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May 2004

Blog Discussions at Wiscon

This is an announcement for those at Wiscon: Following this afternoon's blog panel at 2:30 PM moderated by Cheryl Morgan, I have arragned a room for what Wiscon calls a "spontaneous" program item, Blogs, Woman, and Politics: What Is to Be Done. It will take place 4:00 - 5:15 PM in Conf. Room 1. It will be a group discussion that I shall lead.


Home Chatter

I'm going to be pretty busy in the next week because of the extended weekend and such, so I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be able to do.

This past week has been difficult. Elizabeth became very clingy last Thursday and stayed that way. Satuday, she came down with a low fever that became a high fever Sunday night. Monday morning, red spots came in -- a virus, says the doctor. She has slept badly at night, which means David and I have too. So I've been stumbling around in a sleep-deprived haze all week. She's mostly over it, so I'm hoping for a good night's sleep tonight.


John Israel Has Been Found. Will Ashcroft Prosecute?

Joel Brinkley (NYT) has tracked down John Israel (mentioned in the Taguba report). He denies not only any involvement with abuse or torture of prisoners but also having witnessed any. In his version, someone else in the scandal fingered him, inotherwords, he claims he was framed.

Given the timing of his departure from Iraq -- "a few weeks ago" -- it is fair to assume that, like Steve Stefanowicz, he too remained on the job at Abu G despite the Taguba report.

OK Ashcroft: the press has found the man for you. Arrest him. From the Washington Post, May 7th:

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday that killings or abuse of military detainees in Iraq that involved civilian contractors could be prosecuted by the Justice Department under several statutes, including civil rights violations and anti-torture laws.

Go to it, Jonnyboy! Prosecute!

Now why is it that we're having to rely on the press to find our alleged war criminals for us? What about, say, the FBI?

Brinkley has unearthed another interesting fact: Almost none of the translators working in Abu G had security clearances. Now, I do not consider a security clearance much of a moral vetting, but isn't this a HUGE security hole brought on by privatization? Shouldn't whoever in the military was in charge of staffing Abu G with translators without security clearances be at very least disciplined? Isn't the information gained from jailhouse interrogations supposed to be secret?

(Thanks, Mitchell and David.)


James Bond, SOS, Agent in Charge

I just about jumped out of my chair reading Josh Marshall's new post discussing the NYT article C.I.A. Bid to Keep Some Detainees Off Abu Ghraib Roll Worries Officials.

In one of several cases in which an Iraqi prisoner died at Abu Ghraib in connection with interrogations, a hooded man identified only by his last name, Jamadi, slumped over dead on Nov. 20 as he was being questioned by a C.I.A. officer and translator, intelligence officials said. The incident is being investigated by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, and military officials have said that the man, whose body was later packed in ice and photographed at Abu Ghraib, had never been assigned a prisoner number, an indication that he had never been included on any official roster at the prison.

The memorandum criticizing the practice of keeping prisoners off the roster was signed by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, and a James Bond, who is identified as "SOS, Agent in Charge." Military and intelligence officials said that they did not know of a Mr. Bond who had been assigned to Abu Ghraib, and that it was possible that the name was an alias.

An intelligence official said Monday that he could not confirm the authenticity of the document, and that neither "SOS" or "Agent in Charge" was terminology that the C.I.A. or any other American intelligence agency would use. A military official said he believed that the document was authentic and was issued on or about Jan. 12, two days before abuses at Abu Ghraib involving military police were brought to the attention of Army investigators.

SOS is SOS Interpreting, Ltd. of 99 Wall Street in New York City. As discussed in my most recent post on "John Israel," SOS was Israel's employer. In that post I also suggested that SOS had other employees in the prison, on the basis that their employment ads suggested that their interrogation people worked in teams. Given the NYT's suggestion that "James Bond, SOS Agent in Charge" is operating under a pseudonym, this amplifies my suspicions voiced in another post that "John Israel" is also a pseudonym.

James Bond indeed.

PS: I emailed the NYT on the 23rd trying to get them interested in checking whether SOS had more employees at Abu G and was told that they'd already covered it and given links to "Role of Private Firms in Iraq Questioned" by the Associated Press and "Translator Questioned by Army in Iraq Abuse" by Joel Brinkley (NYT), which do no such thing. I'm going to take this opportunity to tell the NYT I told you so. (Sorry to be so smug, but this may be my only chance!)


Bush's Exit Strategy Speech

I listened to only fragments of Bush speech last night. I was cooking dinner -- grilling hotdogs and sauteing rice -- walking in and out of earshot.

Looking at the NYT transcript this morning, here are some passages that I find noteworthy:

SIDELIGHT
Andreas Schafer, 26, of New Plymouth, New Zealand, missing in Iraq for 3 months, was in US custody:
US Denies Holding Kiwi In Iraq
MP Keith Locke says it is hard to believe US officials did not know where Mr Schafer was, particularly when their people interrogated him several times.
NZ traveller held in Iraq by US Army
"I was then held for nearly three months and interrogated by the US Army on several occasions. / "Each time they questioned me they said it was the first they had heard I was being detained and that the investigation was starting from the beginning. / "Eventually the British consul got involved one way or another (probably notified by New Zealand Foreign Affairs) and then I was out within a week." . . . /  She said her son and a number of other foreign nationals were picked up by the Iraqi police the day after a serious bomb attack.  / "Initially they told him it would take two days and he would be out. Then the two days turned into a week and another week ... "

This one seems to me to border on delusional. Not only does this resurrect the old saw that the old regime was in cahoots with al Qaida; it de-emphasizes real efforts elsewhere to reduce the risk of terrorism in favor of the war in Iraq.

Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror. And we must understand that as well.

The return of tyranny to Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory and a cause for killers to rejoice. It would also embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world.

(The neocon speechwriters just don't quit with that Saddam=Osama thing, do they?)

Then there's this  juxtaposition. Bush says that on June 30th the occupation will end. But a few paragraphs later he says:

Given the recent increase in violence we'll maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary. 

How, exactly, does one define occupation in such a way that ending an occupation does not involve troop withdrawals?

He goes on to say:

Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of their own country, not for any occupying power. So we are ensuring that Iraqi forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command.

But if we haven't withdrawn any troops, who can be expected to believe the occupation has ended?

Eventually, he comes around to the subject of Abu Ghraib:

A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.

America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.

I'm all for demolishing the place, but simply getting its inhabitants new digs does not seem to the point. According to our own military, a large percentage of them don't belong in jail in the first place, let alone in maximum security. Exactly whom does Bush think he's impressing with this line of reasoning? The problems in that facility were not simply a function of malign architecture. He's proposing to solve the Abu G problem the way one would deal with a haunted house, when in fact the problems are systemic to our own military and its outsourcing policies. Demolishing a building can be a metaphor for a solution, but it is not the solution itself.

Then he says, The fourth step in our plan is [drumroll] to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition. Given the recent erosion of the coalition, this is a rather pathetic pronouncement. What is he really saying? We'll sideline Rumsfeld and get that bench-warmer Powell back in the game?

His final proposal is "free national elections to be held no later than next January."

In that election the Iraqi people will choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq's history. This assembly will serve as Iraq's legislature and it will choose a transitional government with executive powers. 

I'm all for elections, but if he's really ending the occupation and handing over power June 30th, what is he going to do about it if the new government doesn't want to hold elections? Why should his appointees hold an election if they are already in power? As he says himself, Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way. (Of course the answer to this question is that since Bush is only pretending to end the occupation, they will have elections, or else our non-occupying troops will do something about it.)

Finally, he contrasts two visions of Iraq: the terrorists' and "ours." I'm not sure who he thinks "we" is but this back-and-white dichotomy does not seem to leave much room for legitimate disagreements within Iraq. It sounds very much like Bush's my-way-or-the-highway policies of the past.

This speech is not so much to outline a strategy for a US exit from Iraq as a strategy for a US exit for responsibility for Iraq. The mindset underlying the speech seems to me to be It matters not whether you win or lose, but where you place the blame.


Another Mercenary or Two Killed in Iraq

The BBC:

Two Britons were killed in Iraq on Monday in a rocket attack outside coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed that two British civilians had died and one had been injured.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the deaths were shocking and showed the risks civilians had to take in Iraq.

The Foreign Office later confirmed that one of the Britons who died was working for international business risk consultancy Control Risks Group.

What is Control Risks Group, you might ask. Is it an insurance company or something?

This April article by Paul McGeough describes the company's Iraq presence as a "1100-strong private army of former British SAS, Nepalese and Fijian soldiers also guards 500 British civil servants." Civilians indeed.

So, is the dead CRG man an SAS retread? Soldiers in a war zone are not civilians not matter who signs their paycheck.

The Telegraph now reports that only one of the two dead men worked for CRG, and that the other was an advisor to the CPA "paid by the foreign office."


Literature & the Question of Value

One of the things that drove me batty about studying literature in grad school was that once one strayed outside the safety of the canon, academics seemed to provide no methods or guidance for telling whether a work of fiction was any good. Rather, it was to be seen as a cultural artifact or a symptom of some sort. I thought this attitude was maddening nonsense, though, having abandoned academia a long time ago, it hadn't occurred to me to think about this in quite some time.

But now I read, in a fine piece in The London Review of Books, The Slightest Sardine by James Woods the very point I felt unable to communicate to my professors -- that the question of the value of a work is supremely important:

There is no greater mark of the gap that separates writers and English departments than the question of value. The very thing that most matters to writers, the first question they ask of a work - is it any good? - is often largely irrelevant to university teachers. Writers are intensely interested in what might be called aesthetic success: they have to be, because in order to create something successful one must learn about other people's successful creations. To the academy, much of this value-chat looks like, and can indeed be, mere impressionism. Again, theory is not the only culprit. A good deal of postmodern thought is suspicious of the artwork's claim to coherence, and so is indifferent or hostile to the discussion of its formal success. But conventional, non-theoretical criticism often acts as if questions of value are irrelevant, or canonically settled. To spend one's time explaining how a text works is not necessarily ever to talk about how well it works, though it might seem that the latter is implicit in the former. Who bothers, while teaching The Portrait of a Lady for the nth time, to explain to a class that it is a beautiful book? But it would be a pardonable exaggeration to say that, for most writers, greedy to learn and emulate, this is the only important question.

Hooray for common sense!


New Evidence of an Eldritch Conspiracy: Bad people have parties too, says US Military Spokesman!

SUSAN SONNTAG ON ABU GHRAIB
Shock and awe were what our military promised the Iraqis. And shock and the awful are what these photographs announce to the world that the Americans have delivered: a pattern of criminal behavior in open contempt of international humanitarian conventions. Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to their buddies. Secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. What is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality.

Who writes this stuff? Some mornings when I get up and read the news, I have a hard time shaking the feeling that Rumsfeld and his minions aren't real people at all; that this is a bad movie and Rumsfeld is just the Creature from the Black Lagoon in a rubber suit and that his lines are written by Jack Womack in a really nasty bad-Jack mood, happily chuckling over his computer; that Womack's day job as a HarperCollins publicist is just a cover for the lofty Top Secret position of Official Pentagon Scriptwriter. Or perhaps the real reason Terry Bisson moved out of New York to his secret California hideaway was to write military satire!

OK, it's time for a confession. Did Womack write the lines for this guy, Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, US military spokesman, who when confronted with a new video, showing "before" videos of the wedding party our troops massacred, responded, Bad people have parties, too? If Womack didn't write that, we should ask around. Was it you, Terry Bisson? Thomas Harris? Don Webb? Charlie Stross! Of course!

Observe the clever plotting, an obvious sign of writing craft: A line like this is a sure tip-off that our military establishment has been taken over by something along the lines of the Lovecraftian Elder Gods, and that if we knew the TRUTH we would all descend into a gibbering madness. Think Stross's The Atrocity Archives!

And here's another line in today's Guardian giving further evidence that this is all a parody of an absurd movie, or even a bad dream:

The first Mohammed Munim al-Izmerly's family knew of his death was when his battered corpse turned up at Baghdad's morgue. Attached to the zipped-up black US body bag was a laconic note.

The US military claimed in the note that Dr Izmerly, a distinguished chemistry professor arrested after US tanks encircled his villa, had died of "brainstem compression".

Perhaps this brainstem compression was the result of witnessing his interrogators peeling back their human faces to reveal the monstrous visages underneath -- why else would the Pentagon ban cameraphones, but to keep this hideous secret?!

We should have known ages ago that part of our military had been taken over by a conspiracy of hideous flabby fungous beasts. Rumsfeld dropped sly hints, quite a while ago. Here he clearly refers to the cosmic horrors underlying our everyday reality -- things Man Was Not Meant to Know!

