their characters attacked? The usually soft-spoken and moderate intelligence analyst and author Thomas Powers does not exaggerate when he notes that Bush and the neocons have "caused the greatest foreign policy catastrophe in modern U.S. history."

Now take a look at a similar howl of outrage from William Kristol The Weakly Standard, August 31, 1998


...For seven months, the president asked his staffers and supporters to lie. He assured them -- some of them personally -- that he had told the truth when he denied a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Ann Lewis and Paul Begala; Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala; Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt: All of them were lied to by the president. And all of them, in turn, were sent out to lie to the rest of us on his behalf.


As Charles Krauthammer said, "This is the point at which cynicism turns into moral depravity." And the night of August 17 was the moment at which loyal service to Bill Clinton (already morally problematic) crossed the line into self-abasement.

Does no one in the administration realize this? The president engages in sordid activity in the White House -- in the Oval Office -- with a 21-year-old intern. He lies about it. He attempts to cover it up. Now he admits (albeit grudgingly and partially) to the truth. Yet none of his staff, no member of his administration, and almost no Democratic official seems to want to hold the president truly accountable for his actions -- by demanding that he resign. And, in the absence of Clinton's willingness to go, not a single person who works for him seems to have the honor to leave himself.

Is this an unrealistically high expectation? I don't think so. I worked in two administrations, first for Bill Bennett, then for Dan Quayle. It goes without saying that neither of them would have done what Bill Clinton has done. It also goes without saying that, if either of them had done something even remotely so disgraceful, he would have resigned. But I honestly believe that, if either man had resisted resignation, my colleagues and I would have told him he had to go. Failing that, we ourselves would have resigned.

Bill Clinton is not a man of honor. But are there no honorable men around him? Can his staff and cabinet be lied to without consequence? Is there nothing that will impel them to depart? They need not become vociferous critics of the president. They need not denounce him. A quiet, principled leave-taking would suffice. But it would be refreshing if one of them refused to be complicit any longer in the ongoing lie that is the Clinton White House. Apparently, not one of them is willing to do that.


Personal loyalty is an admirable trait, and so is political loyalty. Up to a point. Government officials work for the nation, not simply for the president. They swear an oath to the Constitution, not to the president. To remain loyal to a president who lies is to make oneself complicit in his lies. To remain loyal to a man who has brought shame to his office is to make oneself complicit in that shame. At some point, blind loyalty must yield to principled honor. When?

Stirring, wasn't it? From the son of the Neocon Godfather himself.

How did the nation survive the great Fellatio Threat of 1998 --- a year which, not incidentally, Clinton bombed the shit out of Iraq (likely taking out any possible remaining WMD) and came this close to killing bin Laden. Not good enough for old Bill, PNAC wetdreams notwithstanding. Clinton's manly member was causing a constitutional crisis.

Today we have lying on a massive scale about matters of war and national security and Bill isn't worried. He isn't exercized about the president asserting a right to set aside laws and order torture. Back in 1998, Clinton's lie about his sex life required that the entire white house staff resign if the president didn't. But, when it comes to lying about terrorism, nuclear weapons or Bush-approved pictures of Iraqi men being sexually tortured, Republicans are "outraged at the outrage."

What absurd people these neocons, especially, are. It was clear then that those who were in high dudgeon about this naughty nothingness as if it meant something important were much too trivial to be entrusted with real power. For all of their dreams of world domination, (it seems almost cartoonish now) they are incredibly childlike and naive. They may have more respect for book learning, but these people have much more in common with Bush's embarrassingly immature worldview than they'd ever admit to their cosmopolitan friends in Georgetown.

More broken Kristol at Liberal Oasis.

Useful Idiot

Come on Hitchy-poo. You're almost there.

You know your grubby little neocon friends are a bunch of scumbag totalitarians in democratic drag, don't you? And you know you blindly aligned yourself with a movement that pretended to be all about "liberation" when, in fact, it was all about domination. Bad move. Very bad move.

In the sober light of day, hung over and awash in moral clarity, you know it. Go ahead. Confess. We won't even put you in a painful stress position. You're already in one, aren't you?


"Torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

In case anyone's wondering about the specific torture methods that are considered legal in the various gulags we now have around the world, there has been some work done on this by Human Rights Watch, even before Abu Ghraib. They found that at the "detention centers" in Afghanistan, torture as it was defined under the Geneva Convention was used routinely, often against innocent civilians.

According to the two men, bright lights were set up outside their cells, shining in, and U.S. military personnel took shifts, keeping the detainees awake by banging on the metal walls of their cells with batons. The detainees said they were terrified and disoriented by sleep deprivation, which they said lasted for several weeks. During interrogations, they said, they were made to stand upright for lengthy periods of time with a bright spotlight shining directly into their eyes. They were told that they would not be questioned until they remained motionless for one hour, and that they were not entitled even to turn their heads. If they did move, the interrogators said the "clock was reset." U.S. personnel, through interpreters, yelled at the detainees from behind the light, asking questions.

Two more detainees held at Bagram in late 2002 told a New York Times reporter of being painfully shackled in standing positions, naked, for weeks at a time, forcibly deprived of sleep and occasionally beaten.

A reporter with the Associated Press interviewed two detainees who were held in Bagram in late 2002 and early 2003: Saif-ur Rahman and Abdul Qayyum.86 Qayyum was arrested in August 2002; Rahman in December 2002. Both were held for more than two months. Interviewed separately, they described similar experiences in detention: sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods of time, and humiliating taunts from women soldiers. Rahman said that on his first night of detention he was kept in a freezing cell for part of his detention, stripped naked, and doused with cold water. He believes he was at a military base in Jalalabad at this point. Later, at Bagram, he said U.S. troops made him lie on the ground at one point, naked, and pinned him down with a chair. He also said he was shackled continuously, even when sleeping, and forbidden from talking with other detainees. Qayyum and Rahman were linked with a local commander in Kunar province, Rohullah Wakil, a local and national leader who was elected to the 2002 loya jirga in Kabul, and who was arrested in August 2002 and remains in custody.

According to detainees who have been released, U.S. personnel punish detainees at Bagram when they break rules for instance, talking to another prisoner or yelling at guards. Detainees are taken, in shackles, and made to hold their arms over their heads; their shackles are then draped over the top of a door, so that they can not lower their arms. They are ordered to stand with their hands up, in this manner, for two-hour intervals. According to one detainee interviewed who was punished in this manner, the punishment caused pain in the arms.

In March 2003, Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram, denied that mistreatment had occurred, but admitted the following:

"We do force people to stand for an extended period of time. . . . Disruption of sleep has been reported as an effective way of reducing people’s inhibition about talking or their resistance to questioning. . . . They are not allowed to speak to each other. If they do, they can plan together or rely on the comfort of one another. If they’re caught speaking out of turn, they can be forced to do things, like stand for a period of time -- as payment for speaking out."

King also said that a "common technique" for disrupting sleep was to keep the lights on constantly or to wake detainees every fifteen minutes to disorient them.

Several U.S. officials, speaking anonymously to the media, have admitted that U.S. military and CIA interrogators use sleep deprivation as a technique, and that detainees are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, and held in awkward, painful positions.

Here is some direct testimony of men who have been interrogated under rules that allow torture short of the pain accompanying "organ failure or death"

"stress positions"

Many men were handcuffed or tied to a stool as a means of slow torture. The [detainee] sat in one position, day and night. Each time he would fall over, the guards would sit him upright. He was not allowed to sleep or rest. Exhaustion and pain take their toll. When the [detainee] agreed to cooperate with his captors and acquiesced to their demands, he would be removed. Here, I have pictured a guard named "Mouse," who liked to throw buckets of cold water on a man on cold winter nights.

You're always sitting either on the floor or on a stool or concrete block or something low. The interrogator is always behind a table that's covered with cloth of some kind, white or blue or something. And he sits above you and he's always looking down at you asking you questions and they want to know what the targets are for tomorrow, next week, next month. You don't know. You really don't know. But he doesn't -- he's going to have to have an answer of some kind. Now the back of the room comes the -- the torture. And he's a -- he's a big guy that knows what he's doing. And he starts locking your elbows up with ropes and tying your wrists together and bending you.

