Saturday, September 30, 2006
The Good Soldier Got Snookered
The Sad Story of General Colin Powell
ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2004, eight days after the president he served was elected to a second term, Secretary of State Colin Powell received a telephone call from the White House at his State Department office. The caller was not President Bush but Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and he got right to the point.
"The president would like to make a change," Card said, using a time-honored formulation that avoided the words "resign" or "fire." He noted briskly that there had been some discussion of having Powell remain until after Iraqi elections scheduled for the end of January, but that the president had decided to take care of all Cabinet changes sooner rather than later. Bush wanted Powell's resignation letter dated two days hence, on Friday, November 12, Card said, although the White House expected him to stay at the State Department until his successor was confirmed by the Senate.
He artfully brushed aside inquiries about the many published accounts of deep ideological schisms that had rent Bush's national security team throughout the first term and the private humiliations he reportedly had endured at the hands of powerful colleagues.
Audiences often asked about his public role in promoting and defending what many now consider to be the most ill-advised act of Bush's presidency: the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Powell usually offered a tepid defense, allowing only that he wished there had been more troops committed to the war and its aftermath, and a better plan to rebuild the country.
Powell had thrown his considerable personal and professional reputation behind the administration's charges that Iraq possessed chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons, and posed an imminent threat to the United States. In a crucial speech to the United Nations Security Council six weeks before the invasion was launched, he had single-handedly convinced many skeptical Americans that the threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was real.
No one in his legions of admirers wanted to believe that Powell had been duped by the White House -- or, worse yet, that he had knowingly betrayed the nation's trust. Many assumed that he had privately argued against such a clearly misguided adventure and been overruled.
In fact, Powell had never advised against the Iraq invasion, although he had warned Bush of the difficulties and counseled patience. He had no reason to resign over Iraq, he told questioners. But the larger mystery of his tenure as the nation's chief diplomat, fourth in line for succession to the presidency, remained.
The Chickenhawks and Henry Kissinger
Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" * Foley's Folly
- In a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," Kissinger wrote, 'Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.' He delivered the same message directly to Bush, Cheney and Hadley at the White House. "
- Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don't let it happen again. Don't give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back.>He said the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- Kissinger told Rice that in Vietnam they didn't have the time, focus, energy or support at home to get the politics in place. That's why it had collapsed like a house of cards. He urged that the Bush administration get the politics right, both in Iraq and on the home front. Partially withdrawing troops had its own dangers. Even entertaining the idea of withdrawing any troops could create momentum for an exit that was less than victory.
The Fall of Mark Foley
Friday, September 29, 2006
'Conflicted' No, He Is A Fake
Iraq, Stem Cells and Abortion * "In Jesus' Camp"
A hypocrite of the worst kind, one who uses the name of God to justify his acts. From Iraq and terrorism to debates about stem cells and abortion, there are discernible gaps between the truth and President Bush's positions.
Michael Kinsley in the Post:
Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of a half-dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I do. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for research on new lines of embryonic stem cells or even for other projects in labs where stem cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics, where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands -- nevertheless, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases such as Parkinson's are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.
But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some, while very unfortunate, are also inevitable and essential.
You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone. These numbers are from reliable sources and are not seriously contested. They include many who were tortured and then killed, along with others blown up less personally by car bombs and suicide bombers. The number does not include the hundreds of thousands who have died prematurely as a result of a decade and a half of war and embargos imposed on the Iraqi economy. Nor does it include soldiers on both sides, most of whom are innocent, too. Last week the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush is right, of course, that the inevitable loss of innocent life in wartime cannot be a reason not to go to war or a reason not to fight that war in a way intended to win. Eggs, omelets and all that. "Collateral damage" should be a consideration weighed in the balance. But there is no formula to determine when you have the balance right. It does seem to me that both our wars in Iraq were started and conducted with insufficient consideration for the cost in innocent blood. Callousness, naivete and isolation -- isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability and isolation of citizens from the consequences, or even the awareness, of what is being done in their name -- all have played a role. I don't see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess.
But it is hard -- indeed, I would say it is impossible -- to reconcile Bush's absolutism over allegedly human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.
'Tongues of Fire'
"Jesus Camp" opens with an unsettling sequence, during which young Christians -- dressed in camouflage and with their faces painted brown and green -- enact a warlike ritual dedicating themselves to fighting for God. Soon after, we meet the film's stars: 12-year-old Levi, who wears his hair cut short except for a rat's tail, declares he was saved when he was 5 "because I wanted more out of life," and now aims to be a preacher; Rachael, 9, who longs to be an evangelist and is practicing spreading the Word at her local bowling alley; and Tory, 10, who loves to dance but shamefully admits that sometimes she doesn't dance only for Jesus, but also "for the flesh." And we also meet Becky Fischer, the outgoing, charismatic leader of a youth ministry in the kids' home state of Missouri, who serves as a counselor at a summer camp called Kids on Fire in (wait for it) Devil's Lake, N.D.
Bookended with news reports about the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the announcement of the nomination of Samuel Alito to take her place, "Jesus Camp" takes as its subject the most colorful arm of Christianity, that of charismatic Pentecostalism. Although firm numbers are difficult to nail down, research from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that Pentecostalism may account for between 15 and 20 percent of evangelicals, who number around 52 million adults in this country, and who in recent years have emerged as a powerful political force.