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Å\Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

But of course, this must be all nonsense. So, out with it: Who's been writing the lines for our military establishment? Real people don't talk like this -- unless ---


John Israel

My correspondent Mitchell, true to his word, has dug up the name of John Israel's employer out of a Washington Post article I skimmed too fast yesterday:

SIDELIGHT
Jay Evenson, the editor of the editorial page of The Deseret News in Salt lake City, and also the husband of a close friend of mine, makes an effort to meet his readers' demand for good news from Iraq.

The third civilian identified in the [Taguba] report, John Israel, is accused in the Army report of lying to investigators about seeing interrogations that violated the rules. Israel could not be reached to comment. He worked for a Titan subcontractor, SOS Interpreting Ltd.

"He was an employee of SOS -- I am not sure if he is at this point," said Bruce Crowell, chief financial officer of SOS Interpreting.

In its help-wanted ads, SOS describes itself this way:

Organization Profile: SOSI is a woman-owned, family operated company based in New York City. The company has been operating for 12 years with revenues over $30 million. Primary customers has been Federal/State law enforcement agencies and defense contracts and developing new partnerships with some of the biggest companies. We have contracts in several states in the nation, i.e., Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, New York, Puerto Rico, and others. We are developing new partnerships because our ability to place cleared people in key contracts throughout the world. Our core competencies include: International Linguist Support/Translation and Interpretation Services, Foreign language training, Intelligence Facility Management, Intelligence, Counterintelligence, Psychological operations, counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, peacekeeping and civil affairs, force protection, private security, government program management & acquisition, telecommunications, satellite & high frequency radio communication systems and information technology & systems support, Administrative Outsourcing.

Company Benefits: Competitive salary, Medical, Dental, 401, Life Insurance, hazard duty pay, contract completion bonuses for some assignments.

Overview of Opportunities: Intelligence Collections and Analyst; Counterintelligence Agents and Analyst; HUMINT Collections; Linguist.

Company Locations: We maintain offices in New York City, NY; Reston, VA and have staffs throughout the US, South America & Caribbean Basin, Western & Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.


Here is a help-wanted ad from last September for SOS Arabic translators:

University or Organization: SOS Interpreting LTD
Rank of Job: Translator
Specialty Areas: Applied Linguistics, General Linguistics, Translation
Required Language(s): Arabic, Algerian Saharan Spoken (Code = AAO); Arabic, Standard (Code = ABV); Arabic, Mesopotamian Spoken (Code = ACM); Arabic, Gulf Spoken (Code = AFB); Pashto, Southern (Code =PBT); Pashto, Northern (Code = PBU); Pashto, Central (Code = PST)

Description:
SOS Interpreting LTD is looking to hire native arabic linguists that are fluent in reading, writing, and speaking Arabic, and English, for overseas positions. Candidates must be U.S. Citizens. We offer excellent salaries, and benefits.

The contact at SOS is listed as Mr. Raphy Kasselian, and the address of the company is in Fairfax, Virginia.(They also have an office in Manhattan on Wall Street.) Although applicants must be US citizens, there is no mention of a required security clearance. One of the things Taguba noted about John Israel that has lead to speculation that he was Israeli is that he lacked a security clearance. What it sounds like here is that in the general chaos that prevailed at Abu G, someone, whether in military intelligence or from the CIA, hauled in a translator that had no business setting foot in the prison. Or perhaps Titan's contract with the US government required translators to have security clearances, but not SOS's contract with Titan. (See below for a more speculative hypothesis.)

Another help-wanted ad gives more on the terms of employment:

SOS Interpreting, LTD, a professional translation and interpretation firm in New York, is seeking an individual who speaks fluent Uzbek and English to work as a full-time translator/interpreter. Must be a US citizen. Work involves extended travel to Uzbekistan and other locations in the US and abroad. Salary is $75,000 per annum plus 15% hazard duty pay while overseas ($11,250 per annum). Benefits include a comprehensive health plan, pension, paid vacations, and paid personal days. Interested persons should call Julian M. Setian, Executive Vice President, SOS Interpreting, LTD.

And from intelligencecareers.com here are more SOS ads.

I note from these ads that SOS seems to employ civilian interrogators in Iraq.

HUMINT Collectors For Iraq (JobNr 86107) . . .
Location of Position: Various Locations, (Iraq) . . .

Employment Type: full-time
Security Requirements: Secret

THIS POSITION REQUIRES US CITIZENSHIP AND MINIUMUM OF SECRET CLEARANCE
€ Works under the management of a Senior CI agent
€ Conduct interrogations of detainees
€ Write reports
€ When not employed as interrogator and producing reports, assist in the HUMINT reporting system maintenance to include Brigade Black/White/Gray list, support screening operations and conducts liaison of to support interrogation operations
Requirements:
€ Trained interrogator with at least 5 years experience in interrogation
€ Completion of interrogator school
€ Knowledgeable of Army/Joint interrogation procedures, data processing systems such CHIMs and SIPRNET search engines
€ Position requires former MOS 97E, 351E, or civilian/joint service equivalents. ASI0N and N7 desired
€ Knowledge of the Arabic language and culture a plus
€ Secret clearance
€ Position requires performance of work 12 hours/day, six days/week

A couple of things strike me about this ad. First of all, the interrogator "works under the management of a Senior [Counter Intelligence] agent." On the same web site, SOS has an ad for Senior CI Agent For Iraq (JobNr 86104). So we can assume that their civilian interrogators report to people who are also civilian contract employees. Secondly, I wonder where one goes to "interrogator school." Casting around a bit, I gather the answer to this question is Fort Huachuca, AZ. So, really, these folks are not civilians in the usual sense, but military retreads.

So, let's return to the question of John Israel, whom we now think is probably a US citizen. Here, I'm going to speculate for a minute. So, SOS's interrogators report to SOS's CI Agents; to whom do SOS's Arab linguists report in a prison setting? I would guess to either an SOS interrogator or to an SOS CI Agent. Superficially, it sounded like John Israel was just dragged in off the street out of pure carelessness, but if the Titan subcontract was a larger package, perhaps this whole three-tier SOS chain of command was imported, with the SOS guys bringing in their own interrogator even though he lacked a security clearance because he worked for their company and he was whom they had available to them. This implies that there are several other SOS employees whose names we ought to know, since a translator without a security clearance and perhaps without a military background would be at the bottom of the totem pole.

And by the way, how does a company specializing in translation get into the interrogation business anyway? This sounds to me like a gold rush phenomenon.

Finally, in the midst of this huge scandal, I wonder why Bruce Crowell, chief financial officer of SOS Interpreting, who spoke to the Washington Post, hadn't bothered to find out whether John Israel still worked for the company. Although we are getting warmer, John Israel remains a man of mystery.


On Blogging and the Audience

I'm trying to find my comfort zone in negotiating what I have to say with what this blog's audience wants to hear about. There are a number of conflicting forces. Within my own interests, there is the competition between keeping up on issues I've been following; writing about what leaps out at me in the morning news cycle; and writing about whatever strikes my fancy and generally expressing my interiority.

SIDELIGHTS
€ James Taranto at the WSJ points out the NYT implies that journalists are being targeted by coalition troops.
€ Also from the WSJ, an Abu Ghairib translator, Adel Nakhla, working for Titan has been "terminated." How about arrested? Can we go for charged?
€ And from the Guardian, Nick Berg's father's op-ed piece.

Complicating this, I have an increasing sense of an audience out there. Some of you who follow this blog daily, I know personally and may even have known for decades. Some of you follow this blog daily for the sf stuff, the political commentary, or because you like my narrative voice.

But unlike print media, the day-to-day audience that shows up to read what I write is also mediated by search engines. By what I consider a fluke, Google has sent over 8,000 visitors my way looking for information on the beheading of Nicholas Berg. Mine was a fairly tepid, tentative post, written only because the Berg thing had taken over another thread. And this is not the first time such thing has happened.

I am not sure what I owe these sudden, unexpected audiences who come to rant, or emote, or calmly discuss, but who mostly come only to read that one page and then vanish. I do feel I ought to encourage them to stay, to read a few other pages, to visit other blogs, and maybe to buy my books. But because they come in out of the blue and most of them leave just as quickly, I'm not sure how to do this or even whether it's worth doing. Many, I suspect, were looking for something I didn't provide (a link to the video) and left disappointed.

The general answer, I think, is to continue to cultivate the narrative voice and the accompanying interests that have made this blog what it is now, but I admit, I do find this audience question a bit bewildering.

As bloggers, how do you deal with the matter of audience? As blog readers, what hospitality do you expect of blogs?

One answer would be to just write for myself, but a few decades of taking the needs and expectations of reading audiences into account makes it unlikely that I would be able to sincerely follow that path. The other extreme would be to shamelessly pander to the whims of Google, but I'm not paid to do this, and even with ads, my hourly wage would be in pennies if I thought that way. I'm looking for my comfort zone.

The accomodation I seem to be heading toward is to try to keep score of what I kind of thing I write: what was written solely because the spirit moved me; what is part of an ongoing exploration with a consituuency; etc., throwing in recipes, bits on how to make a fountain or an outdoor play area, or whatever I think someone out there somewhere would be interested in; and then when I've done too much of one thing, trying to do more of another. But I'm still thinking about it.

Share with me your experiences and opinions.

Finally, a technical question: I'm experimenting with tools that give me more information about traffic on my site, partly because I've needed realtime information when I've had problems and haven't had it and instead have had to wait until the next day; partly because I feel like I ought to know more about my real traffic now that I'm selling ads. So I'm testing out Site Meter and Urchin. Urchin shows roughly twice the traffic Site Meter does (and I do have Site Meter code on every page). Do any of you techies know why this might be? Is Urchin counting my CSS style sheet as a pageview maybe? Or is Site Meter skipping something real that Urchin sees?


Playboy & the Older Editor

Age discrimination in publishing is rampant, but rarely does a firing because of an editor's age result in litigation. But according to CNN, Playboy is getting sued:

A Playboy editor who was fired after more than 30 years with the company filed a federal suit, claiming he was dismissed because the magazine wanted a younger staff that might attract younger readers. . .

According to the complaint, Executive Vice President Howard S. Shapiro said in March 2003 that the company believed the only way to change the "demographics of the magazine was to change the demographics of the people who put the magazine out."

Though this is a common attitude, Shapiro's mistake was to state it outright.


Turtle Crossing

When I was on my way to pick up Elizabeth this morning, I had to stop to coax a large snapping turtle out of the middle of the road. My technique is to stomp loudly behind the turtle, causing the turtle to "hurry" forward. I arrived at this technique by trial and error.

On the return trip, with Elizabeth in the car, I encountered the same turtle in the same place, now heading the other way, back toward the swamp. So I got out of the car and shooed it out of the street once again.

There needs to be a a Turtle Crossing sign there.


The Guardian on the Mukaradeeb Wedding Bombing

The Guardian has a fairly detailed story on the wedding bombing. It's pretty grim:

'US soldiers started to shoot us, one by one': Survivors describe wedding massacre as generals refuse to apologise

The wedding feast was finished and the women had just led the young bride and groom away to their marriage tent for the night when Haleema Shihab heard the first sounds of the fighter jets screeching through the sky above.

It was 10.30pm in the remote village of Mukaradeeb by the Syrian border and the guests hurried back to their homes as the party ended. As sister-in-law of the groom, Mrs Shihab, 30, was to sleep with her husband and children in the house of the wedding party, the Rakat family villa. She was one of the few in the house who survived the night.

"The bombing started at 3am," she said yesterday from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.

She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell.

The tale of Mukaradeeb begins to sound like another Mai Lai.

The Guardian has a related editorial:

Lies about crimes

The US military admits that it probably killed 40 people at Mukaradeeb but says that none of them were civilians. So did the "foreign fighters" include the young girl, one of several children whose bodies were shown being buried on television? Or the Iraqi wedding singer and his musician brother, whose funeral in Baghdad was reported yesterday by Reuters?

Ahmed Chalabi's House Raided

I wonder what's going on here. Looks like Chalabi's joy ride may be truly over:

CNN: U.S. military raids Chalabi's home

UPDATE 5/22/04
I find myself quite speechless at the revelation that the Bush administration was conned into paying out $340,000/month to support Chalabi's Iranian spy operation. Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Josh Marshall have done a fine job of posting about this, so I'm going to pick my jaw up off the keyboard and gape dubfounded at the unimaginable stupidity of the whole Chalabi boondoggle.
A HELPFUL SUGGESTION (5/23/04): Why doesn't the CPA arrest him and extradite him to Jordan, where he has already been convicted of a crime?