"dietary manipulation"

Our normal diet consisted of either rice or bread and a bowl of soup. The soup was usually made from a boiled seasonal vegetable such as cabbage, kohlrabi, pumpkin, turnips, or greens, which we very appropriately called, "sewer greens, swamp grass and weeds.

"sleep deprivation"

Some men were tied to their beds, sometimes for weeks at a time. Here, I have drawn a picture showing the handcuffs being worn in front, but the usual position was with the wrists handcuffed behind the back. A man would live this way day and night, without sleep or rest.

The guards come around the middle of the night just rattling the lock on your door. That's a terrifying thing because they may be taking you out for a torture session. You don't know.

"... obviously this is an emotional thing to me, was listening to the screams of other ... prisoners while they were being tortured. And being locked in a cell myself sometimes uh, in handcuffs or tied up and not able to do anything about it. And that's the way I've got to spend the night."


The ten months that I spent in the blacked out cell I went into panic. The only thing I could do was exercise. As long as I could move, I felt like I was going to -- well, it was so bad I would put a rag in my mouth and hold another one over it so I could scream. That seemed to help. It's not that I was scared, more scared than another other time or anything. It was happening to my nerves and my mind. And uh, I had to move or die. I'd wake up at two o'clock in the morning or midnight or three or whatever and I would jump up immediately and start running in place. Side straddle hops. Maybe four hours of sit ups. But I had to exercise. And of course I prayed a lot

Oh, sorry. My mistake. Those illustrations and some of the comments are by former POW Mike Mcgrath about his time in the Hanoi Hilton. Other comments are from the transcript of Return With Honor, a documentary about the POW's during the Vietnam War. How silly of me to compare the US torture scheme with North Vietnam's.

It's very interesting that all these guys survived, in their estimation, mostly because of their own code of honor requiring them to say as little as possible, fight back as they could and cling to the idea that they were not helping this heartless enemy any more than they had to.

As I read the vivid descriptions of these interrogation techniques of sleep deprivation, sensory manipulation, isolation, stress positions and dietary manipulation I had to wonder whether they would be any more likely to work on committed Islamic jihadists than they were on committed American patriots.

The American POWs admitted that they broke under torture and told the interrogators what they knew. And they told a lot of them what they didn't know. And over time, they told them things they couldn't possibly know. The torture continued. Many of them, just like the reports from Gitmo, attempted suicide. They remained imprisoned never knowing when or if they would ever be set free.

"unlimited detention"

We began to talk about the war. How long are we going to be there and everything and I -- I was thinking well I'm only going to be there about six months or so. And then uh, Charlie says oh, we're probably going to be here about two years. Two years? And when I -- I finally came to that realization, my God, that's going to be a long time. And when I - it just kind of hit me all at once. And I just took my blanket and kind of balled it up and I just buried my head uh, in this -- in this blanket and just literally screamed with -- with this anguish that it's going to be that long. Two years. And then when I was finished, I felt oh, okay. I -- I -- I can do that. I can do two years. Of course, as it turned out, it was two years, and it was two years after that, and two years after that. Uh, until it was about seven years in my case. You know? But who was to know at that time.

I would imagine that our torture regime is much more hygienic than the North Vietnamese. Surely it is more bureaucratic with lots of reports and directives and findings and "exit interrogations." We are, after all, a first world torturer. But at the end of the day it's not much different.

"bad apples"

And he announced to me, a major policy statement. Some officers and some guards had become so angry at what the Americans were doing to their country that they had far exceeded the limits which the government had wished they would uh, observe in treatment of prisoners. That they had um, brutally tortured us. That was the first time they ever acknowledged that it was torture not punishment.

Same excuses, too.

The good news is that the mental torture that was used in North Vietnam, the isolation, the sleep deprivation etc. did not seem to create a lot of "long term" damage in the men who lived through it. Most have done well since. Therefore, all the mental torture they inflicted on our POWs was perfectly legal and above board under the Bush torture regime. So that's nice.

"When word of torture and mistreatment began to slip out to the American press in the summer of 1969, our public-relations-minded captors began to treat us better. I'm certain we would have been a lot worse off if there had not been the Geneva Conventions around." John McCain

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Mr. Clinton's efforts to help Mr. Kerry are fraught with risks, Democratic strategists say, including the danger of arousing the legions of Clinton-haters, the possibility of upstaging the candidate himself, and campaign finance rules restricting publicity expenditures around an election. For months, Democratic strategists have worried that if Mr. Clinton's book appeared too close to the election, he could hog the limelight and upstage Mr. Kerry. In the last election, Vice President Al Gore sought to distance himself from Mr. Clinton on the campaign trail rather than risk association with the scandals surrounding his administration.

Christine Iversen, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, argued that Mr. Clinton's popularity would prove as much of a liability for Mr. Kerry as an asset. "If Bill Clinton is the most energizing Democrat available, he is not on the ballot, and that is a problem," she said.

Yes, it would be terrible to remind people of a time when the country was so peaceful and properous that we could afford to let a bunch of flaccid, hypocritical phonies gin up a bogus impeachment for fun and profit. And, needless to say, it's always a mistake to have interesting, charismatic popular people supporting you publicly and making the case for your candidacy all over the country. Silly Kerry.

I don't know what it's going to take to get these anonymous "Democratic strategists" to recognize that Clinton was a very popular Democrat who has a remarkable ability to charm even people who hate him. It's only when they let the Republicans caricature him that Clinton hating gets any traction. I would bet money that he'll bring about a national wave of nostalgia for a time when watching him dodge the slings and arrows of Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich was the only war we saw on America's news channels every night. Jesus, if the GOP were such nervous nellies as this they'd have dropped Reagans body off the Santa Monica pier at midnight and said the family wanted a private service.

Oh, and Republicans really should be careful about talking about "sex" and scandals in this campaign. They really should. The pictures of the Bush approved "frat boy hijinks" they are trying so hard to sweep under the rug are a lot fresher than Bill and Monica in that rope line.

More Paper Trails To Torture

Unit Says It Gave Earlier Warning of Abuse in Iraq:

Military officials said the assessment branch was created to help speed the flow of detainee releases. The unit screened prisoners in a process that fell somewhere between an exit interview and an interrogation. The purpose of the screening was to determine whether a detainee was no longer of 'intelligence value' --- that is, whether other interrogators had forgotten to ask important questions, or failed to notice inconsistencies in the answers.

In preparation for the screening, interrogators read through the detainees' files, which consisted mostly of notes by other interrogators and any intelligence reports written about the detainee. Detainee Assessment Branch personnel then asked detainees the same basic questions other interrogators had asked, like biographical queries and whether the detainees knew where Saddam Hussein was hiding.

Starting in mid-November, one member of the unit began asking detainees, 'How have you been treated since you have been in U.S. custody?' It was intended as a tactic meant to make the detainee feel like the interrogator cared, military intelligence personnel said. But the question soon began eliciting vivid and disturbing answers.

"One guy said he was thrown on the ground and stepped on the head," said one soldier. "That's when I started paying attention to it."

As more abuse reports emerged, members of the unit made the question a formal part of the screening process. In early December, the question was added to a Microsoft Word document of questions for the unit's interrogators to ask detainees, several military intelligence personnel said in interviews.

"We couldn't believe what we were hearing," said one soldier. Two detainees reported having been given electric shocks at other holding facilities before arriving in Abu Ghraib, according to the interviews. One prisoner's file included photographs of burns on his body. "We didn't want people to know that we knew about it and didn't report it," the soldier said.

First of all, whether the Torture Working Group deemed it legal or not, if electric shocks and burns aren't at least called torture rather than "abuse" then we really have gone down the rabbit hole. The press needs to start using plain english. This is getting ridiculous.

These guys reported these incidents of torture, as part of their normal process, to a three person panel consisting of Generals Janis Karpinski and Barbara Fast and a lawyer, who then decided who could be released.

Karpinski has claimed Fast was responsible for overcrowding in the prison because she refused to let prisoners who had been cleared go:

...another female general says Fast was largely to blame for the overcrowding at Abu Ghraib.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who ran Iraq's prison system until February, said Fast refused to release prisoners who were no longer security threats and ordered them "back in the box" for more questioning.