"Jesus Camp" is composed of images of kids being radicalized spiritually and politically that will be heartening or chilling depending on the viewer. There are moments sure to set secular humanists' teeth on edge: when Tory's mother, who educates her kids at home, dismisses global warming and declares once and for all that creationism provides "the only possible answer to all the questions"; or when Becky excoriates Harry Potter to nervous-looking youngsters ("Warlocks are enemies of God!"). And it's hard not to feel a little frightened watching Becky and her fellow leaders goad their young charges into speaking in tongues, or joining in chants like "This means war!" and smashing coffee cups that symbolize secularized government.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
John Danforth's Sane Voice
A Republican "for old reasons" - Is anyone listening ?
Excerpts - The Washington Post
Describing himself as a "a Republican for the old reasons," Danforth, 70, is promoting a new book that describes religion as a divisive force in the United States today and accuses the religious right and its political supporters of creating a sectarian party.
"I'm trying to shed light on it," Danforth told a gathering of more than 100 people at Chicago's Union League Club on Tuesday, ". . . but I'm really encouraging people to get mad, to speak out on this and express themselves. That's when politics will change."
The GOP leadership habitually strives to please its base at the expense of meaningful compromise, he maintains, proving to be neither humble Christians nor effective politicians. His reasoning holds that social conservatives cannot prevail because a majority of Americans do not share their views or appreciate their style.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Countdown for Tony Blair
The caption for Polly Toynbee's comments in The Guardian about Tony Blair's speech at Labour Party conference in Manchester on September 26th reads: "Charm and eloquence. But a missed chance" As the British Prime Minister begins preparations for his exit a year from now there can be no question about his 'charm and eloquence'.....and intellectual brillance. Qualities that are sadly missing in our current president. Yet, Mr. Blair's decision to become an unquestioning ally of President Bush in the war against Iraq is the primary reason for his loss of support and popularity both at home and abroad. The unfolding events in Iraq exposed facts that portrayed an unwholesome complicity by Blair.
Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, September 26, 2006
Yet they know why he must go, for his winning days are over. Many wished he had said goodbye right here, right now, sudden and decisive. These delegates have seen their Labour stronghold councils fall, long-time Labour cities lost, Wales and Scotland in peril, local parties near defunct for lack of members - all poisoned by Iraq and that wider mistrust it came to symbolise.
The greatest moments video to a handclapping hall left an ache of nostalgia for what 10 hard years in office has done to the man, to the party and probably to themselves.Can they recapture the spirit of the early days? Whatever Gordon Brown will be, he has no miracle elixir for the party's lost youth and innocence.
Full text of Blair's speech (BBC)
The Washington Post reported:
Blair, 53, recently said he would resign within a year. Pressure in his own party has been building for him to make way for a new leader. Since he became prime minister in 1997, his sky-high popularity ratings have plummeted because of domestic scandals, fatigue with a third-term government, his backing of the Iraq war and his closeness to President Bush.
But Blair won a sustained standing ovation after a televised address that seemed like the beginning of the country's goodbye to him. "Of course, it's hard to let go," he said. Many in the audience dabbed tears. One held a handwritten sign that said "Too Young to Retire."
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
'Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead'
The War President and his 'Mission Accomplished' (May 1, 2003)
She told him she considers him responsible for her husband's death and begged him to bring home the troops. "It's time to put our pride behind us and stop the bleeding, for all of us," she recalled saying. The president demurred, unwilling to debate a mourning woman. "We see things differently," he said.
But Hildi Halley, a self-described liberal antiwar activist who met with President Bush in Maine last month, said she believes he felt her grief. "It wasn't just a crocodile tear," she said in an interview at her home. "I felt like I moved him. I don't think he's going to wake up tomorrow and say, 'Oh my gosh, I've been wrong this whole time and I'm going to change all my policies because of my meeting with this woman.' I just hope that with each soldier, he remembers my pain."
He has a lot of pain to remember. Now more than five years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush has served as a wartime president longer than any occupant of the White House since Lyndon B. Johnson. He has presided over more U.S. military casualties than any since Richard M. Nixon. While he travels the country defending his policy and arguing to stay the course in Iraq, he also confronts the human burdens of wartime leadership.
The two sides of Bush as commander in chief can be hard to reconcile. His public persona gives little sense that he dwells on the costs of war. He does not seem to agonize as Johnson did, or even as his father, George H.W. Bush, did before the Persian Gulf War. While he pays tribute to those who have fallen, the president strives to show resolve and avoid displays that might be seen as weak or doubting. His refusal to attend military funerals, while taking long Texas vacations and extended bicycle rides, strikes some critics as callous indifference.