Iraqi police have raided the compound of the Iraqi National Congress and the nearby home of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.

Chalabi's nephew, Salim Chalabi, said the forces entered his uncle's home, put a gun to Chalabi's head and threatened him.

CNN staff on the scene saw a group of Iraqi civilians inside the compound under guard by Iraqi police and U.S. military.

Reuters reports that in addition, the headquarters of the Iraqi National Congreess were raided:

he soldiers raided the headquarters of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and a nearby house also used by Chalabi, and removed computers, files and equipment.

INC spokesman Haider Moussawi said the troops had wanted to arrest two party members but were told by Chalabi they were not present. Chalabi, who returned from exile after the fall of Saddam Hussein, was not detained.

The Guardian reports a possible reasons for the raid:

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have accused Chalabi of trying to interfere with an investigation into alleged corruption of the U.N.-run oil-for-food program, in which Saddam Hussein's government was allowed to sell oil despite international sanctions to buy food and humanitarian supplies. . . . Chalabi has complained recently about U.S. plans to retain control of Iraqi security forces and maintain widespread influence over political institutions after power is transferred from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to an Iraqi interim administration at the end of June.

and also mentions arrests at Chalabi's house:

Some people could be seen loading boxes into vehicles, and neighbors said some members of Chalabi's entourage were taken away.

Newsweek's article, posted just prior to the raid, has a whole lot more on the background of the falling out between Chalabi and the Pentagon:

Pentagon officials sayÝ the decision by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to cut off funding this week for the Iraqi National Congress was made because U.S. financial backing of an Iraqi political party had become ÅginappropriateÅh in light of efforts to set up a new Iraqi government on June 30. But the funding decision follows disclosures that INC leader Ahmad Chalabi and some of his aides supplied sensitive information about U.S. security operations in Baghdad to the Iranian government, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

The decision also coincides with the launch, by Coalition authorities in Iraq, of a wide-ranging investigation into allegation that INC leaders engaged in extortion and other corrupt activities inside Iraq. An INC spokesman said that the group and its leader had not been informed about a corruption investigation or been contacted about it by Coalition authorities. The spokesman also denied that anyone from the group had supplied sensitive information to Iran.

UPDATE: The NYT now has the story:

Reporters who entered the office compound after the departure of the Americans and Iraqi officers found a scene of destruction. Computers had been ripped out of the walls, furniture had been overturned, doors broken down and framed photographs of Mr. Chalabi smashed. Aides to Mr. Chalabi said members of the raiding party had helped themselves to food and beverages from the refrigerator.

and regarding the raid on the INC headquarters, the NYT had this tidbit:

Ali Sarraf, the finance director of the Iraqi National Congress, describe a tableau of brutality. "We offered them the keys and they showed us guns," he said. "They kicked the door down."

Standing amid the debris in the organization's offices, he said: "Bremer is panicking. This is about settling things with Dr. Chalabi."

Pentagon's Denials Lack Credibility with Reuters

In case you missed this one last night, the Pentagon seems to lack deniability in the torture scandal with both Reuters and NBC. Apparently, some of their employees were imprisoned and abused:

U.S. forces beat three Iraqis working for Reuters and subjected them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation during their detention last January in a military camp near Falluja, the three say.

The three first told Reuters of the ordeal after their release but only decided to make it public when the U.S. military said there was no evidence they had been abused, and following the exposure of similar mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

An Iraqi journalist working for U.S. network NBC, who was arrested with the Reuters staff, also said he had been beaten and mistreated, NBC said on Tuesday.

Tourism in Wartime

Given what my search queries have been like over the past month or so, I gather that there is a certain segment of the population that would really like to travel to a dangerous place and make $1,000 a day. (Personally, I think my life is worth more than that. but maybe it's just me.)

Anyway, for those of you up for some adventurous travel, I have found you a useful web page: Making the Best of Nasty Situations, a piece on tourism and travelling in war zones.

HOW TO SURVIVE WAR ZONES
Remember that small wars are not a carefully planned or predictable activity. More importantly, land mines, shells, stray bullets and booby traps have no political affiliation or mercy. Keep the following in mind.
  • Contact people who have returned or are currently in the hot zone. Do not trust the representations of rebel or government contacts. Check it out yourself.
  • Avoid politics, do not challenge the beliefs of your host, be firm but not belligerent about getting what you need. Talking politics with soldiers is like reading Playboy with the Pope. It kills time, but is probably not a rewarding pastime.
  • Do not engage in intrigue or meetings that are not in public view. They still shoot spies. Do accept any invitations for dinner, tea or social activities. Getting to know your hosts is important. Do not gossip or lie.
  • Travel only under the permission of the controlling party. In many cases you will need multiple permission from officers, politicians and the regional commander.
  • Remember that a letter of safe passage from a freedom group presented to an army check point could be your death warrant. Understand and learn the zones of control and protocol for changing sides during active hostilities.
  • Carry plenty of identification, articles, letters of recommendation and character references. It may not keep you out of jail, but it may delay your captors long enough to effect an escape.
  • Bring photographs of your family, friends, house, dog or car. Carry articles you have written or ones that mention you. A photo ID is important, but even a high school yearbook can provide more proof.
  • Check in with the embassy, military intelligence, local businessmen and bartenders. Do not misrepresent yourself, exaggerate or tell white lies. Keep your story simple and consistent.
  • Dress and act conservatively. Be quietly engaging, affable and listen a lot. Your actions will indicate your intentions as the locals weigh their interest in helping you. It may take a few days for the locals to check you out before they offer any assistance.
  • Remember that it is very unusual for noncombatants to be wandering around areas of conflict. If you are traveling make sure you have the name of a person that you wish to see, an end destination and a reason for passing through.
  • Understand where the front lines are, the general rules of engagement, meet with journalists and photographers (usually found at the hotel bar) to understand the local threats.
  • Carry a lot of money hidden in various places, be ready to leave or evacuate at any time. This means traveling very light. Choose a place to sleep that would be survivable in case of a rocket or shell attack.
  • Visit with the local Red Cross, UN, Embassy and other relief workers to understand the situation. They are an excellent source of health information and may be your only ticket out.
  • If warranted buy and wear an armored vest or flak jacket (see the Save Yourself chapter). Carry your blood type and critical info (name, country, phone, local contact, allergies,) on a laminated card or written on your vest. Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet.
  • Carry a first aid kit with syringes, antibiotics, IV needles, anesthetics and pain killers as well as the usual medication. It might be wise to use auto inject syringes. Discuss any prescriptions with your doctor in advance.
  • Understand and learn the effect, range and consequences of guns, land mines, mortars, snipers and other machines of war.
  • Get life and health (and KRE if relevant) insurance and don't lie. Tell them the specific country you will be traveling to. Also check with the emergency evacuation services to see if they can go into a war zone to pull you out.
  • Carry a military style medical manual to aid in treating field wounds. Take a first aid class and understand the effects and treatment of bullet wounds and other major trauma.
And there's plenty more helpful advice where that came from. Read the whole thing.

(Via Spies Online's Frightening Sites page.)


Imagine

The Financial Times covers material that has been discussed elsewhere in this blog concerning outsourcing of covert activities. Yet I think they state the situation a little more directly:

US turns to private sector for spies

For Dave Tittle, who has run an executive placement company in northern Virginia for the last 30 years, business has never been so good. That is because Mr Tittle's speciality is supplying talent for the growing number of private companies that do the US government's spying.

"An awful lot of activity has been outsourced," says Mr Tittle, who himself once worked at the National Security Agency. "Anything that has to do with collection or analysis of intelligence data is being done by the private sector."

If the build-up to the Iraq war highlighted the extent to which the army relies on private contractors like Halliburton for logistical tasks like delivering fuel, then the recent prisoner abuse scandal has revealed similar trends under way in the nation's intelligence apparatus.

(Via Gary Farber.)

Imagine an increasing amount of CIA activity outsourced. Think about that for a while. And put that together with what we already know about the problems of miltary outsourcing: it's probably not really cheaper but it sertainly provides a fine layer of deinability. Think a bit about Steve Stefanowicz and Victor Bout and about the mysterious "John Israel."

Imagine.


Free Spec Fic

While working on an anthology this week, I discovered the site Free Speculative Fiction Online, an index of sf available to read online for free. All of the links I followed went to legitimate sites where the author had agreed to online publication, so this is not a list of pirate sites. Some of the links are old, for example links to OmniOnline. I had pretty good luck with the WayBack Machine prizing out texts from web sites and pages that were gone.


Remember Nicholas Berg for What He Tried to Do

I've let the Nicholas Berg story wash over me for a while and am now ready to venture a personal opinion on this extremely complex case. Nicholas Berg is another Ben Linder, a nice, altruistic guy who went to a dangerous country to help build infrastructure and got himself killed.

Ben Linder, who was killed by the Contras in 1987, was a friend of mine. According to an investigative journalism piece I read some years ago, the "Contras" that killed him were child soldiers; armed twelve- and fourteen-year old boys. He worked on my student government campaign at the University of Washington when I was running for ASUW Board of Control. I did not know him well, but he organized a parade for my campaign, in which he rode his unicycle while dressed as a clown, just as he appears in the Ben Linder memorial mural.

I don't know what to make of the Nicholas Berg story with all of the complexities. What seems most important to me, upon reflection, is that there are people in this world who will go out and try to create infrastructure in dangerous places. Though I will forever think of Ben as foolish for having gone and gotten himself killed, people who live in places that lack infrastructure are just as deserving of running water, electricity, telephone service, and plubing as the rest of us. It seems to me that Nicholas Berg, like Ben Linder, ought to be more remembered for what he tried to do, not how he got killed.


Narrative Hook

I love this passage:

Darnell said the man was contacted by phone and was asked if he was missing any fingers, but said there was nothing wrong.

But a print lifted from the detached finger told authorities otherwise, Darnell said.

Here's the link, in case you want to know the whole story.


Indian Stock Market Crash

India had a stock market crash yesterday.

Indian stocks were in virtual free-fall on Monday, wiping out 40 billion dollars in market value, amid frenzied selling on fears a new Congress-led government will slow the pace of reform in Asia's fastest-growing economy.

The Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange suspended trading after their benchmark indices fell 15.5 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively. Both racked up their biggest point drop ever and sank to their lowest levels since late September.

It did not receive much notice here. This is mentioned in the fifth paragraph of the NYT story Gandhi Stakes Her Claim to Lead a Rattled India.

Although the market rebounded today, CNN International reports that "Monday the Sensex closed down 11 percent at 450 5.16, after plunging almost 16 percent at one point."

The Times of India is reporting that Monday night, Sonia Gandhi refused to become Prime Minister:

Sonia Gandhi reluctant to become PM

NEW DELHI: Congress President Sonia Gandhi has declined to become the Prime Minister despite leading her party to a spectacular comeback in elections, a senior party leader said on Tuesday.

He said she had made known her decision to the party on Monday evening itself.

Sonia, who is being persuaded by senior leaders of her party and the victorious multi-party United Progressive Alliance to change her mind, has apparently recommended Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, both senior leaders of her party, for the job.

The argument for privatization in India is pretty much the same as is used here, and presumably has many of he same pitfalls. One of the key events of the election was apparently the sari stampede:

. . . one of the more powerful images of the election campaign is that of scores of impoverished women being crushed and trampled to death in a stampede for cheap, one-dollar saris distributed in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's constituency of Lucknow.

At least 22 women died in a frenzied rush for the lengths of unstitched cloth, symbolic of womanhood in South Asia, which were being distributed free by Lalji Tandon, top leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in northern Uttar Pradesh state, during the election campaign. Lucknow is the state capital.

A Few Changes

My regular readers may have noticed that I have been making changes to my templates, have added a Blogads advertising section and an Amazon tip box, and am generally moving things around. (Thanks, Rob Sawyer, for being the first to advertise here!)

Let me know if I've really screwed something up, since I'm probably not using your computer/browser combo.

I wonder what I can do with these boxes.

Those with small presses or with products to advertise should have a look at my ad page. And those who turn up here day after day and who think reading my blog improves their lives might consider rewarding good behavior.


Victor Bout, US Trading Partner?

5/24/04 UPDATE
There is a lot more detail on Bout and his commerical intercourse with the US government in this terrific post from The Yorkshire Ranter. Thanks to Ben in the comments!

The Financial Times has a fascinating story  I have not yet seen in any of the US media: US seeks to protect weapons trafficker. It's about a Russian mafia guy, Victor Bout, alleged to be the world's biggest arms trafficker:

The US is pressing for a notorious arms trafficker allegedly involved in supplying coalition forces in Iraq to be omitted from planned United Nations sanctions, in defiance of French demands.

