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IRAQ

12/23/04 <link>
War Crimes 

The Washington Post's editorial board seems to have finally woken up, given their latest editorial (via Buzzflash) titled "War Crimes". Before we go to that editorial though, some well deserved kudos to ACLU for this (bold text is my emphasis):

A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.
...
The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

Another e-mail, dated December 2003, describes an incident in which Defense Department interrogators at Guantánamo Bay impersonated FBI agents while using "torture techniques" against a detainee. The e-mail concludes "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [sic] the ‘FBI’ interrogators. The FBI will [sic] left holding the bag before the public."

Some of the torture related emails that the ACLU managed to obtain are here.

Now to the Washington Post editorial.

War Crimes

THANKS TO a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups, thousands of pages of government documents released this month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the U.S. military and the CIA -- truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration's whitewashers -- led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.

Though they represent only part of the record that lies in government files, the documents show that the abuse of prisoners was already occurring at Guantanamo in 2002 and continued in Iraq even after the outcry over the Abu Ghraib photographs. FBI agents reported in internal e-mails and memos about systematic abuses by military interrogators at the base in Cuba, including beatings, chokings, prolonged sleep deprivation and humiliations such as being wrapped in an Israeli flag. "On a couple of occasions I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," an unidentified FBI agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." Two defense intelligence officials reported seeing prisoners severely beaten in Baghdad by members of a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, in June. When they protested they were threatened and pictures they took were confiscated.

Other documents detail abuses by Marines in Iraq, including mock executions and the torture of detainees by burning and electric shock. Several dozen detainees have died in U.S. custody. In many cases, Army investigations of these crimes were shockingly shoddy: Officials lost records, failed to conduct autopsies after suspicious deaths and allowed evidence to be contaminated. Soldiers found to have committed war crimes were excused with noncriminal punishments. The summary of one suspicious death of a detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison reads: "No crime scene exam was conducted, no autopsy conducted, no copy of medical file obtained for investigation because copy machine broken in medical office."

Some of the abuses can be attributed to lack of discipline in some military units -- though the broad extent of the problem suggests, at best, that senior commanders made little effort to prevent or control wrongdoing. But the documents also confirm that interrogators at Guantanamo believed they were following orders from Mr. Rumsfeld. One FBI agent reported on May 10 about a conversation he had with Guantanamo's commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who defended the use of interrogation techniques the FBI regarded as illegal on the grounds that the military "has their marching orders from the Sec Def." Gen. Miller has testified under oath that dogs were never used to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, as authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld in December 2002; the FBI papers show otherwise.

The Bush administration refused to release these records to the human rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act until it was ordered to do so by a judge. Now it has responded to their publication with bland promises by spokesmen that any wrongdoing will be investigated. The record of the past few months suggests that the administration will neither hold any senior official accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful record. Congress, too, has abdicated its responsibility under its Republican leadership: It has been nearly four months since the last hearing on prisoner abuse. Perhaps intervention by the courts will eventually stem the violations of human rights that appear to be ongoing in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. For now the appalling truth is that there has been no remedy for the documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American government.

10/7/04_2 <link>
Iraq for Dummies ©
Given the joke that the Bush administration has made out of American lives and American security (especially in Iraq), it's time for us all to drink some Kool-aid and check out Iraq for Dummies ©. Now!

10/7/04_1 <link>
The real state of Iraq
Since President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are in fantasyland most of the time, it's probably appropriate to remind
ourselves about the real state of Iraq these days.

(Via Campaign Extra) Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi wrote this candid letter to her friends back home in the U.S. (which was never meant to be published) [she has since been asked to take a "scheduled vacation"] :

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under
virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April
when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when
Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began
spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a
foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard
units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being
murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that
almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18
billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage
and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for
insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about
elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

-Farnaz

8/4/04 <link>
Iraq - after so-called "sovereignty transfer" isn't doing better, and that's not surprising - what's worse, it may be getting worse
This much is clear. As long as this administration is in power, it is going to be almost impossible to get the worldwide support needed to increase the size of the military that polices Iraq.  Without a much larger, trained security force, it is going to be very difficult to stabilize Iraq and actually enable a path towards democracy. Real democracy in Iraq is becoming a more and more distant fantasy every day that this administration remains in power. That is a sad reality.

Today, I will simply quote from this article by Ken Dilanian in the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Buzzflash) - someone who previously criticized the media for being too negative on the Iraq coverage. Here is a glimpse of reality (incidentally 54 American soldiers died in Iraq in July, compared to 42 in June - I suspect Dilanian is quoting only combat casualties): 

The situation in Iraq right now is not as bad as the news media are portraying it to be. It's worse.
By Ken Dilanian
Inquirer Staff Writer

A kind of violence fatigue has descended over news coverage of Iraq. Car bombings that would have made the front page a year ago get scant mention these days.

Assassinations and kidnappings have become so common that they have lost their power to shock. More U.S. soldiers died in July (38) than in June (26), but that didn't make the nightly newscasts, either.

The U.S.-led effort to restore basic services has become a story of missed goals and frustrations. Hoped-for foreign investment in Iraq's economy hasn't materialized - what company is going to risk seeing its employees beheaded on television?

Simply by staving off stability and prosperity, the insurgents are winning.

These are painful observations for me to make, because in early April, I wrote on this page that the media had been underplaying the good things happening in Iraq, and were missing the potential for a turnaround.

I still believe the first part. But when I returned to Iraq in June, I found that the situation had deteriorated so dramatically that a lot of those good things have become irrelevant.

As for the turnaround, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Don't take my word for it: Listen to Sgt. Maj. John Jones, a First Infantry Division soldier who recently told my colleague Tom Lasseter that he grows annoyed every time he hears politicians and journalists on television talking about Iraq.

"When people come over here, where do they stay? In the Green Zone. I call it the Safe Zone," he said, referring to the heavily fortified area in Baghdad where most U.S. officials live and work. "They miss the full picture."

In the spring, I wrote: "I have seen a lot of good that has come of this painful expenditure of blood and treasure - very real progress that has made life better for some Iraqis, and promises to make it exponentially better, over time."

The article generated a flood of e-mail from readers who seemed to be thirsting for upbeat news out of Iraq, convinced that the media were hiding it from them.

"I am very happy to see The Inquirer allow a 'positive' article on the Iraq rebuilding effort to take up space in their pages," one person wrote. "I knew there was more to the situation than just what the sound bites allow in a quick TV flash."

I still believe the U.S.-led effort in Iraq is accomplishing many good things, most of which get no publicity. And I still think it's too early to abandon hope that a stable and democratic Iraq will emerge from this crucible.

But I learned this summer that the insurgency has been far more successful than I would have imagined at sowing instability and halting progress. Most Iraqis aren't seeing the improvements they had hoped for, and they're not blaming the guerillas - they're blaming the Americans. Sovereignty seems to have had zero effect on this equation.

In March, as I was writing, the $18.4 billion reconstruction effort was just getting off the ground. I had sat in on a briefing in which a senior U.S. official confidently predicted that, by June, thanks to American rebuilding efforts, Iraq would have electricity 18 hours a day throughout the country.

I called that promise "credible," and argued that, once Iraqis could see that kind of progress from the rebuilding program, perhaps the insurgency would abate.

I just couldn't conceive, given how severely the lack of electricity undermines everything they are trying to achieve, that the Americans would publicly set a goal and then fail to meet it.

But that's just what they did.

It's now August, and that goal still hasn't been reached. Throughout much of the country, the power goes off for half the day or more. That has meant another summer of babies sweltering in 120-degree apartments, of factories that can't run, of despair turning to hatred.

One reason the goal was missed is that the uprising by Muqtada al-Sadr's militants - and the since-abandoned Marine effort to pacify Fallujah - ushered in the worst violence since the United States and its allies invaded Iraq last year.

That explosion of insecurity upended another observation I made in that April article. I said the insurgents thus far had not been able to substantially undermine the rebuilding effort.

Well, in April and May, that changed. U.S. contractors hunkered down or pulled out, supply lines were attacked, and the reconstruction sputtered to a near halt. The Sunni triangle has always been risky, but now, so is the Shiite south.

Those battles are over, but the results were mixed, at best. The First Armored Division chased Sadr's men from several southern cities, yet he and his armed followers remain active in Najaf and parts of Baghdad, a force for instability. The Marines backed off in Fallujah, and that city is now a safe haven for foreign terrorists and Iraqi insurgents.

Some reconstruction work has resumed in the last two months, but continued attacks have driven up security costs astronomically. The current wave of kidnappings may halt the rebuilding again. Security issues pervade everything.

Take telephones. In my April piece, I said Iraq's new mobile-phone network was an unheralded success story that has changed the lives of many average Iraqis, at least in Baghdad. That's still somewhat true.

But the service has degraded considerably in the last few months because the network is badly overloaded. Why hasn't the provider, Iraqna, expanded it?

"There was a delay in receiving the equipment. Also, they depended on foreign engineers," Iraq's communication minister explained recently.

"Those engineers were pulled out of Iraq because of security."

Similar problems plague the entire reconstruction effort, which is moving so slowly that the Bush administration is thinking of overhauling it. A near-total lack of visible progress has prompted even the most pro-Western Iraqis to lose faith in the capabilities - and worse, the intentions - of the United States.

It's amazing how many Iraqis are convinced that the Americans are withholding electricity to punish them. Absurd, sure - but people who think like that are more inclined to plant a bomb, pick up a gun, or at least look the other way when their neighbor does.

That's one reason large swaths of the country that once were safe are now considered danger zones. I felt that myself, driving south to Karbala a few weeks ago in an unarmored car with no guards or weapons. There is where the two Polish journalists were killed, my driver noted. There's where the CNN guys got hit.

Earlier this year, U.S. journalists were able to drive to Fallujah and roam the city asking questions. One of the last Western reporters who tried that in May ended up writing about how it felt when machine-gun fire raked his vehicle. Only the armor plating saved him.

Those First Division soldiers know far more than any reporter does about such hazards. They spend their days dodging bullets and roadside bombs in insurgent-filled Al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

Staff Sgt. Sheldon Rivers doesn't speak in the nuanced language of a television talking head. The full picture as he and his buddies see it is much more practical - and much more telling:

"I'm tired of every time we go out the gate, someone tries to kill me."

6/14/04 <link>
Torture, Ltd. (or shall I say, tritely, Torturegate)
Via Atrios, I came across Michael Froomkin's Disourse.net. Michael is doing a great service to the online community with his dissections of the various Bush administration Torture Memos. 

In response to the latest revelations in the Washington Post, Michael has posted a somewhat lengthy analysis, which is reproduced below. Before reading that, though, nothing better captures how this administration has degraded what this country stands for and how it has shown itself to be incapable of having any moral credibility, than this Jay Leno joke which Michael reproduces:

Ultimately, the best legal commentary on this memo may belong to Professor Jay Leno:

According to the “New York Times”, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security - so if that’s legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?

Anyway, here is Michael's post reproduced in full, because it also captures the essence of some of the other developments in the past few weeks.

OLC's Aug. 1, 2002 Torture Memo ("the Bybee Memo")

The Washington Post has placed online the full text of an August 1, 2002 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to White House Legal Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales.

A few words of context before substance. The OLC is sometimes called “the Attorney General’s Lawyer”. It’s an elite bureau in the Justice Dept. staffed by very very intelligent and highly credentialed people. Its primary function is to give opinions on matters of constitutionality regarding interdepartmental and inter-branch relations, and to opine on the constitutionality of pending legislation. By all accounts working at OLC is one of the most interesting jobs in government if you are interested in constitutional law or the working of government.

In August 2002, the head of the OLC was Jay Bybee, now a sitting judge on the 9th Circuit. His signature appears on page 46 of this memo.

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who requested this memo, is not the head of the OLC. The White House Counsel is part of the Office of the President, and the Counsel is the President’s staff lawyer, just as the Attorney General is the President’s institutional lawyer; neither of these people however is the President’s personal lawyer.

OK. On to the substance.

The memo is about what limits on the use of force (“standards of permissible conduct”) for interrogations conducted “abroad” are found in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment ( Torture Convention) “as implemented” by 18 USC §§ 2340-2340A (the Torture statute).

The memo concludes that the restrictions are very limited — that only acts inflicting and “specifically intended to inflict severe pain or suffering”, whether mental or physical, are prohibited. Allowed are severe mental pain not intended to have lasting effects (pity if they do…), and physical pain less than that which acompanies “serious physical injury such as death or organ failure” (p. 46). Having opined that some cruel, inhuman, or degrading acts are not forbidden, only those that are “extreme acts” (committed on purpose), the memo moves on to “examine defenses” that could be asserted to “negate any claims that certain interrogation methods violate the statute.”

  • This is not a draft, but it’s not an action document either. It’s legal advice to the Counselor for the President. The action document was Gonzales’s memo to Bush.
  • This OLC document is a legalistic, logic-chopping brief for the torturer. Its entire thrust is justifying maximal pain.
  • Nowhere do the authors say “but this would be wrong”.
  • This memo also has a full dose of the royalist vision of the Presidency that informs the Draft Walker memo. In the views of the author(s), there’s basically nothing Congress can do to constrain the President’s exercise of the war power. The Geneva Conventions are, by inevitable implications, not binding on the President, nor is any other international agreement if it impedes the war effort. I’m sure our allies will be just thrilled to hear that. And, although the memo nowhere treats this issue, presumably, also, the same applies in reverse, and our adversaries should feel unconstrained by any treaties against poison gas, torture, land mines, or anything else? Or is ignoring treaties a unique prerogative of the USA?

Synopsis and commentary:

Pages 2-13 are the same sort of unconvincing criminal law analysis that others have critiqued in the Walker Working Group memo

Admitting that the Torture Statute is designed to implement the Torture Convention, and that therefore the interpretation of the treaty should inform one’s interpretation of the statute, page 14 of the Bybee memo starts in on the Torture Convention. It finds in the Convention a distinction between the worst acts of torture and lesser acts of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. (P. 15) That’s fair enough.

Then things get weird. When the Senate ratified the Torture Convention in 1994 it stated “[t]hat the United States considers itself bound by the obligation under Article 16 to prevent ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,’ only insofar as the term ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ means the cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.” 136 Cong. Rec. 17491 (Oct. 27, 1990).

It’s obvious (I hope) that the various horrors the memo would allow, such as hurting prisoners a great deal (but not quite to the point of ‘torture’), drugging them, scaring them, and so on, indeed very many things we would call “cruel, inhuman or degrading” would be the sort of thing that we would domestically prohibit as “cruel and unusual” punishment. But if that’s right, then the memo is deeply, horribly, wrong.

So, here’s how they try to reason out of that hole: It’s not the Senate’s view that really counts. No, it’s the King’s President’s view of the treaty’s meaning that has the “greatest weight” (p. 16). To get to this conclusion they cite a bunch of court decisions that say the executive’s view is entitled to “great weight” (which it is)…but the difference between “great” and “greatest” is, well, pretty great.

Having decided that it’s the executive branch’s views that matter, the memo then parses the Reagan administration’s submissions to the Senate relating to the proposed ratification of the the Convention. One problem with relying on what the Reagan administration said is that the Senate didn’t ratify the Convention until the first Bush administration. Arguably it did so in reliance on the Bush administration’s submissions which, as the memo delicately puts it used “less vigorous rhetoric” (p. 18). In fact, the Bush administration used language much like that in the Torture Statute; but the memo chooses to rely on the Reagan language instead (p. 19) to find that only the most extreme conduct would be prohibited.

As for what the Senate may have said in the ratification debates, the memo’s attitude is — Who Cares? “[A]part from statements by Executive Branch officials, the rest of a ratification debate is of little weight in interpreting a treaty”. For a statement of the contrary, and widely accepted, view that requires a court to consider legislative sources, see Restatement (3rd) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States § 325 comment 5.

Despite the increasingly heard right-wing complaint that the Supreme Court should not rely on the decisions of foreign courts, the Memo then turns to what other nations have said constitutes torture. The most important case on which the Memo relies is “Ireland v. United Kingdom”:, a 1978 decision of the European Court of Human Rights which held that “interrogation in depth” involving “five techniques” was not “torture” but merely “inhuman and degrading treatment”. The five techniques were:

a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a “stress position”, described by those who underwent it as being “spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers”;

b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees’ heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;

c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;

d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;

e) deprivation of food and drink.. subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.

If one believed that US law banned only “torture” and not mere “inhumane and degrading treatment” then I think the Memo would be right to rely on this precedent. The key issue is whether that initial distinction is right.

(The memo also noted, at pp. 30-31, the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision in “Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. Israel”:, 38 LL.M. 1471 (1999), which discussed even more aggressive measures and found them to be “inhuman and degrading”. The Bybee Memo argues somewhat unpersuasively that this means the Court did not believe them to be torture, a reading it buttressed by noting that Court accepted there might be a necessity defense in some cases. I’m no expert here, but I’m dubious: the Israeli Supreme Court was ruling in a charged and political case, and was very mindful of the potential effect on international public opinion. It had every incentive to avoid the word ‘torture’; as for the necessity defense, the Israeli rule, like the US rule, contemplates permitting some things under domestic law that violate international law. “Necessity” in Israel is seen as touching national survival.)

Page 31 returns us to Wonderland. Here the memo reverses field and says, basically, if we were wrong about any of this stuff and the statute did ban an interrogation technique then the statute would be unconstitutional as an impermissible encroachment on the President’s Commander-in-Chief power to wage a military campaign, especially in circumstances “unprecedented in recent American history”. (Note the qualifier: it is NOT the first time we’ve had an attack on our shores or even on core government institutions. After all, the British burned the White House in 1814.) The next couple pages recite what a great threat Al Qaeda is, and the great national effort to fight it, concluding that “the capture and interrogation of such individuals is clearly imperative to our national security and defense” as they could tell us information that would prevent future attacks.

[In what now must seem highly ironic this section of the memo concludes by citing Padilla’s arrest as an example of the valuable intelligence that could be gathered to prevent future attacks on the US. (In fact, by all accounts other than the Justice Department’s, Padilla was at worst a nasty, ill-intentioned incompetent or perhaps just a big talker; his lawyer argues he was a guy who soured on Al Qaeda and made up stuff so they’d let him go back to the US).]

The memo then argues (pp. 33- ) that any criminal statute such as the Torture statute, which might be read to limit the President’s authority to wage war must be read to avoid this constitutional problem. It’s certainly right that reading statutes to avoid constitutional problems is a good interpretive strategy. The problem here, as I’ve suggested previously, is that there isn’t actually much of a constitutional problem here: a President negotiated the statute, the Senate ratified it, both houses of Congress passed implementing legislation that a different President signed. Treaties are the law of the land. Once implemented in legislation (few treaties are “self-executing,” so legislation is almost always needed), the President has a duty to take care that they be faithfully executed unless Congress relieves him of that obligation. That didn’t happen here.