Home they brought her warrior dead, is the title of a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Angel D. Mercado-Velazquez, 24, Army Staff Sergeant, Sep 01, 2006
Cliff Golla, 21, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 01, 2006
Eugene Alex, 32, Army Staff Sergeant, Sep 02, 2006
Edwin Anthony Andino Jr., 23, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 03, 2006
Justin W. Dreese, 21, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 03, 2006
Richard J. Henkes II, 32, Army Sergeant 1st Class, Sep 03, 2006
Nicholas A. Madaras, 19, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 03, 2006
Jason L. Merrill, 22, Army Sergeant, Sep 03, 2006
Ralph N. Porras, 36, Army Sergeant, Sep 03, 2006
Shane P. Harris, 23, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 03, 2006
Philip A. Johnson, 19, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 03, 2006
Ryan E. Miller, 21, Marine Private, Sep 03, 2006
Hannah L. Gunterman, 20, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 04, 2006
Marshall A. Gutierrez, 41, Army Lieutenant Colonel, Sep 04, 2006
Germaine L. Debro, 33, Army National Guard Sergeant, Sep 04, 2006
Jared M. Shoemaker, 29, Marine Reserve Corporal, Sep 04, 2006
Eric P. Valdepenas, 21, Marine Reserve Lance Corporal, Sep 04, 2006
Christopher Walsh, 30, Naval Reserve Petty Officer 2nd Class, Sep 04, 2006
John A. Carroll, 26, Army Sergeant, Sep 06, 2006
Jeremy R. Shank, 18, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 06, 2006
Luis A. Montes, 22, Army Sergeant, Sep 07, 2006
David J. Ramsey, 27, Army Specialist, Sep 07, 2006
Vincent M. Frassetto, 21, Marine Private 1st Class, Sep 07, 2006
David W. Gordon, 23, Army Sergeant, Sep 08, 2006
Anthony P. Seig, 19, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 09, 2006
Johnathan Benson, 21, Marine Corporal, Sep 09, 2006
Alexander Jordan, 31, Army Specialist, Sep 10, 2006
Harley D. Andrews, 22, Army Specialist, Sep 11, 2006
Emily J.T. Perez, 23, Army 2nd Lieutenant, Sep 12, 2006
Matthew C. Mattingly, 30, Army Captain, Sep 13, 2006
Jeffrey Shaffer, 21, Army Private 1st Class, Sep 13, 2006
Marcus A. Cain, 20, Army Corporal, Sep 14, 2006
Jennifer M. Hartman, 21, Army Sergeant, Sep 14, 2006
Russell M. Makowski, 23, Army Specialist, Sep 14, 2006
Aaron A. Smith, 31, Army Sergeant, Sep 14, 2006
David Thomas Weir, 23, Army Sergeant, Sep 14, 2006
Clint E. Williams, 24, Army Sergeant, Sep 14, 2006
Ryan A. Miller, 19, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 14, 2006
Cesar A. Granados, 21, Army Corporal, Sep 15, 2006
David S. Roddy, 32, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class, Sep 16, 2006
David J. Davis, 32, Army Sergeant, Sep 17, 2006
Adam L. Knox, 21, Army Sergeant, Sep 17, 2006
James R. Worster, 24, Army Sergeant, Sep 18, 2006
Robert Thomas Callahan, 22, Army Specialist, Sep 19, 2006
Ashley L. Henderson Huff, 23, Army 1st Lieutenant, Sep 19, 2006
Jared Raymond, 20, Army Specialist, Sep 19, 2006
Eric Kavanagh, 20, Army Private, Sep 20, 2006
Robb Gordon Needham, 51, Army Master Sergeant, Sep 20, 2006
Charles Jason Jones, 29, Army National Guard Sergeant 1st Class, Sep 20, 2006
Yull Estrada Rodriguez, 21, Marine Corporal, Sep 20, 2006
Christopher M. Zimmerman, 28, Marine Sergeant, Sep 20, 2006
Allan R. Bevington, 22, Army Sergeant, Sep 21, 2006
Howard S. March Jr., 20, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 24, 2006
Rene Martinez, 20, Marine Lance Corporal, Sep 24, 2006
Source: Iraq Coalition Casualties
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The NIE Bombshell
Expect Spin, Lot of Spin
Excerpts from the Washington Post:
A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.
"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious."
The NIE, whose contents were first reported by the New York Times, coincides with public statements by senior intelligence officials describing a different kind of conflict than the one outlined by President Bush in a series of recent speeches marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
The Seasons: Fall 2006
Another summer is behind us. For many of us the change of seasons means different things, often depending on where we live, where we grew up. Perhaps summer is missed more by those who live in harsh climes. Thoughts of long winters can dampen the spirits.
John Donne wrote about the "fear that summer will be short" . A few days back, during dinner at a friend's house the guests talked of the fleeting summer. No doubt next year -- next summer -- we'll feel the same way.
I was fortunate to spend my childhood in a place where autumn and the cold weather were welcome. It meant the beginning of cricket season and the end of football (soccer) among other things. Now a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, I enjoy fall almost as much as I enjoy the warm months. A December morning can be wonderfully bracing -- sunny, and the sky a lovely shade of azure.
A selection of poems and haikus about autumn and the end of summer
Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always
been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short,
Sorrow and scarlet leaf,
Try to remember the kind of September
Maple leaves dangle.
Frost on cold panes--rock candy
Red, green, yellow, gold
Drifting slowly to the ground
Wind blowing them down.
--Erin, Grade 4,Farmingville School
sweet as a late marriage©http://www.vividpieces.net/2003/09/19-fall_haiku.shtml
a few blossoms in fall
the tattered crabapple
And my favorites:
Let my name be thus known--
This autumnal shower.
The winds that blow--
Ask them, which leaf of the tree
Will be next to go !
--Soseki (translated by Harold Henderson)
Finally, one by Seamus Heany. It has nothing to do with autumn. It evokes memories that linger.
A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.
There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.