Washington has UK support in resisting French efforts to freeze the assets of Victor Bout, once described by a UK minister as a "merchant of death" for his role as a leading arms supplier to rebel and government forces in several African conflicts, including Liberia.

The UN is considering who should be on a list of individuals whose assets will be frozen because of their involvement with the ousted regime of Charles Taylor, the Liberian leader overthrown last year.

Western diplomats say they have been told of reports that an air freight company associated with Mr Bout, who is subject to a UN travel ban because of his activities in Liberia, may be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq and that the US may be "recycling" his extensive cargo network.

In 2000, Peter Hain, then British foreign office minister responsible for Africa, described Mr Bout as "the chief sanctions-buster and . . . a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms" for rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone.

A former UN official familiar with the sanctions process said he had also heard of Mr Bout's Iraq connection. The ex-official said he had been told by a reliable source about a month ago that "the American defence forces are using Victor's planes for their logistics".

It really is too bad that the US couldn't afford planes of its own and has to rent them from criminals! But seriously, it seems to me that this equipment may be leased to covert US operations such as those described by Hersh, rather then by the regular troops.

Here's what PBS's Frontline had to say about Victor Bout a couple of years ago:

Victor  Bout is the poster boy for a new generation of post Cold War  international arms dealers who play a critical role in areas  where the weapons trade has been embargoed by the United Nations.

Now,  as FRONTLINE/World reports in "Gunrunners,"  unprecedented U.N. investigations have begun to unravel the  mystery of these broken embargoes, many of them imposed on African  countries involved in bloody civil wars. At the heart of this  unfolding detective story is the identification of a group of  East European arms merchants, with Victor Bout the first of  them to be publicly and prominently identified. The U.N. investigative  team pursued leads that a Mr. Bout [pronounced "butt" in Russian]  was pouring small arms and ammunition into Angola, Rwanda, Sierra  Leone and the Congo, making possible massacres on a scale that  stunned the world.

    And check this out, from the same PBS piece:

Afghan and U.A.E. air industry sources reported a meeting between "two Russians" and the United Arab Emirates representative of  Ariana, the Afghan national airline, in which it was agreed that Bout's Air Cess would provide wheels, tires and other military goods for the Taliban air force. Flying Dolphin would provide charter flights when Ariana was unavailable.

The Afghan permanent representative to the United Nations, citing Afghan and American intelligence reports, said Ariana flights from Sharjah had transported chemical poisons to Kandahar: "cyanide and other toxic substances purchased in Germany, the Czech Republic and Ukraine." He said the Taliban "had nothing to do with this. These chemicals were for Bin Laden and his people. It was some of the chemicals they were using in experiments." Earlier, the  US had reportedly pressured the U.A.E. to clamp down on Bout's operations, which simply resulted in his moving to a neighboring Emirate.
. . .

News organizations around the world, pressing hard to break new stories about Al Qaeda, along with western officials eager to be seen as fighting terrorism may be inflating Bout's significance in describing him as heading "what some officials call the largest arms trafficking network in the world." Such claims were never made before evidence emerged linking Bout to the Taliban. And even if true, the mandate of the U.N. arms investigations - limited to violations of country-specific embargoes - and the nature of the illicit arms trade make it impossible to confirm. Most experts would agree that he is the largest known illicit trafficker in Africa. Beyond that, the extent of his activity is very difficult to pin down.

Why is this guy one of our trading partners and not in a jail cell? And why are we helping him out of a jam with the UN?

Here's a discussion of Bout from a meeting of the UN Security Council, Thursday, 22 February 2001. The speaker is a "Ms. Lee" of Singapore:

Clearly, the arms and diamonds industries have spawned a very profitable war economy, such that the diamonds industry, which was the resource for the arms, has in turn generated an arms industry to protect the diamonds. It is a stalemate that has a high price: violence for economic control. . .

We are here today to review the recommendations of the Mechanism on the effectiveness of the implementation of the many sanctions against UNITA and to consider appropriate action against the sanctions-busters. . . .

In the case of the diamonds sanctions, modes of circumvention similar to those being used in the Sierra Leone sanctions as described in the Ayafor report appear to have been used to conceal the true origin of diamonds from UNITA mines. These include the potential loopholes found in the Swiss tax-free zones. However, a serious allegation was made in paragraph 181 of the Mechanism's report: that well known clients of De Beers are knowingly buying rough diamonds from UNITA. This and other questionable methods uncovered by the Mechanism require further investigation as to the validity of the findings.

On the issue of sanctions-busting, the report mentions some familiar names. On the use of aircraft for sanctions-busting, Victor Bout has been identified as a key player, as has Air Cess. The countries named in the report as being the countries of origin for arms exports to UNITA, and those accused of complicity in permitting the forging of end-user certificates for arms imports, should address the issues raised in the report.

What is most disturbing in the Mechanism's report are the common criminals described in it, namely Victor Bout, Fred Rindel and the European network connection  --  they are "common" because they appear to be the same individuals named in the Ayafor report for activities linked to the trade in illicit diamonds and arms in relation to Sierra Leone. If sanctions-busters continue to be "rewarded" and not punished for their acts, the damage will not be limited to the exploitation of the resources of Angola. It will undermine the credibility of the United Nations itself, because the sanctions imposed against UNITA are one of the tools of the Security Council for carrying out its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

(Note that Fred Rindel, mentioned in the same breath, came up in the N4610 scandal in connection to Dodson Aircraft.)

UPDATE: There is a new Financial Times story, UK set to support sanctions on arms dealer:

ritain is now expected to support French demands to freeze the assets of arms trafficker Victor Bout, amid growing signs that Washington may also drop its objections to action being taken against him.

The decision by the UK has emerged since a controversy erupted when it became clear that the US and UK were seeking other ways to target Mr Bout. The Ukrainian is living in Moscow. One of his companies is said by several diplomats to be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq.


The rules are "Grab whom you must. Do what you want."

Just in case we've forgotten that Rumsfeld Should Resign, the new Seymour Hersh piece, The Grey Zone, is up on The New Yorker site. It starts well:

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 elite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

There's some fascinating stuff here. Rumsfeld, reacting in frustration to the legalistic hurdles to shooting suspected al Qaida targets whenever they were in our sites, found a workaround:

Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he authorized the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate "high value" targets in the Bush Administration's war on terror. A special-access program, or sap�\subject to the Defense Department's most stringent level of security�\was set up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon. The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps. America's most successful intelligence operations during the Cold War had been saps, including the Navy's submarine penetration of underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and construction of the Air Force's stealth bomber. All the so-called "black" programs had one element in common: the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to conclude that the normal military classification restraints did not provide enough security.

"Rumsfeld's goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target�\a standup group to hit quickly," a former high-level intelligence official told me. "He got all the agencies together�\the C.I.A. and the N.S.A.�\to get pre-approval in place. Just say the code word and go." The operation had across-the-board approval from Rumsfeld and from Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser. President Bush was informed of the existence of the program, the former intelligence official said.

The people assigned to the program worked by the book, the former intelligence official told me. They created code words, and recruited, after careful screening, highly trained commandos and operatives from America's lite 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."

I look at the passage "Do the people working the problem have to use aliases? Yes. and think immediately of the untraceable "John Israel." Hersh quotes a former intelligence official as saying, "The rules are �eGrab whom you must. Do what you want.'"

This goes on for a while, but the CIA objected:

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. "They said, �eNo 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'"�\the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. "The C.I.A.'s legal people objected," and the agency ended its SAP involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

With the legally cautious out of the way, the Pentagon could do as it pleased. Hersh points to "The Arab Mind," a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai as the "bible" for neocons on how to deal with Arabs:

The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. "The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world," Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, "or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private." The Patai book, an academic told me, was "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior." In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged�\"one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation."

I won't try to summarize the whole thing. But Hersh has done a remarkable job of outing a covert program run amok, a program that can only be stopped by its public outing since all the normal safeguards have failed.

The Pentagon reacts by calling the article "conspiratorial," a less than substantive response.

ALSO. Lost Pages has a good analysis of how torture practices abroad come home to roost: Forced to Stand:  An Expert Torture by Darius Rejali.

SEE ALSO, Newsweek's The Roots of Torture (via Atrios) and then go recover your sense of humor by reading Fafblog's piece on nation-wrecking.


Horror Turned Inside-Out

Fafblog contemplates horror in non-fiction:
Horrorblogging

I mean how many times in this war can you talk about how "atrocities are horrible" or "atrocities are nightmarishly horrible" or "dear god please please stop these atrocities" before words like "atrocities" begin to have about as much rhetorical weight as words like "toaster pastries"?

What are we supposed to say at this point? Let's really, REALLY try to kill the terrorists now? That this latest death-maiming is really the last straw on the death-maiming camel's back? Giblets has become desensitized to reality at this point. Maybe the worst part about this is that reality is starting to desensitize me to fiction. Giblets is more likely to commit fictional violence now that he has seen so much real horror on television.

Brin ZDNN: Your book is

Brin

ZDNN: Your book is about how society becomes transparent, meaning that there are no blocks to information. Does that mean no privacy?

Brin:  That depends on how you define privacy. If it means anonymity -- walking in public with a blithe assurance no one knows who you are -- forget it.
MBR>Cameras are proliferating like locusts. In Britain they've tied in face-recognition systems to scan pedestrians in search of wanted criminals. Nothing you or I do will stop this. No law will prevent it. Banning the cameras will only drive this technology underground and ensure it's monopolized by some elite group.

But there's another kind of privacy. The security of your home. Your personal safety. The feeling that no one can persecute you, even if they know what goods you buy and where you've been. This kind of privacy has always depended on knowing more -- on being able to see and catch any Peeping Tom, on knowing the secrets of the elite so they don't dare persecute you, on being left alone because you are a free, knowledgeable and sovereign citizen, and therefore too powerful for anyone to capriciously abuse. Attempting to blind your enemies will fail, especially if they are mighty.


Another Good Reason for Rumsfeld to Resign

As the Washington Post notes in an editorial this morning, Rumsfeld's defense of a double-standard for treatment of prisoners endangers American soldiers:

Now Mr. Pace and Mr. Wolfowitz have said the techniques approved by Mr. Sanchez would be illegal if used on Americans; Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Myers say they are fine as applied to Iraqis. But there are not separate Geneva Conventions for Americans and for the rest of the world. We learned this week that the Pentagon approved the use of hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, intimidation by dogs and prolonged solitary confinement as legal under the Geneva Conventions. By defending that policy, Mr. Rumsfeld is further harming America's reputation while sanctioning the use of similar techniques on captured Americans around the world. Instead of defending their use, the administration should be disavowing them and rededicating itself to international law. 

If Rumsfeld can't understand that international law applies to him and to those under his command, he should be out of a job for that reason alone. There are a number of other reasons he should resign, but that one all by itself is sufficient.

But while he's still there, The New York Times has some suggestions for Bush and Rumsfeld:

There are things Mr. Bush can do quickly to demonstrate the American commitment to the decent treatment of Iraqi prisoners without jeopardizing the fairness of the coming trials of the soldiers charged with inexcusable actions at Abu Ghraib. The first is to drop the  Camp Redemption foolishness, remove the prisoners from Abu Ghraib  and raze the entire compound, a symbol of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror that has become a symbol of American brutality. Beyond that, the president should take these steps:

ŗOrder Mr. Rumsfeld to get military intelligence personnel out of the business of overseeing the detention and interrogation of Iraqi prisoners; an overwhelming majority of the prisoners have no intelligence value.

ŗBan private contractors from American military prisons.

ŗTake all of the available trained military prison guards and send them to Iraq to relieve the exhausted troops who are doing work for which they were never prepared.

ŗOrder Mr. Rumsfeld to  immediately issue new regulations that not only say  that prisoners and detainees must be treated according to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions, but also ban, one by one, the harsh practices inflicted on prisoners.

CACI UPDATE: The only puzzling work in the following passage, from the Globe and Mail's article "Fund may dump firms linked to Iraq prison scandal," is may:

CACI International Inc. and Titan Corp. may be removed from the Calvert Social Index, a list of "socially responsible" companies, following allegations their employees were involved in abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

The index's research department has recommended eliminating the companies from the list, research director Julie Gorte said.

Calvert Group uses the list to screen about $3.2-billion (U.S.) worth of investments in companies that meet its criteria for human rights, product safety, environmental impact and other issues, for inclusion in its Social Index Fund and other funds.

