Friday, May 21, 2004

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Will They Ever Trust Us Again?

The Sideshow picked up on Frank Rich's review of Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11:
Speaking of America's volunteer army, Moore concludes: "They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is, remarkably, their gift to us. And all they ask for in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it is absolutely necessary. Will they ever trust us again?"

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There must be more to Abu Ghraib
than 7 enlisted scapegoats

Phil Carter, former U.S. Army MP Officer and recent UCLA Law School graduate (congratulations, Phil) asks the seminal question about the prisoner abuse investigation:
Once again, I think we should be asking ourselves: why are we only prosecuting the 7 lowest ranking soldiers here? At the very least, the chain-of-command is culpable for its failure to stop these criminal acts. At most, if you believe Sy Hersh's latest report in the New Yorker, the culpability runs all the way up to the top Pentagon leadership -- and perhaps higher. So why is the highest-ranking guy to be charged so far a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve? That just doesn't seem right to me.
Me either, Phil.

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3 our of 4 Former CENTCOM CINCs
think the neocons have hosed the Pentagon

Kevin Drum has the perspective of the previous CENTCOM commanders. Three of the four have harsh words for the neocons. The fourth isn't talking. He's the chairman of the board of a defense contractor that is selling ammunition to the Pentagon. Read it.

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It just gets worse:
More bad news on Abu Ghraib

The Guardian is reporting on a memo that makes Rick Sanchez look truth-challenged.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, head of coalition forces in Iraq, issued an order last October giving military intelligence control over almost every aspect of prison conditions at Abu Ghraib with the explicit aim of manipulating the detainees' "emotions and weaknesses", it was reported yesterday.

The October 12 memorandum, reported in the Washington Post, is a potential "smoking gun" linking prisoner abuse to the US high command. It represents hard evidence that the maltreatment was not simply the fault of rogue military police guards.
Meanwhile, the WaPo is carrying the translations of sworn statements of Iraqi prisoners about the abuse they experienced. Some of it is pretty graphic. It's all horrific and inexcusable. Once again, words fail me on this topic.


Thursday, May 20, 2004

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The Chalabi Story:
It's Scandal Time

There's been a lot of speculation as to the real story behind the raid on Ahmad Chalabi's home in Iraq this morning. For instance, Kevin Hayden at The American Street mentioned this:
The question is, is this Chalabi takedown real or staged? Making him look like a US enemy could bolster his chances to be elected by Iraqis to run Iraq. Is that the covert plan behind what we see?
Atrios is pointing in another direction, with this report from CBS:
Senior U.S. officials told 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl that they have evidence Chalabi has been passing highly-classified U.S. intelligence to Iran.

The evidence shows that Chalabi personally gave Iranian intelligence officers information so sensitive that if revealed it could, quote, "get Americans killed." The evidence is said to be "rock solid."

Sources have told Stahl a high-level investigation is underway into who in the U.S. government gave Chalabi such sensitive information in the first place.
Not to be crude, but in the intelligence field this is known as "go to jail shit." Maybe the individual who was passing sensitive information to Chalabi can share a cell with the Plame leaker. They could be buddies.

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Waiting for the Punchline

By way of Today in Iraq, I happended upon a page from the on-line edition of the local daily in State College, Pennsyvania.

It had one of those ubiquitous dynamic banner ads at the top of the page. It was a picture of Laura Bush saying, "Education is my passion." Then it changed and said, "It's the president's passion, too."

I was waiting for the punchline -- something like "You'd be passionate about education too if you were dumber than dog shit." But, alas, it was like everything else about this administration: a bad joke that just leaves you waiting for the punchline -- a punchline that never comes.

Under the banner ad (which turned out to be some propaganda from Bush-Cheney '04) was a column by Molly Ivins. A few well chosen words from Molly were what got me there in the first place. Molly knows a Texas-size bad joke when she sees one:
It's quite difficult to convince people you are killing them for their own good.

That's our basic problem in Iraq. You can try explaining that you are killing them in order to bring freedom and democracy to their nation: "Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in the world. And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom," President Bush said.