Abuse of Power, The Bilal Hussein Story
The article about former AP Photographer Bilal Hussein exemplifies what happens when U.S. military authorities in Iraq suspect someone of being allied to insurgents. Bilal Hussein's story was published in the Washington Post because Tom Curley, Head of the Associated Press wrote about it. It can safely be assumed that there are others. "Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who helped the Associated Press win a Pulitzer Prize last year, is now in his sixth month in a U.S. Army prison in Iraq. He doesn't understand why he's there, and neither do his AP colleagues. The Army says it thinks Bilal has too many contacts among insurgents. He has taken pictures the Army thinks could have been made only with the connivance of insurgents. So Bilal himself must be one, too, or at least a sympathizer."
It is a measure of just how dangerous and disorienting Iraq has become that suspicions such as these are considered adequate grounds for locking up a man and throwing away the key.
After more than five months of trying to bring Bilal's case into the daylight, AP is now convinced the Army doesn't care whether Bilal is or isn't an insurgent. The Army doesn't have to care. Bilal is off the street, and the military says it doesn't consider itself accountable to any judicial authority that could question his guilt.
But Bilal's incarceration delivers a further bonus. He is no longer free to circulate in his native Fallujah or in Ramadi, taking photographs that coalition commanders would prefer not to see published.
Anbar province is a hot zone in a hot country. Violence and lawlessness there have been a special problem for U.S. forces nearly since they arrived in Iraq, which means the flow of breaking news has been continuous, much of it bad.
U.S. journalists are severely limited in their ability to move safely, make themselves understood and develop sources in such areas. AP has learned to overcome those limitations, using techniques honed over decades of covering sectarian confrontation and bloodshed in the Middle East.
It has long been AP practice to hire and train local people in the agency's permanent international bureaus. Many become highly skilled career journalists who remain with the Associated Press for decades. Several are second-generation staffers. Their work has never been more important to the Associated Press and the global audience that relies on our reporting.
Without their access and insight into what is happening in their countries and communities, our understanding of the history being made there every day would be shallow and one-dimensional. It would also be far more vulnerable to control and spin by "official" sources.
Both official and unofficial parties on every side of a conflict try to discredit or silence news they don't like. That is certainly the case in Iraq, where journalists are routinely harassed, defamed, beaten and kidnapped. At last count, 80 had been killed.
Bilal Hussein is part of the latest generation of Associated Press hires in the Middle East. He was a shopkeeper in Fallujah, selling mobile phones and computers. Although he had a degree from the Baghdad Institute of Technology, it was the best opportunity available in the fractured Iraqi economy.
AP first hired him as a translator and driver. He proved smart and trustworthy, and was already comfortable with the phones, laptops and cameras that are tools of the journalist's trade. Within months, he was taking professional-quality pictures, including one of insurgents engaged with coalition forces that was part of AP's Pulitzer Prize-winning photography entry last year.
Bilal has shared the hardships of all Iraqis in disputed areas -- hardships that are worse for journalists, whose job is to get as close as they can to places where guns and bombs are being used. His home has been riddled with gunfire. His family has fled. At least once he had to ditch his camera equipment to run for his life.
He faces what may be greater dangers now. From prison, he has told his attorneys that he fears he is a marked man among the detainees, who now know he is a journalist working for a Western news service. Meanwhile, agents of the most powerful country on Earth have labeled him an enemy. They say they have evidence to satisfy themselves, and don't need to prove it to anyone else.
As the organization that handed Bilal the camera that helped put him where he is today, the Associated Press cannot turn its back on him. We cannot dismiss Bilal's insistence that he is not an insurgent solely on the strength of the unexamined suspicions offered by the U.S. military.
If Bilal has done something wrong, the Iraqi courts stand ready to try him. Iraqi authorities have asked more than once that he and other Iraqi citizens in prolonged U.S. military custody be turned over to them for due process. We ask the same.
The writer (Tom Curley) is president and chief executive of the Associated Press.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
'Moral Desert' - What the President and His Team Have Wrought
Between the late John Ford's classic films to the outsourcing of torture by the Bush Administration there lies a lot of American history. Harold Meyerson's eloquent column ought to be a must read for those who are unsure about the president's insistence on being permitted to continue torture of prisoners by methods that contravene Geneva Conventions. "As events would have it, though, our nation is led by men who have carefully avoided both war and literature. By men devoid of a sense of the nation's and their own moral fallibility. By men who have led us into a moral desert and aren't even looking for a way back home." See Naomi Klein's article in The Guardian. Dec.10,2005. "The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it"
|Into A Moral Desert|
Defend civilization by becoming as barbaric as its enemies, Ford suggests, and you are no longer really part of that civilization. Or perhaps you are, but that civilization has lost some of its ideals, its raison d'être, in the process.
These thoughts of Homer and Ford on men in war are occasioned by the story of the Syrian-born Canadian computer engineer whom the Mounties misidentified as an al-Qaeda associate and whom our own government then spirited off to Syria in September 2002 so he could be tortured into revealing what he knew. After nearly a year of torture, it was clear that he knew nothing, because he wasn't an al-Qaeda associate.
What's striking about this story (and it's just one of many things that are striking about this story) is that we sent him to Syria, which was providing us with some assistance during the period between Sept. 11 and our invasion of Iraq but which also was an authoritarian regime that knew no constraints in the treatment of its presumed enemies. We sent him there because he'd be tortured, because the Syrians would do the kinds of things that the same administration officials who devised this policy feared the Syrians, given half a chance, would do to us.