The memo argues (p. 35) that Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” Either this is just bunk, or the Geneva conventions, the prohibitions on the use of poison gas, all the rest of the web of international agreements to which the US is a party, are so much tissue paper. We’re no longer committed to the rule of law, but the rule of force. (In fact what the OLC seemed to argue for in other memos was a double standard in which international law still applied to everyone else.)

In any case, there’s an enormous difference between unfettered discretion to move troops around on the battlefield and unfettered discretion to order war crimes. One has to do with determining what tools the President has available to conduct the war, the other with the conduct of it. Congress has a great say in the first, even if it has no say in the second.

Page 36 pulls back a bit in the direction of reality. Perhaps realizing that its argument is a little daft, the memo considers the possibility that “[i]t could be argued that Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 2340A with the full knowledge and consideration of the President’s Commander-in-Chief power, and the Congress intended to restrict his discretion in the interrogation of enemy combatants.” But the visit is merely temporary, for the memo quickly asserts that even if this were the case, “the Department of Justice could not could not [sic] enforce Section 2340A against federal officials acting pursuant to the President’s constitutional authority to wage a military campaign”.

Note that the argument here is not that the DOJ should use its prosecutorial discretion, but rather that it would have a legal duty to abstain from prosecution. Why couldn’t the DOJ prosecute what appears to be a crime? Because the President’s power to protect the nation’s security is paramount (p. 36), and plenary, especially “in grave and unforseen emergencies” (p. 37).

Now, there really is great substance to the argument that the President’s powers are at its apex if he has to repel a sudden attack on the US. I think all constitutional scholars would agree with that. But the scenario to which this applies is the invading army, the advancing missile or aircraft, not the detainee captured half way across the world.

By page 39 of the memo, however, we’re back to the Vesting Clauses of the Constitution, and the argument the President is a law to himself regarding anything touching military matters. “Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President.” And since intelligence gathering is so critical to modern warfare against terrorists, Congress certainly can’t interfere with that.

In short, it’s the same Nixonian argument all over: the DOJ can’t prosecute anyone who, in anything arguably connected to the war effort, does what the President tells them to.

But that’s not enough. The Memo then turns to other defenses besides Presidential authorization that might be raised by a person accused of torture. [I take it that this section of the memo applies to both accusations of “torture” which the authors admit is torture and accusations of “torture” that the memo writers would characterize as mere “cruel, inhuman, or degrading acts” that are not actual torture, but it’s a little vague on this, and it’s conceivable the authors mean this section only to apply to the latter. The memo speaks of force, even deadly force, which suggests it includes what they call torture, but elsewhere it notes that the force must be “proportional” to the need; given that the “need” is national security, and the memo treats this as the summum bonum, I read the memo to intend the defenses potentially to apply to all uses of force including the most severe torture.]

The first is the “necessity” defense, the second is a notion of “self-defense”. I will leave it to others to skewer these. But I do feel a need to point out just how far down the slippery slope this memo goes by page 45. It argues that otherwise criminal individual acts can be defended by invoking the nations’s not the individual’s right to self-defense (and even in a footnote argues that there’s a relevant analogy to the right to national self-defense under international law. And this applies to suspected prospective attackers and their associates as well as soldiers in the field. How this differs from saying that if the US even suspects anyone of wanting to harm it, it can do anything it wants to them is not clear on first reading.

Ultimately, the best legal commentary on this memo may belong to Professor Jay Leno:

According to the “New York Times”, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security - so if that’s legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?

Remember: the lawyers who wrote this memo were guilty of a lack of moral sense, and extreme tunnel vision fueled by a national panic. The people who asked them to write it, who read it, and especially any who may have acted on it — they’re people who really have the most to answer for.

Also see:

a. Michael's response to Prof. John Yoo's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times here. As Michael says, "...As Prof. Yoo worked in the Justice Dept. During 2001-03, and by all accounts had a major hand in the drafting of Justice Dept. memos relating to the rules applying to the treatment of al Qaeda and other persons labeled by the administration as non-persons enemy combatants, his comments deserve careful attention..." Read his response in full.

b. Michael's earlier post citing other work responding to the Bush administration's earlier torture memos. As he says:

One of the weirder parts of the Torture Memo, which I didn’t write about earlier, was the attempt to suggest that a torturer might be able to benefit from what we lawyers call a ‘pure heart, empty head’ defense: ‘Honest, judge, I didn’t think it was torture.’ The memo tries this on in two implausible ways: (1) The guy doing the damage honestly believes it’s legal; (2) the guy doing the damage isn’t sure it’s really going to be that damaging. Both arguments seem completely inapplicable to the circumstances, neither is convincing, and the legal analysis is muddled. But don’t take my word for it, it’s not my field. Instead, have a look at these three posts by experts.

Update (6/11/04): Also don’t miss Eric Muller’s excellent comment, Manipulating Doctrine.

Shall we say, that borrowing from the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, that this administration is "objectively pro-torture"?

5/30/04 <link>
The prisoner abuse scandal and more...

Michael Hirsch and John Barry have an article in Newsweek, that pretty much says it all. Here's the tile:

The Abu Ghraib Scandal Cover-Up?
Bush insists that 'a few American troops' dishonored the country. But prisoner abuse was more widespread, and some insiders believe that much remains hidden

As they say in blogworld, go "read the whole thing".

Separately, the so-called turnover of power in Iraq is prodding along - and Josh Marshall is covering the latest developments. Start here and continue reading. Another good site covering Iraq, especially the whole Chalabi mess, is Laura Rozen's War and Piece.

As for all the talk from right-wing partisans about how the Press is not talking about the "progress" in Iraq, Maxspeak has a response (via Atrios) - do read it. Moreover, as this New York Times article by James Glanz suggests, it all depends on what the meaning of "progress" is.

As the United States spends billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq's civil and military infrastructure, there is increasing evidence that parts of sensitive military equipment, seemingly brand-new components for oil rigs and water plants and whole complexes of older buildings are leaving the country on the backs of flatbed trucks (my emphasis).
By some estimates, at least 100 semitrailers loaded with what is billed as Iraqi scrap metal are streaming each day into Jordan, just one of six countries that share a border with Iraq.
American officials say sensitive equipment is, in fact, closely monitored and much of the rest that is leaving is legitimate removal and sale from a shattered country. But many experts say that much of what is going on amounts to a vast looting operation.
In the past several months, the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, has been closely monitoring satellite photographs of hundreds of military-industrial sites in Iraq. Initial results from that analysis are jarring, said Jacques Baute, director of the agency's Iraq nuclear verification office: entire buildings and complexes of as many as a dozen buildings have been vanishing from the photographs.
"We see sites that have totally been cleaned out," Mr. Baute said.
The agency started the program in December, after a steel vessel contaminated with uranium, probably an artifact of Saddam Hussein's pre-1991 nuclear program, turned up in a Rotterdam scrapyard. The shipment was traced to a Jordanian company that was apparently unaware that the scrap contained radioactive material.
In the last several weeks, Jordan has again caught the attention of international officials, as pieces of Iraqi metal bearing tags put in place by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, established to monitor Iraqi disarmament during Mr. Hussein's rule, have been spotted in Jordanian scrapyards. The observation of items tagged by the commission, known as Unmovic, has not been previously disclosed.
"Unmovic has been investigating the removal from Iraq of materials that may have been subject to monitoring, and that investigation is ongoing," said Jeff Allen, a spokesman for the commission. "So we've been aware of the issue," he said. "We've been apprised of the details of the Rotterdam incident and have been in touch with Jordanian officials."
Recent examinations of Jordanian scrapyards, including by a reporter for The New York Times, have turned up an astounding quantity of scrap metal and new components from Iraq's civil infrastructure, including piles of valuable copper and aluminum ingots and bars, large stacks of steel rods and water pipe and giant flanges for oil equipment - all in nearly mint condition - as well as chopped-up railroad boxcars, huge numbers of shattered Iraqi tanks and even beer kegs marked with the words "Iraqi Brewery."
"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping anything of perceived value out of the country," said John Hamre, president and chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington research institute, which sent a team to Iraq and issued a report on reconstruction efforts at the request of the Pentagon last July.
"This is systematically plundering the country," Dr. Hamre said. "You're going to have to replace all of this stuff."
The United States contends that the prodigious Middle Eastern trade in Iraqi scrap metal is closely monitored by Iraqi government ministries to ensure that nothing crossing the border poses a security risk or siphons material from new projects. In April, L. Paul Bremer III, the occupation's senior official in Iraq, and the Iraqi Ministry of Trade established rules for licensing the export of scrap metal from the country.
....
Sam Whitfield, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said that penalties for not obtaining a license or abiding by its terms were severe for a trucker. "If he does not have it or is found to be exporting scrap illegally, not only can his load be seized but his truck can be seized," he said.
...
Mr. Whitfield asserted that the coalition had put a stop to widespread looting in Iraq. But a visit to an enormous scrapyard on the side of a dusty hill surrounded by goat herds in this town about 10 miles southeast of Amman raises serious questions about that assertion. Cranes and men with torches pick through seemingly endless piles of steel, aluminum and copper that workers there say has come almost exclusively from Iraq.
On a recent afternoon, roughly 100 trucks, many with yellow Iraqi license plates, were lined up near the entrance to the scrapyard or maneuvering with inches to spare inside, their engines snorting as they kicked up the flourlike dust.
Yousseff Wakhian, a scrapyard worker wearing a gray jumpsuit and a cap with a New York Yankees insignia, said that 60 to 100 trucks had come in that day from Iraq and 50 had left with loads of the scrap to be sold elsewhere.
Some of the piles contain items that might - or might not - have arrived as part of legitimate scrap operations. There is stripped copper cable from a high-voltage electrical system, jumbled piles of tank treads, big engine blocks and crankshafts and thick steel walls connected to a door with lettering indicating that it was part of a building at an airport.
Last year, there were widespread reports of looting of electrical transmission lines and military bases, among other things.
But Muhammad al-Dajah, an engineer who is technical director Jordanian free-trade zones like the Sahab scrapyard, pointed with chagrin to piles of other items that hardly looked as if they belonged in a shipment of scrap metal. There were new 15-foot-long bars of carbon steel, water pipes a foot in diameter stacked in triangular piles 10 feet high, and the large flanges he identified as oil-well equipment.
"It's still new," Mr. Dajah said, "and worth a lot."
"Why are they here?" he asked rhetorically, and then said, referring to the devastation in Iraq. "They need it there."
...
Several Middle Eastern analysts said that the widespread traffic in Iraqi scrap did not have all the hallmarks of an above-board operation.
"What we are finding out in Iraq, there are gangs, some of them from the old days, some of them new with corruption, and they can get away with it," said Walid Khadduri, an Iraqi who is editor of the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus and was in the country as recently as January.
"It is really mayhem," Mr. Khadduri said. "There is no law."
Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian political analyst who has done business in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, said that there was in fact much talk in the business community of deals "to ship new things under the title of scrap."

5/23/04 <link>
More outrages reveal themselves

A. Julian Borger reports in the Guardian on the convicted criminal and lying con man Ahmad Chalabi and the alleged evidence that his group passed on classified American intelligence secrets to Iran. The obvious question, which is apparently being investigated by the FBI, is who in the U.S. Government passed on the secrets to Chalabi and his crooks anyway? No awards for correct answers -- given it is obvious who Chalabi's closest friends were..

An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.
Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.
According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.
The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.
The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war.
"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."
Larry Johnson, a former senior counter-terrorist official at the state department, said: "When the story ultimately comes out we'll see that Iran has run one of the most masterful intelligence operations in history. They persuaded the US and Britain to dispose of its greatest enemy."
Mr Chalabi has vehemently rejected the allegations as "a lie, a fib and silly". He accused the CIA director, George Tenet, of a smear campaign against himself and Mr Habib.
However, it is clear that the CIA - at loggerheads with Mr Chalabi for more than eight years - believes it has caught him red-handed, and is sticking to its allegations.
"The suggestion that Chalabi is a victim of a smear campaign is outrageous," a US intelligence official said. "It's utter nonsense. He passed very sensitive and classified information to the Iranians. We have rock solid information that he did that."

Kevin Drum of Political Animal has been covering this quite a bit: here, here, here, here and here.

B. Nick Confessore comments in TAPPED on the latest outrage revealed in Iraq, which is merely another symptom of the bottomless incompetence of the White House. His comments are about right (bold text is my emphasis).

ANOTHER REASON FOR CHAOS IN IRAQ. What do you expect when you hire a bunch of 25-year-old political science majors to run the occupation? Here are some depressing highlights from what is, as Kevin Drum notes, actually a very fair-minded story in the Washington Post about the young folks who went to Iraq to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority.
[Simone] Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.
For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.
Others from across the District responded affirmatively to the same e-mail, for different reasons. Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.
For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.
Right, because the Heritage Foundation is so well-known as a font of nation-building expertise. Where else would you look for volunteers? Then there's this business:
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Yoswa said the CPA was satisfied with the quality of applicants. Some staffers may have been young and inexperienced, he said, but "we have people right out of college leading troops on the ground."
Yoswa said the recruiting office had to hire quickly for the Madrid donors conference that fall and "turned to the Heritage Foundation, an educational facility, albeit a conservative one, but primarily a place where you can get good, solid people." He said this was a one-time event and that there was no organized effort to hire Republicans.
Of course, by going to Heritage in the first place, you've got a de facto "organized effort to hire Republicans." And it's amazing to see Yowsa compare young lieutenants out of ROTC programs and the service academies to the demonstrably ill-equipped and unprepared CPA workers. After all, the lieutenants have actually been trained -- highly trained -- for their work. Would that the CPA staffers had spent a couple of months at nation-building boot camp. The Post story goes on:
When Ledeen's group showed up at the palace -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. For some, they represented everything that was right with the CPA: They were young, energetic and idealistic. For others, they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues.
Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.
Other staffers quickly nicknamed the newcomers "The Brat Pack."
"They had come over because of one reason or another, and they were put in positions of authority that they had no clue about," remembered Army Reserve Sgt. Thomas D. Wirges, 38, who had been working on rehabilitating the Baghdad Stock Exchange.
Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good.
...
Brad Jackson, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who worked with the CPA, said the budget team regularly asked other ministries at the last minute to produce information that would take hundreds of people half a year to gather.
"There were a lot of people who, being political science majors, didn't know what an income statement was, who were asking the impossible. . . . That was giving us ulcers, quite frankly," he said.
The young budget advisers are the first to admit that they weren't the most qualified to be managing Iraq's finances. "We knew we were overwhelmed. We wanted help," Ledeen said. "We were doing maintenance, trying to make sure there were no riots, that no one went hungry." The budget team reported to Rodney Bent, a former U.S. Office of Management and Budget official, and Tony McDonald from the Australian Treasury. McDonald said it angers him to hear people criticize the budget team. "The people who came were young and keen -- not necessarily the most experienced -- but they were here. They did a great job in working as hard as they could."
Although I've heard a lot over the transom similar to Krohn's complaint -- that the CPA was politicized to its core, more concerned with making the White House look good than anything else -- at the end of the day it's hard to come down too hard on the folks in this artice. They went to a dangerous place and worked hard for their country. That many of them had no business being there is really on the hands of those at the top who decided not to plumb the community of professional nation-builders and NGOS, because doing so might be too close to something Bill Clinton had done, and weren't those groups all run by lefties anyway? For shame. And look what the White House's short-sightedness has wrought.

5/18/04 <link>
Cover-up
Via DailyKos, ABC has a report:

Definitely a Cover-Up'
Former Abu Ghraib Intel Staffer Says Army Concealed Involvement in Abuse Scandal
By Brian Ross
May 18, 2004 -- Dozens of soldiers -- other than the seven military police reservists who have been charged -- were involved in the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and there is an effort under way in the Army to hide it, a key witness in the investigation told ABCNEWS.
"There's definitely a cover-up," the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. "People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet."
Provance, 30, was part of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at Abu Ghraib last September. He spoke to ABCNEWS despite orders from his commanders not to.

Salon.com's Michelle Goldberg reports on another home grown torture scandal - the one practices on Muslims detained secretly inside the U.S. after 9/11.

Advantage of not covering up 

Mark Follman reports on the importance of saying sorry - and one positive development from Bush's apology to the Arab world.

But some conservative military bloggers are now rejecting Steyn's brand of hard-liner bravado, pointing to powerful benefits from Bush's apology, particularly in the Arab media. Joe Carter, a career U.S. Marine from Texas who authors the Evangelical Outpost blog, reports a change of heart on the issue.
"When President Bush apologized for the events at Abu Ghraib prison I thought it was a mistake. At the time I believed that the apology would send the wrong message to the Arab street and be perceived as a sign of weakness. I felt it would imply that both the military and the Administration were not only responsible for the atrocities but culpable for the actions of a few criminals. I was wrong."
Carter cites a recent e-mail from an unnamed Marine colonel in Iraq who says he was struck by the degree to which Bush's apology has had a positive effect. The e-mail was posted by fellow military blogger Blackfive, a former U.S. Army major and Defense Intelligence Agency officer (who provides only his real first name, Matthew.) In the e-mail, the Marine colonel recounts a recent broadcast he saw on Arab television:
"'Why does Arab media fail at self criticism and why can't Arab human rights NGOs pressure Arab governments the way their counterparts do in America?', asked the host of satellite news channel al-Arabiy[a]'s (one of the harshest critics of the United States) 'Spotlight' news program. The follow up commentary was even more astounding, given the source. 'The Americans exposed their own scandal, queried the officials and got the American Government to accept responsibility for the actions of its soldiers,' stated the host before asking her guests why this sort of open and responsive action isn't taken in the Arab world."
The Marine colonel also wrote that "one of the largest newspapers in the Pan-Arab world" -- he doesn't specify which one -- had "raised the stakes even higher" by editorializing with the following:
"What happened at Abu Ghuraib is not surprising as there are many stories of horror inside Arab jails. The abuses that the Arab governments condemn at Abu Ghuraib are nothing compared to what happens in these governments' jails. Will the Arab regimes go on TV and apologize to their people in the same way President Bush did?" 
The strategic payoff of such press, argued the Marine colonel, could be enormous.
"My colleague who heads our Arab media unit here in Baghdad called these statements nothing short of revolutionary for the Middle East media. And while they may not seem that profound on the surface, they are threads of a far greater, and still unfolding, story. Yes, the horrific actions of a few have tainted the good work of the many. But they have unwittingly done something else. The events of the past several days have given democracy a global stage within which to prove its worth.
"In all their lives, the citizens of Iraq never heard Saddam Hussein apologize. Not once. Not when he gassed more than 10,000 of his own people on an April morning a decade ago. Not when he dragged 300,000 men, women and children from their homes in the dead of night to be driven into the desert and summarily executed and buried in mass, unmarked graves ... No, the first time the people of this land ever heard an apology it came from the leader of the world's oldest democracy ... He was apologizing because in this instance, we were wrong."