However, this argument is less than convincing if an American bomb or bullet has just killed your child. Or if you were among the 70 percent to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were there by accident.
But Molly saves her best for those super-bright neocons who convinced the administration that invading Iraq was both necessary and easy:
A few weeks ago, Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said, "I think no one can properly assert that the failure to find Iraqi WMD stockpiles undermines the reasons for the war." Really? Well then let me assert it improperly. You told us that it was why we had to go to war, and you can't just stand there and lie about it now. This is like trying to debate the Red Queen.

Sometimes it's more a matter of the neocons not being able to get their act together. Paul Wolfowitz, my fave, said the other day, "No one ever expected this would be a cakewalk." Actually, those were the very words rather famously used by his neocon buddy Ken Adelman, who predicted the war would be a cakewalk. But nothing tops Wolfowitz's classic declaration, "There is no history of ethnic strife in Iraq."
I'm still waiting for the punchline.

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The Candor of an Old Marine
and the Iraqi People

I trust an old Marine to tell me the truth. When that old Marine is a former CENTCOM commander, that carries some considerable weight.
"I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss," General Joseph Hoar, a former commander in chief of US central command, told the Senate foreign relations committee.
For a Marine, doing your job is a baseline, the bare minimum of what is expected.
"The policy people in both Washington and Baghdad," he said, "have demonstrated their inability to do a job on a day-to-day basis this past year."
Thanks to Kevin Drum, who also pointed to the results of a survey of 1,600 Iraqis, a majority of whom say it's time for the Americans to go home. Nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers. Those responses were obtained before the Abu Ghraib photos hit the news.

Maybe the job General Hoar said wasn't getting done includes reminding the Iraqi people how much better off they are with the Americans running the torture operation at Abu Ghraib instead of Saddam. Clearly the administration just needs to spin the whole thing better. But what the hell. Iraq doesn't have any electoral votes, so who really cares about that poll anyway?

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Ignoring the Warnings,
Encouraging the Abuse
"We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night. Is that too romantic? Of course, we occasionally do very wicked things." He grinned like a schoolboy.

-- the words of Control in John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
I have found it difficult to write about the prisoner abuse scandal as it has grown over the past 2 weeks.

I was once an MP. I later moved into the intelligence field. I trained as an interrogator, though I found that I was better suited for work as an analyst, so that is how I spent the bulk of my career.

I was taught the rules we were to follow based on the Geneva Convention. I was also taught that torture, in addition to being legally wrong and morally reprehensible, generally produced bad intelligence. Tortured prisoners will say most anything to make the torture stop. If the U.S. has been basing assumptions on information received from tortured prisoners, it's no wonder things have become so screwed up in Iraq.

What is so damning about the prisoner abuse scandal, is that credible people and organizations have been telling the U.S. civilian and military authorities about the problem for over a year. The fact that it has taken CENTCOM, the Pentagon, and the White House this long to act is absolutely inexcusable.

Peter Slevin's report in Thursday's WaPo gets to the heart of the problem:
In early July, the Red Cross sent reports to the U.S. military command in Qatar alleging mistreatment of about 50 Iraqis in the military intelligence section of Camp Cropper at Baghdad International Airport.

U.S. diplomats and other civilian CPA officials scattered in Iraqi cities began hearing that the detention policy was hurting the U.S.-led mission. Growing numbers of Iraqis were angered by arrests without clear evidence of wrongdoing and the lack of a system for notifying relatives.

"We look like Saddam," a senior U.S. official in Baghdad recently said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We pick up people and they disappear for a while. Wives, mothers, brothers -- they try to find their relatives and they can't."

Military intelligence officials would later tell the Red Cross that 70 percent to 90 percent of prisoners had been wrongly arrested, yet a senior aide to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the most basic screening and notification systems were missing: "We didn't have a system for differentiating between the dangerous ones and those we just picked up in a sweep."

Bremer and other civilians pressed Sanchez to streamline the detention system, the Baghdad official said. Although Sanchez promised to make changes, the official recalled, many of the occupation authority's requests were never implemented, while others took months.

"Our handling of detainees has been a steadily rising source of irritation that has most certainly become a contributing cause of violence," the official said. "This one lays at Sanchez's feet."

Bathsheba Crocker, part of a review team sent to Iraq by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year, said the detention issue fit a pattern of the State Department and the Pentagon "not playing well together in the sandbox."