This new article says that the panel voted on who was to be released, so I don't know what the real story is. However, it looks fairly obvious that Fast was in charge of the prison --- Karpinski has said that Fast spent more time there than she did --- so I wouldn't be surprised if her vote was a bit more important than the other two.

Why do you suppose Fast wouldn't want to release these useless prisoners from an overcrowded and understaffed facility?

Spicy Mercenary

Controversial Commando Wins Iraq Contract

Occupation authorities in Iraq have awarded a $293 million contract effectively creating the world's largest private army to a company headed by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former officer with the SAS, an elite regiment of British commandos, who has been investigated for illegally smuggling arms and planning military offensives to support mining, oil, and gas operations around the world. On May 25, the Army Transportation command awarded Spicer's company, Aegis Defense Services, the contract to coordinate all the security for Iraqi reconstruction projects.


Major Gary Tallman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army, explained that the contract was to create an "integrator" or coordination hub for the security operation for every single reconstruction contractor and sub-contractor. "Their job is to disseminate information and provide guidance and coordination throughout the four regions of Iraq."

I sure hope that doesn't mean that they'll be doing any "gathering and analysis of tactical intelligence" because that would be against Army regulations, as this article in today's NY Times discusses:

The use of private contractors as interrogators at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq violates an Army policy that requires such jobs to be filled by government employees because of the "risk to national security," among other concerns, the Army acknowledged Friday.

An Army policy directive published in 2000 and still in effect today, the military said, classifies any job that involves "the gathering and analysis" of tactical intelligence as "an inherently governmental function barred from private sector performance."

Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army public affairs officer, acknowledged after consulting with senior Army officials that the service was in violation of that rule, but added that military commanders in Iraq, "retain the right to make exceptions." Another senior Army officer, in Baghdad, explained that using contract interrogators was a solution to shortages of suitable Army personnel.

The rule does not authorize exceptions for jobs involving the collection or analysis of tactical intelligence, which is perishable information the military can use for planning operations. A related White House policy directive insists that agencies "perform inherently governmental activities with government personnel."

Well gosh, it's getting a little bit hard to know where those lines are drawn, isn't it, what with private contractors being the second biggest providers (after the US military) of manpower in the coalition of the willing?

Private security companies have been asking the military for help in coordinating work for several months. In April, following the killing of several private security contractors in Baghdad, Falluja, and Kut, the companies started to pool information on an ad-hoc basis. At the time, Nick Edmunds, Iraq coordinator for the Hart Group, which provides security to media and engineering groups in Iraq, told The Washington Post, "There is absolutely a growing cooperation along unofficial lines. We try to give each other warnings about things we hear are about to happen."

This particular contract is interesting not only because it is run by a war criminal (which in this administration is a selling point) but it is also a big fat payoff to the UK, for huge money:

Under the "cost-plus" contract, the military will cover all of the company's expenses, plus a pre-determined percentage of whatever they spend, which critics say is a license to over-bill. The company has also been asked to provide 75 close protection teams--comprised of eight men each--for the high-level staff of companies that are running the oil and gas fields, electricity, and water services in Iraq


Industry insiders speculate that Aegis won the contract because of growing anger in Britain that UK-based companies have not been awarded large contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq, despite the leading role that the Tony Blair's government has played in the "coalition of the willing." The only other British bid for the contract, the Control Risks joint venture, was disqualified because one of the partners was under investigation for undisclosed reasons at the time the bids were evaluated.

Because of the politics in the decision, some groups are questioning the contracting process. "It's not evident why they they would run a rent-a-cop contract through an Army transportation division in Virginia except that maybe the staff there are more experienced and can write a professional contract that can withstand a bid protest better than the Heritage foundation interns that run contracting in Baghdad," said John Pike, a spokesman for the military watchdog group Globalsecurity.org. For the first 12 months, all contracts in Iraq were evaluated by a group of six men and women in their 20s who were hired on the basis of job resumes they posted at the right-wing foundation's website.

Maybe. More likely they are just hiding the paper trail.

If you want to read about the super-hero owner of this company, here's a good run down. He's quite a glamorous war criminal as war criminals go. Now he's going to be filthy rich on our dime. Ain't freedom and democracy great?

Last Chance

When U.S. officials pushed for war in Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat, Berka believed them. Like many who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, he was inspired by President Bush's call to liberate the Iraqi people from a brutal dictatorship.

Not anymore.

"In the last few months I have seen that I was wrong to support the war," Berka, 36, said, sipping beer after work.

A tour guide from Prague, Berka is part of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once called new Europe -- the former Soviet satellite countries that have come to be regarded as America's staunchest allies on the continent. The Czech, Polish and Hungarian governments not only sided diplomatically with Washington as part of Bush's "coalition of the willing," they committed troops to the cause.

But support for the United States, already damaged by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and a seemingly ever-growing insurgency, has taken a particularly heavy blow from the photos and other revelations of abuse against Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.

"The photos were the last straw,'' said Berka. "When I saw those pictures, it was a signal to admit that I was wrong."

Similar sentiments are being heard throughout this pro-American part of the world.

In Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, many say they were dismayed to see the United States -- a beacon of freedom and democracy during their dark decades under Soviet domination -- employing methods reminiscent of communist dictatorships.


"Abu Ghraib dented my belief in the perfection of America's Army, but not in its democracy," said Blazej Roguz, a 25-year-old resident of Katowice in southern Poland who still supports the war.

Describing the abuse scandal as "poisonous" for America's image, Roguz said he was nevertheless impressed that the photos were made public and the matter is being investigated.

"They published them," he said. "I liked that they didn't try to whitewash the whole issue."

Opponents of the war, like Berka in Prague, expressed similar hope in the United States' ability to rectify the damage that has been done.

"My trust in America is still there," he said. "The thing I always believed is that America has a good immune system -- that it can correct and clean itself. This is a big test for the American democratic system."

Yes it is.

These guys know that the one thing we have left is a free press and the ability to rise up as citizens and change the course of our policies. Whether we will have the wisdom to understand what is at stake is another thing. These people certainly do.

Match me, Sidney

A Republican front group has been created to smear Fahrenheit 911. If this becomes a "controversy" it's important that we all send letters to the press so that they will know this group is not grassroots.

I imagine that this is why Moore has hired a war room staff:

Parachuting into France for the documentary's Cannes Film Festival launch, a Miramax rep told us, were Howard Wolfson, ex-campaign press secretary for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Michael Feldman, a top adviser on Al Gore's 2000 presidential race. (Feldman founded the Glover Park Group, a D.C. communications outfit, with ex-Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart.) Also providing PR expertise on the anti-Bush movie: former Clinton White House advisers Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane.

"We knew the film would obviously draw a lot of political attention and attacks, and we try to do what's best for our movie," Miramax spokesman MatthewHiltzik said from the film festival. "We felt that having the political expertise to withstand the political attacks would require hiring the people who have the most experience on that terrain."

I know that everybody hates Lehane with a fervor only matched by their hatred for Bush. But, this is what he's good at. He'd "sell out his own girl if he could stand up there ... and suck in the sweet smell of success." Politics and Hollywood have always had guys like him. They serve a useful purpose.

And one rather significant thing is that Moore and the Weinsteins aren't hiding anything. The GOP frontgroup is pretending to be a bunch of Nascar Moms and Waitress Dads. The press will have to be reminded of this when they start interviewing Ethel and Gomer about how offended they are by the movie.

Dim Justice

Can somebody explain to me why everyone is assuming that Bush is going to be defeated in the Supreme Court on the Guantanamo and Padilla cases? The Guardian had this similar story.

Common sense would tell you that the court would reject the administration in light of all the information that's come out in the press regarding torture, assertions of presidential infallibility and the like. (One would think that the court would want to guard it's own turf at the very least.)

But common sense also would have said that the court would stay out of electoral matters to preserve its own reputation and they didn't. On that day, I lost all faith that the court could be relied upon to behave in a rational, consistent or even self-serving way.

I suspect that this has more to do with Sandra Day O'Connor than anyone else who seems to make things up as she goes along. She may very well vote against Bush on thses cases. But since she has no intellectual consistency, she may just as easily vote against him. Which is why I ask why anyone makes any assumptions about this court? The swing vote is completely incomprehensible.

Update: Lawyers, Guns and Money weighs in.

Any other lawyers, court watchers or dilettantes care to?