But why rely just on the Syrians? At the same time, as the president acknowledged this month, we ourselves (that is, CIA employees) had embarked on our own round of torture of al-Qaeda suspects, some of them the genuine article, some not. As the president asserted during his news conference Friday, that doesn't mean that we've become our enemy, that we're in any sense the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda. But it most certainly means we've abandoned our own moral and legal norms, as the administration's determination to create a loophole in the Geneva Conventions makes unmistakably clear.
Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Colin Powell and above all John McCain know firsthand what war can do to men and why we need laws to keep men from becoming their nightmare image of their enemy. Their knowledge is as old as Homer, as American as John Ford.
As events would have it, though, our nation is led by men who have carefully avoided both war and literature. By men devoid of a sense of the nation's and their own moral fallibility. By men who have led us into a moral desert and aren't even looking for a way back home.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Den of Thieves
The Legislators and Their Love for Earmarking
"All The King's Earmarks"
Exhibit A: Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens's tirade on the Senate floor against efforts to take away funding for his "bridge to nowhere."
Exhibit B: the entire state of West Virginia, crammed with the earmarked products of the Senate Appropriations Committee's senior Democrat. To wit, the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building and Courthouse in Charleston (not to be confused with the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building and Courthouse in Beckley); the Robert C. Byrd Expressway (not to be confused with the Robert C. Byrd Freeway or the Robert C. Byrd Bridge); the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center at Wheeling Jesuit University (not to be confused with the Robert C. Byrd Science and Technology Center at Shepherd University or the Robert C. Byrd Technology Center at Alderson-Broaddus College). "I don't care if you list the members who sponsor earmarks. I put out press releases on every one of them," Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in explaining how ineffective this change would be.
That didn't stop the House leadership from congratulating itself. "Today is an important day for the House as an institution," pronounced Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Perhaps, in the sense that it showed how resistant the chamber is to any deviation from business as usual.
So resistant, in fact, that the writers of large checks, also known as the House Appropriations Committee, greeted this minor incursion on their power with howls of outrage. They were being unfairly singled out for abuse, the appropriators bleated behind closed doors; the new rule would still let the tax writers and the authorizers get away with their special-interest shenanigans.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Sanctions Against Iran and Justifying Torture of Prisoners
President Bush spoke before the UN. Iraq and Iran both figured prominently in his speech but there are doubts as to how his assurance to Muslims would play in the Islamic world. The facts about his position on Gaza, Lebanon and Iran are known. The mess resulting from his war in Iraq cannot be downplayed or glossed over. UNITED NATIONS -- President Bush on Tuesday appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations. On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not."
President Bush might not get all he wants. The structure of the UN Security Council no longer allows the super powers to bully and push resolutions through but the United States still has clout and uses it.
On another front -- the issue of torture of prisoners -- despite unexpectedly hard opposition from members of his own party and worldwide condemnation the president has not given up trying to get a legislation passed to permit his administration to continue practices that contravene Article 26 of the Geneva Convention relative to The Treatment of Prisoners of War.
There are two items in today's Washington Post about this issue, both critical of the president's position.
In Torture Is Torture Eugene Robinson writes:
I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue -- the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.
It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons -- and who knows where else? -- but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.
Tom Malinowski draws comparison with methods used when Joseph Stalin ruled the former USSR. Call Cruelty What It Is
President Bush is urging Congress to let the CIA keep using "alternative" interrogation procedures -- which include, according to published accounts, forcing prisoners to stand for 40 hours, depriving them of sleep and use of the "cold cell," in which the prisoner is left naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees and doused with cold water.
Bush insists that these techniques are not torture -- after all, they don't involve pulling out fingernails or applying electric shocks. He even says that he "would hope" the standards he's proposing are adopted by other countries. But before he again invites America's enemies to use such "alternative" methods on captured Americans, he might benefit from knowing a bit of their historical origins and from hearing accounts of those who have experienced them. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the president's reading list.
He might begin with Robert Conquest's classic work on Stalin, "The Great Terror." Conquest wrote: "When there was time, the basic [Soviet Secret police] method for obtaining confessions and breaking the accused man was the 'conveyor' -- continual interrogation by relays of police for hours and days on end. As with many phenomena of the Stalin period, it has the advantage that it could not easily be condemned by any simple principle. Clearly, it amounted to unfair pressure after a certain time and to actual physical torture later still, but when? . . . At any rate, after even twelve hours, it is extremely uncomfortable. After a day, it becomes very hard. And after two or three days, the victim is actually physically poisoned by fatigue. It was as painful as any torture."
Monday, September 18, 2006
Bookstores on Mutanabi Street, Baghdad
Victims of War
In the buttery sunlight, faded billboards hang from old buildings. Iron gates seal entrances to bookstores and stationery shops. On this Friday, like the past 13 Fridays, the violence has taken its toll. There is not a customer around, only ghosts.
Perched on a red chair outside a closet-sized bookshop, the only one open, Naim al-Shatri is nearly in tears. Short, with thin gray hair and dark, brooding eyes, his voice is grim. This is normally his busiest day, but he hasn't had a single sale. A curfew is approaching."