"We've seen time and again the State Department asking for things and not being listened to," said Crocker, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As early as August, Bremer raised the detention issue with superiors in Washington. Aides said he and Powell began pushing for a stronger Pentagon effort in meetings with Bush's senior foreign policy team, including Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney.
And Powell made it clear recently that President Bush was not out of the loop.
"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, and the president certainly made it clear that that's what he expected us to do," Powell said.

Powell said that he, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld kept Bush "fully informed of the concerns that were being expressed, not in specific details, but in general terms."
More information is coming out that shows that prisoner abuse was not limited to Abu Ghraib. Via Digby there is this report from Editor & Publisher
In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Reuters revealed on Tuesday that three Iraqis working for the company, and another Iraqi journalist working for NBC News, were seized for no reason in early January by the U.S. military and taken to a prison near Fallujah where they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, among other forms of mistreatment. The U.S. military has denied the accusations.

E&P today obtained from Reuters a report submitted to the company's senior editors in mid-January, less than two weeks after the journalists were detained, by Bureau Chief Andrew Marshall, who had interviewed the three staffers separately. The Reuters employees are Salem Ureibi, who has worked for the company since 1991, mainly as a cameraman; Ahmad Mohammad al-Badrani, who has worked with Reuters on a freelance basis since July 2003, shooting video; and Sattar Jabar al-Badrani, a driver.

Marshall observed in his report, "It should be noted that the bulk of their mistreatment -- including their humiliating interrogations and the mental and physical torment of the first night which all agreed was the worst part of their ordeal -- occurred several hours AFTER I had informed the 82nd Airborne Division that they were Reuters staff. I have e-mail proof of this."

Reuters also made available to E&P about two dozen pages of transcripts of Marshall's interviews with the three staffers on Jan. 8.

Here are excerpts from Marshall's report:

"When the soldiers approached them they were standing by their car, a blue Opel. Salem Uraiby shouted 'Reuters, Reuters, journalist, journalist.' At least one shot was fired into the ground close to them.

"They were thrown to the ground and soldiers placed guns to their heads. Their car was searched. Soldiers found their camera equipment and press badges and discovered no weapons of any kind. Their hands were cuffed behind their backs and they were thrown roughly into a Humvee where they lay on the floor. ...

"After half an hour to an hour they were transferred to a larger armored vehicle. Ahmad and Sattar (along with NBC stringer Ali who I have yet to formally interview) were thrown on the floor under the seats. ...

"Once they arrived at the U.S. base (this was FOB Volturno near Fallujah) they were kept in a holding area with around 40 other prisoners in a large room with several open windows. It was bitterly cold. They were given one blanket between two. All were interrogated separately at different times and the worst treatment they suffered was on the first night when for several hours (they believe it was from around midnight until dawn) all of them were put in a room together and subjected to hours of abuse.

"Bags were alternately placed on their heads and taken off again. Deafening music was played on loudspeakers directly into their ears and they were told to dance around the room. Sometimes when they were doing this, soldiers would shine very bright torches directly into their eyes and hit them with the torches. They were told to lie on the floor and wiggle their backsides in the air to the music. They were told to do repeated press ups and to repeatedly stand up from a crouching position and then return to the crouching position.

"Soldiers would move between them, whispering things in their ear. Ahmad and Sattar did not understand what was whispered. Salem says they whispered that they wanted to have sex with him and were saying "come on, just for two minutes."T hey also said he should bring his wife so they could have sex with her. ...

"Soldiers would whisper in their ears "One, two, three..." and then shout something loudly right beside their ear. All of this went on all night. ... Ahmad said he collapsed by morning. Sattar said he collapsed after Ahmad and began vomiting. ...

"When they were taken individually for interrogation, they were interrogated by two American soldiers and an Arab interpreter. All three shouted abuse at them. They were accused of shooting down the helicopter. Salem, Ahmad and Sattar all reported that for their first interrogation they were told to kneel on the floor with their feet raised off the floor and with their hands raised in the air.

"If they let their feet or hands drop they were slapped and shouted at. Ahmad said he was forced to insert a finger into his anus and lick it. He was also forced to lick and chew a shoe. For some of the interrogation tissue paper was placed in his mouth and he had difficulty breathing and speaking. Sattar too said he was forced to insert a finger into his anus and lick it. He was then told to insert this finger in his nose during questioning, still kneeling with his feet off the ground and his other arm in the air. The Arab interpreter told him he looked like an elephant. ...