And Bob Jones Says Hello

Bush Asked for Vatican's Help on Political Issues, Report Says

This is the reason for the separation of church and state in a pluralistic democracy. It's not that you don't want politicians to be religious people or that you don't want religious people to be political. It's that when you get politics enmeshed in religion you screw up religion and politics to the detriment of both. Hundreds of years of bloody religious wars in Europe taught the founders of this country that religion can be a dangerous political weapon and they decided that the government should remain neutral on the subject in order to prevent both religious persecution and undue influence. It's worked out pretty well for us up to now, at least better than most.

But that's not the only reason why government and religion are a bad combination, and nowadays it's not necessarily even the most important reason:

In the last six months, a handful of Catholic bishops in the United States have already weighed in on the presidential race by threatening to withhold communion from Catholic politicians who disagree with the church's stance on abortion, a group that includes Senator Kerry.

Other bishops, however, have said that threatening to withhold communion goes too far, and the pope has warned of "the formation of factions within the church" in the United States. The bishops are expected to take up the matter at a closed-door conference this week in Colorado.

I realize that the american catholic church has a number of internal issues that are not related to politics, but surely this is not helping. And catholics aren't the only churches dividing up into political factions. You can see it happening in the episcopal church with gay priests; the methodists and the baptists both have issues with women's rights. Jews are fighting over the country's stand on Iraq. Much of this stuff is purely doctrinal and hasn't got much to do with government. But, our president and his braintrust's obsession with the religion vote as a single constituency, is making these issues more and more explicitly political. It's not only dividing the country, it's dividing the religions themselves.

If you are a religious person you should be very worried about this development. It is not in the American tradition to treat "religion" as a political constituency and govern explicitly from a religious standpoint. This is new. But as much as that might be uncomfortable to despised atheists like me, it should be doubly uncomfortable to believers who care about their religious institutions. Priests and Pastors are as susceptible to vanity and power as anybody else --- perhaps more. These are among the things that caused the schisms in Europe and led to reformations and huge changes. It hardly seems worth it in order to gain temporary influence over some politician whose time in office is short and whose loyalties are necessarily divided.

It's not only that religion is corrupting the government. It's that government is corrupting religion. That's always been the problem.

Thanks to Tristero for the link.

Update: Julia points out that Henry Hyde is making veiled threats to the Catholic church.

She reminds us:

Mr. Hyde is, of course, the gentleman who took the lead in investigating Clinton's blowjob, as well as the gentleman who was discovered while that investigation was going on to have committed a "youthful indiscretion" from the ages of 41 to 46 and precipitated the dissolution of the marriage of a woman with three children.


...I suspect that the bishops are not all that terribly likely to be led by Mr. Hyde's non-traditional view of Catholic doctrine and the public responsibilities of a moral person in this matter.

Or, for that matter, to lift a finger to help someone who is attempting to blackmail them stay in power.

For the sake of all my Catholic friends, I hope not.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Bad Books For Stupid People

This business of using dogs to torture Iraqi prisoners actually is more depraved than is obvious, if you can believe that.

Islam has a prohibition against keeping dogs in the house or touching them. They are considered impure. I would guess that the braintrust who is putting together this new torture regime thought they were being very clever by doing something that "the ayrabs" would find particularly unpleasant.

We know that big tough American guys like Trent Lott wouldn't piss all over themselves if they were tied up naked while a 150 lb snarling German Shepard was allowed to back them into a corner and take a piece out of their flesh. They don't have a problem with dogs like those arabs do.

This is but another example of the crude, stereotypical approach we seem to have taken toward the Iraqis (and undoubtedly the Afghans, as well.) And it is likely because the "intellectuals" who planned and implemented the war don't have a clue.

Sy Hersh mentioned in his May 24th article in the New Yorker one of the many possible reasons why:

"The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was 'The Arab Mind,' a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai ... The book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression ... The Patai book, an academic told me, was 'the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.'"

You might as well read a ZOG comic on mudpeople as read this for any true understanding. The passages on sex could have been written during Queen Victoria's reign which is, indeed, the period from which many silly, crude stereotypes about arabs and sex really got off the ground. (The funny thing is that Patai's book portrays arabs as being rigidly sexually repressed when during Victoria's time they were reviled for being scandalously oversexed. It seems that no matter what, westerners believe that arabs are all fucked up when it comes to sex. Unlike we Americans, of course, who define healthy sexuality.)

So, a bunch of second rate minds read a third rate book about people they know nothing about except what they've seen at parties where Ahmad Chalabi is holding court, and they fashion a torture regime based upon a ridiculous thesis that arabs (unlike Western he-men apparently, which is interesting in itself) are particularly uncomfortable with being herded around naked, forced to pretend to masturbate in front of women and piling themselves up in naked pyramids, among other sexually charged, homoerotic acts.

It's always interesting to see people's innermost fears and insecurities projected on to another isn't it? These neocons have some serious issues.

War Criminal Factoid

I wonder if everyone is aware of the fact that the man who put the "Git Mo Info" into Camp Delta and then took his sophisticated naked men and rabid dogs interrogation techniques to Iraq has no backround in intelligence, prisons or law enforcement?

That's right, General Ripper, the Theodore Eicke of America's gulag is actually an artillery officer. And, he doesn't know fuck-all about interrogation.

From a January article in Vanity Fair by David Rose:

Reporters are not allowed to speak with interrogators or anyone else who deals with intelligence at Gitmo. The only testimony I hear is from General Geoffrey Miller, the task-force commander. "We are developing information of enormous value to the nation," says Miller, a slight, pugnacious man said to be a strict disciplinarian. "We have an enormously thorough process that has very high resolution and clarity. We think we're fighting not only to save and protect our families, but your families also. I think of Gitmo as the counterterrorism-interrogation battle lab."

But Miller's background is in artillery, not intelligence, and senior intelligence officials with long experience in counterterrorism, who spoke to Vanity Fair on condition of anonymity, question his assessment.


General Miller makes it clear that he does not have access to staff of this [high] caliber. Seven out of 10 of the interrogators working in his "joint interrogation group" are reservists, and they come to Camp Delta straight from a 25-day course at Fort Huachuca. "They're all young people, but they're really committed to winning the mission," Miller says. "Intelligence is a young person's game-you've got to be flexible."

Some seasoned intelligence officials disagree. "Generally, the new hires apprentice in the booths with more experienced guys," says one. "I certainly know of no one at Gitmo having the opportunity or the luxury to be able to prepare an interview for three months." Another had met some of Miller's interrogators. "They were rookies, and none were too keen on the process down there," he says. They knew that any seemingly insignificant tidbit might later turn out to be important, but in general "they just didn't feel that the process was going anywhere fast."

According to General Miller, Gitmo's importance is growing with amazing rapidity: "Last month we gained six times as much intelligence as we did in January 2003. I'm talking about high-value intelligence here, distributed round the world."

Yeah, that "flow of information" is what it's all about.

Gisli Gudjonsson, a professor at London's Institute of Psychiatry, is arguably the world's leading authority in this field. "The longer people are detained, the harsher the conditions, and the worse the lack of a support system, the greater the risk that what they say will be unreliable," he explains. Sometimes one suspect will supply the names of others, who will then in turn confess. Each will appear to corroborate the others' statements, when in fact all are false. This is what happened in the case of the Guildford Four, the subject of Jim Sheridan's movie In the Name of the Father. They were wrongly jailed in 1974 for blowing up two pubs in England and spent 15 years in prison before the British authorities admitted their mistake. "The first thing an interrogator should acknowledge is that you may get false information from someone who is vulnerable."

General Miller, however, sees no cause for concern. "I believe we understand what the truth is. We are very, very good at interrogation... As many of our detainees have realized that what they did was wrong, they have begun to give us information that helps us win the global war on terror."

Spies and psychiatrists may have their doubts, but Donald Rumsfeld is convinced that even the mere foot soldiers imprisoned at Gitmo are "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth." All, he has said, "were involved in an effort to kill thousands of Americans."