5/16/04 <link>
The U.S. and human rights - some perspective
Via Atrios, I see that Fred Hiatt had something relevant to say on this in the Washington Post. I emphasize some portions in bold text.

The first victims of U.S. prison abuse at Abu Ghraib were Iraqis. But those who will pay a price also live in Libya and Hong Kong, Venezuela and Burma, and anywhere else human rights are in jeopardy.
They will pay a price because America's capacity to stand up to dictators, and stand up for their victims, is the lowest it has been in memory. And so far at least, President Bush either does not appreciate or does not care enough about this handicap to begin taking the steps that might point to recovery
.
"Of course our hands have never been completely clean," says a friend in the human-rights-and-democracy-promotion world. "But this is different. Our hands are unclean in a way we haven't known about since My Lai."
Is this is an exaggeration? You might dismiss some of the domestic criticism, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to, as the carping of political opponents. You might discount some of the reaction of the Arab world, too, where official newspapers have long delighted in proclaiming U.S. hypocrisy.
"Nobody is surprised," shrugs Olivier Roy, the French authority on political Islam, when asked whether the photos will spur al Qaeda recruiting. "Nobody expects the Americans to come to the Mideast to establish democracy. They think you come for oil, or for Israel. For the man in the street, what else would you expect from the Americans?"
Bad enough if we fail to exceed their expectations. But when you listen to America's friends around the world -- the people who want the United States to play a leading role -- you get a better sense of the damage.
Listen, for example, to Tommy Koh, Singapore's former ambassador to the United States and the United Nations: "We believed in American exceptionalism, and American exceptionalism has proven to be fraudulent."
Or Kim Kyung Won, who held similar posts for South Korea: "These things happen in a lot of countries. But we had the expectation that the United States is different. So the revelation that this happens in U.S. prisons makes us sad -- more sad than angry."
Or Farooq Sobhan, former foreign secretary and U.N. ambassador of the South Asian Muslim nation of Bangladesh: "This is a shot in the arm for the extremists, the guys who have been saying, 'You can't trust the Americans, this is a war on Muslims.' And as of now there is no credible response."
Sobhan said he wishes the U.S. administration would respond far more energetically to this crisis, holding higher-ups accountable, pledging adherence to international law and, above all, listening and reaching out to governments and people in countries like his.

If all this seems theoretical, consider six real-world people who may be about to die. Five Bulgarian health workers and a Palestinian doctor have been sentenced to death by firing squad in Libya for intentionally infecting 400 children with HIV. Dictator Moammar Gaddafi, most likely seeking to distract attention from squalid conditions inside his hospitals, found some foreign scapegoats and accused them of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service. When the United States protested the sentence last week, Libya turned out 1,000 demonstrators to burn American flags and said the U.S. government has "no moral authority anymore to talk about human rights" in light of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Dictators forever have sought to deflect criticism by playing to anti-Americanism. The difference now is that the United States can hardly talk back. It might have had some influence over Gaddafi at this moment. But the State Department delayed publication of its own annual human rights report -- which in past years has criticized other governments for precisely the kinds of practices that U.S. officials have authorized in Iraq.
Some will say this is all to the good if it diminishes the hubris of what President Bill Clinton called the "indispensable nation." They will say that slave-owning, Indian-eradicating, dictator-propping America was never anything but a fraudulent champion of human rights.
But if you could ask the dissidents and human rights champions who over the decades, in isolated prison cells and frozen work camps, have somehow gotten word that U.S. diplomats or presidents had not forgotten them; if you could ask the elected leader of Burma, who is still under house arrest; or the peasants who are being chased from their villages in western Sudan, or the democrats being slowly squashed in Hong Kong by the Communists in Beijing -- if you could ask any of them, you might get a different answer. They might tell you that the United States has never been perfect, has never done enough, has never been free of hypocrisy -- but also that if America cannot take up their cause, no one will
.

The last sentence is very appropriate. I said something pretty similar in an earlier article I wrote in early 2002.

The scourge of "terrorism" may have become unconventional, it may be low-tech (box-cutter or envelope based), and it may be spread out over the world, but the people (not just the politicians or so-called leaders) who subscribe to and evangelise its perpetrators will soon have to make up their mind, as to what they really prefer in their lives. To those people, it will not be a choice between the "US way" and the "other way", but it will be a choice between living a life and having their life lived for them (through planned martyrdom or perennial subjugation). For all the crap being thrown at the US and it being equated with the Taliban, let us not forget which of these two groups one would first turn to if one really wanted to improve the probability that democracy will ultimately prevail on this earth.

5/15/04 <link>
Nick Berg, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Ghraib
Following the hideous, deplorable decapitation of American worker Nick Berg by terrorists in Iraq, one of the natural questions to ask is - who did this? Reports suggest it was Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi. Here's CBS:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is believed to have ordered and even carried out the beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg in Iraq. And now the gruesome video of the killing may help find the ally of Osama bin Laden.
CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick in Baghdad says authorities are studying the gruesome videotape of the slaying that appeared on the Internet for any clues to the whereabouts of the wanted terrorist. He's believed to be traveling through Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said it may take a while and Zarqawi may have the ability to evade capture -- but he will be caught eventually.
President Bush focused on the Berg slaying in his weekly radio address Saturday, insisting Berg's killers must be hunted down as part of a strategy ultimately designed to bring peace to the U.S.-occupied country.

Unfortunately, Bush's statement rings hollow - as did earlier attempts to pass the buck for Abu Ghraib onto a "handful" of soldiers. Why? Fred Kaplan points out in Slate/MSN (via Buzzflash) - bold text being my emphasis:

And so it seems I, too, have misunderestimated the president. This past Wednesday, I wrote a column holding George W. Bush responsible for our recent disasters—the torture at Abu Ghraib and the whole plethora of strategic errors in Iraq. My main argument was that Bush has placed too much trust, for far too long, in the judgment of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, despite his ceaseless string of bad judgments.
However, two news stories that have since come to my attention—one that appeared on the same day, the other more than two months ago—suggest not merely that Bush is guilty of "failing to recognize failure" (as my headline put it) but that he is directly culpable for the sins in question, no less so than his properly beleaguered defense chief.
The first story, written by Mark Matthews in the May 12 Baltimore Sun, quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell—on the record—as saying Bush knew about the International Committee of the Red Cross reports that were filed many months ago about the savagery at the prison. Powell is quoted as saying:

We kept the president informed of the concerns that were raised by the ICRC and other international organizations as part of my regular briefings of the president, and advised him that we had to follow these issues, and when we got notes sent to us or reports sent to us … we had to respond to them.

Powell adds that he, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice kept Bush "fully informed of the concerns that were being expressed, not in specific details but in general terms." (Thanks to Joshua Micah Marshall, whose blog alerted me to the Sun story.)
So much for Rumsfeld's protective claim, at last week's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that he had failed to bring the matter to the president's attention. No wonder Bush, in turn, rode out to the Pentagon and praised his servant-secretary for doing a "superb" job.
It's amazing, by the way, how Colin Powell seems to have scuttled his good-soldier routine altogether, criticizing his president at first quasi-anonymously (through Bob Woodward's new book), then through close aides (Wil Hylton's GQ article), and now straight up in the Baltimore Sun. One wonders when he'll go all the way and start making campaign appearances for John Kerry.
The second news story that heaves more burdens on the president comes from an NBC News broadcast by Jim Miklaszewski on March 2. Apparently, Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as the story puts it:

[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

The implications of this are more shocking, in their way, than the news from Abu Ghraib. Bush promoted the invasion of Iraq as a vital battle in the war on terrorism, a continuation of our response to 9/11. Here was a chance to wipe out a high-ranking terrorist. And Bush didn't take advantage of it because doing so might also wipe out a rationale for invasion.
The story gets worse in its details. As far back as June 2002, U.S. intelligence reported that Zarqawi had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq that was capable of producing ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon drew up an attack plan involving cruise missiles and smart bombs. The White House turned it down. In October 2002, intelligence reported that Zarqawi was preparing to use his bio-weapons in Europe. The Pentagon drew up another attack plan. The White House again demurred. In January 2003, police in London arrested terrorist suspects connected to the camp. The Pentagon devised another attack plan. Again, the White House killed the plan, not Zarqawi.
When the war finally started in March, the camp was attacked early on. But by that time, Zarqawi and his followers had departed
.
This camp was in the Kurdish enclave of Iraq. The U.S. military had been mounting airstrikes against various targets throughout Iraq—mainly air-defense sites—for the previous few years. It would not have been a major escalation to destroy this camp, especially after the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The Kurds, whose autonomy had been shielded by U.S. air power since the end of the 1991 war, wouldn't have minded and could even have helped.
But the problem, from Bush's perspective, was that this was the only tangible evidence of terrorists in Iraq.
Colin Powell even showed the location of the camp on a map during his famous Feb. 5 briefing at the U.N. Security Council. The camp was in an area of Iraq that Saddam didn't control. But never mind, it was something. To wipe it out ahead of time might lead some people—in Congress, the United Nations, and the American public—to conclude that Saddam's links to terrorists were finished, that maybe the war wasn't necessary. So Bush let it be.
In the two years since the Pentagon's first attack plan, Zarqawi has been linked not just to Berg's execution but, according to NBC, 700 other killings in Iraq. If Bush had carried out that attack back in June 2002, the killings might not have happened. More: The case for war (as the White House feared) might not have seemed so compelling. Indeed, the war itself might not have happened.
One ambiguity does remain. The NBC story reported that "the White House" declined to carry out the airstrikes. Who was "the White House"? If it wasn't George W. Bush—if it was, say, Dick Cheney—then we crash into a very different conclusion: not that Bush was directly culpable, but that he was more out of touch than his most cynical critics have imagined. It's a tossup which is more disturbing: a president who passes up the chance to kill a top-level enemy in the war on terrorism for the sake of pursuing a reckless diversion in Iraq—or a president who leaves a government's most profound decision, the choice of war or peace, to his aides.

The above outrages should be evaluated also in the context of Seymour Hersh's latest update in the New Yorker, on Abu Ghraib (via Buzzflash). I reproduce some portions from the first part of his article - with bold text is my emphasis:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.
According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.
Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that he was telling the public all that he knew about the story. He said, “Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding.” The senior C.I.A. official, asked about Rumsfeld’s testimony and that of Stephen Cambone, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, “Some people think you can bullshit anyone.”

At this point, let us reiterate what others are saying: Resign, Rumsfeld

Incidentally,

Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he authorized the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate “high value” targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror.
...
The operation had across-the-board approval from Rumsfeld and from Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser. President Bush was informed of the existence of the program, the former intelligence official said.

Now, at the same time, let me recommend to the reader the ENTIRE Seymour Hersh article, because he also provides some valuable perspective on how the policy on interrogations originated after 9/11. Among other things, it raises some valid questions on how one should deal with an enemy that is stateless and follows no rules.

The Abu Ghraib story began, in a sense, just weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, with the American bombing of Afghanistan. Almost from the start, the Administration’s search for Al Qaeda members in the war zone, and its worldwide search for terrorists, came up against major command-and-control problems. For example, combat forces that had Al Qaeda targets in sight had to obtain legal clearance before firing on them. On October 7th, the night the bombing began, an unmanned Predator aircraft tracked an automobile convoy that, American intelligence believed, contained Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader. A lawyer on duty at the United States Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, refused to authorize a strike. By the time an attack was approved, the target was out of reach. Rumsfeld was apoplectic over what he saw as a self-defeating hesitation to attack that was due to political correctness. One officer described him to me that fall as “kicking a lot of glass and breaking doors.” In November, the Washington Post reported that, as many as ten times since early October, Air Force pilots believed they’d had senior Al Qaeda and Taliban members in their sights but had been unable to act in time because of legalistic hurdles. There were similar problems throughout the world, as American Special Forces units seeking to move quickly against suspected terrorist cells were compelled to get prior approval from local American ambassadors and brief their superiors in the chain of command.
Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he authorized the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate “high value” targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. A special-access program, or sap—subject to the Defense Department’s most stringent level of security—was set up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon. The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps. America’s most successful intelligence operations during the Cold War had been saps, including the Navy’s submarine penetration of underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and construction of the Air Force’s stealth bomber. All the so-called “black” programs had one element in common: the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to conclude that the normal military classification restraints did not provide enough security.
“Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a standup group to hit quickly,” a former high-level intelligence official told me. “He got all the agencies together—the C.I.A. and the N.S.A.—to get pre-approval in place. Just say the code word and go.” The operation had across-the-board approval from Rumsfeld and from Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser. President Bush was informed of the existence of the program, the former intelligence official said.
The people assigned to the program worked by the book, the former intelligence official told me. They created code words, and recruited, after careful screening, highly trained commandos and operatives from America’s élite forces—Navy seals, the Army’s Delta Force, and the C.I.A.’s paramilitary experts. They also asked some basic questions: “Do the people working the problem have to use aliases? Yes. Do we need dead drops for the mail? Yes. No traceability and no budget. And some special-access programs are never fully briefed to Congress.”
In theory, the operation enabled the Bush Administration to respond immediately to time-sensitive intelligence: commandos crossed borders without visas and could interrogate terrorism suspects deemed too important for transfer to the military’s facilities at Guantánamo, Cuba. They carried out instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret C.I.A. detention centers scattered around the world. The intelligence would be relayed to the sap command center in the Pentagon in real time, and sifted for those pieces of information critical to the “white,” or overt, world.
Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were “completely read into the program,” the former intelligence official said. The goal was to keep the operation protected. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” he said. “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’”

To me, the moral of the story is this. I agree that going after stateless terrorists requires a change from business-as-usual. It is hard to expect we can win against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist brethren by waiting for permission from lawyers before taking them out. But, that does not mean one should exercise no oversight over the processes and tactics used by the military or the civilian intelligence or law enforcement agencies to achieve our objectives. I don't fault Bush or Rumsfeld for trying to break down barriers to fight our enemies immediately after 9/11 - that is a must, especially if you are dealing with an enemy (Al Qaeda) that follows no rules or conventions and particularly believes in killing innocent civilians. However, I do fault them for exercising no real judgment on what is appropriate and what is not. Over-reaching both inside and outside the U.S. became the norm. On top of that, they made enemies out of potential friends with their arrogance and hubris. They discarded the world's hearts and minds long ago, even though the world (a big part of it anyway) offered them hearts and minds after 9/11. On top of all this, they let ideology coupled with wanton ignorance and wishful thinking, rather than sound thinking and analysis, dictate process and "policy", paving the way for extreme incompetence and bad news. Hersh has an example:

In the first months after the fall of Baghdad, Rumsfeld and his aides still had a limited view of the insurgency, seeing it as little more than the work of Baathist “dead-enders,” criminal gangs, and foreign terrorists who were Al Qaeda followers. The Administration measured its success in the war by how many of those on its list of the fifty-five most wanted members of the old regime—reproduced on playing cards—had been captured. Then, in August, 2003, terror bombings in Baghdad hit the Jordanian Embassy, killing nineteen people, and the United Nations headquarters, killing twenty-three people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the U.N. mission. On August 25th, less than a week after the U.N. bombing, Rumsfeld acknowledged, in a talk before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that “the dead-enders are still with us.” He went on, “There are some today who are surprised that there are still pockets of resistance in Iraq, and they suggest that this represents some sort of failure on the part of the Coalition. But this is not the case.” Rumsfeld compared the insurgents with those true believers who “fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany.” A few weeks later—and five months after the fall of Baghdad—the Defense Secretary declared,“It is, in my view, better to be dealing with terrorists in Iraq than in the United States.”
Inside the Pentagon, there was a growing realization that the war was going badly. The increasingly beleaguered and baffled Army leadership was telling reporters that the insurgents consisted of five thousand Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein. “When you understand that they’re organized in a cellular structure,” General John Abizaid, the head of the Central Command, declared, “that . . . they have access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you’ll understand how dangerous they are.”
The American military and intelligence communities were having little success in penetrating the insurgency. One internal report prepared for the U.S. military, made available to me, concluded that the insurgents’“strategic and operational intelligence has proven to be quite good.” According to the study:
Their ability to attack convoys, other vulnerable targets and particular individuals has been the result of painstaking surveillance and reconnaissance. Inside information has been passed on to insurgent cells about convoy/troop movements and daily habits of Iraqis working with coalition from within the Iraqi security services, primarily the Iraqi Police force which is rife with sympathy for the insurgents, Iraqi ministries and from within pro-insurgent individuals working with the CPA’s so-called Green Zone.
The study concluded, “Politically, the U.S. has failed to date. Insurgencies can be fixed or ameliorated by dealing with what caused them in the first place. The disaster that is the reconstruction of Iraq has been the key cause of the insurgency. There is no legitimate government, and it behooves the Coalition Provisional Authority to absorb the sad but unvarnished fact that most Iraqis do not see the Governing Council”—the Iraqi body appointed by the C.P.A.—“as the legitimate authority. Indeed, they know that the true power is the CPA.”
By the fall, a military analyst told me, the extent of the Pentagon’s political and military misjudgments was clear. Donald Rumsfeld’s “dead-enders” now included not only Baathists but many marginal figures as well—thugs and criminals who were among the tens of thousands of prisoners freed the previous fall by Saddam as part of a prewar general amnesty. Their desperation was not driving the insurgency; it simply made them easy recruits for those who were. The analyst said, “We’d killed and captured guys who had been given two or three hundred dollars to ‘pray and spray’”—that is, shoot randomly and hope for the best. “They weren’t really insurgents but down-and-outers who were paid by wealthy individuals sympathetic to the insurgency.” In many cases, the paymasters were Sunnis who had been members of the Baath Party. The analyst said that the insurgents “spent three or four months figuring out how we operated and developing their own countermeasures. If that meant putting up a hapless guy to go and attack a convoy and see how the American troops responded, they’d do it.” Then, the analyst said, “the clever ones began to get in on the action.”
By contrast, according to the military report, the American and Coalition forces knew little about the insurgency: “Human intelligence is poor or lacking . . . due to the dearth of competence and expertise. . . . The intelligence effort is not coördinated since either too many groups are involved in gathering intelligence or the final product does not get to the troops in the field in a timely manner.” The success of the war was at risk; something had to be done to change the dynamic.
The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents.
...
In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. “The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone,” he said. “This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program.” When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, “but he’s responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we’ve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.”