"Ahmad and Sattar both said that they were given badges with the letter 'C' on it. They did not know what the badges meant but whenever they were being taken from one place to another in the base, if any soldier saw their badge they would stop to slap them or hurl abuse.
It appears that such tactics have become standard procedure among the U.S. troops in Iraq. I find myself saddened that the U.S. Army has degenerated to the point where these kinds of actions are not only tolerated, they are apparently encouraged. And I'm angered by a command climate that would allow that to happen.

Something Josh Marshall wrote last week has stayed with me:
For myself, it's not so much the horror of what we're seeing itself. Certainly, history is littered with far greater outrages. But how exactly did we find ourselves on the doling out end of this stuff? Morally, how did it happen? And in simply pragmatic terms, since this was a grand gambit for hearts and minds in a region awash in anti-Americanism and autocracy, how exactly did we get here? More than anything, a self-inflicted wound of this magnitude just leaves you speechless.
I believe that is why I have found it so hard to write.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

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Is there something in the water in Texas
that produces chronic stupidity?

Via Jusiper we get this bizarre news:
Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."

Never before -- not in this state or any other -- has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group's religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn's ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.

"I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history," said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.
Now I've never been to a Unitarian service. But I've had a number of friends over the years who are Unitarians, and I believe I would feel quite comfortable in a Unitarian church.

These days I'm not at all sure that I'd feel all that comfortable in Texas.

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Happy XXX Anniversary to Us

Regular Rain Storm readers have undoubtedly noticed that we've been a little light on content for the past few days. There is an explanation for that. Honest!

Last week I had to travel twice to the state capital to do my part for the team. The organization for which I work held its annual meeting on Monday. Preparation and execution of that event pretty much took up the weekend and all day Monday. It's my job and I do enjoy it. But there are times when it takes up a big chunk of my life.

Yesterday we had local elections in my little burg. It was a classic battle between good and evil, and for the most part, good emerged victorious. While not running for anything myself, I was an active supporter of the good folks and I helped them celebrate last night.

And today Mrs. Rain Storm and I are celebrating 30 years of being married to one another. With that in mind, we'd like to send out our best wishes to all the newlyweds everywhere, regardless of their sexual orientation.

In 30 years of partnership, I've learned that there are a lot of things that can threaten a marriage. Other peoples' committed relationships are not one of them. All those anti-gay so called "pro-family" bigots can kiss my paratrooper fourth point of contact. They don't know squat.

Happy Anniversary and Best Wishes to all of us, where ever we might be.

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How many members of the Bush Administation
are needed to change a light bulb?
The Answer is SEVEN:

(1) one to deny that a lightbulb needs to be replaced,

(2) one to attack and question the patriotism of anyone who has questions about the lightbulb,

(3) one to blame the previous administration for the need of a new lightbulb,

(4) one to arrange the invasion of a country rumored to have a secret stockpile of lightbulbs,

(5) one to get together with Vice President Cheney and figure out how to pay Halliburton Industries one million dollars for a lightbulb,

(6) one to arrange a photo-op session showing Bush changing the lightbulb while dressed in a flight suit and wrapped in an American flag,

(7) and finally one to explain to Bush the difference between screwing a lightbulb and screwing the country.
Don't know if I should laugh or cry. Thanks to JM.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

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The Hunt for Warm Bodies
DOD turning to the IRR

Kos picked up on something Nick Confessore wrote in TAPPED:
A friend of mine who is currently an inactive Army reservist forwarded me some memos he received regarding future mobilizations -- memos that indicate that we are not far from some kind of conscription in the next few years. According to my friend, recruiters are telling inactive reservists that they're going to be called up one way or another eventually, so they might as well sign up now and get into non-Iraq-deploying units while they still can. There's also a "warning order" -- i.e., a heads-up -- from the Army's personnel command that talks about the involuntary transfer of inactive reservists to the active reserves, and thus into units that are on deck for the next few Iraq rotations.
Kos adds:
Nick is unsure of how the inactive reserves work. Here's how it worked during my time in service -- every enlistment was for eight years. The only variable was how many years you were active duty. In 1989, when I enlisted, the options were two, three and four years.
Kos has it right, but he's missing a big piece of the picture. There are lots and lots of soldiers who served on active duty or in the Reserves or National Guard, who get out for a while and transfer into the Individual Ready Reserve (what they're both calling the "inactive reserves").