Violence Changes Fortunes of Storied Baghdad Street
Soon, his sobs break the stillness. "Is this Iraq?" he asked no one in particular, pointing at the gritty, trash-covered street as the scent of rotting paper and sewage mingled in the air.
It is a question many of the booksellers on Mutanabi Street are asking. Here, in the intellectual ground zero of Baghdad, they are the guardians of a literary tradition that has survived empire and colonialism, monarchy and dictatorship. In the heady days after the U.S.-led invasion, Mutanabi Street pulsed with the promise of freedom.
Now, in the fourth year of war, it is a shadow of its revered past. Many of the original booksellers have been forced to shut down. Others have been arrested, kidnapped or killed, or have fled Iraq. "We are walking with our coffins in our hands," said Mohammad al-Hayawi, the owner of the Renaissance book store, one of the street's oldest shops. "Nothing in Iraq is guaranteed anymore."
In a city known across the Arab world for its love affair with books, such emotions reflect the decline of a vibrant community. For the residents of Baghdad, Mutanabi Street is a link to their city's past glory, less a place than an extension of their souls.
"It is the lungs that I breathe with," said Zaien Ahmad al-Nakshabandi, another bookseller. "I'm choked now."
Three months ago, the government imposed the midday curfew on Islam's holiest day to stop attacks on mosques. That was a major setback for Mutanabi Street, named after a 10th-century poet. For most Iraqis, Friday is their only day off from work and a time to head to the book market.Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/17/AR2006091700695.htm
"For books are more than books, they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives."
"The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination."
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Pope Benedict's Mea Culpa - Not Enough for the Muslims
Pathetic is what comes to mind. Pope Benedict is doing everything but genuflecting and offering an outright apology to the Muslims for his unwise remarks. There can be little doubt that he meant what he said about the Muslims. Of course, the Islamic world jumped at the opportunity to attack him. Then there was President Bush and his talk about a Third Awakening. There is a lot of similarity between them -- the Pope, the Mullahs, and President Bush.
VATICAN CITY, Sept. 16 -- Pope Benedict XVI "sincerely regrets" offending Muslims with his reference to an obscure medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman," a senior Vatican official said in a statement Saturday.
But the comment stopped short of the apology demanded by Islamic leaders around the world, and anger among Muslims remained intense. Palestinians attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza over the pope's remarks in a speech Tuesday to university professors in his native Germany.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Gods of War
President Bush spoke on Tuesday of a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States, linking it to support for the battle against terrorism. The survey
"American Piety in the 21st Century," released last week by Baylor University, reveals that regular churchgoers are more likely than non-churchgoers to trust Bush,
back the war in Iraq and believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
ATTEND CHURCH WEEKLY
Agree that Iraq war is justified
Believe that Hussein involved in 9/11
Support expansion of government authority to fight terrorism
Trust Bush "a lot"
NOTE: SURVEY INCLUDES RESPONSES FROM 1,721 PEOPLE IN LATE 2005. SOURCE: BAYLOR INSTITUTE FOR STUDIES OF RELIGION
Doing What They Do Best - Barrage of Lies
The President and his aides continue to spread fear and lies. They are asking the American public to believe them....that they know best and they are doing everything to protect the security of the nation. The facts present a completely different picture. Whether the war in Iraq or failure to rebuild damage from Katrina, the Bush Administration's records speak for themselves.
The Longer the War, the Larger the LiesBy FRANK RICH
The Bush administration is carpet-bombing America with still more fictions about Iraq.
RARELY has a television network presented a more perfectly matched double feature. President Bush's 9/11 address on Monday night interrupted ABC's "Path to 9/11" so seamlessly that a single network disclaimer served them both: "For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression."
No kidding: "The Path to 9/11" was false from the opening scene, when it put Mohamed Atta both in the wrong airport (Boston instead of Portland, Me.) and on the wrong airline (American instead of USAirways). It took Mr. Bush but a few paragraphs to warm up to his first fictionalization for dramatic purposes: his renewed pledge that "we would not distinguish between the terrorists and those who harbor or support them." Only days earlier the White House sat idly by while our ally Pakistan surrendered to Islamic militants in its northwest frontier, signing a "truce" and releasing Al Qaeda prisoners. Not only will Pakistan continue to harbor terrorists, Osama bin Laden probably among them, but it will do so without a peep from Mr. Bush.
You'd think that after having been caught concocting the scenario that took the nation to war in Iraq, the White House would mind the facts now. But this administration understands our culture all too well. This is a country where a cable news network (MSNBC) offers in-depth journalism about one of its anchors (Tucker Carlson) losing a prime-time dance contest and where conspiracy nuts have created a cottage industry of books and DVD's by arguing that hijacked jets did not cause 9/11 and that the 9/11 commission was a cover-up. (The fictionalized "Path to 9/11," supposedly based on the commission's report, only advanced the nuts' case.) If you're a White House stuck in a quagmire in an election year, what's the percentage in starting to tell the truth now? It's better to game the system.
The untruths are flying so fast that untangling them can be a full-time job. Maybe that's why I am beginning to find Dick Cheney almost refreshing. As we saw on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, these days he helpfully signals when he's about to lie. One dead giveaway is the word context, as in "the context in which I made that statement last year." The vice president invoked "context" to try to explain away both his bogus predictions: that Americans would be greeted as liberators in Iraq and that the insurgency (some 15 months ago) was in its "last throes."