Yet since 2002, when these claims were made, 64 of these "vicious killers" have been released, all after many months' detention. John Sifton, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, has traced and interviewed some of them in Afghanistan. They are all, he says, "the most extreme cases of mistaken identity, simply the wrong guys: a farmer, a taxi driver and all his passengers-people with absolutely no connection with the Taliban or terrorism." Several were victims of bounty hunters, who were paid in dollars after abducting "terrorists" and denouncing them to the U.S. military.

Well, I suppose if a failed businessman, ex-drunk, fratrat mama's boy could be considered a strong leader, why not send in an artilleryman to gain "intelligence" from a bunch of small time nobodys. He kept that flow of information up and that's what Mr. Cambone and Ms Rice --- the worst and the dimmest --- wanted.


BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR COALITION OPERATIONS, IRAQ: It was apparent that many of the units that had not been defeated in the war were starting to act up. We started seeing some problems out around the town of Falluja and we were getting a number of security internees into the detention facilities. Large numbers. There was not an expectation during the war that we would have this large number of internees and when it became apparent that this was a process that we would have to start up, and there were some challenges at that time, we called in the expert. The expert was Major General Geoff Miller.

Miller, the artillery officer, was the expert.

Rogue State Chronicles

Speaking of warcrimes, I just remembered another action premptively absolving Americans of war crimes --- the dramatic "unsigning" of the International Criminal Court Treaty and the subsequent signing of the "American Servicemembers' Protection Act" handily tucked into the "vote for it or you're a traitor" Supplemental Defense Appropriations Act of 2002.

The first action, a highly unusual unilateral repudiation of a signed treaty, was taken in May of 2002:

"Dear Mr. Secretary-General:

This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted on July 17, 1998, that the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000. The United States requests that its intention not to become a party, as expressed in this letter, be reflected in the depositary's status lists relating to this treaty.


S/John R. Bolton"

Easy as pie. No muss no fuss. We don't like it we just unsign it. Now that's some tort reform.

It must be noted that the Republicans had long opposed the ICC on the grounds that the jack booted, blue helmeted thugs of the UN were coming to kill Americans because we're so strong and so good. It was not surprising that they would do this when they got the chance, although "unsigning" treaties was a bit of a shock. (How innocent we all were in those days.)

However, in May of 2002, we also now know that the US government was actively looking for ways to legalize war crimes under all international treaties and US Law. That puts a little different spin on the unsigning, doesn't it?

And it also makes you wonder about the administration's strong arming for the ASPA, aka the Hague Invasion Act:

The Washington Working Group on the ICC described it this way:

President Bush signed the Supplemental Defense Appropriations Act of 2002 (HR 4775) into law on August 2, 2002. Contained in the measure was a version of the American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA) that is heavily modified from the first version introduced over two years ago (for more information on past versions of ASPA, see the WICC Archives). The ASPA limits US cooperation with the International Criminal Court, restricts US participation in UN peacekeeping, prohibits military assistance to most countries that ratify the ICC Statute, and authorizes the President to use "all means necessary and appropriate" to free from captivity any US or allied personnel held by or on behalf of the ICC -- a provision that has led European leaders to call it "The Hague Invasion Act." However, the final version includes broad waiver authority for the President, strengthened by a stipulation that no part of the bill may interfere with the President's constitutional authority to make foreign policy.

This last part is interesting in that the original versions of the bill, originating during Clinton's term (sponsored by none other than Monsieur Tom DeLay) put huge restrictions on the president's ability to conduct any kind of foreign policy with signators of the ICC treaty. Since then we have learned that the president answers to no one and can set aside any law he chooses. Tom didn't seem bothered by this.

I am not suggesting that there was specific coordination between the congress and the administration to loosen the definition of war crimes so that George W. Bush could assert that he has followed the law when he orders torture (or whatever else his puerile little imagination believes is necessary to defeat Satan.) However, it does reveal the underlying mindset that allowed these budding war criminals to seize the day without any obvious conscience.

The Republicans believe that world leadership is defined by the aggressive use of American power against others and holding itself unaccountable for it, apparantly guided by the absurd fantasy of the mythic, invincible American cowboy. Evidently, nobody told them that the cowboy myth was created by a bunch of pansy-assed, effete dime novelists from New York City.

Shallow hubris has always been their downfall and will be again.

Maybe if some of these tough guys had spent more time actually reading the Canon of Great Dead White Guys instead of complaining that liberal mush-headedness was ruining education they might have learned a thing or two. Even the good old Bullfinch's Mythology would have sufficed to warn them about the fate of nations whose leaders foprget they are not Gods:

The story of Niobe has furnished Byron with a fine illustration of the fallen condition of modern Rome:

"The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! Through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."


Ronald Reagan is still dead. In other news America is now officially a Rogue State.

For the full compendium of news stories, opinion and blogorama on the subject:

Sisyphus Shrugged - torture link dump

In the president's beautiful mind, he didn't order torture because he told the lawyers to make a legal finding that torture was ok and so they found that what we call torture is legal now but it isn't called torture anymore because torture is still illegal. So the president followed the law.

And lots of people pitched in to make it all possible.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Ignominious Nothing

Aladdin Sane wrote:

Okay, did anyone see how insignificant Dubya seemed at today's memorial? He's probably the only man ever to be upstaged by Brian Mulroney.


The stench of defeat is starting to rise off of him. I watched it happen to Carter and Senior. People keep a little distance. They don't look him in the eye. The winner's gloss is replaced by a sheen of desperation. He's got trouble. You can smell it.


Mike Finley writes a letter to an earnest young conservative and tries to explain what politics are all about. In the process, he explains what life is all about. It's a wonderful post.

Young people are persuadable. They're looking for answers not validation. It's always worth taking the time to talk to them about politics in a thoughtful interested way. By the time you get to be my age, you're already who you're going to be and it's all about finding ways to justify what you've become.

Thanks to the great Avedon Carol for the pointer.

Da Comrade Norquist!

Kevin at Catch has more on what he calls the Ronald Reagan Lunacy project:

In a statement on the project's Web site, www.reaganlegacy.org, Norquist said, "Ronald Reagan was the greatest leader of the free world in the 20th Century. Franklin Delano Roosevelt left Europe half-enslaved. (Winston) Churchill left Britain in economic decline.

"Ronald Reagan both defeated the Soviet Union and began a period of economic growth that has lasted a generation and continues to this very day."

At first, Norquist backed the idea of replacing Roosevelt's likeness on the dime with Reagan's. But that has met resistance from Democrats.

Chris Butler, executive director of the legacy project, said, "The ten dollar bill is a more prestigious location. The dime is so small you can hardly see the face. The name is given on paper currency."

Chris Butler knows that size does matter.

And it's so hard to tell those presidents apart if you don't have the name written there.

But, let's be serious. The only patriotic thing to do is put Reagan on all the money.


Jeffrey Dubner at TAPPED notes in his post called "HOWARD THE GIP" the fact that many in the blogosphere are making comparisons between Howard Dean and Ronald Reagan.

I don't really want to open up this can of worms, but I just have to say it:

The difference between Ronald Reagan and Howard Dean is that Ronald Reagan won two straight national elections in landslides that featured huge crossover numbers of Democrats. Howard Dean failed to get even 20% of the Democratic vote in the primaries. He may be similar to the Ronald Reagan of 1972, but he's a long, long way from the Ronald Reagan of 1980.

Ronald Reagan articulated for the base of his party a very distinct ideological form of conservative Republicanism. His entire worldview was shaped by anti-communism and low taxes and laisse faire capitalism, period. It was, rhetorically speaking, a repudiation of the New Deal and it was a big, big idea that animated many Americans after the hangover of the 60's. (Of course, he didn't govern as he preached --- and people didn't really want him to --- but the fact that he was able to keep his base fanatically loyal despite that is a testament to his political skill.)

Dean on the other hand offered no such big ideas --- not that any of the other Democrats did either. He ran on the "Stop The Republicans Before They Kill Us All" platform, one which I think was very powerful in helping break the trance into which we'd all been forced after 9/11 and the patriotic police started their patrols. I don't underestimate its significance or its importance in jumpstarting the Democratic will to fight back in this particular election.

But, if Dean is to build on the truly amazing loyalty he has engendered among his core group of Democrats, he's going to have to articulate a bigger vision and animate Democrats on a more ideological level.