MEANWHILE, The New York Times has really grim statements by Specialist Jeremy Sivits  given last January (released by he attorney for another soldier) which portray an environment of casual, cheerful sadism at Abu Ghraib; torturing prisoners as a form of entertainment. While his testimony portrays the abuse as something kept secret from higher-ups, he is not discussing actual interrogation, but rather something purely recreational. For me, this makes his terstimony all the more horrifying. I wonder what will come out when has is court-martialed. He's going first because he has agreed to testify against others.


Dinner

Imagine a dinner at which an 18-month-old who has just apprehended the meaning of her brother's whoopee cushion tries to explain to you what she has discovered. The explanation involves a fair amount of explanation, (in)appropriate sounds effects, and gestures; all this delivered very earnestly. Life is strange.


Cooking with Bugs

According to the BBC, young cicadas taste like canned asperagus. And if you are into that sort of thing, because we are expecting a large hatching of 17-year cicadas in the Northeast, this summer will be a time of good eating:

It makes things easier for people who like to eat them - young cicadas are said to taste like canned asparagus.

But curious diners should take advantage of the glut as the next monster swarm is due in 2021.

Gee. It never would have occurred to me to wonder how they would taste. Seventeen years ago, when the last cicada swarm occurred, I was living in Brooklyn. No one mentioned eating them. I guess I missed out.

For those at a loss as to how to cook them, the Washington Post (back on April 16th) offered a few helpful suggestions: one easy way to serve cicada is apparently sauted with butter and parsley.

To harvet your prey, the WP suggests the following method:

There they will molt, taking about an hour to squeeze out of their dust-colored skins. Once they have broken free, it is your moment to strike: Pluck the creamy white adults off the trees. Gather as many as you desire for the culinary adventures ahead. Admire their red eyes and furled wings.

Do hurry. The exoskeletons of the newly molted adults will turn black within about 12 hours and harden over the next couple days. Once that happens, the cicadas remain eminently edible but they lose their soft-shell cachet. They're also easier to apprehend in their just-molted stage. 

And here's a more elaborate thought:

At Fahrenheit, a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown, cicadas almost made the menu this year. "The soft-shelled cicada, it's done just like a soft-shelled crab," says executive chef Frank Belosic, describing how freshly molted cicadas should be rolled in flour, pan-fried in olive oil, and finished with a sauce of white wine, butter and shallots. Served as an appetizer, the dish would have cost diners $10 or so.

But for those truly interested, Amazon offers a number of coockbooks on cooking with bugs: Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, photographs by Peter Menzel, and Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio. There is also a YA novel on this subject, Beetles, Lightly Toasted by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

I haven't yet decided to bring up this subject with my children, though Elizabeth may discover the delights of cicada on her own.

UPDATE: Check out the Washington Post's Cicadacam! Don't they look yummy?


Nicholas Berg

The Nicholas Berg story [link to NYT] is unfolding in interesting ways, and it seems to be very complex. Since this subject has already taken over my Onion thread, I thought I'd start a new thread here. My impression of the man, from superficial research, is that he's someome I would have liked who naively went to Iraq believing there were finacial opportunities in reconstruction.

Boston Globe: Mosul police chief denies detaining slain American Nicholas Berg:

Iraqi police never detained an American whose decapitated body was found last week in Baghdad, the police chief said Thursday, despite U.S. insistence that Nicholas Berg was held by local authorities here shortly before he disappeared last month.

The FBI:

Mr. Berg was interviewed by FBI Agents at an Iraqi Police Station in Mosul, Iraq, while in the custody of the Iraqi Police. Mr. Berg told Agents that he had entered Iraq through Jordan for the purpose of establishing working relationships and to acquire contracts for his business. After a thorough review of records, the FBI relayed to the U.S. military and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that no derogatory information was developed about Mr. Berg that would warrant further detention by the Iraqi Police. During interviews with Mr. Berg, FBI Agents and CPA officials emphasized to him the dangerous environment that exists in Iraq, and encouraged him to accept CPAÅfs offer to facilitate his safe passage out of Iraq. Mr. Berg refused these offers. The CPA coordinated with the Iraqi police for Mr. BergÅfs release on 4/6/04. He also refused government offers to advise his family and friends of his status.

AP [in the NJ Star Ledger]:

On April 5, the Bergs sued the government in federal court in Philadelphia, contending their son was being held illegally. In a writ filed that day in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the Bergs said the State Department told them their son "is currently detained in Mosul, Iraq, by the United States military" and that American diplomats "no longer" had "any authority or power to intervene" on his behalf.

Berg was released the day after the suit was filed. His family said he told them he had not been mistreated. They did not hear from him after April 9 -- when violence flared in Iraq because of the U.S. Marines' siege of Fallujah and a Shi'a uprising in the south.

Several days later, diplomats received an e-mail from Berg's family that "noted he had not been in contact," Shannon said.

It does seem to me that it is not a coincidence that Berg seems to have been bagged by his murderers only days after his parents' lawsuit sprung him from jail. The NYT mentions troublesome jailhouse rumors that required giving him his own cell:

He conjectured that [the FBI's] questions arose from some Farsi literature and a book about Iran that he had. Mr. Berg wrote that after four days he was transferred to a cellblock that included prisoners charged with petty offenses and suspected "war criminals."

"Word had spread due to the presence of certain items amongst my stuff that I was Israeli," Mr. Berg wrote. "So I felt a bit like Arlo Guthrie walking into a jail full of mother rapers and father stabbers as an accused litterbug."

The American military police, in fact, "were pretty stand-up," he wrote. "They heard the chants of Yehudien, Israelein, and told the I.P. prison staff to put me in my own cell."

"I did get on much friendlier terms with the other prisoners after they discovered I could speak a little Arabic and verified I didn't have horns or anything," Mr. Berg said.

UPDATE: For reasons best known to Google, this entry seems to have attracted over 2,000 visitors directed here by search engines. Welcome people. Do have a look around the rest of this weblog.

FURTHER UPDATE: There is a Nicholas Berg Memorial web site that has stories from people who knew him. Also, a memorial fund has been set up. You can donate to it via PayPal.


The New Onion Is Up

I've been awaiting the new issue of The Onion to see what their staff could do with recent events. Well, it's out:

What Do You think: Iraqi Prisoner Abuse

Point Counterpoint features a debate, of sorts, on the wisdom of killing wheelchair bound people with missiles.

MEANWHILE, for a change of pace, CNN is reporting on UFOs: Mexican Air Force pilots film unidentified objects. I am tempted to find a way to weave this story into recent discussions of mercenaries and the activities of private military firms. But I won't because I'm sure some of you might not realize that I was kidding.

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF HUMOR, about.com has a collection of Donald Rumsfeld jokes compiled by Daniel Kurtzman from latenight TV shows (which I never see because I go to bed early). My favorite is this one:

President Bush said he will not punish Donald Rumsfeld. Which is good, because no one wants to see pictures of a naked, old man." —Craig Kilborn


Is John Israel a Pseudonym?

5/23/04 UPDATE
See my new post on John Israel.

For the second time today, my correspondent lidiavolgina has dug me up a good link. In this case, she points me to a new story that discusses whether the "John Israel" mentioned in the Taguba report is an Israeli os another name; that "John Israel" is a pseudonym. Regular readers of this blog will remember that there is some question of by whom he was employed.
Although it is still largely undocumented if any of the contractor named in the report of General Antonio Taguba were associated with the Israeli military or intelligence services, it is noteworthy that one, John Israel, who was identified in the report as being employed by both CACI International of Arlington, Virginia, and Titan, Inc., of San Diego, may not have even been a U.S. citizen. The Taguba report states that Israel did not have a security clearance, a requirement for employment as an interrogator for CACI. According to CACI's web site, "a Top Secret Clearance (TS) that is current and US citizenship" are required for CACI interrogators working in Iraq. In addition, CACI requires that its interrogators "have at least two years experience as a military policeman or similar type of law enforcement/intelligence agency whereby the individual utilized interviewing techniques."

Speculation that "John Israel" may be an intelligence cover name has fueled speculation whether this individual could have been one of a number of Israeli interrogators hired under a classified contract. Because U.S. citizenship and documentation thereof are requirements for a U.S. security clearance, Israeli citizens would not be permitted to hold a Top Secret clearance. However, dual U.S.-Israeli citizens could have satisfied Pentagon requirements that interrogators hold U.S. citizenship and a Top Secret clearance. Although the Taguba report refers twice to Israel as an employee of Titan, the company claims he is one of their sub-contractors. CACI stated that one of the men listed in the report "is not and never has been a CACI employee" without providing more detail. A U.S. intelligence source revealed that in the world of intelligence "carve out" subcontracts such confusion is often the case with "plausible deniability" being a foremost concern.

Wayne Madsen, the author of the article speculates that "shadowy group of former Israeli Defense Force and General Security Service (Shin Bet) Arabic-speaking interrogators were hired by the Pentagon under a classified 'carve out' sub-contract." It bears mentioning that Israel has some private military firms of its own. Here I quote from P. W. Singer's Corporate Warriors, p. 13-14: Several prominent firms are based in Israel, such as Levdan, which was active in the Congo; Ango-Sengu Ltd., which was reportedly in Angola; and Silver Shadows, which worked in Columbia. . . . . an Israeli military firm, Spearhead Ltd., is rumored to have provided combat training and support to the drug cartels and antigovernment militias. Globalsecurity.org also has an article on private military firms in Israel, though the focus of the article is primarily on the purveyors of hardware.

MEANWHILE, here is another ex-prisoner's account.

ALSO, Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com has a good close reading of Taguba's testimony in relation to Steve Stefanowicz and John Israel. He points out that one of the few facts known about John Israel is the London Telegraph's report that he has "left Iraq." Actually, there's one more thing we can be sure of: that, like Steven Stefanowicz, he has not yet been arrested for his role in this.


Taguba Testifies

This morning, Army Major Gen. Antonio M. Taguba testified before the Senate Armed Services committee:

At the same time, questions about ultimate responsibility for control of the Abu Ghraib prison produced a disagreement between Taguba and Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Taguba said that control had been turned over to military intelligence officials.

Cambone said that was incorrect, and it resided with the military police.

In a further disagreement, Taguba said it was against Army rules for intelligence troops to involve MPs in setting conditions for interrogations. Cambone said he believed it was appropriate for the two groups to collaborate.

Taguba also told the committee his investigation had not found "any order whatsoever, written or otherwise," that directed the military police to cooperate with intelligence forces at the prison.

Regardless of any disagreements, Cambone and others told the panel that troops in Iraq were under orders to abide by the Geneva Conventions, which dictate terms for humane treatment of prisoners.

"An order to soften up a detainee would not be a legal order, would it?" asked Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

"No sir," replied Lt. Gen. Lance F. Smith, the deputy director of the U.S. Central Command.

Taguba told the panel that his investigators had been told about participation by "other government agencies or contractors" in the abuse.

Other government agencies is a euphemism for the CIA.

Cambone, too, was asked whether he had any knowledge of CIA involvement in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

"There were people brought by agency personnel to that place. ... There may have been interrogations conducted by the agency personnel while they were there," he said.

CNN seems to be reading the testimony as a confirmation of the Bad Apples hypothesis since there were no direct written orders for torture. The AP seems to see it differently: as a confirmation that the failure was throughout the heirarchy because there were no written orders for the degree of collaboration between the military police and military intelligence that was expected by the administration.


Wall Street & CACI

I enjoy the wryness of The Financial Times. They have a nice write-up on the CACI conference call of the other day:

Wall Street asks the easy questions

Wall Street stock analysts have taken considerable heat for the deference they showed chief executives during the bull market years. So, given the chance to question executives from the company that employed private interrogators implicated in the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Observer would think they would do a bit of hard-nosed interrogating themselves.

Not a chance.

During a conference call last week hosted by CACI, the Virginia-based contractor named in an Army report, most analysts struck a gentle tone with chief executive J.P. London. Some, such as John Mahoney of Raymond James, were effusive in their praise.

"I think you're doing an excellent job and I appreciate how you're dealing with this," Mahoney said, refering to the matter as a "quote-unquote scandal".

Mahoney's affection was all the more remarkable since CACI has not disciplined or suspended any of its employees working in Iraq, including one who an Army general recommended be fired for his alleged role in the abuses.

That employee was still at work and doing "a damned fine job" in Iraq, according to CACI's president of US operations Ken Johnson, who thanked Mahoney for an "excellent question".

Mahoney recommends purchase of CACI stock:

NEW YORK, May 7 (New Ratings) - In a research note published yesterday, analyst John T Mahoney of Raymond James maintains his "strong buy" rating on CACI International Inc (CA8A.ETR). The target price is set to $55.00.

I feel I really need to ask: Is Mahoney crazy?