UPDATE: Political Animal has more.

Today brings a few more details and some different takes on the story. In Hersh's telling, military intelligence ran the program and the CIA backed off when it saw what was going on. His CIA source put it this way: "They said, 'No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.'"
Newsweek has a different version. They say that the Pentagon actually resisted tough interrogation techniques when the CIA first recommended them at Guantanamo, but eventually gave in. By the time Gitmo techniques were transferred to Abu Ghraib, the CIA was fully on board. The real opposition had come much earlier from Colin Powell, who "hit the roof" when he first saw a post-9/11 White House memo suggesting that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Newsweek and several other news outlets also report that the JAG corps has been complaining about abusive interrogation techniques for two years but was systematically ignored. Who ignored them? The Pentagon's Doug Feith.
Meanwhile, Time says that congressmen are upset too. House Democrats "asked the Pentagon last January about an internal Army report on dangerous conditions and poor management at the Abu Ghraib prison. The sources said Pentagon aides told the panel that no such report existed—though it had been finished for months."
So here's the summary:

  • The Pentagon, of course, says it was just a few bad apples. They are the only ones who seem to believe this.

  • Hersh says abusive interrogation was the Pentagon's idea and CIA resisted.

  • Newsweek says the Pentagon and the CIA were on board, but the State Department resisted.

  • A variety of sources say it was the Pentagon's idea and the JAG corps resisted.

  • Time says the Pentagon ran the program and Congress was kept out of the loop even when they asked about it.

5/9/04 <link>
The natural consequence of hubris, arrogance and incompetence
The despicable prisoner abuse/torture scandal in Iraq is growing. A number of additional news reports are coming in showing that this was inevitable given the behavior of those at the very top on the chain of command.

Given where we are, Fareed Zakaria's column in Newsweek (via Atrios) is quite appropriate.

 America is ushering in a new responsibility era," says President Bush as part of his standard stump speech, "where each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life." When speaking about bad CEOs he's even clearer as to what it entails: "You're beginning to see the consequences of people making irresponsible decisions. They need to pay a price for their irresponsibility."
"I take full responsibility," said Donald Rumsfeld in his congressional testimony last week. But what does this mean? Secretary Rumsfeld hastened to add that he did not plan to resign and was not going to ask anyone else who might have been "responsible" to resign. As far as I can tell, taking responsibility these days means nothing more than saying the magic words "I take responsibility."
After the greatest terrorist attack against America, no one was asked to resign, and the White House didn't even want to launch a serious investigation into it. The 9/11 Commission was created after months of refusals because some of the victims' families pursued it aggressively and simply didn't give up. After the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, not one person was even reassigned. The only people who have been fired or cashiered in this administration are men like Gen. Eric Shinseki, Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey, who spoke inconvenient truths.
Rumsfeld went on in his testimony to explain that "these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number." That's correct, except the small number who are truly responsible are not the handful of uniformed personnel currently being charged for the prison abuse scandal. The events at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger breakdown in American policy over the past two years. And it has been perpetrated by a small number of people at the highest levels of government.
Since 9/11, a handful of officials at the top of the Defense Department and the vice president's office have commandeered American foreign and defense policy. In the name of fighting terror they have systematically weakened the traditional restraints that have made this country respected around the world. Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis.
Within weeks after September 11, senior officials at the Pentagon and the White House began the drive to maximize American freedom of action. They attacked specifically the Geneva Conventions, which govern behavior during wartime. Donald Rumsfeld explained that the conventions did not apply to today's "set of facts." He and his top aides have tried persistently to keep prisoners out of the reach of either American courts or international law, presumably so that they can be handled without those pettifogging rules as barriers. Rumsfeld initially fought both the uniformed military and Colin Powell, who urged that prisoners in Guantanamo be accorded rights under the conventions. Eventually he gave in on the matter but continued to suggest that the protocols were antiquated. Last week he said again that the Geneva Conventions did not "precisely apply" and were simply basic rules.
The conventions are not exactly optional. They are the law of the land, signed by the president and ratified by Congress. Rumsfeld's concern—that Al Qaeda members do not wear uniforms and are thus "unlawful combatants"—is understandable, but that is a determination that a military court would have to make. In a war that could go on for decades, you cannot simply arrest and detain people indefinitely on the say-so of the secretary of Defense.
The basic attitude taken by Rumsfeld, Cheney and their top aides has been "We're at war; all these niceties will have to wait." As a result, we have waged pre-emptive war unilaterally, spurned international cooperation, rejected United Nations participation, humiliated allies, discounted the need for local support in Iraq and incurred massive costs in blood and treasure. If the world is not to be trusted in these dangerous times, key agencies of the American government, like the State Department, are to be trusted even less. Congress is barely informed, even on issues on which its "advise and consent" are constitutionally mandated.
Leave process aside: the results are plain. On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world.
Whether he wins or loses in November, George W. Bush's legacy is now clear: the creation of a poisonous atmosphere of anti-Americanism around the globe. I'm sure he takes full responsibility.

5/4/04 <link>
Dark Days, continued

Continuing my previous post on the goings-on in Iraq...

WaPo:

Two Iraqi prisoners were killed by U.S. soldiers last year, and 20 other detainee deaths and assaults remain under criminal investigation in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of a total of 35 cases probed since December 2002 for possible misconduct by U.S. troops in those two countries, Army officials reported yesterday.
...
Of the 35 criminal investigations into specific cases of possible mistreatment of detainees begun by the Army in the past year-and-a-half, 25 have involved deaths and 10 resulted from allegations of assault, said Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army's provost marshal and head of the service's Criminal Investigation Division. The large majority of the cases occurred in Iraq.
Twelve of the deaths were attributed either to a natural cause, such as a heart attack or illness, or to undetermined factors because the bodies had been buried quickly by relatives. Investigations into 10 other deaths and into the 10 assault cases remain unresolved.
...
The CIA inspector general is investigating three deaths of detainees involving CIA interrogators. One took place at Abu Ghraib prison last November, and a second at another detention facility in Iraq, a CIA spokesman said yesterday. The third death, which an Army investigation refers to as a homicide, involves a CIA contract interrogator in Afghanistan.
Questions about just how seriously top Pentagon officials had initially taken the allegations about conditions at Abu Ghraib prison were fanned by Myers's admission Sunday that he had not yet read the highly critical report on the prison completed in March by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. Rumsfeld's spokesman reported Monday that Rumsfeld had not yet read it, either.

More from the WaPo:

Questions about the role of civilian interrogators in the abuse of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison have put the spotlight on the accountability of tens of thousands of contractors in Iraq and on whether the administrative setup at the prison gave contractors too much freedom from and too much power over military units.
"As we begin to dig below the surface, we're seeing the larger involvement of contractors in this war and within the prison itself," said Justin Hamilton, legislative director for Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.). Bell wants Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to begin a military inspector-general investigation of abuses at the prison.
Private contractors, Hamilton said, "at this point don't seem to be in the chain of command. They don't answer to the military chain of command."

I have highlighted the mistake of using private contractors for military roles in my earlier post.

The use of private contractors aka mercenaries in Iraq is a travesty not just because of their lawlessness and their alleged involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal. P.W. Singer's article in Salon.com is a must-read, in this context.

Among the many other stories on the unraveling scandal, MSNBC reports on the story of an Iraqi detainee who claims he was tortured.

Josh Marshall has provided MSNBC's link to the full Taguba Report. He also catches Rumsfeld doing what he always does comfortably - lying - here:

Don Rumsfeld: "I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."
Taguba Report: "Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

Not to mention the large number of interesting posts he has in the last couple of days on this topic. 

Bush as usual, shows how astonishingly uninformed he is (not to mention his casual racism - which even Conservative columnist George Will decried). Josh's comments are appropriate:

This isn't a matter of the aesthetics of leadership. It is another example of how this president is a passive commander-in-chief, how he demands no accountability and, because of that, allows problems to fester and grow. Though this may not be a direct example of it, he also creates a climate tolerant of rule-breaking that seeps down into the ranks of his subordinates, mixing with and reinforcing those other shortcomings.
The disasters now facing the country in Iraq -- some in slow motion, others by quick violence -- aren't just happening on the president's watch. They are happening in a real sense, really in the deepest sense, because of him -- because of his attention to the simulacra of leadership rather than the real thing, which is more difficult and demanding, both personally and morally.

The Iraq news update will be woefully incomplete if we did not highlight this absolute MUST MUST read about convicted criminal and long-time Bush administration favorite (to take over Iraq) Ahmad Chalabi. Josh's words are kind to put it mildly - but I emphasize a key portion in bold:

I had promised myself: no more posts until tomorrow. But for this article ("How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons") out tonight in Salon I will make an exception.
This is one of those 'where to start' articles.
Let's start here. "Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another ... He said he would end Iraq's boycott of trade with Israel, and would allow Israeli companies to do business there. He said [the new Iraqi government] would agree to rebuild the pipeline from Mosul [in the northern Iraqi oil fields] to Haifa [the Israeli port, and the location of a major refinery]."
Who said that?
That would be Marc Zell, frequent target of TPM barbs, former law partner of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, and the guy who went into business just after the war with Chalabi's nephew Salem "Sam" Chalabi.
So apparently all is not well at Regime Change Ranch.
The broad outlines of this story -- Chalabi ditching his neocon friends for the Iranian mullahs -- have been clear for some time. But here it is in all its lurid detail. And though one can dispute this or that point of author John Dizard's interpretations -- I would dispute a few of them -- he's got neocons on the record dumping on Chalabi and the members of the Chalabi clan dumping on them.
And those quotations just aren't open to interpretation.
The upshot of the piece is that Chalabi's neocon supporters are beginning to realize that he is every bit the huckster and fraud that his most unyielding enemies at State and CIA said he was. He lured them in with all manner of improbable claims about the pain-free peace he'd make with Israel, how he'd upend Arab nationalism and generally make all the intractable conundrums of the region disappear.
In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds.
And just think, it's on your dime and with your nation's honor -- what an added benefit
.
I don't mean to accuse the whole group that is sometimes classed under that label. Some are serious wrestlers with our nation's dilemmas and challenges. But for the most venal and gullible of them, which, truth be told, makes up the larger part, it's an apt description.
Read the article and you'll understand what I mean.

In this context, Atrios today captures, what I had in my Humor page - a remarkable point-counterpoint "opinion piece" in The Onion mimicking the main rationale/arguments made by fanatically pro-Bush supporters this last year and a half (the "Counterpoint, below, by Bob Sheffer). Sadly, though, this is far more fact than humor:

Point-Counterpoint: The War On Iraq

This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave of Anti-Americanism [by Nathan Eckert]

George W. Bush may think that a war against Iraq is the solution to our problems, but the reality is, it will only serve to create far more.
This war will not put an end to anti-Americanism; it will fan the flames of hatred even higher. It will not end the threat of weapons of mass destruction; it will make possible their further proliferation. And it will not lay the groundwork for the flourishing of democracy throughout the Mideast; it will harden the resolve of Arab states to drive out all Western (i.e. U.S.) influence.
If you thought Osama bin Laden was bad, just wait until the countless children who become orphaned by U.S. bombs in the coming weeks are all grown up. Do you think they will forget what country dropped the bombs that killed their parents? In 10 or 15 years, we will look back fondly on the days when there were only a few thousand Middle Easterners dedicated to destroying the U.S. and willing to die for the fundamentalist cause. From this war, a million bin Ladens will bloom.
And what exactly is our endgame here? Do we really believe that we can install Gen. Tommy Franks as the ruler of Iraq? Is our arrogance and hubris so great that we actually believe that a U.S. provisional military regime will be welcomed with open arms by the Iraqi people? Democracy cannot possibly thrive under coercion. To take over a country and impose one's own system of government without regard for the people of that country is the very antithesis of democracy. And it is doomed to fail.
A war against Iraq is not only morally wrong, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

No It Won't [by Bob Sheffer]

No it won't.
It just won't. None of that will happen.
You're getting worked up over nothing. Everything is going to be fine. So just relax, okay? You're really overreacting.
"This war will not put an end to anti-Americanism; it will fan the flames of hatred even higher"?
It won't.
"It will harden the resolve of Arab states to drive out all Western (i.e. U.S.) influence"?
Not really.
"A war against Iraq is not only morally wrong, it will be an unmitigated disaster"?
Sorry, no, I disagree.
"To take over a country and impose one's own system of government without regard for the people of that country is the very antithesis of democracy"?
You are completely wrong.
Trust me, it's all going to work out perfect. Nothing bad is going to happen. It's all under control.
Why do you keep saying these things? I can tell when there's trouble looming, and I really don't sense that right now. We're in control of this situation, and we know what we're doing. So stop being so pessimistic.
Look, you've been proven wrong, so stop talking. You've had your say already.
Be quiet, okay? Everything's fine.
You're wrong.

Talking of the man who let all this happen, George W. Bush, Kevin Drum has some pertinent comments over at his relatively new digs:

OUR CEO PRESIDENT....Writing about the deteriorating situation in Iraq, neocon Robert Kagan has this to say at the end of a column in the Washington Post Sunday:

Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely. He does not seem to demand better answers, or any answers, from those who serve him. It's not even clear that he understands how bad the situation in Iraq is or how close he is to losing public support for the war, a support that once lost may be impossible to regain.

I'm mystified that Kagan is mystified. Of course Bush's commitment is genuine — but so is my commitment to losing 20 pounds. The problem is that I'm not willing to make the sacrifices it would take to do it.
Bush styles himself a "CEO president," but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them — but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one — all those market research reports are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard — but only on subjects in their comfort zone. If they like dealing with people they can't bring themselves to read all those tedious analyst's reports, and if they like numbers they can't bring themselves to spend time chattering with distributors about their latest prospect.
And most important of all, weak CEOs are unwilling to recognize bad news and perform unpleasant tasks to fix it — tasks like like confronting poorly performing subordinates or firing people. Good CEOs suck in their guts and do it anyway.
George Bush is, fundamentally, a mediocre CEO, the kind of insulated leader who's convinced that his instincts are all he needs. Unfortunately, like many failed CEOs before him, he's about to learn that being sure you're right isn't the same thing as actually being right.
So sure: George Bush is genuinely committed to winning in Iraq. He just doesn't know how to do it and doesn't have the skills, experience, or personality to look beyond his own instincts in order to figure it out. America is about to pay a heavy price for that.

5/2/04 <link>
Dark days

In April,
Eric Alterman (Altercation) summed up the Bush administration's policies (via Brad De Long), thusly:

What we said before the war, in no particular order

  1. The invasion of Iraq will cause, not prevent, terrorism.
  2. The Bush administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD threat.
  3. Going in without the U.N. is worse than not going in at all.
  4. They were asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up ever since.
  5. And they manipulated 9/11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.
  6. Any occupation by a foreign power, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one, will likely create more enemies than friends and put the U.S. in a situation similar at times to Vietnam, and at other times, similar to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon; both were disasters.
  7. An invasion of Iraq will draw resources and attention away from the genuine perpetrators of the attack on us, and allow them to regroup for further attacks.
  8. Bonus: Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” will increase anti-Semitism worldwide.

We Told You So, I:  “The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has accelerated the spread of Osama bin Laden's anti-Americanism among once local Islamic militant movements, increasing danger to the United States as the al Qaeda network is becoming less able to mount attacks, according to senior intelligence officials at the CIA and State Department."  [Link]

We Told You So, II:  "Secretary of State Colin Powell conceded Friday evidence he presented to the United Nations that two trailers in Iraq were used for weapons of mass destruction may have been wrong.”  Powell:  “It appears not to be the case that it was that solid.” [Link]

We Told You So, III:  “The Bush administration is scrambling to develop a new Iraq exit strategy with help from the United Nations over the next two to three weeks, but the array of political and security challenges is now so daunting that U.S. officials also quietly acknowledge that the U.S.-led coalition may end up in an even worse position if the latest effort fails.” [Link

We Told You So, IV:  “The broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.” [Link] (And plenty more.) [eRiposte note: And more]

We Told You So, V:  “President George Bush first asked Tony Blair to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power at a private White House dinner nine days after the terror attacks of 11 September, 2001.” [Link]

We Told You So, VI:  “By unleashing mass demonstrations and attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Sunday, a young, militant cleric has realized the greatest fear of the U.S.-led administration since the occupation of Iraq began a year ago: a Shiite Muslim uprising.” [Link]

We Told You So, VII:  “A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a “terrorist breeding ground” unless there is a significant increase in development aid.” [Link]

Bonus We Told You So, VII[I]:  “The percentage of Americans who say Jews were responsible for Christ's death is rising, particularly among blacks and young people, according to a nationwide poll taken since the release of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." [Link]

Atrios (Eschaton) said this in April:

Condi Flashbacks

From Foreign Affairs, 2000:
"The lesson, too, is that if it is worth fighting for, you had better be prepared to win. Also, there must be a political game plan that will permit the withdrawal of our forces—something that is still completely absent in Kosovo."
"[The military] is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society."
"Using the American armed forces as the world's "911" will degrade capabilities, bog soldiers down in peacekeeping roles, and fuel concern among other great powers that the United States has decided to enforce notions of "limited sovereignty" worldwide in the name of humanitarianism."

Look, for too long these people have swept this stuff aside by chanting "9/11 changed everything." No, 9/11 didn't change everything. What 9/11 did is prove that these people were wrong about absolutely everything. And, what Iraq has proven is they still haven't learned anything.

Today, these sentiments get borne out by more distressing news.

Against the backdrop of April 2004 being the highest casualty month for American soldiers (since the beginning of the invasion) - 140 soldiers dead and multiples of that injured (not to mention high Iraqi civilian casualties), we hear news about the egregious, Abu Gharaib Iraqi-prisoner abuse/torture scandal. Seymour Hersh, the excellent investigative reporter, has given this story some legs in his excellent piece in the New Yorker:

In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and women—no accurate count is possible—were jammed into Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells that were little more than human holding pits.
In the looting that followed the regime’s collapse, last April, the huge prison complex, by then deserted, was stripped of everything that could be removed, including doors, windows, and bricks. The coalition authorities had the floors tiled, cells cleaned and repaired, and toilets, showers, and a new medical center added. Abu Ghraib was now a U.S. military prison. Most of the prisoners, however—by the fall there were several thousand, including women and teen-agers—were civilians, many of whom had been picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints. They fell into three loosely defined categories: common criminals; security detainees suspected of “crimes against the coalition”; and a small number of suspected “high-value” leaders of the insurgency against the coalition forces.
...