I'm personally hoping that he will take the job of DNC chaiman in the short term, even if he decides to run again. I think it would be a huge statement to the ossified party bureaucracy and would give a voice to all those who feel left out of the party apparatus presently. That job requires a fighter and that's what Dean is all about.

But, if he is going to have the galvanizing effect on the Democrats that Ronald Reagan had on the Republicans he will have to embrace and articulate a fresh, affirmative, long term vision for the party that goes beyond what he's talked about in the past. He has a base to build upon if he wants to do it.

The Sweater Is Unravelling

Billmon has been writing about Joe Ryan, the "private contractor" from Abu Ghraib who abruptly stopped posting his "diary" as the scandal broke. Alert readers found a cache of Ryan's previous writings which are interesting mostly for the fact that Ryan is revealed to be dumb as dirt about the country and culture he's dealing with. (And *sigh* he's supposed to be a trained intelligence guy, not some grunt from podunk.)

However, Billmon unearthed this interesting little entry:

March 30: The other big news at work was a message sent to us from Ms. Rice, the National Security Advisor, thanking us for the intelligence that has come out of our shop and noting that our work is being briefed to President Bush on a regular basis.

Now, this could be nonsensical "rally the troops" crapola. However, this article in today's Washington Post makes it much more intriguing:

The head of the interrogation center at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told an Army investigator in February that he understood some of the information being collected from prisoners there had been requested by "White House staff," according to an account of his statement obtained by The Washington Post.

Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, an Army reservist who took control of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center on Sept. 17, 2003, said a superior military intelligence officer told him the requested information concerned "any anti-coalition issues, foreign fighters, and terrorist issues."

The Army investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, asked Jordan whether it concerned "sensitive issues," and Jordan said, "Very sensitive. Yes, sir," according to the account, which was provided by a government official.

The reference by Jordan to a White House link with the military's scandal-plagued intelligence-gathering effort at the prison was not explored further by Taguba, whose primary goal at that time was to assess the scope of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The White House was unable to provide an immediate explanation.


The precise role and mission of Jordan, who is still stationed in Iraq and through his attorneys has declined requests to speak with the news media, remains one of the least well understood facets of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal.


Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the chief military intelligence officer at the prison, said in his statement to Taguba that Jordan was working on a special project for the office of Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top U.S. intelligence official in Iraq. He also described Jordan as "a loner who freelances between military intelligence and military police" officers at the prison.


But Jordan, in the statement to Taguba, described himself as more of a functionary than a rogue operator. He said that Pappas was really in charge, as evidenced by the fact that he was not responsible for rating other military intelligence officers in reports to superiors and "had no input . . . no responsibility . . . no resources" under his control. He said he was just a "liaison" between Fast and those collecting intelligence at the prison.

What do you suppose the White House staff would have been so impressed with? There have been numerous reports that the only good intel anybody was getting in Iraq during this time came from the field. Abu Ghraib seems to have been almost worthless, which is not surprising since most of the people in there were poor schmucks who got caught up in raids and personal vendettas and wouldn't know an "insurgent" from a ballet dancer.

Specialist Monath and others say they were frustrated by intense pressure from Colonel Pappas and his superiors - Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez and his intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast - to churn out a high quantity of intelligence reports, regardless of the quality. "It was all about numbers. We needed to send out more intelligence documents whether they were finished or not just to get the numbers up," he said. Pappas was seen as demanding - waking up officers in the middle of the night to get information - but unfocused, ordering analysts to send out rough, uncorroborated interrogation notes. "We were scandalized," Monath said. "We all fought very hard to counter that pressure" including holding up reports in editing until the information could be vetted.

Ahhh. So, perhaps it was the "flow of intelligence" that was coming out of Abu Ghraib that impressed the White House so much rather than the intelligence itself. Condi Rice is, after all, notorious for not even reading reports as important ans the NIE. I'm sure a "document count" --- the GWOT version of the "body count" was more than sufficient to show "progress":

Miller's mission came shortly after the horrific suicide bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. He was encouraged by Rumsfeld's senior intelligence aide, Stephen Cambone, to ensure there was "a flow of intelligence" from detainees picked up in Iraq.

Everyone's been speculating that the reason General Fay has requested to be replaced by a higher ranking General is because of a need to interview General Sanchez and army protocol precludes him interviewing someone of a higher rank than he. I'm sure that's at least partly true, although it is more likely that this shuffle is designed to kill more time before the election. But there is also the problem that Fay cannot complete his investigation without being able to talk to his equal in rank, Maj. General Barbara Fast, something which is also prohibited.

And, she may just be the key to the whole story:

Back on May 12, David Hackworth is quotedin the Sydney Morning Herald as saying:

"This is unravelling like a cheap Chinese sweater," said David Hackworth, a retired colonel whose organisation, Soldiers for the Truth, helped bring the abuse story to the US media.


But Mr Hackworth said he believed that more junior soldiers would soon come forward to "blow the whistle".

He said the general who was in charge of military intelligence in Iraq, Barbara Fast, who has escaped media scrutiny, was likely to become the focus of questions in the next few weeks.

So, what's the story with Fast? Surely she is under increased scrutiny since the Abu Ghraib scandal happened under her command, right?

Last summer, Fast became deputy commander of Fort Huachuca in Arizona, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. But she soon transferred to Iraq as chief military intelligence officer.

In September, Fast set up the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. There, detainees were questioned for whatever light they could shed on the insurgency.

Fast's involvement, if any, in the abuse remains unclear. She was in charge of military intelligence officers at the prison, including Col. Thomas Pappas, who is accused in an Army report of being "directly or indirectly responsible" for the abuse. According to the New York Times, Pappas emerged from meetings with Fast and Sanchez "clutching his face as if in pain."

Fast also had oversight of civilian interrogators at the prison, two of whom are implicated. And another female general says Fast was largely to blame for the overcrowding at Abu Ghraib.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who ran Iraq's prison system until February, said Fast refused to release prisoners who were no longer security threats and ordered them "back in the box" for more questioning

Quite a few of the prisoners who were tortured and abused wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for Fast. I wonder if "quantity" over "quality" may have been her watchword with prisoners as well as bureaucratic reports to the White House staff and pentagon command?

Whatever it was, it was enough to get her promoted:

In February, as investigators were deep into their still-secret probe of prisoner abuse, the Senate confirmed Fast's promotion to major general. On March 1, Sanchez pinned the second star on Fast's collar in a ceremony seen via videoconferencing at Fort Huachuca, where her husband watched, and at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, near where her parents now live.

At the same time, it was announced that Fast would return to Fort Huachuca this summer in the plum post of commanding general.

"She's done outstanding things," said Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, "and I expect more in the future."

God help us.

The Mook Vote Rises

Via Campaign Journal I see that the New Democrat Network has released a new polling memo featuring an interesting tidbit:

The Stern Gang. Potentially offsetting the conservative dominance of the radio waves is Howard Stern. The nationally-syndicated radio host is listened to by 17 percent of likely voters, and nationally, they would support Kerry over Bush by a margin of 53 percent to 43 percent. In the battleground states, their preference for Kerry is even stronger, backing him by a margin of 59 percent to 37 percent.

More importantly, one-quarter of all likely voting Stern listeners are swing voters. This means that four percent of likely voters this fall are swing voters who listen to Howard Stern, showing Stern's potential ability to impact the race. Generally, likely voters who are Stern listeners are: 2 to 1 male to female; 40 percent Democrats, 26 percent Republicans, and 34 percent Independents; more liberal and less conservative than the average voter; significantly younger than the average voter (two-thirds are under 50 and 40 percent are under 35); more diverse; and more driven in their vote by economic issues.

Sleeping giant, I tell you. I have some relatives who live in Nevada -- early 30's, apolitical mostly, libertarian by instinct, hard core Howard, Tool and Quentin Tarantino fans.

I don't know if they are representative, but their big issues are freedom of speech, the religious right, Iraq and The Patriot Act. One has never voted before and the other two considered themselves Republican until now. Howard has them all fired up about this election and they can't wait to vote against Junior.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Ronald Reagan States of America

Via Catch.com, I found the awesome, majestic Ronald Reagan Circle in Tarnow, Poland, courtesy of "The Legacy Project."

I agree that we should have one of these in every single town in America! How could we do any less than this for the greatest president America has, no --- the greatest leader the world has ever known.