MEANWHILE, a prosector from the Nuremburg trials weighs in with a NYT letter to the editor:

To the Editor:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's declaration that the United States supports the rule of law was gratifying (excerpts from the Congressional hearing, May 8). It might have been more convincing if  we had not repudiated the International Criminal Court and continued to pressure other countries into guaranteeing that no American would ever be sent to The Hague for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Credibility suffers when we approve international law, but only for others.

BENJAMIN B. FERENCZ

New Rochelle, N.Y., May 8, 2004 The writer was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

(Via bellatrys in the Electrolite comments).

IN THE COMMENTS, lidiovolgina points us toward a new piece in the Guardian: Brutality: the home truths

In an interview with an online magazine, Corrections.com, last January, Lane McCotter described Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison at the centre of the torture scandal, as "the only place we agreed as a team was truly closest to an American prison".

Rarely has a truer word been spoken. And rarely has there been a more appropriate person than McCotter to utter them. He was head of Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 when Michael Valent, a prisoner diagnosed with schizophrenia died after he was strapped to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said the first word that came to mind when she saw the chair was "torture". McCotter resigned as the scandal gathered pace, went into the lucrative world of private prison management and last year directed the reopening of Abu Ghraib. 


Afterimages

David's got the digital camera with him at Candadian sales conference. Otherwise, I would take a picture for you of the marvellous sunrise this morning. It rained over night; a band of thunderstorms passed through, and so the air is clean and humid and the yard is very wet and green. Leaking through the trees is an almost syruppy orange light. The sun, obscured by mist and trees has a buttery, edible aspect to it, or did a moment ago when I began this sentence. Now it has moved higher in the sky, clearing the thin layer of clouds on the horizon, and so, having stared at the sun to describe it, I now have the usual problem of afterimages obscuring my vision.

A small wild rabbit just ran by. At first I thought it was a squirrel, until I saw the tail. Because of the atmospheric conditions, the train whistle from the center of Chappaqua carries better than usual, though it is almost drowned out by the chirping of many kinds of birds. The air smells like a greenhouse: a humid and powerfully green and growing smell.

Today I resolve to try to stay off the Internet until I have delt with matters at hand. I'm sipping coffee sweetened with a spoon of blackstrap molasses, a taste I'm quite fond of now. (Yes, I'm back on coffee; but the molasses adds more calcium to my body than the caffeine can carry off.)

After days nearly two weeks of contemplating Abu Ghraib, the afterimages are obscuring my view of day-to-day life. Perhaps I will buy plants today. I remember a time about eight or nine years ago when I had spent way too much time with computers and I went outside in the yard. I saw some ants, tiny ants. I marvelled at how high-rez they were, how many indentifiable ants could be in such a small space. I wonder what I will observe today.

MEANWHILE, in my email I find this announcement about our friend Paul Levinson:

Paul Levinson will be on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" this coming Wednesday (May 12), in their second hour (3PM in most areas of the country) talking for about 45 minutes about his new nonfiction book:

CELLPHONE The Story of the World's Most Mobile Medium, and How It Has Transformed Everything!

In the New York area, the segment will air on Wednesday May 12 in the 3PM-4PM hour, on WNYE, 91.5FM. Check your local radio listings (or http://www.npr.org/wheretohear/?prgId=5) for time and station in your area.

And if you miss the broadcast, the interview should be available on the Web at http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/ after 6PM Wednesday evening.

Paula Guran

Horror editor and critic Paula Guran [url fixed] has a new blog. She rants about the state of reviewing.

Okay, so I am glancing through my new issue of LOCUS (#520) and I come across a favorable review of a book that does not even deserve ink in the magazine. Am I the only reviewer in the world who wants to pick up other reviewers by their (no doubt ass-like) ears and shake sense into them?

Probably.

No one else is prone to such violence (except the occasional author and possibly a publisher or two, but they tend to be passionless or at least publicly polite about review) over something that Really Does Not Matter. What I write or anyone writes about a book has incredibly little impact on the buying public.

Maybe THATÅfs my problem.

Feh.

Hers is a healthy response to reading book reviews, one that leads to serious and intelligent people devoting their copious free time to reviewing books. She's wrong that reviews have no impact, but that's OK.

This is a blog to watch.

(Via Locus.)


injustice anywhere . . .

The new New Yorker piece is up:
CHAIN OF COMMAND by SEYMOUR M. HERSH How the Department of Defense mishandled the disaster at Abu Ghraib.

I read some of it last night. Here's a choice bit:

One lingering mystery is how Ryder could have conducted his review last fall, in the midst of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, without managing to catch it. (Ryder told a Pentagon press briefing last week that his trip to Iraq Ågwas not an inspection or an investigation. . . . It was an assessment.Åh) .. .

Ryder may have protected himself, but Taguba did not. ÅgHeÅfs not regarded as a hero in some circles in the Pentagon,Åh a retired Army major general said of Taguba. ÅgHeÅfs the guy who blew the whistle, and the Army will pay the price for his integrity. The leadership does not like to have people make bad news public.Åh

We have a subscription to The New Yorker, but last week's issue with Hersh's first story came only as an empty wrapper. (Got to call the subscription office today.) I'd read it online, but I wanted to look at the hardcopy, as that is a better medium for deeper contemplation.

Kicking around the living room, I noticed the Feb. 16 & 23rd issue (a special anniversary double issue) which has in it a fascinating piece by David Grann, "The Brand: the Most Violent Prison Gang in America." It concerns the prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood, also known as The Brand, and it is in its way as eye-opening as Hersh's recent pieces and I think sheds some light on an American crisis that underpins the current prison scandal. It appeared only in the print edition of The New Yorker (so you'll just have to get ahold of a copy of the magazine to read it) but there is an online interview with Grann about the piece available on The New Yorker's web site. There's a lot of other information available online about the Aryan Brotherhood, for example, FBI files. But I've already decided that this is not an area in which I want to develop an expertise.

However, here is the general upshot of the Grann article:

Authorities had once dismissed the Aryan Brotherhood as a fringe white-supremacist gang; now however, they concluded that what prisoners had claimed for decades was true -- namely that the gang's hundred or so members, all convicted felons, had gradually taken control of large parts of the nation's maximum security prisons, ruling over thousands of inmates and transforming themselves into a powerful criminal organization.

The Brand, authorities say, established drug-trafficking, prostitution, and extortion racket in prisons throughout the country. Its leaders, often working out of barren cells in solitary confinement, allegedly ordered scores of stabbings and murders. They killed rival gang members; they killed blacks and homosexuals and child molesters; they killed snitches; they killed people who stole their drugs, or owed them a few hundred dollars; they killed prison guards; they killed for hire and for free; they killed, most of all, to impose a culture of terror that would solidify their power. And because the Brotherhood is far more cloistered than other gangs, it was able to operate largely with impunity for decades -- and remains all but invisible to the outside world.

What he describes is a prison system in which the internal workings are increasingly under control of the most violent inmates who gain and retain control by the most brutal methods and are able to do so because the legal system takes little interest in prosecuting "N.H.I." crimes (No Humans Involved), "because the victims are considered to be as unsympathetic as the preps." Once members of the Brotherhood started getting paroled, thus expanding the organizations criminal reach out into our world, law enforcement became more concerned. Apparently, things had gotten as far as the Brotherhood planning bombings:

. . . a longtime reputed A.B. member confided to authorities that he had been approached at the supermax [an ultra-maximum security prison] in Colorado by the gang and asked for technical help in making bombs. The gang, he was informed, was planning terrorist attacks on federal facilities across the United States. "It's becoming irrational," he told authorities after declining to help. "They're talking about car bombs, truck bombs, and mail bombs."

Just when the Brotherhood seemed poised to take a particularly violent turn, Jessner unleashed the United States Marshals. Nearly four decades after the gang was born, it found itself under seige.

Discussion of where things went wrong in Abu Ghraib has focused largely on the inexperience of those running the place, on the disintegration of the chain of command, of where things are wrong elsewhere in military prisons or in prisons holding terrorists. And there is also an occasional chorus in the background, saying that this is what all American prisons are like; that The Man behaves like this everywhere. There is something to these positions.

However, what I get out of Grann's article is that the American civilian prison system is facing a crisis of a type that teaches prison guards and those running prisons that the legally sanctioned methods of controlling inmates don't work; teaches them that their charges are subhuman savages not deserving of the legal protections they enjoy. From my reading of Grann's article, it seems to me that the rise of the Aryan Brotherhood could have been prevented if the legal system had been willing to investigate and prosecute "N. H. I." crimes; that this tale of American prisons illustrates Samuel Johnson's maxim An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. And the contagion of cruelty from civilian prisons to military prisons illustrated Martin Luther King's transmutation of Johnson's maxim, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

While human rights abuses perpetrated by jailers occur in American prisons, and such problems do have relevance to Abu Ghraib, it seems to me that the crisis Grann describes, and its effects on the penal system have at least as much to do with what happened to produce the current scandal in Iraq.

MEANWHILE, The Wall Street Journal has the Red Cross Report. And here's the WSJ story that goes with it.

PS: Here's a good joke from Dohiyi Mir:

Q: What do you call it when the "best SecDef ever" is fired?
A: A very good start.

AND DON'T MISS Michael Brub on Joe Lieberman:

For Abu Ghraib presents us with a real moral crisis, and by "real" I mean "as opposed to the moral crisis posed by oral sex in the Oval Office." (Which, by the way, was sleazy and colossally stupid, though not quite unconstitutional. For the record, I oppose oral sex in the Oval Office, and I promise to work to stop it whenever it occurs. But I mention this only because Lieberman's denunciation of Clinton from the Senate floor is what got him a spot on the Gore ticket and a shot at national prominence in the first place.) To put this another way: this is the worst military and geopolitical scandal in a generation, and anyone who doesn't realize it just isn't worth taking seriously-- about this or anything else.
(Via Atrios.)

AND ALSO, go read Fafblog's Conscience: the next greatest threat in the war on terror. This satire captures the distilled essence of some of the more loathesome arguments I've seen out there on the web in places I won't link to:

Were the atrocities committed in Abu Ghraib horrifying? Indeed. But more horrifying still would be a military unable or unequipped to deal with the Forces of Terror. Americans have seen the torture and the raping, certainly, but they haven't seen the intelligence gleaned from said torture and raping - and the lives saved, pipelines constructed, and schools built because of that intelligence. Can the West really afford to have an Iraqi insurgent's pride in his unexposed genitalia - his unexposed, terrorist genitalia - come between US troops and a shipment of arms bound for a Baathist cell? Can American children sleep safely if a prisoner's unelectrocuted testicles - unelectrocuted Islamist testicles - prevent him from confessing the location of a suicide bomber, or his participation in late night Black Sabbaths to summon Beelzebub amongst a coven of witches?

Quantum Mechanics Update: A Note from Afshar

See the preprint of Afshar's paper on IRIMS here.

This morning, I received a note from physicist Shahriar S. Afshar, whose experiment I discussed in my post Quantum Mechanics: Not Just a Matter of Interpretation (April 26th).

He says:

Dear Kathryn,

Having read some of the comments on your Blog, I wanted to quickly inform you that:

1) A peer-reviewed publication of my experiment is upcoming within the next 1-2 months.
2) A popular science magazine is doing a story on my experiment and it will appear within the next few weeks.
3) I am in the process of setting up a web page dedicated to the experiment and will probably set up a chat forum within the next couple of months.
4) Other experiments are on the way.
5) There may be a seminar set up for Fall on Bohr-Einstein debate, and I will also give a talk on my experiment.
6) I am under an embargo at this time and cannot make public statements on the experiment, results, and its implications, but will at length discuss them in 2-3 separate papers within the next few months. . . .

Best regards,

Shahriar S. Afshar

Another Close Reading of the Taguba Report

Here's another close reading of the Taguba report, this time by someone who says I am a former Military Intelligence Analyst/Interrogator of 15 years service. Some of the points made will be familiar to those who've been following this; some are over my head; but this one is clear enough:

5. Why is the Taguba report classified Secret/NOFORN (no Foriegn governement dissemination) when it is a formal US Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) investigation ?:

TORTURE REPORT MAY HAVE BROKEN CLASSIFICATION RULES http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2004/05/050504.html Posted May 5, 2004 09:33 PM PST By classifying an explosive report on the torture of Iraqi prisoners as "Secret," the Pentagon may have violated official secrecy policies, which prohibit the use of classification to conceal illegal activities.

My Comment: I suggest it had been classified SECRET/NOFORN because of the oblique, passing references that clearly indicate sanctioned, systemic, patently criminal, multi-theatre practices since at least 9/11 discussed above in para 2 & 3.
Interesting stuff.