A month later, General Karpinski was formally admonished and quietly suspended, and a major investigation into the Army’s prison system, authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq, was under way. A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:

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

There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added—“detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their “extremely sensitive nature.”
The photographs—several of which were broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes 2” last week—show leering G.I.s taunting naked Iraqi prisoners who are forced to assume humiliating poses. Six suspects—Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, known as Chip, who was the senior enlisted man; Specialist Charles A. Graner; Sergeant Javal Davis; Specialist Megan Ambuhl; Specialist Sabrina Harman; and Private Jeremy Sivits—are now facing prosecution in Iraq, on charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts. A seventh suspect, Private Lynndie England, was reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after becoming pregnant.
The photographs tell it all. In one, Private England, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over his head, as he masturbates. Three other hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners are shown, hands reflexively crossed over their genitals. A fifth prisoner has his hands at his sides. In another, England stands arm in arm with Specialist Graner; both are grinning and giving the thumbs-up behind a cluster of perhaps seven naked Iraqis, knees bent, piled clumsily on top of each other in a pyramid. There is another photograph of a cluster of naked prisoners, again piled in a pyramid. Near them stands Graner, smiling, his arms crossed; a woman soldier stands in front of him, bending over, and she, too, is smiling. Then, there is another cluster of hooded bodies, with a female soldier standing in front, taking photographs. Yet another photograph shows a kneeling, naked, unhooded male prisoner, head momentarily turned away from the camera, posed to make it appear that he is performing oral sex on another male prisoner, who is naked and hooded.
Such dehumanization is unacceptable in any culture, but it is especially so in the Arab world. Homosexual acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University, explained. “Being put on top of each other and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each other—it’s all a form of torture,” Haykel said.

Some additional commentary at Corrente and Billmon is worth reading. Also interesting is David Neiwert's backgrounder at Orcinus - to which I add some comments on my own at the end:

It's no great surprise that the rest of the world is outraged over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American and British interrogators.
Moreover, it shouldn't be a surprise that it has happened. After all, it's happened before in this "war on terror." Indeed, the pattern now is so strong that serious questions arise about the possibility that American officials could be charged with war crimes.
Recall, if you will, that these torture techniques first cropped in Afghanistan in March of last year, even before we invaded Iraq. They elicited a letter of protest from Joan Fitzgerald, a legal specialist in human rights, which I published in full previously...
The "interrogation" techniques described in [the New York Times piece] "U.S. Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody" (March 4, 2003, A14) violate basic norms of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require humane treatment of all prisoners, whether POWs or "unlawful combatants," and regardless of the nature of the conflict. All acts of violence or intimidation, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment are strictly forbidden. Does the Department of Defense argue that chaining naked prisoners to the ceiling, in freezing weather, and kicking them to keep them awake for days on end, are practices consistent with the Geneva Conventions? Is the DOD prepared to tolerate this treatment of American POWs in the Iraq war?
These practices also violate human rights treaties to which the United States is a party, specifically the prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The United States may not transfer Al Qaeda suspects to other states to facilitate their torture; that too is a violation. Moreover, there is no state on earth "that does not have legal restrictions against torture" ("Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Human, Legal and Aggressive", March 4, 2003, A13). The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.
If President Bush has commanded these practices, he has committed serious international crimes and crimes against the laws of the United States that are impeachable offenses. Congress must investigate immediately.
Secretary Rumsfeld last Friday again revealed his complete ignorance of the laws of war by suggesting that Iraqi POWs could be tried before military commissions. They may be tried only by court martial, under rules identical to those applicable to U.S. forces. As Bush and Rumsfeld are poised to launch a major war in Iraq, the world stands appalled by their utter disregard for the most fundamental norms of humanity in wartime. Heaven help our "enemies" and our own soldiers.
Fitzgerald's warning, clearly, was prophetic.
As Digby observes, the pattern continued with the torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay:
One of the five Britons recently returned to the UK from Guantanamo Bay has claimed that he was subjected to cruel and sadistic treatment by US authorities.
Jamal al Harith, from Manchester, told the Daily Mirror today that detainees of Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta had to face frequent beatings, prolonged periods of isolation and traumatic psychological torture.
The 37-year-old was held at Guantanamo Bay for just over two years after coalition forces brought about the fall of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. The divorced father-of-three said that the behaviour of prison guards was a deliberate affront to Islam and exacted to offend and terrorise the detainees.
Indeed, Amnesty International has already denounced this pattern of abuse, as well as the consistent denials of American officials that this is part of American policy, observing:
Such responses smack of complacency. After all, the USA is a country where some 3,600 people, including scores of juvenile offenders and mentally ill inmates, await execution, and tens of thousands of others are held in "super-maximum" security facilities in conditions -- solitary confinement and reduced sensory stimulation -- which the United Nations Committee against Torture, has referred to as "excessively harsh".
Billmon today explores the problem in detail, suggesting that perhaps the techniques are originating with Israeli intelligence or, just as likely, the "independent contractors" whose bloody footprints are beginning to appear all over the Iraqi map.
The real question (as Seymour Hersh points out) is: How far up the chain of command does this go?
Digby has previously pointed out the hollowness of George W. Bush's disclaimers regarding the use of torture -- and indeed, his current claims of being "outraged" not only ring insincere, they are silly:
"Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America."
No, it's just the way we do things in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan.
What's particularly disingenuous about Bush's disclaimers and his proclamations of extreme horror at the images (or is it just horror at having the images gain global distribution?) is that it tries to place the blame on the grunts who are carrying out the torture. It ignores the fact that these tortures could not take place without approval from above.
It's already been pointed out in the New York Times that the administration's response amounts to scapegoating:
Mr. Myers said the accused men, all from an Army Reserve military police unit, had been told to soften up the prisoners by more senior American interrogators, some of whom they believe were intelligence officials and outside contractors.
"This case involves a monumental failure of leadership, where lower-level enlisted people are being scapegoated," Mr. Myers said. "The real story is not in these six young enlisted people. The real story is the manner in which the intelligence community forced them into this position."
As most news sources covering the matter have pointed out, these behaviors are clear violations of international treaties and international criminal law. Unfortunately, the same Bush administration under which they have occurred has demonstrated a longstanding (and utterly groundless) hostility to the international criminal courts -- including signing into law an act to protect Americans from being prosecuted by international courts for war crimes.
The fact that Bush and Co. took these steps beforehand should raise suspicions. Add to it the fact that the pattern has become a consistent one that appears throughout our handling of prisoners of the "war on terror," and truly grave questions arise regarding the level of culpability for these acts.
Indeed, if it can be shown that approval for this kind of behavior rises all the way to the upper echelons of the administration, then Americans may be confronted with the possibility that their leaders are in fact war criminals.
Professor Fitzgerald, tragically, died suddenly two months after writing that letter. But when I interviewed her in March, she emphasized that any winking and nudging by the administration toward this behavior amounted to an impeachable offense.
Her call for a congressional investigation last year, of course, went utterly unheeded, as did her warning. Perhaps it's time we finally listened.

The evidence is pretty clear based on the above that the Bush administration has winked at the torture of POWs at least implicitly since 9/11. In doing so, it destroyed not only the values that America is supposed to stand for - that differentiates it from the Saddam Hussein's of the world; it also put the lives of American POWs in jeopardy by allowing our enemies to wink at or explicitly call for torture of American POWs. With the Abu Ghraib revelations, it remains to be seen if the Bushies will make any attempt whatsoever to correct their disdain for genuinely important international laws (an unlikely event). For, what is at stake here is not the principle of an eye-for-an-eye, but the winning of hearts and minds in the Islamic world - indeed that of the rest of the world outside the U.S. That battle, for now, is most certainly lost. 

It is ironical that this is being revealed at a time when the Bush administration, in yet another massive flip-flop (to add to Bush's exploding list of flip-flops), has decided to allow Saddam's Baathists to regain power in Fallujah. See Billmon for some comments. The excellent Warren Strobel of Knight-Ridder has this to say:

More than a year after President Bush took the nation to war to make Iraq a model for democracy for the entire Middle East, his administration's plans have collided with reality.
After previous efforts failed to stabilize Iraq, Bush has been forced to make a series of sharp policy reversals, ditching or modifying the initial blueprint for remaking the country.
In quick succession, the White House has handed the United Nations the lead in selecting an interim government, moved more tanks and heavy armor into the country, and softened a harsh policy of excluding members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime from the new Iraq.
In Fallujah, the administration has turned to a former general in Saddam's army to suppress a violent uprising against the U.S.-led military occupation. The general, wise to the symbols of power in Iraq, showed up in his old uniform. In the Shiite south, the administration has been unable to crush a ragtag militia led by renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
...

Finally, a couple of important asides.

1. I argued before the Iraq invasion that Iraq should have been dealt with using the threat of military attack (rather than actual attack) - combined with U.N. support. Nothing has happened to-date to change my view of that. Having said that, it would be remiss of me to not comment on the multi-billion dollar oil-for-food bribery scandal in the U.N. vis-a-vis Iraq and Saddam. This reflects very poorly on the U.N. and those who were involved need to be brought to justice in public. Josh Marshall at Talkingpointsmemo has some comments. I'm sure there will be a lot more over time.

2. The use of private contractors aka mercenaries in Iraq is a travesty not just because of their lawlessness and their alleged involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal. P.W. Singer's article in Salon.com is a must-read, in this context.

3/4/04 <link>
U.S. military stretched to "breaking point" says James Fallows (via Buzzflash)
Fallows has a follow-up to his earlier, superb piece in The Atlantic Monthly; this time the focus is the American military. A few snippets:

No one disputes that American military supremacy is an international reality. But our military has become vulnerable in a way that is obvious to everyone associated with it yet rarely acknowledged by politicians and probably not appreciated by much of the public. The military's people, its equipment, its supplies and spare parts, its logistics systems, and all its other assets are under pressure they cannot sustain. Everything has been operating on an emergency basis for more than two years, with no end to the emergency in sight. The situation was serious before the invasion of Iraq; now it is acute.
...
Three things are wrong with the current situation. The most immediate and obvious is what it does to the troops. In the flush of patriotism after 9/11, those in uniform were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices, and they did. For much of the time since then the Army has imposed "stop loss" policies, which prevent members of the military from retiring or resigning, and amount to a form of forced labor for those who have already chosen to serve. Members of the Reserves and the National Guard, many of whom signed up with the understanding that they would be "weekend warriors," have been mobilized for one-year stints since 9/11...An overworked military can function very well for a while, as ours has—but not indefinitely if it relies on volunteers.
The second problem is that America has so many troops tied down in so many places that, for all its power, it is strangely hamstrung. Despite our level of spending and our apparent status as the world's mono-power, the United States has few unused reserves of military strength. Sending troops in a hurry to the Korean DMZ—or to Iran, or the Taiwan Strait—would mean removing them in a hurry from some other place where, according to U.S. policy, they are also needed...Now America is over-extended. The limits on U.S. power are more apparent than they were before we committed troops in Iraq.
The third problem involves national strategy. Our stated ambitions are wholly out of sync with the resources America can bring to bear. Even now, despite solemn promises, we do not have enough soldiers to occupy and democratize Iraq while also fulfilling previous commitments in many other places around the globe. Soon even fewer U.S. troops will be available to enter any other necessary engagement.

2/26/04 <link>
Richard Perle, Prince of Darkness, resigns 
Nick Confessore at TAPPED has a very nice summary highlighting the recent life and times of this shameful character, who was a key part of the Bush team's Iraq invasion decision.

YOU WON'T HAVE RICHARD PERLE TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE. He's resigned his seat on the Defense Policy Board, according to ABC News. In a statement letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Perle wrote:

We are now approaching a long presidential election campaign, in the course of which issues on which I have strong views will be widely discussed and debated," Perle wrote. "I would not wish those views to be attributed to you or the President at any time, and especially not during a presidential campaign.
Come now, Dick. Why be coy? There are so many possible reasons why you became too much of a hot potato to keep on board.
Was it your frequent public statements urging the elected heads of allied states to resign, because they disagreed with U.S. policy?
Launching an investment company specializing in defense and homeland security, just two months after 9/11?

Your op-ed for the Wall Street Journal advocating a boondoggle tanker deal that would have benefited Boeing Co., without disclosing that Boeing had committed to investing $20 million in said investment company?
Your various gaffes, such as pointing out that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while justified, was probably illegal under international law?
Taking payments from Global Crossing to help it persuade the Pentagon and the FBI to allow a business with close ties to the Chinese government to acquire the now-disgraced telecommunications company -- while sitting on the Defense Policy Board?
Providing a similar service to Loral Communications, under similar conditions?
Sitting in on a classifed briefing on crises in North Korea and Iraq from the Defense Intelligence Agency -- provided in your capacity as a board member -- then turning around and delivering a briefing of your own to an investment seminar on ways to profit from possible conflicts with both countries?
Your paid speaking gig at a fundraiser linked to Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian rebel group officially listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization?
Your habit of demanding fees from newscasters in exchange for television interviews, possibly in violation of federal ethics guidelines?
Your decision to invite Laurent Murawiec, a former disciple of Lyndon LaRouche who favors seizing Saudi Arabia's oil fields, to address the Defense Policy Board?
Your connection to the growing -- and growing, and growing -- scandal over at Conrad Black's Hollinger International, where you served as a board member while Black "looted" (as one aggrieved investor described it) millions of dollars from the company till?
Personally, I prefer to hope that you resigned after realizing that a fellow who has provided hopelessly and demonstrably bad advice to the government time after time -- especially on various questions pertaining to Iraq -- has no business sitting on a Pentagon advisory board.

Of course, Nick forgot to mention the #1 reason why Richard Perle is offensive, to put it mildly. 

[WOLF] BLITZER [CNN]: Let me read a quote from the New Yorker article, the March 17th issue, just out now. "There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that may gain from a war."
PERLE: I don't believe that a company would gain from a war. On the contrary, I believe that the successful removal of Saddam Hussein, and I've said this over and over again, will diminish the threat of terrorism. And what he's talking about is investments in homeland defense, which I think are vital and are necessary.
Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly [eRiposte emphasis].

2/25/04 <link>
Why did Iraq turn out to be as messy as it is today?
James Fallows writes a compelling, yet unsurprising piece, in The Atlantic Monthly. The article is very long and I just recommend you go there and read it. Here's the header portion...which says it all.

Blind into Baghdad
The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a debacle not because the government did no planning but because a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge. The inside story of a historic failure.
by James Fallows

1/5/04 <link>
Progress in Iraq or astroturf or both?
We saw a letter published recently and came upon a very similar letter that appears to be circulating not just in GOP circles but also military circles. Now, we are all for celebrating real accomplishments of our military in Iraq - and there are many. At the same time, given the suspected origin of these talking points from Paul Bremer's speech on Oct 9, 2003 (see Snopes.com),  we wonder how much of it is to be believed and how much is not. We would certainly encourage bloggers out there to fact check it.  

A sample of the letter is shown below. Googling parts of it produces at least some astroturf...see here, here, here, here, here, etc.

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1...
.. the first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty.
.. over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.
.. nearly all of Iraq's 400 courts are functioning.
.. the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.
.. on Monday, October 6 power generation hit 4,518 megawatts - exceeding the prewar average.
.. all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.
.. by October 1, Coalition forces had rehab-ed over 1,500 schools - 500 more than scheduled.
.. teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.
.. all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.

[...the letter goes on...]

Assuming that this came from Bremer's speech, there are a few things that can be said immediately about the above letter...

1. "The first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty"

2. "Iraq has one of the worlds most growth-oriented investment and banking laws"

  • Well, I found this article that provides another perspective on this "growth-oriented investment and banking" (bold text is my emphasis):

...After more than 40 years languishing in a state-run command economy, Iraqi entrepreneurs who've finally won the freedom to start businesses now face a new threat: competition, especially from well-heeled foreigners given virtually unrestricted access to the Iraqi market. "Most Iraqi investors aren't millionaires," said Ihsan al-Titenchi, membership director of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "They want to know what's going to happen to them. Are they going to stay in business? Or is someone from the outside going to arrive and put them out of business?"
The anxiety stems from an October law that turned Iraq's socialist system into the most open economy in the Arab world, permitting 100 per cent foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses.
The law, signed by the Iraqi Governing Council and U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, banishes most restrictions on trade, capital flows and foreign investment. It allows, for instance, foreign banks to open branches and buy Iraqi banks. It slashes import tariffs to five per cent.
The investment law has generally been panned in local newspapers. Stories have suggested high-tech and cash-rich foreign businesses will conquer the economy, steamrolling nascent Iraqi businesses. Even al-Titenchi, from the pro-American chamber of commerce, complained that the law was drawn up without the help of the Iraqi business community it regulates.
"It was an order from Mr. Bremer. They didn't consult anyone about it," al-Titenchi said in an interview at a conference the chamber called to explain the new law to Iraqis.
Al-Titenchi said the chamber has been flooded with questions and complaints about the law. Many of those in attendance said the law should be changed to prohibit 100 per cent ownership of Iraqi companies. Foreign investors should be forced to enter a partnership with an Iraq-based firm, they said.

But the Coalition Provisional Authority's head of private sector development, Michael Fleisher, said such restrictions would only hurt Iraq's economic future. The law of the market is harsh, Fleisher said, but it hones a company's skills enough to compete globally, while bringing lower prices for consumers and, he hopes, an economic recovery in battered Iraq.
"Protected businesses never, never become competitive," Fleisher told the 100 or so attendees. He predicted the new law would lead to an "economic wonder on the Tigris and the Euphrates."
[eRiposte note: Crikey! Did he by any chance get to talk to President Bush about this theory since Mr. Bush seems to think that this is not necessarily true for the U.S (think agriculture, timber, steel, cotton, sugar, and what not?) ] 

3. "There are more than 170 newspapers"

  • Well, this is nice, but it would be nicer if these kinds of things are not happening:

Editor and Publisher:
"...In two separate letters to the Pentagon, the press claims that U.S. troops are harassing journalists in Iraq and sometimes confiscating equipment, digital camera disks and videotapes.
The Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) wrote a letter of protest to Larry Di Rita, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Some soldiers' actions "appear intended to discourage journalists from covering the continued military action in Iraq," wrote APME President Stuart Wilk, also vice president/managing editor at The Dallas Morning News.
"These actions are unacceptable and contrary to the Pentagon's own guidelines distributed to troops in the field," Wilk wrote. The harassment has deprived "the American public of crucial images from Iraq in newspapers, broadcast stations and online news operations."
APME asked the Pentagon to immediately take steps to end confrontations between journalists and soldiers.
Separately, 30 media organizations, lead by The Associated Press, fired off their own letter to Di Rita, saying they have "documented numerous examples of U.S. troops physically harassing journalists," according to a report in Thursday's Boston Globe. The letter was signed by representatives from CNN, ABC, The Boston Globe, Newhouse News Service, and many others.
"It's back to the bad old days where journalists are being treated as adversaries, AP Washington Bureau Chief Sandy Johnson told the Globe.
In a statement issued to the Globe, a Pentagon official said the military is aware of reports that soldiers had sometimes not followed procedures on dealing with the media, promising to take appropriate action. "We remain committed to ensuring that the press is free to report on developments in Iraq," the official said. .."