The other instant tip-off to a Cheney lie is any variation on the phrase "I haven't read the story." He told Tim Russert he hadn't read The Washington Post's front-page report that the bin Laden trail had gone "stone cold" or the new Senate Intelligence Committee report(PDF) contradicting the White House's prewar hype about nonexistent links between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Nor had he read a Times front-page article about his declining clout. Or the finding by Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency just before the war that there was "no evidence of resumed nuclear activities" in Iraq. "I haven't looked at it; I'd have to go back and look at it again," he said, however nonsensically.
These verbal tics are so consistent that they amount to truth in packaging — albeit the packaging of evasions and falsehoods. By contrast, Condi Rice's fictions, also offered in bulk to television viewers to memorialize 9/11, are as knotty as a David Lynch screenplay. Asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News last Sunday if she and the president had ignored prewar "intelligence that contradicted your case," she refused to give up the ghost: "We know that Zarqawi was running a poisons network in Iraq," she insisted, as she continued to state again that "there were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda" before the war.
Ms. Rice may be a terrific amateur concert pianist, but she's an even better amateur actress. The Senate Intelligence Committee report released only two days before she spoke dismissed all such ties. Saddam, who "issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with Al Qaeda," saw both bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as threats and tried to hunt down Zarqawi when he passed through Baghdad in 2002. As for that Zarqawi "poisons network," the Pentagon knew where it was and wanted to attack it in June 2002. But as Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News reported more than two years ago, the White House said no, fearing a successful strike against Zarqawi might "undercut its case for going to war against Saddam." Zarqawi, meanwhile, escaped.
It was in an interview with Ted Koppel for the Discovery Channel, though, that Ms. Rice rose to a whole new level of fictionalizing by wrapping a fresh layer of untruth around her most notorious previous fiction. Asked about her dire prewar warning that a smoking gun might come in the form of a mushroom cloud, she said that "it wasn't meant as hyperbole." She also rewrote history to imply that she had been talking broadly about the nexus between "terrorism and a nuclear device" back then, not specifically Saddam — a rather deft verbal sleight-of-hand.
Ms. Rice sets a high bar, but Mr. Bush, competitive as always, was not to be outdone in his Oval Office address. Even the billing of his appearance was fiction. "It's not going to be a political speech," Tony Snow announced, knowing full well that the 17-minute text was largely Cuisinarted scraps from other recent political speeches, including those at campaign fund-raisers. Moldy canards of yore (Saddam "was a clear threat") were interspersed with promising newcomers: Iraq will be "a strong ally in the war on terror." As is often the case, the president was technically truthful. Iraq will be a strong ally in the war on terror — just not necessarily our ally. As Mr. Bush spoke, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was leaving for Iran to jolly up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Perhaps the only way to strike back against this fresh deluge of fiction is to call the White House's bluff. On Monday night, for instance, Mr. Bush flatly declared that "the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad." He once again invoked Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, asking, "Do we have the confidence to do in the Middle East what our fathers and grandfathers accomplished in Europe and Asia?"
Rather than tune this bluster out, as the country now does, let's try a thought experiment. Let's pretend everything Mr. Bush said is actually true and then hold him to his word. If the safety of America really depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad, then our safety is in grave peril because we are losing that battle. The security crackdown announced with great fanfare by Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki in June is failing. Rosy American claims of dramatically falling murder rates are being challenged by the Baghdad morgue. Perhaps most tellingly, the Pentagon has now stopped including in its own tally the large numbers of victims killed by car bombings and mortar attacks in sectarian warfare.
And that's the good news. Another large slice of Iraq, Anbar Province (almost a third of the country), is slipping away so fast that a senior military official told NBC News last week that 50,000 to 60,000 additional ground forces were needed to secure it, despite our huge sacrifice in two savage battles for Falluja. The Iraqi troops "standing up" in Anbar are deserting at a rate as high as 40 percent.
"Even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude we are winning," John Lehman, the former Reagan Navy secretary, wrote of the Iraq war last month. So what do we do next? Given that the current course is a fiasco, and that the White House demonizes any plan or timetable for eventual withdrawal as "cut and run," there's only one immediate alternative: add more manpower, and fast. Last week two conservative war supporters, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, called for exactly that — "substantially more troops." These pundits at least have the courage of Mr. Bush's convictions. Shouldn't Republicans in Congress as well?
After all, if what the president says is true about the stakes in Baghdad, it's tantamount to treason if Bill Frist, Rick Santorum and John Boehner fail to rally their party's Congressional majority to stave off defeat there. We can't emulate our fathers and grandfathers and whip today's Nazis and Communists with 145,000 troops. Roosevelt and Truman would have regarded those troop levels as defeatism.The trouble, of course, is that we don't have any more troops, and supporters of the war, starting with Mr. Bush, don't want to ask American voters to make any sacrifices to provide them. They don't want to ask because they know the voters will tell them no. In the end, that is the hard truth the White House is determined to obscure, at least until Election Day, by carpet-bombing America with still more fictions about Iraq.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Prelude to Another War ?
Surgical Strike * Attempt to redefine Geneva Convention
The bipartisan vote sets up a legislative showdown on an issue that GOP strategists had hoped would unite their party and serve as a cudgel against Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections. Instead, Bush and congressional Republican leaders are at loggerheads with a dissident group led by Sen. John McCain (R), who says the president's approach would jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops and intelligence operatives.