Taguba Being Reassigned

Via Phil Carter, a news release from the Department of Defense:

General Officer Announcements

The Chief of Staff, Army announces the assignment of the following general officers:

Major General James W. Parker, Director, Center for Operations, Plans and Policy, United States Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida to Commanding General, United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Major General Antonio M. Taguba, Deputy Commanding General (Support), Third United States Army, Camp Doha, Kuwait to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, Training and Mobilization, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Washington, DC.

Brigadier General John C. Woods, Deputy Director for Operations, National Military Command Center, J-3, The Joint Staff, Washington, DC to Deputy Commanding General, Combined Arms Center for Training, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Carter remarks:

Uh... doesn't this guy need to stay in the CENTCOM area of responsibility for some reason? Wouldn't he be a good resource to keep in theater for investigators to talk to? I don't understand the timing or wisdom of this move. I should be clear that I don't think there's anything improper here. This is almost surely a normal personnel move, to be conducted during the summer reassignment season. However, the timing couldn't be worse, could it?

MEANWHILE, The family of Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, have sent up a web site for his defense which includes a "Free Chip Frederick" petition. The site could get interetsing as things progress. Kevin Drum and others have speculated that Frederick's attorney was the source of the leaked Taguba report. I'm not sure I believe that because of the unsavory portrait the report paints of Frederick. But in any case, the family is working aggressively on his defense.

UPDATE 5/11/04: The
NYT
on the transfer:

The Pentagon announced Friday that he would soon take a new post in Washington as a deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs, a move that in Army culture is not seen as a major promotion.

not open to the universe

Having never, um, actually tried to get pregnant (the furthest I ever went was thinking about trying, and that was sufficient) I don't feel I ought to comment over at Chez Miscarriage, an excellent blog on infertility, but this annecdote is too good not to blog:

I had an appointment with [my massage therapist] yesterday. I did everything he asked - I contemplatively sipped the herbal tea, I directed the intention of my breath into the soles of my feet, I closed my eyes and visited my quiet place. I even acquiesced to a new ritual, the pre-massage consumption of organic apricots. But as I sat there in his office, sipping the tea and politely declining more apricots lest there not be enough for his next client, my massage therapist did a bad, bad thing.

Chris Isaak randomly sings:
ÅgMasseuse did a bad bad thing / Masseuse did a bad bad thing.Åh


God, I hate it when he does that. Can somebody please tell Chris to shut up?

So anyway, all of a sudden, my massage therapist asserted, "I know why you're having miscarriages."

I knew right then that it was going to be bad. His statement had the air of impending social disaster about it, just like "Well, as long as we're being honest," or "I didn't want to tell you this before, but." Nothing good could possibly follow an introduction like that.

I quietly ate another apricot.

He said, "Your focus is too small. You're not open to the universe."

This is tragically funny, which is, I think, the spirit in which it is given. Read the rest. It is really fine black humor which is at the same time illuminating about the real feelings of a real person.

MEANWHILE, Kevin Maroney, who is sitting in our livingroom, directs our attention to a fine rant from Ornicus: Media Revolt: A Manifesto. Go read. Enjoy!


Halliburton Pulling the Plug on GI Communications

A week after a scandal broke involving photos of American troops torturing Iraqi prisoners, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root is pulling the plug on private electronic communications with the folks back home, apparently at the request of the Department of Defence. See, for example, this note from military blogger ginmar:

I might be getting transferred within the next week to another post. At the very least, KBR is not allowing any private computers on their system for the next ninety days. There might be one other option, but if you don't hear from me for a while...God, I don't know what I'll do about the kitty.

. . . I told them when I got here that I couldn't drive. They insisted on giving me a license. Now they're angry at me because I'm not comfortable driving. Go figure. The fact that this happened almost immediately after SB and I had an argument about it and then it came to someone else's attention is purely coincidental, I'm sure.

Edited to add: Screw it. No matter what it takes, I will get to my email.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden remarks:

Email from a friend with contacts among American troops in Iraq prompts me to wish some journalist would investigate reports that the military has ordered KBR, which provides net connectivity for US camps and bases in Iraq, to cut off all soldiersf ginessentialh access to email and the net for the next 90 days.

The Bush administration has faced rising criticism over the course of the week, with many calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. Vice President Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton before his departure to become the Vice President of the United States.


Who's on First?

"No, we are not in the background investigation business," J.P. London, chief executive of CACI, said in an interview Thursday. -- NYT

Our cable modem connection is still down, so I'm on a fairly slow dialup connection. [Fixed now. Hooray! -KC]

So I have only the most superficial idea of what came out yesterday in Rumsfeld's testimony, but it seems that Rumsfeld is aware of some of the same material Sy Hersh alluded to.

There is an eloquent opinion piece on the hearings in the NYT this morning:

The destructive stress created by the administration's lack of preparation was distressingly evident yesterday, when the hearings revealed that the members of the Army Reserve military police detachment stationed at Abu Ghraib had been sent to Iraq without being trained as ordinary prison guards, much less for the nightmarish duty they would face. Mr. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon witnesses said those untrained part-time soldiers had been put under the supervision of military intelligence officers who farmed out interrogation work to private contractors. That inexplicable chain of shifted responsibility violated not just any sort of common sense, but also military rules.

Although the Army's own report said the guards had been told by intelligence officers and their consultants to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation by depriving them of sleep and subjecting them to pain and humiliation, Mr. Rumsfeld said he "cannot conceive" that they thought their actions were condoned or encouraged. When he insisted that the normal rules for handling prisoners were in effect, several senators reminded him that he had said in January 2002 that suspected terrorists were not covered by the Geneva Convention.

Mr. Rumsfeld told the senators that his remarks about ignoring the international rules on the treatment of prisoners applied only to people captured in Afghanistan, not Iraq. That was a fine distinction some of the minimally prepared guards at Abu Ghraib may not have grasped, particularly since they were never instructed on the rules of the Geneva Convention. Like most Americans, however, they had heard their commander in chief paint the war in Iraq as an antiterrorism campaign.

MEANWHILE, more details are emerging about CACI's Steve Stefanowicz. He has a sweetheart in Adelaide, Australia, to whom he wants to return. Strategically, that would be a smart move, since it would take him out of the reach of the long arm of the law: if the Bush administration decided to use what frail legal bases Bremer left standing for disciplining civilian contractors, Stefanowicz would have to be charged either in Iraq or in the U. S. And given the legal twilight under which contractors could be charged, it is doubtful that an extradition would either be asked for or granted. Here's Stefanowicz  as chronicled in  The Australian:

  STEVE Stefanowicz, the civilian at the centre of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal enveloping the White House, wrote to an Adelaide friend on Thursday, saying he wanted to leave Iraq.

"It's safe to say I've seen enough for a lifetime here in Iraq and it's definitely time to come home," the 35-year-old said in an email.

Friends contacted yesterday by The Weekend Australian say Stefanowicz, a former US navy reservist, wants to return to his life in Adelaide, where he became engaged to an Australian and worked in IT sales for 18 months until October 2001.

"He's coming back to Australia shortly - he feels like Adelaide is his home," said one acquaintance from the IT industry.

Apparently, the emerging Stefanowicz excuse is his anger about 9/11:

But friends in Adelaide say it was the shock of the September 11 attacks in New York that spurred him to volunteer for active duty in the Middle East.

"He'd been in touch with some of his reserve friends in the US, and they'd said to come back (because) there are a lot of things moving on this," the friend said. "He's a heck of a nice guy but when he saw (September 11) happen he felt he had to go forward and join on a more permanent basis."

A week after the September 11 attacks, Stefanowicz's reaction was reported in an Adelaide newspaper.

"It was one of the most incredible and most devastating things I have ever seen," he said. "I have been in constant contact with my family and friends in the US and the mood was very solemn and quiet. But this is progressing into anger."

The Philadelphia Daily News is reporting  that in 2001, Stephanowicz told a friend he was going to work for the CIA:

Meanwhile, another Australian friend told the Daily News in an e-mail that in fall 2001 "Steve announced to all of his friends that he was leaving Adelaide to return to America to work for the Central Intelligence Agency."

"The events of 9/11 had nothing to do with his motivation to return to the U.S.," South Philadelphia native Sam Krupsky, now an executive with the Australian Rail Track Corp., wrote. "He was out of work and out of luck, and left because he had no prospects here." . . .

The CIA did not immediately return a call from the Daily News to its headquarters in Langley, Va. Typically, the secretive spy agency does not comment on personnel matters.

Krupsky, the Australian rail-track worker who was born in Philadelphia and who moved to Adelaide in the mid-1970s to play semi-pro basketball, cast doubt on Stefanowicz's skills.

"Steve tried hard for a couple of months to find a job here, but was always unsuccessful because he kept freaking out all of his potential employers," Krupsky wrote. He said Stefanowicz had boasted to friends on his arrival in Australia that he'd turned down a job offer from the CIA.

LYNNDIE ENGLAND UPDATE, from CNN yesterday:

Army Pfc. Lynndie England -- the woman seen smiling next to naked Iraqi prisoners in several photographs that have sparked outrage around the world -- was charged Friday by the military with assaulting Iraqi detainees and conspiring to mistreat them.

England is now the seventh soldier to be charged in the widening scandal.

She faces four charges: committing an indecent act; assaulting Iraqi detainees on multiple occasions; conspiring with Spc. Charles Graner to "maltreat Iraqi detainees" and committing acts "prejudicial to good order and discipline and were of nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces through her mistreatment of Iraqi detainees."

The charges must be taken up in an Article 32 investigation, a process similar to a civilian grand jury, before they can be sent to a general court-martial.

If the case is referred to court-martial and she is convicted, England may face official reprimand, forfeiture of pay or confinement, among other penalties.  . . .

England and Graner are members of the 372nd Military Police Company, which was sent to Iraq to help guard Iraqi prisoners.

Attorney Roy G. Hardy, who appeared with family members Friday, said England is five months pregnant and that Graner is the father.

"She did have a relationship with him," Hardy said. He would not comment on the status of the couple now beyond saying, "There is a current relationship, although I don't think they get to spend much time together."

Weirder and weirder. So they guy posing in the pictures with her is her boyfriend. And regarding Graner, doesn't anyone in this whole mess do background checks? Why is this being left to the press after-the-fact?

QUIZ QUESTION: Why hasn't Stefanowicz been arrested yet?

ALSO: Further to the general subject of Iraq, do go read several fine posts from our friends, the Nielsen Haydens. From Patrick: If we only had a press [blogged above], �gJust a Few Bad Apples�h Watch, and from Teresa, User base persistence. Also their recent comments sections on posts invovling Iraq are especially thoughtful.

AN INAPPROPRIATE USE OF THE PASSIVE VOICE: From CNN, Bremer: 'Something should have been done earlier'. Perhaps Bremer would like to rephrase that using active verbs.


Let's Talk About Something Else

I wrote this first thing this morning but havenÅft been able to upload it until now. Our cable modem connection is down. -KC

This morning I'm going to talk about SOMETHING ELSE. I've been intending to do that for several mornings, but the Taguba report hit the web, derailing me. I stated writing about mercenaries and private military firms on March 10th, now nearly two months ago, jumping off from Atrios's post about N4610 and its mercenary passengers. When I started it, I never dreamed I would end up writing daily updates about our "civilian contractors" in Iraq and their involvement in war crimes. But enough about that. My cable modem connection is down and so I can't update you on the unfolding horror (at least not without walking to the other room to use David's slow dial-up connection).

Let's talk a bit about science fiction instead. David and I are trying to finish our space opera anthology, lest it get bumped out of the 2005 schedule. I have a hard time with changes in subject matter and it usually takes me a at least three days to shift from one major project to another. By nature I am a binge worker -- unencumbered by children, I work intensely on something for, say, 18 hours a day, for three days straight. This kind of work pattern can lead to fast burnout, but I've also done a lot of my best work that way. But now it's been nearly seven years since my life has availed me of that kind of time. Instead, most often I do my work while being constantly interrupted. (When Geoffrey was still living in the house and Peter was small, one day Geoffrey got mad because his practice time was being interrupted more than once an hour by me asking for help with Peter. He became even more upset when I burst out laughing and said, "how often do you think I'm interrupted? Once every five minutes? Once a minute? More than once a minute?") This pattern of attention and interruption works reasonably well for something open-ended like blogging but much less well for more goal-oriented projects. My accommodation with it is that I find my children interesting and intellectually stimulating, and so I try to take what they give me for my intellectual projects rather then resenting the interruption.

But space opera, let's talk about space opera. One issue that emerges when selecting stories for an anthology like this is that space opera is by definition fiction on a broad, sweeping canvas and that short stories are by their nature much more limited in scope. The pieces we'll use will tend to be novellas, but this book will be only half the length of The Hard SF Renaissance, and so the longer the stories, the fewer writers represented. Our working definition of space opera will have to accommodate the conflict between the genre of space opera and the genre of the short story -- an interesting problem to have.