Christina Asquith (Christian Science Monitor):
"...
with the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein, US officials say teachers will finally be free to teach a more factual account of historical events. But the question is: Whose account will that be?
The first indicator of what a Saddam-free education will look like is arriving this month, as millions of newly revised textbooks roll off the printing presses to be distributed to Iraq's 5.5 million schoolchildren in 16,000 schools. All 563 texts were heavily edited and revised over the summer by a team of US-appointed Iraqi educators. Every image of Saddam and the Baath Party has been removed.
But so has much more - including most of modern history. Pressured for time, and hoping to avoid political controversy, the Ministry of Education under the US-led coalition government removed any content considered "controversial," including the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq war; and all references to Israelis, Americans, or Kurds.
"Entire swaths of 20th-century history have been deleted," says Bill Evers, a US Defense Department employee, and one of three American advisers to the Ministry of Education.
The new downsized versions of textbooks underscore the political challenge facing the primarily US-backed government, and the private, and nonprofit groups charged with everything from rebuilding schools to retraining teachers to rewriting text. While US advisers don't want to be seen as heavy-handed in influencing the way Iraqis interpret history, neither do they want to be in the position of endorsing texts that could be anti-American, anti-Israeli, or radically religious.
As a result, some charge, in a matter of months Iraqi education has gone from one-sided to 'no-sided.'
"We considered anything anti-American to be propaganda and we took it out," says Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi in charge of curriculum for the Ministry of Education. "In some cases, we had to remove entire chapters."..."

4. "A nation that had not one single element - legislative, judicial or executive - of a representative government, now does."; "25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq's history, run the day-to-day business of government."

David Corn (The Nation):
"...But that body was handpicked by the US occupation authorities. How representative is that?..."

John Barry and Evan Thomas (Newsweek) via Truthout:
"...On the ground, the Coalition Provisional Authority, charged with actually running Iraq until the Iraqis can take over, is the source of increasing ridicule. "CPA stands for the Condescending and Patronizing Americans," a Baghdad diplomat told a NEWSWEEK reporter. "So there they are, sitting in their palace: 800 people, 17 of whom speak Arabic, one is an expert on Iraq. Living in this cocoon. Writing papers. It's absurd," says one dissident Pentagon official. He exaggerates, but not by much. Most of the senior civilian staff are not technical experts but diplomats, Republican appointees, White House staffers and the like..."

5. "The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian -- a Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and for peace."

  • The winner Shirin Ebadi, had this to say, however:
    This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner says the September 11 attacks have been used as an excuse to violate international law and human rights.
    Iran's Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the prize, did not mention the U.S. by name but was clearly referring to Washington and its allies in a speech prepared for delivery at the official award ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
    Ebadi, recognized for her fight for children's and women's rights in Iran, collected a gold medal and the $1.4 million award from the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee at Oslo City Hall.
    The 56-year-old lawyer said Wednesday: "In the past two years, some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of September 11 and the war on international terrorism as a pretext.
    "Regulations restricting human rights and basic freedoms ... have been justified and given legitimacy under the cloak of the war on terrorism," she said.
    Ebadi also slammed Washington for ignoring U.N. resolutions in the Middle East while using them as a pretext for launching a war in Iraq.
    "Why is it that in the past 35 years, dozens of U.N. resolutions concerning the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel have not been implemented properly?" she asked.
    "Yet, in the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq, once on the recommendation of the Security Council, and the second time in spite of U.N. Security Council opposition, were subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and ultimately, military occupation?"

Anyway, our point is not that good progress is not being made - but it is helpful to know the facts better.   

12/14/03 <link> (UPDATED 1/5/04)
Saddam Hussein caught!
Thanks to the continued efforts of American troops, Saddam Hussein has been finally caught. This is a day for celebration - not just for Iraqis but for the world. Kudos to the military and the Bush administration for the capture! 
Of course this doesn't mean that Iraq is now going to magically get peaceful, but it's a good step in the right direction.

11/28/03 <link>
George W. Bush does the right thing 
We're talking about his surprise visit to the troops in Baghdad for Thanksgiving.
UPDATE 11/29/03: Well, as much as one would like to give credit to Bush on the above, it is hard not to see the big hand of politics in this move. Matt Yglesias says:

Having read Dan Drezner's response, here's what it comes down to -- I wasn't born yesterday. Sure, sure, this trip probably did some good along with being politically beneficial to the president. And if this was a president who seemed to have a reelection strategy that went a bit like this -- "well, Karl, it seems to me that if we spend our first four yours in office implementing sound policies, that probably the voters will have better lives than they did when I was inaugurated and they'll vote for me again" -- I would think this was just another example of Bush's wise leadership. But that's not his M.O. at all -- it's all politics all the time.
That doesn't mean everything Bush does is harmful -- there's no real harm done here -- but it does mean that none of it should be taken seriously. It was a stunt -- designed to maximize partisan advantage. Hence the secrecy, etc., etc. I'm not going to give the president credit for pulling stunts, even if they are well-executed stunts.

He has this follow-up:

The Unlearned Hand is disgusted by my partisan bitterness. Whatever:

She also acknowledged that the missile attack earlier this month on a German DHL cargo plane had almost caused the White House to scrap Bush's visit, which was planned for weeks starting in mid-October. [...]
"This originated out of the president and the policy side," said Rice, who stopped short of saying that political adviser Karl Rove did not know about the trip.
Bush's visit overshadowed a similar one a day later by Senator Hillary Clinton. A source familiar with the planning of her visit said the administration was informed in late September that she would go.

Oh I see. I late September, the White House heard that Senator Clinton was planning on staging a PR stunt in Iraq. Then, two weeks later, the policy operation at the White House for reasons having nothing to do with politics decided to schedule a trip for the day before to step on Hillary's press. Lovely.

UPDATE 12/13/03: Hmmm, I spoke too soon. The "turkey" was not "real" and the picture was a PR stunt, plus, they put out repeated fake stories about encounters with a British Airways plane.

11/18/03 <link> (UPDATED 1/4/04)
Did the Bush administration claim Iraq was an imminent threat?
Of course they did! That didn't stop dishonest characters like Andrew Sullivan (and other miscellaneous fakers on the Right) from posting drivel about how they never claimed such a thing. Anyway, Josh Marshall addressed this once and for all here. For example, he points out:

...Part of the administration’s effort to float the imminent threat argument was based on redefining what such a threat would mean in the face of terrorism and inadequate intelligence information. Many of the president’s defenders refer to this statement in the president’s State of the Union address in his defense …
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.

But what the president is saying here is that in the context of rogue states in alliance with terrorists we’ll never have the sort of advance warning which used to count as the evidence of an imminent threat. And thus what we had in Iraq actually amounted to an imminent threat. In fact, the administration anticipated this line of reasoning in its National Security Strategy document when it said “We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.”
Condi Rice made a similar point in September 2002 when she said on Nightline: “Well, the President talked about a direct threat. And a threat that might materialize at a certain time. And after the experience of September 11th, the question of what is imminent is a different question because, at any time a threat that has been brewing, a threat that has been developing, can suddenly strike you from the blue.”...
But enough of this, because on numerous occasions administration leaders dispensed with this nuancing entirely and just said it was a plain old imminent threat -- and progressively more often as we moved toward war.
The key is the claim that it is a present threat that could come at any moment and which the country has to confront now or risk potential disaster. I made my argument about the bogusness of the “we never said it was an imminent threat” argument in my last column in The Hill. And if you’re interested you can read it there...

Some people sent in quotes like this one from Richard Perle:

And the only point I want to make is that as long as Saddam is there, with everything we know about Saddam, as long as he possesses the weapons that we know he possesses, there is a threat, and I believe it's imminent because he could choose at any time to take an action we all very much hope he won't take.

That’s pretty clear, ain’t it?
Throughout the build-up to the war, Perle was acting as a de facto spokesman for the war-hawks in the administration. And he had an office in the Pentagon. But at the end of the day he wasn’t a principal in the administration. So, although his statements typified the administration line, his can’t be the winning quote.
More in contention are the quotes from the president’s spokesmen at the time. Did they think the president was arguing there was an imminent threat? The evidence here is awfully clear. Three examples from my Hill column …

Last October, a reporter put this to Ari Fleischer: “Ari, the president has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.”

Fleischer’s answer? “Yes.”

In January, Wolf Blitzer asked Dan Bartlett: “Is [Saddam] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home.”
Bartlett’s answer? “Well, of course he is.”

A month after the war, another reporter asked Fleischer, “Well, we went to war, didn’t we, to find these — because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn’t that true?”

Fleischer’s answer? “Absolutely.”

Any of those could be winners in my book.
But others are still in contention.
What always struck me as the most egregious statement at the time was the president's claim on the very eve of the war that we "will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." (italics added)
Administration leaders also called the threat “urgent” (Bush), “mortal” (Cheney), “immediate” (Rumsfeld) and a bunch of other similar lines.
But the most important enunciator of the president’s argument is the president himself.
So first prize in the TPM Imminent Threat T-Shirt Contest (TPMITTSC) goes for this quote from the president’s October 7th 2002 speech in Cincinnati Ohio ...

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

The first runner up goes to another line from a few moments later in the same speech ...

Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

And the second runner-up goes to this exchange from May 7th 2003 with then-presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer:

Question: Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?

Fleischer: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all.

Now, Ben Fritz of Spinsanity, whose past work I respect [Disclosure: I have contributed funds to Spinsanity], has tried to enter this debate here and here. What I found absolutely unbelievable were the following two statements made to justify that the case against the administration is weak! (bold text is my emphasis). My comments are below the cited portions of Ben's articles.

[1]

Twice, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer affirmed questions from reporters using the phrase "imminent threat" to describe the administration's case against Iraq. As the liberal Center for American Progress pointed out, when Fleischer was asked by a reporter on May 7 of this year, "Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?" he replied, "Absolutely." And on October 16 of last year, a reporter asked, "Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth." Fleischer replied, simply, "Yes."

While Fleischer's affirmation of reporters' use of the phrase is indeed notable, it's important to keep in mind that he never uttered the words himself - hardly conclusive evidence in the matter. [ed - !!!]

[2]

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition on January 26, Bartlett was asked by host Wolf Blitzer, "Is [Saddam Hussein] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?" Bartlett responded:

Well, of course he is. He has made it very clear his hatred for the United States of America. He's made it very clear through the past years and since he's been in power his desire to dominate the region.
And as he acquires these weapons, particularly if he were to get a nuclear weapon, it would change the game in the entire world if Saddam Hussein, based on his past, based on his history of aggression, to acquire the type of weapons and then potentially to marry up with terrorists so he wouldn't have the finger prints, is a scenario that we can't afford to take.

Like the two quotes from Fleischer is response to similar questions, Bartlett's statement is important and should have been cited in our original piece, but it still does not outweigh the many quotes from Bush himself arguing for war on grounds other than imminence. Summarizing an argument, after all, means one must fairly balance all of the different points made, not just latch onto the few that are most convenient for one's point of view. Furthermore, it's notable that the evidence Bartlett points to, such as the possibility that Saddam could obtain nuclear weapons and then pass them onto terrorists, does not indicate an imminent threat, but one that could develop in the future.

Ben's argument that Ari Fleischer "never uttered the words himself - hardly conclusive evidence in the matter" is, I am sad to say, absolutely the worst piece of journalism from Spinsanity I have seen. By this token, there is no reason to believe the words of anyone who answers by simply saying "Yes" to the questions asked of him or her --- and their words carry no weight! By this token, if someone asks me if I am TR and I say yes, I am not really acknowledging my name is TR. By this piece of reasoning, I presume if Bush says "yes" in response to a question from the Press, it means he could actually be saying "no" and it wouldn't matter anyway since he "didn't actually say the words himself". What an astoundingly poor piece of journalism! Ben and Spinsanity should be ashamed to have put this in print.   

Second, Ben says "Summarizing an argument, after all, means one must fairly balance all of the different points made, not just latch onto the few that are most convenient for one's point of view". I say, fair enough. But not only did Ben not analyze the above issue entirely (like Josh did), sometimes Spinsanity's work has in the past contradicted this very statement. Their coverage of the "uranium in Africa" statement made in the State of the Union (which I pointed out to them in their comments section and in an email but got no response on either) is an example. I cover that in detail here

Ben, Spinsanity - you are in danger of becoming Spin or Spin-inanity. Watch out.

11/16/03 <link>
Should the U.S. get out of Iraq in a hurry? Will international forces help? - Part Deux

Max has posted an update to his original post, to which I had posted a response earlier. Key snippets...

...In other words, U.S. soldiers will be withdrawn from "nation-building" duty guarding facilities, keeping order, and presenting themselves as targets to hostile forces. A quasi-sovereignty will be transferred to some configuration of Iraqis. U.S. forces will be stationed in heavily-protected enclaves and venture out at will to attack suspected insurgents. Victory will be declared, again, and the stream of progress reports will continue.

How do I know this? Because I have seen the future, and its name is Afghanistan...

"Sovereign" Iraqi governance consists of the shifting alliances of Iraqis scrambling for a piece of the loot before the bottom falls out. Funds are coming in under two different auspices. The first is the pretense of reconstruction funded by the U.S. and other governments, and ultimately by taxpayers. Contractors need local partners to get or implement their piece of the action. The second is money that seeks recompense from prospective oil revenues, again with the need for local collaborators. Corruption is certain here not because of any unusual character flaw among Iraqis, but because opportunities draw entrepreneurs. The time horizon for all such commerce is necessarily short, since security and ultimate control of the country are still open questions.

The second difference is that while continuously declaring victory and progress, the Bush Administration must absolutely prevent fall-of-Saigon images from being generated. If the Saddamists overrun the new civil administrations before the election, Dubya is going back to Texas for sure...

The neo-cons ought to be very apprehensive about the trend of events...

From the standpoint of the neo-cons, the Wilsonian internationalists, and non-ideological backers of the soldiers' mission, the incipient Bush posture ought to stand as the deepest and blackest of betrayals. It's a Republican Bay of Pigs. From the standpoint of an invasion supporter, which I would say entails a belief that the basic project is feasible (one which I don't share), the logical step is to put in more resources and more troops. What would seem to be exceptionally craven, in this light, is that the Administration refuses to use more troops because it doesn't want to admit it has miscalculated. Expanding the overall size of the military or instituting a draft would be a huge political embarrassment. Second, the Administration would rather use budget resources for other things like tax cuts, energy boondoggles, and the like. For what are hundreds of Americans dying? And what of the hundreds to come?..

Without a doubt, Max makes valid points. His prediction, if I may use that word, has a reasonably high probability of panning out.

In my previous post on this topic, I wrote not so much disagreeing with Max overall, but agreeing conditionally. I conceded that if the Bush administration treats things as business-as-usual even now, more internationalization of the effort is unlikely to be useful. At the same time, I wanted to emphasize that (even from the standpoint of a person who was not in favor of the Iraq invasion) the stakes are too high in Iraq to give up too quickly and I wanted to remind people why. 

I would like to expand on my comments here by commenting on the reconstruction issue and Iraqi hostility. This is a part of the picture I previously treated in incomplete fashion, but it is I believe key to ultimate success in Iraq. Clearly, even if there are tons more soldiers in Iraq trying to improve security, really winning hearts and minds will require turning hostility in the hearts and minds of common Iraqis (especially in the Sunni triangle) to friendliness. In other words, eliminating the guerillas and terrorists is a good thing, but as long as the supply of Iraqi (as opposed to foreign) insurgents does not abate, the future will look nasty for Americans, the UN and for Iraqis. 

Let me make a positive comment about the Bush administration. They were right to insist on significant reconstruction funds for Iraq and that these funds not be in the form of a loan. Regardless of the fact that this was not the popular thing to do, I personally believe it was the right thing to do (part of "doing it right"). Unfortunately, the positive words cannot be extended much beyond that. Competition-free no-bid contracts, cronyism, waste, lack of accountability, etc. are all the minuses about the way they have gone about spending U.S. taxpayer money in Iraq. (Not to mention the fact that all this has been accompanied by unconscionable wartime tax cuts, especially for the richest 1-2% including millionaires.) 

Winning Iraqi hearts and minds requires that Iraqis feel they have real control over their future - it is not sufficient that Viceroy Bremer or his bosses feel that Iraqis have real control over their future. Now, I am more than willing to admit that the American occupation of Iraq clearly is different from what British imperialism was in (say) India. The motives in the two cases were different and the intentions of Americans are clearly different than those that the British had. However, to make sure your intentions are crystal clear to those on the ground, it is important to show Iraqi hoi polloi that they have control over the destiny and future of their country.  If the United States government is appointing the Iraqi "Government", dictating who gets to do what in Iraq from a business/trade standpoint (e.g., awarding no-bid or even bid contracts to American firms over Iraqi businesses, setting (flat!) tax policy, etc.), telling Iraqis that the U.S. Govt. knows better than the Iraqis what is good for Iraqis, etc., then the problem you end up with is that even if your intentions are great, the message the Iraqis may get is substantially different. In a nutshell, my point is this. In an ideal world, the U.S. Government would have told the Iraqis the following right from the beginning:

We are here with overwhelming force to secure your nation with your help. We are here not just to bring you freedom from tyranny, but also to bring peace and happiness to your citizens by removing the need to live a life of fear [that you had to live under Saddam]. As we assist you in securing your country, please assist us by bringing your best people forward to meet the challenge of rebuilding Iraq. Please help us restore Iraq's infrastructure and increase employment rates. You tell us how you would like the country to be rebuilt, and we will advise (not control) you on that and help secure the rebuilding. We will start with a transition Government and transfer power to you gradually as we make Iraq more and more secure. However, even if we are the ones playing a key role in setting up the transition Government, we will give you a lot of power and oversight on setting policy for Iraq - as long as it does not compromise security. We will do everything we can to help you convince other Iraqis that they are the ones shaping their own destiny.

All that is perhaps moot now. But the basic truth does not change. 

