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):
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.
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.
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
Some of the torture related emails that
the ACLU managed to obtain are here.
Now to the Washington Post editorial.
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
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
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.
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!
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
ourselves about the real state of Iraq these days.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"I'm tired of every time we go
out the gate, someone tries to kill me."
Torture, Ltd. (or shall I say, tritely,
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
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.
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
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
OK. On to
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
Update (6/11/04): Also don’t miss
Eric Muller’s excellent comment, Manipulating
Shall we say, that borrowing from the 101st
Fighting Keyboarders, that this administration is "objectively
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
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.
and continue reading. Another good site covering Iraq, especially the
whole Chalabi mess, is Laura Rozen's War
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
by James Glanz suggests, it all depends on what the meaning of
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"It is really mayhem," Mr. Khadduri said. "There is no
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."
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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:
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.
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."
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:
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
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.
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.
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
"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
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
ABC has a report:
Definitely a Cover-Up'
Former Abu Ghraib Intel Staffer Says Army Concealed Involvement in Abuse
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
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
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."
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
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
"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
"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."
The U.S. and human rights - some
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
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
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
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
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.
Nick Berg, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
Now, at the same time, let me recommend to the reader
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
“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
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
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
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
UPDATE: Political Animal has
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
So here's the summary:
Pentagon, of course, says it was just a few bad apples. They are the
only ones who seem to believe this.
says abusive interrogation was the Pentagon's idea and CIA resisted.
says the Pentagon and the CIA were on board, but the State
variety of sources say it was the Pentagon's idea and the JAG corps
says the Pentagon ran the program and Congress was kept out of
the loop even when they asked about it.
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
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
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
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.
Dark Days, continued
Continuing my previous post on
the goings-on in Iraq...
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
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
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
"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
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,
on the story of an Iraqi detainee who claims he was tortured.
Marshall has provided MSNBC's link to the full Taguba
Report. He also catches Rumsfeld doing what he always does
comfortably - lying - here:
"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."
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
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
A war against Iraq is not only morally wrong, it will be an unmitigated
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 will harden the resolve of Arab states to drive out all Western
(i.e. U.S.) influence"?
"A war against Iraq is not only morally wrong, it will be an
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
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
Look, you've been proven wrong, so stop talking. You've had your say
Be quiet, okay? Everything's fine.
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
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
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
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.
In April, Eric
Alterman (Altercation) summed up the Bush administration's policies (via
Brad De Long),
What we said before the war, in no
- The invasion
of Iraq will cause, not prevent, terrorism.
- The Bush
administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD
- Going in
without the U.N. is worse than not going in at all.
- They were
asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up
- And they
manipulated 9/11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.
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
- 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
- Bonus: Mel
Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” will increase
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
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]
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]
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]
plenty more.) [eRiposte note: And more]
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]
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
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.”
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]
(Eschaton) said this in April:
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
"[The military] is not a civilian police force. It is not a
political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a
"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 were wrong about absolutely everything.
And, what Iraq has proven is they still haven't learned anything.
everything." No, 9/11 didn't change everything. What 9/11 did is
prove that these people
Today, these sentiments get borne out by more
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
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:
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
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
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
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...
warning, clearly, was prophetic.
"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
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
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.
observes, the pattern continued with the
torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay:
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:
- 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
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
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.
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.
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".
The real question (as Seymour
Hersh points out) is: How far up the chain of command does this go?
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
No, it's just the
way we do things in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan.
treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's
not the way we do things in America."
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
It's already been pointed out in the
New York Times that the administration's response amounts to
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 --
into law an act to protect Americans from being prosecuted by
international courts for war crimes.
- 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."
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
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
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
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
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.
military stretched to "breaking point" says James Fallows (via
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
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.
Richard Perle, Prince of Darkness, resigns
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.
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
Come now, Dick. Why be coy? There are so many
possible reasons why you became too much of a hot potato to keep on
Was it your frequent public statements urging
the elected heads of allied states to resign, because they disagreed
with U.S. policy?
an investment company specializing in defense and homeland security,
just two months after 9/11?
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
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?
similar service to Loral Communications, under similar conditions?
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
speaking gig at a fundraiser linked to Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian
rebel group officially listed by the State Department as a terrorist
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
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.
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
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].
Why did Iraq turn out to be as messy as it is today?
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
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
A sample of the letter is shown below. Googling parts
of it produces at least some astroturf...see here,
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
.. 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
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
...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
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
- Well, this is nice, but it would be nicer if these
kinds of things are not happening:
"...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.
Asquith (Christian Science Monitor):
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
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."
Corn (The Nation):
"...But that body was handpicked by the US
occupation authorities. How representative is that?..."
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
Anyway, our point is not that good progress is not
being made - but it is helpful to know the facts better.
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
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.
W. Bush does the right thing
We're talking about his surprise visit to the troops in Baghdad for
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
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.
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
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
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
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?”
Any of those could be winners in
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”
(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
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
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
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
Now, Ben Fritz of Spinsanity, whose past work I respect
[Disclosure: I have contributed funds to Spinsanity], has tried to
enter this debate 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.
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,
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 - !!!]
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?"
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
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
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.
Should the U.S. get out of Iraq in a
hurry? Will international forces help? - Part
Max has posted an update
to his original
post, to which I had posted a response earlier.
...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...
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
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
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
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
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.
Should the U.S. get out of Iraq in a
hurry? Will international forces help?
...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.
...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
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
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
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.
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.
I have a follow-up post to this - here - addressing
the Iraqi hostility and reconstructions issues.
Bush administration and Iraq: A debunking of claims on various aspects of
the pre-war period and post-invasion period.
study of the Bush administration's
lies, deception and misleading
statements, er. compassion, on the topic of Iraq and nuclear
weapons/program, uranium etc.
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).
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
"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
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...
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
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
"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..."
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
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...
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
...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
(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
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
American troops have died because of this, many more wounded,
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 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
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
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
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!
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.
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
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
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..."
real planning done for post-war Iraq
No surprises here.
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report for Knight Ridder as follows:
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
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
The disenchanted U.S. officials today think the failure of the Pentagon
civilians to develop such detailed plans contributed to the chaos in
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..."
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.
Moyers on the Progressive Story of America
This is a remarkable speech from Mr. Moyers that we recently read
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.
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:
The GOP and the Politics of Terror
Dionne's column is worth reading.
for WMD in Iraq: an update
Barton Gellman's Washington Post article is worth reading.
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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.
What will happen to Iraq? See our pictorial commentary starting with some
memories going back to 9/11.