Last weekend, we went to the Fantastic Genre's Conference in New Paltz, NY. It was an academic conference put together by Heinz Insu Fenkel and John Langen. It had three simultaneous tracks of programming, academic papers, readings, and panels. In addition to David and I, it was attended by John Clute, Elizabeth Hand, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Datlow, Delia Sherman, Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, Greg Frost, Farah Mendelsohn, Paul Witcover, and others. It was held in SUNY New Paltz's Lecture Center, so all of the program rooms would seat at least 100 more than attended any given event. The set-up worked out well for being there with the kids. Also, people were very helpful, so I got to see a good bit more of the program than I had expected.

Peter and Elizabeth did a lot of coloring with felt pens. Peter drew some fabulous monsters, and Elizabeth did a lot of self-illumination. I now have some idea of what she'll look like when she's a teenager and covered with tatoos.

I had reading in which I read both from fiction drafts and from my web log and talked about blogging as "sketching" in Rudy Rucker's transrealist sense. And I pointed out that the protagonist in my blog, as written, is a much more empowered protagonist than the woman very much like me that I had written in a fiction draft two year ago. In the long run, it is my intention to pull together my "sketches" of my life as material for the novel I will some day finish. But as I said at the conference, I already see what a difference transrealist sketching makes in the flow of events. People are more empowered than we can imagine.

I was on a panel with John Clute and Farah Mendelsohn which was partly about space opera, though we were required to wander from this topic sooner than I wanted. Clute was talking in Clutian abstractions about the new British space opera as a type of "postimperial arena fiction," and it came to me as I sat there on the panel, that especially in the context of current events -- in which the leading export of the UK is private military services -- and in the context of an inherently military literature like space opera, we need to interrogate what we mean by "postimperial." Neither the political situation nor the fiction speak to a framing of this postimperialism as we're all down at the mouth because we don't rule the world anymore. But neither is our situation the old imperialism returned. It is something new, something different, and I think something that does not yet have a name.

M. John Harrison's Light, a book I had been meaning to read, came up on the panel as an important work of the new British space opera. We'd sent our review copy out for review, so when we got home I ordered a Gollancz trade paperback and it arrived nearly immediately. (Thank you Amazon Canada.)

I've read a little less than half and am perplexed. People whose taste and judgement I respect rave about this book. I am an experienced, intelligent reader of science fiction. I feel well-able to recognize and appreciate aesthetic stances I disagree with, which I expected to be the case with Light. But so far, I haven't found much to agree or disagree with; I haven't found much at all. What I've been reading seems to me like an early draft of a Phil Dick pastiche. I feel as though I must be reading a different book than the one Jeff VanDerMeer read which he described as a brilliant book completely without padding. I feel I've been sifting through the packing peanuts and still haven't found the book. Can someone help me out here? Is there some key to understanding this that I have missed? Why am I having this reaction? It seems to me that part of the problem may be a matter of context: Trying to read the Taguba report and alternating that with an occasional chapter of a book with no sympathetic characters may be a bad idea. But surely I should be getting more out of this, even so?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Well. The sun's gone out. First thing to happen when a sky falls. -- Eyore in a Winnie the Pooh video playing in the background.


The File-Sharing Generation

Josh Marshall refers to an appearance by Seymour Hersh on O'Reilley in which Hersh raises an interesting point:

HERSH: Mr. O'Reilly, this is a generation -- you know back -- you and I in our days, if we had something, you know, we came back from war.� We would�take our pictures and hide them behind the socks in the drawer�and look at them once in a while.

This is a generation that sends stuff on CDs, sends it around.� Some kid right now is negotiating with some European magazine.�-- You know, I can't say that for sure, but it's there.�-- It's out there.� And the Army knows it.

And sure enough, the Washington Post has obtained a CD with additional photos on it:

The collection of photographs begins like a travelogue from Iraq. Here are U.S. soldiers posing in front of a mosque. Here is a soldier riding a camel in the desert. And then: a soldier holding a leash tied around a man's neck in an Iraqi prison. He is naked, grimacing and lying on the floor.

Mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by The Washington Post are photographs of naked men, apparently prisoners, sprawled on top of one another while soldiers stand around them. There is another photograph of a naked man with a dark hood over his head, handcuffed to a cell door. And another of a naked man handcuffed to a bunk bed, his arms splayed so wide that his back is arched. A pair of women's underwear covers his head and face.  . . .

The pictures obtained by The Post include shots of soldiers simulating sexually explicit acts with one another and shots of a cow being skinned and gutted and soldiers posing with its severed head. There are also dozens of pictures of a cat's severed head.

Other photographs  show wounded men and corpses. In one, a dead man is lying in the back of a truck, his shirt, face and left arm covered in blood. His right arm is missing. Another photograph shows a  body, gray and decomposing. A young soldier is leaning over the corpse, smiling broadly and giving the "thumbs-up" sign.

And in another picture a young woman lifts her shirt, exposing her breasts. She is wearing a white band with numbers on her wrist, but it is unclear whether she is a prisoner. 

(What's with the "dozens of pictures of a cat's severed head"? Can this get any weirder?)

MEANWHILE, I continue to be astonished by the depths of the right's denial in relation to this scandal. Rumsfeld and Limbaugh say the kind of things one might expect from them. But, this guy should win some sort of prize for creativity. He's paddled his boat WAY up de Nial! (Thanks Joel!)

AN AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that these trophy photographers are the true embedded reporters whether they understand what they are reporting or not. And also, that if it weren't for digital media, most of the evidence would not have come to light. These are not the kind of shots where you send the roll home for our mom to develop at the corner drug store.

AND ALSO, please go read Rivka's excellent review essay on the  Taguba Report. She has a stronger stomach for that document than I do. (Via Electrolite.)

AND here's a new story of a video tape of another Geneva convention violation.

FINALLY, the SFGate has the account of one of the prisoners depicted. (Via Muslim Wakeup.)


Why Wasn't CACI Notified that One of Its Employees Was Implicated?

So Whiskey Bar made the right call. The CACI employee discussed in the Taguba Report, Steven Stephanowicz, is indeed still on the job:

CACI in the Dark On Reports of Abuse: Employee Named in Army Report Still Working in Iraq, Company Says

Officials at CACI International Inc. fought back against allegations that one of its employees was involved in abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, saying that it has not been notified of any problems, that the man is still at work and that he has been doing "a damn fine job."

Clearly exasperated, J.P. "Jack" London, the Arlington-based company's chief executive, said during a conference call Wednesday with investment analysts that he still had not received any information from the government about a report that said a CACI interrogator, an interpreter and two military intelligence officials were probably "either directly or indirectly responsible" for problems at the prison. . . .

L. Kenneth Johnson, CACI's president of U.S. operations, said that because the company had not received any instructions to change its activities at the prison, the company's employees remain at the site and continue to perform their duties. Johnson would not elaborate on the company's employees. A military official said there were four contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib and that all work for CACI.

WHY wasn't CACI notified? The Taguba report makes very specific recommendations. Why weren't they carried out? Who decided that this wasn't important enough to bother CACI about? Shouldn't that person be courtmartialed?

The investment website, Motley Fool, makes an interesting point about the situation:

In a conference call this morning, Chair, President, and CEO Jack London reiterated that it would take no action against the confirmed employee, unless it receives word from the government regarding the allegations. To date, the company has seen only press stories and copies of the leaked report, nothing official.

Even then, the company policy is to punish employees responsible for "illegal" activity. Sounds tough, but experts have pointed out that given the dubious legal standing of nonmilitary personnel in a war zone, it might be possible for a contractor to be legally inculpable, no matter how heinous the conduct.

So, perhaps CACI wasn't notified because someone already knew they wouldn't do anything because the contractor, exempt from the law by Bremer's order 17, had done nothing illegal since he was bound by no laws? Welcome to the Lookingglass world.

(And oh, by the way, who forgot to yank Stephanowicz's security clearance? The government is in charge of those, not the man's employer. If he still has a security clearance, NOW would be a good time to yank it. Better late than never!)


Heroes

Let's have a round of applause for those who refused to participate in the abuse of prisoners:

From the Taguba Report:

4. (U) The individual Soldiers and Sailors that we observed and believe should be favorably noted include:


a. (U) Master-at-Arms First Class William J. Kimbro, US Navy Dog Handler, knew his duties and refused to participate in improper interrogations despite significant pressure from the MI personnel at Abu Ghraib.


b. (U) SPC Joseph M. Darby, 372nd MP Company discovered evidence of abuse and turned it over to military law enforcement.


c. (U) 1LT David O. Sutton, 229th MP Company, took immediate action and stopped an abuse, then reported the incident to the chain of command.

We need to make note of people like William J. Kimbro, the dog handler who refused to turn his dogs on prisoners (that seems to be the subtext of the commendation), despite strong pressure; and like the people who turned the abusers in. One wonders if there were other whistleblowers and people who refused to participate who were punished, rather than favorably noted, for their trouble.

(Via Green Voice Mail.)

UPDATE: See also Kevin Drum on this subject.


The Agonist Has the Taguba Report

The Taguba Report, regarding  abuse of prisoners at  Abu Ghraib Prison is up on The Agonist. (Names of some of the witnesses have been removed to protect their privacy.)

Here are the parts about CACI:

In general, US civilian contract personnel  (Titan Corporation, CACI, etc�c), third country nationals, and local contractors  do not appear to be properly supervised within the detention facility at Abu  Ghraib.� During our on-site inspection, they wandered about with too much  unsupervised free access in the detainee area.� Having civilians in various  outfits (civilian and DCUs) in and about the detainee area causes confusion and  may have contributed to the difficulties in the accountability process and with  detecting escapes.�� (ANNEX 51, Multiple Witness Statements, and the  Personal Observations of the Investigation Team) . . .

[RECOMMENDATIONS] 11. (U) That Mr. Steven Stephanowicz, Contract  US Civilian Interrogator, CACI, 205th Military Intelligence  Brigade, be given an Official Reprimand to be placed in his  employment file, termination of employment, and generation of a derogatory  report to revoke his security clearance for the following acts which have been  previously referred to in the aforementioned findings:

  • Made a false statement to the investigation team  regarding the locations of his interrogations, the activities during his  interrogations, and his knowledge of abuses.
  • Allowed and/or instructed MPs, who were not trained in  interrogation techniques, to facilitate interrogations by 'setting conditions�h  which were neither authorized and in accordance with applicable  regulations/policy.� He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical  abuse.��

12. (U) That Mr. John  Israel, Contract US Civilian Interpreter, CACI, 205th  Military Intelligence Brigade, be given an Official Reprimand to be  placed in his employment file and have his security clearance reviewed by  competent authority for the following acts or concerns which have been  previously referred to in the aforementioned findings:

  • Denied ever having seen interrogation processes in  violation of the IROE, which is contrary to several witness statements.
  • Did not have a security clearance.

13. (U) I find that there is sufficient credible  information to warrant an Inquiry UP Procedure 15, AR 381-10, US Army  Intelligence Activities, be conducted to determine the extent of culpability of  MI personnel, assigned to the 205th MI Brigade and the Joint Interrogation and  Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib (BCCF).� Specifically, I suspect that  COL Thomas M. Pappas, LTC Steve L. Jordan, Mr. Steven Stephanowicz,  and Mr. John Israel were either directly or  indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) and strongly  recommend immediate disciplinary action as described in the preceding paragraphs  as well as the initiation of a Procedure 15 Inquiry to determine the full extent  of their culpability.

Elsewhere in the report, John Israel is identified as an employee of the Titan Corp., indicating that this is probably  the contractaor that CACI disavows.

ALSO, Whiskey Bar continues to have great coverage of the whole mess.

MEANWHILE, Forbes quotes from a CACI conference call:

Defense contractor CACI International Inc. said Wednesday that allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by its employees has caused no immediate economic impact on the company.

During a morning conference call, Chief Executive Jack London said he has not seen any formal documentation from the U.S. government confirming allegations that CACI employees were involved in the mistreatment of Iraq prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison 20 miles west of Baghdad.

Someone needs to call Chief Executive Jack London back, now that the report is available on the Agonist and on MSNBC, to see if he's read it yet and ask what he thinks.

AND HERE'S MORE ON CACI, from a completely different angle: CACI WHO? Some Thoughts on Who Prevents Transparency, Misplaces $3.3 Trillion and Profits from Prison Abuse in Iraq.

UPDATE: NPR has the unexpurgated version.