SUMMARY: Regardless of whether or not we are about to hurriedly (and shakily) transfer power/authority to Iraqis, policy in Iraq cannot be American policy. It needs to be Iraqi policy, with the U.S. playing an advisory rule (not the other way around). Whether we like it or not, security in Iraq cannot simply be Iraqi security today or in the near future. It needs to be American/U.N. security until the Iraqis have an excellently trained and outfitted army/police force rebuilt. My fear is that the administration is moving in a direction where the opposite is true. Perhaps I am wrong, but from my perch it does not seem wrong as of today. 

UPDATE 11/17/03: It looks my thinking isn't too far from Wesley Clark's. Here's a portion of his Meet The Press transcript from yesterday (bold text is my emphasis).

GEN. CLARK: I’d say, “Mr. President, the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to surrender exclusive U.S. control over this mission. You cannot build the kind of international support you need if we retain exclusive custody of the mission, and there’s no point in it. Build an international organization like we did in the Balkans. We call it the Peace Implementation Committee there. Call this one the Iraqi reconstruction Development Authority. Bring in every nation that wants to contribute, give them a seat at the table, put a non-American in charge and the responsibilities are to assist the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq, and then go to the Iraqis and there’s no reason to wait until June to give the Iraqis back their country. We should be transferring that authority tomorrow. They’ve already elected local councils. Let each local council send two people to a central location. Let that be a transitional central government. Give them staff and let them start forming up the kinds of committees they need to have visibility over and make decisions on what’s being done in Iraq. Give the country back to the Iraqis. We’re not there to occupy it; we’re only there to help. So let’s give them their country back.”
MR. RUSSERT: Is the country now secure enough to give back to the Iraqis? How could an Iraqi interim government possibly protect itself against the same insurgency that is attacking the U.S.?
GEN. CLARK: Well, two things here. First of all, of course it’s not secure and you’ve got to have the United States there for a while. I would still go to NATO, and under my plan, I would announce a new Atlantic charter. I don’t think this administration can do it, but you’ve got to rebuild that relationship with our allies in Europe. This administration’s practically, severely, maybe permanently damaged that relationship. It’s got to be built back. I’d still like to have NATO there so that other nations can see what we’re doing military, but we’ll be there for a while. We’ve got to train that Iraqi force and bring it up to speed so it really can help secure the country, and step by step, they’ll pick up regions of the country.

11/14/03 <link>
Should the U.S. get out of Iraq in a hurry? Will international forces help?

MaxSpeak [via Atrios] says:

...The inescapable fact is that if force doesn't work when exerted by Americans, it won't work in someone else's hands either. Perhaps the U.S. will get lucky and nab Hussein. That might make a difference. Maybe counter-insurgency will start to work. Right now, the proffer of statistics on U.S. 'success,' combined with deep paranoia in news management (e.g., preventing news coverage of the return of dead soldiers), reminds me of the old 'body count' days. We've seen this movie before.

Unless the U.S. murders everyone in Baghdad and the "Sunni triangle," Saddamists are going to be the default power there. There is an illusory control over the Kurdish and Shi'a areas. The U.S. doesn't control them; it's just that the inhabitants choose not to engage in open rebellion at this juncture. Wouldn't be prudent.

It's true: withdrawal will have ill consequences for the national interest. So will staying in...

...failure to occupy Iraq won't prevent the U.S. from murdering anyone it perceives as a threat, anywhere in the world. Anti-terrorism is much cheaper than colonialism. The entire Homeland Security budget is under $40 billion. You all know how much is going to be spent on Iraq this fiscal year.

Atrios agrees.

...The Max view is that there's nothing much to be accomplished by staying, and I tend to agree. We may be wrong, but the view that we just have to try and make things better presupposes that there's much we can do...

I disagree in part with both Max and Atrios. Here's why.

First some background. I did not support the invasion of Iraq. As I said in April:

...there were good reasons to attack Saddam (such as his cruel dictatorial regime, the small possibility that he held WMDs, our chronic inability to de-seat him in the past - in part due to the U.N., a corrective action for having supported him in the past, and the potential of making Iraqis happy), but that there were strong countervailing reasons that made the costs of such an attack without U.N. support and military backing higher than the benefits (e.g., repeated lies/misleading statements about Saddam's weapons arsenal or links to 9/11 and Al Qaeda, display of hypocrisy, politics and egregious "diplomacy" which eroded trust and harmed long-term alliances/friendships, possibly high casualties amongst our soldiers and amongst those whom we seek to liberate, quest for oil wealth, , the post-war "rule" (un) planned, the costs of maintaining order and democracy, etc.). On balance the war had a moral goal (liberation of Iraqis) but also some immoral goals (unprovoked attack on another country preceded by a mass of fabrications and misleading statements about the threat posed by Saddam to the U.S., at a time when one of the key past (and present) (direct/indirect) supporters of those that caused 9/11 - Pakistan - remains our "ally" in the "war on terrorism")...

Since the invasion of Iraq, it has only become clearer that the principal justifications for the war were fraudulent - Saddam's nuclear weapons/capabilities, his biological/chemical/other weapons/threat, his supposed link to Al Qaeda and [subliminally (or directly) cultivated] link to 9/11, and the overall threat posed by him and the supposed irrelevance/ineffectiveness of the UN. The post-war reconstruction has been less than crisp, to put it euphemistically - not to mention that fakery that continues on that topic. While things have improved in some parts of Iraq - and most Iraqis clearly are happy to be "rid" (in a manner of speaking) of Saddam Hussein (which is a good thing while it lasts), it is undeniable that in the key Sunni triangle (and perhaps to some extent in other areas), security and life in general is not much better, or is in fact worse. In the face of this, it is not easy to conjure up reasons to support an American or International/U.N. occupation of Iraq. 

However, there are good reasons to support it (assuming the Bush administration is willing to really do things differently at least going forward - which, I concede, they may not). And, I provide those reasons here, in spite of my being a person of Indian origin (as in the India in South Asia). 
[Why is my background important? Well, as I wrote on 3/15/03:  "...Being of Indian origin, and having had the honor and pride of being associated with a country that fought against British rule with non-violence and civil disobedience, I have a hard time imagining Iraqi citizens really looking forward to occupation by a liberating force, whatever the intent of the latter. Sure, they may feel happy to be liberated of Saddam (and I don't doubt that they likely do) - but will they be happy to see a U.S. commander essentially running the country directly - or by proxy?..."]

1. First, all the obvious reasons:
(a) We made a promise to the Iraqi people that we will get rid of Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq. We have demolished parts of their country and killed tens of thousands of their citizens in this process and we cannot leave without fulfilling the promise. 
(b) The U.S. invasion of Iraq was unprovoked. All countries that attack others without provocation bear some responsibility for the target country's future, regardless of the attackers [noble] intentions. 
(c) Leaving Iraq prematurely, will leave a newly created, extremely unstable, terrorist haven -- adding to the one that is nucleating again in Afghanistan after the broken promise there.

2. It is hard to dispute that the results we are seeing in Iraq today are in large part due to the incompetence of the Bush Administration in post-invasion Iraq (remember we are still "at war") -- leading to hundreds of American deaths and thousands of American soldiers injured even after the so-called "cessation" of "major combat". My point here (one which Max and Atrios will agree with) is that these results cannot be assumed to reflect the outcome that one may see if one followed a very different policy. Granted, if they are going to continue their botched up operation for the foreseeable future, then the case for staying longer gets weaker. However, assuming that an international force would necessarily go about managing operations in Iraq the same way is not necessarily true. So, let us consider the hypothetical (albeit unlikely) case where the Bush administration insists NOT on grandstanding, but on showing a genuine interest in enabling an international force.   

If we leave aside Iraqi hostility for a moment, there appears to be two principal reasons why we are seeing high American (and Iraqi civilian) casualties: (a) insufficient manpower for security, and (b) insufficient safeguards for conventional weapons lying around in Iraq (rifles, grenades. etc.). Both of these deficiencies have to be addressed in order to change the security situation. If we can get an international force in sufficient (emphasis on sufficient) strength to bolster American forces, that will help address (a). If the numbers are high enough we might also be able to identify and guard the thousands of sites where weapons are freely available in Iraq (b). That is key. Having a truly international presence will also go a long way in reducing the hostility and doubts that the common man in Iraq may have against American forces. More neutrality cannot hurt - regardless of the cost of lives, it is more likely to help. Moreover, if security can be guaranteed in much better fashion, we have a real chance of finding a way to let Iraqis build a stable Government of their own - as opposed to having one thrust upon them in imperialist fashion.

3. The ability to draw a significant enough international force in Iraq will also help divert more American forces to where they are really needed -- where they were really needed all along: Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is not merely a travesty that this administration, which was caught sleeping at the helm on 9/11 (with its chief executive taking extra long vacations prior to that), went after Saddam in the guise of responding to 9-11/Al Qaeda. By allowing terrorists (and evidently Osama bin Laden) to continue to have a foothold in the real geographic base for the 9/11 attacks - Afghanistan - and by treating the key sponsor of Islamic terrorism and key backer of the Taliban (and, directly or indirectly, bin Laden) - Pakistan - as an "ally" who gets invitations to Bush's ranch, this administration has committed perhaps the most significant misdeed of American foreign policy. Their second most serious misdeed was their policy of "pre-emption", already shown to be an utter and miserable failure, given that North Korea and Iran only sped up their nuclear program because of the invasion of Iraq and all the preceding and succeeding chicken-hawk talk. All in all, it is indisputable that they have not only done this great country an enormous disservice, they have clearly made America (and the world) less safe as a result. We need to start correcting this litany of failures. As soon as possible.

4. The U.N. and NATO overall are generally more experienced at peace-keeping operations than are U.S. forces. Their experience and help would be valuable, at least in areas where the security situation is less bleak.

5. Max says, "...But failure to occupy Iraq won't prevent the U.S. from murdering anyone it perceives as a threat, anywhere in the world. Anti-terrorism is much cheaper than colonialism...
I view this issue differently. A failure to show the insurgents in Iraq that we are strong enough to do what we promised the people of Iraq we would, sends a clear signal to every tin pot dictator and terrorist in the world that the best way to defeat the world's most powerful military machine is via guerilla warfare. Wars will no longer be as easy to win even with the world's most advanced military. There will be a lot more "Fedayeen melting into the crowd" and "disappearing Saddams" if we skip out of Iraq because of the mess created by this administration. There will be a higher price to pay in all future expeditions - even genuinely noble ones. 

In summary, I always thought this was the wrong war, fought at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a war that turned a world that was largely pro-US (after 9/11) to a world that is unnecessarily hostile towards America. But....promises were made to the Iraqi people. A new terrorist haven was created. The success of America's military capabilities and foreign policy is at stake.  These guys botched up one reconstruction (Afghanistan). Let's not botch up another one even more. 

One final thought. The reason I agree in part with Atrios and Max is the following. If the administration is going to cling to its egomaniacal arrogance, then all the international forces in the world may mean nothing. If it is interested in addressing what is really at stake here, and in showing some real interest in securing the future of the United States - for a change, then international forces might be very helpful. If not, then we are alone to do the job and we will still need to do it right. Despite the incompetence of this administration and its fraudulent principals, despite the relentless fakery by White-House-toilet-paper-plus-chicken-hawk conservatives like the Krauthammers of the world (not to mention some who inhabit the webbified portion of the Universe), and despite finally being pissed off by the hypocritical writings of Tom Friedman (someone, who's writings I have featured on this website in very favorable ways in the past), I still hope the Bush administration succeeds in bringing real democracy to Iraq. 

UPDATE: Atrios remarks in response to this post that "...His basic point is that it's important to do it right, and he lists all of the reasons. I don't think really rebuts anything I said. I think it's important to "do it right" - I just question whether there's anything much we can do...
In some sense Atrios is right. As I have conceded, if the Bush administration is going to continue to think of this as business-as-usual, then there may really be nothing more that can be done by bringing in international forces. However, the point I am making overall is that the situation is probably not irreversible if they are willing to make accommodations to the world community to solve this problem. Atrios is certainly in agreement that there are very good reasons to do this right.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I have a follow-up post to this - here - addressing the Iraqi hostility and reconstructions issues.

11/13/03 <link>
The Bush administration and Iraq: A debunking of claims on various aspects of the pre-war period and post-invasion period.

9/26/03 <link>
A study of the Bush administration's lies, deception and misleading statements, er. compassion, on the topic of Iraq and nuclear weapons/program, uranium etc.

7/22/03 <link>
Bob Somerby says the media is misrepresenting the claims of the WH and equating Africa and Niger. I say, yes the media is mixing Niger and Africa, but that is allowed because the WH did the same! (Click to read).

7/20/03
<link>
More on the NIE
Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder reports on the misleading case made for war. Some snippets are shown here (bold text is my emphasis):

"...Hoping to quell the controversy over President Bush's use of questionable intelligence to help make the case for war with Iraq, White House officials on Friday released portions of a top-secret report from last year that concluded that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking nuclear weapons.

But that finding in the classified National Intelligence Estimate, prepared for the White House last October, came loaded with reservations that reflected deep divisions in the intelligence community over Iraq's weapons programs and were at odds with the certainty expressed by Bush and his top aides.

The report even quoted intelligence experts at the State Department as describing claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa as "highly dubious." Bush nevertheless repeated the assertion in his State of the Union speech in January while arguing the need for war
. Uranium is a key component of nuclear bombs.

Although the report concluded that Iraq was seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, it acknowledged the scarcity of solid information. If the excerpts accurately reflect the full report, Bush reached the decision to go to war by assuming the worst about Iraq's capabilities and Saddam's intentions
.

"We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs. ... We have low confidence in our ability to assess when Saddam would use WMD," the intelligence experts reported.
They also acknowledged "low confidence" in their ability to predict whether Saddam would attack the United States and how willing he was to share weapons of mass destruction with al-Qaida terrorists. Bush repeatedly raised concerns about those threats in making the case for war
...

...The report concluded that Iraq could have produced a nuclear bomb "within several months" if Saddam had been able to buy bomb-making material from other countries. The timeline expanded to between 2007 to 2009 if Iraq had to produce its own highly enriched uranium and other bomb components.

Officials at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known as INR, disputed those conclusions in a dissent that questioned whether Iraq had any significant nuclear weapons program.

"Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment," the State Department concluded. "Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, INR is unwilling to speculate that such an effort began shortly after the departure of U.N. inspectors or to project a timelime for the completion of activities it does not now see happening."

The agency was even more skeptical about claims that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa and tried to buy aluminum tubes and other bomb-making equipment.

"Some of the specialized but dual-use items being sought are, by all indications, bound for Iraq's (non-nuclear) missile program," the State Department experts concluded in another dissent. "Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's opinion, highly dubious."

The senior administration official said Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice were unaware of the dissenting opinion, even though it was prominently mentioned in the 90-page intelligence report.

...A senior CIA official has told Knight Ridder that the agency expressed doubts about the uranium assertion to the White House as early as March 9, 2002, seven months before the October intelligence report and 10 months before the State of the Union speech..."

7/19/03 <link>
Compassionate Conservative = "Not a fact-checker" 
A "senior administration official" has now stated that President Bush is "not a fact-checker". This was stated in the following context, as reported by Dana Milbank and Dana Priest: 

Asked whether Bush was aware the State Department called the Africa-uranium claim "highly dubious," the official, who coordinated Bush's State of the Union address, said: "He did not know that." "The president was comfortable at the time, based on the information that was provided in his speech," the official said of the decision to use it in the address to Congress. "The president of the United States is not a fact-checker."

Let's try and understand this further, as I quote here from Milbank and Priest (bold text/red coloring is my emphasis):

...The acknowledgment came in a briefing for reporters in which the administration released excerpts from last October's National Intelligence Estimate, a classified, 90-page summary that was the definitive assessment of Iraq's weapons programs by U.S. intelligence agencies. The report declared that "most" of the six intelligence agencies believed there was "compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad's nuclear weapons program." But the document also included a pointed dissent by the State Department, which said the evidence did not "add up to a compelling case" that Iraq was making a comprehensive effort to get nuclear weapons...
...the excerpts also show that significant doubts were raised about key assertions Bush made in his State of the Union address. According to the NIE, a consensus document based on the work of six agencies, both the Energy Department, which is responsible for watching foreign nuclear programs, and the State Department disagreed with another allegation, voiced by Bush, that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were for a nuclear weapons program.
The State Department's intelligence arm (INR) also offered a caustic criticism of the controversial claim, raised by Bush in his State of the Union address, that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. "(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious."
The objection was included in an annex to the report. The White House did not release the full text of the objection. The allegation that Iraq sought uranium in Africa was in the main portion of the report but was not one of the report's "key judgments."
A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety. "They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document," said the official, referring to the "Annex" that contained the State Department's dissent...
...As to the overall nuclear assessment, the NIE said, "Although we assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them."
But the State Department, in its dissent, challenged the circumstantial nature of the other agencies' assessment: "Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, [the State Department's intelligence office] is unwilling to speculate that such an effort began soon after the departure of UN inspectors or to project a timeline for completion of activities it does not now see happening."
The White House official said the majority view prevailed. "When you get all six agencies, you take dissent into consideration, you note their dissent, but there is a majority judgment that's made," the official said. "It was made in this case, and that's why it was relied upon."..."

Let me assume for a minute that the White House and this anonymous official are telling the truth - even though there is no reason whatsoever to give them the benefit of the doubt (indeed the above article itself contains more than one reason why they cannot be believed, not to mention some of the information in this New York Times article  - but that's something I'll cover further at a later date). If I give them the benefit of the doubt, what I understand the White House to be saying above is the following:
1. Decisions by Bush are made using majority "judgment" 
2. Dissent is considered, but what is more relevant is the majority "judgment"  
3. President Bush and his National Security Advisor did not read the dissent in the case of the Uranium allegations (among other things)

So, Condi Rice, the National Security Advisor (who has a significant responsibility for what goes into the SOTU speech - as she herself conceded) and the President, claim that they never read the dissenting views on the NIE. Then, what did they read? 

Surely, they made their case to the American public using the NIE "facts"? If so, they must have at least read the body of the NIE report which, according to the above article, 

...declared that "most" of the six intelligence agencies believed there was "compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad's nuclear weapons program..."? 

This surely must be the case, since this is where the majority "judgment" was captured for them - and was their way of discovering that this was the majority "judgment"...right?