A fitting, fitting tribute. Thanks Grover.

"He looked frightened"

Brad DeLong has a must read post up featuring an e-mail from a reader who heard Sy Hersh give a lecture at the University of Chicago.

DeLong says:

If what it reports is true, then once again it looks like the Bush administration is worse than I had imagined--even though I thought I had taken account of the fact that the Bush administration is always worse than one imagines. Either Seymour Hersh is insane, or we have an administration that needs to be removed from office not later than the close of business today.

Your terrorist has no regard for human life. Not even his own.

I missed his show last night and didn't get a chance until just now to catch it, but I just have to say, "bless you Jon Stewart."

He's the only voice I've heard outside the blogosphere who shows the proper incredulity that the United States of America is actually having a national debate about whether we should legally torture people, a large number of whom don't seem to be guilty of anything more than being at the wrong place and the wrong time.

9/11 was bad. But, we don't have to go this far. This War On Terror has gone completely over the top and it's getting frighteningly Kubrickian.

I honestly don't think we could have had a worse administration to be in power during a terrorist attack. Bin Laden was very lucky that he waited until he had a president who would overreact to such an extent that we'd destroy ourselves almost immediately. Now he knows that all he has to do is pop up and say boo once in a while and we'll go all to pieces.


Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

Makes you proud to be an American to have a snotty, little asshole of a president refuse to say whether he thinks torture is immoral.

But, why should any of us be surprised:

From: "Devil May Care" by Tucker Carlson, Talk Magazine, September 1999, p. 106

"Bush's brand of forthright tough-guy populism can be appealing, and it has played well in Texas. Yet occasionally there are flashes of meanness visible beneath it.

While driving back from the speech later that day, Bush mentions Karla Faye Tucker, a double murderer who was executed in Texas last year. In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. 'Did you meet with any of them?' I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. 'No, I didn't meet with any of them,' he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. 'I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' 'What was her answer?' I wonder.

'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.'

I must look shocked -- ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel, even for someone as militantly anticrime as Bush -- because he immediately stops smirking.

'It's tough stuff,' Bush says, suddenly somber, 'but my job is to enforce the law.' As it turns out, the Larry King-Karla Faye Tucker exchange Bush recounted never took place, at least not on television. During her interview with King, however, Tucker did imply that Bush was succumbing to election-year pressure from pro-death penalty voters. Apparently Bush never forgot it. He has a long memory for slights." [Carlson, Talk, 9/99]

And he always has been a nasty little fucker, too.

First, Do No Harm

In this NY Times op-ed, called Physician, Turn Thyself In, the writer alerts us to another phenomenon that I have wondered about of late concerning torture --- the role of the medical profession.

I wrote about this earlier in this post back on May 22nd, in which I excerpted this NY Times article:

Much of the evidence of abuse at the prison came from medical documents. Records and statements show doctors and medics reporting to the area of the prison where the abuse occurred several times to stitch wounds, tend to collapsed prisoners or see patients with bruised or reddened genitals.

Two doctors recognized that a detainee's shoulder was hurt because he had his arms handcuffed over his head for what they said was "a long period." They gave him an injection of painkiller, and sent him to an outside hospital for what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, but did not report any suspicions of abuse. One medic, Staff Sgt. Reuben Layton, told investigators that he had found the detainee handcuffed in the same position on three occasions, despite instructing Specialist Graner to free the man.

"I feel I did the right thing when I told Graner to get the detainee uncuffed from the bed," Sergeant Layton told investigators.

Sergeant Layton also said he saw Specialist Graner hitting a metal baton against the leg wounds of a detainee who had been shot. He did not report that incident.

Sgt. Neil Wallin, another medic, recorded on Nov. 14: "Patient has blood down front of clothes and sandbag over head," noting three wounds requiring 13 stitches, above his eye, on his nose and on his chin.

Sergeant Wallin later told investigators that when he got to the prison: "I observed blood on the wall near a metal weld, which I believed to be the place where the detainee received his injury. I do not know how he was injured or if it was done by himself or another."

He also told investigators that he had seen male detainees forced to wear women's underwear and that he had seen a video in which a prisoner known to smear himself with his own feces repeatedly banged his head against the wall, "very hard."

Helga Margot Aldape-Moreno, a nurse, told investigators that in September she reported to the cell to tend to a prisoner having a panic attack, and that, opening the door, she saw naked Iraqis in a human pyramid, with sandbags over their heads. Military police officers were yelling at the detainees, she said.

Ms. Aldape-Moreno tended to the prisoner, she said, then left the room and did not report what she saw until the investigation began in January.

Today, the Washington Post reports that interrogators have been given access to detainee's medical files, presumably so that information contained therein can be used to extract information. Accroding to medical ethicists interviewed for the story, this is strictly and unequivocally unethical:

How military interrogators used the information is unknown. But a previously undisclosed Defense Department memo dated Oct. 9 cites Red Cross complaints that the medical files "are being used by interrogators to gain information in developing an interrogation plan." Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the facility at the time, denied the allegations, according to the memo.


An account pieced together from confidential documents and sources familiar with the matter shows that a Red Cross team discovered the sharing of the medical records in a visit to the Guantanamo Bay medical facility in mid-2003, during Miller's tenure there.

The Red Cross team's task, repeated at prisons throughout the world, was to assess how the complex's medical facility functioned. The medical team studied equipment and treatment options, speaking with detainees and U.S. military medical staff. Other Red Cross experts monitored other aspects of prison life.

The team's mission was not to treat detainees, but to ensure that they received adequate care. If a prisoner had persistent headaches, was he able to see a doctor? If he suffered from psychological problems -- 21 captives have tried to kill themselves at Guantanamo Bay -- was he receiving treatment?

U.S. military doctors told Red Cross medics that interrogators had access to prisoners' medical records, according to two people knowledgeable about the issue who demanded anonymity because details of the interrogations and Red Cross monitoring are kept secret. As one source said, the doctors "were very honest about that" and "some people expressed concern."

Daryl Matthews, a civilian psychiatrist who visited Guantanamo Bay in May 2003 at the invitation of the Pentagon as part of a medical review team, described the prisoners' records generated by military physicians as similar to those kept by civilian physicians. Matthews said they contain names, nationalities, and histories of physical and psychological problems, as well as notes about current complaints and prescriptions.

Matthews said an individual's records would routinely list psychologists' comments about conditions such as phobias, as well as family details, including the names and ages of a spouse or children.

Such information, he said, would give interrogators "tremendous power" over prisoners. Matthews said he was disturbed that his team, which issued a generally favorable report on the base's medical facility, was not told patient records were shared with interrogators.

Asked what use nonmedical personnel could make of the files, he replied: "Nothing good."

The practice made some military medical workers at Guantanamo Bay uncomfortable. "Not everyone was unified on this," said one person aware of the situation. "It creates a tension. You have people with many different opinions."

There is another aspect of this that is also troublesome, aside from the apparent lack of professional ethics on the part of all the participants, is the fact that there appears to be drugs being used to coerce information or confessions and it seems likely that medical professionals are taking part in the administration of them.

Various reports from those who were detained either in Afghanistan and let go or transported to Guantanamo from other places bring this up over and over again. According to the Washington Post's analysis of the torture memo:

The law says torture can be caused by administering or threatening to administer "mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the sense of personality." The Bush lawyers advised, though, that it "does not preclude any and all use of drugs" and "disruption of the senses or personality alone is insufficient" to be illegal. For involuntarily administered drugs or other psychological methods, the "acts must penetrate to the core of an individual's ability to perceive the world around him," the lawyers found.