Despite heavy lobbying by Bush, who visited the Capitol yesterday, and Vice President Cheney, who was there Tuesday, McCain and his allies held fast. Even former secretary of state Colin L. Powell weighed in on McCain's side.
Iran's Nuclear Program and the IAEA
In his televised Sept. 11 address, President Bush said that we must not "leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons." There's only one such current candidate: Iran.
The next day, he responded thus (as reported by Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne of National Review) to a question on Iran: "It's very important for the American people to see the president try to solve problems diplomatically before resorting to military force."
U.N. Inspectors Dispute Iran Report
Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.
The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on pre-war assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.
After no such weapons were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a campaign to remove the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. It failed, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Pakistan - Proposed Reform of Rape Law Bites the Dust
The General Blinked
Not being conversant with Islamic scriptures I am unaware of what excactly is the justification for such a strange, archaic, and unjust law. What I find surprising is that the majority of the men and women in Pakistan seem to accept the situation without protest. Are they afraid or are they in agreement ? Almost beyond belief that a country that has the technical expertise to produce nuclear weapons can be so backward when it comes to women's rights. In Pakistan, the Mullahs rule.
Christian Science Monitor
Pakistan to broaden rape laws, but women's groups see setback
A bill originally intended to repeal Pakistan's controversial rape laws is likely to suffer a severe setback this week, analysts say, when Parliament votes on a watered-down version designed to placate conservatives.
Under the country's long-standing Hudood Ordinances, a woman who claims to have been raped must produce four Muslim male eyewitnesses to the crime - a virtual impossibility in most cases. If the witnesses cannot be produced, the rape victim herself can be charged with fornication, or adultery if she is already married, a crime punishable in the most stringent circumstances by death.
This, and other provisions regarding public morality, have prompted calls from human rights activists and progressives for repeal of the Hudood Ordinances since their inception in 1979. The push for changing the laws gathered steam this summer after a private television channel initiated a series of debates on whether the laws are indeed rooted in the Koran and the Sunna (the sayings of Muhammad), as some religious conservatives contend.
The government channeled the repeal momentum into a narrower effort focused on repealing the rape provisions. The Protection of Women bill was supposed to come to a vote on Monday. But the government has now postponed it until Wednesday because, it says, it wanted to consult with religious scholars who could ensure the bill honors the spirit of religious law.
Progressives, rights activists, some members of the government had hoped that a vote on the Hudood Ordinances would place secular law over religious edicts. But after conservatives flexed their political muscle, the government has announced it will not touch the religious laws.
Instead it has struck a compromise, one which many say reflects the tightrope it must tread: Rape will remain under the purview of Islamic law, but judges can also choose to use secular evidentiary procedures provided by Pakistan's penal code if the circumstances of evidence and witnesses call for it.
Ruling party members say the amendment will constitute a step forward. "We are going to make it easier for [rapists] to be convicted," says Tarique Azim Khan, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, the ruling party.
But many analysts and activists say the bill highlights the power of hard-line Islamists to strong-arm the government.
"It might be a step forward, but it's a step backward in the broader context of Pakistan," says Kamila Hyat, joint director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "Once again, it shows that the government caved into the pressure of extremists."
This week's decision, which comes after months of political wrangling and protests, is one of the central skirmishes in a larger battle between secular and religious forces, a kind of barometer of Pakistan's commitment to progressive values, analysts say.
Women's rights activists and progressives argue that rape should be placed under Pakistan's penal code, where standard criminal and evidentiary procedures apply. The Hudood requirements, they say, place the onus of proof on women, and are therefore inherently discriminatory.
The new bill likely to be passed this week claims to put an end to this controversy: In the event that four witnesses cannot be found, a judge is empowered to use evidentiary standards of the penal code, such as DNA tests or other medical means, to establish rape.
Mr. Khan, of the ruling party, calls it a major step forward. "A judge can decide that a woman's own testimony is good enough, without the need for four witnesses."
Almost all analysts agree that, since finding four eyewitnesses to rape is practically impossible, most cases going forward will likely be tried under secular law.
Nonetheless, hard-line Islamists insist that the witness rule must remain on the books so as to honor Islamic principles. "It is important because [the four-witness rule] is a God-given law, and no court can amend God-given laws," says Dr. Fareed Ahmed Paracha, a member of the National Assembly from Jamaat-Islami, one of the conservative parties working to uphold the Hudood laws.
As part of the compromise reached this week, the government has ensured it will keep the witness rule on the books, as well as the strict punishments for adultery and fornication between unmarried persons codified in Hudood - currently 100 lashes or even death by stoning. Dr. Paracha says such punishments are rarely if ever administered, but must remain on the books as a deterrent.
Such small victories symbolize the power conservative religious parties have to sidetrack political reform, analysts say. More than 60 hard-line politicians, who view the repeal of Hudood as blasphemy, have threatened for weeks to resign from the National Assembly, organizing street protests and rallies. Their mass exodus would have forced fresh elections for those seats, with no guarantee that conservative elements or the ruling party - the pillars of President Musharraf's constituency - would be voted back in.
"It clearly shows the lack of commitment," says Bushra Gohar, a women's rights activist in Islamabad. "The government is going to try to appease the extremists rather than looking to the rights of women."