Here's another question. If I'm about to declare war on someone,
would I NOT be interested in at least knowing WHY *not ALL* of the intelligence agencies agree with some of the NIE's conclusions? It is one thing to ignore or set aside objections once they are made, understood, and an executive decision taken based on that understanding (using one's discretion). That might be justifiable depending on the situation. But the White House's statements lead me to believe that the President and Condi Rice simply did not want to even know why there was not a (complete) consensus! Why else would they have not paid attention to the text of the dissenting views (in the Appendix)? Why else would it suffice for them that the majority "intelligence" opinion (aka "judgment") is sufficient reason to go to war? That too from a President who derided anti-war protestors prior to the war with this statement

...Size of protest, it's like deciding, 'Well I'm going to decide policy based up on a focus group.' The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security-- in this case-- security of the people..." 
(eRiposte note: Not to mention, that around the time he made this last statement, many polls showed that the majority of those polled were against invading Iraq without a second UN vote.)

From a President who also said this recently (via Atrios):

I'm the kind of person that likes to know all the facts before I make a decision.

How does one know what is best for the security of the American people if one relies merely on the (focus group) majority of the intelligence agencies without even paying any attention to the minority (as reflected by a lack of interest in understanding why the minority felt that way)? What if the minority view had been hawkish and the majority view dovish - would the majority view have been relied on in that case? Again, it is understandable that the majority view could be used in general if the reasons for the minority view are understood and debated first. However, that is not what happened here. Here's an analogy -  a CEO who is faced with a major decision that will affect the fate of the company and the jobs of hundreds to thousands of her employees. She has to take a decision based on an analysis of the pros and cons of going with a particular approach. That means understanding the data. It is not her responsibility to come up with the facts, but it is her responsibility to understand what the facts are. She cannot and does not get away from stockholders with statements like "I am not a fact-checker".

President Bush took one of the most important decisions in the history of the United States and the free world by going to war without bothering to understand why there were key people in his own administration who disagreed with many of the so-called "facts" that he rattled off with such certainty almost on a daily basis. This is in addition to his demonstrated mendacity at every possible turn. At the time of this writing 227 American troops have died because of this, many more wounded, with several thousand civilian casualties (the people we were "liberating" from Saddam), enormous damage to the Iraqi infrastructure during and after the war, and no sign yet of either weapons of mass destruction, links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, or democracy in Iraq.

In combination with his history of deception that has been catalogued by too many to recount here, President Bush's lack of attention to understanding the reasons behind the challenges to the "majority" intelligence view (which contradicts his own stated desire to not simply be driven by majority views when the latter is associated with the American public) leads us to one (or both) of two possible conclusions about him. 
(a) He is either an idealogue who is interested mostly (or wholly) in "facts" that meet his ideology, and/or 
(b) He is appallingly incompetent to serve as President of this great country

Some of us may recall that this is not the first time, that, when faced with the prospect of sending people to their deaths, President Bush has shown a callous disregard for real facts and real lives. As Alan Berlow has documented at great length in his recent Atlantic Monthly article, Bush - as Governor of Texas - sent many people to their deaths by refusing clemency appeals without paying attention to mitigating or exonerating factors. We quote Berlow here:

...During Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution, and was then briefed on those facts by his counsel; based on this information Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales, a Harvard-educated lawyer who went on to become the Texas secretary of state and a justice on the Texas supreme court. He is now the White House counsel...

Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes.

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence...

Gonzales declined to be interviewed for this story, but during the 2000 presidential campaign I asked him if Bush ever read the clemency petitions of death-row inmates, and he equivocated. "I wouldn't say that was done in every case," he told me. "But if we felt there was something he should look at specifically—yes, he did look from time to time at what had been filed." I have found no evidence that Gonzales ever sent Bush a clemency petition—or any document—that summarized in a concise and coherent fashion a condemned defendant's best argument against execution in a case involving serious questions of innocence or due process. Bush relied on Gonzales's summaries, which never made such arguments...

All governors claim that they agonize over death penalty decisions. During his time in office Bush made numerous statements to this effect, among them "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully" and "Each case is major, because each case is life or death." In his autobiography he wrote, "I review every death penalty case thoroughly" and added, referring to his legal staff, "For every death penalty case, they brief me thoroughly, review the arguments made by the prosecution and the defense, raise any doubts or problems or questions." Bush always maintained that this review provided what he called a "fail-safe" method for ensuring due process and certainty of guilt. Asked about the governor's handling of capital cases, Johnny Sutton, Governor Bush's adviser on criminal-justice policy, told The New York Times in May of 2000, "This is probably the most important thing we do in state government."

But Gonzales's execution summaries belie these assurances of thorough and judicious review. The memoranda seem attuned to a radically different posture, assumed by Bush from the earliest days of his administration—one in which he sought to minimize his sense of legal and moral responsibility for executions. Bush repeatedly cited a Texas statute that says a governor may do nothing more than grant a thirty-day reprieve to an inmate unless the Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended a broader grant of clemency. Admittedly, the governor's clemency authority is far more limited in Texas than in, for example, Illinois, where Governor George Ryan unilaterally commuted the death sentences of 167 men and women last January, shortly before leaving office. Nevertheless, Bush's failure to intervene was governed as much by personal choice as by legal limitation. Had Bush wanted to commute a sentence or otherwise prevent an execution, he unquestionably could have done so. Members of the BPP are appointed by the governor to six-year rotating terms. By the end of his governorship Bush had appointed all eighteen members. If he or Gonzales had had any serious doubts about a particular case, even on the morning of a scheduled execution, Bush could easily have prevailed on the board to reconsider the matter—to conduct an investigation, hold hearings, interview witnesses, or do whatever else was necessary to resolve those doubts.

In fact, on one highly controversial occasion, in 1998, Bush intervened with the board before it had a chance to make a recommendation to him..." (read his entire article)

Enough said. All I ask the Paul Krugman's, E. J. Dionne's, Dana Milbank's, Walter Pincus', Joe Conason's, Michael Kinsley's, Peter Beinart's, Jonathan Chait's, Nicholas Kristof's, Bob Somerby's, Atrios', CalPundit's (and so many of the other great e-zines/blogs) is this: Don't let this latest explanation slip under the media radar along the lines of Iran-Contra. As always, there is more here than meets the eye. Continue to be patriots and disseminate the truth! 

UPDATE 7/20/03:
This Boston Globe article says: "...Previously, the White House has said there was a ''footnote'' reflecting concerns raised by the State Department. The document includes a sentence in the first paragraph of the Iraq section highlighting the State Department's alternate view, or dissent, in what was called an ''annex'' to the report..." This makes Bush's and Rice's claim that they did not read the annex/appendix even more egregious.

UPDATE 11/16/03:
At least the claim that Sec. Rice did not read the annex or "footnote" has been shown to be a fakery, as usual. Thanks to Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler:

"...IFILL: One more on that point from Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe who asks: “You have admitted responsibility for not having read the CIA memo warning that the information that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa was not solid. If you had read the memo, how would that have changed your position on weapons of mass destruction?”
RICE: First of all, the memo that people are referring to is a set of clearance comments on a speech the president gave in October. So let’s be very clear on what this memo was. And it was a clearance memo that cleared some 20 or more items. I don’t remember reading the memo and probably in the normal course of things I would not, because when George Tenet said, “Take it out,” we simply take it out. We don’t need a rationale from George Tenet as to why to take it out.
I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.

Needless to say, Ifill made no attempt to follow up on Rice’s statement. More specifically, Ifill didn’t ask about the change in the official White House account. After all, if Rice did read the NIE, then she must have known that the State Department objected to the uranium story. Any real journalist would have asked her about it..."

7/11/03 <link>
No real planning done for post-war Iraq
No surprises here.

Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report for Knight Ridder as follows:
"...
The small circle of senior civilians in the Defense Department who dominated planning for postwar Iraq failed to prepare for the setbacks that have erupted over the past two months.
The officials didn't develop any real postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader. The Pentagon civilians ignored CIA and State Department experts who disputed them, resisted White House pressure to back off from their favored exile leader and when their scenario collapsed amid increasing violence and disorder, they had no backup plan.
Today, American forces face instability in Iraq, where they are losing soldiers almost daily to escalating guerrilla attacks, the cost of occupation is exploding to almost $4 billion a month and withdrawal appears untold years away.
"There was no real planning for postwar Iraq," said a former senior U.S. official who left government recently.
The story of the flawed postwar planning process was gathered in interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior government officials.
One senior defense official told Knight Ridder that the failure of Pentagon civilians to set specific objectives - short-, medium- and long-term - for Iraq's stabilization and reconstruction after Saddam Hussein's regime fell even left U.S. military commanders uncertain about how many and what kinds of troops would be needed after the war.
In contrast, years before World War II ended, American planners plotted extraordinarily detailed blueprints for administering postwar Germany and Japan, designing everything from rebuilt economies to law enforcement and democratic governments.
The disenchanted U.S. officials today think the failure of the Pentagon civilians to develop such detailed plans contributed to the chaos in post-Saddam Iraq...
Ultimately...the responsibility for ensuring that post-Saddam planning anticipated all possible complications lay with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, current and former officials said..."

6/30/03 <link>
Another day, another poll. This one's gotta make Mr. Rove a wee bit edgy.
CNN's poll claims that now only a bare majority of ~56% feel it was worth going to war in Iraq and that things are going well there. The part that Mr. Rove will be paying lots and lots of attention is the question about whether it would "matter to you if Bush did mislead..." - 53% say a "great deal" and 22% say a "moderate amount" leaving us the usual suspects (perhaps) bringing up the tail (i.e., lying is good when a Republican does it - to paraphrase it differently).  Also check out how people's confidence of finding WMDs has dropped.

Here's the chart that CNN is showing at the above website.

In keeping with the times, Tom Tomorrow has a fabulous toon up today at Salon.com. It was so good that we just had to reproduce it.

6/13/03 <link>
Bill Moyers on the Progressive Story of America
This is a remarkable speech from Mr. Moyers that we recently read (courtesy Buzzflash) and is something all Americans should read. Indeed, non-Americans should also read it to understand the progressive values Americans have fought for, in bipartisan fashion. 

6/8/03 <link>
Bush administration and Iraq WMDs
Body and Soul has an interesting collection of articles from the past few days where Bush and his administration have been getting flak for distorting or lying about pre-war intelligence in Iraq. Christopher Dickey (MSNBC), Jake Tapper (Salon) and Auster, Mazetti and Pound (U.S. News and World Report) have additional, interesting pieces. Note, as Calpundit points out, that Iraq's WMDs were the key selling point for this war. 

Recently of course, President Bush lied by claiming that the two dubious trailers found in Iraq (with no weapons) were weapons of mass destruction. In response, Tom Tomorrow has one more of his remarkable cartoons:

5/25/03 <link>
The GOP and the Politics of Terror
E.J. Dionne's column is worth reading.

5/11/03 <link>
Search for WMD in Iraq: an update
Barton Gellman's Washington Post article is worth reading.

Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq
Task Force Unable To Find Any Weapons
By Barton Gellman

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.
The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.
Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.
Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.
Army Col. Richard McPhee, who will close down the task force next month, said he took seriously U.S. intelligence warnings on the eve of war that Hussein had given "release authority" to subordinates in command of chemical weapons. "We didn't have all these people in [protective] suits" for nothing, he said. But if Iraq thought of using such weapons, "there had to have been something to use. And we haven't found it. . . . Books will be written on that in the intelligence community for a long time."
Army Col. Robert Smith, who leads the site assessment teams from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said task force leaders no longer "think we're going to find chemical rounds sitting next to a gun." He added, "That's what we came here for, but we're past that."
Motivated and accomplished in their fields, task force members found themselves lacking vital tools. They consistently found targets identified by Washington to be inaccurate, looted and burned, or both. Leaders and members of five of the task force's eight teams, and some senior officers guiding them, said the weapons hunters were going through the motions now to "check the blocks" on a prewar list.
U.S. Central Command began the war with a list of 19 top weapons sites. Only two remain to be searched. Another list enumerated 68 top "non-WMD sites," without known links to special weapons but judged to have the potential to offer clues. Of those, the tally at midweek showed 45 surveyed without success.
Task Force 75's experience, and its impending dissolution after seven weeks in action, square poorly with assertions in Washington that the search has barely begun.
In his declaration of victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, President Bush said, "We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated." Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that U.S. forces had surveyed only 70 of the roughly 600 potential weapons facilities on the "integrated master site list" prepared by U.S. intelligence agencies before the war.
But here on the front lines of the search, the focus is on a smaller number of high-priority sites, and the results are uniformly disappointing, participants said.
"Why are we doing any planned targets?" Army Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, leader of Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, said in disgust to a colleague during last Sunday's nightly report of weapons sites and survey results. "Answer me that. We know they're empty."
Survey teams have combed laboratories and munitions plants, bunkers and distilleries, bakeries and vaccine factories, file cabinets and holes in the ground where tipsters advised them to dig. Most of the assignments came with classified "target folders" describing U.S. intelligence leads. Others, known as the "ad hocs," came to the task force's attention by way of plausible human sources on the ground.
The hunt will continue under a new Iraq Survey Group, which the Bush administration has said is a larger team. But the organizers are drawing down their weapons staffs for lack of work, and adding expertise for other missions.
Interviews and documents describing the transition from Task Force 75 to the new group show that site survey teams, the advance scouts of the arms search, will reduce from six to two their complement of experts in missile technology and biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. A little-known nuclear special operations group from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, called the Direct Support Team, has already sent home a third of its original complement, and plans to cut the remaining team by half.
"We thought we would be much more gainfully employed, or intensively employed, than we were," said Navy Cmdr. David Beckett, who directs special nuclear programs for the team.
State-of-the-art biological and chemical labs, shrunk to fit standard cargo containers, came equipped with enough supplies to run thousands of tests using DNA fingerprinting and mass spectrometry. They have been called upon no more than a few dozen times, none with a confirmed hit. The labs' director, who asked not to be identified, said some of his scientists were also going home.
Even the sharpest skeptics do not rule out that the hunt may eventually find evidence of banned weapons. The most significant unknown is what U.S. interrogators are learning from senior Iraqi scientists, military industrial managers and Iraqi government leaders now in custody. If the nonconventional arms exist, some of them ought to know. Publicly, the Bush administration has declined to discuss what the captured Iraqis are saying. In private, U.S. officials provide conflicting reports, with some hinting at important disclosures. Cambone also said U.S. forces have seized "troves of documents" and are "surveying them, triaging them" for clues.
At former presidential palaces in the Baghdad area, where Task Force 75 will soon hand control to the Iraq Survey Group, leaders and team members refer to the covert operators as "secret squirrels." If they are making important progress, it has not led to "actionable" targets, according to McPhee and other task force members.

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'The Bear Wasn't There'
But two other factors -- erroneous intelligence and poor site security -- dealt the severest blows to the hunt, according to leaders and team members at every level.
Some information known in Washington, such as inventories of nuclear sites under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not reach the teams assigned to visit them. But what the U.S. government did not know mattered more than what it did know. Intelligence agencies had a far less accurate picture of Iraq's weapons program than participants believed at the outset of their search, they recalled.
"We came to bear country, we came loaded for bear and we found out the bear wasn't here," said a Defense Intelligence Agency officer here who asked not to be identified by name. "The indications and warnings were there. The assessments were solid."
"Okay, that paradigm didn't exist," he added. "The question before was, where are Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons? What is the question now? That is what we are trying to sort out."
One thing analysts must reconsider, he said, is: "What was the nature of the threat?"
By far the greatest impediment to the weapons hunt, participants said, was widespread looting of Iraq's government and industrial facilities. At nearly every top-tier "sensitive site" the searchers reached, intruders had sacked and burned the evidence that weapons hunters had counted on sifting. As recently as last Tuesday, nearly a month after Hussein's fall from power, soldiers under the Army's V Corps command had secured only 44 of the 85 top potential weapons sites in the Baghdad area and 153 of the 372 considered most important to rebuilding Iraq's government and economy.
McPhee saw early in the war that the looters were stripping his targets before he could check them. He cut the planning cycle for new missions -- the time between first notice and launch -- from 96 to 24 hours. "What we found," he said, was that "as the maneuver units hit a target they had to move on, even 24 hours was too slow. By the time we got there, a lot of things were gone."
Short and powerfully built, McPhee has spent his adult life as a combat officer. He calls his soldiers "bubbas" and worries about their mail. "It ain't good" that suspect sites are unprotected, he said, but he refused to criticize fighting units who left evidence unguarded.
"You've got two corps commanders being told, 'Get to Baghdad,' and, oh, by the way, 'When you run across sensitive sites, you have to secure them,' " he said. "Do you secure all those sites, or do you get to Baghdad? You've got limited force structure and you've got 20 missions."
A low point came when looters destroyed what was meant to be McPhee's headquarters in the Iraqi capital. The 101st Airborne Division had used the complex, a munitions factory called the Al Qadisiyah State Establishment, before rolling north to Mosul. When a reporter came calling, looking for Task Force 75, looters were busily stripping it clean. They later set it ablaze.

An Altered Mission
The search teams arrived in Iraq "looking for the smoking gun," Smith said, and now the mission is more diffuse -- general intelligence-gathering on subjects ranging from crimes against humanity and prisoners of war to Hussein's links with terrorists.
At the peak of the effort, all four mobile exploitation teams were devoted nearly full time to weapons of mass destruction. By late last month, two of the four had turned to other questions. This week, MET Alpha, Gonzales's team, also left the hunt, at least temporarily. It parted with its chemical and biological experts, added linguists and document exploiters and recast itself as an intelligence team. It will search for weapons if leads turn up, but lately it has focused on Iraqi covert operations abroad and the theft of Jewish antiquities.
The stymied hunt baffles search team leaders. To a person, those interviewed during a weeklong visit to the task force said they believed in the mission and the Bush administration accusations that prompted it.
Yet "smoking gun" is now a term of dark irony here. Maj. Kenneth Deal, executive officer of one site survey team, called out the words in mock triumph when he found a page of Arabic text at a former Baath Party recreation center last week. It was torn from a translated edition of A.J.P. Taylor's history, "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe." At a "battle update brief" last week, amid confusion over the whereabouts of a British laboratory in transit from Talil Air Base, McPhee deadpanned to his staff: "I haven't a clue where the WMD is, but we can find this lab."
Among the sites already visited from Central Command's top 19 are an underground facility at North Tikrit Hospital, an unconventional training camp at Salman Pak, Samarra East Airport, the headquarters of the Military Industrialization Commission, the Baghdad Research Complex, a storage site for surface-to-surface missiles in Taji, the Amiriyah Serum and Vaccine Institute, a munitions assembly plant in Iskandariyah and an underground bunker at the Abu Ghurayb Palace.

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/9/03
Iraq: Promises, Promises
What will happen to Iraq? See our pictorial commentary starting with some memories going back to 9/11.

4/8/03
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