We have apparently been operating on this premise, because there have quite a few accounts of drugs being forcibly used on prisoners:

"Finally, on 1 May, he was dressed in goggles and an orange jump suit, injected with a sedative and flown to Guantanamo Bay." The Guardian May 16, 2004

"Mr. Shah alleged that the Americans had given him injections and tablets prior to interrogations. 'They used to tell me I was mad,' the 23-year-old told the BBC in his native village in Dir district near the Afghan border. 'I was given injections at least four or five times as well as different tablets. I don't know what they were meant for.'" BBC May 22, 2004

"Many detainees were given regular injections, after which 'they would just sit there like in a daze and sometimes you would see them shaking'. He [al-Harith] said he was beaten and put in isolation because he refused injections and was sometimes forcibly given unidentified drugs." Sun Herald (Sydney) March 14, 2004 Sunday

"A British detainee recently released from Guantanamo Bay has said that Habib had told him he had been subjected to beatings, electric shocks and injected with drugs while in Egypt." The Age (Melbourne) May 24, 2004

"A team of intelligence service psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioural scientists and psychoanalysts known as "the specialists" have prepared a detailed study of how the interrogators can break him...Truth drugs will be administered intravenously shortly before Saddam's interrogation begins - probably in the new year. Drugs were used early on in their captivity on Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to try to discover where Osama bin Laden is hiding." The Advertiser December 20, 2003

The good news is that we are being "compassionate conservatives." Despite the fact that virtually eveyone (except for General Ripper) admits that there has been almost no good intelligence gleaned from the prisoners in Guantanamo and even our own soldiers have been beaten severely in training exercizes, we can rest assured that the medical personnel are looking after the prisoners well being:

In the last six weeks alone, he said, three inmates have tried to hang themselves in their cells with camp-issued "comfort items" such as towels and sheets, and another tried to slit his wrists with a plastic razor. None has succeeded.

Hoey said camp doctors are treating some detainees for psychological disorders and have administered antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Agenda

I'm sure many blog readers, like me, spend an inordinate amount of time reading about current events. The Iraq war, terrorism, a presidential election and all the other stories, many of which I barely have time to skim, much less write about or even think much about, all start to run into one another in my mind after a while. It becomes a sort of pageant for my amusement on some level, an entertainment from which I find interesting nuggets to amuse myself and my readers and friends. I'm laughing about silly things and ranting about outrageous things and it all becomes part of one long continuous comment that loses meaning with each pithy little observation I add to it.

And then I read something that shocks me, which is not easy to do since it seems that everything is, or should be, shocking on one level or another these days.

This torture memo (pdf) shocked me. And it shocked me not because of its endorsement of torture, we knew something about that already, indeed we've seen pictures of it. No, strangely, it shocked me because it was the product of a bureaucratic "working group" and it was delivered in the dry prose of a government report on the legality of setting aside an executive order on train travel requirements. But this "working group," consisting of lawyers from throughout the executive branch, was tasked with something a little bit different than your average government project. Its job was defining the legal limits of the president's authority to order people to be tortured.

They had meetings at which I'm sure they all believed very sincerely that they were doing important work on the War on Terror. I'm sure they worked long hours and diligently analyzed the law and offered their advice to the president and secretary of defense with nothing but the good of the country in their minds. And they produced a 50+ page paper from which, I understand, only one person --- the state department representative -- dissented.

And that report, this product of a bureaucratic "working group" of lawyers is so deeply depraved and contrary to American values that one wonders if at any time during the discussions if someone had stood up and said, "we're talking about TORTURE for God's sake!" they would have produced a report at all.

Perhaps they wouldn't have. But, more importantly, I seriously doubt that anyone stood up and said such a thing. After all, this was being dryly discussed in the op-ed pages of major newspapers and in the weekly magazines as if it were just another method of warfare --- like terrorism itself. I'm sure these fine bureaucrats and political appointees believed they were doing their duty.

People are undoubtedly already in the process of wearing out the term "banality of evil" (if it has not already been trod over until its meaning is completely eradicated.) And I have already been taken to task by some who continue to believe that any comparison of the Bush administration to Naziism or totalitarianism in general is some sort of cheating. But, totalitarianism, incipient or full blown, has many features. Legal torture is one of them.

Here we have a "working group" of government lawyers tasked to find out what, if any, legal obstacles there are to presidential orders to torture prisoners in the war on terrorism. They found that the president of the United States has the unlimited power to set aside the laws of the land within his capacity as commander in chief. As has been noted by others, this general idea was explicit in the Nazi Fuehrerprinzip and is implied in what Republican legal theorists similarly like to call the "unitary executive." The American government has, up to now, never openly embraced such a concept.

Michael Froomkin and other legal experts have examined the final product of this 'working group" and found the legal reasoning seriously flawed as one might expect. Froomkin concludes his review with this:

If anyone in the higher levels of government acted in reliance on this advice, those persons should be impeached. If they authorized torture, it may be that they have committed, and should be tried for, war crimes. And, as we learned at Nuremberg, “I was just following orders” is NOT (and should not be) a defense.

Whatever the legal merits (and I'm sure Froomkin is correct --- this is an abomination) there is something even more frightening at work, I believe, than following bad legal advice and committing a war crime. It's the fact that a group of people working together from all different parts of our government came to this conclusion apparently without serious controversy.

I can't get past the fact that this is the product of a "working group" of lawyers, all of them highly educated, presumably intelligent, decent hardworking Americans who love their country. And, not one of them resigned their post rather than participate in creating a legal justification for torture. And, it was not just an abstraction to them; they went into great detail about the precise amount of pain that was to be allowed. There are long passages in which the meaning of "severe pain" is discussed, the effect of long term mental damage is assessed and where the justification of the infliction of long term damage is defined as a matter of intent rather than result. The Washington Post describes it like this:

In the view expressed by the Justice Department memo, which differs from the view of the Army, physical torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." For a cruel or inhuman psychological technique to rise to the level of mental torture, the Justice Department argued, the psychological harm must last "months or even years."

Under this definition you could for instance, shove bamboo shoots under someone's fingernails, pull their hair out of their head in clumps or beat them with a hose. According to the memo, you can force hallucinogenic drugs on them. You can repeatedly threaten them or their families with death. The imagination is boundless under this definition. After all, who knows how another person experiences pain, and that is what underlies their definition of torture --- how the victim experiences his pain.

What was the process by which they came to these dry legalistic definition of when, how and where on is allowed to inflict terrible pain as long as it doesn't reach the level of intensity that would accompany serious physical injury or organ failure? Did they discuss this around a conference table over a take-out Chinese dinner? Did they all nod their heads and take notes and write memos and have conference calls and send e-mails on the subject of what exactly the definition of "severe pain" is? Did they take their kid to school on the way to the meeting in which they finalized a report that says the president of the United States has the unlimited authority to order the torture of anyone he wants? Did they tell jokes on the way out?

These nice people with nice backrounds and nice jobs spent weeks contemplating how to legally torture human beings. Then they went home and watched television and ate dinner and went to bed and made love to their wife or husband and got up and did it again because it was their job and their duty to find ways to legally justify it:

A former senior administration official involved in discussions about CIA interrogation techniques said Bush's aides knew he wanted them to take an aggressive approach.

"He felt very keenly that his primary responsibility was to do everything within his power to keep the country safe, and he was not concerned with appearances or politics or hiding behind lower-level officials," the official said. "That is not to say he was ready to authorize stuff that would be contrary to law. The whole reason for having the careful legal reviews that went on was to ensure he was not doing that."

These last few days in which I've been pondering the unique horror I feel at this latest revelation, I was reminded (of all things) of a quote from George Will recently, in which he condemned the admnistration for being unable to think:

This administration be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.

I doubt that Will intended anyone to make this connection to his phrase but it is, of course, the central thesis of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Her observations of Eichman were of a "ludicrous" person defined by what she called his "thoughtlessness" as opposed to stupidity. He was filled with contradiction, spoke in nothing but bromides and cliches and believed that he had done his duty to the end. He was, in Arendt's view, the perfect embodiment of the banality of evil. A company man, a bureaucrat, a regular guy, the kind of man who would join a "working group" to find legal justification for torture without having one second of stricken conscience about it. Indeed, he was too shallow, too dully conformist to ever question himself about anything and thus even have a conscience. Arendt expounded on this theme in "Thinking and Moral Considerations" in which she says:

Evil is a surface phenomenon, and instead of being radical, it is merely extreme. We resist evil by not being swept away by the surface of things, by stopping ourselves and beginning to think, that is, by reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life. In other words, the more superficial someone is, the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann, ...was a perfect example.

These people who set about legalizing inhumane behavior on behalf of a president on whom they confer absolute power to order it at will are as shallow and evil as the cliché spouting president who demanded it. The slippery slope to totalitarianism started in a conference room where coffee and donuts and microsoft power point presentations on torture and pain were on the agenda one morning.