People do this on a temporary basis sometimes because of work or school or family. Reservists who complete 20 "good years," that is with enough combination of membership, school, drills, and active duty training points each year, draw a partial retirement at age 60. Consequently many in the reserves and national guard, though they may go through periods when they don't want to be in a drilling unit, maintain their affiliation by periodically transferring into the IRR. It's even possible to get enough points to have a good year while in the IRR. It is done by going on active duty (either attending a school or participating in an exercise) and maybe doing a few correspondence courses during the year.

The bottom line to all this is that the pool of experienced soldiers in the IRR is bigger than Kos realizes. That's why DOD is starting to look at the IRR as the labor pool to fill the impending shortfall of soldiers needed to continue George and Donald's not-so-excellent adventure.

UPDATE 1. Kos commenter Juls points to this WaPo article that says the DOD will tap the IRS to find IRR soldiers who haven't been keeping in touch with the Reserve Personnel Command.

Update 2. Phil Carter has some good commentary on how really thin the army is stretched right now.
Bottom line: the force is stretched, and it's starting to take very drastic steps to make ends meet in Iraq. Will it make the mission? Yes, no question. But the cost will be very high, and ultimately, I think we're going to end up doing a lot of long-term damage to our national military capability.
There will be so many things that need fixing when we finally rid ourselves of this disasterous administration.


Monday, May 17, 2004

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Help Wanted
Interrogation skills a plus

Just in case you wanted to fill one of those interrogation positions in Baghdad that were recently vacated, B.L. Ochman has the want ad.

Note to my old partner Mike: Don't go there. Stay home. Finish your PhD. You don't need the money that badly.

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I guess that's why it's a secret ballot

It's bad enough that religion tends to get in the way of Faith. I hate it when it also interferes with Democracy.

Via Slaktivist, we get yet another Catholic bishop who's feeling his oats.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, where at least three priests have been accused of sexual abuse, is headed by Bishop Michael Sheridan.

Sheridan, The Denver Post reports, has recently found a way for his diocese to make national headlines about something other than the buggering of adolescent boys:

The bishop of Colorado's second-largest Roman Catholic diocese has issued a pastoral letter saying Catholics cannot receive Communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights, stem-cell research, euthanasia or gay marriage.
No mention, of course, of capital punishment or unnecessary wars. I guess if you vote for politicians who support senseless death it's no big deal.

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While I'm Away...

This will be a light blogging day for me (as the last few have been). Major day job things that must be attended to.

Here's a couple of things worth looking at.

The General notes that the U.S. has included the kidnapping of children as an intelligence-gathering tool.

And Professor Kim says that members of Congress who support the Unequal Rights Amendment have the worst voting records on civil rights. I'm so surprised.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

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Pledge Week at Eschaton
Give Atrios Turkee

Atrios is facing his career choices. I'm not surprised. Anyone who blogs that much has got to be on some kind of thin ice with their day job.

So he has to decide where his life is drifting and what he's going to do about it.

I want to see him continue blogging at the same volume and same quality. So I sent him a few dinero, and I hope you will, too. Compared to the information I get from my local daily rag (for which I pay a tidy sum every quarter), Atrios is a gold mine.

So, reach down deep into your pocket, send Atrios a few coins, and if you've got any left, send them to me. Boston's coming up and it ain't cheap. We thank you for your support.

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Out of Bounds
and out of his league
You don't really want to know
what's been going on
You don't really want to know
just how far it's gone...

-- from Dirty Laundry by Don Henley
Regular Rain Storm readers are well aware of my disdain for the think tank weenies who, as political appointees, start running their political agendas at the Pentagon.

In The Gray Zone, his latest article for The New Yorker, Sy Hersh validates my worst fears.
The former senior intelligence official blamed hubris for the Abu Ghraib disaster. "There’s nothing more exhilarating for a pissant Pentagon civilian than dealing with an important national security issue without dealing with military planners, who are always worried about risk," he told me. "What could be more boring than needing the coöperation of logistical planners?" The only difficulty, the former official added, is that, "as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control..."
Read it all.


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